Soon after my marriage, I was posted as the manager of a bank branch in a small town in North Kerala. As officers were in short supply, I had no officers to assist me, but my boss promised me that he would spare one as soon as he could.
He kept his word. About six months later, the orders posting Mr Raghavan (Name changed) as the accountant at my branch arrived. This was to be his final posting, as he was due to retire in a couple of years. (The HR policy of the bank provided that retiring officers would be given postings of their choice so that the transition from working life to retirement would be as seamless as possible.)
It is common experience that the reputation of the person posted precedes him. This case was no different. Reports reaching me said that Mr Raghavan was a shirker and needed to be goaded constantly to do the work assigned to him.
That was on the professional front. Reports said that his patron saints were Don Juan, Lothario and Casanova. In other words, he was a philanderer. There were reports that he was once caught in flagrante delicto in a town in the High Ranges, but let off by the police after being locked up in the cooler for a night.
A few weeks after I heard about his adventures and escapades, Mr Raghavan reported at the branch. A lanky frame, a beak of a nose, sandalwood paste on the wide forehead, a few strands of grey hair on the shiny pate. Quick at numbers, he was a good worker. A man of pleasant demeanour, never betraying the traits attributed to him.How horribly wrong the reports were!
He was a great raconteur and specialized in smutty jokes. The lunch hour in the office came alive as he pulled out stories from his enormous repertoire.
It was past 6 o’clock on Friday evening. All but the two of us had left. We were checking the ledgers. Mr Raghavan looked up and asked me, ‘What are you doing this evening? If you are free, would you join me for a drink?’
I did not have any special plans for the evening, and gladly accepted the offer. We went to a nearby bar and had a couple of drinks. During the tete-a-tete, he found out that though I was married, my wife too was away in Delhi where she was working for her Ph D.
‘At this young age, how do you manage without the company of your wife?’ asked Mr Raghavan, stroking is bald pate.
‘This is your chance, KTR, to ask him the million-dollar question that you always wanted to ask Mr Raghavan,’ I told myself. Parrying his question, I ventured, ‘Mr Raghavan, I have heard a story about you. Is there any truth in that?’
‘Tell me what you heard,’ Mr Raghavan said, ‘and I’ll tell you if there is any truth in it.’
So I told him what I had heard. The posting in the village branch in the High Ranges, the immoral trafficking, the police raid, the night in the cooler, the works.
Mr Raghavan wanted the finer details of the report. I came out with whatever I knew. (I had not been able to resist the temptation to make further enquiries – after all, I am also human – and curious if not prurient! – and collect the lurid details.) The incident dated back to the 1960’s. Mr Raghavan, when posted in a village branch in the High Ranges, was forced to be a grass widower and to take up residence in the only lodge in the village as his wife was employed as a teacher in a private school far away and could not shift.
I told him that according to my informer, Mr Raghavan used to go overboard exchanging pleasantries with customers of the fair sex, gallivanting with the village belles and making advances to the ones who responded to the gestures.
The husband of the part-time sweeper in his office was a soldier and most part of the year, he was away in the frontiers. With the respective spouses not on the scene, Raghavan and Leelamma evolved a working arrangement.
Everything was fine till one night the Sub-Inspector of Police swooped down on the lodge and caught the luckless woman and Mr Raghavan, shall we say, for want of a better expression, pants down? That was how, my sleuth said, Mr Raghavan happened to spend a night in the cooler.
I sat back after my deposition and stared at Mr Raghavan.
‘You got it all wrong, my friend,’ he said. ‘Do you mean I can stoop to such lows? She was a head-clerk, not a sweeper.’