Writer’s block Society

Banker woes

So, demonetisation has split India down the middle. Daily battles are being fought and no one seems to be quite sure when they are going to end. Some say 50 days, some say six months; my fear is that they will drag on till 2019.

At the moment, the battles are being fought in two places — one, inside and outside banks and ATMs; and, two, on social media. Sometimes, the battles overlap. A demonetisation-supporter, when he goes to the bank or ATM, finds shorter queues, people in the queue to be extremely patient and bank staff helpful. A demonetisation-baiter, on the other hand, finds long queues with thirsty and hungry people waiting in it nearly all day, leaving all work aside — and, occasionally, finds people dying as well during the interminable wait. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Right now, my heart goes out to those people, much derided otherwise, who have no choice but to be part of the battle, even though they themselves might not be cash-starved — bank employees. They are soldiers who have been deployed on the border with a single-barrel gun and have been asked to hold out until reinforcements reach. I happen to know one bank employee — a young officer with a literary bent of mind (she had sent me some stories, in Hindi, sometime ago) — and I spoke to her last evening, wondering what she must be up to.

She is an assistant manager with a nationalised bank in Jaipur, working in a branch so small that the total number of staff is only five. For the past nine days, she has been arriving at work at nine to find a crowd of about 200 people waiting outside. Her manager’s voice has already turned hoarse from all the explaining and shouting, she said, and one senior clerk was admitted to hospital with high blood pressure two days ago, reducing the strength to four.

“Because of Diwali and the wedding season that was to follow,” she said, “a large number of people made huge withdrawals in fresh 500-rupee notes. And soon, they were back to get the same notes exchanged. In the initial days, the same people kept returning to get their notes exchanged, Rs. 4,000 at a time. As a result, today, some people have a lot of cash while others still haven’t got anything. This imbalance is the cause of all the chaos.

“A lot of our time is spent pacifying the crowd. The other day, a doctor came in to deposit Rs. 1.15 crore — white money. You know how long it takes to count that much of money? Two hours. People standing behind him in the queue were irate. And, let me tell you, most people in the queues are honest people. The ones with black money are queuing up at their CA’s office.

“Our day does not end once the crowds disperse. That’s when the most tedious part begins: counting. Last evening, our total collection for the day was Rs. 1 crore, but when we counted the money, we were short by Rs. 5,000. We once again had to tally all the receipts, and finally made up for the shortfall from our pockets.

“This morning, we were told by our head office not to expect any cash until November 24, and that we should go easy on disbursing money. How to explain this to people waiting in the queue for hours? It becomes difficult for us when people get into fights, and when senior citizens or women begin to cry.

“This experience has given me great insight into human behaviour. I caught a taxi driver who was exchanging money for the second time with a different ID. He pleaded with me, ‘Madam, please do the needful. This is not for me but for my angrez passengers (Westerners), who won’t be able to survive if I did not help them.’ I was touched. We also had a customer who walked in with patties and sandwiches. He said, ‘You people are working very hard. You must eat or you will fall sick.’ I realised that there are a lot of good people in the country.”

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 12:18:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/Banker-woes/article16620482.ece

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