Friday, December 23, 2011

The big fight and BANANA bunch

Coconut and Banana are two great fruits and daily life hardly moves in Southern India without touching these fruits.  No function or festival is complete without use of banana fruits and leaves.  Banana trunks decorate all pandals and food served in banana leaf bestows its own warmth and festivity to the occasions.  This is also true of many other parts of India and Asia.   Banana is a popular fruit all over the world and consumed due to rich carbohydrate, protein, vitamin and mineral content.   There are many different variety and of varying sizes and tastes including some varieties used as vegetable as well.  Every single part of the banana plant is used for some purpose or other just like coconut tree.  One banana trunk provides fruit only once in its life time and hence the famous saying in Kannada:  "ಬಾಳೋನಿಗೆ ಒಂದು ಮಾತು; ಬಾಳೆಗೆ ಒಂದು ಗೊನೆ!", meaning "A person who  lives  in a truthful and righteous path lives by his words once given,  just like banana has one bunch of fruit in its lifetime".

Banana fruits develop from the banana heart (stem), in a large hanging cluster known as a bunch; each bunch has many tiers, sometimes as many as 18 to 20, and each tier has several fruits.   A bunch can have varying number fruits  and a big bunch can have as many as 200 fruits.   Whenever I see a big banana bunch hanging in a shop, I remember a fight between two distinguished persons in the society and my being caught in the crossfire.   This is an incident that happened two decades ago when I was working as a Branch Manager of the Bank in a medium sized city.

A senior officer retired from service after a long and distinguished tenure in the Government and returned to his small city for settling down after retirement.   He had some lands and own house on the outskirts of the city.  His wife had already established a society for training and helping rural artisans to secure gainful employment.  Many villagers from neighborhood areas were getting the benefit  of the training and marketing support given by the society.  Both the retired official and his wife were highly respected and revered in the surrounding areas.  With the full time support of the retired officer, the community was expected to get full benefits of the different developmental programs of the government for various weaker sections of the society.  During our marketing efforts we could establish contact with them and secure their multiple accounts opened with the bank.  In short, the portfolio of these individuals and the society was a valuable source of business for the Bank.

One of the traders in the city had an account with the bank since the branch was opened in the place and the portfolio of the trader and his associates was also a valuable business source for the bank.  The owner of the firm was a highly knowledgeable person and also holding a representative post in the local trade body.  He was an expert in the various laws and banking practices and would catch any mistake by the bank in the conduct of the accounts immediately.  He was also a personal friend and we would discuss some of the latest developments occasionally over a cup of coffee in the evenings.

Those were the days of manual clearing of cheques.  Cheques deposited by various customers were aggregated by bank branches and then meet in a place called "Clearing House" to exchange them and settle the difference in the aggregate amounts receivable or payable through accounts maintained with the Clearing Bank.  Any returned cheque, for insufficiency of funds or any other reason was being settled in a smaller clearing in the evening.   Once the time for returning of cheques is past all unreturned  cheques were treated as paid and the customers were free to withdraw the amounts at their convenience.

One day I received a call from the Branch Manager of another Bank requesting us to accept a return of cheque outside the clearing and across our counters.   Though this is an exception, such requests are sometimes made and met also as a matter of  co-operation among the banks due to operational reasons.  The cheque to be returned was presented through  the account of the trader friend.  I informed the banker friend that as the prescribed time was already over, I could accept his request only if my customer agrees to it and I would seek his concurrence before acting.  When I contacted the trader customer, he categorically said that  the cheque should not be accepted at any cost and any contrary action is at our risk and responsibility and he would hold us responsible for the value of the cheque.  He was well within his rights to take such a stand and  I conveyed to the other Banker that we were unable to accept the request.   About an hour later the Banker friend telephoned again and informed me that the cheque was issued by the retired senior officer who was also our client and they had personally requested us to accept the return as a special case.  We again conveyed our inability to meet the request.

Later in the evening, the retired Officer and his wife came to the bank to plead their case.   They had purchased certain items for the society from the trader and now they wanted to return some of them and exchange some others.  The trader was not accepting the proposition and they wanted our help in coming out of the situation.   I was now caught between two valuable clients of the Bank.  If no action is taken, Society clients will be unhappy.  If acted, trader client will be unhappy besides holding us responsible for the value of transaction.   I requested the society friends to wait till the next morning to enable me to explore some solution to their problem.  Next morning I met the trader friend in his shop and pleaded the case of the society.  Initially he firmly declined any retraction in his position and stuck to his guns.   After some more persuasion and explaining my own personal friendship with both the parties he agreed to take back the items with some conditions.   With this window of opportunity I contacted the Society friends to meet the trader and sort out the matter amicably.  By evening I received phone calls from both the parties that the matter was resolved amicably.   Trader friend thanked me for recognizing his rights and acting fairly and the Society people thanked for getting them out of the jam.   There was no need for returning the cheque and both banks were not in the picture in the settlement between the two parties.

A week later I got a call from the Society Secretary that they have sent me a small banana bunch grown in their lands as a token of appreciation for resolving the issue.  When the banana bunch arrived on my table it was no small bunch, but had 20 tiers with nearly 200 fruits.  The big bunch was hung in the stationery room, with full packing to provide protection from attack by rats in the night.  After two days the fruits were fully ripe and ready for consumption.  The bunch was hung near the cashier's cabin and all customers visiting the branch that day were given one fruit.  The reports were unanimous; the fruits were very tasty.  Some customers used to ask me later as to when they would get the fruit again.   I would jocularly tell them that it would be when the next dispute is amicably settled.

1 comment:

  1. reminds me of banker margayya or something out of the malgudi set upin a quirky way....Sunada