I had been bumped a grade higher and posted as the operations manager in a large branch in Bombay.
Almost immediately the monsoon arrived.
Sitting in my cabin I heard a rattling noise, a bit like the sound of a machine gun firing. I went out to investigate.
I found that rain water was leaking profusely through the roof of the staircase or lift-shaft and falling on the wooden staircase, creating the sound that I had heard. The staff told me that this happened every year.
The lift had to be shut down and the staircase was awash with water. Everyone was feeling the pinch. Something had to be done.
I consulted the bank’s architect. He told me that leaky roofs were common in old buildings such as ours, constructed before the first World War.
“What is the solution?” I asked.
“Well…we will have to demolish the entire staircase and re-construct.”
This did not quite seem to be a quick fix, I thought.
“And once we demolish, we cannot re-construct, because the building is way in excess of the permissible floor space index (FSI).”
That put the lid on it. I had to find some other solution.
When the rain stopped, I went to the terrace above the staircase and looked around. Suddenly I had an idea!
Why not put up a tarpaulin shamiana, with a slope, on the terrace? The rainwater would slide off into the adjoining lane and nothing would fall on to the roof and seep through to the staircase.
Feeling quite proud of myself I went to meet my boss, the branch manager, to tell him about my brilliant solution.
He nodded sagely and asked me how the shamiana would be put up.
I summoned up my knowledge of struts and supports from my IIT days and made a detailed drawing, complete with dimensions.
My boss looked at it and said “What will it be made of?”
“Either steel angles or bamboos,” I replied.
“Pata karo kitna kharcha hoga” (find out how much it will cost) said the boss.
I got one quotation each for the steel and bamboo structures.
The boss chose bamboo, but he wanted three quotations.
I got the three quotations.
The boss wanted to know what kind of tarpaulin I would use.
I identified three types and got hold of samples.
Boss chose one, but again…three quotations.
Ten days passed in going through this process. Every time I returned with the reply to his query, he had one more query… “yeh bhi pata karo………” (Find out this also).
In the meantime, water continued to stream down the staircase, the lift remained shut, and everyone in the branch was miserable.
The last straw was, the boss wanted to know where I would store the tarpaulin after the monsoon.
At this point I decided – to hell with it!
I put up the shamiana at a princely cost of Rs2,744.
Dry staircase, lift running – general happiness in the branch.
Next morning the boss summoned me.
He waved at me the expense voucher for Rs2,744.
“What is this?” he yelled.
“The cost of the shamiana,” I replied.
“But I have not approved it! How could you spend this money?”
I kept quiet.
The boss fumed for some more minutes. He fished out a red pen from his drawer and wrote on the voucher, in bold letters: “NOT approved by me”.
Despite all his tantrums, the boss was actually happy.
He hadn’t made the decision – I had. If anything went wrong, I would be blamed, not he.
Nothing could touch him – he could continue to be the “Teflon” manager.
The subterfuge-seeker Boss
Getting credit proposals to move through the assistant manager (AM) continued to be a struggle.
He would keep papers with him for weeks on end. The files piled up on his table. When the table filled up, they went on the floor.
Soon one did not go to the filing cabinets to look for a customer file – one went to the AM’s cabin.
Matters came to a head when an important customer complained to the manager about a long delay in getting an answer to a request.
The manager summoned me and asked me the reason for the delay.
I retrieved the file from the floor of the AM’s cabin. The proposal I had prepared three months ago was still sitting inside the file. I showed it to the manager.
“Where has this been all this time?” asked the manager.
“With the AM, Sir” I replied.
The manager turned to the last page of the proposal where the secretary, who had typed the proposal, had put her initials “ar”.
“This has been typed by Anita Rodrigues” the manager said. “She left us over two months ago. Correct?”
The manager pursed his lips and said “All right, carry on”.
He charged into the AM’s cabin with the file in hand.
The next thing I knew was that the secretaries were pulling out all the files and re-typing the last page of every pending proposal which had “ar” written on it.
(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.)