Today I made my long delayed trip to the bank. I had been putting this off post 8/11 dreading the long wait and the queues that I had been hearing and reading about. But finally, I had to make my date with the financial institutions that are seemingly holding so many lives in ransom these days. The day itself was overcast and gloomy with a slight nip in the air. The early morning trip started well with very little traffic and a quick arrival at the bank. Thanking my lucky stars, I dropped my mother at the entrance to the bank and drove some distance to park the car. I ran back to join her and suddenly found the bank shutters half down – they were actually preparing to regulate the number of people entering the bank! This wasn’t a good sign and I steeled myself for a wait. I couldn’t see my mother and panicked, asking the security guard whether he had seen a short old lady, about 5 feet in a dark pink saree, with a head full of white hair. He smiled and pointed to his chair that he had graciously let my mom sit down on while she was waiting for me. I thanked him and counted myself lucky to have had someone help mom like that. But as it turned out, this day was somewhat extraordinary.
We had to deposit money and not withdraw and so, were allowed into the bank. The queues hadn’t yet started forming and so I joined the small queue after having filled up the required forms. As the clock neared 11 AM, I saw people young and old starting to come in; each with their own set of questions. The news and social media had added so much information to people’s lives that one had sort through it to see the light and so the questions poured in thick and fast. An old lady clutching a solitary old Re 500 note walked hesitantly up to the front desk of the bank as if she was unsure if this was the right place to be. A few hesitant steps took her to a girl who was filling up a form, young enough to be her granddaughter maybe. The girl patiently heard her out and then stopped what she was doing and escorted the lady to a staff of the bank; who then took charge of the situation. I saw the old lady about ten minutes later coming across to the girl who was in the queue and calling her ‘beti’ and blessing her, this version of the raised hand a rare sign these days. All around people seemed to smile and show their appreciation.
In front of me in the queue was a barely out of her teens girl with a cheque and an Aadhar card, clutched with a death grip in one hand and her mobile in the other. When she got to the counter, the teller told her that she couldn’t withdraw Rs 6000 and that she had to change the amount to Rs 4000. She did not know better and simply changed the amount to Rs 4000 on the cheque. The teller then found out that it wasn’t her cheque and told her apologetically that she needed to get a new cheque from whoever had written it out. Turned out that the girl was working as a household help and the cheque was for her salary. The poor girl was almost in tears and didn’t know what to do. And the gentleman next to her in the queue asked her if he could talk to her employer and explain. A short conversation ensued and then the gentleman told her that the lady of the house was writing out a new cheque. The girl virtually ran out of the bank to get the new cheque.
At the next counter, a young lady got to the counter. She seemed to have come from a Yoga session in her tights and sweat shirt, the rolled up mat tucked under her arm and was anyway getting some curious stares from people around. Instead of presenting her deposit slip to the teller, she simply looked back and called someone. That someone was an old gentleman who was sitting in a chair at the back. As he walked up to the counter, some of the others tried to stop him and told him to join the end of the queue, brusque and impatient. The yoga girl quickly cut in to explain that the gentleman had been in front of her and she had asked him to sit while he was waiting his turn and the group quickly quietened down and the girl helped the old man complete his transaction and then continued with hers. Silence prevailed as the old man thanked everyone for letting him go ahead and then slowly made his way out of the bank.
I reached the counter finally and found that I had forgotten to bring my mother’s identification documents and had to go home to get them. Cursing my luck, I ran out of the bank to the car. On the way there, an old lady on the pavement raised her hands asking for some help. With the prevailing situation, I only had a single Re 2000 note in my pocket and had to put it back shame facedly. The poor woman’s expectant face fell as I walked away. It took me almost an hour to get back with the documents and as I crossed the old lady this time, the same extended hands greeted me. I took a couple of steps before I got out my wallet and searched it once again. Finding nothing, I was keeping it back in my pocket when my fingers brushed against some paper and I fished it out. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found a tenner in the middle of a couple of credit card receipts that I had stuffed into my pocket the previous week.
While there are definite benefits of not washing your jeans for a year according to a popular brand of jeans, I think I wouldn’t go so far as a year but a week definitely has a major positive! I ran back to the woman and pushed the tenner into her hands and ran back into the bank. The queue had definitely gotten longer in the meantime and was moving slower as all people who were depositing old notes had to do a pre-validation of their account / identity proof details. Somehow, the tenner episode had left me significantly light hearted and I didn’t mind the wait at all. The queue inched its way forward and I moved with it, looking at the people around me. A mom and her daughter stood there discussing plans for a movie and a birthday party, a couple of men had brought their newspapers there and were discussing the latest income tax raids including today’s news about a man who had disclosed Rs 13800 crores of income and a few others were pretending indifference in all this and impatiently waiting their turn.
As I neared the counter, the girl who had run out of the bank to get a new cheque from her employer reappeared and stood resignedly at the end of the queue. Her phone rang and she answered the call. It was obviously her employer asking her when she was going to come. She mentioned that she would be some time as there was now a queue at the bank and then stood there listening to something that her employer said. I had half a mind to offer her step in ahead of me, when the teller recognised her and motioned her to come forward. He looked at me and I just nodded in agreement. A couple of minutes later, she waltzed out of the bank smiling like a million bucks.
I followed about ten minutes later after completing my mother’s favourite habit – updating her bank passbook! As I drove back home, the gloom had lifted and it looked like a nice breezy day, a fact echoed by the RJ on the radio station. I guess all that was required was a little perspective on my part to convert an overcast gloomy day to a nice breezy cool one; perspective with a healthy dose of humanity and serendipity that I had experienced. And it is these doses that reconfirm our belief that humanity isn’t dead after all, it is very much alive but just gets hidden in the facades that we wear and the schedules that we fill our lives up with.