Skip to main content

Bank Uh! India

So how does it 'FEEL' like? What is the typical experience of banking in India? I had an experience today that is considered par for the course in this country. It's instructive as well as funny.

Some things change. Some things remain the same. That's the nature of India. Showrooms (think Suzuki ... or BMW) that have the look of permanence and solidity can disappear when you revisit some old location after a gap of a year or two. But a street vendor selling ice cream or sweets in front of a Pizza Hut is a permanent fixture over five years, perhaps a decade. People who are familiar with Janpath in New Delhi and know where the Hut and Sony are located will understand what I am talking about.

I recall the guy who used to collect old newspapers from our house back in my childhood days. When we moved house once to a new place which was some 15 miles from the old place, I was astonished to see that the paper-collector got to know about our new location and came to our new quarter to collect the old newspapers. I saw the guy grow old in front of my eyes ... get a head full of white hair. I think I saw his son by-and-by replace him as the guy who would travel from house to house on a bicycle to collect old newspapers, magazines, etc. which he would in turn sell to a wholesale scrap dealer.

But it's only a particular instance of a more general case. Individuals' livelihoods can be so precariously balanced in this country. They are riding a tiger and they can't afford to get down.

The PSU banks meanwhile have been affected by winds of change. The interior decor has turned less claustrophobic and more open and airy.

Although the teller/cash counter is still like a bit of a cage, it's much improved compared to the earlier state of affairs where the cashier/teller used to be stationed inside a cage which had some likeness to the cages in which dangerous wild animals are kept in zoos.

The staff of PSU banks.

Ah! That's the teachable moment. Particularly for those who are foreign to India. And I suppose those who grow foreign through the route of becoming an NRI or a green card holder.

So the PSU banks do not necessarily feel that they're in the service industry. They do not feel the need to be excessively helpful to the customer. The culture is not quite 'May I help you?'

So I was directed to a particular officer for my task and he happened to be momentarily absent from his desk and I waited in vain for some 15 minutes.

But the old-time staff are perhaps more committed to their life's calling -- they've reconciled to the fact that this is going to be the job that they're going to hold for the rest of their active life and retire from. They exhorted the front desk lady to help me. This young lady, quite unlike the older staff, appeared to be physically ill (or doing a pretty good job of acting like she was ill) 

She proceeded to take care of the trouble I had brought for her -- of course she committed an error in updating my new mailing address. She forgot to update the PIN Code or ZIP Code. In India, this can be interpreted as both a major and a minor error.

There was this staff whose job it was to update the Pass Book. (BTW, do you know what a Pass Book is? Well a Pass Book is something very familiar to the old timers but the youngsters may not be familiar with it. All the transactions (debit/credit) of an account holder are recorded in this pass book and account holders can update this pass book at any bank branch. This is a legacy from the days before online banking became quite the vogue.) When I made him my request, he made a hand signal which indicated to me that I should wait (it was quite logical as it turned out since he was busy and in the middle of another transaction). When he was free at last, he stretched his hand out to me to indicate that my turn had come. When I handed him my pass book, he did the needful and handed back my pass book to me. And the entire transaction happened without his raising his head to look at me. I'm sure he would have failed to recognize me if he saw me barely five minutes later.

Indian govt. offices are famous for a fixture called the peon. This is a low-end job which mainly involves ferrying files around from one table to the next. This bank also appeared to have two or three of the species. One of them -- clearly the senior-most among them -- was blithely humming a song as he went about his task of going from one desk to another. Quite a free-spirited bird and I suppose someone who won't develop high blood pressure.

And India moves forward at its own pace — both trying to keep pace with a fast-changing world and forcing the world to adjust itself to the pace at which India moves.


Popular posts from this blog

Sarah Kay's poem from TED

If I should have a daughter, instead of mom, she's going to call me Point B,

because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way  to me.
And I am going to paint the Solar Systems on the backs of her hands, so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say 'Oh, I know that like the back of my hand'
And she's going to learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up, just so we can kick you in the stomach but getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.

Edward Snowden

This seems to me to be the defining journalism-whistle-blower story of this generation. It's rare in today's world when privileged people voluntarily choose to take steps whereby they give up comfortable lives to do something that is in the 'public good.' Mr. Snowden was clearly a computer whiz which explains why he got jobs at the CIA (including postings in Geneva under diplomatic cover). Booz Allen obviously did not hire him or pay him the $1,20,000 salary without Mr. Snowden showcasing some considerable technical expertise. I believe Mr. Snowden's expertise probably lies in having deep expertise in various flavors of Linux. That is what I am inclined to infer from his various job roles as a 'Systems Engineer' or 'System Administrator.' Being the self-driven sort of person that he was, I am sure he must be having good knowledge about networking and encryption stuff including but not limited to Cisco routers and related technologies. To put these t…

Top 10 Crazy Facts About India

Here's a random list of things. 1.Indians sometimes prefer to abort a fetus if they find out that it's female. (Or they just kill the new born baby after it's born.) 2.There are more than 20 million babies born in India. EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. 3.Child labor is so commonplace in India that few notice it or consider it out of the ordinary. Kids work as waiters or dishwashers in roadside restaurants. Sometimes, kids ferry tea to the local police station from a nearby roadside tea stall. 4.Massive numbers of kids and younger and adult women are employed as maids in middle class to rich households. Middle class houses might pay 200 rupees to a female who comes and washes the dishes. Rich houses might employ women permanently by paying them more. 5.Cars in the Indian cities are washed in the morning by car-washers who tend to be young men who get paid around 100 to 200 rupees per month for this service. 6.India is home to some crazily competitive exams. The IIT JEE and the IIM CAT have …