DURING the early 1960s, “Drinka pinta milka day” was a popular advertisement in England. Milk was then a favourite drink also. The milkman used to deliver the fresh bottles outside the front door and collect the empty bottles from there every morning. At the end of the week, he collected the money left at night with the empty bottles. It was a common practice in London at that time. Theft of money left outside for the milkman was never heard of. It was not necessary for a milkman to ring the doorbell either for delivery the bottles or for collection of money.
During a visit to London in the mid 1970s, I was surprised to hear the doorbell ringing in the early morning. I was told my hostess that it was the milkman calling. “Why should a milkman ring the doorbell?” I asked her. “He has come to deliver the milk and collect the money.” She replied. “Don't you leave the money with the empty bottles?” I asked her again. “Those golden days are gone.” She said and added: “There are some youngsters in the locality who not only steal the money but also drink the milk, if left outside the door. So, the milkman rings the bell so that we collect the milk soon after delivery!” The British were so proud of their honesty at one time. I felt so sorry to see how honesty had eroded, at least among a certain group of people, in England.
Very recently, I was surprised to see a different picture in Dhaka. Street side tea shops have become common in the city. While walking in the morning, I have seen several vendors delivering their merchandise to these shops often before the arrival of the shop owners. They leave cakes, biscuits, buns, bananas and other food items at the unattended shops, usually covered by a sack or a plastic sheet. At that time, the roads are normally frequented by garment workers, office goers, domestic helps, drivers, day labourers etc. Out of curiosity, I once I asked a vendor: “Aren't the items stolen sometimes?” He replied politely: “Not to my knowledge, Sir.”
I was pleasantly surprised and felt so proud like the British did in the early days. It shows honesty has not totally eroded from our country. Some people are still honest. They are poor. They soil their hands to earn their livelihood. They don't steal other's properties. They are so different from those who have become rich overnight by defaulting bank loans, extorting money and grabbing others' properties and now live like parasites on the society.
The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.