Sunday, December 25, 2011

A great legacy indeed

The legacy I enjoyed:
After a couple of years as Assistant General Manager of a Textile Mills immediately following my post-graduation in Economics made me sterner stuff having handled a strike by a 450-labour and later the management declaring a lock-out for 24 days. My fatehr desired that I should become a Probationary Officer in either RBI or SBI or get into civil service. I could fulfil his wish preferring SBI PO to IPS where also I got selection. The grooming I got from my dad made me hold my head high.

My father, a banker who joined the Imperial Bank of India (IBI) in 1936, had his grooming at the altar of efficiency in banking and finance. He was an upright cashier and the most loving and yet most feared Head Cashier of the Bank in the composite Madras Circle of the IBI. I used to carry coffee flask to the main branch of Visakhapatnam when I was seven years at 12noon – his coffee hour for the entire 94-year life he lead. One day, he asked me to wait and there was lot of anxiety in his face. He went to the Agent to report that he gave one section in excess to the captain of a ship and the ship was about to sail in the evening at 4p.m. The Agent telephoned to the Port Authorities to allow this cashier, i.e., my father to reach the captain. He gave his car to go to the port. My father could go to the captain. He seemed to have told the captain of the excess payment. The Captain said: “I did not count: young man, for a IBI cashier never faults. He pulled the cash cover and asked my father to recount and take if the amount was alright. My father recounted and showed to him the excess one-rupee note section (Rs. One hundred in all – and this was a big sum for a cashier whose monthly salary was just Rs.36 with a biennial increment of four annas (quarter of a rupee). That was the image of a bank cashier in that by-gone era. My father was later cautioned by the Agent but the Captain insisted on the British Agent R.L. Wishart to reward the young cashier that accelerated his increment by an year!!
He was posted as Official-in-charge of a Pay office at Ramachandrapuram in East Godavari District and was given ten days time to take over the charge of his official position. During the take-over period, the person-in-charge was supposed to verify all the stocks and gold ornaments pledged to the bank to confirm that the drawing power was well within the drawing power. The predecessor was known to be lax in all the official matters. My father was examining the stocks – and they were supposed to be oil drums. He took a wooden stick and started beating all the drums and asked the owners to break open the seals. Initially, there would appear to be lot of resistance and later there were veiled threats. Unrelenting, he insisted and one drum opened, revealed that it was water and not oil. He lost no time in advising both the branch controlling the pay office and the Madras Local Head Office while serving a notice on the borrower firm to make good the entire advance within 24hours. The Agent who had a hand in perpetrating this fraud became angry at his reporting to Head Office but could not find fault in calling up the advance. The event led to the suspension of the predecessor. The Agent, however, transferred my father even before the complete take over to another pay office. This incident was narrated to me when I was undergoing training as probationary officer. Another lesson I learnt from him was the way I should do physical inspection of stocks of wooden logs and iron and steel. The length, tensile strength of the steel measured in weight and the quality of wooden logs – measurement and volume etc.
At another branch, he noticed that a cashier working at the counter, for whose omissions, commissions and intromissions’ he is responsible by virtue of the Agreement that the Head Cashier had with the Bank, was opening the clipped notes at the cash verification table. He lost no time in asking him to quit the table by dislodging him from the work. He recommended that cashier’s suspension and the Bank had to conduct the enquiry and on admission of the guilt, the cashier was let off with a cut in increment. He used to say that a cashier who cannot see the cash in the safe or counter at work as pebbles or insects, that person was unfit for cashier’s job. Such rigidities have no place today. But the legacy he left and the lessons he taught me held me in good stead during my nearly three-decade career in the State Bank of India – the legatee of IBI. I had the unique opportunity of serving his retirement letter as I was posted to the branch as Branch Manager where he was serving as sub-accountant (both son and father cannot serve in the same branch and his posting to another local branch was also issued but he preferred to retire having only an year left for his actual retirement in 1974). The Regional Manager processed his application for retirement during my one-month taking over period. On the day of my assuming charge, he retired from the same branch. The most fortunate legacy, I thought worthy of recall in these days when corruption and bribery are being fought in streets.