The chairman was coming!
It was a great occasion. Detailed preparations were made for this great visit.
In Mumbai (earlier called Bombay), for example, an intense search was done to identify a car that was worthy of transporting the chairman. Nothing less than a Mercedes S320 would do. There needed to be at least two similar cars, as backup, which were hard to find. Eventually, we settled on a Chevrolet Caprice as a standby car and a Mercedes E200 as an ‘emergency’ back-up.
The chairman wanted to visit various ‘points of interest’ in Mumbai. An itinerary was drawn up and revised umpteen times based on inputs from the chairman’s wife and secretary, which were obtained through unofficial channels.
A question arose: how would the chairman’s car find space to park just outside every ‘point of interest’?
An enterprising colleague of mine found the answer! Hire 12 Ambassador cars and park three of them at the desired spot in front of each ‘point of interest’ at 6am. As soon as the chairman’s car arrived, the three Ambassador cars would pull out to make space for the chairman’s car.
The chairman was to take a private jet from Singapore to Madras (this was before Madras became Chennai) where he would be received by the India chief executive (CEO) and manager at Madras. The next morning the jet would bring the chairman and India CEO to Mumbai.
The plan was – as soon as the plane took off for Mumbai, the manager in Madras would phone the manager in Mumbai, who would set off for the airport with the cavalcade of cars to receive the chairman and the CEO.
The manager of Madras was an old-school boss. His biggest contribution to the development of our Madras branch had been to change the acronym for the branch from ‘MAD’ to ‘MDR’.
He escorted the chairman and the CEO to Madras airport and put them on the private jet. So far, so good.
Then, disaster struck...
The public phones in Madras airport were down. Madras-based manager frantically searched for a working phone, could not find one and in desperation set off towards the city in search of a phone.
Alas, his car had to stop at a railway crossing! By the time, he could call the Mumbai manager the chairman’s plane was halfway there.
Result: The chairman’s plane arrived at Mumbai airport before manager-Bombay could reach there.
The chairman and the CEO (India) were made to wait on the footpath outside Mumbai airport for nearly half an hour.
The CEO was fuming. Even the chairman was upset.
When manager Bombay finally arrived at the airport the chairman told him, “Jolly poor show, old boy.”
I do not know to what degree the career of Mumbai manager was affected by this botch-up, but that of manager at Madras certainly was.
He was demoted.
The Understanding Boss
At the time of the chairman’s historic visit, I was the operations manager in a big branch in Mumbai.
During his visit, the chairman was scheduled to check out another big branch in Mumbai and come to my branch next.
I rang up my counterpart in the other branch and asked, “What is the chairman looking at in your branch?”
“Basement,” my counterpart replied.
I rushed to the basement, cleared out everything that I could dump elsewhere, and put all the non-removable rubbish into one small storeroom in a corner, which had a door. The basement looked perfectly clean and tidy.
As expected, upon arrival at my branch the chairman wanted to see the basement.
He looked around the whole of the basement, complimented me on its tidiness, and then …
The chairman saw the door of the storeroom.
He asked, “Ah, what have we here?”
Before anyone could answer the chairman marched to the door of the storeroom, yanked it open, and all the rubbish- brooms, buckets, cleaning stuff et al- came tumbling out and clattered on the floor at the chairman’s feet.
I thought I was gone!
The chairman said, “Sorry, wrong door.”
Welcoming The New Boss
After my stint as operations manager in Mumbai, I was transferred to Calcutta (no, not Kolkata yet).
I flew into Kolkata on a Sunday morning with my wife, two baby daughters and six suitcases. When we reached the arrival lobby at the airport, we were greeted by two smiling young men who said, “Good morning, Sir. We are from the bank. Welcome to Calcutta. Please can we have your luggage tags?”
One of the greeters guided us to a waiting car, while the other stayed back to retrieve our luggage and follow us in another car.
When we reached the assigned apartment, I found the following items:
- A huge bouquet of flowers with a welcome note signed by my boss.
- A map of the city with my branch, the Tolly Club and other notable ‘points of interest’ circled in red.
- Lunch invitation that day from the chap from whom I was taking over.
- Dinner invitation from my boss.
- A fridge packed with food, including milk for the baby, enough to last us a whole week.
- Two bottles of Scotch and a case of beer.
Later, the operations manager explained that all this was a part of the standing orders for the admin department, which laid down how an officer of my grade was to be greeted when he arrived on transfer from elsewhere.
My wife hated Calcutta at first for its power cuts, bad roads, crowded markets, dirty streets, and cockroaches (more about this later). After a few months, however, she began to like the city and stopped complaining.
Two years later, when I was transferred back to Mumbai, where she had been born and brought up, she was distinctly unhappy. Calcutta had grown on her!
I was returning to Mumbai at a higher grade, and I had expected a welcome on the scale of the one Calcutta had given me, if not better. But that was not to be.
I reached Mumbai one evening in the middle of pouring rain, weighed down by two sleepy daughters, an irate wife, and a mountain of luggage. Alas, there was nobody- absolutely nobody- at the airport to receive us.
After some minutes of waiting my father-in-law arrived huffing and puffing. It appeared that a car had indeed been sent from the bank to meet me, but it had broken down in the rain. The driver had wisely collected my father-in-law’s phone number aforehand and had informed him, resulting in him grabbing a cab and reaching the airport.
I packed my father-in-law and family into a taxi along with whatever luggage could fit into the tiny trunk of the Premier Padmini and its roof rack and sent them off to the assigned flat. A little later I followed in another cab with the rest of the luggage.
On reaching the flat, I found my wife sitting despondently, my daughters wailing and my father-in-law absent. My wife tearfully explained that there was nothing in the flat – no food, no milk, no bedsheets or linen, no towels and not even a bottle of drinking water. My father-in-law had gone in search of some emergency supplies.
We survived the night somehow.
The next morning, I accosted the admin head in a somewhat angry mood. He shrugged and said in Mumbai Hindi, “Kitna officer aata jaat hai. Sab ko saara cheez de nahi sakta. Flat to khali tha, na? Bas.” (So many Officers come and go. I can’t give everything to everyone. The flat was empty, right? That’s it.)
I realised that this was “welcome the boss” Bombay-ishtyle.
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until Covid, that is), playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)