Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Days West - Episode-8

By the time I completed my assignment at the A R Street branch, a decision had been taken by the department to form regular teams under the leadership of different managers. Till then there were no fixed teams and we used to visit branches with different officers every time. Also fresh assignment was given only after the earlier assignment was completed. But it was now decided that each team will have three officers headed by a manager. Each manager would be allotted three to four branches at a time to be inspected at his discretion by distributing the programme among the team including himself. I was told that the team formation was not a smooth affair. There was a great demand for certain senior officers as the new managers wanted to get trained through their association. There was an equal resistance against allotment of certain ‘difficult officers’ in the team. 

By a stroke of luck I was placed in the best team. It was a general opinion and I was congratulated by the people known to me. Our team Manager was Mr. Surendra Kamath who was the only manager who had earlier worked in Bombay and had joined the department on promotion. We had the best senior officer in our team. It was none other than Selvaraj, about whom I have written in my previous episode. Other than me there was Hegde who had worked with me in Girgaum during my first assignment in Bombay. Kamath was known as a thorough gentleman and came from a very good background including his professional career.

Kamath was particular about taking Selvaraj with him. He was given a programme to inspect five branches including two outstation branches. He took the other two officers with him to cover a big local branch. One of the branches given to him was our Versova branch. It was comparatively a new branch with a very small advances portfolio. I got an opportunity to inspect the branch independently. Besides I could reach the branch from my quarters hardly within half an hour. I had to travel by train up to Andheri (second station from Santacruz). The journey was in the opposite direction of peak hour traffic and hence was very comfortable. From there I could reach Versova by bus within ten minutes. In those days all the suburban branches used to work in two shifts (morning and evening). But inspecting officers were permitted to work in normal office timings of 10 am to 5 pm. Branches used to accommodate us by asking one or two employees to stay with us during the long break.

The branch was headed by a Manager called Mallya, who had kept everything in a perfect manner ably assisted by a team of dedicated employees. He ensured that the defects pointed out were rectified immediately. In those days all the suburban branches in Bombay used to achieve steady growth in deposits with absolutely no necessity to go out for canvassing. The ‘walk-in’ deposits were more than sufficient to meet the targets effortlessly. Versova branch was not an exception. Besides, the area was just taking off as a residential area. Later the area developed to such a prime locality that the top film stars chose it for their residence next only to Juhu. Our bank had purchased a big apartment to be used as bank quarters. The branch was located in the ground floor of the apartments.

The Versova inspection was a highly satisfying experience for me. I could prove that I was capable of completing a branch inspection independently within a short period of joining the department. But things were to turn very bad for me by the time I completed the assignment.  I was hoping against hope that I would not be asked to take up outstation inspection. While Hegde was a bachelor at that time, Kamath and Selvaraj had well-entrenched families in Bombay. There was absolutely no problem for them to proceed out of Bombay. But it was a big problem for me. I was just married and my wife was new to Bombay. It was very difficult for me to leave her alone in the quarters.

But Kamath decided that the two outstation branches were to be covered by Selvaraj and me. I had no alternative than to leave my wife alone in Bombay for nearly two months. Both the branches were in MP. We had to first inspect Saugor (Sagar) branch and then proceed to the branch at the legendary city of Ujjain.

I should place it on record that I was really fortunate to have the company of a senior officer like Selvaraj. He was a Chartered Accountant having gained vast experience in inspection - especially in the matter of corporate advances. While he was meticulous in covering all aspects needing attention of an inspector, he had a highly balanced and pragmatic approach to the problems faced by the branches. What was more important, he was highly organised and at the same time very understanding in dealing with a ‘novice’ like me. He was equally meticulous in handling all his personal matters.

For me it was the first long distance journey by train towards the Vindhyas. Selvaraj handled everything and kept a record of all expenditure and for me it was a question of sharing half the cost in the end. In those days bank was paying a meager daily allowance of Rs20 per day with which we had to manage our lodging, boarding and all other expenses. Selvaraj used to manage the finances like an intelligent housewife. He treated me like a younger brother accompanying the elder. In all it was a huge ‘learning experience’ for me.

The Sagar branch was headed by a Maharashtrian Manager called Garpure. It was the first posting for him out of Maharashtra as a Manager. He was ‘all at sea’ in the branch and was just counting his days to go back. The earlier Manager had made a mess of the branch and Garpure had ‘maintained’ the mess without his own contribution. As the earlier Manager had been charge sheeted, Garpure wanted to just save his skin!

Our main problem in Sagar was to get proper food. There were absolutely no good hotels even though Sagar was a district headquarters. The branch had a good Accountant by name Parshi. Both Selvaraj and I thought that he must be a Muslim or a Parsi (Zoroastrian). Imagine our surprise when we came to know that he was a Brahmin from Andhra with Kannada as his mother tongue! He gave us good company. He agreed that there was no proper food available for us. In fact we had to manage without any lunch in the afternoon. Parshi introduced us to a north Indian hotel where they were serving good rotis for dinner. But the problem was the dirty wash basin! Parshi had warned us that whatever good food we enjoyed and ate wood be out (!) when we went to wash basin in the end. How true he was! We were forced to take a mug of water and go out for washing after food. There was absolutely no scope for eating rice. It was available, but in a half-baked condition. It appears nobody taught them how to cook rice correctly.

Parshi invited us to his house one evening for dinner. You can imagine our excitement. We were just desperate to eat proper home-food at least once. We were not disappointed. His wife served us excellent south Indian food. We really enjoyed it thoroughly. But Parshi had a problem thereafter. When he was leaving the office in the evening daily, we started looking at him in anticipation! Our desperation to eat good food, at least once in a way, was so visible on our faces! But Parshi was helpless. He had his own limitations after all!

When I took up the Nitya Nidhi accounts (similar to Pigmy accounts in Syndicate Bank) for inspection, the Manager Garpure told me that the scheme had been stopped in the branch as the agent had resigned one year back. He thought I would not cover it by telling so. But I immediately asked him whether he had followed the procedure by giving a newspaper advertisement, approval from Divisional Office, etc.  He had overlooked all the procedural aspects by simply taking a resignation letter from the agent. He also revealed a shocking information to me and asked my advice. As per him the agent had only stopped remitting the money to the bank after tendering resignation. But he had continued the collections from the depositors, who were not aware that he was no more representing the bank!

I advised Garpure to immediately report the matter to the Divisional Office. I also told him to give a publication in a local newspaper that the agent’s service had been terminated and he was no more authorised to collect money for the bank. It was also important to notify all the existing depositors that they should confirm the balances and not to hand over any money to the agent as his services had been terminated.

Garpure had committed another blunder. Sagar was well-known for Tendu leaves (patta) business. Madhya Pradesh (MP) was the biggest producer of Tendu leaves in India. These leaves are used in the manufacture of bidis. These leaves are ideal for bidi rolling on account of their agreeable flavour, flexibility, resistance to decay and capacity to retain fires. Patel & Co, who were the biggest traders in Tendu leaves, were the major clients of the bank with large credit limits. The party had a key-shut cash credit facility under which the stock was to be held under bank’s lock & key. The stock was to be released only on payment by keeping the godown in bank’s possession. Garpure was totally in awe of the party (it was a fact that Patels were a highly prestigious and aristocratic family in Sagar). Even though he had used the bank lock for the godown, he had made his job simple by conveniently handing over the keys to the party! He was also afraid of taking us to the godown for inspection as he thought that Patels may take it as an insult. The case was handled efficiently by Selvaraj.

We could not enjoy our stay in Sagar on account of non-availability of proper food. Besides we were under continuous pressure of work on account of the inexperienced and inefficient Manager. But we were aware that Sagar was a beautiful city otherwise. I am giving below a brief account of the city in the interest of the readers:

Called the city of lakes, Sagar is a city in a picturesque situation on a spur of the Vindhya Range and 1758 ft. above sea-level. It is a handsomely built university-town with great natural beauty and cultural heritage. Hindi is the official language of the city, while Bundelkhandi is the local dialect. Sagar is well known for its contribution to Hindi literature, and hosts a number of writers, poets and other artists leading in their respective fields. Sagar has its own hospital and medical research centre called Bhagyoday Tirth, as well as an army cantonment unit.

Sagar owes its importance to having been made the capital of the Maratha governor Govind Pant Bundele who established himself here in 1735. By a treaty concluded with the Maratha Peshwa in 1818, at the conclusion of the Third Anglo-Maratha War, the greater part of the present district was made over to the British. The town became the capital of the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories, and then attached to the North-Western Provinces. The Saugor and Nerbudda Territories later became part of the Central Provinces (afterwards Central Provinces and Berar) and Sagar District was added to Jabalpur Division. During the Revolt of 1857 the whole district was in the possession of the rebels, except the town and fort, in which the British were shut up for eight months, until relieved by Sir Hugh Rose. The rebels were totally defeated and British rule restored by March, 1858. In the early 20th century Sagar had a British cantonment, which contained a battery of artillery, a detachment of a European regiment, a native cavalry and a native infantry regiment. Upon India's independence in 1947, the former Central Provinces and Berar became the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

University of Sagar was the first university to be established in Madhya Pradesh, and the 18th university of India. A precursor to this university was established well before Indian independence. Situated on top of hills overlooking the town it has an extensively large UTD Campus. Sagar also has a Government Engineering College and its very own Sagar Medical College to train doctors and nurses.
------- (To be continued)------
A V Krishnamurthy
10th June, 2009

No comments: