Saturday, November 30, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.8

As it always happens everywhere, a weak management invites trouble from all quarters. So much so that certain ordinary characters also take the advantage of the situation and behave in a high-handed manner. Mr. Hassan Sab, Manager at the Gariahat branch who was staying with me in Komala Vilas, had told me about one such character in his branch. The Union was supposed to be so strong there that the Senior Manager had become quite ineffective and would allow the things to take their own course. There was one senior employee in the branch, who had the practice of going on shouting loudly for about 5 minutes daily during office hours at a particular time for apparently no reasons! The shouting was aimed at nobody! He was as regular in doing this as a Moula praying in a Masjid or the playing of Suprabhatham in a temple in the morning! It was a fact that nobody had the guts to ask him why he was engaged in that non-sense! Of course the benevolent customers also took it in their strides!
Our branch also had one such character. The gentleman was an ex-service man called Dey who was known as a toughie. As an ex-service man, he was getting some pension through our branch. The pension department also fell under my Deposits Section. Kayal, the officer in-charge, had told me that Dey had been paid some excess pension by mistake. All efforts to recover this amount from him out of his monthly pension had failed. The matter had been kept pending by the previous Manager. I was told that Dey was not amenable to any type of settlement. Within a month of my taking charge, there was an occasion to make some payment of arrears of pension. Kayal told me that this was the right occasion to recover the amount.
I called Dey for a discussion in the matter. He was very rude in his behavior and was not prepared to hear anything. He merely said that he had not received any excess payment. He also threatened me with dire consequences if the amount was recovered from his arrears. I made some discreet enquiries and understood that there was no support from the Union leaders for Dey’s eccentricities. I could even make out that heart-of-heart they would be happy if Dey was made to mend his ways.  I asked Kayal to proceed with the recovery.
We effected the recovery from Dey on the date of payment of arrears and dispatched the confirmation to the concerned authority. Dey was in the cash department and came to know about the adjustment only after the closing hours. He came to me running. He created quite a scene first with Kayal and then with me. Both of us simply kept quiet and did not respond to his intimidations. He then went to the Union leaders. But they simply told him that they were helpless as it was a genuine recovery.  Dey had to simply call it a day! That was my first Managerial experience in dealing with a toughie.
My victory (day!) over Dey encouraged me to effect another change in working in our department. Our bank had a system called writing of payment-waste. All the cash payment instruments like cheques, pay orders, DDs and other debit vouchers had to be entered in this payment-waste sheet before they were handed over to the cashier for payment. At the end of the day, the total of this sheet was to be tallied to the total payments made by the cashier.
The bank had later changed this system by introducing subsidiary sheets to individual ledgers wherein the cash payments were recorded separately. The total of these sheets were directly tallied to the cashier’s book and the writing of payment-waste had been discontinued as it was duplication only. I was surprised to find this waste-sheet being written in the branch even though the system had been discontinued many years ago. As the Manager in-charge of deposits I had to write this sheet!
I found this work most unproductive and quite unnecessary. Besides it was also delaying the payments, as all the instruments had to pass through me. On checking up with the previous Manager Rajgopalan, I was told that the stumbling block was Sen Da (the Union leader) who was in charge of consolidation of payments at the Main-Cash in the branch. I had to hand over the sheet to him daily for consolidation with other departments. It was a fact that very few had the guts to talk to Sen Da as they were afraid of his vocal cords!
I could not really appreciate as to how Sen Da was affected by my not writing the payment-waste, which had been discontinued years ago by the bank. In fact, the bank had stopped printing the sheets long back! God only knows from where this branch was getting the stock of sheets! I discussed the matter with my two SB supervisors – Dhar Da and Sanghursha Dan. They had no objections to my discontinuing of payment-waste. They also felt that Sen Da was only concerned with the figures from our department and had nothing to do with writing of payment-waste.
Sen Da was the zonal secretary of the Union and was leaving the branch early for his Union activities. He used to talk to me over intercom many a time asking me to hurry up as he had to complete consolidating the figures and leave the branch early! He believed more in shouting than in discussing! Smooth talking was not his forte! I chose a particular time with him when he appeared to be in some sober mood. I told him that the work of writing payment-waste had been discontinued by the bank long ago and I desired to end this practice in the branch once for all. He asked me why the hell then it was being written at the branch all these days! I told him that was exactly what I was also asking! Then he told me that it was my business as Manager to decide and all he wanted was the figures for consolidation in a written format! That was exactly what I wanted. I discontinued the payment-waste from the very next day!
The above incidents only proved that the branch management used to be very much hesitant to introduce certain changes or initiate certain actions wherever necessary, by attributing the reasons to the Union leaders as an excuse. This was said to be true in most of our branches in Kolkata.
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.7

Maller was staying at bank-quarters near our Lake Road branch, which was at a walking-distance from my house. He asked me to accompany him in his car daily. With that my daily mini-bus journey came to an end. He was also picking up another two officers called Subramanian and Radhakrishnan with me to the office. On the return journey the car used to be full with other officers and the new Manager, Padmanabhan. One of the officers was a Maharashtrian called Garpure. He was staying alone in Maharashtra Niwas. Garpure was totally unsettled in Kolkata. He had taken his Kolkata posting as a punishment and had no intention to shift his family. He was facing all sorts of problems and was simply counting the days to go back to Maharashtra. This was reflecting in his discharge of duties and his colleagues used to make lot of fun about him.
Other than Maller, Mallya was the only Konkani staff in our branch. Mallya also hailed from the border district of Kasaragod in Kerala and was fluent in Malayali, Tulu, Konkani (his mother tongue) and Kannada. Maller and Mallya both being Konkani and Malayali speaking persons, we all expected them to have a very cordial relationship. But it turned out to be worse than the proverbial mongoose and the snake! Mallya was in charge of credit since more than one year. He had a grievance that he was not given the charge of Senior Manager even though he was in scale III.
It appeared to me that Maller had come to the branch with some pre-conceived notion about Mallya. He had already prepared a report card on him and as per him Mallya was totally corrupt. Strangely, he would talk with him only in English and revert to his mother tongue Konkani only when he had some argument! All efforts made by Mallya to have a cordial relationship with him came to a naught. All of us knew that Maller had a ‘one-point programme’ to discipline and teach a lesson to the majority Union leaders. But we were quite surprised to see him opening another battle-front with Mallya! I had a very cordial relationship with Mallya who was staying very close to my house in Keyatolla. His wife was working for Syndicate Bank in Lake Market branch. We used to visit the family often. The fight between the two was quite a problem for me. I had to do some balancing act between the two!
Let me mention to my readers here that the whole story of Oh Kolkata! revolves around the drama that was built up during the tussle between Maller and the majority Union leaders. The drama reached its climax sometime in the month of September 1984. So it is absolutely necessary for me to describe the personalities involved in the drama. The readers may sometimes find the description of some of the personalities quite unnecessary and even uninteresting! I have introduced some of the personalities only to break the monotony of the story. Readers may kindly bear with me.
One of the officers in the branch was a gentleman called Mavalli (name changed) who was from North Karnataka. He was the only Kannadiga in the branch other than me. Both Mallya and I used to be very friendly with him as we could talk to him freely in Kannada. Mavalli was a below-average officer and was very poor in English language. The branch put him in cash department where his work was limited to counting the currency notes from one to one hundred! As already mentioned by me the branch needed one exclusive officer to count cash throughout the day. Mavalli fitted the job perfectly.
One day, while speaking to some employees, Mallya had told them in a lighter vein that Mavalli was very foolish in dealing certain matter. One of the employees later told Mavalli that he had been called a ‘fool’ by Mallya. Instead of getting the matter clarified with Mallya directly, Mavalli took the matter very seriously and came to him with two other employees asking him for an apology. Mallya told him that he was making some light-hearted comments and there was no intention to insult him in anyway. He thought Mavalli would understand him as he was so friendly with him all these days.
But Mavalli was in no mood to close the matter. He was very particular that Mallya should express regrets for having called him a fool. He was not even prepared to accept the apology in Kannada as he wanted his colleagues also to witness the apology. This was what happened thereafter:
Mallya:  Okay then. Mavalli is a fool and I regret the same! Are you happy now?
(Mavalli looks at his other two friends who are equally well versed in English! The three discuss among themselves and get back)
Mavalli: You are only expressing regrets. My friends want you to apologise.
Mallya: Okay then. Mavalli is a fool and I apologise for the same!
(The three discuss among themselves and Mavalli gets back again)
Mavalli: You should say that you called me a fool and that you apologise for the same.
Mallya: Okay then. Mavalli is a fool. I told it so. I apologise for him!
This time all the three were fully satisfied and the matter ended amicably! Long live the English language!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Oh Kolkata - Episode No.6

The three-story building in Keyatolla, opposite Lake Girls School in Kolkata, belonged to a Bhattacharjee family. The building had totally six flats, with two flats in each floor. Our bank had taken one of the flats on the ground floor on lease. The previous occupant had already vacated the flat on transfer. A Bihari Darwan (caretaker) who lived in the garage of the building took me to the landlady. The Bhattacharjees lived in another building in the same area. The senior Bhattacharjee was a retired top Government official who had been immobilised on account of old age. His only son was a top IAS officer in the Government of Orissa. The affairs of the family were looked after by the lonely Mrs. Bhattacharjee, a lovable, typical senior Bengali lady.
Like most other houses I had seen earlier, this house also had a very small kitchen, despite the house being quite spacious. For some strange reason most of the Bengali houses had this type of small kitchens where the housewife alone could stand with great difficulty! There was very little space to keep the items needed for cooking. This was quite in contrast to Mumbai where we used to keep our dining table also in the kitchen! Location wise, the house was quite ideal. It was at a walkable distance from both the Gariahat Market and Lake Market and Deshapriya Park and Gariahat tram and bus-stop. Just behind the house was the Southern Avenue, one of the greenest parts of Kolkata with tall trees lined up and lakes on one side. I could also find an English medium primary school, called St. Mary’s, in the very next road. The Principal assured me to give admission to my first son for class I. I took possession of the house and immediately booked my journey to Mumbai to bring my family to Kolkata.
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A week later I was back in Kolkata with my family. We had booked our furniture, fridge, etc, through a private truck company. It was our first experience in shifting our family belongings. All our items including the fridge were packed in gunny bags. There was much delay in arrival of the consignment at Kolkata and we were very much worried. The trucks were not allowed to enter the residential areas during the daytime in Kolkata. One early morning somebody knocked at our door. On opening the door, a person told me that our luggage had been already unloaded. I went out to the main road, but could not see anything there. The person pointed towards some ‘shapes’ in front of the Lake Girls’ School!  Actually the ‘shapes’ appeared like ghosts to me in the early morning darkness! One of the items was looking like a statue! On close scrutiny, I could recognise it as our beloved Kelvinator fridge! I was told that the items had been transshipped through different trucks in different states and the items had reached their final ‘shape’ by the time they arrived in Kolkata! I can only say that this experience placed us in a very bad ‘shape’ at that time!
I had actually obtained a transit insurance policy for the goods being shifted on the truck. I immediately notified the insurance company. The company promptly sent an approved valuer for assessing the damage to the goods. The first thing the valuer, Mr. Ghosh, told me was that I had to pay his fee initially and then include the same in my claim application. He proceeded with the valuation and gave a very reasonable valuation of the damage caused to the items. I paid him Rs500 as his fee and submitted my claim for the total amount. Hardly within a week, I received a registered envelope from the insurance company. I could not believe that the insurance company could act so fast, that too in the city of Kolkata! I opened the envelop in a hurry to verify the amount of the cheque. But alas! The insurance company had sent me a regret letter stating that the claim was invalid as the policy did not contain the partial damage clause! So that was it! The insurance company had made me lose another Rs500 by way of valuation fee! There rested the matter!
It took quite some time for us to settle down in the great city of Kolkata. We found the life quite in contrast with the Mumbai-way of life. It was all-in-all a different culture here.
------o----- --o--- -----o------o-------o-----o------o------o-------o------o----------o---
I was back in the branch after availing the joining time. I found a new Senior Manager in the branch. He was Mr.Maller, who had been transferred from our Bhowanipore branch. He was the man who had ‘taught some lessons’ to the Union leaders in the said branch. He came with the reputation of a ‘tough guy’. The management had proved its intention to act tough by posting him to our branch in spite of the anticipated trouble in the days to come. I could sense a feeling of uncomfortable suspense in the branch.
Maller was a Malayali Konkani (I was told that Maller was the Malayali version of Mallya) gentleman and his short height and thin personality were quite deceptive! He had worked mostly in Tamil Nadu and was more at ease in Tamil than even in Konkani! Attitude wise, he lacked the finesse of a typical Konkani and was more of a dominating and assertive Malayali.
The bank had also posted another Manager to our branch who had also taken charge along with Maller. Mr.Padmanabhan, a typical Malayali gentleman again, had been given the charge of establishment including cash. There was nothing deceptive in his personality! With the typical mustache of an army officer and a Colonel like physique, he was every inch a tough guy! He simply added muscle to the team led by Maller! The battle appeared to be not very far!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oh Kolkata - Episode No.5

Our Canning Street branch in Kolkata had a great history and legacy. It was the first branch of our bank in Eastern India. The branch was opened by Sri L Sanjiva Pai, one of the stalwarts of our bank, who later retired as a General Manager. In fact he was the Deputy General Manager of Kolkata Circle just before I joined the branch. Our bank had built a great reputation, a good number of branches and a major customer base by the time I reported at the branch. At that time L S Pai had been replaced by Mr. R V Pai who had all along worked in Head Office in the Chairman’s Secretariat. Most of the senior employees in Kolkata were personally known to L S Pai. The employees, particularly, Union leaders had a close and cordial relationship with him.
The branch had certain prestigious accounts including that of the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT), West Bengal State Electricity Board, The Bengal Flour Mills and Guest Keen Williams Ltd (a blue chip company at that time). Of these, the account of CPT was the bread and butter of the branch, as it had kept term deposits to the tune of Rs30 crore. Our bank had somehow managed to catch and retain this ‘goldmine’, which was envied by the locally headquartered banks like Allahabad Bank, UCO Bank and United Bank of India and the State Bank of India, which had its registered office in Kolkata. Our bank had posted one manager exclusively at our branch to work as a Relationship Manager to liaison with CPT. The gentleman, called Mr.Roy, was hardly visible in the branch and was supposed to be meeting and communicating with the CPT officials all the time.
I had earlier mentioned about the uncertain future forecast made by Mallya about the branch. I had also mentioned the possibility of posting of a certain new Senior Manager that was not to the liking of the Union leaders. I thought it to be the only problem and was bracing myself to face the eventual situation. But I was totally wrong in my assessment. There were worse things in the offing!
The first thing to jolt me was the information that MR. Roy, the Relationship Manager with CPT, was no more working in our branch. He had been posted as a branch-in-charge at our Alipore branch. I also understood that a decision had also been taken not to post any replacement for him.  Another startling information was given to me by the officer Mr. Subramanian, whom I have referred to in my previous episode. The officer told me that he had been given the exclusive charge of clearing the GKW boxes! Let me elaborate.
Guest Keen Williams Ltd (GKW) was the number one corporate borrower of the branch at that time. The branch was getting substantial foreign exchange and other business from the company. Historically, the branch was also handling the dividend warrants and interest warrants of the company. The number of warrants handled used to be quite huge. The bank had a tacit understanding with the Employees Union that certain minimum overtime allowance would be paid to handle the annual dividend warrants.
The new management at the Circle Office, headed by R V Pai, had taken certain far-reaching decisions. One of them was to stop making overtime payments as a matter of routine. Consequently our branch had been directed not to pay overtime allowance for handling GKW dividend warrants. The warrants had started pouring in by the end of May and the Union had instructed its members not to handle them unless the overtime allowance was paid. The branch tackled the situation in a temporary manner. It started making a single debit entry in the GKW DW account daily by totaling the warrants through an adding machine! The warrants were simply bundled up and dumped in boxes specially indented for the purpose!
Mr. Subramanian who had joined the branch recently had been given the charge of these boxes, with no clear-cut instructions about their disposal. Right then he was only increasing their numbers by making daily additions that were in thousands! All negotiations with the Union to reduce the accumulation had yielded no fruits so far. The company was quite unhappy with the situation. The matter was reaching a boiling point and was expected to explode sooner or later.
The removal of Mr.Roy was another decision taken by R V Pai, the DGM, for whatever reason that was expected to cost the branch heavily. I was told that the CPT management had not taken the decision kindly and was quite unhappy with the matter. It appeared to be quite a bit of coincidence apparently. But the fact remained that the previous branch management, led by Capt. Raman and Mr.Shome had escaped the situation narrowly. The new management led by P Ramamoorthy had the unenviable task of bearing the brunt of the after-effects of the two major decisions. As the Manager of deposits section, I was expected to be a major victim of the decision on CPT.
After a week of my joining, Mr.Shome was relieved from the branch and Mr. Mallya took the temporary charge as Senior Manager of the branch. Even though Mallya himself was eligible to be given the permanent charge, he was said to be not in the good books of the management. This was revealed to me by Ramamurthy. Ramamurthy was a highly qualified dignified personality who never believed in tough measures to tackle the employee-related matters. He was basically a ‘softie’ and aggressiveness was not his forte. He was a friendly person and always maintained excellent relationship with colleagues at all levels.
By now I had taken a decision to not to go in search of quarters anymore and just wait for allotment of the existing quarters by our Premises department. One fine morning, after about three weeks of stay in Komala Vilas, I received a call from the said office informing me that I had been allotted quarters at Hindustan Park in South Kolkata. I was also told that I was quite lucky in getting the quarters in that location, as it had no load-shedding problems. The reason was simple. It was located at a walkable distance from the ancestral residence of Jyoti Basu, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.4

The number of members at the ‘Transit Camp’ of Canara Bank Managers and officers at the Komala Vilas Hotel kept on increasing. The members included Prabhu of Circle office, Guruprasad and Gururaj of Brabourne Road branch, Suresh of Howrah branch, Kamath of Shealdah branch, Hasan Sab of Gariahat branch and Kudva of Hare Street branch. During the discussions in the night we came to know that all the branches had employee-related problems. Actually right then Canning Street was the only branch, which was supposed to have no staff-related problems.
Some of the major problems included certain restrictive practices followed by the employees. Passbooks were not being written on Mondays and Saturdays and during the first week of every month. No department could be closed on any day even if there was absolutely no work. The number of cashiers could not be reduced even if cash receipts and payments were low. Our Canning Street had one exclusive clerk to handle CDS accounts under IT Act 1974. This department was functioning under me as Manager-Deposits. The clerk had full-time work only during the months of March to June every year. But I was not supposed to shift him to another section to fill up a leave vacancy! Our branch was handling huge cash receipts and payments as most of the accounts were that of traders in the Bagree market. The closing cash on most of the days exceeded one crore rupees. There were eight cashiers exclusively for receipts and three for payments. One officer was placed exclusively for counting the cash continuously and the Manager-Establishment would join him by afternoon.  Sen Da was in-charge of writing cash waste sheets including consolidation of cash from the deposit section. He would not allow any reduction in the number of cashiers even on the lean-business days. In view of the huge volume of cash handled, the department was very sensitive.
Our branch had an officer by name Subramanian who had also been recently transferred from Tamil Nadu. He was also staying at Komala Vilas at that time. One evening he introduced me to his ex-Senior Manager in Tamil Nadu who was presently in-charge of a branch in Kolkata. His name was Vaidyanathan (name changed). Subramaniam later told me that the gentleman was popularly known as ‘one percent (1%) Vaidyanathan!’
Vaidyanathan’s was a story that proved there was no recognition for ‘innovativeness, honesty and hard work’ in our bank. The story went like this. He was a Senior Manager in a branch that had large number of agricultural loans. He was personally handling all the advances. Considering the huge volume of work and time involved in processing and disbursing the loans, Vaidyanathan thought it necessary to collect some processing fee from the borrowers. The idea of collecting processing fee for all loans was not prevalent in the banks in those days. It was an original idea of this innovative Senior Manager! Honestly he thought that the money should also go to his kitty as he was handling most of the work load!
Vaidyanathan decided to levy a flat fee of one percent on all the loans and found the borrowers very cooperative and willing to pay without any objections. The system worked quite fine and the borrowers used to hand over the money to him in a closed cover at his residence. There were occasions when Vaidyanathan found some excess money in the covers due to mistakes in calculations. He was so ‘honest’ that he would call back the borrowers and hand them back the excess amount! His popularity spread fast and he came to be addressed as one percent Vaidyanathan!
Like all good things, this ‘good thing’ also came to an end one day! You may not believe this! But Vaidyanathan’s innate honesty only led to his downfall. On one occasion he had received one envelope that had a shortage of Rs50. It was actually a genuine mistake in calculations. When the matter was taken up with the borrower, he disputed the calculations and very unwillingly paid the amount. Vaidyanathan stood his ground as he wanted to be arithmetically correct always!
The branch conducted a Farmers’ Camp after some time and the Regional Manager (RM) of the bank was the chief guest. Everything went well until the RM asked the farmers to tell him their grievances, if any. While everybody spoke in praise of the Senior Manager, the borrower who had short-paid the ‘processing fee’ told the RM that he was not happy with the figure arrived by Vaidyanathan as fee! Immediately two other borrowers stood up and defended Vaidyanathan telling the RM that he was very honest and had even refunded the excess fee to them!
The RM was at a loss to make out what exactly the farmers were trying to tell him! But Vaidyanathan tactfully closed the meeting and took the RM back to the branch. He tried to convince him there that the issue was about the interest calculations. But the RM found something ‘fishy’ and left the branch in a huff. The very next day an investigating officer arrived in the branch. He spoke to the staff in confidence and was shocked to be told that it was an open secret that Vaidyanathan was regularly collecting his fee of one percent in cash!
The bank charge-sheeted Vaidyanathan and he lost an increment as punishment. It was not known whether the bank could recover the one percent from him and pay back the hapless farmers. He was posted to Kolkata as an additional punishment. Perhaps the bank thought that the employees in Kolkata could keep a check on his innovative and self-rewarding schemes!
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There was absolutely no progress in fixing of quarters for me. I was hesitant to fix certain houses in view of reported water shortage and security issues. The corporation water supplied in most of the areas used to be hard-water. The sweet water from Ganga (Hooghly) was available only in certain localities. We were supposed to use our servant to fetch sweet water from limited sources. Some of the landlords were particular that the tenant should not have any children! For them the children were a nuisance and unfit to stay in their valuable houses! I had the opportunity to read one particular lease-deed signed by one of our officers. One of the paragraphs read as follows:
“The present family of the tenant consists of his wife and self only. The tenant hereby undertakes that the number of family members would remain at two only and he will not increase the same during the entire lease period.”
There was absolutely no ambiguity in the wordings of the lease-deed. While the landlord had made it clear that the tenant should not bring his parents to stay with him, it was also made clear that the tenant should not give scope for adding children during the lease period. In other words, the tenant was expected to either practice celibacy or strictly follow the family planning agenda!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

Friday, November 15, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.3

After the closing hours, I travelled to South Kolkata in the official car of Mr. Shome. I had already been briefed that south Kolkata was the locality where all the South Indians preferred to live. So much so, that this part of Kolkata appeared to be as good as part of any south Indian city. Shome dropped me at a south Indian hotel called Komala Vilas near the Lake Market in the Rash Behari Avenue. This is the oldest south Indian hotel in Kolkata owned by an Iyer family from Tamil Nadu. The hotel offers both boarding and lodging facility. I got accommodation in a room and was happy to know that the hotel provided south Indian meals and breakfast. I could see for the first time the famous Kolkata trams running in front of the hotel between Gariahat and Ballygunj stations.
I soon came in contact with a good number of Managers of our bank who had come to Kolkata for the first time on promotion. Most of them were from Bangalore. There were a few from other places including Tamil Nadu. The bank used to reimburse our hotel expenses for three weeks or till we managed to fix the quarters, whichever was earlier. Some of the Managers had already spent a week in the hotel unable to fix the quarters. I was advised by them to join the ‘search party’ immediately. The problem was that they hardly got any time to go on search as they had to attend the office in time and could get back to the hotel only by night. In fact Komala Vilas had virtually become a ‘transit camp’ of Canara Bank Managers who were desperately in search of suitable quarters for them. I joined the camp as the latest member.
Immediately after the morning breakfast, I found a good number of brokers waiting for us to take us on a visit of the vacant houses in the locality. One of the brokers took me around in a hired taxi. We visited several houses in the Gariahat, Ballygunj and Lake Market areas. The Bengali owners of the houses were eager to let out the houses to south Indians, particularly the bank officers. Almost all the houses were two-storied. The owners preferred to stay in the first floor by letting out the ground floor. But I found none of the houses to my liking. Later I came to know that the same broker had taken other Managers to all these houses and all of them had evinced no interest for one or the reasons.
I had to take a minibus to reach my branch from the hotel. I found the public transport buses almost impossible to get into. The tram services were so slow-moving that it was impossible to depend on them to reach the office in time. However, the minibus services were found to be reasonably good. These buses were terminating at B B D Bagh (formerly known as Dalhousie Square) from where our branch was at a walkable distance.  Unlike the highly subsidized charges for trams and public bus services, the privately owned minibuses charged ‘market rates’. B B D Bagh is like the ‘heart’ of Kolkata, akin to Fort area in Mumbai. It has many landmark buildings including the Writers Building-the Secretariat of the Government of West Bengal, Royal Exchange (a one-time residence of Robert Clive and presently the office of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry), General Post Office (GPO), Telephone Bhavan and St, John’s Church. Incidentally, the St. John’s Church yard has the Mausoleum of Job Charnock, regarded as the founder of the city of Kolkata.
During my second day in the office, I was introduced to all the staff members. I came to know that Saha Da (Mr.Saha) and Sen Da (Mr.Deepankar Sen) were the two senior leaders of the majority trade Union in the bank. Apparently these two leaders commanded full respect from the branch management. Both of them belonged to the Special Assistants’ cadre. While Saha Da was well polished in his mannerisms, Sen Da was a dominating personality who did not mind shouting at others. In fact the members of the minority union, led by a gentleman called Mr.Panja, were very much afraid of him. The Bengalis refer to all the males with the affectionate addition of Da (elder brother) to their names and add Didi (elder sister) to the names of the females. The branch had only three females on its rolls quite unlike Mumbai branches, which had a fairer representation of the fair sex!
Our Deposit Section had an efficient young officer called Kayal. There were two Special Assistants. Dhar Da (Mr.Dhar) was a meticulous, well organised senior employee who commanded respect. The other person was a funny personality called Sanghursha Dan. He had some special mannerisms and was a lookalike of Marshal Bulganin, the Ex-Prime Minister of Soviet Russia. He was an avid Chess player. The seriousness with which he played the game of Chess came out in a particular incident that happened while I was working in the branch.
The branch had a well-qualified armed-guard called Chakraborty. He was also a Chess champion. The bank employees’ club conducted a sports competition in which Chess was one of the events. Chakraborty was the umpire for the finals played between our Sanghursha Dan and another player. At a crucial point in the game, there was a dispute and Chakraborty ruled in favour of the opponent of Dan. Ultimately Dan was defeated and became a runner up. He was infuriated and left the scene in a huff.
A week later, Chakraborty was shocked to receive summons from a Civil Court in Kolkata! Dan had petitioned the court that Chakraborty had unfairly judged the event causing immense damage to his prestige. He had requested the court to declare him as the winner by directing the bank employees’ club accordingly. He had also asked for suitable compensation for the loss of his prestige! Chakraborty was a battle-hardened soldier of the Indian army, who had seen action in the 1971 Bangladesh War. But this was one civil battle, which he had least expected and was quite unprepared to fight out! The Kolkatans, in particular and Bengalis in general, were known to be crazy football lovers. But surely Chakraborty had not bargained for a crazy Chess lover like our Sanghursha Dan! That was the last assignment Chakraborty took as a Chess umpire!
One of the senior clerks, in-charge of opening of new accounts and updating passbooks, was a gentleman called Tapan Chakraborty. He was being addressed as ‘Doctor’ by all the employees. On enquiry, I came to know that he was a practicing doctor in homeopathy. Reportedly he had a thriving practice at home. I was aware that homeopathic medicines were supposed to be very mild without any side-effects. But as far as the official work in the bank was concerned, Tapan Chakraborty was indeed administering some strong doses of ‘allopathic’ medicines and injections to the valued patients (customers)! The ‘treatment’ meted out used to be so strong that the patients (customers) would never show their faces again till the ‘doctor’ got a change of department! The ‘side-effects’ were also very severe in nature! The number of new accounts opened at the branch came down steeply so long as the ‘renowned doctor’ was in-charge!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.2

While I was mentally preparing myself for all types of problems expected in the great city of Kolkata, ironically, the first problem I had to face was how to reach the city from the town of Kharagpur. My first natural reaction was to trail Mr. Mukherjee, as he was the only person who could help me out. Mukherjee asked me to follow him and we were outside the station within no time. He was thinking of catching some bus to take us to the city. But it was an impossible situation as an entire trainload of people was in a hurry to reach Kolkata and only pandemonium prevailed. Suddenly one person appeared from nowhere and told Mukherjee something in Bengali. Mukherjee signalled me to follow him and we together ran with the stranger to a place where a lorry was about to start for Kolkata. It was almost full with the passengers and we somehow managed to get into it in the last minute!
The lorry was expected to reach Kolkata in the middle of the night and I was completely at sea about my stay at that unearthly hour.  What I had originally planned was to reach the city in daytime and land at the Canning street branch. I had thought of asking the branch to help me out for my temporary stay. But my plan had gone completely haywire. Mukherjee understood my plight. Immediately on reaching the city he took me to an establishment run by the YMCA. I was provided with some food and got the accommodation for a day. I was also told that the branch was not away from that locality. Mukherjee left the place after ensuring my stay and promising to meet me later at my branch. He turned out to be the first Good Samaritan for me at the great city.
I managed to reach the branch an hour before the opening time. The branch was located in a huge complex called Bagri Market in the overcrowded Canning Street. During the peak hours of the day the street is so much crowded that any small article thrown from any building cannot touch the ground! I found only one official sitting in the branch. He told me that that he was the Manager in charge of credit and his name was Satish Mallya. Actually Mallya had been promoted to scale III a year ago and had worked as a Senior Manager in Kalakar Street branch for a short time. But he got so much harassed by the employees that he had sought a transfer and was posted as 2nd line Manager in the Canning Street branch.
I was happy to learn that at least there was one person with whom I could speak in Kannada. I was eager to know whether Canning Street branch also had some employee-related problems. Mallya told me that the branch had an excellent working atmosphere so far; but the future was uncertain. He did not elaborate. The Senior Manager of the branch Mr. Shome, a Bengali gentleman, was under orders of transfer on promotion. The earlier Divisional Manager, Capt. Raman, had been transferred and Mr. P Ramamoorthy had just taken charge. Mallya also told me that Ramamurthy had worked earlier in the same branch as an officer and Joint Manager at different times. It was a hat-trick of sorts for him.
As the opening hours approached, the employees started pouring in. The branch had a strength of 120 employees including 13 officers, three 2nd line Managers, a Senior Manager and a Divisional Manager. The deposit section was in a separate wing under one 2nd line Manager. Right at that time the branch had the prestige of becoming number one branch in Canara bank as far as total deposits were concerned. The deposits had exceeded Rs50 crore with major contribution of around Rs30 crore from the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT).
I reported to Mr. Shome on his arrival. I found him a thorough gentleman. He took me to the Circle Office to enable me to register my name in the waiting list for bank quarters. The Manager there told me that no quarters were vacant at that time and as and when any quarters got vacated, the allotment would be made as per the waiting list. He also told me that I could fix the quarters on personal lease with the help of real estate agents. The rental limit for the Managers was Rs1250.
On coming back to the branch, Mr. Shome took me to the deposit wing and introduced me to the Manager-in-charge, Mr. Rajgopalan. He had been promoted to scale III and had been transferred to a local branch as a Senior Manager. I was to take charge from him. Rajgopalan gave me some insight into the ‘uncertain future forecast’ made by Mr.Mallya.
The branch had certain trade union leaders on its rolls and any change in the working system was to be discussed with them prior to the implementation. Mr.Shome had a good understanding with the leaders and the fact that he was a Bengali also made a difference. But there were rumours that the new Senior Manager identified for the branch was not at all to the liking of the said union leaders. He was said to be a strict disciplinarian hailing from the south. He had already taught ‘a few lessons’ to the union leaders in his present branch. The circle office also had a change of guard recently and the new DGM was also said to be a taskmaster who cared little for the union leaders. All in all, the things appeared to be heading for some sort of trouble by the time I took charge of the deposit section at the branch!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
16th June 2010

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.1

Right from my younger days, I had a fascination for the cities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. I always had a keen interest in history and all the three cities had a great history as they were connected with the British rule in India. As far as Kolkata was concerned, the name was associated with Fort William, Robert Clive, Warren Hastings, Siraj-ud-Daula, William Bentinck, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Lord Macaulay, Rabindranath Tagore, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Satyajit Ray, Bankim Chandra, Sharat Chandra, Subhash Chandra Bose and many others.
It appears to me that my bank had some clue about my fascination. May be that is why I was posted to Mumbai on my first promotion. Indeed I was very happy when I was informed about the posting. But I should admit here that I was not at all prepared for my Kolkata posting when it came to me eventually on my second promotion. The reasons were many. But the main reason was that the working conditions in banks were supposed to be very tough in Kolkata at that particular time. The reports we were getting at Mumbai about the different aspects of working in Kolkata were not at all encouraging, to say the least. In fact when I visited the Staff Section in Mumbai to meet my earlier Manager, M S Kamath, the officers there started expressing sympathy for me. They sincerely hoped that I would come back in a ‘single piece’ by God’s grace!
There was another problem for me. I could not get any firsthand information from any Manager who had earlier worked in Kolkata. It was simply because there was no policy to post officers from Mumbai to Kolkata, as they were mostly absorbed in Mumbai only or alternatively posted to Delhi (My posting was made from the Head Office). Hence the veracity of the stories we were receiving on Kolkata could not be counterchecked.
My posting to Kolkata as Manager at the Canning Street branch was indeed a big challenge for me. While I was privileged to work as an inspecting officer during my entire scale-I career in Mumbai, I lacked the experience of working as an officer at a branch. No doubt, I always made it a point to closely observe the working of officers and managers at different branches to keep me prepared for my future postings. But the absence of practical experience could always make a difference.
While the working conditions in Kolkata were supposed to be very bad, things were said to be worse as far as family life was concerned. Managers in Mumbai were privileged to enjoy decent quarters facility, as the bank had invested in a number of apartments in the prestigious suburbs of Bandra, Andheri, Santacruz, Malad, Versova, Mulund, Kurla, Vikhroli and others. But there was no such investment in Kolkata. The managers and officers were expected to make their own arrangements by fixing the houses on rent by availing the services of real estate agents. This created lot of problems for the Managers as they were total strangers to the city. The rental limits fixed by the bank were also not attractive to the landlords. Security was another major issue. There was no apartment culture in Kolkata unlike in Mumbai. The independent houses lacked safety. There were frequent reports of burglaries.
Another major issue was the harassment in the form of collection of ‘Chhonda’ (subscription) by unscrupulous elements during the annual Pooja festival. Kolkata was also (in) famous for its frequent load-shedding in those days. We in Mumbai had been enjoying the uninterrupted power supply situation all these days - thanks to the capacity and the efficiency of the Tata power companies, BSES and BEST. So much so that I had to refer to a dictionary to find out the meaning of load-shedding! As regards the public transportation, I was told that there was no suburban rail service comparable to Mumbai. The bus services were also said to be very bad, in any case, nowhere near the BEST services. The traffic jams in Kolkata roads were said to be complementing the load-shedding in the offices! A part of the blame went to the tunnel work going on endlessly for the Metro Rail services.
It was in this background that I left Mumbai on one fine day in the month of June 1984. I was going alone to Kolkata as I could shift my family only after fixing my quarters in the city. I had made it a point to ensure that my arrival time in the city was in the early part of the day. The Howrah Express in which I undertook the journey was to reach Kolkata in the early morning. I was a total stranger to the city and I could not expect anybody to receive me at the station.
During the course of my train journey I developed a close friendship with an elderly Bengali gentleman. Mr. Mukherjee was returning to Kolkata after visiting his daughter in Mumbai. I tried to collect maximum information from him about the city. As the train entered the state of West Bengal, we started hearing the news that there were heavy rains in Kolkata. It was also reported that the train services were totally disrupted and the outstation trains were being terminated before they arrived in Howrah station. By now we had realised that our train was being held up frequently and the journey had become painfully slow.
We reached the town of Kharagpur (known for its IIT) by the evening. We were stranded in the station for a painfully long time. Ultimately we heard an announcement on the loud speaker. We thought the train would start at last. But to our utter dismay we learnt that the Howrah Express had been terminated at Kharagpur itself! So that was it. My first journey into the great city of Kolkata had come to an abrupt end!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
6th June 2010

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Pleasures of a Hindu Undivided Family - Episode No.6

As I was recollecting all the bygone days in the history of the Belavinakodige family, our vehicle had reached the entrance of the house. We were glad to see Shankar himself receiving us as we got down from the vehicle. He remains as friendly as ever with his typical smile! We could see a good number of family members staring at us with curiosity. We were searching for some familiar faces, but could not find any. A syndrome of Rip van winkle started pervading us! Fortunately, the presence of Lalitha helped in introducing my sisters to the lady members of the family.
Shankar told me about the reunion of Yallappaiah and his wife Lakshmamma with the main family after a gap of over 40 years. It must have been quite a historical occasion for the family. As I was expressing my immense pleasure over the matter, I could see Yallappaiah himself coming out to see us with his wife. Oh! How the pair had changed physically with the moving times! Yallappaiah is aged past 80 years at present. My mind went back to the fifties when he used to walk around stylishly wearing the terlin shirt with a one hundred rupee note in his pocket. Oh! Certainly much water had flown down the river Tunga from those days!
I had written down the name of Shankar on the marriage invitation of my son as he was the head of the family. I was unaware of the latest development of Yallappaiah coming back as the head of the family. Shankar asked me to write down the name of Yallappaiah. I did it with pleasure using another invitation. We saw two young ladies – the wife of Balakrishna, the youngest brother of Yallappaiah and also the daughter-in-law of Shankar. The family was quite happy to see us after such a long gap of time. We were extended all the typical courtesies of a Malnad family.
The original Belavinakodige house has undergone a lot of alterations and renovations in keeping with the times. But the basic identity of the ancestral house is still kept intact. Shankar has five younger brothers. While Subrahmanya and Nagabhushana are living in different houses in our village itself, Gurumurthy stays in Shimoga. Chandrashekhara and Balakrishna are staying with the main family at the ancestral house. Shankar has been able to hold the family together all these days with his typical leadership and management capabilities.
Shankar had developed his financial expertise by the time he completed his education in Shimoga. We have seen him from close quarters as a close friend of our elder brother. He handles all issues in a very cool manner without getting unduly agitated. One can understand the intricacies involved in managing the affairs of a vast Hindu undivided family. As the Kartha of the family he always had his plate full.
We have always wondered about the intricacies of the financial management in the Belavinakodige family. The family has wide range of agricultural activities and multiple sources of income. The accounting of the family income and expenditure is indeed a complicated exercise. Shankar has always been up to the task with his financial acumen. I am sure his accounting system could be ‘case study’ for a qualified Chartered Accountant!
We visited some more families before we reached another typical and successful joint family in our village for our lunch. This family is located in a house called Golikatte. The senior most person of this family, Lakshmamma, is the daughter of my mother’s maternal uncle. She is aged past 75 years now. Her eldest son Ramesh is the present head of the family. This is a joint Hindu family of three brothers.
The family had faced certain financial problems during the times of the father of Ramesh. This was inspite of the family owning vast agricultural lands. But once Ramesh took charge, at quite a young age, the family never looked back. Ramesh has been ably supported by his two younger brothers Shringeshwara and Gajendra. Together, the three brothers have nursed back the financial health of the family. They have also achieved a high level of excellence in the agricultural field. While Ramesh is managing the financial affairs with astuteness, the two younger brothers have excelled in their hard work. The way they have brought about a change in the fortunes of the family within a short span could be another ‘case study’ at an agricultural management institution! Kudos to the wonderful family!
We had sent a prior message to the family about our arrival for lunch by the afternoon. Hence the special lunch for us was ready by the time we reached the house. Actually the family was quite busy in the planting-season of paddy. But that did not prevent them from offering us the typical courtesies associated with a Malnad family. The special lunch included all the delicacies of Malnad.
As we were getting ready to depart from the place, I suddenly developed curiosity about the present position of the Chittemakki families. Gajendra told me that most of the families are doing quite well at present. I was also told that some of the families have even moved to Bangalore and engaged in different businesses. Gajendra suddenly called one person who had just finished his lunch and asked me whether I could recognise him! He was a man in the 70+ age group. Yes! I could recognise him! He was Soora, the joint winner of the Second Battle of Chittemakki! My thoughts once again went back to my childhood days!
----- Concluded -----
A V Krishnamurthy
9th February 2011

Dear maava,
I just finished the HUF series. The avalanche of sweet memories, that comes whenever we come in contact with a person/object from our childhood, has been vividly painted. Enjoyed it! :o) The ending was nice---the pleasant surprise of talking to Soora, about whom I had read with great admiration earlier.

Thanks for sharing all these beautiful memories! :o)


Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Pleasures of a Hindu Undivided Family - Episode No,5

My first school teacher Srikanta Jois was related to the Belavinakodige family. He was the husband of Rukmini, the granddaughter of Yallappaiah. Jois was the younger brother of the Sanskrit scholar and Vidwan Shri Shankaranarayana Jois who taught students at the Sringeri Veda Pathashala. Jois was staying in the Belavinakodige house with his family so long as he was posted in our village. He was an expert in horoscope matching. He could also perform all the functions of a regular Purohith. Every morning he would leave for the school from the house along with all the school-going children of the family. Jois was my teacher up to 2nd standard. Thereafter he was transferred to a place called Bendehaklu.
The Ganapathi temple, the only temple in our village, was under the hereditary control of the Belavinakodige family. The family had earmarked five khandugas of paddy field for the archak of this temple.  He was to deliver the prasadam to the family daily after the pooja. He would also deliver the prasadam to every house in the village on all the Chauthi days. This temple was at the far end of our village. There was an ancient Jain stone inscription near this temple. There were reasons to believe that Jainism thrived in this part of Malnad once upon a time. An archaeological team from the JCBM College, Sringeri, under the leadership of Mr. Sundar, the then Reader in history and an expert in Indology, had visited our village in the late sixties. The team conducted an excavation near the Ganapathi temple and had found definite proof of an ancient culture and settlement in our village. The news had appeared in the front pages of the Kannada newspapers at that time. But unfortunately there was no further follow up on the results of this expedition.
It can be safely presumed that the establishment of Shri Sharada Peetham and the Mutt at Sringeri by the venerable Adi Shankara in the eighth century AD must have triggered the revival of Sanathana Vaidika Dharma in this part of Malnad. Naturally over a period of time the practice of Jainism must have ceased to exist here. The establishment of our village temple near the Jain stone inscription gives some clues to arrive at this conclusion.
The Ganapathi temple itself must have had its own history. We used to see the remnants of a large wooden chariot near the temple in our childhood. We could also see several parts of this broken chariot at different houses of our village being kept as monuments. An abandoned Sweetwater well near the temple also told its own story. The temple must have seen its glorious days in the bygone era. There was a large banyan tree with an Aswattha Katte and a Basava in front of the temple. I distinctly remember the staging of three Yakshagana Prasangas (shows) by the well-known Mandarthi Mela of South Kanara in front of the temple in the early fifties. The shows were arranged by the families of Belavinakodige, Puradamane and Kelakodige.
Every year during the Deepavali festival season, there used to be Deepotsavam at the temple conducted by different families on different days. The practice was to prepare the panivara (banana rasayanam, kosumbari, sweet avalakki, panakam, etc) at the respective homes and carry it to the temple on bullock carts. While the elderly males would walk all the way, the ladies and children like us would travel on the bullock carts. I should mention here that the journey by the present day luxury cars is nothing when compared with the wonderful cart-journeys we undertook for the Deepotsavam in the nights of Karthika Maasam! The annual Upakarma was also being held at the temple. The old temple was renovated by Thimmappa Hebbar in the late sixties in memory of his elder brother Ganesh Hebbar.
The late fifties was a period of Renaissance in our Belavinakodige village. The Adult Education Society of the Government of Mysore took active interest in the development of our village. An official called Aradhya visited our village frequently and conducted audio-visual programmes. A night-school for the illiterate adults was also set up and it worked for some time. A public library was set up at the Belavinakodige house with the name Vidyathirtha Pustaka Bhandara. A number of books were donated by different families to the library. The families included Hurulihaklu (BSL Rao), Belavinakodige (Yallappaiah), Hosalli (Thimmappa) and our own Adekhandi (AVR Rao). The news appeared in the Prajavani newspaper and we were thrilled to see the names of the donors including our own elder brother! We had preserved this paper-cutting quite for some time. We used to visit Belavinakodige very frequently to collect the books from the library.
The name of Yallappaiah remains imprinted in our minds on account of one particular reason. It was because of Chandamama. We never saw the senior Yallappaiah mentioned in the first episode as he had died much before we were born. The Yallappaiah we saw was the first son of Thimmappaiah, the younger brother of Ganeshaiah. He was a young man by the time we saw him in our childhood. He was a regular subscriber of this wonderful children magazine of those days. All the issues used to carry his name on the top of the magazine as the subscriber. Many a time the magazine was collected by my elder brother from Koppa and we used to read the issue before it was delivered to the Belavinakodige house. Besides, we used to read all the old issues at the house whenever we attended some functions there.
I distinctly remember the dibbana for the marriage of Yallappaiah leaving the Belavinakodige house on bullock carts on its way to Hosanagar. Lakshmi, the daughter of Baisemane Madhava Rao, was the first daughter-in-law of the family we saw at the Belavinakodige house. Yallappaiah had been groomed to manage the affairs of the family. Once Venkappaiah branched out from the family to Bhuvanakote after the death of Ganeshaiah, the family management was taken over by Thimmappaiah and Yallappaiah, as his eldest son. Yallappaiah was the first person in our village to wear a terlin shirt! It was supposed to be a rich man’s dress material. He would go for a walk around the village with this fascinating blue shirt. He would also keep a one hundred rupee currency note in his shirt-pocket. It used to be quite visible to us on account of the transparent material. Oh! How stylish and privileged he looked in that get up! I should mention here that the one hundred rupee notes were hardly in circulation in those days. Only a few people like Yallappaiah had the privilege to carry them!
Our closeness with the family grew after the arrival of Shankar, the third son of Thimmappaiah, at the Belavinakodige house on completion of his education at Shimoga. He was a very close friend of my eldest brother AVR. He used to visit our house frequently with his elder brother Srinivasa Rao. The two used to move always together. They would engage in conversation with our brother covering all the events of those times. We used to hear their conversation with great interest. We had never moved out of our village in those days. Hence it was quite useful for us to hear their conversation, which gave us a valuable exposure to the outside world.
At some stage in the late sixties, Thimmappaiah and Yallappaiah moved to a place called Uttameshwara, about 2 kms away from our village, under a family partition. They had purchased a rice mill there, which they managed in addition to holding a part of arecanut garden near our house. Srinivasa Rao, the second son, also moved to Shimoga with his family, for business. The management at the Belavinakodige house came into the hands of Shankar. Shankar has been at the helm of affairs since then along with his younger brothers. We always took his guidance on several matters concerning our family. He has been a well wisher of our family all these days.
------- (To be continued)-------
A V Krishnamurthy
6th February 2011
Dear Sir,
The narrations are so delightful and fascinating....It is our good fortune that you are such a fantastic writer. Surely I would have missed something had I been unaware about the wonderful life in Malnad.....I also continue to feel astonished by your memory...The details you mention that happen so early in your childhood...( E.g.: Srikanta jois married to Rukmini, moving to another village etc) .....
Eagerly looking forward for the next episode.....
Wish you a beautiful day...
Yours affectionately,