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The Branch Inspector

The Branch Inspector

13 mins 673 13 mins 673

Veena was awaiting her transfer orders for quite a while. A rural assignment was mandatory for further promotion and though she loved challenges, she was quite anxious and apprehensive about the branch she was rumoured to take charge of. One fine day, the long awaited order finally arrived and just as she had feared, she was posted at Rayasin branch which was a notorious branch. She immediately called up Vijay and shared the news with him. Vijay had been a well wisher from the day she joined the Bank and very soon they bonded so well that they decided to get married once they obtained consent of their parents. Vijay comforted her and impressed on her that with her grit and determination, she would easily overcome all the hurdles and prove her worth. He also offered to take a few days’ leave to help her settle down in the new environment. He knew her nature very well – if this branch had been offered to any other lady, she would have immediately proceeded on leave on health grounds and manipulated somehow to get a rural branch of her choice, but Veena – she was tough and nothing could shake her. Though she was slightly upset, she would not hear of Vijay taking leave saying that she would first have a look at the branch before seeking his assistance.

Rayasin was a typical village branch and it was the first time any lady had been posted as the Branch Manager there. There was no proper toilet, the water supply was irregular and the generator had to be working full time as there was no steady supply of electricity. The branch itself was housed in a dilapidated building which needed a lot of repairs, but with the landlord not extending any co-operation, it was unkempt and dingy. As regards the staff at the branch, less said the better. The second man-in-charge was quite senior to her in age and service, but had not qualified in the promotion tests. He was therefore frustrated and thought it below his dignity to work under a Manager who was junior to him and more so as the Manager was a lady! There was a single cashier-assistant and he too had been charge-sheeted for having perpetrated a fraud in the branch he was earlier posted. He was on “punishment transfer” to this branch. Veena wondered how it could be termed as a punishment transfer as Rayasin was his own hometown!! The Bank Guard who was the only other employee was forever inebriated, even when he attended to his duties.

The branch was not easily accessible too. From her place of stay, Veena had to take a train early in the morning and get off at the nearest station which was at a distance of 2 kms., from the branch and this distance had to be covered by foot. She would have to take this same train on its return, which was very late in the evening. There was no bus connectivity either. Train travel, therefore was ruled out. She decided to take her good old Bajaj Super-FE to work every day. She then started to draw up her plan of action. 

Though she was to report to the Branch only on Monday, she caught hold of a plumber who could also double up as a mason and with him on the pillion, reached the branch early in the morning on Sunday. As she knew that there was not even a decent eatery nearby, she had equipped herself with food and water for both of them. Muthu being a resourceful plumber and a Jack of all trades, soon got started on his job and within a couple of hours succeeded in setting up a makeshift toilet. No doubt it was a little primitive in design, but there was at least something that could be called a toilet. While he was busy, Veena went around the village on her scooter with the village ladies gaping and excited children running after her. She first met the Village Pradhan and introduced herself. He was not the one to be easily impressed – she was after all a “chori” and did not warrant any respect. All the same, she managed to make him listen to her and also drew his wife outside the house. She tried to put forth a suggestion to her, to get things organised and set up a tea-stall near the branch, pointing out to her the benefits of setting it up as it would be a sure shot money-spinner due to the absence of any such facility in the vicinity. Rayasin branch catered to the needs of five nearby villages and so there was bound to be a large number of Bank customers who would be her prospective patrons. The gleam in the eyes of the Pradhan’s wife meant that the point was well taken. The Pradhan too had been listening and he seemed to relent a bit and setting his hookah aside, walked up to the scooter with her when she got up to leave.

The Pradhan realised that whether he wished it or not, it would be this “chori” who was empowered to sanction the much needed loans and advances to the villagers. It would therefore be prudent to be on good terms with her. On her part, Veena told him in no unclear terms that she would never hesitate or delay sanctioning loans if the applicants were genuine and also if the money would not be shared among the Village Development officers and/or other middlemen. The Pradhan looked pensive and Veena judged that he would get to work gathering his men around to spread the news of the change of incumbent in the Bank, the very same evening.

With Muthu having completed most of the job and assuring her that he would fine tune the toilet the next day, both of them sat to partake of the packed lunch. Before she could open the containers, the Pradhan’s wife arrived with a few of her friends to offer lassi and aloo parathas! The first phase of the war had been won.

Since Muthu knew a few people in this village, it was not difficult for them to locate the residence of the cashier. Veena met him in the presence of his parents and expressed her confidence in the skills of their son. She had surmised that the unsuspecting parents were very proud of their son, not knowing the inner story. She also noticed how the cashier was squirming in his seat. While the parents withdrew, his wife appeared with tea and biscuits. Veena was outspoken and warned him that if he did not mend his ways, she would not spare him. The authoritative way in which she expressed herself was enough to make him promise that he would behave well and extend his co-operation to the fullest extent. 

As regards the issue of the drunken Bank Guard Veena suggested to him to avail of all the leave which was to his credit as he was to retire soon. In the meanwhile she planned to place a request for a replacement, which would be a matter of routine. She went home quite satisfied with the spadework she had done.

Monday morning was spent in handing over and taking charge. Even as she took charge, she noticed that most of the documents were incomplete or needed renewal. Diligently she took note of all of them and in the post-lunch session went around the villages for a field visit. As she kicked the scooter to start, her eyes fell on a small stall very near the branch with a couple of ladies making tea and pakodis. The first change had taken place! She also noticed a girl in her teens wielding a broom. “Are you not Sharbati Devi’s daughter? Where is your mother? Why has she not swept the branch this morning?” Veena asked her. She was told that her mother was not well and had asked her to do the job, but as she had all the household work to do she could come only now. Veena was furious. She made the girl sit behind her and raced the scooter to her house, only to find Sharbati Devi hale and hearty chatting with her neighbours. Veena gave the part-time Safai Karmachari a piece of her mind. She said that the young girl should not come to work but that she would have to attend school. The result was spontaneous. The broom exchanged hands and off went Sharbati to attend to her duty. The neighbours who had heard her speak her mind also huddled together and decided that they would henceforth send their daughters to school regularly.

The branch had been last inspected three years back which meant that it was overdue for Inspection and Audit. The Branch inspector could be expected any time now. On the very first day at Rayasin, she realised that she had to really work hard if she wished to receive the “Efficiently Run” rating. Presently the branch was rated “Satisfactorily Run”, which was not at all a good report, but unfortunately a factual rating. Apart from housekeeping, targets of both deposits and advances had not been reached and it would be a Herculean effort to achieve them, but she was determined to do her best as she would not settle for anything lesser than “Efficiently Run”. 

The next day she went through the accounts of all the defaulters and found that most of the borrowers belonged to five or six families. During the week she had contacted the heads of these families and through them tried to reach out to the defaulters with a good deal of success too. Bad loans were liquidated, new loans were sanctioned and the number of Non Performing Assets had been brought down. She came across one particular defaulter whose dues to the Bank ran to some lacs of rupees. This person had a palatial accommodation which was unoccupied as his children lived abroad. Since the Bank was on the lookout for new premises, the matter was discussed and a proposal was sent to the Management for approval. She also tried to pursue the matter and to her pleasant surprise, the Head Office promptly approved the proposal and as the new premises needed minimum refurbishment, it was decided that the branch shifting would be undertaken immediately. The lease of the old premises had not been renewed and so there was no technical problem at all. 

Everyday, from her cabin, she kept an eye on the cashier and observed that he seemed to chew paan less and work more. Giving the devil his due, the boy was very smart and efficient, but had been waylaid. She hoped that the change in him would be permanent. The frustrated Cash Officer also found himself busier than usual and found no time to grumble. He must have wondered though, how there was a sudden spurt of applications for gold loans. Of course, Veena had a hand in it. During lunch time she had sat with the ladies running the tea stall and observed that most of the women had brought with them a sizeable amount of jewellery as dowry. She pointed out to them that keeping the jewellery was fraught with risk, firstly from their own husbands who may either sell it or pawn it for their liquor needs. There was also the fear of theft both at home as well as outside as chain snatching was the order of the day. Instead she suggested that they could pledge the ornaments and take a loan, which could be kept in long term fixed deposits. True, there would be difference in the rates of interest, but at least their jewellery was safe and they had money at their disposal. She also promoted Self Help Groups to ensure that they would have a regular source of income. She spent some time with them and explained the need to save money too. In short, it was a win-win situation to both and slowly but surely, Veena saw that the negative variance in the Personal segment of branch deposits and advances was getting wiped out.

Similarly in the Agricultural segment with the help of the Pradhan and other influential people, she explained the various schemes under which the villagers stood to benefit and assured them of all assistance if they were sincere. Veena seemed to weave some kind of magic – her forthrightness and confidence simply wooed them and they were ready to do whatever she said. 

Within a week, she had achieved a lot. Undoubtedly it was all due to her sheer and incessant hard work and follow-up. When she called up Vijay to give him the updates, he immediately noticed that her voice was cheerful and knew that Veena the Achiever had lived up to his expectations. He had to give her an important piece of information and lost no time in passing it over. A lady had recently been posted in the Inspection and Audit Department who was very strict and shrewd. No branch manager could get away with lapses of any kind. She would arrive at any branch for inspection without the usual fanfare. She would not directly arrive at the branch, but would make discreet enquiries of the branch and staff from the neighbourhood and then mingle with the customers to gain first hand information. She was in her fifties, well dressed and extremely graceful. “I thought I should pass on this information as your branch is overdue for inspection and who knows, she may be asked to report to your branch! A lady Manager and a lady Inspector would be a deadly combo!” he quipped.

The next morning she was greeted by Sharbati Devi who had not only swept and mopped the premises, but had also gathered a bunch of fresh flowers and placed it in a vase on her table. She had, on her own pulled down the curtains during the weekend, got them washed and hung them up. The branch looked spick and span. The branch buzzed with its usual activities and Veena got engrossed in the routine. After a while she happened to look outside. She was first taken aback – a fifty plus, well dressed, graceful lady was sipping a cup of tea and chatting with the ladies there! Recollecting Vijay’s words, she swung into action and informed her staff to be on guard as it was likely that the Branch Inspector would arrive any moment. Fortunately, she had spent extra time the previous evening and had checked all the Bank’s books and everything was up to date.

She pretended not to have noticed the “Inspector” and went about her work. After some time she saw the “Inspector” talking with a few customers after which she went and occupied a seat in the waiting lobby. Veena came out of her cabin to meet her and ask if she needed anything. She replied that she was quite comfortable, but was waiting for someone. Veena then went back to her seat and tried to concentrate on her work, but she kept looking at her off and on. In a short while, Veena was surprised to see Vijay enter the branch. She was even more surprised to see him walking in the direction of the lady and hug her!!

Both of them entered her cabin together and before Veena could ask or say anything, they burst into laughter. “Veena, meet my mother, Sanjana! She has just wholeheartedly accepted you as her daughter-in-law!!” Veena was at a loss for words! It was a surprise for Vijay too! His mother had kept her visit a secret even from Vijay. Only after seeing Veena she asked him to come to the branch to convey the happy news. All of them sat together and as it was closing time, ordered for tea and pakodis from the nearby stall to celebrate. As they were laughing at the way Veena mistook Sanjana for the Branch Inspector, a cab pulled up outside the branch. All eyes turned in that direction – another fifty plus, well dressed, graceful lady got down and made her way to the Branch. “Oh my God! This must be Shyamali!” shrieked Sanjana. “My oh my! Sanjana??”, burst out Shyamali. The Branch Inspector Shyamali had arrived and the two friends who were meeting after forty odd years had many notes to exchange.

Needless to say, Veena got the well deserved “Efficiently Run” rating for her branch which also got her the prestigious membership of the Chairman’s Club! Veena and Vijay both served the Bank diligently for nearly four decades and while this story is being written, are enjoying their retired life narrating their experiences to their grandchildren. 

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