25 Nov 2022  |   05:04am IST

Watchman’s timely action


This 1990s episode happened in a remote rural bank branch of a State-run bank on Bengaluru’s outskirts. The small category branch, which must remain unnamed, had a staff complement of five, including the Branch head and the accountant.

It was normal not to post guards for round-the-clock duty in smaller branches, and the practice continues today. The distant branch location meant leaving home early and returning well after dusk. Besides, the employees also had to endure the ordeal of an unreliable public transport system and the rigours of extended travel.

The branch, like many others, was open for business between 10.30 am and 2.30 pm (working hours extended up to 5.30 pm). Usually, the branch accountant was the last to exit after balancing the books of accounts. However, on that fateful day, he had sought permission to leave the branch early to attend a relative's wedding. A workaholic, he seldom sought leave or left early. The accountant usually turned off the lights, but he left them burning that day in an apparent hurry to reach the wedding venue on time. He also unwisely chose not to bid goodbye to his boss. Absorbed in poring the official documents, the manager was also oblivious to his deputy departing. The evening was still young when the manager called it a day. The branch head noticed the lights burning in the accountant's room but trusted his instincts that the latter was still around. Unfortunately, it slipped his mind that the accountant had sought permission to leave early. He walked out without checking on his deputy or locking the branch, an incident he would regret all his life! The flickering tube lights inside the branch and the main door kept ajar in the wee hours drew the attention of the neighbouring factory watchman working the graveyard shift. Sensing something irrevocably amiss, he ventured to check if any soul was present, but what he saw shook him: it was unmanned.

Showing quick thinking, he jotted down the landline number of the Regional Manager (RM) displayed in the banking hall. Then he sprinted back to the factory, dialled the RM's residence (those were the pre-mobile years) and sounded the alarm. A few hours later, a car finally pulled up at the Branch. A visibly upset RM stomped out with his clique to take stock and keep a night vigil.

When the accountant and the branch manager arrived at the branch the following day, an exasperated RM greeted them with a glare! He admonished the duo for being reckless and served them the 'marching orders,' shunting them to a godforsaken place. After completing the mandatory formalities, the hastily arranged replacements from the Regional Office assumed charge of the Branch.  But the erring duo paid a terrible price! Besides being shunted out to some remote place, the bank deprived them of increments and promotions. One wonders, who was more culpable: the accountant or the branch manager. The episode haunted them throughout their careers.

If not for our hero, the watchman, the branch could have become a soft target for thieves. He could have turned a blind eye but chose to bend over backwards to secure the bank's assets. The bank fittingly commended him with a cash award, and his timely action drew laurels.  


Idhar Udhar