Friday, April 20, 2012

Mango Icecream and Sabudana Khichadi in the time of Banking.

Back in the days when I was in middle school, the 1950's,  life as we know it now, was much simpler and slower.  The place we lived in was then considered the outskirts of Pune, and the major road passing by, Tilak Rd, was still developing. Various banks were opening branches there, with their own buildings, and even competing with each other in a very civilized way, to attract new account holders.

One such , was what I will call BOM, who succeeded in getting my mother to open an account. And she was then the proud owner of a 3 digit account number. Contrary to what one saw around or heard, my mother was very comfortable with banking procedures et al, having  learned and done so from a young age for her father. Also , folks at the bank came to know her as the lady who came driving a sea green Hillman car herself, with much honking, something unusual in those days.....

 Long queues and tokens were unheard of things, and service was so personalized, that I remember an occasion when she desperately needed to withdraw cash, but got held up somewhere in one of our schools. She made a phone call to the manager, who told her to come by when she was free, and  sign, and collect her cash.  I remember sitting in his office with her, and the manager smiling and asking her to sign here and there and handing over what she had wished to withdraw. He also smiled at us children , enquired after us , marvelled at our English.  One would often run into the bank staff on occasional Parvati Hill temple climbs. This was a big thing for Puneites then, and many folks were regular climbers. Unlike today, there was a real belief that banks helped and were on your side.....

When something was credited to one's account , bank staff then wrote proper details as to from where the stuff came. Unlike today, where  someone writes "By Tr" and you are grateful that something got credited at all.  

And then there was the occasion when my mother decided to give a treat to the entire bank staff  on a summer evening in April, once the March closing had taken place. Homemade mango ice cream, churned in a pot, by us children taking turns sitting on a stool , salt added to the ice etc, along with some wonderful Sabudana Khichadi sprinkled with coriander and coconut. And then some great traditional coffee redolent with elaichi et al.

The entire ice cream pot and a big dabba of Sabudana Khichadi was lugged to the bank after office hours, steel plates and ice cream cups were rented and  we all helped serve this and had a good go at it ourselves.

Years passed. By an by, the gentleman who was then manager, graced the highest echelons of the bank, the particular bank relocated on the same road to another building, and the customer base grew by leaps and bounds.   The aforementioned system of indicating credits as"By Tr" without details was initiated, and the bank got a earful from my mother on how it was not acceptable.  For many years after, her passbook always had details mentioned.  And the older employees of the bank, were secretly tickled when she tangled with the new style bank managers. 

Cut to the beginning of this century.  My mother was no more.

All the paperwork fell on me (and continues to still fall) being the only child in India. I was the second named on her account, and  one went about doing formalities etc.  Many of the newer staff did a double take when they saw the 3 digit account number and tried to relate it to me, and I had to tell them that it was from a time when banks begged you to open an account,  cheque books were free, and people weren't comfortable talking blithely in crores, simply because most people never saw such amounts.

Times had changed. Banks were now doing a lot more than before, a lot more id's were being asked for, there were queues for everything, and the watchman glared at you instead of smiling. Computers had arrived, consequently there were more cubicles with partitions, making communication more difficult thanks to bad customer window design. Passbooks changed in shape, machines now printed the updates, and in the great leap forward some things  (like coding rules for account nos) were missed out on.

Confronted with  some unexpected and unexplained large sum credits and immediate debits(the next day)  , all this , ongoing for 6 months, I investigated on one of my trips to Pune.  Ended up visiting the head office computer rooms, assorted in-charges. Then went to my  branch  manager, who called in a bunch of staff. I wasn't worried about the credits, but the fact that someone other than the account holder could , without holder permission, perform a debit; by calling it a "reversing"....

It turned out that it was a clear case of bad standards followed in codification of accounts. The manager guy who okayed the codes didn't have a clue. I was then in IT , realized what had happened and asked if they had a users manual from whoever made software for them. Naturally things were getting uncomfortable for the manager. The problem was ultimately detected,  righted and lessons in codificaton were hopefully learned. But the fact that animated  detailed discussions were taking place for long periods of time in the managers glass walled first floor office with other staff and me, did not escape the staff outside.

I finally left the place, the matter resolved to my satisfaction.

 As I stepped out on to the ground floor , a white haired gentleman from the staff, stepped forward. Smiled. Mentioned  my mother's name and asked if I was her daughter. (I am told there is a resemblance) . When I nodded, he smiled, and looked back at some of his colleagues, sitting in "Fixed Deposits"  , who also had smiles on their visages.

"You know what, you are just like your mother ! We knew her as a customer for so many decades .  She never bothered about posh and fancy designations and decor,  but never tolerated low standards of service, and never hesitated to straighten some folks out. We've been noticing over the last few days....!"   

Maybe this was a person who was a young new employee back in the ice cream and sabudana khichadi days.  Those were days when you stayed on and retired with one bank.

And so, despite my skirmishes, letters to head office,  and several complaints, I stay on with the same bank, with a sense of belonging, like a parent, hoping that the errant child improves :-)).

It brings back old memories.  Of my mother, the old smiling manager (now no more), today's older bank employees,  and of course, tucking in Mango icecream and sabudana khichadi, in the bank, with everyone, after office hours, on a balmy summer evening  in April, almost 53 years ago.....

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with


  1. What a lovely lovely banking post :) Filled with so much of memories...I loved what you remind me of the time when we used to go with Appa to the township bank and sit with him as he did the work and the bank uncle (yaa we called him that!) gave bro and me some biscuits to eat everytime we went there :)

  2. Such a beautiful , evocative post! Yes, banking was a far more personal activity in those days, and account numbers were possible to remember!