People enjoyed seeing just a small boy speaking so logically. Even Shambhu Babu was sitting nearby, in a shop. I can still see him sitting there. That was his place. He used to sit there every day. It was a strange place for him to sit, but the shop was in a very prominent place, at the very center of the town. That’s why all the meetings used to be held there, and he could pretend that he was just sitting at his friend’s shop and had nothing to do with the meeting.
When he heard me – and you know me, I was always the same. I pointed to Shambhu Babu sitting in that small shop, and said, “Look! He is sitting there. He has come to listen to what I am going to say. But, Shambhu Babu, remember: friendship is one thing, but I am not going to support your octroi tax. I will oppose it even if I have to lose your friendship. I will know that it was not worth much. If we can still remain friends although we may not agree on some points, or may even come to public conflict, only then will our friendship have any significance.”
He was really a good man. He came out of the shop, patted me on the back and said, “Your arguments are worth considering. And as far as our friendship is concerned, this conflict has nothing to do with it.” He never mentioned it again. I had thought that someday he would bring it up and say to me, “You were hitting me very hard and it was wrong.” But he never even mentioned it. The most wonderful thing was that he withdrew the tax.
I asked him, “Why? I may oppose it, but I’m not even a voter yet. It was the public who voted you in.”
He said, “That is not the point. If even you can oppose it, then there must be something wrong with what I am doing. I am withdrawing it. I have no fear of the public, but when a person like you disagrees, although you are very young, I respect you. And your argument is right that whatsoever taxation one applies, it has finally to be paid by the poor, because the rich are clever enough to shift it.”
The octroi tax is taxation on any goods that enter the town. Now, when those goods are sold they will be sold at a higher price. You cannot prevent the taxation that the shopkeeper has paid being taken out of the pocket of a poor farmer. Of course, the shopkeeper will not call it taxation, it will just become part of the price.
Shambhu Babu said, “I understand the point and I have withdrawn the tax.” As long as he was president the taxation was never again brought up, or even discussed. But he never felt offended, rather he became more respectful toward me. I felt awkward that I had to oppose somebody who I can say was the only person in that town I loved.
Even my father was surprised, and said, “You do some strange things. I heard you speaking in public. I knew you would do something like that, but not so soon. You were speaking so convincingly and against your own friend. Everybody was shocked that you were speaking against Shambhu Babu.”