Saturday, April 27, 2013

My Days West - Episode-16

So far I have been writing my experiences as an auditor exactly in the order in which I inspected the branches in Bombay and other places. The reader might have felt that while some of the branch visits were worth writing about, the others were not so. Besides, the order in which I visited the branches may not be very relevant to the reader. In view of this I have decided to change the style of my narration from this episode. I welcome the reader’s feedback in the matter.

Our bank introduced a system of quarterly surprise inspection of branches some years after I joined the inspection department. The branches in Bombay were divided among the inspection teams. Our team was assigned the Kalbadevi, Chembur main, Sindhi Society Chembur, Currency Chest Sion-Koliwada (monthly), Bhat Bazaar and Mulund Camp branches.

The first time I visited the Kalbadevi branch it was headed by Mr. G A Shenoy, who was on the verge of being promoted as a Divisional Manager. The Kalbadevi branch was one of the oldest branches of our bank in Bombay in the busy textile market locality. It had become notorious for some time as it had many office bearers of rival employees unions among its staff. But Shenoy had brought it fully under control under his able leadership. In fact the branch had attained ‘A’ gradation in inspection.

I had been assigned six man-days for inspection at the branch. Shenoy received me well and told me to sit in his cabin only for conducting the inspection. He asked the Manager to make me available all the documents/files/ledgers there only. He was particular that all my observations were set right ‘then and there’ only. I found him to be an extremely nice gentleman. He ensured that I could work comfortably inside his cabin. I was to concentrate mainly on fresh advances granted during the previous quarter. I found most of the things in order with very little scope for me to make observations. However, I made a list of some of the items which were to be set right and gave it to the concerned manager to be attended before my completion. The things went on smoothly for me.

On the final day I found the Manager having rectified all the observations except one particular remark. It was a remark on a loan granted against the NRI fixed deposit of a party. As per the bank rules, the depositor was supposed to sign the deposit receipt on the reverse across a revenue stamp without putting any date (called ‘blank un-dated discharge’ in the bank terminology). I had observed that the depositor had put the date below his signature. The manager told me that he could not rectify the same as depositor had returned abroad after availing the loan during his short stay in India.

I included the observation in my final report and handed it over to Shenoy. He went through my report and was quite happy till he came to the particular observation. He asked me about the observation and I told him that I was constrained to make the observation as per rules and procedure. Shenoy was not at all happy with my observation. His whole countenance changed within seconds! He simply told me, “Ok Mr. Murthy” and handed over my copy of the report duly signed by him and bid me goodbye!

This particular experience left a very bad taste in my mouth quite for some time. I made an introspection in the matter. While I was perfectly right in making my remarks as per bank rules and procedure, I could make out that nothing would have happened if I had overlooked the matter. Either the loan would have been cleared by the party or the deposit would have been adjusted on due date. On the other hand there was no way the branch could set right my observation as the depositor had proceeded abroad. I decided to be more practical in my approach in future.

The next time when I went to the branch Shenoy had been transferred to Tamarind lane branch. I was later assigned tamarind lane branch for regular inspection. But Shenoy had just left by the time I reported. Shenoy headed the newly floated Canfina and later retired as a General Manager of the bank.

This time the branch was headed by another stalwart, PKN Kamath, affectionately called PKN by one and all. I had met him earlier when he sat for sometime in the Marshall building after his deputation to NIBM.. PKN also wanted me to sit in his cabin for conducting the inspection. The things were quite easier with him as he was very friendly. I had another advantage. PKN was staying in Santacruz West. He used to drop me in his car on his return trip.

PKN was a highly popular senior Manager in Bombay. I could myself make out the reasons during my short association with him. He knew the art of making other peoples’ life comfortable! His whole countenance was such that any person would like to spend some time talking to him! I had the privilege to share the special masala tea exclusively prepared for him in the office canteen. He used to tell me a lot about his experiences, which were indeed interesting. I never felt any uneasiness with him despite my being a junior officer and having only a short acquaintance with him.

At that particular juncture, PKN was in the process of availing a housing loan for purchase of a flat in Santacruz West. The bank was granting only a housing loan of Rs75,000 in those days. It was nowhere near the value of a two-room flat in the posh Santacruz West locality. PKN used to jocularly tell me that the bank was granting only the margin amount to him! PKN also used to take me to some of his customers’ residences during our return journey to Santacruz. Some of them were in the posh Malabar Hill area and for the first time I could see the luxurious lifestyles of the aristocratic families. I visited the branch two times during the tenure of PKN. The third time, he had left the branch on promotion and Mr.V P Kamath, the then Officers’ Association President, had taken charge. I had to revert to my normal sitting arrangement outside the cabin! PKN retired as a General Manager of the bank. More than 25 years have elapsed since I met him last. But the short association with him still lingers on…….

Chembur Main branch was another major branch in our surprise inspection itinerary. It was my first visit to the branch located just outside the Chembur Railway Station. I went there with Arnab Das, my Bengali colleague. We had heard that the branch had become a mess during the earlier regime of a certain senior manager. But a new regime had taken over under the leadership of a Senior Manager by name R N Pai. For the first time we found the branch management anxiously waiting for the arrival of an inspection team! Pai had an able lieutenant in a second line Manager by name M P Kamath. We found both of them dressed up like young executives wearing ties, which was quite unlike the general culture in our branches.

We indeed found the duo’s dresses quite in agreement with the branch’s current status! I mean to say things were as tidy as their dresses! They had made tremendous progress in setting the house in order. They had cleaned up the entire mess and brought the branch to good health. They gave us the comparative details of the position as it stood at the time of their taking charge and at the time of our visit. As for the business, the figures spoke themselves! While the business had seen a quantum jump, the duo had shunted out excess manpower in the branch to the tune of 6-7 clerical hands! It was quite an achievement and very rarely resorted to in those days.

For the first time during our surprise inspection, we ended up highlighting the performance of the branch as against listing out the irregularities! The duo was immensely pleased with our report, which was a factual statement of their achievements.

Funnily enough, in spite of such performance I could point out short recovery of interest amounting to Rs10-15,000 on all the three occasions I visited the branch. As per the norms we had to check in detail all the interest calculations for advances over Rs10 lakh. The branch had the multinational corporate account of the Indian Schering Company Ltd, the manufacturers of the well known tablet for headache - Aspro. The company came out with an IPO later (with none of us getting any allotment!).  The company later changed its name as Nicholas Laboratories Ltd. Presently it stands merged with Nicholas Piramal India Ltd.

The overdraft account of the company was being handled manually in those days. There was the system of extending the daily products. I could easily find out some mistake in multiplication every time and in view of the huge limit the same turned out to be a big amount. M P kamath was so frustrated that he threatened the officer in-charge that he would issue a memo to him on the next occasion.

The Sindhi Society branch at Chembur had already been inspected by me when Mohan Rao was in-charge. This time when I went there along with my colleague Hegde, the branch was headed by Gajanana Rao, an office bearer of Officers Association. We completed the surprise inspection in two days and could handover the report in the first hour of the third day. We were free thereafter and left the branch. We wanted to enjoy the rest of the day in the city.

We thought of seeing a morning show and proceeded to a theatre in Chembur. The theatre was exhibiting a Hindi film starring Sanjeev Kumar and Moushumi Chatterjee. I was actually very fond of seeing Hindi films till I came to Bombay. Three of us –me, Pranesh and KNV Murthy - had made it a point to see one Hindi film as a matinee show on each and every Saturday afternoon. Saturday being a half day we used to rush out of the branch at the closing hour, have tiffin at a hotel and proceed to a theatre. We maintained this unbroken tradition so long as we were in Shimoga for nearly six years. Indeed I really wonder whether it was a kind of Guinness record that we had actually achieved!

Coming back to the Bombay theatre, we found only a small queue in front of the booking counter. The film had already run for more than a week. We stood in the queue waiting for our turn. But suddenly we found a man asking us to purchase the ticket from him in the black.  He started pestering us. We were indeed surprised and could not really make out why the fellow was asking us to purchase a ticket in the black when it was available at the normal price in the counter. But he continued pestering us and told us that we had to pay only two rupees more than the actual price. He told us that they were for seats in the first row on the backside. When asked as to what difference it makes for us if we sat in the front, he smiled at us telling that we would understand it later! We simply ignored him, went ahead and purchased our tickets. The film started almost immediately after we took our seats.

I had seen many Hindi films right from my High School days. I have also mentioned above the regularity with which we saw films in Shimoga. I used to fully enjoy most of the films. But this was one film which was simply unbearable. There was no story and the whole thing appeared to be simply a farce! My colleague Hegde also felt the same thing. We wanted to enjoy our spare time for the first time in Bombay and this was our fate!

After sometime we felt that we could not stand it anymore. We wanted to simply get out of the theatre. We stood up and thought of moving out. We were in the middle of the row. Somebody shouted at us asking us to sit down. We sat down and tried to bear the agony! But alas! It was really too much! We could not bear it anymore. We just started moving out without minding the curses by the other audience. It was really tough to get out. We somehow reached the back row near the exit. We found it totally empty. We could make out that the people sitting there had moved out comfortably without the kind of trouble we had to undertake!

When we were just moving out of the theatre, we could see the man who had tried to sell the tickets to us in the black. We saw him smiling at us sarcastically! It was as if to tell us “I told you so!” He really had made his point. We really felt that it was worth paying him two rupees more for those valuable back-row tickets!
 ------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
9th August 2009

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