Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Days West - Episode - 3

I was at the Matunga Road station of the Western Railway at about 9.30 am in the morning. I was traveling for the first time in this Suburban Railway, which was known for its excellent services. It was quite unlike Central Railways, which always had problems of its own. These trains originated from Virar, Borivli, Andheri and Bandra stations and terminated at the Church Gate Station.  During peak hours the frequency of fast trains used to be within a gap of 2-3 minutes on many occasions. Inspecting officers were eligible for travel by I class by purchasing monthly passes. One could purchase a two-way pass, which allows you to travel to both VT station on central Railways and Church Gate Station in Western Railways via Dadar station. I purchased a pass accordingly, which cost me only Rs40 at that time. One could travel any number of times in a month with this pass in the two-way route.

The travel in first class was quite comfortable as compared to the overcrowded 2nd class compartments. I was to get down at the Charni Road station, which was just before Marine Line station and Church Gate station. Our bank had located most of its branches in Bombay very close to the suburban Railway stations and that was a great convenience for the staff. Our Girgaum branch was about 15 minutes walk from the station and I reached it comfortably. I met Mr. K Rao, the leader of our team at the branch. There was another officer Mr.Hegde with him, who was also a promoted officer of our batch. Mr. Hegde had worked in our Malleshwaram, Bangalore branch before coming to Bombay.

The Girgaum Branch was headed by a Senior Manager called Ganapat (KPG) Rao. He had worked mostly in zonal office and was an authority as far as advances were concerned. He had trained several officers in credit-appraisal, particularly, for the corporate accounts at the zonal office. He was a very nice gentleman and took the audit observations seriously. He respected the initiative of the young officers.

The Girgaum branch was a prestigious branch of the bank. It had the distinction to be the only branch of the bank at the all-India level, which was designated to handle import business directly, whereas all other branches had to conduct the business through the foreign departments concerned. It was also the only branch in Bombay (other than the Fort branch, which was headed by a Divisional Manager) to be fully air-conditioned. I got the privilege to work here during the entire summer of 1977, thereby avoiding the inconvenience faced in the other offices.

The Girgaum area was dominated by the automobile dealers, particularly Punjabis, in those days. The branch had about 130 staff occupying three floors of a building and another annex, which handled the foreign business exclusively. It was indeed a prestige to work in this branch at that time. 

It was customary to ask the new inspecting officers to cover the deposits and other miscellaneous departments including the advances against deposits. Accordingly I was assigned the work by Mr.Rao. I had worked in all the departments including advances except the foreign exchange business at the Shimoga main branch. It came in handy for me in my inspection work. But I had no exposure to corporate advances. I went through the previous inspection report for guidance. I had been given a manual on inspection of branches, which was supposed to be a Bible as far as inspectors were concerned. We used to refer it as ‘Red Book’ in view of its colour and the importance attached to it by our department. Our bank had designed the inspection report with detailed check-lists and one could cover the different aspects basing in theses check-lists. The bank also had a manual for different type of deposits, advances and miscellaneous departments. Of course one had to go through the circulars issued from time to time by our Head Office to keep himself up-to-date.

We took our lunch in a nearby place where there was a south Indian mess. The food was reasonably good without much oil content and charges were quite reasonable. Rao told me that it was very much necessary to have at least one good meal everyday and so long as I was in Matunga, I could have my dinner at the Rama Nayak’s. The other officer Hegde was staying with his brother-in-law in Thane, a Central Railway suburb, and was quite comfortable. He had also already settled down in the work place as he had reported early. At the end of my first day on duty, I found myself quite comfortable. There was no necessity for the inspectors to work late and we could leave the office at 6 pm comfortably.

I could get into an Andheri-bound train at Charni Road station and reached Matunga Road Railway station within half an hour. On getting down at the said station one has to pass through a very lengthy over bridge covering the central Railways workshop. This workshop was supposed to be the biggest Railway workshop in Asia in those days. It extended from the Western Railway Matunga Road station to the Central Railway Matunga station. I finished my dinner at Rama Nayak’s and reached my lodge by 8 pm. My roommate made his usual enquiries and found me well settled in my new posting on the first day itself.
Our team had a nice experience of working together at the Girgaum branch. Slowly I picked up the nuances of the branch inspection. I remember one particular interesting episode in this branch. I was covering the term loans of the branch. Among the loans was a premises loan sanctioned to the owner of the branch building. Originally the repayment was to come from only the monthly rent payment by the bank, which was a book adjustment. Subsequently the loan was enhanced and the land-lord was to pay the additional installment by cash. But he was not properly informed in the matter. The department recovered the additional installment by debiting the current account of the owner resulting in overdrawings. While the loan appeared as a regular account, the overdrawings had touched Rs3 lakh. The owner was not aware of this situation as the branch used to honour his cheques and kept him in the dark about the arrears.

When I brought this to the notice of the Senior Manger, he was totally upset and took the concerned officers to task. The land-lord was an aristocratic Maharashtrian gentleman with impeccable manners. He settled the arrears immediately and took us for a dinner. He had a very high opinion about Bangalore city and the city-culture. He told us that he was particularly pleased with one aspect – Bangaloreans did not have the habit of spitting on the walls!  He showed us how Bombayites had spit on the walls near the stairs of the bank premises owned by him!

I developed close friendship with some officers at the branch. I was particularly close to an officer by name V T Pai (who was from Sagar in Shimoga district). He was a senior officer staying in bank quarters at Malad. He used to take me a to a Maharashtrian hotel on our way back from office only to eat the hot and tasty ‘Sabudana Vada’. He also guided me as to how one could get a seat in the Western Railway in the evening hours from Charni Road station. The methodology was as follows:

Instead of getting into a train coming from Church Gate station to go towards our destination, we would catch a train going towards Church Gate, which was only the second station after Marine Lines station. During the evening peak hours the trains would almost go empty towards Church Gate and come back fully loaded in that station itself. Hence one could not hope to get a seat at Charni road station. All the trains reaching Church Gate would start on their reverse journey within hardly a few minutes. Hence one would not waste much time by traveling in the reverse direction, but could occupy a seat from Charni Road Station itself. The passengers waiting at Church Gate station would sometimes find all the seats fully occupied by such people traveling in the reverse direction! The only risk was the destination of the train from Church Gate would be decided only at the Church Gate station. If the train is terminating at Andheri and you were to travel to Malad, Jogeshwari, Kandivli, Borivli or Virar, you had to catch another train in Andheri station.

Mr. P K Rao had told me to regularly follow up for the allotment of bank-quarters. I used to telephone the premises department during week-ends. I also personally visited the office on a few occasions. Ultimately one fine morning (after about a month) I got a call informing me that I had been allotted a flat at the bank-quarters in Santacruz East. With that a new chapter had opened in my life at Bombay.
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
3rd May, 2009

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