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The Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘patriot’ as a person who loves his country and is ready to defend it against an enemy. Likewise, ‘patriotism’ is described as love of one’s country and readiness to defend it. In my considered opinion a true patriot is a person, who by his words and deeds enhances the reputation and image of his country generally and specifically amongst people from other countries, due to his strong love and deep affection for his country, without the expectations of any public recognition or rewards.

Anyone travelling to different countries would surely have interacted with citizens of those countries and experienced warmth and friendliness in these interactions. Some of these encounters, on a deeper reflection would be of the kind where the above definition of a ‘Patriot’ would easily fit. I have been lucky to have travelled to many countries and whilst there have been instances of rude or arrogant behavior, most of the denizens of these countries have been very friendly and many a time, by their words and actions, demonstrated the true meaning of what really makes a true patriot. I shall share three personal experiences which the reader will agree is really the true essence of a patriot or patriotism.

Singapore: The MNC that I worked for over thirty years had their regional office in Singapore for quite sometime and this required me to travel to this very charming country, whose share of world trade and business is hugely disproportionate to its small geographical area and population. All visitors to Singapore will immediately notice the friendliness from the moment they land at the very busy Changi airport and all through the period of their stay. For me the highpoint of the visits to Singapore included the taxi rides from the airport to the hotel. This small story is of one such visit and taxi ride sometime around 2004. As me and my boss, the CEO of the company where I worked, got into a taxi at the airport the taxi driver immediately started a very friendly chat.

After being told about our destination he started off with “the hotel is a very good one. You will have a good time there’’. Then he queried ‘are you from India or Pakistan?’. As we responded loudly with Pakistan he immediately said ‘General Musharraf is a good man. I am also a great admirer of Benazir Bhutto and I hope she comes back as Prime Minister of Pakistan when democracy is restored’.

Apart from a detailed discussion about the Pakistan political scenario, his observations and comments on Pakistan related matters related to business, including educated comments on the PKR exchange rate, imports into Singapore of Pakistani goods, love of cricket in Pakistan, India-Pakistan dispute on Kashmir which really astonished us. My boss then asked him ‘How come you are so well informed about Pakistan’? His reply was ‘Singapore’s economy is heavily based on tourism and the first point of contact for the tourist is the taxi driver. We consider it our job to promote tourism in Singapore and this could only be done if we are well informed about the countries from where the visitors come and since many of these visitors are business people we need to know not only about that country’s political scene but also about business related matters to give a good impression to the visitor so that he starts liking Singapore straight away. As there are many visitors from Pakistan who use my taxi I keep myself well informed about your beautiful country’. Is this not the thinking and actions of a true patriot? Hats off to the Singaporean taxi drivers.

Budapest – Hungary: On a holiday trip to Budapest, my wife and I went to the Hungarian National Museum. The lady at the ticket counter looked at us and in a most friendly manner enquired where we were from. When we informed her, she said ‘perhaps you are not aware that this is one the best and biggest museums in the word. It requires at least one full day to fully enjoy and appreciate all the aspects of this great museum. The tickets are quite expensive (if I recall about Euros 18 per person at that time) and it is already 3.30pm and we close at 5pm. I suggest you come tomorrow morning and do not waste your money by going in only for a short time today’. Note the marketing of the museum, her city, her country as well as showing care for the visitors without her boss or other official from the museum being present. It has been a few years since our visit, but we have promoted Budapest and Hungary to several relatives and friends and narrated the kindness of the lady at the ticket counter. Again, an example of a true patriot.

Venice — Italy: When booking our holiday trip to Italy the lady on the phone from the hotel in Venice verbally gave us the directions to the hotel after we arrived at the Venice railway station: ‘As soon as you come out of the station you will see the ‘Water bus station’ in the water right in front of the station. You get on one of the water buses — payment can be made on the bus — and get off at the fourth stop. Walk straight down the street after you leave the station for a hundred yards and when you come to the first crossing turn left. You will see the name of our hotel immediately. Should be no problem’. This was followed by a more detailed explanation in an email confirmation of our hotel booking. However, since it was the first time that we were taking a water boat to go to a hotel in a new city my wife and I were somewhat apprehensive. After getting on the large water boat and we looked around and established an eye contact with a gentleman who immediately smiled, I went to him and informed him that it was our first trip to Venice and showed him the email from the hotel.

He said there should be no issue in locating the hotel if we follow the directions given in the email. He added ‘it is one stop after where I get off’. So, we quietly kept looking at the man and as the hotel had mentioned that our hotel is at the fourth stop, we expected the gentleman to get off at the third stop. But he did not. When I enquired through a gesture he responded by his hand to the next stop. We were a little confused but kept quite thinking the water bus may have made an extra stop.

At the next station the gentleman asked us to get down along with him. We did so and asked him whether he was not supposed to get off one stop before us? His response was ‘this stop is just a short distance away from where I have to go. I did not get off at the previous stop since you have come to our beautiful city for the first time, and I decided to guide you the hotel and go back as I do not want you to get lost and your first impression about our city is not good’. He took us along all the way to our hotel and after we thanked him, he just said, ‘enjoy your stay in Venice’ and went away. Though the distance between the third and fourth stop was not too great but nevertheless the gentleman not getting off at his station for the sake of two foreigners he had just met to give a good impression about the people of Venice was for us an unforgettable act of kindness and a great example of a true patriot.

How I wish all persons of our beloved country also espouse, in their words and deeds some semblance of the attitudes and mind sets of the above three persons whose kind words and actions are deeply etched in my memory.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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