One small incident during my visit to Japan in the year 1988 still occupies my mind. At that time, I was posted as the Managing Director of the UP Export Corporation and had gone to Japan to participate in an exhibition at Kobe. My commercial manager was accompanying me and we had displayed a large number of handloom and handicraft items from Uttar Pradesh. They included some silk scarves from Varanasi. The exhibition was organised by the Trade Development Authority of India, which had provided us the necessary infrastructure including an interpreter.
Our interpreter was a young Japanese girl aged about 14. She was cute and well-mannered. We found her services very satisfactory. During the course of the exhibition, we noticed that her attention was repeatedly diverted to a silk scarf displayed there. It was obvious that she liked it and perhaps wanted to possess it. One day, when I asked her whether she liked it, she answered in the affirmative and also added that she would like to buy the same after the exhibition was over. Hearing that, I offered it as a gift from our side. I was surprised with her response to this offer. She firmly said that since she was earning her wages, in no case would she accept it as a gift. Moreover, it was against the tradition of her country. For us, it was a pleasant experience. We wondered at the sense of pride, at such a young age, for one’s own as well as for the country’s dignity. While we deeply appreciated her stand, it was equally wrong on our part to accept money for a sample, which was not meant for sale. But she would not agree with our plea and kept insisting on no amount of payment.
The matter went on like this till the last day of the exhibition. When it came to winding up the display, I offered her the scarf as a gift and gave the plea that it was against the tradition of our country too to sell something which was not meant for sale. We also pleaded that it would give us immense pleasure if she accepted it as a gift. She was convinced with our plea and very reluctantly, as well as gratefully, accepted the same.
Quite often, I recall the gesture of that young girl. We were left with no doubt that great nations are due to great people and unless they display character in thoughts, words and actions, no amount of economic growth can make a nation great.