When Lal Bahadur Shashtri got paid for his articles

Lal Bahadur Shastri and his wife
Lal Bahadur Shastri and his wife

I entered the writing world through translation work. My English teacher- cum – novelist Lt. Damyanti Raina, continually, used to give me originals and I had to translate them into Hindi for various magazines. In turn, I got paid for those translated pieces. During my engineering college days, it was a bonus for me apart from my regular pocket money which I used to receive every month from my father unfailingly.

Mrs Raina also introduced me to the veteran journalist and freedom fighter, the late Mr. Purushottam Das Tondon (famous for his frankness, repartee and cordiality). He also encouraged me to write – but for newspapers too. After some time, I wrote one article and mustered some courage to show the draft to Mr. Tondon. He made some corrections with alacrity and asked me to drop that piece at one nearby newspaper’s office. I was lucky, my article got published and importantly, I was also paid for that contribution through ‘Money Order’.

I was ecstatic after receiving the money from the postman. I straightaway rushed to a nearby post office to make a phone call to Mr. Tondon requesting him for time (which he was very particular about) for an urgent meeting. Humbly, he accepted my request. I went to his house on my cycle and shared the good news with him personally, emphasizing that I had received my first payment of my own write-up, which he had reviewed lately. He was very happy and told me an interesting anecdote relating to Lal Bahadur Shashtri ji, which continues to bloom in my mind even today. This was about how he also got paid for his writing contributions through Mr. Tondon.

In fact, Mr.Tondon had known Lal Bahadur Shashtri from his student days. He told me that Shashtri ji was a simple person and for years he found it difficult to make both ends meet. After his release from Naini Central Prison (where he was detained during Quit India Movement), he was particularly hard up for money. He was too self-respecting to ask anyone to help him. He just used to manage his affairs somehow.

One day Shashtri ji said, “Tondon, apart from sending your own articles to the papers, I hear you syndicate contributions of others also! ” He told him that he did and would be happy if he wrote for him. Shashtri ji enquired if he would be paid too. Mr.Tondon assured him that his articles would appear in several papers simultaneously and quite a few of them would pay too. Eventually, his contributions were published and Mr. Tondon realised nearly two hundred rupees for him, which was considered to be quite a fabulous amount those days.

When he put this sum in Shashtri ji’s hand, he was greatly surprised and asked, “Why this money? From where have you got it? Why are you giving it all to me?” Mr. Tondon told him that it was payment for his articles. But he did not really believe it as he had not expected so much money for them. He knew that most newspapers usually did not pay and he said, “Tondon, you are joking with me. You are paying me much more than what you got from the newspapers. I appreciate your friendly gesture, but I can’t accept it.” Then Mr. Tondon assured him that it was all his money. Accepting his word, Shatri ji then told him: “All right, then take your commission which I understand is fifty percent.”

“I am your friend and not a commission agent.”  Mr.Tondon replied and Shashtriji changed the subject.

Riyaz Khan

Written by Riyaz Khan

The author is Director at an engineering and IT services company in Hyderabad and a columnist.

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