In 1996, I was promoted to the rank of a driver.
I joined my Bank in 1973 as a ‘D’ Grade Officer. At that time the bottom-most rank of a Bank Officer was ‘D’ Grade and she/he had to work her/his way up to Grades C, B, A – and with good performance records, to the Executive Cadres. Branch Managers were of Grades C to A. (The wife used to call me a ‘Dgraded Officer’.) Then came Pillai Committee Recommendations on Salary Structure of Public Sector Banks and Officers were put in Scale I , Managers and Senior Managers were put in Scales II and III and Executives were placed in Scales IV to VII. This is unlike the system in the Government, where it starts in the reverse gear, the lowest rung of the hierarchy, that of peons, is called Class IV , and positions above this level are called Classes III, II and I. Incidentally, it has become politically incorrect to call peons as peons; they are called 'Class IV employees'. In the same way in the Banks it has become politically correct to call 'peons' as 'sub-staff', a shortened term for 'subordinate staff'.
As long I was in Scale I, I was a walker. Like most other Officers in Scale I, I used to walk to office, usually about one kilo meter from home.
When I was promoted to Scale II, I was given charge of a Branch and the Branch had a motor cycle. So, with this promotion, I was simultaneously promoted as a rider. The promotion to Scale III did not mean simultaneous promotion as a driver. As per the rules prevailing at that time (and now also), an officer not provided with Bank-vehicle and owning a vehicle, was paid a Conveyance Allowance and one not having a vehicle of his/her own, was paid a token amount as conveyance expenses. This is jokingly called ‘walking allowance’.
All the Branches are provided with a vehicle for the use of Branch Manager. The type of vehicle provided to the Branch, whether a two-wheeler or a four-wheeler, depends on its business-position.
( I once heard about an officer of our Bank who on being pestered by his wife to buy a four-wheeler, purchased 2 two-wheelers instead, one motor cycle for himself and his son, and a moped for his wife and small daughter. “Hua na four-wheeler? Don’t two and two make four?”, he told his wife.)
A few years after being in Scale III, my Branch crossed the eligibility mark and I was provided with an official self-driven car. Thus I became a driver!
When I used to walk to the Bank, the wife used to prod me to get a two-wheeler and stop walking. When I started driving, she advised me to resume walking and in this, she was supported by our doctor!!!
When I was learning to ride a motor cycle, I remember to have hit, of all things, a cow. During that period, I have hit and killed 2 snakes and maimed a dog. Once I hit a chick and my trainer-companion advised me to speed away as fast as possible before any one noticed it; otherwise, he warned me, the owner would demand compensation for not only the chick but also of its future progeny and its subsequent generations.
One thing which in a moment of introspection I discovered about myself was that soon after starting to use a car, I had started shouting at the other users of the road although I prided myself to be a polite person with polished manners! One day, when I was driving, a boy unconcernedly continued walking almost on the middle of the road unmindful of my honking impatiently. Then I shouted, ”Hey fellow, do you want die?” Daughter II, who was sitting by my side, rolled up the wind-screen. When I asked as to why she did so, she replied, ”I don’t want that he should hear your atrocious Hindi; the movement of your face-muscles would be sufficient to convey to him what you are saying.” (At that time I was working in Bihar. Even now, the daughter picks holes in my Hindi.)
This reminds me of an anecdote. A person standing on the middle of a very busy road asked a passing traveller, “Which is the way to the hospital?” The other person replied, “Keep standing where you are; you will find yourself in the hospital soon.”
I was not sure when my Branch would be eligible for a car. So, after waiting for a few months, I took a loan from the Bank and booked the then small car, by depositing the required amount. At that time cars were not readily available and one had to wait for more than 6 months after booking it. Soon after receiving the car, I received a letter from Income Tax Department, requiring me to submit papers regarding my income and financial position. (That was the rule at that time!!! Probably car-dealers were required to inform the Income Tax Dept., the names and addresses of all those who purchased cars.) And lo and behold! One month after purchasing the car, I received an information that my Branch had become eligible and I would be provided with a Bank car, that too a new one! (Sometimes, when a Branch became eligible for a car, the bosses at the administrative office would purchase a new car, keep it at their office and send their old car to the Branch.) After the Branch car came, I sold off my car. When she glided out of my compound, I experienced a lump in my throat and a heaviness in heart.Earlier, I had taken a few photographs of me and my family with the car. These would remain as a precious treasure, carrying pleasant memories like the sweet memories of one’s first love.
It is said that creativity is like the reverse gear of a car – used very less but very essential none the less. If one thinks in a straight-jacket manner like a carriage-horse with side-views blinded, one cannot be creative; one will become only a follower of precedents. A creative person thinks laterally and many times in reverse direction. A person who later became famous, once saw dust being blown away by a strong wind. He wondered: only if the wind could be given a reverse gear! And he invented vacuum cleaner!!!
In some places, people wishing to relax, go for a long drive; in my place, the condition of roads and disregard to traffic rules are such that one can relax only after driving. It is said that when Lalu Prasad became the Chief Minister of Bihar, he had declared, “The pot-holed roads of Patna are like the cheeks of Om Puri; I shall make them like the cheeks of Hema Malini.” Whether he kept his promise, is another matter.
Do you feel that I have taken you for a ride? … Or a drive? Or up the garden path?