In the years I grew up, the most important and serious of all tasks in To-Do lists used to be visiting a bank. Today, we can’t imagine actually visiting a bank branch for anything. It wasn’t so in the 80s and 90s.
Whether you were applying for college admission, appearing for a competitive examination, sending application for a government job a demand draft was a must. Simple transactions that we spend a minute to execute through apps or ATMs like withdrawing money for your expense, transferring money to someone or checking your salary credit, each of these tasks entailed a visit to a bank. There were no private banks, barring a few foreign banks with branches in metros, but they were the banks for rich people. The rest depended on the neighbourhood State Bank or other govt owned public sector banks.
There were long queues at every counter, one had to meticulously fill in forms and slips for every transaction, collect a token and wait for your turn to be called. The banking hours were limited and often people were turned away if there was a crowd already lined up. People often treated bank staff with respect and caution so as to strike a friendship and not having to wait for long in the queue the next time. Senior citizens in particular, loved to chat up with bank manager for over a cup of tea, entrusting their their money and life stories with them. Bank staff were often invited to weddings and family functions by customers.
My father used to take me to the bank every time he had some work. I found the branch a fascinating place to go to. I loved the air of seriousness and accuracy with which the work was conducted at the bank branch. The large wooden tables and glass counters, the silence and slow movements, as opposed to the busy boisterous marketplace just outside the building. The cashier pulling out wads of notes from a seemingly never ending bag of money, carefully counting each one and handing it to us from the small glass window.
Standing aside and recounting the currency seemed like a huge responsibility for my little hands. Father asked me to count, add and confirm the amount. Any discrepancy and I’d do it all over again.
At times the branch was crowded and father would ask me to sit on the sofa while he finished the work and returned. My mischievous and curious mind wandered. The sliding iron channel at the entry and watching the armed security guard was a thrill in itself. The guard was supposed to be vigilant but I often caught him chatting with someone, quite relaxed.
What if there is a robbery, I wondered. What if a robber sneaks through and does a ‘Hands Up’ to the cash bag man at the counter? Where will I duck and hide? What if he shoots or takes hold of someone, like they do in movies? My mind would wander off to the immense possibilities. What if someone kidnaps me here? How will father know? What if we step out and someone snatches all the money? They keep gold also somewhere in here. Is that place underground? What if the city floods at night and water seeps in? What will happen to the money bags? Will the gold float away or rot? No, gold does not rust. The people working here, what if they sneak a few notes in their pocket every day? It must be tempting to have all the money around you. What a bliss!
The trip to the bank was a much awaited trip, though I laugh at myself now, for being so fascinated with a small bank branch.
The staff more or less remained the same over years. After some visits, everyone got to know me at the bank. Some of my questions about the bank were answered by my father, some by the bankers I met.
My father had to work away from home for a few years. I managed the bank work and visited the bank alone, often. People working at the bank were transferred, the old security guard retired, new people came in. Much later that bank merged with another and the branch was revamped completely.
In the early 90s, govt granted licences to private banks under the liberalisation policies and new age, tech focussed banks transformed the banking sector in India for good. The stiff competition from private and foreign banks forced the public sector banks to tighten their focus on customer service and upgrade their systems and services.
My father still maintains an account at his old bank branch and I visit there sometimes, though there is no need as such. Last time I visited, I saw a senior citizen at the cash window chatting with the cashier. I am sure, he was there to relive the old times, when banking was more than just transaction.