I used to spend several hours a day in T’s office.
One day, the local head of a British multi-national company (MNC) came to see T about an apparent fraud on his debit card.
He had talked to Mr Desai, the operations manager of the main branch located in the building where the management offices were.
Mr Desai had told the customer that nothing could be done because he must have compromised his personal identification number (PIN). So, the customer had come to request the general manager to do something.
T told his secretary to call Mr Desai to his office.
A few minutes later the secretary handed over a little folded note to T, which he read, smiled, and put in his pocket.
Several minutes passed, and there was no sign of Mr Desai.
I said “Let me check what happened to Mr Desai”.
T shook his head, smiled, and gestured to me to wait.
Mr Desai didn’t appear, and eventually the customer left.
T handed me the note. It said “Sir, Mr Desai says he cannot come because Mansoor (the branch manager) has told him not to meet you”.
I was aghast. How could the summons of the GM be ignored?
T smiled once again, a beatific smile this time. “Just watch, my lad”, he said “see what I do”.
I need to explain that T and Mansoor hated each other.
T was the GM and Mansoor could do nothing to him, but Mansoor was a senior branch manager and the son of a rich and powerful business magnate with Royal connections, and T could not do anything to him either.
T phoned Mansoor and asked him, very gently and politely, if he had told Mr Desai not to come to meet him. I could overhear Mansoor denying having said that.
T put the phone down, smiled again and made another call, this time to the head of human resources (HR) to instruct him to terminate Mr Desai.
I was amazed, but T just smiled and carried on with other business.
No matter how inefficient our HR department was in carrying out other tasks, when it came to terminating an employee, it worked superfast.
Within 15 minutes Mr Desai got his termination letter.
Word spread through the whole building with the speed of summer lightning – Mr Desai had been fired by T.
This caused a great uproar.
Mr Desai was a senior man, 25 years in the bank, very well regarded by Nationals and Expats alike, and the backbone of the main branch.
For him to be fired by T, for no apparent reason, was simply astounding.
An hour later Mansoor’s cousin Ahmed, the commercial manager of the main branch, came to meet T.
I put two and two together and figured that Mansoor wanted to resolve this matter (Mr Desai must have gone crying to him), but since he would lose face if he himself came he had sent an emissary.
“Come in, Ahmed, come in. Please sit down. How are you?” T was all charm and bonhomie.
Ahmed hesitated, looking at me.
I understood that he felt uncomfortable with me being present, so I moved to get up.
T waved me back in my chair and said “I keep no secrets from him (meaning me). You can speak freely, Ahmed.”
Ahmed began to approach the delicate subject from a faraway point, as is the norm in local etiquette. But T cut him short.
“If you have come to talk about Mr Desai’s termination, Ahmed, here is what it is.”
“I asked Mr Desai to come to meet me. He refused, citing Mansoor’s instruction not to come. I checked with Mansoor. He denied having instructed Mr Desai.”
“Mansoor is senior to Mr Desai, and hence I have to believe him and not Mr Desai.”
“So, Mr Desai is guilty on two counts – disobeying the instruction of the general manager, and making a false statement about his branch manager. I have no option but to terminate him.”
“But if actually Mansoor had lied to me, then the matter is different. Mansoor needs to meet me, admit that he had lied, and request me to withdraw Mr Desai’s termination, and I will gladly agree”.
Mansoor came, apologised for lying, kissed T on the forehead (a gesture of great respect) and requested that Mr Desai be reinstated.
T - the racist
One of the directors of our bank was His Excellency (HE) the Ambassador to an important Western country, currently on his second term in this exalted position.
He was also the owner of a fairly large business group, but the ambassadorship was definitely the more weighty qualification for being on our bank’s board.
HE was a man of few words. He hardly ever spoke at board meetings.
As head of credit, I attended every board meeting.
Incidentally, I had been warned, however, not to learn Arabic because the directors sometimes wished to have a conversation between themselves, which the Expats present should not be able to understand.
Hence, no Arabic for me.
At one board meeting the topic under discussion was a fraud at one of our branches.
A Pakistani officer and his clerk (a Pakistani too) were the suspects, primarily because both men had suddenly disappeared, presumably back to Pakistan.
In the middle of the discussion, HE suddenly spoke up, in English. Everyone stopped talking and took notice.
HE said, “Mr chairman, I would like to make a submission, or perhaps you could call it a plea.”
HE making a ‘plea’?
Something serious must be afoot. I was all ears.
HE announced “All Pakistanis are thieves”.
Amid the shocked silence HE continued.
“Their fathers are thieves.”
“Even their God is a thief.”
“I implore you, Mr chairman Sir, please do not keep two Pakistanis in the same department. They will get together and rob us blind.”
HE turned to T and asked “You have worked in Pakistan. Am I right or wrong?”
T nodded his head vigorously and said, “You are absolutely right, Your Excellency, absolutely right.”
HE nodded with satisfaction, and the other directors nodded as well.
Was this racism, bigotry, or the truth? Or was T just sucking up to a director?
You decide, dear reader.
(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.)