Friday, January 18, 2013

My Days West - Episode-4

It was a Saturday afternoon when I was handed over an allotment letter from the bank stating that I had been allotted flat number 8 at ‘Vaseem Villa’ in Santacruz East on a monthly rent of Rs96. I was to take possession from another officer, who was shifting to Bandra quarters. I was told by my colleagues that I was lucky to get the quarters so fast, the location of which was ideal from all angles. Vaseem Villa was just three minutes walk from Santacruz station. Of course, I was aware that the Bombay airport was located in Santacruz. In fact it was hardly about two kms from our quarters. Santacruz suburb was a centrally located suburb of Bombay of those days. It was easy to travel to any part of Bombay from this location. It was very suitable for an inspecting officer as he had to visit branches from Borivli to Colaba and from Ambernath/Ullhasnagar/Kalyan to Nariman Point.

Without any delay I reached the quarters and took possession of the flat. The owner of the building also stayed in one portion of it in ground floor and had let out two big flats above to two families. The other portion had 12 one-room flats all let out to our bank. The landlord had expired and the landlady had a running feud with the bank as her request for vacation of the flats/increasing of rent was not considered by the bank. Of course the bank took protection under the Bombay tenancy act. The flats were in a reasonably good condition. I was immensely pleased to have the possession of a flat in Bombay in the prestigious locality. I should mention here that very few institutions including banks could afford to provide quarters to their employees in Bombay. Our bank was really doing a great favour to junior officers, who were otherwise not eligible for quarters in other parts of India.

I have to mention here that I was already engaged to a girl from Puttur when I arrived in Bombay. I had made it a pre-condition that the marriage date may be fixed only after I was allotted quarters by the bank. I conveyed the good news to my parents without any further delay requesting them to go ahead.

While I was very happy with allotment of quarters, I had a real problem in leaving Matunga for good. I was so accustomed to the area by then and the main issue was the food at the Rama Nayaks’. I had developed a sort of attachment to the area between Kings Circle and the Matunga stations and also to my roommate, who continued to be a mysterious person to me by not revealing his occupation! The way he was continuing his occupation of the shared accommodation at the lodge, made me wonder whether he was up to a Guineas record! He had already completed a ‘life-term’ (14 years) in that room! He must have seen any number of roommates. It was something like, “Men may come and men may go. But I will go on forever!”

I wish to mention here the occasional doubts I used to get on my roommate. He was basically a bully and had a dominating personality both physically and otherwise. In those days, Vardhabhai or Varadarajan Mudaliar, the south Indian mafia don, was ruling the Matunga and Dharavi areas of Bombay. The trio of Hajee Mastan, Karim Lala and Vardhabhai ruled the underworld of Bombay during the seventies to early eighties. Smuggling was one of the major areas of income for their gangs. I had an apprehension that my roommate was a member of one such gang, in all possibility, the gang of Vardhabhai. Vardhabhai was also famous for the annual Ganesh Pooja festival he used to arrange lavishly just outside the Matunga central Railway station (the entrance to Rama Nayaks’). Later I visited the place many times during the annual festival. But while I could see lord Ganesha, I could not manage to get a glimpse of Vardhabhai in spite of my best efforts! My readers should be aware that Kamal Hassan’s famous film Nayagan was based on the real-life story of Vardhabhai. He met his nemesis, the police officer Y C Pawar, in the early eighties. Pawar was responsible for the total elimination of Varadarajan’s gang and he made him flee to Chennai. Vardhabhai died in Chennai in 1988. As regards my roommate friend, he told me good bye on that Sunday in Matunga and I never saw him again.

Anyways, I said ‘adieu’ to Matunga and shifted my bag and baggage to Santacruz. I had to purchase some minimum furniture and other items for occupying the flat. My friend V T Pai helped me in this regard. He took me to Andheri station and got everything for me. You may find it difficult to believe. But Pai managed to transport everything on Western Railway second class compartment for me. The autos were not permitted to ply in Bombay then. They were permitted one or two years later only from Bandra towards Borivli. The minimum fare fixed was Re1 in the first instance! Taxis were hired rarely by the middleclass and the hiring was restricted to only traveling outside Bombay and on arrival at Bombay (to and fro residence to Railway/bus station). People made full use of suburban Railway facility and the efficient services of ‘BEST’ (The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking), which was really the best!

I started gaining confidence in my workplace over a period of time. In the beginning I used to point out even the minor mistakes in my observations. In my opinion ‘mistakes were after all mistakes’ and needed to be pointed out. But slowly I had to change my attitude. I decided to highlight only major mistakes or irregularities. I thought it may not be worthwhile to waste time on matters, which were of no consequence.

As an example of the changing attitudes I would cite one item of our inspection. We had to scrutinize the slip bundles (all vouchers including paid cheques of a particular day stitched together) on a random basis. In the initial days I used to select invariably some slip bundles for the month of January in a year. I was sure to get many cheques with one year old dates, which I would list out for rectification as stale cheques. This happens because every year people keep writing the previous year by force of habit for some time (one would write 01.01.2008 for 01.01.2009 in the cheques).

My observations were causing lot of problems to the branches as they had to contact the individual depositors and get the corrections done by them. After sometime I got fed up myself with this long list. I also thought that no useful purpose would be served by getting such rectifications done. I simply stopped selecting bundles for the month of January!

One of the important areas of inspection used to be the checking of stock declared by the borrowers under their open cash credit accounts in their monthly statements. In Bombay one had to visit godowns in far away locations like Vapi, Kalyan, Thane and places around the Bombay Port (bonded warehouses). Only senior officers used to inspect the cash credit accounts, which always formed a major chunk of our bank advances. I accompanied our team-leader Rao on a few occasions to observe how he was conducting such verifications. It definitely required some special skills. I had to develop the same over a period of time.

Our team completed the inspection of Girgaum branch in the month of July. My next assignment was at our Andheri-West branch. As it was comparatively a smaller branch, only two officers were required. Again Mr. Rao came with me as my team leader. The location was quite convenient to me as Andheri was the second station from Santacruz after Vile Parle. The branch was also located close to the station. I was no more new to the inspection department! I went there with my vast (!) experience at the Girgaum branch. My body language was entirely different! I had come a long way from my non-descript village in the interior Malnad region of Karnataka.
------- (To be continued)-------
A V Krishnamurthy
10th May, 2009

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