Thoughts & Ideas

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kursela Days 20 – All Good Things Come To An End!

By April 1989 I had been completed nearly one and a quarter years of my posting at Kursela and was looking forward to completing the rest of my rural assignment and getting a posting at a better centre. By this time, I had got quite used to my way of life. Wearing hand-washed, unironed, khadi kurta-pyjama and hawai-chappals to office, not shaving or having a haircut for more than a year, and generally being a pain (you can surmise where) for the Branch Manager. Though, my relations with the rest of the staff and customers was excellent. The Branch Manager could not decide whether to like me or hate me. On the one hand, the internal operations of the branch was in excellent condition. On the other, I was everything that his sense of propriety screamed against. I was servile neither to the State Government officials we regularly came into contact with, nor with the officials who came visiting from the controlling office (the Regional Office at Purnea). My methods of handling situations was also absolutely different.
                                                                  Days of Glory!

Matters came to a head between us when the Bank’s internal auditors came for inspection. The BM, promptly handed charge of the branch to me under the excuse that he would be free to “manage” the inspectors, while I was to get the inspection done. I suppose, dear reader, would understand what “managing” a bank branch inspector means. For the uninitiated, it means wining and dining, and giving gifts etc. Thankfully, the branch inspector was a very sincere and straightforward person. I worked hard and with his guidance was able to clean up portions of the branch functioning which I was not aware of. After the inspection was over, the BM wanted to take all credit for the Branch rating but I had other ideas in my mind. As the officiating BM, I had to hand over charge to him. I refused to do so, just simply refused. The situation was extremely silly but the permanent BM did not know what to do. He went to Purnea and complained to our seniors. I was informally called to Purnea on a Sunday and my point of view was taken and I was counseled that I had made my point and should now hand over the charge of the branch to the permanent branch manager, which I readily agreed to.

I had also been making it difficult for the BM to collect his pickings from the loans that we used to make. The loans & advances work had strictly nothing to do with me, but was handled by the BM and the Field Officer. But since I was involved in all other aspects of the branch functioning there was no way these two gentlemen could collect their share of the loot without involving me, and they also knew that their life would become extremely difficult if I then reported these activities to the higher ups.

One fine day, the BM came back from Purnea and told me that I had been transferred to the Regional Office in Purnea. There was no way I wanted to go back without completing my rural assignment since I was aware that not completing it might have adverse affect on my career later. And moreover, I was quite settled to life and work there. But the BM would not listen to anything and handed over my relieving letter that evening. To some extent, I also decided that it was high time I came in from the cold and moved to Purnea.

I returned to Kursela again about a week later for collecting my personal affects and to attend a grand farewell my branch staff had arranged for me. I have been wanting to make another visit to that dear place, but somehow it has not fructified as yet. Tomorrow is another day.

 All Good Things Come To An End!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oye Maharajah! Oye Nawab! Oye, Oye!!

The subject matter of this blog has been on my mind since long and having an extended four day weekend enabled me to verbalise my thoughts. Even 65 years after Independence, we often come across in newspapers, magazines, and in general conversation, reference to certain Indians as Maharajah, Nawab, Rai Bahadur, or other such princely title with the underlying connotation that the person is in some way superior to or at least different from ordinary Indians on account of his genes or lineage.  I find such usage in bad taste and it has always irked me. 
After independence from imperialist rule the people of India felt that in the creation of a free society which seeks to establish political, social and economic equality and thereby aspires to become truly democratic, there is no room for some individuals to hold titles thus creating artificial distinctions among members of the same society. In fact recognition of titles and the consequent creation of a hierarchy of aristocracy had been denounced as an anti-democratic practice as early as the eighteenth century by both the American and the French revolutions. 

The battle against the titles conferred by the British monarch started with the passing of the United States Constitution in 1787 which prohibited all titles of nobility in the United States. Another British dependency, Ireland, on establishing its independence, followed suit and its Constitution too prohibits the conferring of titles by the State. India and Burma were the next to follow the example; the former despite the fact that it decided to continue to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations whose head was the British monarch.

In India the practice of the British Government conferring a number of titles every year mostly on their political supporters and government officers, had already created a peculiar class of nobility among the people. It was difficult, on principle, for independent India to recognise and accept these titles apart from considerations of the merit of those who held them. Article 18 of the Indian Constitution, therefore, abolished all titles and the State was prohibited from conferring titles on any person since it was felt that a democracy should not create titles and titular glories. The only exception made to the strict rule of non-recognition of titles are those provided in favour of academic or military distinctions, 

Ambedkar explained in the Constituent Assembly that Article 18 did not create a justiciable right. In his opinion, the non-acceptance of titles was a condition of continued citizenship. It was not a right but a duty imposed upon the individual that if he continued to be the citizen of India, he would have to abide by certain conditions. One of the conditions was that he must not accept a title and if he did so it would be open for Parliament to decide by law what should be done to persons who violate the provisions of this article. One of the possible penalties could be that he might lose the right of citizenship!

Thus, under Article 18 not only is the State in India prevented from conferring titles on any person, but Indian citizens are forbidden to accept any title from a foreign State without the consent of the President of India. The prohibition applies not only to the acceptance of titles but also to that of any present, emolument or office of any kind from any foreign State by any person holding an office of profit or trust under the State.

Through a series of measures, which culminated with the 26th amendment to the Constitution of India, official symbols of princely India -  including titles, privileges, and remuneration (privy purses) - were abolished. As a result, even titular heads of the former princely states ceased to exist and all titles including hereditary titles like Maharaja, Nawab etc. have been done away with – completely and unequivocally. 

This tradition has been further reinforced by decision of the present President of India Pranab Mukherjee who has formally dropped honorific like 'His Excellency' as prefix to his name. Instead, he said, traditional Indian greeting of 'Shri' should precede his name. 

As such, acknowledging any person in India as the “Maharaja of XYZ” or as “member of Indian royalty” etc is not only an affront to more than one billion free democratic republican Indians, but also insults the sanctity of the blood of millions of martyrs who gave their life for the Independence of India. 

I have no objection (and there should be no objection) for anyone giving himself or herself any kind of titles, and others accepting the same as long as it is in their private domain. However, public display and acknowledgement of such outdated and feudal practices is avoidable apart from being factually incorrect and proscribed by Indian law.

I am acutely aware that the above argument does not address the inequalities in economic field and the resultant inequities in the social and political arena in present day India, the most notable example is a private home in Mumbai named Atlantis!  But the longest journey begins with the first step, and 63 years is a long enough a time frame to at least stop continuing recognizing the erstwhile rulers by such titles, many of whom were no better than blood sucking imperialist stooges.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Kursela Days 19 – Diwali

Sometime in Oct or November 1988 I spent my first Diwali away from home, which was of course at Kursela! In the normal course of events, I would have gone down to Purnea and spent the day there with friends there, but it being Diwali, everyone I knew or was comfortable with had gone to their respective family homes and so I decided to spend the Diwali holiday at Kursela. I don’t remember how I spent the day, but by evening I felt very lonely and despondent. These were the days much before telecommunication lines had improved in India and as such I did not even have the luxury of calling home and speaking to family members.

Diwali, was a generally lukewarm affair in Kursela, with minimal lighting of homes or bursting of fire-crackers. I suppose this was more the effect of strained economic circumstances of most people there rather than need to enjoy oneself. Anyway, in the evening I took a desultory walk around the place, took a couple of photographs, wished the few people I met and returned to the room where I stayed. By late evening, say around 8 pm I was feeling quite depressed and decided to switch off all the lights and go to sleep. 

I would have hardly lied down for about 15 minutes when there was loud banging on my door. I got up to find my next door neighbor and good friend, a fairly well off Marwari trader standing outside. He immediately started admonishing me on my putting off all lights on Diwali evening and then dragged me to his home. There we sat and watched his children bursting crackers and other fireworks, before a lovely spread of food was brought by the women folk of the house. If there is something I can really swear on, is the quality of home cooked food at any Marwari family home. It was a lavish spread, both in quality and quantity and I really enjoyed myself before staggering back home by about 9.30 pm.

There I was in for another surprise. My Cash Officer was waiting for me. He had invited me to his house for dinner, but in the depressed mood that I had been I had unilaterally decided not to go to his place. Now here he was, having come personally to escort me to his house and I just did not have the heart or courage to say no. So I staggered on with him to his house. On the way, I came to know that some of my other colleagues from the bank were waiting for me to have dinner together and over the past hour or so, they had alternatively made a couple of trips to my house to locate me. I felt a little guilty and gave the excuse that I was on the way to visit them when I was diverted by the Marwari trader to his house. Anyway, I had to do justice to another full meal that evening and I did so and can assure my readers that diminishing marginal utility does not always exist outside Economics textbooks! It was quite late, nearly midnight, before the second party broke up and I reached home feeling like one of those characters in O Henry’s Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Kursela Days 18 – Pothia

Pothia was a village about 12 kms down a side road from Kursela. SBI had a branch there with a staff complement of about 5 – 7 persons, which included the Branch Manager, Cash Officer, clerks, Canteen Boy, and Guard. We were the link branch for SBI, Pothia which meant, apart from other things, that whenever the Branch Manager of Pothia wanted to go to leave, an officer from Kursela had to go and hold fort.

The road to Pothia was narrow, winding, and heavily pot holed. The only regular means of transport from Kursela to Pothia was an old, wheezing bus, which was hand painted in bright red. The bus left Kursela at about 8 in the morning and reached Pothia about an hour later (ie average speed of 12 km per hour) before meandering off to some place I forget the name. The same bus on its return trip picked up passengers along the way and returned to Kursela by evening 5 pm. The bus did not follow strict timings, nor did it have fixed stops. To get on it, one just had to wait anywhere on the route and flag it down as it reached you. Similarly, when you wanted to get down, you either hollered or banged on the side of the bus. If you missed the bus, or did not have your own means of transport (bicycle, mobike, or jeep), the only option left was to hope for some kind hearted tractor wala to give you a lift if you were lucky.

I had been living in Kursela for more than 6 months when I was first deputed to Pothia, and was looking forward to some change and excitement. Somehow I had never visited Pothia, though during this period I had explored most of the highways, roads, lanes and by-lanes from Naugachia to Viratnagar (in Nepal), with Kursela, Kadhagola, Purnea, Katihar, Gulab Bagh, Forbesganj, Araria, Madhepura, and Birpur in between. I was familiar with the red bus which travelled to Pothia each day since it was a regular sight on my way to office. 

I reached the spot from where the red bus left every morning a little early in the hope I would get a seat, but that was not to be. It was already filled to normal capacity. By normal capacity I mean that every seat was taken with 3 or even 4 persons sharing the seating space designed for 2 and people squeezing into the aisle. As more people came in and found that there was no more space inside, they started climbing on the roof. Even otherwise, people with large sized luggage like wicker baskets full of live chickens, bales of cloth, maybe a baby goat etc., preferred to travel on the roof. By the time the bus creaked out of Kursela, it was difficult to see its red colour from outside due to the number of people clinging on to it from every hand-hold, foot-hold, and toe-hold. It was summer, and I was soon cursing myself for taking this assignment. Not only was the inside crowded but it was also smelly, stifling hot and humid. I do not remember how I reached Pothia but I finally managed it in one piece and alive. The branch staff were aware that I was to come, and they were waiting for me on the road side in front of the branch. As BM, I was carrying the keys and the branch could not open without me!

I was made comfortable, given some cool water from an earthern pot (ghada), then some hot, sweet tea. The canteen boy had also made arrangements for my breakfast and lunch. Work load was light and by 3 pm I was free and anxious to take the bus back. When the bus reached Pothia, one of my staff members murmured something to either the driver or the conductor. Thereafter, I was always given a seat, howsoever crowded the bus used to be. If nothing was available, I used to share the driver’s seat! And the 4-5 days I spent on deputation in Pothia went off peacefully.