Swami Ranganathananda, the 13th President of the Ramakrishna Order, while expounding the values for a public servant, coins the term ‘imaginative sympathy’, for the person occupying an office of responsibility to evolve beyond the ordinary sympathy into a space of spiritual sympathy. He says that such a person with the capacity to imaginatively experience the sufferings of people, has a wide range of expressions to respond to them. Such growth, he elaborates, provides the person with the by-products of ethical awareness and human response. I remembered these words recently when I met with S in a college function. We had just met, and he introduced himself as a retired Postman. He said humbly, ‘Not many know my name, because who remembers the name of a postman?’
S retired as a postman this year after serving for over three decades in one of the most difficult tribal terrains of India. When he was in service, he was known for sometimes walking 15 kilometres daily to deliver letters to remote inaccessible tribal villages. Occasionally, it may be a single letter that he was delivering. He would ensure that the letters are delivered to the right people, being concerned about what the post may carry to them. ‘You see it could be a Money Order for a few hundred rupees that someone needed the most or a job offer. It is my responsibility to ensure that I deliver these to the rightful person in time and I have to do it at any cost.’
While on duty, several times he would encounter wild animals, but that did not deter him. Narrating one such incident to college students, he said that once he was chased by a wild elephant while he was walking to deliver letters. S hid behind a tree and waited for the tusker to leave while shouting at it all the time that he can have him after he delivers the letter and return. ‘I don’t know if he understood, but thankfully after a while he left, and I could continue my journey’, he said. Maybe the animal did understand, like S mentioned to the students, ‘I know the forest and the animals, they know me as well, we all go about our work without disturbing each other’.
Another time while delivering a Money Order, he found that the particular house was locked and the person had been hospitalised. Now S felt that the poor person may need the money even more. After learning about which hospital the person was admitted in, he took the next day off from work. Taking a bus journey, he reached the hospital and delivered the money to the person that was much appreciated. He could have simply returned the money to the Post Office, or left it sitting there awaiting the person to return home, or left a word for the person to collect the money later. What he practiced was imaginative sympathy to motivate and shape each one of his responses. And as Swami Ranganathanandaji states, when every civil servant conducts his work in such a spirit, the nation really marches into great progress and transforms into a nation of great citizens and not merely of individuals.