Sunday, May 11, 2014

Grey Bankers - Shiva on a Scooter - Story 1

Hello Folks,

I grew up in a banker's family, where my Dad and all his brothers worked for RBI and SBI. While growing up, I inadvertently gathered some of the funniest anecdotes involving bankers, which by the way are in stark contrast to their socially profiled image of being somber, grey characters. Anyways, without wasting much time. I'll come straight to the first narration in this series.

This happened in summer months of year 1987, deep inside Dudhwa National forest, which in Northern part of India. In the heart of this remote land, there exists a tribe known as Tharu tribe. Prior to their contact with so called "Civilized" world they were almost self sufficient and had little or no contact with society. But, as part of Welfare Banking, SBI (State Bank of India, if you don't know it, you sure ain't an Indian), opened a remote Tharu branch to integrate them into the society.

This branch was staffed by 2 persons, out of which one acted as Branch Manager cum Officer cum Clerk and the other staffer performed the combined duties of Guard, Peon and Cleaner. Since, there were little worldly comforts in forest area and only wild animals to keep you company in the evening. So, these two positions were filled by rotating staffers from SBI, Lakhimpur Kheri Main Branch.

It was around 3 o'clk on Friday afternoon and Mr Sharma (Incumbent Branch Manager, Tharu branch) was spending his time sipping his umpteenth cup of tea and listening to the stories about village life from Thakurdin (Guard, Peon...), when in distance he saw a dust cloud rising. Instinctively, he got up from his seat and heard the distinct sputtering note of Bajaj Chetak 150. His reliever Mr Khushwaha was supposed to arrive by 12 noon, so that he could have left for Lakhimpur before it got dark. But, still he was happy that his reliever was arriving and if hurried up, he could still be in time to catch the last bus back home.

As the dust cloud grew nearer, the silhouette of Mr Khushwaha started becoming clearer. Mr Sharma still could recognize him, but was surprised that for some strange reason, the unshapely, MrKhushwaha was riding the scooter, bare chested. He thought, perhaps that was one of the ways of surviving the hot climate, but soon his line of thought disintegrated as the Bajaj Chetak 150 sputtered to a stop in front of the 3 room concrete shack, which was called SBI branch. Bespectacled Mr Khushwaha, put the scooter on stand and faced obviously surprised Mr Sharma and Thakurdin.

It seemed so, that Mr Khushwaha was wearing his black rimmed looking glasses, a fine layer of dust and nothing else. He was looking more like a NAGA Sage or JAIN Priest or modern incarnation of Lord SHIVA with his black CHETAK 150 serving as Nandi bull, rather than an SBI Officer. He was visibly agitated and was blabbering something completely incoherent to Mr Sharma. The first thought which came to Mr Sharma's mind was that Mr Khushwaha was trying to create a scene, to skip his 2 month posting in deep jungle. In the past, several people had tried some tricks semi-successfully like there was a certain gentleman whose motorcycle always punctured on his way to Tharu branch and another one's infinte number of Mausi's left for heavenly abode as soon as he was given marching orders.

As demanded by humanity he was calmed down by a glass of water and was quickly handed over a towel by visibly irritated Mr Sharma to cover his family jewels. Listening to his semi coherent statements, Mr Sharma, understood that he was robbed by 3 youths on the main road some 15-20 kms away and stripped down to his under wears. His torturers contemplated on whether to take his scooter, but could not do so for two reasons. Firstly, they did not know how to ride one and secondly, they did not want Mr Khushwaha to become unwilling participant in Project Tiger by being eaten alive by one of the big cats. So, they spared his life (and scooter) and let him go after he pleaded that he would never reveal this incident to anyone.

But, now sitting safely in the SBI premises, Mr Khushwaha was agitated and in the true spirit of politicians of today, was trying to convince Mr Sharma that it was not an assault on an individual but on SBI as an organization.

Puzzled, by this happening Mr Sharma was now sitting calmly in his chair contemplating his next course of action. Since, he was the sole representative of Government of India, in the whole 50 KM radius and held powers similar to that of a District Magistrate, so the onus of taking action rested on his shoulders (and of course, pot belly). Incidents, like this were unheard off in the region, as the Tharu tribe was still not fully exposed to idiosyncrasies of"Civilized" world, but what can be said. Twirling the SHARP Ball Point pen in his fingers, he cleared his throat and said, "Well, let's go to see the tribal headman, as he would certainly know something about it".

Mr Khushwaha was hurriedly clad in an ill fitting trouser, so that Tharu's should not mistake him as one of their brethren and all 3 made their way to the tribal headman's hut. The incident was narrated to the headman, this time in a more coherent fashion. On listening to his incident, the color changed on headman's face and although he kept on feigning ignorance, but still he promised to do some investigation on his own and report back.

Due to these happenings, Mr Sharma obviously could not leave for Lakhimpur and stayed the night at SBI premises. Around 7 am in the morning, all 3 SBI flag bearers were assembled around the hand pump, cleaning their teeth with Neem Datoon, when out in the woods they heard some commotion. The village headman along with 2 of his strong men, was bringing in 3 youths, by prodding them  with sticks, half walking and half dragging them towards bank premises. As soon as this contingent of 6 reached the premises, Mr Khushwaha again blew his safety valve and started hitting the 3 youths with the Bata leather sandals that he was wearing.

The youths were profusely apologizing, but this was having little affect on Mr Khushwaha, whose agitation was growing exponentially, by the seconds. Soon, the headman, barked something to the youth, in his dialect, and they hurriedly took off the clothes which they were wearing. Mr Khushwaha slightly calmed down by this action but still kept hurling verbal expletives.

In retrospect, it was discovered that these 3 youths had decided to go on a pleasure trip to one of the nearby towns, but since they had no means of procuring the money. So, they laid out a plan to rob an unsuspecting plebian. Little did they know, that unsuspecting Mr Khushwaha would land in their trap and serendipity would make this case known to the tribal headman. It was also found out that the clothes these youths were wearing at the time of their so called "Arrest" belonged to Mr Khushwaha and this was the cause of his bout of his second agitation.

The matter was swiftly brought to justice by ordering those youths to become Murga, for one whole day (A kind of corporal punishment) and by offering the real Murga (Chicken), local liquor and other local goodies to the bankers. Now, I would not comment on if these offers were accepted, as it may result in triggering of a debate with a certain Section of Political supporter (Election times, you see). But, all I would say that the matter was amicably resolved, with headman taking responsibility that no such incidents would be repeated in future, in his area.

Posting in exotic Tharu branch still remained an exciting experience for the SBI officers, but post this incident both the "Civilized" world and the Tharu tribe definitely learnt something about each other. By now, I am sure, this tribe would have vanished by fully integrating in the main strata and I can't comment, if it has happened for good or bad. But, I still want to thank them for this wonderful story which remained a topic of conversation (and embarrassment of Mr Khushwaha) at office parties for a long time.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Mustafa Mustafa - Don't worry Mustafa

Scene 1 - 

Time & Location - Some day in year 2002, on a Bright Sunny Morning Lecture Hall in one of the Top 10 B-Schools (As per Rigged b-school Ratings 2001)

Actors - A PhD in Supply Chain Professor, who has all the rich experience of learning about the SCM in classrooms and the nearest he has been to the term "Chain" would be his Bike Transmission Chain. Also, starry eyed, 40 odd senior year B-school Grads, who pack the deadliest mix of Arrogance and Ignorance and are ready with their armor of business suits.

Context - Following the much acclaimed pedagogy (Teaching Methodology, for the folks who did not go through the pain of cramming GMAT word list), the learned professor was trying to awake the disinterested class by creating an aura of the Super Efficient Singapore based Mustafa Mall's Supply Chain based on highly Calculative, Scientific, Economical, Algorithmic, Operations Managemental, Statistical and Numerical Analysis principles falling just short of Artificial intelligence Application. Half of the students, who were in the class for finding something about Supply Chain, were amazed by this State of the Art example and immediately built an image of a Shopping mall designed and operated by folks whose average IQ could've beaten NASA employees. The remaining were pupils were couldn’t care less folks, mostly work experienced guys, were in the classroom because of single motivation of trying to get the attention of some damsel, perhaps 5-6 years younger, by trying to ask some incredibly stupid questions, but no one had the heart to tell this group to stop these antics because of respect for their age and thinning hairlines. Anyways, those who were paying any attention, including yours truly, made a mental note of exploring this dazzling example of Supply Chain, if such an opportunity presented itself in future. Of course, such mental notes were stored in short term memory and were erased routinely.

Scene 2 - 

Time & Location - A bright Sunny and Rainy Sunday afternoon in year 2012, somewhere in Little India, Singapore.

Actors -Yours truly, a horde of folks from Indian subcontinent (Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians) and some dazed tourists

Context - I was standing in an ocean of people, trying to locate the Mustafa Mall, looking in one direction as pointed by someone in the crowd. On observing intently, I noticed the jade colored letters MUSTAFA, mixing well with the dust laden and Cheap Neon signs put up by other businesses in Little India. I quickly swallowed the lump in my throat and wiped off the look of disbelief before starting to walk towards the Sign Board. Somehow, during this short walk, the Snazzy 10 year old mental picture of a spick and span Mall was quickly getting metamorphosed into something of a large Indian store in a foreign land.

CRM - I was rudely stopped at the gate by an unknown language speaking guard and told to get something done at the next counter. I quickly realized that he wanted me to get the security tag on my laptop backpack as with my student glasses; I fitted into the typical profile of a shoplifter. Marked with a fluorescent colored tag secured backpack, I gingerly entered the store half expecting another admonishing. But, the sentry looked nonchalantly to the other side, graciously allowing me in. Soon, I found myself on a floor filled with Clothing Merchandise, the first look, triggered the thinking that perhaps I was in their warehouse section. But, on wading through the section, I soon realized that it’s the Space Optimal way of storing merchandise, where you stack everything on top of each other till you reach the rooftop. Of course, the tradeoff is after a few topples of these cloth towers, you've got to be really determined and possess the skills of an experienced diver to find out the right combination of design and size and God forbid if the staff catches you in indulging in this exercise, you will be tersely asked "What Size?" and will receive a reply "Don't have", which practically translates into "back-off and don't increase my workload.

Stock Management - How can so much of stock fit inside such a volume, should itself be a Theoretical Physics problem. But, to add spice to this otherwise simple issue, for some strange reason, the staff has decided to replenish the stocks only at the peak business hours. The stocks arrive in huge carts being pushed by staff and after the second verbal warning, they have every right to crush your toes if they are in the way, these carts will be parked in the aisles, practically blocking them and any visual or verbal attempts to get the attention of the staff, that you are trying to get some of the goods stored in the blocked aisle, prove completely futile. Mind you, the wait may be as long as 30 minutes plus as the good old staff has to update his friends by incessantly talking on the mobile phone while leisurely aligning packets of Haldiram Namkeen.

But, this problem is not insurmountable and I have learned through experience that you have to physically push the restocking cart away, just making enough space for you to wriggle in and pick what you need. Also, to point out, the staff that wasn't paying any heed to your requests up till now, will also turn his complete attention to you and now it’s your turn to play deaf and dumb and pay absolutely no heed to his protests or existence.

The customers also get to play their part in maintaining the efficiency of this supply chain by unknowingly picking up some of the stuff beyond or near expiry date or infested with bugs. Well, for Indians quality was always a state of mind, so never mind. But, I was surprised at their eco friendliness, when once I noticed that they allowed the Ants to participate in cleanup for sugar, rice and flour spills. Of course, we all must live in Harmony with Nature, shan't we?

Demographics - You'll always find the people from Indian subcontinent (Regulars) and Caucasians (Tourists trapped by their tour guides) in MUSTAFA. The Regulars are mostly on a Grocery mission and want to accomplish most in the shortest possible time, thereby reducing the pain to maximum possible extent. But the Tourists are the ones, who wear the looks of "Deer in headlights" when their cheerful tour guides tell them MUSTAFA is the Largest Mall in Asia. Having seen some of the Malls in the Western part of the world, I can understand their feeling of amusement. But, they being too polite to say anything openly, generally keep quiet and buy some overpriced souvenirs rather than some ill-fitting poorly finished clothes, which they can get in their home country at half the price.

Exit Plan - There are hundreds of EXIT signs in the whole store, but I can assure you more than half of them are dead ends. Besides, the staff quite strongly adheres to the following Motto "Once you pay the bill, we'll make sure you're out of the store by the nearest EXIT." How you reach the nearest Taxi stand with your 30 KG of Grocery load, is none of their Goddamn business. For the store the simple message as soon as you pay the bill is GET-OUT.

But, survival instincts again come to fore and similar to Migratory birds, the experienced folks, have discovered how to reach the only accessible Taxi stand and they proudly push their Shopping Carts laden with Lauki-Turai, through a section lined expensive delicate glassware followed by women lingerie followed by another land dump of clothes. You may get some stern looks from Staff when you are chartering this intricate course, but battle hardened by the earlier experience, you don't even pay any attention to them by now.

As you emerge from the store, a victorious smile crosses your lips as the worst is behind you. Now, you just have to wait in the taxi line and watch half of the taxis with Green Lights, not even stop at the MUSTAFA taxi stand. But, trust me it’s a minor annoyance as compared to the holistic experience. Overall, a visit to Mustafa is something like a Vipashna; it rids you of any false arrogance that you might have cultivated by presiding over meetings. You realize that for some of the basic necessities like food, you still have to struggle the primitive way.

Epilogue - Some Moral Commanders may pounce upon me after reading this piece and ask, "If it is such an unpleasant experience, why do you really go there?" My simple answer to them is "Although fish market stinks, but you still enter it to get the freshest lot?" Go Figure.

Till next time... Cheers n Happy New year