Last year in December, I was once again in India, this time for the first time, and following a speech at a local university I managed to loose my wallet — leaving it in a local taxi. I didn’t realize this for several hours, and by the time I did, it was midnight. I didn’t hold much hope that I would ever see it again, but I called the university anyway, who in turn tried to reach the taxi service and the driver. For several hours, nothing. And then he called. He had found my wallet, and was bringing it back to me.
When I got my wallet back, everything, and I mean everything, was there. I tried to thank him by offering him a financial reward, equal (unknowingly to me at the time) to one month of the man’s salary, of approximately 2,500 India Rupees. He would not take it. I tried repeatedly, through an interpreter, to give him this reward, but again and again, he refused. Finally, he told me that "he may be poor (financially), but he did not bring me back my wallet because he wanted a reward. He bright be back my wallet, simply, because it was my wallet." I was speechless. Would this have happened in a rich, sophisticated, developed country-big city like New York City or London. I think we know the answer.
When I asked him what I could do for him, to say thank you, he responded simply, "the next time you are in India, come and have tea with me. Be my friend." This left me utterly speechless, yet I had nothing else to say or do, save agree to do exactly that.
This amazing taxi driver’s name is Jai Parkesh, and for the better part of a year I have carried his note carrying his address with me in that same wallet, wondering from time to time, what could I do to help him. As I traveled more than 400,000 air miles in 2007 alone for HOPE, I repeatedly referenced Jai and his utter sense of true dignity in my speeches. He became, without knowing it or asking for credit, a role model for me of sorts. I shared his story with kings and queens, and with Heads of State, and students. Anyone who would listen, heard about the amazing "wealth" of a man named Jai Parkesh.
Finally, it dawned on me, what I could do; I could return to India, and have that tea with him. I could simply, keep my promise, and his only wish to me. Well, on December 2nd of 2007, I did exactly that, and I could not have felt better, that a dignity rich man named Jai shared a moment of his time to have tea with me. Above is our picture last year, after he literally saved me, and below is the photo of us earlier this month in India, having tea.
You know, Jai thanked me for keeping my promise, even though he claims he knew all along I would. But I thank him instead, not only for showing me and the rest of the world what honestly and true integrity is, still today, but reminding me once again what dignity and real wealth was too.
I asked Jai, in closing, how he got this way, given that he makes less than $100.00 (U.S.) monthly in salary and tips. He responded, "it is true, I don’t make much money, but my mother raised me to have these values, and to respect myself. To treat others as I would like to be treated." Wow, how simple, yet how profound.
As we all end one year, and begin another, we all have a little to learn, I believe, from Mr. Jai Parkesh. Richness and dignity defined, driving a taxi in New Delhi, India. Jai, I will never forget, and will always be in his debt.
Read below the original Blog post from December, 2006, and listen if you like to my original podcast detailing the original encounter. Pass it on.
To hear one of the most inspiring stories about the absolute dignity of every human being, including a New Delhi taxi cab driver making only $2 per day (U.S.), listen to this special (December, 2006) podcast from my time recently in India here…
Let me know what you think.
Onward, with HOPE
John Hope Bryant