Last Dhoti-Clad SBI Officer
Last Dhoti-Clad SBI Officer
Dhoti, traditional Indian wear is extinct. Customary style of dhoti wearing is to be witnessed at some Hindu rituals viz. temples, marriage, or funeral, worn by elderly people only. But Count is getting thinner every day. Youngsters, even if wear, prefer a ready-made stitched dhoti so as not to be embarrassed being caught semi-nude, at a single slip of waist knot.
From May to June of 1998, for my 2nd branch training at Aska ADB (Agricultural Development Banking) got access to the agricultural loan account ledgers. The manual ledger sheets had handwriting that made me envy off of the writer. I have always been vociferous about my envying 2 things. Someone’s cavity-free shining 32 teeth and good hand-writing. A staff told about Mr. Panda the previous FO (Field Officer) taking months of painstaking efforts to recreate the ledger sheets himself with those beautiful handwritings in red and blue ink for debit and credit entries. More intriguing was Dhoti (traditional Indian wear, for a male, long piece of the cloth-like sari) being his official wear.
Shri Panda, the last dhoti-clad SBI officer of Bhubaneswar circle was popularly known as Dhoti Panda. Stories of his nuances and proclivity to meticulousness made me be more inquisitive and carrying his bigger than life image.
A local staff obliged Panda's request to accompany on his first visit to the Aska weekly Sunday market, soon after his joining. Sitting at one hotel, sipping tea, Mr. Panda suddenly shouted “Rama...” at a person.
The person came near the duo with a visible wonder. Panda continued, “Bapa re, to na Rama Arukha ta? Aakhu phasala amala helani na re? Loan kian bakeia achhi?(Gentleman, aren’t you Rama Arukha? Have you harvested Sugarcane? Why your loan is unpaid?)”
The fellow with an awestruck asked the local staff, “Sir, Agyan kiye? (Sir, who is this gentleman?)”
“Nua Field Officer...(New Field officer...)” made the guy with folded hands responding, “Namaskar Agyan! (My greetings Sir!)” and continued, “Sir, kari debi ek’ka...ara hafta ku...(Will do it...next week, for sure...)”
Mr. Panda responded, “Bapa re ... a’ara hafta jama na kale, ta para hafta, tama gaon ku ai’bi ... (Gentleman ... If not repaid by next week ... a week thereafter I‘ll visit your village...)”
The scene was repeated for few other bank loan defaulters till the blanket of darkness covered the Aska town, a flourishing agricultural belt, by the bank of Rusikulya River.
On way back, the other guy asked, “How could you recognize so many faces within 7 days of your taking charge? I don’t think you were posted here before neither had a visit to the villages since joining.”
Shri Panda with a grin responded, “While preparing the loan ledger sheet and updating the defaulter list, I had seen their photographs.”
The guy could not believe his ears that a single glance at a 3-inch width & 4-inch height passport size photograph made Mr. Panda remember the defaulting borrowers without any mistake. The staff while narrating the incident exclaimed as if he were witnessing a one-take movie sequence.
Within 2 years of his stay as Field Office, Mr. Panda made defaulter’s list curtailed and borrowers sighing away from a visit to the weekly market at the spread of the news, like a jungle fire, that Dhoti Panda being there at the market.
With my confirmation as the permanent officer made me shoulder many responsibilities at different places across Odisha. Down the line, I forgot Dhoti Panda until I was narrated another story about the last dhoti-clad corporate man of SBI.
Dhoti Panda was posted at Berhampur Zonal Office in the audit compliance department. As usual, a meticulous guy was referred to as the bible of the audit. All the instructions and circulars were at his fingertips rather at tongue tips. That year he was qualified in a written examination for promotions and was right before the interview board.
Might some was cataclysm happened with Mr. Panda! Nothing fell into place. One member ridiculously asking for the name capital city of India, with a shaky throat replied “Mumbai.”
“Mr. Panda you may go now ... ” from Chairman made Mr. Panda pick his dhoti and leaving the room wishing the members, “Have a good day!”
After the door closed behind Mr. Panda, the Chairman exclaimed, “I am astonished, this guy is a top-scorer in the written examination but unfortunately didn’t do that good in the interview today. Might be today was not his day. I afraid he might miss a promotion.”
Another member responded, “Might be, he did intentionally. I have heard very high folklores about this sole Dhoti clad officer, though I have never worked together.”
The bell ranging “Tring...Tring...” made the junior officer, coordinating the interview process, to peep in. The Chairman demanded, “Get back the gentleman back who just left now!”
In another 10 minutes, Mr. Panda knocked on the door, seeking permission, pushed open the door with the salutation, stepped inside. The chairman continued, “Mr. Panda ... you must be astonished to know that you are the topper in the written examination.”
Walking a few steps up to the chair meant for the interviewee, responded, “Sir! ... Not at all! ... I am confident of that!”
Further retorted, “After all ... I have given blood and sweat to this organization through my 37 years of relentless services!” with a mischievous smile.
The chairman indicated to take a seat and continued, “How come every answer went wrong today? ... Mr. Panda ...”
“Sorry, Sir! ... I was determined not to give a single correct answer!”
The Chairman exclaimed, “Why so gentleman?”
At this age, I need to settle down with a retirement plan. I am left with only 3 years of service. I can’t afford a transfer out of the state, as per the revised promotion policy.
The Chairman continued, “What about a posting at Bhubaneswar, after promotion?”
“Bhubaneswar?” with a simper purred, “No question arises out of Berhampur. This is my home-town, after all!”
He further submitted, “My hard-work was always been awarded frequent transfers to difficult centers with a specific task to be accomplished in a time-bound manner. For studies of my daughters, we have sacrificed staying together all these years. Now my daughters have grown enough for marriage. With a posting at Berhampur, I can spare little time for my family, for sure.”
The Chairman took all pain in getting up from the cozy sofa and shook hands with Mr. Panda, saying “Bank is bound to miss people of your integrity, commitment, and intelligence. My good wishes to you and your family members.”
Other members stood up and one by one shook hands with Mr. Panda.
Holding a part of his dhoti with the left hand, wiping the collected tears at the corner of the eye with his right wrist, holding the glasses in right thumb and index, with a possible widest grin receded victorious, wishing the COmmittee, “Have a Very Good Day ... Gentlemen!”
[ We SBIANS gasconade for our existence of 214 years, since 1806, but often fail to acknowledge the little contributions from our junior-most colleagues, often going out of the way in discharging their official duties.
Belongingness is the panacea for any organization to flourish. But for survival over 214 years, demands contribution from every corner. I have come across many inspiring examples of my colleagues, giving their heart and soul in serving a customer, to their delight.
Often I come across families who are in Bank’s patron for generations, which gives me unknown happiness about my colleagues, both predecessors, and successors, serving with a cause despite an assured transfer every three or four years, at maximum. Often at organizational exigencies, many have been transferred before schedule, at the cost of family member’s discomfort.
A bouquet of tribute to all my colleagues in setting unparalleled l examples and inspiring generations to carry the legacy ahead.]