Thoughts & Ideas

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Kursela Days 4 – Purnea Module

During the late nineteen eighties and early nineties, Purnea Module of State Bank of India consisted of 200 odd branches spread over the districts of Purnea, Katihar, Madhepura, and Saharsa. Of this a sizeable minority, at least 30%, consisted of small one man branches, referred to as SABs (or Simplified Accounting Branches). The entire region was known colloquially as “Kala Pani” to remind people that living conditions here was as bad as in the Andaman islands, where the British imperial government of India sent the most hardened prisoners and the most notorious and charismatic freedom fighters. Getting posted to Purnea Module was considered as a punishment posting in SBI circles.

For about 2 months after being confirmed in service we were attached to various departments at Patna, Local Head Office (LHO) of SBI virtually doing nothing apart from drawing our salaries. Though of course we were expected to show our faces to the Head of whichever department we were attached to, say a couple of times a day, apart from running any errands we were entrusted with. Daily routine consisted of visiting the Personnel Department at least once a day to try and find out if our postings had been decided and the smarter amongst us also utilized the opportunity to get on the right side of the Head of the Personnel Department or his immediate deputy, known as the First Officer by means commonly referred to as Tel Maalish-Boot Polish. Which translated into plain English meant “licking the person’s boots” (I would call it arse licking).

One day, on reaching office (Patna LHO), we were greeted with the news that our module allotments had been done for eventual posting to branches. Well I was not very sanguine on getting a decent posting, since I was well aware that the Tel Maalish Boot Polish types would have already tied up getting posted to Patna and Ranchi Modules. Though there was little to choose from the remaining Modules (Bhagalpur, Muzaffarpur, and Purnea), I was a little apprehensive of getting posted to Purnea Module having heard all kind of dreadful stories and also since travelling home to Banaras would be cumbersome and time taking. I sauntered to the Human Resources Department to find out my fate where I met Anup Krishna the Desk Officer handling training of Pos and enquired about my fate. I still remember his words and his face. With a very glum look he asked me, “Why do you have to ask me that question? Are you not aware that you have been posted to Purnea Module”. My heart sank, but I gave him a cheerful thank you and went out for a tea and try to let the news sink in fully. There was nothing more that could be done and I did not believe in making requests (was quite an extremist in these matters when I was younger) and started preparing for the shift to Purnea. When I finally landed in Purnea and got sucked into some really genuinely warm camaraderie, all my blues vanished and three months later decided to write to Anup Krishna describing the wonderful life I was leading!

The entire stretch which comprised Purnea Module, was an extremely back ward area, where I understand, many socio-economic parameters compare unfavourably to sub-Saharan Africa even today. There were few roads and the ones which existed could hardly be called roads, even the National Highway connecting Patna (the State Capital) to Purnea. At the best, long stretches were badly pot-holed, and the rest was little more than a broad dirt track. In case any vehicle, such as a truck or bus broke down anywhere along the route, the roads used to get blocked and it could take anywhere between 2 – 5 hours before the traffic started crawling again. The region was bisected by the Kosi (referred to as Bihar’s River of Sorrow in our school geography texts!) and crisscrossed by it tributaries. Being low lying area between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, floods was an accepted annual phenomenon. There was a very high level of iron content in the drinking water that we obtained from wells and cast-iron hand pumps. Due to this, the water had a bad smell and even worse taste. Nearly all the people living in the region had brown coloured teeth due to long exposure to drinking the iron laced water. It also had adverse long term health effects.

The main towns in the region were connected to each other through meter-gauge railways built by the British nearly a century earlier with the aim of transporting jute and indigo to Calcutta port. There seemed to have been little change or improvement in the railway arrangements, other than the fact that the main rail-link between Mokameh till Jalpaiguri via Katihar had been converted to broad-gauge. The saving grace was that during the monsoon months the railways were the only reliable means of transport. It was a strange sight traveling by train during the monsoon season. The impression one got on looking out of the train window was that the train was traveling through a vast sea, with water covering the land completely for as far as the eye could see.

To reach Purnea, I took an overnight bus from Patna and then a cycle rickshaw to Hotel Manila, the only hotel which had its own diesel powered gen-set which assured guests staying there of virtually 24 hour power supply. Otherwise, electricity supply in the town was intermittent and lasted for 10 to 12 hours in the day. One could never be sure as to what time of day or night the electricity would be available.

The Purnea SBI Module Office was a large three storied building purpose built for the Bank. It was headed by a Dy. General Manager, who had his secretariat of about 20 officers, of which the key role was played by the DGM’s Administrative Assistant. In addition, the Module consisted of 3 or 4 regions, each headed by a Regional Manager, all of whom had about 20 officers reporting to them. Apart from this there was the usual complements of clerks, typists, messengers, canteen boys, and of course the hanger-ons. The main branch of SBI was on the ground floor and the Regional and Module offices was spread over the 1st and 2nd floors. There was only one entrance to the building which was also the main entrance to the branch.

The work at this office essentially consisted on chatting and gossiping all day, interspersed with visits to a small tea shop for drinking endless cups of hot sweet tea or smoking cigarettes. This was in addition to the mandatory two cups of tea which was delivered at your work desk. Occasionally, one was required to draft out some letter on some vague subject, of which some are quite memorable. For example, we once received a letter from the Local Head Office, Patna, enquiring on some aspect of banking services for defense forces.  Since, I was quite sure that the defense establishment did not have any presence in the entire region, I suggested to my boss, (DP Yadan, the Development Officer Personal Banking) that we could reply giving a NIL status. He arched his eyebrows, and gave me a look as if I was the biggest dunce that he had seen in his life. His take was that I should take a NIL status report from each of the Regional Managers before sending a reply, a position I found not just silly but wasteful. I had a major argument with this gentleman (he was older than me by at least 30 years), and refused to carry out his bidding. The episode resulted with a remark being put in my annual confidential to the effect that “Sushil Prasad is an impediment to the development of the module”!


  • At 10:56 AM , Blogger basant mallick said...

    And whatever you drafted DP was to change it by 50-70%.Continue...

  • At 10:56 AM , Blogger basant mallick said...

    And whatever you drafted DP was to change it by 50-70%.Continue...

  • At 1:28 PM , Anonymous Vikas Ranjan said...

    Sushil, I think the concerned Desk Officer at LHO was Mr Gautam Bannerjee. Mr Anoop Krishna was at Madhepura doing his Rural assignment those days.


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