Tuesday, September 27, 2011

You do not know typing...

During our visit to Montreal, Quebec, Canada earlier this month (September 2011), we were taken on a walking tour of the old Montreal city. Among the places and buildings shown were the head offices of Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Royal Bank of Canada. In fact, 4th September 2011 being a holiday (banks here work for 5 days a week unlike 6 days a week in India), we were taken inside the Main Branch of the of Royal bank of Canada in Saint James Street (also referred as Saint -Jacques street in french). As the tour guide was explaining the growth of Canadian Banking System and contribution of Montreal in it, my mind raced back by 37 years, to Bangalore.

I had joined Punjab National bank in the year 1973 at a small branch in Hubli. Working in a small branch has its own advantages. As the number of staff members is small, every staff member is required to learn to work in all sections; right from dispatching of letters and documents,  working in cash section and up to preparation of Balance Sheet. Those were the days of manual working  and bank work involved either calculating interest or totaling of figures in almost all transactions. Computers were nowhere in reckoning and one could never imagine how the banking scene would look four decades later. Interest on each account had to be calculated periodically as prescribed. All of us were given a book by name "Kapoor's Caluculator" for using in calculations, similar to Clark's Tables given then to students. Today, a single pressing of the key at the "Data Centre" will calculate interest of every single account in all branches of the bank! This has led to the reduction in the number of the staff and banking becoming impersonal as well.  Banks have even started charging a customer if he comes in person to the branches. Customer is encouraged to take Net banking or Tele banking route or whatever, except going to the branch and speak to a human being. Nature of work has also changed - it is mostly selling the products. We were expected to add two digits at a time, something unheard today. Towards the end of my service I have seen staff members pushing for a calculator to add two two-digit numbers. Computerization has brought lightening speed to banking. Considering the volume of transactions being done today, there would have been total chaos now if the manual system of working were still in force.  

In the seventies, basic work in the branches was done by people with three different designations - Cashiers, Godown keepers and Typists.  Every bank customer knows about Cashiers. A large part of bank's loans and advances portfolio comprised of money lent against physical securities. Banks had staff designated as "Godown Keepers" who would go to the borrower's shops, godowns and factories; take physical custody of the items or stocks, count them or weigh them or get done in their presence, store the same in specified godowns, lock them with bank's locks and deposit the keys with the branches at the end of the day. Thus the pledged stocks would be in the constructive possession of the bank. At the end of the day Godown keeper would provide the branch with statements of securities held, customer wise and the amount of moneys that could be lent to the borrower. The position would vary each day depending on the storage or delivery, delivery being made whenever the borrower needs the item and pays back the amounts borrowed against the securities. In busy market branches there would be several storage and releases each day and godown keepers were the most busy people. In places like Hubli, which is a major centre for trading in Cotton, Groundnut, Chillies, Pulses and such other items, Godown keepers were drawing more respect than other bank staff. Whatever may be the hierarchy inside the bank, for the outside world important persons were Managers followed by Godown Keepers and Cashiers.  Any staff member in a bank has to be a person of integrity and especially Godown Keepers because soundness of the lending portfolio depended on them notwithstanding all checks and balances in the system and the spate of inspections and Inspectors. Cashiers and Godown Keepers had to provide Security Deposits to the bank which could be forfeited if there was any dereliction of duty. Banks were also running verification of the antecedents of the persons before recruiting them and especially before assigning them such duties. The amount of deposit would be as much as one year's salary and emoluments and many staff members had to borrow the amount from outside sources before joining the service and repay them in due course. 

When I joined the bank I was initially designated as a Cashier. The volume of cash transactions was huge. Some of the merchants used to bring cash in gunny bags and dump it to be counted in due course of the day. Having joined in a small branch with limited staff I had the opportunity of working in all sections of the branch banking in a short time. After a year of working in Hubli I got transferred to to the main branch in Bangalore. My designation was changed to Godown keeper as the branch had a number of cashiers available and there was a shortage of Godown Keepers. Like all staff members I had a desire to become an all-rounder. The only sections left for working were Loans and foreign Exchange. These are two holy cows in the bank branches and getting entry was difficult in those days. As my handwriting was considered good, which every one says has improved over the years, I was able to get an entry into Loan section and could learn the work. This is a specialized field and for the next three decades I was mostly working in Loans portfolio - Credit appraisal, Disbursements, Monitoring and Recovery.

The one section left out was Foreign Exchange. Working in Foreign Exchange needed additional knowledge of International Banking and dealing in correspondence with Foreign Banks. Some knowledge of Loans section is also necessary. I had the necessary preliminary requirements. An entry was to be made. There were only two persons working in the section. I had to wait for an opportunity for one of them to leave the branch on promotion or transfer. But promotions were very slow in those days. I decided to request an entry without waiting for such an eventuality.

Branch Managers were generally not accessible to the members of the staff and were mostly in the field for business development. Even when in the branch, they used to deal with the senior staff. On a particular day a peon came to me and told me that I should meet the Manager. I hesitantly went to his cabin. He was studying some file, looked up and asked me whether I had written a letter placed before for his signature. I replied in the affirmative.  He complimented me for my good handwriting and expressed his happiness with my work. He asked me to sit, and it was a honour in those days because staff members hardly sat before the Manager.  He enquired about my background. After answering his questions I made a request for giving me an opportunity to work in Foreign Exchange section. He said that I was still a fresher and had less than two years of work experience and should wait for some more time before I get my chance. I was visibly disappointed and left the cabin.

The supervisor in charge of Foreign Exchange section was a Union leader and General Secretary of the Employees' Union. I was drafted for Union work in the early days of my career and he had included me as an office-bearer of the union, representing the younger crop of staff members. Manager came to his desk to enquire about some issue and suddenly told the supervisor about my request for working in Foreign Exchange. He also suggested that the Supervisor may consider giving me a chance to work in leave vacancies and in due course allow me to work as a regular in the section. The supervisor called me and told me in the presence of the Manager: "You do not know typing. Without knowledge of typing one cannot work in this section". My request had hit a road block.

My action point now was to learn typing through a crash programme. I was living in a building near Royan Circe in Chamarajpet area in Bangalore. In those typing was being taught in what were called  "Institute of Commerce". The institutes were teaching typing in English, local language Kannada and Shorthand (Stenography). The Institutes were preparing students to take up examinations conducted by the State Government at three levels; Junior, Senior and Proficiency. Pitman's Shorthand was taught mostly in evening classes and students who had passed at least senior typewriting were allowed to join such classes. Typists and Stenographers were in great demand and learning these skills was a sure way to secure a job in Government or Public Sector Enterprises as well as in Private Establishments. Parents used to proudly mention the fact of their children learning typing or stenography, especially in matrimony matters. I decided to enroll myself in one of the typing institutes. Srinivasa Institute of Commerce was near my residence and suited me. I went and met the supervisor with my request to admit me to one of the typing classes. Typing classes were usually supervised by one of the senior students learning stenography and the Principal of the institute (who usually was the owner) would rarely interact with the students. He would meet the students once before deciding whether the student should be allowed to sit in the examination, for they were worried at result percentage. Otherwise the supervisor was the boss. The supervisor I met in this Institute did not find me an interesting candidate since I was already employed. He told me flatly that the Institute was running full and there was no place for me until after the examinations which was six months away. This was too long a wait for me. Other Institutes were a little far off and commuting was difficult given my working hours in the bank.

I kept a vigil outside the Institute for about a week like a Private Detective, to find out a moment when the Principal was available but the Supervisor was away. One evening I found such an opportunity, went to the Principal's chambers and put up my request. I told him that my present job requires me to learn typing urgently and I may face difficulty otherwise. He was convinced and asked me to come the next day when the supervisor was available. Next day morning I went when the Supervisor was available but the principal was away.  I told him that the Principal had agreed to admit me subject to the Supervisor's approval as he had delegated all powers to the supervisor. In the evening when I again went to the Institute when both of them were present, the supervisor suggested one slot for me in the very first batch - from 6 AM to 6.45AM. I had no alternative but to accept it.

Kumar, who lived in the opposite room, always used to get up early. Those were days when few had alarm time pieces and there were no mobiles. I requested him to wake me up at 5.45 AM to enable me to get to the Institute at 6 AM. He put a condition. He will wake me up at 5 AM, then I should accompany him to "Maruti Vyayamashala" which was next to Scouts & Guides headquarters near "Makkala Koota" and after 'Vyayam" for 45 minutes I was free to go the Institute. Thus I was forced to enrol at the Vyayamshala as well!  A fine combination of growing brain and brawn together.

The institutes used to have about 20 typewriters arranged on small tables with stools for the candidates to sit. After each batch of students for a session of 45 minutes, the next batch would come in and this would go on till around 9 PM in the evening. No landlord living in the building would give his place on rent for an Institute. Neighbours would curse the landlord due to the continuous cracking of 20 typewriters at full throttle.We had to carry our own paper and carbon paper. There would be an assortment of typewriters - Halda, Remington, Godrej etc. The latest student would get the 20th typewriter which would be the most condemned typewriter in the institute. I got one such Halda typewriter and I had to use all the force at my command to make the keys hit the paper on the cylinder. Having been pounded for years by crude typing students, the keys had also become harder and less said the better about alignment of the types. It would not fetch any value even in the Gujari market. When I complained to my supervisor he mockingly told me that I should be grateful I got at least that and that I would get a feather touch machine in due course, when I learnt typing better. I was grateful to Kumar for the improved strength in the arms due to Vyaayam which helped pounding on such a typewriter.

After three months there was an agitation in the banks and employees went on strike. As a Union participating in the strike, we were to issue a circular to our members about details of the strike. The matter was discussed one evening and everyone left after the meeting. I stayed back and typed the full circular on the stencil paper (circulars were issued on cyclostyled sheets then) and next morning when the General Secretary came early to prepare the circular, gave him the ready sheet to sign. He read the contents and felt satisfied and signed the circular. He then looked up and said, "So, you now know typing and wanted to show me".  I smiled. From that day I was allowed entry into Foreign Exchange section as a Leave Reservist.  As my luck would have it, one of the regulars in the section got promoted in a few months making me a permanent fixture in the section.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (now known as CIBC) and Bank of Montreal were our correspondents in Canada. All remittances, import and export business of the bank for instruments drawn in Canadian Dollars were routed through these banks.  Thus I had the opportunity to deal with these banks as a representative of our bank. Later on when I became a Manager, I was privileged to sign many instruments sent to these banks.

After 37 years, on 4th September 2011, I was standing before the Head Office buildings of these banks where several documents handled by me over the years originated or were received and dealt with. One may say "What is the big deal about it?". It is indeed right, it is no big deal. But at a personal level,  it was a moment for me to look back over the years with some satisfaction.

4 comments:

  1. Yes, Sir.
    It is very nostalgic and reminds any Banker of his/her bygone Happy Days

    K B Raju

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  2. Very very interesting blog about your journey to foreign exchange department Sir,
    Like your Branch Management's class, stories and experiences :-)

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  3. Awesome and inspiring !!!!!!! I learnt from this story that if u have will then there is a way.

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  4. Good sir. Your article not only took us to the time unlived but it has got a great learning value also

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