Monday, December 2, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.9

One of the officers in the branch was a gentleman called Biswas, who was in-charge of sick and suit-filed accounts. He was exclusively handling such bad accounts only and was directly reporting to the Divisional Manager. But it used to appear that he was actually under the control of nobody! The Senior Manager and Manager in-charge of credit, Mallya, were not in the picture at all. As Biswas had to appear in many court cases, he would report at the branch only at his convenience and particularly when his TA bills were due for submission! Biswas had his own trade union and he was a senior office-bearer there. He had an extremely pleasant disposition and very highly polished manners. For some strange reasons, the branch management was happy to allow him his full freedom with absolutely no questions being asked! Biswas continued as an enigmatic personality in the branch till he was posted as a Manager in a rural branch.

The person to replace Biswas was a gentleman called Ramanan (addressed as Ramani by everybody). Ramani - whose mother tongue was Tamil - had been born and brought up in Kolkata. He had the advantage of fluency in Bengali language. He had been given the charge of establishment section in the branch, which dealt with all salary, leave, LFC and TA bill matters. He had ‘established’ himself there for long as there was no suitable replacement for him! He had one common quality with Biswas – a very pleasant disposition and a highly polished mannerism! However, he lacked the sophistication of Biswas. But both of them were equally slippery customers! They would avoid being entrusted with any additional duty or responsibility in a very polished and a (deceptively!) dignified way!

Maller had thought that he could enroll Ramani in his inner group for tackling the Union leaders. But Ramani evaded the issue very intelligently. Whenever Maller spoke to him in Tamil, he would reply him in English! He would even include some Bengali words in his dialogue to indicate his preference! Maller used to tell us that Ramani had smeared his body with castor oil! He would smoothly slip away the moment somebody tried to catch him!

The Canning Street branch had a very good export business. It had the prestige of handling export business directly. A major textile export-house called Yarn Syndicate, a Marwari firm, was the main client. A senior Bengali officer called Kundu was handling the department independently. Kundu was an extremely efficient officer and was handling the department in an excellent manner. He also had a very handsome and pleasing personality. I have seen very few officers in my career who had the caliber of Mr.Kundu. He was transferred to Lakshmi Commercial Bank (taken over by our bank) as a Manager after one year. We had a very tough time in finding a suitable replacement for him.

The team of Maller and Padmanabhan (the Manager in-charge of staff) started tightening the screws around the Union leaders. They started turning down all sorts of requests for favour by the employees. While the leaders were quite prepared for the onslaught of Maller, the arrival of Padmanabhan as a faithful lieutenant, only added fuel to the fire! Padmanabhan was indeed a tough guy. He would not hesitate to say no to any of the request from the employees. The Union leaders were getting quite intimidated by his approach. A sort of cold war started developing in the branch slowly.

While all types of petty issues were cropping up daily, the major issue pertained to the disposal of the dividend warrants of Guest Keen Williams Ltd (GKW). The warrants were being received daily and were piling up in the trunks maintained by Subramanian, the officer-in-charge. The majority Union made it clear that its members would not touch the warrants unless overtime allowance was paid as was the practice so far. There was immense pressure from the Circle Office to clear the work. But all sorts of negotiations yielded no positive results. Mr. Ramamurthy, the Divisional Manager, was facing a very serious and tension-filled situation. He was basically against the policy of antagonism followed by Maller. Besides, the Union leaders were mostly his friends, who had worked with him earlier at the branch (he had worked as Officer and Joint Manager in the same branch earlier). Ramamurthy was also a diabetic patient even though he was still in his early forties.

The arrival of another officer at the branch on transfer strengthened the hands of Maller. Mr. James from Tamil Nadu was a senior officer and he had already worked in Purulia branch of West Bengal. He had a commanding personality and had developed excellent skills in handling the local Bengali staff. But he was a tough guy from deep inside. He was straightaway posted to the establishment department in place of Ramani, whose ‘diplomacy ‘was not to the liking of Maller! Ramani was moved to the bills department, which was low-profile. Soon the trio of Padmanabhan, Subramanian and James were ‘marked’ as the right hand men of Maller. All efforts of Maller to involve the Bengali officers in his ‘mission against the Union leaders’ failed miserably.  The officers - Shambhunath Sarkar, Bhattacharjee, Tuhin Banerjee, Tapan Halder, H S Kayal, S C Biswas and N C Biswas - simply refused to fall in line. Maller used to discuss this with all of us during our daily journey in car to and from the office. There was an apprehension that the issue may turn out to be a South Indian v/s Bengali fight. This had very dangerous implications.

As the deadlock over the handling of GKW dividend warrants showed no signs of resolution, the branch management (DM and SM) took a decision to ask the minority Union members to cooperate. They readily agreed. It was decided to entrust four clerks from the said union with the posting of warrants in the ledgers on a daily basis. Accordingly the work was entrusted to them on a particular day. As our deposit section was in a different wing of the building, I was not present in the main branch when the work was taken up in the early hours. But I knew that some trouble was definitely in the offing. At about 12.30 PM, one sub-staff came running to me and informed that the majority Union members had ‘Gheraoed’ the Divisional Manger in his cabin for more than an hour and he had simply collapsed! By the time I reached there, Ramamurthy had already been taken away for medical treatment.   The tempers were still running high and the work relating to posting of dividend warrants had come to a standstill. In spite of all the drama and the accompanying tension, Maller remained as cool as a cucumber!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

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