Bosses and How To Survive Them – Part 44: The ‘What the .…’ Boss
Once in a while, a subordinate will put you in a spot where you won’t know whether to laugh or cry. You can only mutter to yourself, “What the .…!”
 
Here are some occasions when this happened to me.
 
Being the telex officer, a very junior position, I was in charge of the bank’s test keys (inter-bank secret codes) and the ‘bada code’, the secret code which our bank’s senior-most managers used to communicate with the head office (HO).
 
The bada code was a thin, black, bound book that contained the code words that would replace keywords in a telex message. When HO sent a very sensitive and confidential telex to chief executive officer (CEO) for India or manager at Bombay, it would have these code words in place of the most secret bits of the message, so that anyone who happened to read the message would not know what it meant. You needed to decipher the code by looking up the word in the bada code book.
 
This revered book was kept in a double-key Chubb safe under my custody. I was required to keep the two safe keys in my possession at all times, even take them home after work and bring them back the next morning, so that nobody could ever get hold of the bada code.
 
The keys were big, kept in a big pouch which was quite difficult to keep in my pocket all day long. During office hours, I kept it in my desk drawer which I would make sure to lock when I went for lunch.
 
One day, the manager had summoned me for some work. In my rush to meet the big boss, I had forgotten to lock my desk drawer and had left it unlocked. As luck would have it, just at that moment, a bada code message for the CEO arrived on the direct telex, exclusive for communication with HO, which used to be kept in the operations manager (OM)’s room. On seeing the message, the OM tore it out and came rushing to my desk to get the bada code book and take it to the CEO.
 
My (very efficient and smart) peon asked the OM what he wanted. He replied, “Mujhe bada code chahiye. Tumhara saab kidhar hai?” (I need the bada code. Where is your officer?)
 
“Mein deta hoon, saab,” (I will give it to you, sir) replied my peon. He took the keys to the Chubb safe from my desk drawer, opened the safe, took out the bada code book and gave it to the OM. 
 
I am told he nearly exploded, but he held himself in check, took the code book and went off to the CEO’s office.
 
A few minutes later, as I was returning from the manager’s office, the OM summoned me with a gesture. When I entered his presence, he waved the bada code book at me and yelled “Is this the way you keep the bada code secure? Your b***** peon gave it to me.” etc, etc. 
 
As you can imagine, I got a royal pasting.
 
When I returned to my desk clutching the bada code, my peon figured out what had happened from just the look on my face. Sheepishly, he tried to explain, but I was in no mood to listen.
 
All I could do was plonk on my chair and mutter “What the .…”.
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My secretary in the middle-eastern bank was a Pakistani man named Majid. He was a very hard-working chap but a bit short on brain power.
 
One morning, he came to me in a very agitated state. It seemed his teenage son had made a pass at the neighbour’s daughter, and the irate father had complained to the police. Majid had to rescue his son from the police station.
 
Majid was near apoplexy. “Woh haramzada! Suwar ka bachcha! Usey aaj maar dalunga!” he raved.
 
In English, this meant, “That b******! Son of a pig! I will kill him today.”
 
I had to point out to him that these abuses actually reflected right back at himself. Majid recovered and stomped off to the police station. I later heard that he had taken out his ire on his son with his belt. 
 
Another time, I asked Majid to get me the country code for Mauritius. He gave me the code number, and I used it to make an urgent call to Port Louis. The number never connected. I tried many times, for over two hours, but still got no connection.
 
I was puzzled. Sure, Mauritius was a third-world country, its telephone system must be bad, but was it so bad? 
 
Then I had a doubt. Was the country code correct? I got hold of the phone book and looked up the country code for Mauritius. Sure enough, it was different from what Majid had given me. I tried the correct code and got through in a jiffy.
 
After finishing the call, I looked at the phone book again and searched for the country that had the country code which Majid had given me. It turned out to be Mauritania.
 
I went to Majid and said, “Hey, I asked for the code for Mauritius, and you gave me the code for Mauritania!”
 
Majid looked up at me, puzzled. “Saar-ji, Mauritius, Mauritania … ek hi baat hai.” (Sir, Mauritius, Mauritania – same thing.)
 
All I could do was mutter “What the .…”.
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When I was the operations manager of a branch in Bombay, I had an officer in charge of preparing periodic returns to HO, and RBI (Reserve Bank of India). He was in his late-50s, close to retirement, with a perpetually harassed appearance.
 
One day, huge piles of R-returns landed on my desk, all returned by RBI.
 
To explain, RBI required banks to send an enormous number of returns. Even today, the required returns list stretches to 241 (yes, two hundred and forty one!). 
 
What happens to these returns when they reach RBI is anybody’s guess (I suspect that most of them are never even looked at) but one thing is sure—if you don’t send any return on time, you are sure to be rapped on the knuckles. Of all these different returns, the R-returns were probably the most painful to prepare. 
 
In the case of our branch, the crime in respect of the R-returns was not one of omission, but of commission.
 
Over the past six months, every R-return had been sent exactly on time, but they were all blank! Nothing was written on any of the many columns on all those reams of paper. BUT, each return had a big rubber stamp at the bottom “For XYZ Banking Corporation …….. Authorised Signatory”. In the space between two phrases, my officer had affixed his signature, perfectly executed and identical to the printed sample in the bank’s authorised signatory book.
 
I summoned the officer and asked, “What is the meaning of this?”
 
The officer looked at the blank returns and said, “Yes, they haven’t been filled in.”
 
“Why didn’t you put in the figures in the returns before sending them to RBI?” I demanded.
 
“Pressure of work, sir. So many returns to prepare…..”
 
“Then why did you send them?”
 
He looked at me, surprised, “Returns have to go, sir.”
 
“Why did you sign these blank forms?”
 
He looked at me with even more surprise and said, as if explaining to a child, “Returns have to be signed, sir. That is the rule, always been…..”
 
All I could do was mutter, “What the .…”
 
(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.)
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