Wednesday, December 23, 2015

H S Narasimhan- The Challenger

It was the last day of Nov 2015. I was busy at the office. I got a call from my elderly friend BG Rao  (BGR).  He told me that Mr. H S  Narasimhan  (HSN), our ex-Canara Bank colleague and a neighbour  of BGR,  was no more. He had passed away in the night at the hospital.  I left the office immediately to pay my last respects to my departed elderly friend.  As I left the office, memories of my association with the departed soul  started coming back:

It was the year 1977. I had been posted to Inspection Department in Mumbai on my promotion as Officer in Canara Bank.   After staying in a lodge for nearly a month, I was allotted quarters at Vaseem Villa in Santacruz East located close to Western Railway suburban Station. I took the possession of the flat immediately and occupied the same.

Vaseem Villa had total 12 flats with four flats each on three floors. All of them were occupied by the officers of our bank. I observed that my flat needed immediate white wash. So next morning I went to the western side of the railway station in search of painters. I found a group of painters sitting just outside the station awaiting work orders.  I negotiated with them and hired them at a cost of around Rs400.

The work was in full swing at my flat when a gentleman walked in after knocking the door.  He introduced himself as Narasimhan ,working as Accountant at our Kalina branch.  He was staying at flat No.2 in the building. He was glad to know that I was from Karnataka and started talking to me in Kannada in a very friendly manner. Then he casually asked me about the amount I had negotiated for the white wash job. He got wild when he heard that I was paying them Rs400 for the job.

He started shouting at them telling them – ‘AAP Logone is aadmi ko fasaaya’. I could not make out the meaning of the word fasaaya. He then told me that I had been cheated and the job was not worth more than Rs200. But it was too late for me to renegotiate as the work was in full progress. Narasimhan left after inviting me to his flat in the ground floor.

Narasimhan and Geetha couple had a young son called Sudarshan. After some time I got married and set up my family. The family of Narasimhan and ours grew quite close. Narasimhan was basically a very helpful man and would often give me advice as an elderly friend.  However, he had certain strange theories of his own! There was no way one could argue and convince him otherwise.
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Kalina branch was conveniently located close to Santacruz  on the way to Kurla.  BEST buses on route Nos 311 & 313 (charge 20 paise per ticket)  would run one after another continuously from Santacruz East to Kurla.  The branch was located  close to the airport and hence would get lot of walk-in NRI deposits. It could achieve annual targets comfortably with absolutely no efforts. All in all, Narasimhan was quite comfortable in working at this branch.

The Inspection Bug
In those days the Inspection Department in Bombay was dominated by junior Scale I officers. Narasimhan was observing that the inspectors used to command respect even from Divisional Managers and Senior Managers heading the prestigious branches. Besides, they were also eligible for first class train fare and taxi fare from the station to branch. He was closely observing my routine  and found that I was privileged to inspect large branches and could also work within the regular office hours without any late sittings. He concluded that the inspecting officers were highly privileged and blessed. He used to tell this to me repeatedly.

It seems Narasimhan was trying for a transfer to the inspection Department through his own sources.  Either through such efforts or by pure coincidence he was transferred to the Inspection Section in Circle Office Bangalore  during 1979-80. Thereafter I lost touch with him for many years. But I was happy that he could realise his ambition to work in the Inspection Department.
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After working for seven years in Mumbai and three years in Kolkata I was posted as Manager to Corporate Cell, Cantonment branch in Bangalore in 1987.  After settling down in the city, I visited the house of my elderly friend B G Rao in Jayanagar. I was aware that the house of Narasimhan was situated quite close to his house. When I enquired about his present postings, I was shocked to hear that he had resigned from our bank and opened a bakery at Hanumanthanagar!  But BGR was not aware of the circumstances under which he resigned the bank job.

Later I could collect the details of the circumstances under which Narasimhan had resigned. The story from unconfirmed sources went like this:

Narasimhan had been assigned the job of conducting regular annual inspection of a rural branch in Kolar. During the course of inspection, he observed a number of serious irregularities in the branch. He also observed that the Manager of the branch was not taking any steps to rectify the mistakes. Rather he was creating  further mess, by adding to the existing irregularities. Narasimhan gave a very adverse report on the branch highlighting the major irregularities.

Narasimhan had thought that his efforts in highlighting the irregularities at the branch would earn him appreciation of the Circle Office. But he was badly mistaken. His report turned out to be a headache for the Circle Office. The Deputy General  Manager (DGM) did not take it kindly. He saw to it that Narasimhan was transferred from the Inspection Department immediately.

You may not believe this. But it did happen. Narasimhan was posted as Manager to the same branch on which he had submitted a serious irregularities report.  He was asked to rectify all the irregularities and confirm compliance to the DGM expeditiously!

Narasimhan was unexposed to rural branch working till then. He understood that  making observations as inspector was one thing and rectifying the same as Manager was another thing. He struggled to set right the irregularities for quite some time. But ultimately  took the extreme step of  tendering his resignation to the bank job. His career in the bank had come to a sudden sad end.
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After some time I visited the house of Narasimhan along with my family. He and his wife gave us a warm treatment. I avoided asking him the circumstances under which he resigned from the bank. He seemed to have settled down in his new business.

Narasimhan had done a wise thing. He had built a house with three floors  (Ground+2) at the first instance itself in the seventies when constructing a single story house was an achievement of sorts  for a  junior officer in Canara Bank!  His  was the only building in the entire Canara Bank colony to have three floors with all others having single story houses. In fact,  my friend BGR had taken one floor in his house on rent when he was constructing his house in 1977. 
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Narasimhan faced some tough time when his son returned from the US after losing the job during the recession period. Almost at the same time, there was another major problem. He had stood as a guarantor to one of his close relatives  for the bank finance. The relative was running an industry and the bank finance was also huge.  Quite unfortunately the industry faced major issues and the unit closed down. The bank filed a suit and brought attachment orders against the properties of the borrower and  the guarantor (Narasimhan).  The only major asset of Narasimhan – the three-story  house in Jayanagar – was also attached by the bank. The rent from the two units was a major source of income for him and he was facing the danger of losing  his dwelling unit. I had visited him in those times and he had shared his apprehensions with me at that juncture.

But things turned better soon. The prices of real estate shot up and the value of the land on which the  factory was located also appreciated steeply. The bank loan was fully cleared under the scheme of One-Time-Settlement (OTS). The attachment order on Narasimhan’s house was also cancelled.  Meanwhile,  his son also secured a good job in India with the software industry picking up. Both his daughter and son got married and settled down comfortably.

The Diabetes Challenge
I had lost touch with Narasimhan for quite some time after attending the marriage of his son.  However, I had an occasion to meet him at his home some years back. During the course of our talk , I came to know that he had become a diabetic patient. I casually asked him whether he was keeping the same under control. His wife Geetha immediately told me that he was monitoring the same closely and in fact he had maintained a notebook for the purpose.  I was about to express my happiness when she told me it would be better for me to see the notebook!

Narasimhan immediately took out a notebook and showed it to me. He told me that he had taken it as a challenge and had avoided any kind of treatment. He explained that his way of monitoring was to see up to what extent his  sugar levels could shoot up! He was happy to show me that on certain days the level had shot up to 400! I was flabbergasted and did not know what to say.

Subsequently I had occasions to visit his house two or three times. But I could not meet him. I was told that he had started playing cards. He used to be in the club every evening.
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I visited the house along with BGR and paid my last respects to my departed friend.  His son and wife told me that he was on dialysis quite for some time and passed away peacefully in the night at the hospital. May his soul rest in peace!
A V Krishnamurthy