It was a bright spring morning. Mr Madan sat by the French window of his shop at Janpath, Connaught Place, New Delhi, waiting for the crowds to swell up. This had been the routine for the past three decades since 1950. Wandering down memory lane, reflecting upon the bygone times, the telephone ring broke the serenity of his thoughts. It was an unusual call from the Prime Minister's residence. A staffer conveyed the PM's desire for a pair of spectacles.
The following day, at the appointed time, Mr Madan was at 1, Safdarjung Road, with the best of frames in his briefcase. As those were the days of the 'licence raj', all frames were indigenous, of local brands. He did not have to wait long before Mrs Indira Gandhi walked into the sitting room, accompanied by a few close associates. In the next half an hour, 50-odd frames were showcased, but none passed muster.
Out of sheer disappointment, Mr Madan got up, humbly submitting; "Sorry, Madam, I will not be able to fit out glasses for you." There was a bit of commotion. As he was walking out after packing his wares, Mrs Gandhi hailed him back, and in a pleasant tone, said, "Madan Ji, please make a pair of glasses of your choice and have these sent at the earliest, along with the bill."
Within two days, the spectacles were readied and sent to the PM's residence. A few days on, Mr Madan received a call conveying the PM's appreciation and a follow-up order for two more pairs. A week later, Mr Madan was back at the PM's residence, as Mrs Gandhi wanted to thank him in person for the excellent job done.
Over a cup of tea, Mrs Gandhi showed keen interest in the prevailing business environment. Apparently, she was well informed about the problems of small traders. Complementing Mr Madan on his professional and business skills, she enquired about his background and how come he chose this field.
Mr Madan candidly admitted that but for primary schooling, he had no formal education. Due to Partition, the family had to migrate from Pakistan to Delhi. To make ends meet, Madan had to forgo studies and started working as a helper at a bicycle shop at the age of 14. As the owner wanted to move on to another business, he put the shop on sale.
While young Madan had acumen for entrepreneurship, he did not have the resources to acquire the shop outright. However, he was able to convince the owner to pay off in instalments. Within two years, Madan was able to clear the dues. Later, he changed his trade to opticals under the brand name Bonton. All that he had learnt in life was from his valued customers, many of whom were foreigners. With a deep sense of empathy, Mrs Gandhi confided that she greatly admired self-made people.
While taking leave, out of deep reverence, Mr Madan expressed his sincere gratitude for the rare gesture and privilege of having an audience with the PM. Unable to hold back his sentiments, he went on to bare his heart; "Madam, the general impression about you is that of an iron-willed lady! In reality, you are very kind, generous and a warm-hearted person".
Mrs Gandhi paused for a while, and with a mischievous smile, responded, "Madan Ji, with due humility, I value your judgment. At the same time, I am confident that your spectacles will definitely facilitate in correcting the parallax error".