Episode – 1
B Govinda Rao (popularly known as BGR) was my mentor when I joined Canara Bank in Shimoga way back in 1970. Those were the days when we all thought that there was nothing in life to achieve once you got an employment. The scope for our promotion appeared to be very bleak and we thought it fit to spend our spare time in mostly seeing all kinds of films!
BGR had arrived from Bangalore on his promotion as officer. He was a man who appeared to be in a hurry and restless all the time! He had passed his CAIIB examination as a matriculate. He could not really understand how young graduates like us were not even prepared to make an attempt! He took it upon himself to make us career oriented by first asking us to appear for the CAIIB examination.
With his encouragement we came out successful in the CAIIB examination and the promotion followed. We never looked back! All of us owe our successful career in Canara Bank to our beloved BGR. He has been a pillar of strength to us and remains so even after our retirement.
I have been thinking of writing a small biography of BGR since long. In fact I felt my writing skills were not worth if I could not complete this self-imposed assignment! BGR was kind enough to provide me the material. I will be covering only the career portion of BGR’s life, which began and ended in Canara Bank. The story starts unfolding in the year 1959:
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The Bailakare family of Puttannayya-Lakshmi couple at Udupi comprised five sons and three daughters. It was basically an agricultural family with cultivable land of around three acres. The family also had a coconut garden of 20 cents in which the ancestral house was situated. B Govinda Rao (BGR) was born as the third son of the family. BGR passed his SSLC in 1956 through the Secondary School Board of the erstwhile Madras State. South Kanara district was attached to the Madras State at that time. It came under the Mysore State only later in the same year. Being a minor, BGR was not eligible for government and bank jobs till he attained majority in December 1958. So he engaged himself in assisting his father in his agricultural activities. Simultaneously he joined typewriting classes and completed the junior examination with a speed of 65 words per minute.
BGR’s uncle, popularly known as Pema, was the man who initiated the process that ended with his appointment in Canara Bank. Pema had a friend called M R Pai who was a retired Telegraph official, well known in his community and who had close contacts with the top executives of Canara Bank. M R Pai, through his good offices, helped BGR to appear for a written test at the Udupi branch of the bank. BGR performed well in the test and was called for an interview at the Administrative Office of the bank at Bangalore on 4th February 1959. As for the information gathered by M R Pai, those who passed the test were sure to get the appointment and the interview was more or less a formality. Thus it was almost a celebration time for BGR and his family.
Now it was the question of travelling all the way to Bangalore. Unlike today, when even traveling to US is taken as an ordinary short-time journey by air, traveling to Bangalore was not a simple affair in those days. In fact BGR was the first person in his family to undertake a visit to the state capital! There were no direct busses to Bangalore as they could not pass through the narrow and zigzag roads in the Western Ghats. The people from the South Kanara district had to first travel to a place called Someshwar that is located at the feet of the Western Ghats. A narrow road from there through the Ghats would lead to Agumbe (known as the Chirapunji of the South) on the top of the Ghats. This portion of the 13-km journey was to be undertaken on a mini-bus (called taxi in those days). From Agumbe one had to travel to Shimoga by bus via Thirthahalli. The journey from Shimoga was to be undertaken on train that would start at 8 pm in the night.
It was apparent that BGR had to set up his establishment in Bangalore once he secured the appointment after his interview. It made him to go on a purchasing spree! The purchases included a steel trunk with a Godrej lock, a bed roll with a pillow and two bed sheets. The other purchases were two banyans, two white mundus and a pair of chappals. Additionally, the family tailor was ordered to stitch a pair each of pyjamas and shirts. Wearing of pants had not been thought of for ordinary folks in those days - at least in South Kanara! The concept was introduced much later and appeared to be quite fashionable at that time!
Simultaneously BGR also started preparing for the interview. Again it was M R Pai and another friend of Pema, Professor U L Achar, who came to his rescue. The first question to be put to him by the pair was – ‘who was the Prime Minister of India’? BGR responded by telling the name of Jawaharlal Nehru. But the pair appeared to be unimpressed! BGR could not make out what was wrong with his answer! He was told to give the answer in a full sentence as - “Shri Jawaharlal Nehru is the Prime Minister of India”. He was also told to be free and frank during the interview. He was to reply in the affirmative if he was asked whether he was prepared to work anywhere in India! Another advice was to go through the daily English newspaper to keep him up-to-date with the current events.
Another issue cropped up at this stage. It was the question of stay in Bangalore till the appointment was confirmed. Fortunately a distant relative from the side of BGR’s eldest brother’s in-laws landed at their residence just in time. Mr. Padmanabha Rao was a retired official from the Accounts Department (Defence) who had settled down in Bangalore. He asked BGR to come straight to his home at Benne Govindappa Street in Basavanagudi. Needless to say BGR’s parents were much relieved to hear this arrangement.
Pema chalked out a perfect schedule for BGR to attend the interview on 4th February 1959. He was to leave Udupi in the morning of 1st February, reach Bangalore on 2nd early morning and take full day’s rest. A pilot journey to the administrative office of Canara Bank was to be undertaken on the 3rd. He was expected to perfectly remember the shortest route and was to travel by the same route on the 4th to reach the bank by 9.30 am for the interview.
The D day arrived early. On the morning of 1st February 1959, BGR left Udupi on the Shankar Vittal bus. The journey had started with Rs100 cash given by his beloved mother. As a matter of abundant precaution, BGR had kept Rs80 in the trunk under lock and key and only Rs20 in his purse. As he bid adieu to his family he turned emotional. But little did he know at that time - he was leaving behind his beloved family for the start of a career in the bank that lasted for forty two years!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
10th March 2012