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