Pandit Sethuraman and the Parsimonious Chettiar


My father, PANDIT SETHURAMAN was a man of simplicity. He always shunned publicity and self-promotion. He maintained diaries meticulously, recording events wherever he went and giving accounts about men, matters and memories. I would like to quote from that treasure-trove, a few interesting incidents related to accounts, traditions and customs of a couple of his clients. Please read them in his own words as given below:-

“Accounting is an indispensable factor in every one’s life. It always functions within the specified parameters, and never changes. Neither the time nor the human beings can change it. If we say 5 plus 3 is 8 it is universally accepted. But, the tradition rep-resents two important things. One is the custom and the other one begins with pity but may end in fights and other controversial issues. Now, let me explain it in detail.

The banks, the commercial establishments and the shops maintain accounts. They will take only the exact amount due to them from the money paid in by us and pay back the rest of it to the last paisa. Even if our friend happens to be a bank official, he would never pay Rs.100/- against a cheque bearing an amount of Rs.99; because, for the operations of the banking institutions, accounts are the spinal column. The family life depends on the mentality and needs of family members. This gives rise to customs. The mainstay of custom is sympathy. It is an urge to come out of the clutches of ‘accounts’ and enjoy independent functioning. For instance, before we engage a laborer to do a job, we fix the labor charge as, let us say, Rs.19/-. After finishing the job perfectly, when he re-quests us to pay a little more, generous people might readily pay, Rs.20/- instead of 19/-. Others, who are quite keen in their accounting (may be, they are the world’s richest people who had come up in life by their honesty and hard work) refuse to do so, but pay him only the amount already agreed upon. Disputes never arise in their lives. Everything will go on smoothly and correctly. They will act strictly in accordance with the ‘accounts’!

Let me make it clear to you by giving one or two examples.

One of my Chettiar friends who live in Malaysia got acquainted with me 35 years ago. He used to enjoy Numerology more than anybody. Even in those days, he owned properties worth several crores. He often used to ask me whether he could become the world’s richest man.Whenever I went to rest, many of my friends used to visit me and he would definitely be one among them. He got his doubts clarified on those occasions.

He was praised by others as a clever man who thought twice before he spent. Those who had their names changed by me always raised the doubt in his absence as to why he was frequently coming to me and asking questions. They also advised me not to answer him since he was not going to pay me for his consultations because he was too parsimonious! I convinced them by saying that he was only asking questions on Numerology. Further he was a well educated man and it was my duty to answer him with pleasure.

One day, when everyone had left, the chettiar friend came and told me that he had finally decided to consult me. He also knew that I had already allotted time for consultation to others continuously for the whole of next week. He said that he could not wait for one more week patiently and requested me to examine his case on the same day at night. So, I started reading his prospects the same night and completed my counseling by 4.00 a.m. the next day! He was quite happy and after paying respects to me, he said, ‘Swami, I follow a few policies strictly in my life. I never waste even a single paisa, because all this property was earned by my ancestors, who went abroad by ferries to gather wealth, facing many hard-ships. Now I travel only by plane. I have rendered many good services to others in my life. I consider you as my savior. I have got 38 lakh dollars in my account in this country alone. Besides this, I have got so many properties in other places too. So, I have decided to offer you whatever amount you ask for and make you happy. As I am going abroad tomorrow early in the morning, I would ask my manager to visit you and pay whatever amount you mention. Kindly excuse my absence and do not think that I am not giving you due respect. I do not want any delay and I feel that whatever is due to you should reach you immediately’. He was very surprised at my reply. I said, ‘Daata! You are a great patron like King Bhoj! I am only a Vidwan (learned person). Your words have come like a rain of honey to me. I am not a beggar or a greedy man. I will be happy if you give me 10 dollars more than what your friends gave me’. He argued that it was not proper for me to refuse his offer and it showed that I had no concern for him. However, I explained to him that I never go back on my words and saw him off.

The very next day, at around 9 a.m., his manager came to my house with fruits, flowers, wads of money and new clothes in a plate and offered them to me, doing obeisance. He continued in spite of my protests. He said as follows: ‘My master named the amount and asked me to offer this cash to you along with Puja materials. I asked him, since the amount was huge, how to account for this. My master replied that this was a gift from his side for his consultations with you. When I argued that while others were paying you less why he too did not do so, he became furious and said that this matter was much more important than money and asked me to do exactly what he expected of me.

With these words he left this morning. I have worked for him since his father’s days. I know that money matters a lot to their family. They used to tell us frequently that money predominate all relationships, with only one exception, that is, Lord Ganesh. Whoever asked for anything in the name of Lord Ganesh, he readily gave it and not in the name of any other God. Since he happily gave you so much money, I thought you were equal to Lord Ganesh and that is why, I paid obeisance to you repeatedly!’

When he finished speaking, I felt like laughing.

I revealed to him the amount which his master originally offered and he became dumbfounded. Then he brought himself together and said, ‘Even when my master offered you so much, you had taken only a paltry sum. Now I am sure that you are none other than Lord Ganesh. If it had been someone else, he would have surely asked at least a few lakh dollars’. He left my place after seeking my blessings. A few days later when I met him he said, ‘With my master’s generosity, I am also leading a wealthy life. He is a very, very honest man. Apart from my salary, I get a commission from the profits of the business.

When I go to my native place for a holiday, he settles my commission amount and sends me off. Even if the commission amounts to almost 4 lakh dollars, he goes through the accounts carefully and pays me exactly 3 lakh 86 thousand dollars and 40 cents. (others, perhaps would pay a lesser commission to their managers). Besides this amount, he would also give me the journey ticket, clothes, and some gifts!’

When I asked my friend later why he was giving his manager all these privileges, he explained that it was the custom of every shop-owner to do so. This is called custom or tradition. In due course, its Tamil equivalent word ‘Vazhakkam’ slowly changed into ‘Vazhakku’ meaning litigation!

If I say something more about this gentleman, you will come to know how we live without knowing the value of money. One day, this man came to me and requested me to visit his house one afternoon during that week, as he wanted to take an important decision after consulting me. I agreed and visited his house after 2 days. He told me that he had sent away everyone that night on a shopping spree. When I asked him why he was unnecessarily spending so much, he replied that he would gain a lot by this. He wanted to send his two sons abroad for higher studies and wanted me to decide which son should study what subject. Moreover, he wanted his sons to pursue courses of 3-year duration or more. When I asked him why he wanted to send them abroad when they could very well stay in Malaysia to take care of his property without further studies, he replied that I would not understand the money matters as I was a Brahmin (who would be interested in learning only)!

I replied that I too had worldly knowledge and I would understand if he explained things clearly. Then he said, ‘There is no need for these boys to stay here and if they stay for 3 years continuously abroad, I can save about 75 lakhs of rupees on income-tax where-as their hostel and education expenses would not be more than 3 lakhs. Also my friends and relatives would regard me with respect for sending my sons to London for higher education’. I dabbled for sometime in the Bombay share market and earned much and also did a lot of research on rising prices. It seemed to me that I would never get such ideas as those of Mr.Chettiar even after many births! This gentleman was doing tax planning and not tax evasion. He never wanted to have other people’s money. He was a law-abiding citizen.

One who demands more money than what is due to him lawfully is an avaricious man. One who asks for more than what he deserves is a greedy person. Expecting things in an unjust manner is the main reason for all disputes. (Vazhakku)”.

Thus wrote my father in his diary!

MONEY is important and that is why Banks, Financial institutions, the Exchequer – all maintain their accounts correct to the penny (as in the first case).

The PARSIMONY (or frugality) displayed by the chettiar (as in the second case) is not something despicable, because it teaches you the value of money in human life, accountability and helps you to save for the “rainy day”.

Offering an undisclosed sum of money with other objects of respect to a “Guru” like Panditji, is a soul- satisfying deed which brings HARMONY!
A wise man desires no more than what he gets justly. He uses it prudently, distributes it cheerfully and lives contentedly.

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