Saturday, August 25, 2012

Looking Back - Episode – 27

The period spent by BGR at the Head Office (1977-1980) was a very comfortable part of his banking service. He had the happiness of staying in his own house in Jayanagar with his family. He could leave his home daily at 9.30 am and reach the office on scooter to be at his seat well before the official time of 10 am. Again, he could leave the office exactly at 5 pm (there was no practice of sitting late at HO unlike in the branches) and reach home at 5.30 pm. The present day traffic jams were just unimaginable in the Garden City of those days. So much so BGR remembers reaching home on his scooter without applying the break anywhere during the entire journey! In fact his dog Johnny was announcing his arrival to his wife the moment he entered the road leading to his house by sensing the sound of the vehicle! Yes! Those were the days! Travelling on Bangalore roads was a pleasure then. Not any more though!  
BGR by nature was a restless person who always looked for some challenges in discharging his duties. But unfortunately there were hardly any challenging assignments or roles in his duty at HO. However, the opportunities opened up at the fag end of his posting at HO. BGR had observed that there was no seriousness at the branch level in the matter of handling Government work including collection of taxes and payment of pension. The inspection department also had not given sufficient instructions to the Inspecting officers to cover these aspects during their annual inspection. Repeated letters from the General Manager to the Inspection Department had yielded no results. BGR discussed the matter with the AGM BVB. The GA Section was not having any feedback on the working of the branches as far as pension and taxes matter was concerned.
The AGM decided that BGR should visit all the district headquarters branches in Karnataka as well as Panaji and Madgaon personally. He was to go through all the records and study as to how the branches were implementing the instructions from HO from time to time. He was supposed to inspect one branch per day. In the morning he was to study the working and ask the manager to hold a staff meeting in the afternoon to point out the deficiencies and offer guidance. He had to chalk out a plan and submit a detailed report to the AGM branch-wise.
BGR undertook the special assignment with all sincerity. He visited the branches from Bidar to Karwar during January-February 1980 and submitted a detailed report to the AGM. The report highlighted the following aspects:
1.   Non-remittance of tax collections promptly and keeping the amount pending in Sundry Liabilities Account
2.   Incorrect preparations of scrolls
3.   Not keeping the Pension Payment Orders in an orderly manner under lock and key
4.   Non-claiming of turnover commission periodically – resulting in income loss to the bank
The AGM was happy with the work done by BGR. He asked BGR to follow up the matter with the branches till the observations were set right.
At this stage, the AGM felt the necessity of having a manual of instructions for the Government Accounts separately. He asked BGR to take up the work and set a timeframe of two months. He was aware that BGR may be transferred by May 1980 as Manager. It was again an opportunity for BGR to undertake some original work. He started thinking and broadly divided the subjects and commenced drafting them one after another. For nearly two months BGR focused on the work and devoted his entire time for the special job.
The quality of drafting of BGR was highly appreciated by the AGM. With his vast experience he suggested certain changes in the draft without making any major alterations. So the first Manual of Government Accounts in Canara Bank came out with full credit to BGR – the official author – under the leadership of the Gandhian BVB!
BGR’s capabilities were fully recognised by BVB. When the self-appraisal system was first introduced in our bank, BGR had given himself 87 marks out of 100. But BVB was not satisfied. He told him that he had underrated himself and he definitely deserved more. He awarded him 91/100! When BGR received transfer orders to Tamarind Lane Mumbai branch, BVB personally spoke to K R Acharya, the DM in Mumbai, for allotting suitable quarters to BGR. K R Acharya was the brother-in-law of BVB and was in-charge of Premises matters. BVB also took permission to allow BGR to travel by air to Mumbai with his family (the permitted mode was I class train at that time).
 BGR was relieved from HO on 31st May 1980. He undertook the journey by air for the first time with his family. His young sons Adarsh and Anil fully enjoyed their first flight. BGR was to stay at his brother-in-law’s flat in Mulund till he took possession of the allotted bank quarters. He had been told that a flat had already been allotted to him by K R Acharya, the DM.
BGR’s family was received at the Santacruz Airport by his brother-in-law who took them to his flat in Mulund. BGR was to visit the Circle Office near the VT Station on the next day. He was in great spirits to set up his establishment in the Commercial Capital of India – the City of Bombay - of those days. But a nasty surprise awaited him at the Circle Office!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
25th August 2012

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Looking Back - Episode – 26

BGR arrived in Bangalore in May 1977 and reported at the newly formed Government Accounts (GA) Section at the Head Office in J C Road. He soon found out that the workload and the responsibilities at the HO were nowhere comparable to what he was doing at the branch in Shimoga. The fixed timings and the routine file-based work at the HO was a cakewalk compared to the holding of cash and premises keys, handling of over 40 employees and the vast number of customers at the branch. Perhaps BGR deserved that break!
B V Baliga (BVB) – the True Gandhian
The GA Section was then headed by B V Baliga (BVB), the Assistant General Manager (AGM). BVB was a typical Gandhian who used to wear a white Dhothi, a white half-shirt and a white (Gandhi) cap. The dress suited his personality. The employees would get a feeling that they were working under a freedom fighter! A true Gandhian, BVB was an upright and fearless person, who would stick to his principles always.
The GA section had five staff in all. The Superintendent B Balakrishna Baliga (BBB), the Accountant R N Srinivasan B.Com, BL, CAIIB, and ACS, (who had acquired virtually all the qualifications one could aspire in the banking service), two clerks and a peon completed the team. The work handled pertained to collection of direct and indirect taxes and remittance to RBI and payment of Central & State Government pensions. BVB asked BGR to go through the files and assured him the necessary guidance wherever required.
B Balakrishna Baliga (BBB) – the Sleeping Boss!
BBB, a close relative of the Divisional Manager U K Kini, was a tall, fair and intelligent personality. He had earned a very good name as a manager in several Bangalore and Mumbai branches. A shrewd and successful manager, BBB had developed the drinking habit at some stage in his career for reasons quite unknown. The problem was quite serious with BBB resorting to drinking even during office hours. It was said that he went to the extent of keeping bottles in his table drawers while working as a manager at the N R Road branch! The management thought enough was enough and posted him to the Head Office as Superintendent in GA Section under the Gandhian BVB! The idea was perhaps BVB the Gandhian could enforce the anti-liquor policy of Mahatma on BBB!
But the transfer made only one perceptible change in BBB’s daily routine. He knew he could not store the bottles in the Head Office under the very nose of the Gandhian BVB. He chose the easy option. He would arrive at the office in the morning fully drunk! However, he would rarely disturb his colleagues. Within ten minutes of occupying his seat, he would start snoring peacefully! He would get up after about two hours and go out for lunch. After lunch he would have some more drinks and get back to his seat. The post-lunch sleeping and snoring session would start then! Whenever he was awake BBB would talk on current affairs and past incidents in his life! He was an authority as far as the game of cricket was concerned. He used to say that Sunil Gavaskar was a very good batsman. But he was not comparable in his style and technique to the all time great – Sir Don Bradman. He would quote statistics to prove his point!
BBB had made it a policy not to interfere in any official work! It suited him well. Perhaps it suited the management also! He was staying in Jayanagar and had married away his two daughters to Mumbai and US. BGR had an occasion to meet him before his retirement in the eighties. He told BGR that he had stopped drinking three years before his retirement. He later left for US to stay with his daughter for some time.  BBB could have retired at least as a DGM. He had that type of capability and qualifications. But it was not to be. His drinking habit spoiled his career in the bank.
With two chargesheets over his head, BGR had to face different type of comments from different persons. Some would see him with suspicion, some would seek the contents of the chargesheets, and some would say that they were the result of his continuing his membership in the Union and some that the charges could not be proved during the enquiry. The bank appointed M N Nayak as the enquiry officer for one chargesheet and T S Kamath for the other. Both of them knew BGR very well. But the enquiries were never taken up. M N Nayak even told BGR there was nothing to enquire as he had given the explanation why he could not handover the keys!
While one of the chargesheets was withdrawn in 1977, the other was withdrawn in 1978. The proceedings merely stated that it has been decided not to proceed with the chargesheet. In effect both the chargesheets were thrown to dust bin ultimately. But they had done sufficient damage to the career of BGR. More than 2000 officers had overtaken him by the time he was promoted as Manager Trainee in 1979 and as Manager in 1980.
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
18th August 2012

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Looking Back - Episode – 25

Shimoga Main branch had the responsibility to depute an Accountant to work as manager in the various branches  in the district in the leave vacancy of managers. These branches were generally provided with only one or two clerks. BGR had no opportunity to work in a rural place in his banking career. As if to give him this opportunity, he was once deputed to work in a rural branch called Jade in the Sorab taluk. Jade was a remote village located 8 miles from Sorab and surrounded by two other districts of Dharwar and Uttara Kannada.
The village had a meager population and was covered by deep forests. The daily newspaper and Tappal would reach the village only by 6 pm in the evening. There was only one clerk at the branch. For cash remittance purpose, BGR had to take the clerk with him to Sorab at 9.30 am on a two-wheeler. He could come back only by 11 am. Before leaving the branch he had to ask the sweeper to keep the hot water ready for a bath immediately on return. The first three-mile journey from the branch was through a dusty mud road and the riders would be fully covered with dust by the time they got back. The branch could be opened for work only by after taking a hot-water bath. But the real problem was that of food. A small hotel would serve a ‘special’ meal for the manager. But the quality was such that one could push it down the throat only through some effort. As for taste, the less said was better. BGR just managed to survive and got back to Shimoga.
Gajanan Shanbhag (GS) – The Ideal Husband!
GS was initially working at our S M Circle branch and was later transferred to our branch. A soft-spoken man from Sirsi in Uttara Kannada, GS was known for his neatness and accuracy in work. He was very systematic in his approach to all issues. He was highly dependable and would invariably keep up his commitments. He was also an outspoken person who would call a spade a spade.
While most of the bachelors including me were staying in rooms with paying guest accommodation, GS was made of a different stuff. He had taken on rent a small house in Durgigudi area.   He was sharing the house with another colleague and cooking his own food. He had been inviting us (KNV and me – both bachelors) to his house.
Even after completing nearly five years in the bank I had never thought about setting up my own house. In fact I never had the faintest idea as to what were the requisites of a new home set up. I had thought that the things would take their own course after my marriage. But my first visit to the house of GS was quite a revelation. Here was GS with a home fully equipped to welcome his ‘housewife’! He even had a gas connection of his own in addition to all the requisite furniture and other paraphernalia. What was more – most of the furniture were custom-made to his designs! He even served food to us prepared personally by him. We were simply speechless!
GS later designed and got me a bookrack through his furniture maker. While I expressed my great appreciation of his ‘homely’ skills, I made an on the spot decision. That was – not to take my wife to his house after my marriage! I was sure she would scold me for not even making ready even 1% of what GS had kept ready for his would be life-partner!
------o----- --o--- -----o------o-------o-----o------o------o----
One of the most important personal decisions taken by BGR was obviously to become a member of the Housing Society of the bank in 1968. The society acquired the land in Jayanagar in 1970 and formed a layout in 1976. There were nearly 40 sites with most of them being 30’x40’ size. As BGR was a senior member, he was given a chance to select a site of his choice. He selected a site of maximum size – 2720 square feet. He was allotted the same site and was asked to register the site in his name by 30 June 1976.
With two charge sheets hanging over his head, BGR was not in a mood to even visit Bangalore. On 30.06.1976 he got a call from his two close friends and office bearers of the union. Narayana Bhat (NB) and Upendra Shenoy (US) wanted to know why BGR had not got the site registered. BGR told them his mental state at that time and expressed his unwillingness to proceed to Bangalore. But US insisted that he should be in Bangalore on 02.07.1976. At his insistence BGR left for Bangalore. But he told his wife (Arundhathi) that he had no intention of registering the site. That was the type of his mental state at that time.
Things moved fast in Bangalore. NB and US asked BGR to simply get the site registered in his name by availing the loan already sanctioned for the purpose. NB took him to the housing loan department where Dheerendra, another ex-colleague of BGR, did all the necessary amendments in the sanction letter. Thereafter NB took BGR to Devajeevanahalli branch to avail the loan. After signing the loan papers the loan was disbursed. BGR was then taken to the Sub-Registrar’s office in Jayanagar IV Block where the site was duly registered in his name. The whole process was completed on a single day! The best site in the colony now belonged to BGR! NB then told BGR that he was now free to go wherever he wanted! There could not have been a better example of true friendship and that was it!
Another close friend of BGR and office bearer of the union, A C Nayak, had already started construction of his house in the opposite site of BGR. He had entrusted the construction to a reputed civil contractor called Sampathkumar. Even though his rates were slightly higher, he had built a reputation for the quality of work, integrity and uprightness. BGR along with his wife later met him and gave the work order to him after being fully satisfied and after selecting a suitable plan. The Guddali Pooja was held on 1st November 1976 and Sampathkumar started the work immediately thereafter.
Meanwhile CNN had been transferred and B Gopinatha Rao had taken charge of the branch in Shimoga. BGR had already completed six years of service in Shimoga Main branch and the construction of his house was in progress in Bangalore. He requested Upendra Shenoy to get him a transfer to Bangalore. In the general transfer during May 1977, BGR was posted to the newly formed Government Accounts Section at the Head Office. BGR’s eventful six-year service in Shimoga had come to an end!
While BGR’s career suffered on account of the two charge sheets framed by the management, he had the satisfaction of mentoring a whole bunch of young men at the Shimoga Main branch. This bunch soon dispersed to different branches of the bank across the country on promotion.  What BGR had offered them was a complete ‘mentorship package’. So much so I remember he even booked my railway tickets to Mumbai on my transfer on promotion, made arrangements for my temporary stay through his brother and saw me off at the Shimoga Railway Station!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
7th August 2012

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Taming of a Lion Called HCR

There is a street called Old Barline Road in Shimoga. You will find a beautiful house on this street with the name HCR prominently displayed on the compound grill. The present owner has somehow left the name unchanged even though the HCR-family sold it away more than 20 years ago. Perhaps he is aware of the importance of this family-name in Shimoga. The family indeed had a great legacy and history. But alas! The history appears to have come to an end now. Not because the house is sold out; But because, the last of the stalwarts in the family is no more. What hurts me more is that the end came under very unfortunate conditions and circumstances.
My association with HCR (H C Raja Rao) started as soon as I joined the Canara Bank way back in 1970. HCR was a bachelor at that time even though he was past thirty. His father H C Ramachandra Rao was a well-known advocate in Shimoga who died relatively at a young age. As the eldest among the three brothers and one sister, HCR had the responsibility to look after the affairs of the family. He was in search of a suitable bridegroom for his sister who was younger to him but older than the other two brothers. The second brother Shivaswami was working for the Malnad Arecanut Marketing Society (famously known as MAMCOS). The youngest brother was working at a sugar factory in Hiriyur near Chitradurga. To be precise, the family was well settled but for the delay in fixing the marriage of the only sister.
HCR could very well have continued his father’s legacy by practicing as an advocate. He had finished his law degree and had the advantage of his father’s client base. He had a wonderful English vocabulary and once he started an argument on any topic there was only one way it could conclude. He would offer no leeway to his opponent and would always win the argument hands down. It was indeed a loss to the legal community that he did not choose the hereditary profession, for which he was fully qualified. But the loss to one community became a boon to other community. HCR turned out to be a great trade union leader in the bank.
As a trade union leader HCR was a hard nut to crack. He was fully committed to the organization, which he represented. He held one or the office-bearer post till he retired from the bank on superannuation. He always led from the front and was unwavering in his attitude and action. There were several incidents and tough situations during the period of my association with him in Shimoga for nearly seven years. But every time he managed to handle them with a cool head and with full courage and conviction. Of course he was ably partnered by another stalwart, BGR, on all such occasions and that did make a difference to the final outcome of the situation. But that itself is another story, which I am skipping here for obvious reasons. I would like to write about only two incidents here.
The union had given a one-day strike call and all of us participated in the demonstration staged outside our bank branch. Later we combined with the employees of some other banks and proceeded to another bank branch, the employees of which were not participating in our strike. Our intention was to request those employees to join us. The manager of this bank (a Karnataka-based bank, which was nationalized only later) was a close friend of the local police inspector. He wanted to teach us a lesson for inviting his bank employees to participate in the strike. He had requested his police-friend to be present in the branch to ‘tackle’ us properly! As we entered the bank shouting our usual slogans, we were surprised to be welcomed by a police team headed by the manager’s personal friend - the police inspector!
We were in a state of shock as we were not expecting the police team during our peaceful demonstration. As usual HCR was in front of us and the inspector moved towards him menacingly telling him that he would be arrested if he were to enter the premises. But he was unaware of the courage and the legal background of HCR. HCR simply asked him to show the arrest warrant and proceeded inside the premises asking us to follow him. We shouted a few slogans and requested the employees to join us and left the premises peacefully. The inspector had to simply watch us along with his team and his beloved friend – the manager!
Another occasion was much more dramatic and created a record of sorts in the history of our bank in Shimoga. The then senior manager of the branch had tasted the ‘HCR treatment’ on many occasions and was waiting for an opportunity to teach him a lesson of his life. He had been plotting to send HCR to a Godforsaken place. But all his efforts came unstuck as the management was not prepared to take HCR head-on in view of his strong trade union background. Ultimately one particular day the manager could manage to get a transfer order for HCR to Gulbarga, through his connections at the staff department. But he had no guts to hand over the transfer orders to HCR during the office hours as he expected definite trouble and a showdown.
Immediately after the close of office hours, the manager sent the transfer orders to HCR through a peon along with the relieving order! HCR simply refused to accept the relieving order. The news spread fast and all of us gathered in the cabin of the manager under the leadership of BGR. We wanted to know the reasons for relieving HCR on the date of receiving the transfer order itself. But the manager simply refused to budge and was bent upon relieving HCR on the same day. Apparently he thought that the orders may be cancelled under pressure from union leaders at the Head Office. We refused to leave his cabin until the relieving order was withdrawn. The drama went on till late in the night. In the meanwhile BGR could manage to reach the union office bearers at the Head Office through telephone. Ultimately the manager got instructions from the Head Office not to relieve HCR as the orders had been cancelled! During the entire drama HCR remained as cool as a cucumber!
Even though HCR was such a strong trade union leader he was never arrogant. He would put through his opinion forcefully, but he would never enter into a fight or a quarrel. As a union leader he helped innumerable bank employees in solving their problems. At the personal level he was a very simple soul. He would go out of the way to help others. I would like to mention a particular occasion here.
My mother had an age-old gold jewellery item. She wanted me to get it melted to make a brand new gold chain. As I was a novice in the gold-business, I sought the help of HCR. HCR took me to a noted goldsmith personally. The goldsmith sent us to another person (known as ‘Surya Putra’), who did this specialized work of melting gold. We had to sit through for hours to get the gold melted in front of our eyes. HCR sat through with me with patience all the while. Ultimately I could manage to get a brand new gold chain with some additional gold duly added.
HCR was very jovial in nature and had his own way of telling jokes. In our Shimoga branch there were two senior employees who had joined the bank with SSLC qualification. They had subsequently completed their graduation by appearing for the examinations externally at the Karnatak University. We used to pull their legs by talking lightly about the standards of the said university. One particular day we were making some similar remarks about the standards of this university, when HCR suddenly asked us not to talk so lightly about that university! We were taken aback and requested him to tell us whether he held the said university in high esteem. He told us he never meant that. He clarified that he was only trying to tell us that he knew some persons who had failed even in this university examination!
HCR was a very good host. We always waited for an opportunity to have a lunch or dinner at his house. He used to invite us to his house at least once in a year for one or the other occasion. The lunch used to be very special. The items used to be carefully chosen to satisfy our taste buds! The marriages of HCR and his sister were held simultaneously. HCR’s brother-in-law was from Hassan and was a senior engineer in a public sector steel company. HCR married his brother-in-law’s younger sister. The marriage was celebrated with great fanfare and we all enjoyed the occasion. At last HCR was out of his bachelorhood!
I left Shimoga on transfer in 1977 and had no occasion to meet HCR till 1993 when I was posted as a senior manager in Bangalore. I was allotted quarters in Jayanagar and was pleasantly surprised to see HCR-family as our front door neighbours at the Shanthi Park apartments. HCR told me that he had sold his beautiful house at Shimoga, which he had constructed at his ancestral place with so much care - after I had left Shimoga. HCR later built a house in Jayanagar T-Block; but he had sold it again on account of some ‘vastu’ issues (problems).
HCR had continued to be an office bearer of the Officers’ Union. He had accepted promotions and was a manager by that time. But he was as active as he was earlier in his trade union activities. He was well-known in the head office and could walk into the chambers of the executives. Major part of his time went for union activities in spite of him having two grown up daughters by now. He was also the president of our building society. We had a very nice relationship with his family. I met with a scooter accident during this period and HCR helped me get the insurance claim settled by taking personal interest.
HCR had developed some problems at this stage in his family. His family and his only sister’s family (who were also in Bangalore) were not on talking terms. HCR’s two younger brothers had also drifted away. This must have had its adverse effect on HCR’s health. By the time he retired from service, he had developed severe diabetes. He built a new house at Puttenahalli and moved there on retirement. Already his family was discouraging his colleagues from meeting him for their own reasons. We once met him at his new home and found him having gone down physically. The forced separation from his erstwhile beloved colleagues was affecting his health very adversely. It was a pity to see him in that state. All along, HCR had a well-built personality, even though he was short in height.
My family was out of Bangalore from 2000 to 2004. Immediately on coming back to Bangalore, we made enquiries about HCR’s state of health. BGR told me about his efforts to meet HCR. In fact he had arranged a meeting of HCR’s erstwhile colleagues. But HCR’s family had bluntly refused to permit him to meet his beloved colleagues! BGR also told me that HCR had sold his house and moved to a rented house in J P Nagar.
With great efforts we managed to visit HCR at his rented house. But alas! What we saw was only a shade of the lion-like original HCR! The lion had been tamed and caged by his own family! We were told that HCR was not being allowed to meet his colleagues to save him from risk as he was highly diabetic! It was made clear that his friends and colleagues were not welcome at his home. That was the last time I saw our beloved HCR.
We tried once again to meet HCR to invite him to our first son’s marriage. But we could not simply locate his whereabouts. The family had vacated the rented house with strict instructions to the neighbours that their new address should not be disclosed to anybody. Later I was told by his younger brother that the family had moved to Hassan.
Last month I had an occasion to meet his brother again. He told me that our beloved HCR is no more. He had gathered the information from some sources. It was a great shock for me. I could not imagine that HCR had to pass away in such an unfortunate way. A great leader like him did not deserve this.
But don’t worry HCR. Your friends and erstwhile colleagues are always with you, wherever you are! You know one or the other day all of us are going to join you at the abode of Yama Dharma Raja! Some of us like Pranesh Rao, S J Nayak and P K Rao are already there! You may keep a few catchy slogans ready! Let us all march to the office of Yama Dharma Raja shouting the slogans! I am sure you must have already listed out some of the issues and the demands for discussions!
A V Krishnamurthy
11th May 2010

NRG Prasad-The Gifted Entertainer

Often when I look back on my career path in Canara Bank, the memory of one person brings back smile on my face instantaneously. Yes! This man had a gift of the gab and was a tremendous entertainer. But let me tell you one thing. None of his comments or actions on any particular matter or event looked funny on the face of it. They used to be very subtle invariably and unless you had a sharp brain of your own, you would definitely miss the finer meaning! You would indeed be fooled by his cool and quick comments and actions, as they appeared to be very simple and normal under the given circumstances. 
NRG Prasad was my colleague in our Big Bazaar branch, Shimoga in the early seventies. He had joined the bank a few weeks prior to me. While most of us had initial hiccups in settling down in our first job, Prasad seemed to have fitted into the job straightaway. He was handling the DDs/MTs department as his first assignment. For us, it appeared to be a tough job as there was no scope to commit any mistakes particularly in writing the DDs. Moreover we had to use the protectograph, which also appeared to be a skilled task for us then. But Prasad made it look quite easy. Sure, this man had some unique style in discharging his duties! At least, that was what we thought of him at that time. Indeed he had more to reveal as we discovered in due course.
Some of us are having this habit of adding “you know what?” (Adenu gotthunta?), frequently, in between our conversations. Prasad would cut this stuff short immediately by telling, “for God’s sake, I do not know!” (Nammappana aane nanage Gotthilla!). It was quite characteristic of him and we would be suddenly finding ourselves at a loss of words to continue our conversation. But then that was the typical Prasad for you!
Before I start writing more about Prasad, I should give some statutory warning to my readers! I request them not to try and perform any of his actions, if they are bank employees. It may be injurious for them, as they cannot be expected to be as skilled as Prasad! I also request them to ignore the morality of these actions, as they will not fit into the definition of customer service in the bank. But you will definitely appreciate that his actions carried no ill will towards his victims! They were actions that were initiated under the given circumstances and meant no harm to the affected parties.
My first experience about his way of handling of difficult customers was when I handed over him the charge of bills/cheques collection department. There was one particular customer of the branch who used to tender quite a good number of bills and cheques for collection daily. The person who worked for the customer and was attending the bank matters was a highly irritable fellow. He would start enquiring the fate of the instruments sent for collection without even allowing some transit time that is normally required for realization!
Immediately after Prasad took charge of the department, there was some piling up of instruments for lodging, on account of holidays. The ‘irritable person’ had a hunch that the instruments of his firm had been kept pending at the branch without sending them for collection. He expressed his doubts to Prasad. Prasad called me immediately. He asked me quite seriously whether I had told the irritable person earlier about ‘the daily verification of pending items at the bank by the Police in the evening’. I could not make the head and tail of what he was telling. Any way I said ‘no’. Prasad then told the person that it was mandatory for the Police to verify the pending items at the banks daily! If they found any pending items, they would take severe action against the concerned person immediately! The person was so impressed with what was told by Prasad that he stopped enquiring about the fate of bills thereafter! He sincerely thought that the police would fully take care of his firm’s interest!
By the time I was entrusted with cash department, Prasad was already working as a cashier and had fully picked up all the nuances. I started my duty as a receipt cashier and Prasad was the payment cashier in the adjacent cabin. He was also receiving cash when he had free time. We were not supposed to accept fully cut notes, but certain customers were somehow pushing them to me. I was finding it difficult to dispose them, as they were not accepted at the State Bank. When I told Prasad about my problem, he told me not to worry and to give them to him next day.
The next morning he kept them in a corner of his cashier table, which was not visible to the persons, who were tendering cash as receipts. Just as I was observing, he asked one of the parties in my receipt queue to handover the cash to him. This party always used to remit huge cash and would try to dump some cut notes. He was happy to jump the queue and give his cash to Prasad for counting. Prasad started counting his cash piece by piece. In between he would suddenly throw some notes to a corner of his table, not visible to the party, telling him that they were cut notes! After counting all the notes, he gave him back those notes asking him to exchange them. The notes returned to him were actually the cut notes I had given to Prasad! He had set aside the same number of notes from the cash given by the party, which were actually normal notes! Later he gave me back the normal notes in exchange for my cut notes. He had actually performed a ‘P C Sorcar magic’ as far as the party was concerned! He told me that the party was known to cheat his customers and this was only a minor punishment for him!
On another occasion it was my turn to hand over charge to him of the term deposit department. In those days the interest was paid only half-yearly in June and December and there were no compound interest/re-investment schemes. Many of the depositors wanted payment of interest in cash. It was a laborious task to prepare cash vouchers for each deposit.  They were to be prepared in duplicate and revenue stamp was to be affixed on each voucher.
There was one major depositor called Bhagwath who had a number of deposits in the names of his family members. He used to send a messenger to collect the interest in cash on all of his family deposits. This messenger was a cranky fellow who would sit in the department through the entire day. He would go on talking and would hardly allow you to concentrate on your work. Besides, he wanted to be served tea at the interval of every half an hour as he was representing the number two depositor of the branch! He was indeed a nuisance. But we were helpless. I had hinted Prasad about this gentleman whom he had to face at the end of each half-year. He told me he knew exactly how to tackle this special character!
That half-year end arrived as usual. As expected, the messenger of Bhagwath also arrived at the branch to collect the interest. Prasad welcomed him with due respect and requested him to take his seat. He immediately ordered a ‘special tea’ for him as the first serving. As there was some delay in serving the tea, Prasad himself went out to get the tea. He returned after some time with the ‘special tea’. The party was quite impressed by the treatment meted out to him by Prasad. He began his chatter as usual sipping the tea simultaneously. We thought it would end only at the end of office hours! But we were wrong. After some time he told Prasad that he wanted to visit the toilet. Prasad guided him with due courtesy. He came back after some time, when another cup of ‘special tea’ was waiting for him! He drank it as usual and started his chatter again. But alas! He had to visit the toilet again! This time after coming back, he told Prasad to keep his vouchers ready and that he would get back to the branch only later to receive cash. He left the branch in a hurry. He came and collected the cash only at the end of the day. Thereafter he never sat in the branch and asked for any tea! It appears that a medicine called ‘Pargolax’ did the trick and resulted in the change of his attitude!
Many of us in the bank used to visit a hotel called Manohara CafĂ© during our lunch break. After coming out of the hotel, we would visit a Muslim Pan Beeda Stall at the Ameer Ahmed Circle. The shop owner was a friendly guy who knew all of us by our names. One day he asked Prasad whether he had a brother in Tarikere town. It seems he used to visit Tarikere frequently. Prasad told him he didn’t have any. After some days, he asked the same question to Prasad and he patiently told him ‘no’. But the matter did not end there. The guy repeated the question to him on another occasion! This time Prasad told him clearly that as far as he knew, he did not have any brother in Tarikere town! However, he also told him that he would enquire with his father in the evening about such possibility! He assured him that he would get back to him on the next day!
Our branch conducted a picnic to Sringeri town. We also visited the Sringeri Mutt and had a darshan of the Goddess Sharadamba. We sought an audience with the Swamiji and got the necessary permission. However we were told that we had to remove our shirts during the meeting. Prasad immediately told us that he may be excused. When asked for the reasons, he told us that he would remove his shirt only in front of two persons. One was his doctor and the other was his Wife!
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Prasad has since retired from the bank on superannuation. I met him very recently in a marriage function. Presently he is practicing as an advocate in Bangalore. I am sure his opponent advocates must be having a tough time with him. He has become an expert in handling clients who are facing suits filed against them for having their cheques bounced for want of funds!  He told me that he is accepting his fee as hard cash in advance from this category of clients! He does not want the cheques issued by them in his favour to bounce! Long live Prasad! You have a class of your own! Nobody can beat you there!
A V Krishnamurthy
11th July 2010

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Looking Back - Episode –24

The Shimoga Main branch was one of the branches identified for the purpose of extending on-the-job training for directly recruited officers in our bank. BGR took extraordinary interest in the matter of training such officers who were posted to work for a period of three months in our branch. In fact BGR had a passion to train his juniors. Several probationary officers including T R Sastry, MSR Manjunatha, Sukumar, Swaminathan, Narasimhan and Mihir Samaddar underwent training at our branch. Some of them became top executives eventually and acknowledge the quality of training received under BGR even to this day.
NSS – The Handwriting Specialist!
BGR also used to take extra interest in training the sub-staff promoted clerks. While he could train Pattabhi and KSP Hegde successfully, he had to give it up in case of another such person. The gentleman was N S Satyanarayana Kamath (NSS), a handwriting specialist! NSS had a special handwriting that could not be read even by the handwriting experts! Actually BGR having worked as a typist was proud of his capacity to read the ugliest of handwritings. But he had to simply give it up in the case of NSS. The beauty of it was that even NSS could not make out what exactly he had written whenever he was asked to read out his output!
BGR had a major problem in allocating a department to NSS. None of the supervisors/accountants were prepared to take him in their departments. There were only two departments that were under the direct control of BGR. They were the clearing and tappal departments. NSS had to be accommodated in one of these departments. The problem was – in the clearing department NSS was supposed to leave for the Clearing House by 12 noon. But he would have a difference of more than a crore of rupees when the maximum turnover in the Shimoga Clearing House used to be in some lakhs! NSS had no control over the number of zeroes he was putting against each digit! A couple of other staff had to assist him to tally the figures and pack him off to the clearing house. But he would never admit his mistakes and would rather blame others for the mess he used to create!
Whenever NSS was placed in the tappal department, the Shimoga Head Post Office sorting department used to be in trouble! None of the sorting staff could read out the names of the places in the addresses written by NSS! Initially they used to complain over phone. But after some time the complaints came to a stop. We were wondering how the staff could manage. But after some time the complaint came from the Post Master himself! He told the manager CNN that the sorting staff were marking overtime for doing research work on finding out the names of places written on the envelopes by our NSS– the Great Handwriting Specialist!
There were several jokes on the special handwriting of NSS. They used to say that NSS could never resign his job in frustration – because the management could never read his resignation letter! Another joke was that NSS should be careful if he is addressing any letter to the bank management. There was every possibility that the management would read it as a resignation letter and accept it immediately with pleasure!
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Even before the enquiry of the charge sheet against BGR was taken up, the management served one more charge sheet on him. During the emergency several privileges of the trade unions were curtailed. Among them was the right to conduct the staff meetings in the branch premises by the recognised unions. At that time the branch had become eligible for the post of a sub-manager. As the senior most Accountant BGR was acting as the sub-manager. The union gave a call to the members to defy and conduct meetings at the bank premises.
Mohan Katti was the branch secretary and A R Madhavan was the Assistant secretary at that time. Both of them met the manager CNN and told him that they were holding a meeting at the branch as usual at 5.30 pm.  CNN told them that there was a direction from the management not to permit such meetings. CNN left the branch just before 5.30 pm to avoid the showdown. He was quite aware that BGR would definitely attend the meeting as a member. Before leaving the branch he tactfully asked BGR to ensure that no meeting was held at the branch! He reminded BGR that in his capacity as the sub-manager of the branch it was his duty to enforce the bank’s directions! But BGR told him that as a member of the union he could not do it. But CNN simply disappeared from the scene. The meeting was held and BGR also participated in the meeting.
The bank served charge sheets on BGR, Mohan Katti and Madhavan for defying the bank’s directions. The charge sheet of BGR stated that he had allowed the meeting to take place despite instructions from the manager (CNN) not to permit the union members to hold the branch meeting. So BGR had one more charge sheet on his head. Some vested interests even spread a rumour that BGR was likely to be suspended! In fact such rumours were highly believable in the days of emergency. Indeed BGR was under very high mental stress during that period. He remembers how his better-half stood by him in those tough days. She was aware that BGR stood for certain principles in life. No doubt he was a staunch unionist. But he never compromised the bank interest in his long career in the bank. She knew it and she stood by him through thick and thin.
During 1975-1976, two other officers, Dinesh Nayak and P S Kamath who were junior to BGR, were promoted as managers  and transferred from our branch. With two charge sheets hanging on his head, BGR had to bide his time till the enquiries were taken up. But the management, as expected, was not in a hurry!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
4th August 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Looking Back - Episode – 23

One of the important achievements of BGR in the Shimoga Main branch was guiding the young and aspiring employees of the branch in the matter of preparation of the yearly and half-yearly balance sheet and profit & Loss account of the branch. In those days the half-yearly balance sheet fell due on 30th June and the annual balance sheet on 31st December. In most of the branches the work was the exclusive preserve of senior accountants. The work would be completed only by late evening on the closing day that would be a banking holiday for the customers.
BGR saw that the juniors like us, particularly those working in advance department, were totally involved in the closing work by distributing the work well in advance. He had a knack of identifying the right persons for the right kind of job. He would ensure that the work on the previous day (29th June or 30th December) was completed early and the job of preparing the P&L account and balance sheet took off immediately thereafter. All the employees would work as a close-knit team and there used to be a festival atmosphere in the branch. We used to even sit late in the night so that the work was completed before we left the branch. Consequently 30th June and 31st December used to be like unofficial holidays for us. We would assemble at the branch for a lunch party and leave the office early in the afternoon. The exposure helped us immensely later in our career as managers and senior managers.
I have already written that BGR was a staunch union leader as a member of AIBEA. He continued his leadership in the Shimoga branch even as he performed his duties excellently as an accountant. He worked hand-in-hand with another strong leader, H C Raja Rao (HCR), who was indeed a tough nut to crack, as found by the manager CNN. In fact CNN’s only target appeared to be  - to get rid of HCR from the branch! While he failed miserably in his first attempt, he succeeded in the second. But HCR managed to continue his stay in Shimoga by getting a posting to our Bhadravathi branch. I have already written an exclusive story on HCR. Those of my readers who are interested may read the attachment herewith.
BGR and HCR together conducted several union activities in Shimoga. In fact bank employees from several banks in the Shimoga district used to seek the guidance of the two on different matters. However, the emergency declared by the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in June 1975 saw a clampdown on the union activities in the banks. Overnight, the negotiation rights of the union for the annual bonus were taken away with the introduction of ex-gratia payments in lieu of bonus. The unions found it tough to manage with several cases foisted on them by the managements. Even collection of subscriptions from the members became tough with banks refusing to accept mandates for deductions from the salary.
It was in this background that the union leaders asked BGR and HCR to collect contributions from the general public. In those days a music programme called Ashok Charan Night (a music brand of Mangalore) had become very popular. BGR & HCR decided to arrange a programme in Shimoga to collect subscriptions through tickets for the show. Even though BGR was a master in organising such programmes, the things were not so simple in view of the prevailing emergency. Conducting a popular music programme in the night also required permission from the police authorities – not a simple issue in the days of emergency.
The District Superintendent of Police (DSP) at that juncture was none other than H T Sangliana who later became a legendary police officer on whom three Kannada films were made with one of them becoming a superhit. It was not clear what type of stand the upright police officer would take under the circumstances. An innovative idea suddenly struck BGR. He along with HCR met the DSP with a different request. They extended an official invitation to him to be the chief guest on the occasion! The strategy worked and Sangliana agreed to be the chief guest. Then the question of seeking permission became only a formality!
The union had given a collection target of Rs10,000. But the over enthusiastic team led by BGR and HCR collected Rs30,000 through sale of tickets – quite a huge amount in those day standards. There was a minor hitch before the programme commenced on the D-day. The chief guest Sangliana had gone out on official duty and was held up. He sent a wireless message that he will be delayed by half an hour. As it was a highly popular programme it was a difficult situation to delay it. However, the programme was postponed to 6.30 pm from 6 pm. Sangliana arrived just before 6.30 pm and he profusely apologized to the audience for the delay. The programme was a grand success.
The union activities had already costed heavily for BGR just before the emergency was clamped in June 1975. George Fernandes as the President of the Railway Union had called for the Railway strike from 8th May 1974. In support of the Railway men the central trade unions called for a one-day nationwide strike on 15th May 1974. BGR was at that time holding the first (cash) key as senior Accountant, while the second key was with HCR. The other officers were either on leave or deputation. BGR took a confirmation from the manager CNN that he had the keys of the office premises. Both BGR and HCR participated in the strike along with other employees. The branch could not function on that day as CNN was the only person on duty!
The bank called for an explanation from BGR and HCR for not handing over the  keys before going on strike. Both of them sent the explanation that as CNN was the only person to attend the office, there was no way they could handover the keys. Both of them took up the matter with the Union and were assured that the Union would ensure that no punitive action was taken against them. Meanwhile BGR had become eligible for promotion as manager and he received three letters in July, August and October calling for his willingness to be posted as sub-manager in Kolkata, Warrangal and East Zone.
BGR had lost his father in October 1973 and the first death anniversary was due in October 1974. In order to attend the ceremony, BGR requested the bank to post him only after November. BGR also collected the information that in view of his seniority, he was likely to get a posting in Karnataka by Jan 1975. BGR undertook full responsibility for the preparation of P&L account and balance sheet for the year 1974. As usual the work was completed on 30th December itself and a party was held on 31st December. BGR was in high spirits in anticipation of securing a posting as manager in Karnataka. All of us were getting ready to bid him farewell on promotion.
But the bank management was quite unkind to him. A charge sheet was delivered to him on the 1st of January 1975. The power of a charge sheet is such that the charge-sheeted officer’s promotion is withheld till the charge sheet is vacated. It was obvious that the charge sheet was served with the specific intention of withholding BGR’s promotion. Actually the charge sheet had been received much earlier at the branch. BGR could make out that CNN had delayed the handing over till the annual balance sheet work was completed smoothly!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
2nd August 2012