Sunday, April 17, 2016

Life in the day of a banker

For three years till May 1992 I worked on deputation as the branch manager of State Bank of Hyderabad, Sion branch in Bombay. We were given our residential quarters at a housing complex called ‘Gokuldham’, at Goregaon East, a suburb of Bombay (now Mumbai). The nearest railway station was called Goregaon, on the Western Railway network, a little more than two kilometres away from where we lived.
My office was quite a distance away on the Central Railway of the Bombay suburban railway network. My daily routine was to ride my two-wheeler (a 1974 Royal Enfield Bullet) to Goregaon rail station, find a parking space in an extremely crowded roadside next to the station, rush up the steps along the over-bridge to the platform where the train was due to arrive, then dive into the first-class compartment even before the train could come to a stop or the people could get off. It was a skill that anyone commuting by train had to acquire, or be left behind. The compartments were always overcrowded – even at 7.15 a.m. Hence, even a second’s delay meant missing that small window of opportunity to get into the compartment.
I had to change trains at Bandra, rush with my briefcase to another platform for another train – this time to King’s Circle on the Harbour Line of the Central Railway. The last lap was a walk for about three-quarter of a kilometre to my branch. By 8.15 a.m. I used to be in my chair. After the day’s work was done the direction of my travel was reversed, though the route remained the same. That was my daily routine. It rarely varied.
It changed a bit on the day I received a call from a chartered accountant about an hour after I had reached office. As the branch manager, it was my job to develop business. He was one of the several that I had been in touch with, with a request to direct some of the firms that he dealt with to my branch. The phone call from him was to say that he’d like me to visit a unit somewhere in Worli (central Bombay) that afternoon. Could I come? I said, “Yes, of course!”. Since I did not know the exact location, it was arranged that he’d pick me up just after 2 pm.
He arrived at 2, on his scooter! He apologised for the transport arrangement, explaining that he planned not to return to his office later, but to go home after the visit was over. Therefore, he did not want to go back all the way once again, just to pick up his scooter. Would I mind? Under the circumstances I had hardly any option. I rode pillion, hanging on to the vehicle for dear life from Sion to Worli – a good 5-kilometer journey on an uneven, bumpy, extremely crowded roadway.
The industrial unit was a cooperative venture of cobblers. The area was large, several people were engaged in a variety of activities; the production was meant for local markets and also for export. I was introduced to the main promoter and the key man behind this venture. I asked some standard, routine questions, collected some papers, had the mandatory bottle of soda, and was ready to leave.
The promoter enquired where I lived, and offered to provide a lift all the way back to Goregaon. I excused myself, saying that I had to lock up my desk, close the branch and collect my briefcase before I could return home for the day. We walked down to the ground floor to the reception area and the exit.
The car that was waiting for me took my breath away. It was a Mercedes, one of those larger-sized ones, with tinted glasses. The cap was doffed, the rear door was opened for me by the uniformed chauffer. I seated myself all alone on the rear seat of that car, pretending to be as casual as possible – as if I did that (nearly) every day. The big boss gave appropriate instructions to the driver (oops, chauffer!), said ‘bye’ to me, and we drove off.
As the car (sorry, the Merc.) drove along, I looked out, trying to make eye-contact with people who had no option but to use their feet to go from place A to place B. I tried to do the same at the traffic lights – just to see if anyone noticed me in ‘my’ car. None did, nor did they care to. Worst still, the tinted glass stood in the way. I could look out, they could not look in. I had no option but to ignore me being ignored. By the time I made it back to my branch, everyone (except the watchman) had left. So, none witnessed my arrival either.
I thanked the driver, collected my briefcase, trudged back to the King’s Circle station, pushed myself into a crowded railway compartment, changed trains at Bandra station for Goregaon, retrieved my motorbike after getting off at Goregaon, and rode it home just as I did everyday.

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