Over two decades ago in 1992 – as a 15-year old – my first ‘article’ was published in the Pune edition of a local English daily. I shall never forget the magical moment when I saw for the first time my name appear as a byline in the paper.
I was paid a princely sum of INR 25 /- (about $ 1 in those days) by the newspaper through an a/c payee cheque. I had to open a savings account in a Bank just to encash the same. Being a minor, I opened a joint account along with my elder brother and getting early into the Banking habit was a lesson in more ways than one.
It was a relatively small branch that was at a walkable distance from our home and I still remember the shackled iron grille door that would be barely open wide enough to permit a person to enter / exit sideways. The security guard with his long loaded gun would be standing very close to the door and keep an eye on everyone. Security indeed was very much in your face in those times.
I used to love visiting the Bank and felt very important in running odd chores for my brother like depositing cheques, withdrawing cash, getting a manual update done, drawing a Demand Draft etc. It was a learning experience by the simple expedient of having to do the transaction many times over. Imagine filling the challans, double checking the cash received from the ‘Cashier’ counter after waiting for the token number to be displayed, cross the final balance that the clerk updated manually into your physical passbook. Computerization was at a nascent stage and the digital world of internet, mobile, debit cards, ATMs had not arrived yet at our shores.
I also got into the fascinating habit of learning to save in those early days – I cannot think of more usual learning tool to manage ones finances than getting a child to operate his own bank account. I progressed from dropping small sums into my savings account, to open Fixed Deposits and finally Recurring Deposits. With no understanding on inflation and its debilitating effect on my savings, I loved to watch my money grow. We were all too fond of FD schemes that promised to double your money in X no of years.
Eventually they introduced pass-book that were updated using a dot matrix printer and that was a tool of wonderment for all of us. If I remember correctly one count not simply ask for the passbook to be updated on an ad hoc basis and there were specific time slots allocated for the same.
The Bank used to be dominated by pensioners during the first week and it was best to avoid doing transactions at that time to avoid the rush. But invariably I would meet them at other times as well and a few faces became familiar acquaintances. They would be perpetually dropping in the interest warrants and cheques given by the Chit Funds and Company Deposit schemes. They would welcome a helping hand who could fill the challan for them and help with the paperwork.
The FD receipts drawn on fancy security paper with multiple signatures would be handed over to us in customized plastic transparent folders. While discharging the same one would sign on the reverse and affix a 1 rupee revenue stamp. High value cheques were protected with innovative techniques as the amount column would be protected from tampering by affixing a transparent cello tape across it.
Countless memories that are still realities for many who are not touched by the wave of digital banking that has swept in to enhance productivity and improve efficiency. I eventually moved away from the city and the account became inactive. Finally one day I got around to closing the account and had to meet the Asst Branch Manager who tried his level best to convince me to not close the account.
And to imagine twenty years on now I operate Bank accounts using online tools and the ATM. There are no longer any familiar faces, any queues,any tokens, any challans, any pass-book – come to think of it I have bank accounts opened from the comfort of my office abroad and I have never even seen my Bank’s branch.