Friday, February 24, 2012

Silence Of The Banks


I am not a ‘told you so’ kind of person, but I always thought bankers were shifty buggers. Well, see the mess the world is in...I TOLD YOU SO.

Even back in the 80s, when there were only nationalised banks in India, bankers were in the stratosphere. A ‘bank employee’, as a good friend pointed out, stood for ‘decent’, ‘secure job’, ‘well-paid’. If you wanted to give your house on rent – find a bank employee. If you want to find a groom – find a bank employee.

Elsewhere, people usually talk about their first...hmm...biological experiences when they were teenagers. But my generation can talk about the first bank experience. The first time I went to a bank on official work was when I was in my 10th standard. I had to get a ‘dee dee’; although I had no clue what that was. My dad had written down all the instructions, and given his handwriting, I thought I could crack Egyptian hieroglyphics faster.

I furtively walked into this bank on Malleswaram Sampige road. Tubelights, whirring fans, the constant thump of seals, and a general low hum of bank-kind. Not to mention surly faces behind austere counters, and morose customers milling around. I finally finished the dee-dee and I was almost in tears – the cashier had yelled at me for being a slow-poke.

The next traumatic banking experience took place when I landed my first job. I had to open an account. Things went on okay I suppose – I mean no one yelled at me. My credentials were verified. The lady in-charge held up my passport photo and squinted at it, and compared it to my face. She frowned and asked me some questions and sighed repeatedly. She frowned some more and looked at my documents – ration card copy and such like. She licked her forefinger and turned the pages with unnecessary force. I would not have been surprised if she had reached inside my body and plucked out a DNA strand to verify my identity. Guilt started seeping inside me – surely I was wasting her time, and maybe I was not who I thought I was. See...those bankers could mess with your head.

After standing for 45 minutes in front of her counter, she shoved all my documents into a file and put it away. Then she left her counter. I did not know what I was supposed to do – should I leave, or should I stay? I preferred to stand still under the circumstances – what if I asked her and she kind of bit my jugular vein in irritation? She came back after twenty minutes and asked me to move out of the way for other customers. I presumed that was a dismissal and slunk away.

After ten days, I found myself at the altar of Countess Dracula back in the bank. There was a problem with my application. My three sample signatures (I had signed in front of her) did not match apparently. They all looked the same to me. I mustered enough courage to ask her what the problem was. She jabbed her pen at a loop and said, ‘Does not match’. No luck – they all looked the same. ‘You have to write the application again,’ she said with that frown. That did it. My usually thanda Iyengar blood boiled. ‘Go ahead and tear up my application!’ I thundered. At least I thought I thundered, but in reality I had squeaked. Nonetheless, it evoked a reaction in the Countess – she blinked rapidly. I did not wait around, and marched off. The passbook and cheque book arrived by registered post in three weeks.

So you can imagine how happy I was when private banks opened up like local kaka angadis. And what’s more, I was even more delighted with the debit card and ATMs. No more surly faces! Aah! How pleasant to interact with a machine!

I got over the bank-o-phobia more or less. I mean my bank discourages visits to the only branch in Bangalore by charging such visits. The only times I’ve been inside a bank is with The Husband. His bank is quite efficient and filled with young, smiling faces behind the counter. The only problem is one has to pack a picnic lunch if one plans this bank visit - it's that crowded. I don’t mind really, because I usually doze off. I mean I get a feeling of sitting in a railway station. The low, rumbling hum of the thick crowd, the automated voice announcing counter numbers that could well be platform numbers, the uncomfortable wrought iron chairs biting into the puts me into a hypnotic sleep. Just as the neck droops and the mouth slackens, I snap back to consciousness – some sharply dressed lady standing at my side asks if I’ve been attended to. They’re polite that way. I suppose they have to make sure I’m not just some bum who’s walked in to take advantage of the ceiling fans.

Now that I’ve stopped working, my bank phobia has all but disappeared. But just when I thought the silence was permanent, my internet banking password ‘expired’. The cell phone number to which the activation code is sent had expired too. Hmm. I had to first update my contact number, and then proceed with the other problem. But then, as a climax to a Greek tragedy, I had forgotten the separate pin that is required for authorisation to change contact details over telephone. The bile sloshed around and threatened to initiate anti-peristalsis. I trembled like a struck tuning fork. But I eventually calmed down. I mean my account balance was paltry - just enough to buy toor daal for next two or three months. Just as I forgot all about it, the elusive pin number bubbled from the depths of my troubled bank memories and reached my tongue. I’ve got it all sorted out now.

I have to agree with Stephen Leacock – like him, I find the idea of shoving my money in a sock very appealing. Or, in the rare event that I become rich, there are always gunny bags.

© Sumana Khan - 2012


  1. Enjoyed the read. I share your feeling abt the banks. Last year I was at my Dad's bank, they had switched of the no. Announcements and there was chaos, plus the large sum checks got delayed unnecessarily. My hot Mumbaikar blood which had gone cold in Blr erupted like a volcano. I yelled at the manager for all the poor service and made sure all the senior citizen got service promptly. Yes you find only senior citizens at the banks now.

    1. WHere did my comments disappear?o_O

      I can totally imagine you yelling at the manager! Some of them act like they are doing a favour by keeping the bank open :/

  2. Ha, ha thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Way back, i have also never ever had a pleasant experience in nationalized banks. I freaked out when i was asked to appear for those bank clerical exams in the 90's by my parents. Imagine becoming like of those kadoos arrogant staff as you rightly described.

    1. Anitha I think I have a LOT of these exams LOL! I can't imagine myself sitting behind a counter updating ledgers!

  3. Hmmm...stumbled upon your blog, and really like your writing

  4. Stumbled upon your blog and really enjoyed everything I read.

  5. Nice one Sumana. I enjoy reading your blogs. Love your story telling and your flair. My mom was a banker and so I've had VIP treatment in her banks but I do agree that they just try to shoo you off.
    Keep writing!!!

  6. I am lucky.
    I am free from this task of managing my bank accounts.
    I don't even know my account number or ATM pin number.
    You see, I delegated the entire business of managing the family finances to my better half.
    She is a former bank employee and actually enjoys it.
    That leaves me more time to indulge in my passions like browsing the net and reading all kinds of blogs and littering blogosphere with my comments.

    Keep writing

    1. The first time The Husband and I went out; we stopped by at a book store that accepted only cash. I rushed out to the ATM - and realized I've forgotten my PIN...and borrowed fifty bucks from the (future) husband. I've still not returned it ;)

  7. Too good!
    Private bank rules are no less obscene. It so happened that I asked for a transfer of my corporate account from the main MG road branch to Malleshwaram branch. They promptly closed my account in MG Road branch and simply didn't open in Malleshwaram. In the meanwhile my salary got credited! And where to??? Even the managers sitting in MG Road branch didn't know! I had to run around for a week to find out where my salary ended up and too to MG Road!

    Yet another time, my signature wouldn't match. So, they bring me a change of Signature application with pre-format that asks me for "New Signature" and "Old Signature" (????). If I can pen my old signature then why would I need a change application? But rules are rules...they showed me my old signature and provided me a white paper and then asked me to practice this before I filled the application!!

    Experiences, everyone of us will have. But narrating it in such a way that the other person actually feels it, is something you are gifted with. Loved this piece!

    1. Sandy - so true. some of them are such twats that I'm surprised the banks stood for so many years!

  8. Loved this. Some nightmarish experiences I have had at the bank near my house when I was a kid, bubbled to the surface. I could never and still don't understand why any merchant or banker has to be nasty & treat children who have come to do some serious business, as pests. The first ever time I had a pleasant experience with banking was when I opened my salary account. To my utter delight, I found that the bank staff in that branch were genuinely nice & helpful and not because I opened my salary account there. :)