Nostalgia (dictionary meaning- longing for happy times of the past) is a great emotion. It tints our view of a reality which seemed intolerable at that time. This tint arises mostly due to the present situation being a “great leap forward” from the past. This ailment progresses with age- youth vs. school days, married individuals vs. bachelorhood/spinsterhood days, being at the bottom end of the employment pole vs being somewhat higher up and so on.
Life can be divided into two eras- pre- internet and post internet. My generation has straddled both the eras… The pre-internet era is over- finis. It is not going to comeback. There is bound to be a fond memory – if not nostalgia- for a period when ball point pens were the most modern invention and pocket calculator were yet to become commonly available.
Age has a great advantage over youth in certain matters- one of them being adaptability. Facebook and Whatsapp are classic examples of modern internet based almost charge free communication tools which are now adapted and/or taken over by an older generation for their own pursuits.
Like most mammals moving on two legs, I too am on whatsapp. An old colleague with whom I worked over three decades back became more accessible on this invention. In no time, he formed a group of former colleagues who had worked together in a metropolitan branch of a nationalized bank as clerks. A common sentiment expressed in the group’s reactions were memories of good old days.
Those days are certainly old- but were they good? How can being at the bottom end of a greasy pole be worth looking back? Why would old and experienced individuals (at least by age if not always by intelligence) look back to days of struggle with longing?
I have no clear explanation for this sentiment. One reason could be that life then was simple and uncomplicated. The needs were clear and all one had to do was to search for the route to obtain them. This state of existence does not remain unchanged and life becomes complicated. At this juncture, it is a human weakness to look back to a time when life was different.
Now coming back to those days. Nationalized banks were expanding at a rapid pace all over India. Recruitment was done in hundreds if not in thousands in each year in 1970s. I joined Bank of India in 1977 based on my pre-graduation qualification (do not remember whether it was SSC or today’s equivalent of 12 plus 1). I got two increments of Rs.10 each after becoming a graduate within a month of joining. I was posted in branch within a few months of joining.
Banking-then and now- remains a specialized industry. The branch functioning was completely manual. The risk then and now are real as Banking deals with money. All functions were interconnected in a rather physical sense. So the merit or lack of it of any colleague – be it clerk or superiors- were very apparent to all.
We were around 35 or 40 clerks supervised by around 10 officers of different levels. Some of us had customer facing jobs (“sitting in counter” to put it colloquially). Some level of seniority in terms of experience was required to be assigned more responsible positions. The formal and informal understanding with the Bank Management was that clerical staff should be rotated every six months. This was fought for the staff as the benefits of rotation was apparent. Today, rotation of employees at all levels is treated as a novel concept by most HR Professionals.
What I remember the most of those days is that I only had to take a pen with me to go to the branch. There was no need to carry a heavy satchel or briefcase. The Bank used to issue circulars notifying changes from time to time. It was enough if you knew your own desk work, got rotated regularly and read these circulars to be up to date. Since work was interconnected, we could not work in silos and dealt with all or at least most other employees, especially since it was not very large.
The camaraderie of those days still remain fresh in memory. There was no competition inter se employees as all drew remuneration on same scale. There were no merit based bonuses (this remains unchanged even now) – so all ran the same race without expecting any pecuniary reward.
There were some good Officers who took pains to explain an otherwise impenetrable looking process. They trained us in a literal sense. I recall some of them. There was one Shri Srichand Thadani who was quite knowledgeable. I worked under him in Loans and Advances and what he taught them remains fresh in my mind even after a gap of over three decades. There was a Branch accountant Shri K N V Prabhu who was responsible for day to day running of branch. Some counters had to be manned to render service to customers. He used to pick me to man different counters on some days when those employees were on leave. All this helped me in learning functions which I would have to wait for rotation.
Shri Jagdish Lal as the Branch Manager taught us what customer service and employee engagement meant. He used to land up early in the Branch – 8.30 a.m. when the business hours commenced at 11.00 a.m. He was a colorful personality. He used to stand on the customer’s side of the counter to watch the quality of customer service. He used to take round of the Branch regularly and met most employees. He knew what each employee worked on and somehow that made us feel better.
There were two lady Branch Managers during my tenure. Remember, this was over three decades back and Branch Managers were quite senior individuals. Banks had a fair share of gender diversity and my memory is that we treated and respected all colleagues and superiors based on their ability and exhibited no gender bias.
When I was promoted from Clerical grade to Officer Grade, he rang up the concerned officer personally and on his own volition to ensure that I got a posting of my asking- three minutes walking distance from V T (CST now) Station.
All this remains relevant to me even now because they taught us everlasting concepts relating to management, administration, handling of subordinates and colleagues, customer service, commitment to work and humaneness in approach. None of them had volatile temperament, had wide knowledge of banking functions and knew how to handle a busy branch with diverse operations calmly even under great pressure.
Another aspect was most of us were young as the Bank had grown swiftly due to Government intervention post nationailisation. It was easy to relate to each other. We worked in an open office – all table and chairs and no work stations- and physical proximity did foster a mental closeness. Each had his or her quirks and were tolerated.
Till early 1980’s clerical staff used to get some overtime- based on agreement between Union and Management. I recall that this amounted to Rs. 120 per month and a higher amount for half year and annual year ending. This stopped after one minister called Shri Janardhan Poojary (he is still around) put an end to it.
I have worked with several other employers thereafter. However the days at the Bank remains fresh in my mind. I was married and my two children were born during that six year period of my clerical era. I completed my Company Secretaryship exam and got my Membership during those days. I also passed a banking examination ( CAIIB) which fetched me three increments- equivalent to working for three years.
Promotion was based on a combination of experience, qualification, written test and interview- each assigned specific marks. I got promotion in second attempt- in 1983. The clerical days ended and shortly thereafter my banking days also.
I do not know whether the above explains the nostalgia part. I started with a monthly salary of around Rs. 600 (1977) and left eight years thereafter with a monthly salary of Rs. 2,500. This was adequate provided if the individual had a house of his own in Mumbai. Perquisites were to be utilized and could not be monetized. Such remuneration levels encouraged thrifty living.
The Branch still exists at the same location. I worked in the next building subsequently for several years. Subsequently, I have gone to that branch, stared at the places I sat, tried to bring back older memories with little avail. There were no familiar faces. I wanted to tell someone that I started my life in the real sense of the term in that Branch. There was no one I could communicate this. I told this to myself and stepped out of the Branch.
I write this for the Whatsapp group who can understand this feeling and for countless others who started their life in similar circumstances in nationalized Bank.
Life consists of snatched moments of memories stored in deep recesses of our minds. That life has many, many such moments.