'Papa, see what I have. It's so beautiful!" announced my son Billu. It was 1952; he was 3 years old.
In his tiny palm he held a shiny brass weight of one tola (11.66 grams), the kind grocers used, in 1952, to weigh pricey commodities such as saffron and cardamom.
I was dumbstruck. "But where you did you get this?" I asked.
"I picked it up from the Sardarji's shop yesterday," he replied.
The previous day Billu and I had visited Sardar Sohan Singh's shop in Pahar Ganj, in old Delhi, to buy grain, pulses and spices. Billu, accompanying me for the first time, was thrilled with the trays of almonds, raisins, pistachios, cashews, dried figs and more. Sardarji was happy to see Billu in his cute woollen jacket against the winter cold. He stuffed a fistful of almonds into Billu's pocket.
Now, the next morning, I asked Billu: "Did Sardarji give you this weight?"
"Oh no," he replied, "Sardarji had many of them. So, I just took one."
True, Sardarji had an assortment of weights on his table, in various sizes: mash (1 gram), tola (11.66 grams) chatak (58.32 grams), pav (233.28 grams) and ser (933.10 grams).
"Do you realise that it is wrong to have taken this weight?" I asked.
"But he had many of them. How does it matter if I take one?" he asked.
"It is wrong because it does not belong to us. When we go to a shop, we pay for what we take. These weights were not for sale," I explained to my argumentative son.
"I will take my red marbles to Sardarji and offer him some," he replied.
"No, this weight does not belong to us. We cannot keep it," I said gently.
Later in the morning, instead of going to my office, I took Billu back to the shop.
Sheepishly, Billu took the weight from his pocket and placed it in Sardarji's large palm. "You had many shiny pieces. Therefore, I took the smallest. I wanted to give you some red marbles in exchange, but Papa says I am all wrong. I am sorry for my mistake."
Sardarji burst out laughing. "I did miss the weight yesterday and searched for it. I am delighted it is back." Amused, he picked Billu up, hugged him and again filled his pockets with almonds. As we left he told Billu: "Bring the red marbles next time, I want to see them."
On the way home, it was Billu's turn to admonish me. "You made me go all the way to the shop. My fingers are freezing in the cold. Sardarji was laughing. He gave me more almonds and next time he wants to see the red marbles also. He is my friend."
I reiterated that we should never take what does not belong to us.
About a decade later, in 1962, after we moved to Bombay (now Mumbai), the secretary of the building we lived in called to say they had identified the owner of the money Billu had found. "What money?" I asked.
"Has your son not spoken to you?" he asked. "No," I said, astonished.
I told Billu, now 12, about the call when he came home from school.
"A few days ago I found some money in the compound. I gave the notes to the secretary to find the owner," he explained.
I asked why he had not brought the money to me to give to the secretary. "But you told me," he answered, "not to take, or bring home, what does not belong to us. So I gave it to the secretary." And, without further ado, he left to play cricket.
I was delighted that Billu had remembered the lesson he had learnt at the age of 3.
These days, when I read about the serial corruption cases in India, I am distressed. The latest coal scam is estimated to have cost the government about $33 billion (Dh121 billion) in lost revenue. Earlier a telecoms scam cost $32 billion in revenue. This money could have been used to build roads and bridges and provide jobs and food.
Those responsible should reflect: "Why profit from what does not belong to us?" After all the coal mines are not the private property of any politician or political party, but the wealth of the people of India.
Hari Chand Aneja is a 90-year-old former corporate executive who now keeps busy with charity work