Saturday, January 24, 2015

The future is safe

Vijay Merchant is a name that may not be known to today's younger generation. Vijay Madhavji Merchant nee Vijay Madhavji Thakersey was born in the rich family that owned the Thakersey group of textile mills.  He is even today considered as one of the best opening batsman in Cricket that India has ever produced, notwithstanding the well-known exploits of illustrious names like Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag.  He may be a dwarf in terms of statistics, for a generation that knows players who have played more than 150 Test matches.  In a career spanning 18 years between 1933-1951, he played only 10 test matches.  All of them were against England and he scored only 859 runs with three centuries at an average of 47.72.  His best years of cricket were consumed by World War II.  His first class record is excellent; with an average of 71.64 it was second only to Sir Don Bradman.  In 47 Ranji Trophy matches he averaged 98.75, which is again a Bradman-like average.  He played in an era of uncovered pitches unlike today and yet had the capacity to work for his runs.  His sound technique, wonderful temperament and powers of concentration for long tenures at the crease won him many admirers.  He was the oldest cricketer to score a century at 40 years, a masterful 154 against England in his last test in 1952.  When he retired after that match, press reporters asked him why he had retired when still in good form.  He replied, "It is better to retire when you ask why, rather than when you ask why not"! He was admired by his English opponents to such an extent that C B Fry is reported to have said, "Let us paint him white and take him with us to the Australian tour as our opening batsman".

Vijay Merchant was also a great human being.  He refused to go on the England tour in 1932 since many leaders of the freedom movement, including Mahatma Gandhi, were jailed at that time.  He went as a member of the team in the next series in 1936 as the jailed leaders were released by then. He raised funds for the families of his team mates who died young.  He worked for the cause of handicapped persons. Above all, he was forward looking and believed in the next generation.  He is better known for his "casting vote" as Chairman of the selection committee in its meeting of 1970 when he voted for Ajit Wadekar as the captain of the team in place of Nawab of Pataudi, Mansoor Ali Khan.  There are many versions of this episode, but the ultimate result was that a new leader was given charge. The new captain and emergence of Gavaskar, G R Viswanath and others ensured victories for the team in West indies and England.

What is the relevance of Vijay Merchant now?  There was a debate competition last week on a subject relating to Banking Industry.  The topic of the debate was "The future of Banking Industry is not safe in the hands of the next generation". The debate itself was conducted in a novel way; the participants did not know whether they were speaking for the subject or against it till the start of the debate. Participants on both sides presented deep and well analyzed arguments.  Among the forceful points for the subject were the following:
  • The new generation has no patience; they lack discipline and look for quick promotions and higher earnings.
  • Their morals and ethics are questionable.
  • They are not taking up banking job because they love it; they have come here because they did not get any other job.
  • Even while working in the industry, they are looking for greener pastures elsewhere.
  • They are too inexperienced to handle higher and more responsible jobs in the industry.
  • They lack dedication and commitment to serve the deprived sections of the society.
Equally forceful arguments were presented by the other side.  Some of them were:
  • You show patience when you cannot do anything worthwhile; Action is required now and not patience and waiting.
  • Working in the industry teaches moral values and ethics.  Let us not be pre-judged.
  • Youngsters look for available jobs.  What is wrong with it?
  • There is nothing wrong in looking for better jobs or higher remuneration. Times have now changed.  Age old rules cannot be applied today.
  • Experience comes by working and learning.  Today's generation learns faster than the earlier generation.
  • Dedication and commitment to serve is a matter of policy and driven by the society. Let them be given the opportunity first.
Another important issue was "Use and assimilation of technology".  There was near unanimity on this aspect and the feeling was that the next generation will handle this part better than the previous one.

A similar debate was going on forty years ago.  That such a debate did take place in many places at that time is not well known because media was not this active and sharing of information was slow and of low key.  Even at that time, old timers felt that the new generation was unable to handle the needs of industry. They anticipated turbulent times for the industry after nationalization.  The challenges were no doubt plenty, but the next generation met them squarely and boldly.  They changed the very complexion of banking. The funny thing is, that very generation is now raising the same question about their next generation! 

This reminds me a story that I read some thirty years ago.  A Post Master in a Head Post Office was due for retirement.  He was very much concerned about the working of the post office after his retirement.  He prepared a detailed chart for each one of his key subordinates on the tasks to be done.  On the last day of his stay at office, he handed over the lists to each of them and repeatedly told them about the importance of those tasks. They assured him that they will take care of them and he need not worry.  After the farewell function he went home but could not sleep. He was worried what would happen to the post office next day when he was not there. He got up early, had his quick breakfast and went to the office as usual on the next day morning.  He was greeted by some and others were too busy.  He sat on a chair outside the counter and observed the office till evening.  Things seemed to be going fine.  He repeated this for the next two days.  On the third day, nobody even noticed his presence.  Post office was was working as usual.  He was neither missed inside the office nor was his presence on the outside felt.  He realized his folly and returned home from the Post Office, for one last time.

Old order has to change and make way for the new. This should happen at regular intervals. There is no use in worrying about the capacity of the next generation to manage the change.  As they say, "Time and tide wait for none". 

During the last years of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's tenure as Prime Minister, there was a lot of speculation about the next leader of the country.  "After Nehru, who?" was a very big question and was hotly debated.  A few months before his death, Pandit Nehru arrived in Bangalore airport.  Press reporters asked him the same question.  "After Nehru, who?".  Pandit Nehru smiled and replied, "Do not worry about it.  The genius of India will find its leader". 

We can also be assured that the future of "Indian Banking Industry" is safe.  The genius of the country will find its future bankers.  Let the old generation learn from the Post Master and quit worrying. Life goes on and on.........    


  1. Enjoyed reading.

  2. Lot of fields cpovered to convey that things will move as usual with new generation and elders dont have to bother

  3. The article is realistic and relevant

  4. True and realistic. Enjoyed reading. Thanks

  5. Good one, even the corporates are worrying to find good leaders to take of their businesses. I urge the old generation or senior people stop worrying and teach them how to handle ethical dilemmas in the present business environment.

  6. I think we should stop thinking we are indispensable and hand over the baton gracefully to the younger generation. When our children fly away from the nest, we worry ourselves about their ability to handle their lives on their own. We must learn to delegate our responsibilities and return to the pavilion with a satisfaction that we have done our best.

  7. How tumultous were thosThe days when Vijay Merchant exercised his "casting vote" as Chairman to chose a new leader! Thanks for bringing those nostalgic memories alive again. The message of "Change is inevitable" could not have been brought home more eloquently. The anecdote about Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the great visionary, was very interesting. Once again your narrative style stands out. Thanks

  8. A very vital advice with a small and catchy article. No individual is indispensable. World has to move along. Fresh minds are always welcome, a component crucial for development. Excellent presentation.

  9. Good reading . The analogies made the article very interesting .

    Meena Herle

  10. That's so real..we will take this industry in a different level n hights..

  11. Good comparison between continuing legacy of cricket and Banking. But as far as PSBs are concerned, NPAs seem to be a bottomless pit. Present Government is trying by bringing Insolvency code. But big NPA borrowers are still playing their tricks!

    Govt is trying to fill the bottomless pit of PSBs by repeated capital infusion.

    Banks are there to take care off NPAs. If Bank itself becomes an NPA, who will take care?