Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Days West - Episode-10

Right from day one, the Manager had a lot of apprehensions about me. He found it easy to handle Selvaraj. On the other hand he found me ‘raw’ and always digging out something! Hence he kept an ‘eye’ on me. While it was true that I was a bit raw in my approach at that time, there was no necessity for me to dig out anything. He had kept everything flowing on the surface!

Ujjain had a good number of textile mills in those days (I am told that all of them have been closed since then). The branch had financed a few of them mostly by way of open cash credit facilities. Selvaraj was covering all the major advance accounts. I have already mentioned about the methodology adopted by the Manager to make the inspectors accountable. He got one live opportunity during the course of our inspection.

One evening on a Saturday we were about to wind up our work to leave for our lodge. We found one of the directors of a textile mill, enjoying large facilities, walking in. He told the Manager that a huge fire had destroyed a major portion of the stock in the factory. The Manager became nervous immediately. But the director was cool. He told the Manager to take out the insurance policy document held by the branch for his verification and to lodge a claim with the insurance company. Selvaraj had already noted down the details of the policy in his notebook. Fortunately it was found that the stock was fully covered by the policy and the policy was live. The Manager was still shaky. The director told the Manager that he would arrange for the visit of the insurance company officials on the next day (a Sunday). He requested the Manager to be present during their visit. The Manager immediately assured him that he would be there along with the inspectors! Two things were immediately clear to us. Our plan to go around Ujjain on the holiday had to be cancelled and our accountability as witnesses to the event had been fixed!

The next morning we left for the unit along with the Manager. The Manager used to hold the first set of keys of the branch double lock in a pouch. He used to carry the pouch with him by hanging it down from his right hand through a belt! We could never understand this strange way of carrying the keys openly. We found him carrying the same openly even on the Sunday and even while visiting the unit. We could not make out the logic behind it. We reached the unit and were received by the director in person. He was equally surprised to see the pouch hanging down from the hands of the Manager. He asked the Manager the reasons for carrying the keys on a Sunday to the client’s place. He was told by the Manager that he had come to his place on an official visit and by carrying the keys with him he was proving the same! The director was very much surprised with his logic. But he left the matter at that. Later, Selvaraj advised the Manager that he was not expected to carry the keys other than to the office. He also told him that there was sufficient proof otherwise to prove that he had come on an official visit.

We could get very good quality food in Ujjain. Ujjain is a wheat growing belt in MP and it was known for its special quality locally grown wheat. We could eat very tasty roties made of this wheat at many places in the city. You could watch them reach your plate directly from the oven. I enjoyed eating the roties to my stomach full. They served them with excellent dishes and the charges used to be very reasonable. The roties used to be thin and small-sized and one would easily lose count of them while eating them hot! But the suppliers would keep a proper count and advise the cashier correctly when you reached his table! Sometimes it used to be difficult to believe our counts! Good quality hot milk and lassi were also available in plenty. The city was very lively and people spent their time leisurely. It had a good number of temples and evening bhajans were heard everywhere.

The city had a peaceful and religious atmosphere. The people were of soft nature and respected the officials a lot. The bank staff carried some special respect in the city. People would address them as ‘Saab Log’. The Manager of a bank was held in high esteem and would be addressed invariably as ‘Manager Saab’. Nobody would talk bad about him. I came across only one incident of extreme behavior during my entire stay in the city. But that was to keep the honour of the great city. Let me narrate the incident.

I used to visit a particular hotel for my dinner many times as it served good quality roties. The hotel was called Pathak Rotie House. An elderly gentleman (proprietor) used to sit on the cash counter. After some days a son of him in his twenties started sitting on the cash counter. He was a handsome boy and he treated his customers with respect. He appeared to be a mild person by nature.

One particular night a middle aged man entered the hotel and ordered food. When the roties were being served, he suddenly asked a waiter about the cost. As far as I remember it was around 30 paise. When the new customer heard it, he flared up and told the waiter that in ‘his Jabbalpur’ roties were available 20 paise a piece! But he continued to eat the roties without any break! The young cashier was witnessing the episode silently.

The scene was repeated on the second day in my presence. This time the guy from Jabbalpur was loudly telling others that the cost of a rotie in his place was only twenty paise and the people of Ujjain were paying through their noses for the inferior roties! But he appeared to be eating more of the costly stuff even that day! Again our young cashier heard him in silence, but kept his cool.

The scene started repeating even on the third day. But this time the Jabbalpurwala was not fully through his act, when our young cashier/owner moved to the kitchen in a split second and came out with the grinding stone of the grinder in his right hand like a mace in the hands of Bhimasena! He reached the table of Jabbalpurwala, held his neck in his left hand and waved the grinding stone menacingly! The whole scenario was right out of a drama show! He repeatedly started asking the Jabbalpurwala whether he still felt the roties of Jabbalpur were superior to that of Ujjain!

The condition of Jabbalpurwala was worth seeing! He was totally shaken. It seems he never visualized such a scenario for his casual talk. He unconditionally agreed that roties of Ujjain were far superior and in fact cheaper than the ones in Jabalpur! He begged the young man to bring down the mace in his hand and put it back in the kitchen! I thoroughly enjoyed the whole show. The young man had upheld the honour of the legendary city! The Jabbalpurwala had to simply eat his words! Of course, he finished his full quota of roties and then only left the place!

One best thing the Manager did for us was asking a senior clerk in the branch to show us the city of Ujjain. The gentleman was one Mr.Joshi. He was a typical north-Indian, born and brought up in Ujjain. He had the ins and outs of the legendary city on his fingertips. It was a pleasure to hear him speak the typical pure and original Hindi.

The first place of interest in Ujjain is obviously the Mahakaleshwar Jyothirlinga temple. The idol is one among the 12 Jyothirlingas and the unique feature is that it is Dakshinamukhi – south facing, unlike the other lingas. The Mahakal dominates the life of the city and its people, even in the midst of the busy routine of modern preoccupations, and provides an unbreakable link with ancient Hindu traditions. On the day of Maha Shivaratri, a huge fair is held near the temple, and worship goes on through the night. By a strange coincidence, we were in Ujjain exactly during the month of February 1978. We could have the darshan of the Lord on the day of Mahashivaratri itself. Joshi also took us to the famous ghats on the banks of the legendary river Kshipra.

The next place of interest is the famous Sandipani Ashram. It is the place where Shri Krishna studied along with Balarama and Sudama from Maharshi Sandipani. The Ashram atmosphere is retained even to this day. One would get a genuine feeling that Shri Krishna, Balarama and Sudama might have left the place very recently! The observatory (Vedhashala) built by Raja Jaisingh II is one among such observatories in India and features ancient astronomical devices. They are also known as Jantar Mantar (The Yantra Mantra).

Ujjain was known by different names in different periods. Some of the names include Avanti, Avantikapuri, Kushasthali, Kumudvati, Haranyavati and Bhagavati. It has been the capital city of Malwa region in all ages. It has also been the first meridian of longitude for the Hindu geographers since the fourth century BC. It is one among the seven sacred cities of the Hindus. The Kumbh Mela religious festival is held here once in 12 years. The other places where it is held are Allahabad (Prayag), Haridwar and Nashik.

Our days at Ujjain were coming to an end. The Manager had been told by somebody that the inspectors would give a confidential report on the Manager at the end of inspection. He was very particular to know what we were writing in that report. He was pestering Selvaraj to show it to him. I don’t know how Selvaraj dealt with him. He had no chance to meet him again. But I was destined to deal with the same Manager the second time! The difference was I was leading the team in the second instance and the branch was in Bombay itself. I would come to it in due course. But I would place on record that the Manager was ‘unique’ and I never came across such a personality anywhere else in my 7-year inspection career!
------- (To be continued) -------
A V Krishnamurthy
20th June 2009

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