As students in the University of Roorkee (now an IIT) during the late sixties, some of us were in the habit of playing cards. Our game was a kind of gamble called “teen patti” and we used to play it frequently. However, it was in a friendly manner with low stakes and with no greed behind it. We had full control over ourselves as far as time was concerned. Overall, it used to serve as a good entertainment and didn’t affect our studies in any way. At least we used to think that way at that point of time.
One day, while we were absorbed in playing ‘teen patti’ in a hostel room, the Dean of students suddenly marched in and caught us red-handed. None of us was prepared for this kind of situation and by reflex we quickly wound up ourselves to face the consequences. I, in particular, was more scared. There was a provision of 100 marks for discipline at that time. Being the topper of my class, any action on account of our act could put me in a great difficulty. I had no explanation to give as our indiscipline was so obvious. However, to our utter surprise, the Dean, whom we used to hold in high esteem, said nothing and silently left the place. We were in great suspense for many days but gradually got over the phobia this incident had put us into.
Incidently no punishment was inflicted upon us for this misdeed of ours, which only increased our respect for the Dean. Years passed since then, but it always remained a mystery in my mind as to why no punishment was inflicted upon us. I left Roorkee after graduation and joined Indian Administrative Service after few years. Though, with my own experience I could guess the intention of our Dean in inflicting no punishment on us, I always carried a wish to have a direct answer from him. Such an occasion did not come for decades, even though we did meet a few times after that.
But more than three decades later, when I was attending a conference of distinguished IITians in Delhi, such an opportunity arose. In that conference, both of us were participants. By then I was a senior member of the IAS holding a responsible position and he had quietly settled down after retirement. After the conference, when we both were waiting for our vehicles on the porch, I posed that question to him. I was not sure whether he remembered the incident or not, but he did and gave me a pragmatic smile. His one line answer was that quite often ‘no punishment’ works better than ‘punishment’ and his purpose was well served by not inflicting any punishment in that situation.