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

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