Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My Days West - Episode-13

When the Nagpur programme was assigned to us in the month of May 1978, we had been warned by many that the summer would be very severe in the city with the temperature shooting beyond 45 degree centigrade. In view of the same we had somehow managed to defer our visit till the month of July. I could also send my family back home in the mean time. We had chosen the correct time to arrive at the city. With the start of the Monsoon, Nagpur had a pleasant weather by the time we arrived in the city.

Nagpur is actually an underrated city in India. In fact the city is known as the second greenest city in India, after Bangalore. You find lot of greenery everywhere in the city. The city is also known for its large lakes. It is dotted with many natural and manmade lakes with Ambazari Lake being the largest. But the most distinguishing aspect of the city is the fact that it is a doctor’s nightmare! A traveler to the city is not known to fall sick! In fact the weather is such that it makes you hungry, encourages you to eat well and makes you put on weight! This was exactly what happened to me in the two months I stayed there.

Nagpur was once upon a time the capital city of the legendary kingdom and the present day Maharashtra region - Vidarbha. The city is located exactly at the central point of India. There is a landmark in the city marking the zero mile stone. The city was conquered by the Maratha leader Bhosle in the year 1743, who made it his capital. The British took over the city from the Bhosles after winning the Sitabuldi war in 1817 and established a cantonment in the city. It was made the capital of Central provinces and Berar. After independence the city became the capital of the newly formed state of Madhya Pradesh. But the glory was short lived. The formation of linguistic states in 1956 saw the city losing the capital status, as the entire Vidarbha region was merged with the newly formed state of Maharashtra. Thereafter the city carried a genuine grievance of losing the capital city status. The Maharashtra Government has tried to placate the local population by making it a sort of winter capital by conducting the winter sessions of the state assembly here. But that has not made much difference to the city. The city remains the younger sister of the number two city, Pune.

The RSS was founded here in 1925 by K B Hedgewar. In 1956 Dr.B R Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in the city along with his supporters. Nagpur is also known as Orange City as it is famous for growing oranges. Even though Marathi is the most widely spoken language in the city, Hindi speaking population is also huge in number. It is a cosmopolitan city in the sense that a large number of people have migrated to the city from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.
This time I had a different officer with me as team member by name Arnab Das.   He had joined our bank as a directly recruited officer and was senior to me in service. Arnab had actually worked with me in Shimoga for a short period as he was undergoing training as a probationer there. He was senior to me by one year in the inspection department at Bombay. He was known to be a highly unorganized officer in the department as he was not hard working and did not have a systematic approach. But he was a friendly and jovial person and was very smart in handling difficult situations. As an inspection colleague he was good company. He was also a fighter for justice in day to day worldly affairs.

Our bank had five branches in the Nagpur city if I remember correctly. The oldest and the main branch was the Itwari branch. The Sitabuldi branch was a close competitor to the main branch and the Senior Manager also had the coveted car facility. There was a healthy competition between the two branches. A Gujarati gentleman called Sarvayya was the senior manager at the Sitabuldi branch. Sarvayya had performed excellently in his earlier posting at a Baroda branch, particularly in the matter of recovery. As a reward, he had been posted to the Sitabuldi branch with car facility even though he was in a lower grade II at the managerial level and comparatively in the younger age group.

Sarvayya was surprised to find two young officers landing at his branch for inspection. He was an extremely smart, shrewd and knowledgeable Manager. One had to be extremely careful in dealing with him. He was one Manager who would monitor the progress of inspection by watching each of our activities. In a way he made our work easy. The moment we took up a particular portfolio, he would ensure that all the relevant papers were handed over. Whenever we went to him for discussion on any matter, he would start clarifying the matter in anticipation of our query! Attending inspection matter was always on the top of his agenda. As per him ultimately it was our report which would measure his performance from the perspective of the management. In my whole inspection career I have never seen another Manager as focused as Sarvayya.

As a Gujarati, Sarvayya was an exception. I had known many people in Bombay believing that the areas where Gujaratis were in large numbers were always costly. It was because they would not bargain on their day-to-day purchases and simply throw away the money. The Ghatkopar area was often referred to as an example. But Sarvayya wanted the money’s worth for every paise spent by him. His bargaining powers were to be seen to be believed! He often took us to the famous Sitabuldi market in his car. The way he made his purchases could have been the envy of an intelligent housewife!  It was in fact a live demonstration of his bargaining skills. We would even wonder whether the vendor really had made any profit on the items sold to Sarvayya! He was also extremely careful in selecting the best quality vegetables. He had made it a practice not to pay for his daily quota of coriander and curry leaves! He would simply pick them up from the vendor as free samples along with other items! We often felt that we should also make some purchases at the rates at which Sarvayya made his purchases. Believe it or not! We got the opportunity within a short time.

My readers may be remembering Nendurkar, the officer at our Ujjain branch who had a problem with his housing loan disbursement. He could manage to start construction with the help of Selvaraj. He had been transferred to a Nagpur branch and was staying alone in a rented house. He asked us to stay with him and went on a long leave for house construction. It suited us well in view of the meager halting allowance of Rs20 per day available to us. We moved in without any hesitation on our part. Arnab knew some cooking and he would manage to prepare a dish using a mixture of different vegetables in his own way! I could handle cooking of rice in a pressure cooker. Together we somehow started managing our food requirements. I have already mentioned about the typical Nagpur weather, which made one hungry. Arnab’s special dishes started getting very tasty in this special weather! We started making purchases of vegetables at the Sitabuldi market under the able guidance of Sarvayya!

Sarvayya once invited us for dinner at his home. We could taste the different varieties of ‘Gujarati dishes’ prepared by Sarvayya’s wife for the first time in our life. Nagpur did not have a good population of Gujaratis and the business was mainly concentrated in the hands of Marwaris unlike in Bombay. Sarvayya was a star among the community, being the Manager of a reputed bank at a young age. The fact that he possessed an official car with the Government of India board also made a major difference.  Sarvayya enjoyed his position to the hilt. We used to accompany him in his car during some of his city visits. Nagpur was not known for its road discipline unlike Bombay. If any pedestrian suddenly crossed the road, Sarvayya would stop the car and admonish the pedestrian with the question – Baap ka Bagicha hy Kya (Is it your father’s garden?). Sarvayya was also the envy of other local managers for understandable reasons.

By the time we completed the Nagpur assignment, I got the good news about the birth of my first son in the first week of August 1978. My Nagpur experience was indeed memorable. I had an opportunity to inspect another branch headed by Sarvayya years later. This time it was in Ghatkopar East Bombay and the year was 1984.  He had been posted to the heartland of Gujaratis. He was in full command. But that inspection was my penultimate assignment in Bombay. I was already under orders of transfer to Canning Street Calcutta on promotion as Manager. Sarvayya did give me some valuable inputs for my new assignment. I never had any occasions to meet him later.
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
15th July 2009

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