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Thomas Gray wrote, in ‘An elegy written in a country churchyard’
“Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”
What would you say if you were to see some of the finest human qualities in a poor, illiterate person, struggling daily for livelihood? A man, who could be a role model for the most educated and mature among us? A gem of purest ray serene?
Appa Rao walked into our lives one day in the early 1990s when we were on the lookout for a Man-Friday to take care of my bedridden father.

Appa Rao introduced himself as the husband of our recently hired domestic help. Politely declining our offer of a seat, he plunked down and sat cross-legged on the floor, smiling at us. Being a dhobi by profession, he offered to wash our clothes, in addition to giving care to dad.

To be honest, we were a bit apprehensive at first. My work at the steel mill kept me away for several hours every day and that would imply leaving my young wife to deal with this robust middle aged man, in addition to my helpless dad and two young sons.

Appa Rao was tall, dark and well-built and probably into his late forties. He appeared to have the strength of a bull but his demeanor was gentle, reassuring and polite to a fault.

Our decision to hire him turned out to be among the best we had ever taken. In the twenty odd years of our association with him thereafter, we learnt a great lesson-that the bravest, gentlest soul can reside in a rough, unassuming exterior, troubled by chronic poverty.

My wife and I have not seen so many great human qualities built into one guy –and that an illiterate person who had never seen any school in his lifetime.

His commitment and loyalty were beyond comparison with anyone we ever knew. In all weather conditions, dry or wet, fair or foul, Appa Rao would appear at our door at almost the same time daily with his pearly smile. He took care of my heavily built dad effortlessly, attending to all his requirements and rituals without any annoyance or disgust. When dad finally breathed his last, it was the sobbing Appa Rao, who stood as an undertaker at the cremation ground- till ashes.

Incidentally, Appa Rao wore many hats so far as work was concerned. We knew this hard working guy as a dhobi, care giver, undertaker and even a bartender’s help. And he being essentially a dhobi, we could avail of his services even after dad’s demise.

Appa Rao’s integrity was total and became legendary in the circles that he moved. Even his enemies had to grudgingly acknowledge that fact. Though he had six daughters to feed and marry off, he never took a single rupee or thing that did not belong to him. And temptations were indeed many. Even in our house, he could have easily knocked away at least a few rupees without our ever noticing because coins and rupees used to be scattered around. Our sons used to leave some coins carelessly in their trousers, only to be retrieved and handed over promptly by Appa Rao, when washing the clothes.

Once Appa Rao saw a man frantically searching for a gold necklace which had apparently fallen into the dust by accident near the liquor shop where Appa Rao was doing a part time job. Unfortunately the jewel could not be retrieved that day in spite of combined efforts of many there. It was Appa Rao who finally found it a couple of days later. Under the circumstances, since no one had seen him, he could have walked away with the jewel. But no way! He simply restored the necklace to the overjoyed owner, refusing any reward for his honesty.

Appa Rao’s fierce loyalty extended to his large family too, of course. Being dad to six daughters, he sometimes had a tough time keeping wannabe Romeos at bay. But knowing his no-nonsense approach and tough exterior, mischief makers were wary and kept their respectful distance from his family. During his lifetime, he was able to marry off every one of his six daughters, though it took a great toll on his health. He also had to depend on many loans and some help from well-wishers like us.

Talk of positive thinking or living, he was again the best we knew. We never heard him complaining about his plight or about the bone breaking labor he had to put in. He also seemed to have a wry sense of humor and practical solution to many problems he encountered, not only in his immediate family but in extended circles too. Once a teenage boy in their community was apparently ‘possessed’ by demons and was seen to be acting strangely. His family members, with their superstitious beliefs, were running to ‘witch doctors’, so to say, to exorcise the demons. Appa Rao, when he came to know, walked up to the boy and gave him a resounding slap. God only knows how, but the teenager snapped out of it!

Another admirable quality was his liberal outlook on life, a rare thing for an uneducated man of his generation. When he found one of his sons-in-law to be a drunkard and an abusive wife beater, Appa Rao, after several warnings, took a stout stick and thrashed him, shouting, ‘Now get lost since you cannot reform. I can take care of my daughter.’

How many educated Indian parents of old generation (or quite a few of new too) would have dared do such a thing? They will rather allow their daughters to suffer silently- blaming fate, destiny or karma.

The only weakness Appa Rao had was for the occasional ‘bottle’ of country liquor (And he had been frequently lectured to by my wife for that!). But he never harmed a fly, leave alone his family, under the influence of liquor.  

Alas, neither Appa Rao nor his faithful wife is alive today. It was a great personal loss to us when this karma yogi passed into eternity, after a brief illness. His wife, unable to bear the separation, went soon after.

Integrity, Commitment, Loyalty, Simplicity, Gentleness, Strength (both physical and mental), he had them all. What more to expect in a human being? That’s why, if there be any single person to whom I would bow my head in reverence, it is Appa Rao.

Have you too known such a person in your life? If so, please do share

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