Saturday, December 14, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.14

Padmanabhan reported back at the branch only after a gap of more than a month. He was a pale shadow of the original Padmanabhan we had seen till that fateful night of 13th September. He was not in a position to handle the staff matters; neither he was in a position to handle the Deposit Section for which I was in-charge. The physical attack had a lasting effect on him and he was unable to come out of the trauma. Ultimately he was transferred to a peaceful local branch.

Mallya was entrusted with the staff matters in addition to his Credit Department. He had a tremendous capacity to handle workload and could also deal with staff matters in his own way without much tension. But there was an impression that his ‘one-man show’ in the Credit Department was adversely affecting the quality of work in the department. The branch had over Rs30-crore advances and the number of credit files was nearly three hundred. That was quite a big volume of business in those day standards. There were consortium advances and a very good number of major corporate accounts including GKW, WSEB, HMV, Sarabhai Chemicals, Tractor India, Bengal Flour Mills, etc. While two officers were handling post-sanction department, the entire pre-sanction work including preparation of credit reports was exclusively handled by Mallya without the assistance of even a single clerk. Even though there were three typists, their services were not being utilized regularly. An in-fighting was also going on between Maller and Mallya as the former was of the opinion that Mallya was favouring certain undeserving parties.

Ramamurthy (DM) was not at all happy with the working of the department and was repeatedly hinting me that I would be given charge of advances. He had also assured me that he would give me a capable officer to handle the pre-sanction portfolio. But he could find no suitable officer among the 13 scale I officers at the branch. As I had observed in the major Mumbai branches, very few officers in our branches were fit to handle this portfolio. It required capacity to understand the nuances of assessment of credit limits and the ability to handle correspondence with clients and sanctioning offices. Most of the officers were just interested in handling routine departments and were not prepared to undertake the (perceived) ‘risk’ of handling advances. Besides, whenever the branch was able to identify the capable officers, the administrative offices would snatch them away by getting them transferred to their end at the earliest!

While I was thorough with post-sanction documentation and other aspects in view of my experience in the inspection department, my exposure to pre-sanction portfolio was very limited. Hence I was hesitant to take charge from Mallya unless I was given a suitable officer. Ramamurthy had to postpone my posting to advances department as the bank took time to post another Manager in place of Padmanabhan. It was exactly at that time that an officer called Shankar Babu was posted to our branch on promotion from the Avenue Road, Bangalore branch. Almost simultaneously, the officer in our section, Mr. Kayal went on long leave. Babu was given charge of Kayal’s department.

I found in Babu an excellent capable officer. He straightaway fitted into the department and started handling the work efficiently. He was well organised and was very systematic in his approach. By the time Kayal came back, Babu was fully conversant with the entire department. I also came to know that Babu had worked in pre-sanction department at the Avenue Road branch in Bangalore. I decided that I would request Ramamurthy to place him in the advance department when I took charge there.

The summer of 1985 saw major changes in the set up of our Circle Office in Kolkata and in our Canning Street branch as well. The DGM R V Pai was transferred and NM Kamath was posted in his place. In our branch there was a total change of management except for me. While Ramamurthy was transferred to L C Road branch in Kolkata, Maller was transferred back to Tamil Nadu. Mallya was also transferred to a Kerala branch. With that an (violent!) era in Canning Street branch came to an end!

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I could hardly devote any time for my personal matters till the 13th Sep incident reached its logical conclusion at the branch. By that time somehow our family had settled down in Kolkata. While we were happy with the school education for our two sons, we were missing certain conveniences that we were accustomed to in Mumbai. We used to enjoy the quality of milk both from the government dairy and the private milk dairies in Mumbai. However, the quality of milk was very poor in Kolkata. The mother Dairy used to supply skimmed milk through their ATM type outlets. We had to insert paid-plastic coins in the slots and collect the milk that used to pour down from the machine, in vessels. The cow-milk supplied by the Bihari Bhaiyas used to be only slightly thicker than water! We had to simply forget the creamy milk and thick curds of Mumbai!

I had been told that the area where our house was located was blessed, as it was very close to the private residence of Jyothi Bosu, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal. Unlike the other places in Kolkata, where the frequent load-shedding was a routine, our area used to have power continuously. But unfortunately this position did not last long. As luck would have it, Jyothi Bosu moved to Raj Bhavan from his ancestral home after a short time. With that our luxury of load-shedding free days also came to an end!

Kolkata was known for burglaries in those days. It was highly risky to keep the house locked. But we had a taste of this burglary even when we were at home during the night. As the kitchen was very small, we had very little space to keep the provisions and vessels. As a result, we had kept the gas cylinder in the window itself in the available space there. One fine (!) morning my wife was unable to light the stove. When she looked at the cylinder, she found that the regulator was missing! The burglar had knocked it off by inserting his hand through the window!

I rushed to the gas distributor as soon as he opened his shop. I had thought that it was only a question of paying the charges for a new regulator. But it was not that simple as I thought. I was told that I had to file a police complaint about the burglary. The police had to investigate and try to catch the burglar. Only when they gave me an endorsement that they were unable to catch him and were closing the case, the distributor would give me a new piece on payment of the cost! While I could file a complaint at the Gariahat police station immediately, it was difficult for me to wait for the closure of the case. It was quite an experience for me. Fortunately our branch had a customer who was a gas dealer. He was kind enough to help me out.

There was one major benefit for us in moving to Kolkata. The cost of living was substantially lower than Mumbai. The transportation costs were highly subsidized. The journey by tramway was the cheapest. While the minimum charge was 20 paise for the ordinary class, the same was 25 paise for the first class! The first class compartment had fans and the same were missing in the ordinary class. That was the only difference! I was witness to an incident when a Bengali lady entered into a first class compartment by mistake. When the conductor asked her to pay 25 paise for a ticket, she realised her mistake. She immediately wanted to change the compartment rather than paying the additional 5 paise. But the tram had already started moving. She simply jumped out of the moving tram! She wanted to save those 5 paise at any cost!

The Bengali families in general were masters in realizing the value of money. This was applicable to both men and women. They would pay nothing more than the minimum price for each and every commodity. They were bargain masters and even a wily trader could not cheat them as far as the pricing was concerned. Perhaps this was the main reason for the lower cost of living in Kolkata. Kolkata is known for the famous Bengali sweets. These sweets are made of only pure milk and no ghee is used. People of all strata of society relish sweets and spend money on them. Eating of sweets became a daily habit for us as our children became very fond of them. These sweets were also being sold at very low prices.

The new management team at our branch was a surprise packet. While Maller was replaced by a Bengali Senior manager from a local branch, Mr. Arup Guinn, the other three were all from Mumbai. Mr. B R Nayak, the Divisional Manager of Fort Mumbai branch, was posted in place of Ramamurthy. The replacement for Padmanabhan was my own ex-colleague in inspection Mr. Das who actually belonged to Kolkata. The other Manager was a Gujarati, Mr. Goyani, from the Foreign Department, Mumbai. The new team was in place by May 1985 and a new era had commenced in the Canning Street branch.
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

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