IT was after 22 years of service in the banking sector that I finally got to work in a rural branch. Despite being promoted to the officer cadre in 1988 after eight years as a clerk, my hockey credentials helped me avoid a transfer from Bengaluru. A second promotion followed in August 2002, but a transfer was inevitable this time. Even though I was still playing, the authorities shunted me to Seegur, a ‘difficult’ centre bordering Periyapatna in Karnataka, on a mandatory rural assignment.
Despite the attendant problems of living in a rural place, the warmth of the locals, the fresh air and the endless greenery were a rejuvenating change. On my first day at the branch, customers heartily welcomed me with garlands and bouquets. An invitation to a wedding feast followed. The non-vegetarian spread at the function featured ample mutton, chicken and pork servings. The platter had an unusually high amount of meat and less of rice.
Farmers of this region grow tobacco and rely on banks for funding. They hire workers from Andhra Pradesh to pick tobacco leaves during the harvest. Under the Service Area Approach, the branch catered to scores of villages for systematic development and meeting credit needs.
While working at the branch, I observed how bank officials were revered. The officer who joined recently or was on transfer was honoured with a shawl at a village function, which was followed by a gala dinner. Once we were invited to the ‘ooru habba’ (village fest) as special guests, where a giant idol of the village deity greeted us. The fair resembled a carnival with bright buntings and blaring music.
After the harvest, the tobacco auction was held. On its conclusion, the Tobacco Board despatched cheques to the bank for settling the farmers’ loans. On drawing the money, the delighted farmers flocked to Periyapatna town to celebrate and make merry. They feasted and guzzled with gusto.
Unfortunately, being illiterate, most of them were at the mercy of intermediaries. Unlike in an urban setting, they remained in the bank even after business hours. Some barged into the officers’ houses on holidays to plead for loans. Once, following a stampede, the glass of the single-window counter at the bank was shattered, forcing us to down the shutters till a semblance of order returned.
The memories of a fit and agile centenarian coming to the bank on foot from his village, miles away, are still fresh. The wealthy 102-year-old agriculturist enjoyed all the comforts of modern living, but still walked the extra mile to stay in shape. He relished a simple ragi ball and curry meal and always stressed the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.
Once, after a colleague received his transfer order, an elderly customer invited us to his house for dinner. His residence was the only one in the village with a television. He introduced his family members to us, including his two wives, who were sisters. They seemed to be living together blissfully under one roof.
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