Thoughts & Ideas

Monday, September 09, 2013

Kursela Days 3 – Non Public Working Days



Rural bank branches used to have something called a non-public working day once a week, normally on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. The idea was that, since the volume of transactions was generally low at such branches and perceived wisdom suggested that rural banking could only be loss incurring, costs should be kept as low as possible. And one way of keeping costs low was by having minimal staff. As such, rural branches were generally understaffed and one day every week there were no public transactions. Instead the day was devoted for clearing up pending internal housekeeping work, like balancing, writing of progressive book etc.

On my first non-public working day, by which time I was 2 days old at the branch, I had been assigned some work on which I was working diligently. The Branch Manager had conveniently not come under the pretext that he had to chase pending important files at the Regional Office in Purnea. It was later that I realized that this was (one of his many) patent excuses. There we were all working silently with no customer coming or disturbing us. Suddenly one staff member came and sat beside me and asked me some general questions: things like, where did I belong to, where did my family live, was I married, where I had studied etc. He seemed satisfied by my answers and left me to do my work but was back in about 10 minutes with another set of questions. I, then, realized that the rest of the staff was sitting together and conferring amongst themselves and this gentleman, being the smartest, had been deputed by the group to find out more about me. This was Sunil Kumar Jha, Clerk, Unit Secretary of the Award Staff (Clerical Union), an MA in Economics from Bhagalpur University, and the first person from his village to pass school. This process of ferreting out information about me continued for some more time, and Sunil Jha made a number of trips between me and the rest of the staff until they had sort of satisfied themselves with everything that they wanted to know about me.

Over the next couple of weeks, the ice was broken between us and I became good friends with all the other members of the staff. This was followed by another funny incident. On one of the non-public working days the entire staff (except the Branch Manager who as usual had some “important official work” at the Regional Office in Purnea) were sitting and busy working away on our respective assignments. Since, there were no public transactions, there were no customers, and the branch was very quiet. Suddenly, one of clerks (P N Singh) spokeup to announce “Sir, when you become the RM (Regional Manager) we will be very happy since we can enter your chamber without any fear”. The statement was a little mystifying, since I was still on the first peg of my career with SBI and becoming an RM was still a distant goal. I therefore probed the statement a little. The response and the associated logic I got was really interesting. I was told that since I was a directly recruited officer it was a certainty that I would become a RM in the next 10 – 12 years. Becoming an RM in the bank was the ultimate career objective of most of my colleagues who were from the ranks. P N Singh, then cheerfully elaborated his logic. In his opinion even the most courageous staff member tremble with fear while entering the RM’s chamber, but my staff members (from Kursela) would have no fear in entering my chamber! I then I realized that I had been accepted by the group.

Wednesdays also happened the day the weekly village fair was held. It was accepted practice to complete whatever branch work we planned to do on that day by lunch time, i.e. latest by 2 pm, and then go down to the haat, where everyone did his weekly shopping. Over the first few weeks in Kursela, I normally preferred to return of Purnea after office so that I could catch up with my batch-mates who lived in Purnea. After I shifted base to Kursela, one of the things I looked forward to indulging in was to visit the haat. Haats are very colourful and interesting events, something like an open air super market, where nearly everything required by the rural community is available. On arriving at the haat accompanied with most of my staff members, I was first introduced to the local pick-pocket who was warned not to pick my pocket!

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