Posts Tagged ‘real India’

Read a very interesting piece in the Mint Lounge, by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, referring to some people beyond the realm of politics and Bollywood and cricket, who have been hugely impactful in making India what it is today!

One of the persons he talks about, and about whom I had also written a bit few days back, is Verghese Kurien, the man behind India’s white revolution, and self-sufficiency in milk, farmer empowerment, etc.

As Rajadhyaksha puts it really well, “There are three ways to judge the impact a person has on his times: the number of lives he touched through his work, the strength of the institution he built, and the team he left behind to carry on the chosen task.”

And even as we feel good about the little we may be doing in life, when you consider these benchmarks, we would realize that we are nowhere. While it is very tough to rise on all of these aspects, we can attempt to do our best in touching more live, creating a strong institution, and leave a strong and empowered team when we choose to move on.

Institution building is not something that only happened in the early years post-independence. While Rajadhyaksha talks about personalities like Kurien, Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai, it is interesting to see him list current day personalities also, such as E. Sreedharan, the man behind Konkan Railway and Delhi Metro, or R. H. Patil, the force behind the National Stock Exchange.

But it is also a fact that being an institution builder is an attitude that is not commonplace. Can you look at a 20 years horizon? Or you are worried that you don’t know what will happen 3 years from now, and hence think in the short term? I remember vividly, an old gardener, at a nursery in Coorg, where he was painstakingly, but lovingly, putting together, the saplings that would go out to create trees. And on the outside of the nursefy, I saw the humungous trees that would have come up in 20-30 years. Clearly, the gardener may not see the saplings flourish into those large trees, but that did not deter him from putting his most into the effort, and lovingly too.

The institution builder thinks of a bigger picture, the grand vision. And that’s what makes a Vikram Sarabhai or a Homi Bhabha.

Interesting words from M.G.K. Menon, who succeeded Bhabha as director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, about Bhabha: “The legacies he left behind are not only the tangible programmes, buildings, equipment, gardens and the like, visible creations of his scientific and artistic abilities; but even more important is the legacy which is in some sense intangible—the large number of trained personnel, who have embraced the vision of a new India and who have acquired confidence in their own abilities. (Patrick Maynard Stuart) Blackett has often stated that a first-rate laboratory is one in which mediocre scientists can produce outstanding work. Homi Bhabha … understood this well and this is what he sought to create by the right environment and the right conditions of work.”

When we think of the nuclear program we have in place today and the strides that we have made as a country, the paragraph above brings the goosebumps. Imagining those days when he must have struggled to get the program going, and kept going forth relentlessly, so that we can see his legacy now.. how awesome!

Towards the end of his piece, Rajadhyaksha asks very pertinent questions. Are history books today filled with freedom fighters and (worse) other politicians, or even perhaps, sports personalities or iconic film stars, but do not have a mention of some of these great men and women, who built the real India?

Will the young generation have the understanding of who built the India that they now enjoy and take for granted? Isn’t it the duty of today’s generation to acknowledge these deeds?

Also are there any in our society today, who can be considered such institution builders? Are we encouraging them enough? There is still a lot to do, and we need today’s Bhabhas and Kuriens and Sarabhais..

Yeah, the title of the post sounds like a school child’s composition topic 🙂

But really, there is no better way to describe the roughly 1 hour that I spent at the Syndicate Bank yesterday.

Nowadays many of us have started banking with private banks like HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and others. Also we are accustomed to Net Banking and do not need to walk in to the bank as much. I also have the privilege of help, so for routine matters, I am able to send a person who takes care of depositing cheques etc. So visits to the bank are rare. And when these happen, these are at plushly decorated private banks, with smart tellers and loads of credit-card and loans-selling salesmen hovering around you.

So the visit to Syndicate Bank yesterday was a different experience altogether.

I do not bank with them, but had some money to collect, against a bearer cheque issued to me, for some old dues. Rather than send someone, I decided to stop by on the way to work, and do the honours myself!

So here’s the scene first.

Unlike my HDFC Bank, I do not see any systematic queues or structure here. There are many tellers sitting behind glass covers, but people are generally hovering around counters, as they please. Obviously the regulars are more familiar. There are complete walls filled with elaborate explanations about banking matters. From who can open a current account, to the requirements for FDs, and including their email address of the ancient form that I had first seen in 1997, i.e. xeebom.mail.com.. or something long and drawn out, like that. Yes, the large walls serve as notice boards. Except that the instructions are mostly in English (and which is not what their target group will read, as I discover in some time) and the fact that most of those are painted, and so I wonder how often do they change these, considering the fact that bank facts change all the time!

Anyway, getting the scene in, I asked for where I needed to go, and was directed to a particular window. There were few people already around that counter, and I tried to create a semblance of order, by standing behind a person, and making an official queue. Couple of people who came after that, I guided them behind me, to stand as a queue. Was a little strange for them but they complied anyway!

The queue was slow moving, but which  enabled me to look around and observe the scene.

It was clear that there were many people from the lower and middle income group that banked here. I am not sure if it is the bank charges or the airconditioned environs or the perception of private banks being richer people’s banks, but it appears that the lower and middle income group has stayed with the PSU banks and continued to be in their comfort zones there (wonder if it is true for kirana vs organized retail, and for similar reasons?). Old people with sticks in their hands, gingerly led by their younger ones, many Maharashtrian bais, ladies in burgas and the like, were seen all around.

As the queue moved ahead, I could also see the transactions happening ahead of me. Demand drafts to send home, small amounts deposited, small amounts withdrawn were the typical transactions.

The tellers seem to know familiar faces. Even while giving out small cash, they wanted to be sure that the person had updated her passbook. I guess people must live close to the brink, in terms of maintaining low balance!

While depositing cheques and cash of people, tellers would ask for passbooks. Just to validate the account numbers. Obviously mistakes of putting in incorrect account numbers must be common!

The tellers were not the most efficient, but that was due to slow computers, lack of support systems etc. They all appeared to be genuinely helpful to the customers, and either had a slight smile on their faces, or a neutral face. At least not a grouch that I have seen in other banks!

I needed to validate the balance and then withdraw cash. So when my turn came, and just as I asked for this detail, their systems went down! Knowing how computers work, and realizing that the bank will not shut down for the day, I expected the systems to come back up again, in sometime. So I hung around. But I was standing right at the counter, waiting for the systems to come back.

Meanwhile, the teller continued to service other customers, the kind who did not need the use of the system. For example, those who had cash to be deposited or small cash withdrawals (here the teller just asked the question to the customer, ‘have you checked passbook – balance is there, no?’) to be done.

As I waited there for the next 40 minutes, there were very interesting observations.

Many people were depositing cash like Rs. 300/-, Rs. 700/- and amounts of those kinds. There were withdrawals also of Rs. 250/- or numbers like those. There were drafts being made for sending to home towns, for amounts like Rs. 500/- or so. There were small amounts being deposited with questions that they have some cheque already given, and will this deposit ensure that the cheque does not go back (perhaps some EMI?). The people there, the numbers being mentioned can be a reality check for many in our society, who are used to seeing and dealing in far larger numbers!

In between you would find the small businessman, who speaks English (for a change) and who is also familiar with the tellers, coming and chatting up. That he has got used to net banking, and is able to see so-and-so details. And the teller and the customer both have smiles. And there are the real regulars who know their way around. They find it easy to walk to the inside part – where the tellers are sitting – and move from one table to another, to take care of their work directly at the respective tables. From the inside, they will hand over their slip books to deposit cheques, or take larger chunks of their cash for the shop, for example.

There is an entire method to the madness. One can be aghast looking at all this, but there is perfect peace with the way these things work, and nobody questions any of this!!

There was one particularly amazing incident where a Bai walked to the counter. Looking at her, the teller said in Marathi, that “why did she come in so drunk, early in the morning?”. The bai mumbled something. There was a lot of pain and trouble in her voice. She mumbled about problems at home. She was standing right next to me, and she was smelling of the liquor that she must have had, she was old (60+), she was staggering and her speech was all garbled. But she knew what she was there for.

She needed to withdraw cash!

She gave a passbook. By this time, the systems had come up. And although I was waiting for long, the teller could sense that this lady was in trouble and it was best to get her done and sent off. She looked up her balance. And conveyed that it was a little over 700/-. The look on the face of the lady was one of extreme disappointment. She had no idea, but she was obviously hoping that there was more money there. The teller asked the lady to get a slip and bring. The bai was in no position to move around. She mumbled something, but had a look of pleading on her face. The teller understood. She got up, went somewhere and brought back a slip. Filled it out for 700/-, put a stamp pad and asked the bai to put her thumb on it. Somehow the bai managed. And 700/- was given. The bai asked how much more is there. The teller advised that let the balance remain there. It was only another 70/- more. The bai had a look of helpless plea / request. As she mumbled away. She so badly wanted even that 70/- to be taken. She could do with whatever cash she could get that time. The teller advised against it. The bai accepted the suggestion. But then said that she was headed to the hospital. And not sure if she would return back at all, or conk off from there. The teller asked her not to talk like that, and she will be back soon. The bai then proceeded to push her hand inside and profusely bless the teller several times, like she was her own daughter. She proceeded to give blessings likewise, to the teller on the next table.Before she walked away.

I was amazed by the scene. This is the real India, I guess. This is what those sentimenatal bank advertisements are about. Which talk about the relationships that bankers have with the customers. This is the real India, of small money, or survival, or being hand-to-mouth, so often!

A reality check for anyone who is not tuned into this world.

Go, spend a few hours in your local PSU bank or a cooperative bank, or even at your post office, where money orders are being made and sent. Even living in a city, you can get a view and an appreciation of life on the other side of the fence. We will also complain a lot less about our state, once we see this.. !