Banking on The Trust
The shrill ring of intercom jarred my nerves. It was my branch manager.
"Ravi,which God do you pray to?"
"Why Sir,what happened?"
"Nothing,just thank Him.He has fulfilled your wish."
I was confused. I had so many wishes,"What Sir,I am promoted?"
"No,you are transferred to Lucknow- your cherished city. As in charge of our bank's currency chest( CC)"
"O Great indeed !"
I worked at The Trust Bank, Pune branch.I became nostalgically delighted at the thought of moving to Lucknow.Having lived in the University hostel while graduating, I had fond memories of the girls hostel, the 'IT college-crossing' samosa shop and Ganj-ing in the posh Hazrat Ganj.
Daydreaming about these was so soothing.
When I went to join Lucknow CC, the outgoing incharge,Mohan,asked me,"Ravi,is it your first posting to a CC?"
"Right.Can you brief me about the picture here?"
"Yes, of course. Being in the capital city, ours is a very important CC. However as you already know, though this may be called The Trust bank CC ,the cash belongs to RBI and its closing figures must be reported to them by evening daily."
"What is the cash position?"
"It has a kitty of around 600 crores. Daily transactions exceed 25 crores."
"What about staff?"
"As usual, shortage is there. Venkat will be your second in command, having joint control of keys along with you."
"Venkat? Who is he?" I tried to look through our glass cabin into the main hall.
"Look at that man with a tilak."
"Yes,I can see him."
"Yes.He is not only ignorant but forgetful too. Committing mistakes and forgetting details now and then are normal for him.He has worked in different branches but because of his inefficient working he is getting kicked out sooner than normal.Finally higher management has dumped him here."
"But don't worry, he is trying to improve himself,"Mohan's smile was mischievous.
"He is seen taking some or the other medicines for memory and concentration.People also joke that he takes medicines even to remember that he has to take medicines timely."He continued "Unfortunately all the medicines are not stopping the infrequent incidences of cash shortages when he works as a cashier."
Though the matter of cash shortage was serious,I didn't like the insensitivity element of the dry humour&felt sad for Venkat.
Anyway,within a month,I got comfortable with the new environment. Venkat helped me settle in.
Our job was total management with joint control. But at the time of acute staff shortage, we had to double up as cashiers too.
Venkat proved to be as inefficient as was indicated to me earlier ,but fortunately there were no incidences of cash shortages for some time.
In banks, any shortage in cash is taken very seriously. If reported to higher authorities, not only the money is to be paid out of pocket but explanation is called for and punishment is imposed if found negligent or guilty. More than this , the incident may be recorded in the personal file. Hence each cashier tries to remain very careful. In case of error, all cashiers prefer compensating privately.
But one day there was shortage of Rs.1000.Venkat was the cause. I could see him,red in face,fumbling and recounting the counted pieces again and again. He finally said,"I will compensate."
It seemed that the staff was fed up with such recurrences. However, I took the view that it was not intentional, just a mishap.So,I looked at everyone & announced,"I would pay half the missing amount." Venkat's face turned to me with disbelief. His eyes glistened,he was visibly moved by the gesture. He tried to mutter something but I just patted him and moved away after keeping a Rs. 500 note on his table.
Unfortunately, as providence would have it,there after, the shortages did not stop.It continued infrequently but I continued sharing,though other staff did not concur with my acts.
Venkat's respect and gratitude for me ballooned and he would not allow me to do anything.
"Relax Sir,"he would say. He took the maximum load of office work on himself.
Our relationship deepened,our trust deepened.
I would give my set of joint control keys to him in the morning and he would return the same in the evening after closing the cash.
This was strictly against the rules.
But once trust develops, rules take a flight !
Similarly whenever I felt like giving him some relief from work,I would take both sets of keys with me and manage the day's processes.
Venkat's wife was a cancer patient and childless. A lot of money was continuously spent on almost daily chemotherapy. Life was really hard for him. He was under great stress all the time. Perhaps that could be the reason for him to commit mistakes in the office.
My daughter, Anusha had been striving for a medical seat for the last 5 years with no success. This had become a very big issue ,a huge cause of distress. Our financial condition also was quite bad. In spite of my good face in the office, I had my own vices. I was sickeningly into shares trading. Despite losses, I somehow never lost confidence in my ability to make windfall gains. As a result, I had no savings at all. In fact, I had borrowed from all possible sources and was heavily in debt.
"This time If she doesn't get selected ,you have to try for management quota!", my wife, Saumyata, had told me.
But management quota required donation of around 20 lacs and I didn't have the money.
I tried to talk to some old bank customers but received no help.
A week later, results were declared. Anusha didn't pass. A lot of weeping and negativity marked the bad day.
Time was running out. Anusha went into a sort of depression. Her mother sometimes remained silent for hours sitting in puja room and sometimes she would shout at me for not doing anything.
I,on the other hand,used to drink and keep thinking,trying to come up with some solution, any way forward.A couple of times, in my drunken state, I slept and dreamt about a lot of money within my reach but when I tried to grab it, it vanished or my eyes opened. Was the nature hinting at something? I was a great believer in nature responding to passionate calls.
One morning, I reached office early. I sat in silence concentrating more and more to attract a clear hint from nature. Surprisingly, soon, a solution appeared. "Yes, that is the way forward!", I told myself. Once a decision is taken, a special lightness descends!
Relaxed,I told Venkat,"Today I will take care of the whole day's work and you may attend to the old pending works."
Unfortunately, that relaxation was short lived. I have found that whenever I have felt I had done enough and was settling into the peace of contentment, something definitely appears to shake me out of that comfort!
Life,indeed,is the biggest roller coaster!
There was a lot of currency accumulated and hardly any space to keep. After a lot of follow up, RBI had permitted us to shift the excess to another CC in Kanpur next day. Now this was a crucial and big day for us.Hardly had I reached office next morning , Venkat came rushing in.
"Yes, Venkat, any problem?"
"No Sir, no problem. Only inspectors are here and want to check the whole cash."
I sighed. That was a huge disturbance if not a problem. Now, these inspectors are a peculiar and unwelcome lot everywhere. They land up on your busiest day and disturb your entire schedule. But you cannot refuse or express annoyance. Rather you have to be your courteous best and keep them in good humour so that they do not write something nasty against your working. They are often tauntingly called sons-in-law of the bank.
I told Venkat to take care of RBI remittance and the routine and I would take care of the Inspectors.He was relieved.Tackling the inspectors was not his cup of tea.
Inspectors went about checking the whole cash in a professional manner.They were allotted two and half days.Their tickets were already booked at 1.30 pm two days later.
Two days passed smoothly. They informed that they would leave by noon sharp next day. I had noticed that the main inspector was a great stickler of time to the point of being cynical, hence we were taking all steps to satisfy him .
There is no better news than the announcement of departure of uninvited guests!
Next day Inspectors again were busy with their verifications.
I wanted the head of the team to come out fast, sign the reports and leave. But it seemed that he was taking ages.
Finally I could see him through the glass door of my cabin. I wanted to read the expressions on his face. I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath, "Ten, nine, eight, seven..." I stopped. He was not coming inside. He turned back and went into the hall once again.
After some time, the intercom rang. It was Venkat."Sir,can you come?"
"What is it?"
"Please come,it is very serious."
I rushed.The inspector was busy stacking some note bundles in the bin- the slot for keeping cash.Venkat was standing beside him looking lost.
"What happened, Venkat?"
The reply came from the inspector,"Ravi,there is shortage of 20 lacs in this bin.Two bundles of 1000 denominations are missing."
"What!How is that possible!"
"The modus operandi seems to be simple. Some body removed 2 bundles from the last 2 rows and curtained the gaps with other bundles. Normally it could not have been detected for a long time. Now we will recheck the whole lot again. We are not going today." He turned to me, "You may confirm yourself."
I checked and rechecked. The inspector was right.
Venkat almost fainted and my own heart beat competed with the generator from the neighborhood shop.
"Ravi, we will have to report the matter." His voice was calm but his message hit like a bomb.
Here comes the end of my career, I thought."Sir, can we please go to my cabin and discuss.Please."
The long & short of what happened in the cabin was that,after our persistent requests,pleadings, nay beggings,he agreed not to report,if the loss was compensated before the reporting time to RBI in the evening.
It was our joint responsibility.So,Venkat offered to share an equal amount with me -10 lacs.Neither of us had the money.Finally Venkat decided to take a loan from his PF account. I had no such avenue, having already exhausted all the resources.Hence I told them that I would arrange it from my friends, relatives or some financier. By evening money was arranged and deposited.The Inspector did not report but he continued rechecking till the next day. When he departed, we gave him a huge gift and touched his feet as a mark of utmost gratitude.
The gloom after his departure was unbearable in the office. Everybody was wondering how this could have happened.Venkat was the natural suspect for negligence. But He suspected the office peons who normally helped in stitching, tying the bundles and keeping in the bin. Many theories were discussed, but nothing concrete came out.
When I reached home in the evening,Saumyata was not in house and Anusha was talking irritably over phone.After she finished,I asked her what was the phone call about.She told that it was an admissions middleman. "One of my friends has already got admission through him in an average college for 15 lacs. She gave him my number. He says he can get me a definite seat today itself for 10,since tomorrow is the last day."
"Do you mean - you will get admission, if he gets 10 lacs?"
"Yes." She added,with a lowered voice,"I told him I can't arrange so much."
"Ok, let me talk to him."
"What will you do?"she asked noticing the sudden surety in my tone.
"Let me talk. Leave the things to me."
Middleman seemed to be genuine. He wanted the money tomorrow morning.I promised him and told Anusha to be ready.
Anusha was over the moon,"I am going out shopping for tomorrow."
When Saumyata returned,I explained the developments.Her face expressed relief but she didn't ask about the arrangement of money.
Surprised, I asked,"You didn't enquire about money."
"Yes,I thought you will tell on your own.Tell me where did you get 20 lacs."
"Which 20 lacs?"My heart missed a beat,"I am talking about arrangement of 10 lacs."
"And I am asking you -from where you got 20 lacs which you had kept hidden under our bed mattresses."
My face went pale but she couldn't have seen as I was behind her.
She continued,"And you have taken 10 lacs when you came to house this afternoon."
"How do you know?"
"While searching the bedroom for my lost earnings,I stumbled upon the money.And to day,when you came hurriedly and locked the bedroom from inside I could suspect.After you left,I checked and counted."
"Why didn't you ask before?"
"Are we in talking terms for last many days after your drunken abuses and brawl? But since it is a matter of future of our daughter,I am talking now."
It was difficult to stand.I moved to the nearby dining chair and lifted the news paper lying on the dining table,hiding my face from her.
If a storm is on the anvil,you must shield yourself!
"I am waiting."She said.
"I want to know from where the money came."
I cleared my throat.What else do you do when you are going to tell a white lie !
"Well, you never believed in my ability to beat the share market and earn money."
"This time I hit the jackpot. But you will not believe."
"I can not trade in our names.Vigilance angle.I deal in cash with the share broker."
"Why you took out 10 lacs today."
"I had to reinvest before share market closing time today.Broker told that I can make more profits."
I was getting tired with the piercing questions.
Working never gets you tired, this lying makes you exhausted!
I didn't want any further queries.Best way was to attack.
I shouted back.
"If the disbelief,lack of confidence and doubts in your useless husband are over,can I get my drinks?"
"I have prepared tea."
"No,you have spoilt my mood.I don't want to talk any further.Where is my glass?"
She went into the kitchen,brought the glass and pounded it on the dining table without looking at me and switched on the TV.
With shaking hands I poured a large peg in the glass and started sipping slowly.
Having done the act rightly,I started wondering whether I have done right!
- Amresh Srivastava
Sent from my iPad