In his poem 'Tintern Abbey', William Wordsworth talks of "that best portion of a good man's life, his unremembered acts of kindness and of love". A man is defined as good, in the eyes of others, because of these acts. He himself remains blissfully unaware of this definition because he has forgotten his kindness.
Looking back over the years, there are numerous good men and their little acts of kindness that I remember.
I was travelling from Calcutta to Delhi. Second class AC travel had just been introduced by the Indian Railways. I have always had difficulty dealing with air-conditioners, and I had trouble getting warm, even with the blanket provided by the railways.
I tossed and turned, unable to get warm enough to sleep, and every time I turned, my envious eyes fell on my neighbour, tucked away warmly in an additional shawl. Sometime during the night, warmth stole over me and I finally fell asleep. When I woke up in the morning, it was to find the shawl spread over me. There was no sign of the owner: he had disembarked during the early hours of the morning.
When I came to live in Mohali, I used to cycle every morning to the lake. On the return trip, I would stop at a wayside stall for a cup of tea. Then I got busy building my house and my cycling became irregular. Once, after a particularly long gap, the chaiwallah commented on my absence.
I told him about the construction. The next morning when I got up to leave, he reached under the jute sacking on which he sat, and produced a wad of currency notes.
"I know the financial strain that building a house imposes. This might be of some help." I was too overcome for words. I held his hand and touched it to my forehead and fled. When I went back, after another long gap, he was gone and I never met him again.
Two years ago, I had a particularly long and pernicious bout of illness. The recovery was slow and it was many days before I could walk up and down the little quadrangle, outside my daughter's house. The first time I did so, I felt so weak that I stumbled and almost fell.
Young, steady arms held me up, and a security guard, who was going past, helped me back to my daughter's house. After that, almost miraculously, most times when I went for my walk, he would appear and walk beside me. I recovered and came away. When I went to revisit my daughter, I looked for him and was told that he had left service and gone: where, no one knew.
They were all good men. I only hope that, over the years, I too, have chalked up a sufficient number of acts of kindness to my credit to enable at least a few people to remember me as a good man.
They attribute a certain immutability that time cannot erode as easily as thoughts that often vanish into the deep recesses of people's minds excavated in lacklustre snatches.