A tragedy that still remains a mystery
N J Ravi Chander
After graduating to the officer’s cadre in the State Bank of India in the late eighties, I found myself shunted to a distant branch on Bengaluru’s outskirts. The long drive from my house in Fraser Town to the office in Kundalahalli was a breeze as I reached my destination in a jiffy driving through the traffic-free roads. The ride also coincided with the time when the factory buses were back in the sheds, allowing me to zip on the streets.
The branch housed in spanking new premises had a staff complement of five. Since it was a new branch, the manager, a gentleman in his early 30s and I ‘walked the extra mile’ to garner deposits and urge residents to bank with us. We encouraged people to ‘save for a rainy day’ through flyers and word of mouth.
Our efforts bore fruit when employees of the Brooke Bond Lipton India Ltd (BBLIL) corporate office, and Granite India Private Limited, our neighbours, began opening salary accounts. From just a trickle, the deposits grew in size. We deemed every customer that walked in as precious! The hard yards put in the beginning laid the foundation for the branch to prosper and flourish in later years.
An economist who prided himself to be a classmate of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was one of our elite clients. A ‘bachelor boy’ who must remain unnamed he had a strange fascination for canines.
He had dozens of dogs as pets who lounged on the sofas and beds. The dogs were even let loose on anybody who intruded on his privacy. Even back then, he drew a princely sum as a pension. Our constant promptings helped us to bag a sizeable deposit from him. But given his fiery temper, it was always a challenge to serve him.
An unfortunate tragedy marked my stay here, with the branch manager taking his life. Why he took the extreme step for one so young is hard to fathom even today. He jumped off from the 12th floor of the Public Utility Building – then the tallest structure in Bengaluru. I recall him pacing the branch, the day before the tragedy, obviously upset over something.
The tragedy came to light only when the branch opened after the Bakra Eid holiday. The manager did not report even an hour after the branch opening, which was unusual. It was then that I spotted a small report of the suicide on the front page of a local Kannada daily, which had got the bank’s name wrong.
The news soon got relayed to the controllers who rushed to the government hospital and confirmed the death. As the corpse lay in the morgue, the Regional Manager and I got moving to put in place the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and keep the Branch running.
We called on the family, who were still unaware of the tragedy, to break the terrible news and offer our condolences and help. It was heart-wrenching to see the grim expression on the face of the dumbfounded wife as her innocent, three-year-old daughter clung on to her.
The custodian keys in the manager’s possession were retrieved to open the strong room, and we left with a heavy heart. There was some consolation for the grieving wife as the bank gave her a clerical job on compassionate grounds a few months later, besides posting her to her hometown, Sirsi. Alas! How uncertain are our relationships and life itself?
(The author is a former banker and has now engaged himself writing for various newspapers including ‘Kashmir Vision’. He can be reached at [email protected])