Wednesday, April 22, 2015


I was in the railway station when the mobile phone rang. The screen displayed a number, not a name. I answered the phone. An unfamiliar voice. 'I am Nilanjan, son of ...' The rest was drowned in the roar of the engine of a passing goods train. Unable to continue the conversation in the cacophony, I disconnected and sent an SMS message to the caller: 'Will call back in a few minutes.'
When I returned the call, it all fell into place. Nilanjan is the younger son of my former boss. He is in town with his mother and would be leaving the next day. Before I could ascertain where they were staying, a train arrived, disgorging hundreds of passengers and with that the noise levels rose. So I sent another SMS message: 'Will be back by 7 PM. Can we meet around 8 PM? Regards to your father.'
The response read, 'Sure. We will meet in the lobby of the hotel. Also, my father passed away on April 05, 2009.'
I was stunned. Shocked. My one-time boss had been dead for six years and I did not know! How remiss on my part! Shame on me!
Mr Nirmal Chandra Banerjee was a perfectionist in matters. The impact of the changes he made to the letters put up to him for signature had to be seen to be believed. When I tended to draft letters with a flourish, he would advise me, 'Reserve your poesy for other occasions. To be effective, official letters have to be matter-of-fact.' The first thing that he would do to any draft was to spot and delete all the superlatives, the very's and the extremely's. 'These add not a whit to the letter,' he would say.
Mr Banerjee had a wry sense of humour. His instruction was, 'Give me all the easy-to-dispose files for my first hour in the office so that I can have a cup of tea at 11 AM after disposing sixty files.' When travelling by air, he would take some reading material - most often the latest copy of the TIME Magazine or The Economic and Political Weekly or The Economist - and eyes twinkling, tell me jestingly, 'One should not only be erudite, one should also appear erudite.'
He practised speed reading. He did not have to pore over files or read them line by line. One glance at the centre of the page, and Mr Banerjee would have grasped the essence of the contents. I have been astonished at the alacrity with which he would spot the crux of the matter. I might have spent half an hour reading the paper but completely missed the point.
At times, when he wanted to make sure of facts or instructions of the Government or the Reserve Bank, Mr Banerjee would tell me, 'I recall that there was a letter three years back from the Finance Ministry - or was it the Reserve Bank? I don't recall - on this subject. Please show it to me.' I would search high and low, and, having failed, finally go back to him saying that I could find no such letter. 'Then there may have been no such letter,' he would say, but in the process of making me search for that elusive letter, he had made sure that the paper on which he was affixing his signature was foolproof, what if it had made me turn the office upside down?
He had a mind of his own. Unlike several executives, he was never influenced by those who carry tales. He was dictated by his judgement of men, matters and circumstances, by his conscience. With the imminent superannuation of his Secretary, a vacancy was to arise in a couple of months. Mr Banerjee chose me to the position, though I had, in my then short stint, earned the reputation of being a rebel of sorts.
A week or two before I took up the assignment, a former Senior Executive who had retired and was heading a private bank called on Mr Banerjee for discussing some official matter. Towards the end of the meeting, this gentleman told Mr Banerjee that he had chosen the wrong person as his Secretary, a view that was endorsed by a General Manager who had a favourite of his in mind for the assignment.
Despite the fact that two General Managers - one serving and another retired - cautioned him that that I was unsuitable for the assignment, Mr Banerjee did not change his mind. He vetoed them and did not relent. I hope I did not belie the trust he reposed in me.
Mr Banerjee was a keen bridge player. People would talk in hushed tones about his obsession with the game, but I can say with confidence that his friendship with the senior bureaucrats making the foursome has helped the Bank on several occasions in solving intricate issues involving the government. Like Sir Winston Churchill who said that he had taken more out of whiskey than whiskey had taken out of him, I daresay that the Bank has taken more out of his bridge sessions than what the bridge sessions have have taken out of the Bank.
A little before retirement, Mr Banerjee was appointed a Member of the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction for five years after which he settled down in Gurgaon. I had appeared before him representing the Bank in several cases that came up before the BIFR. Later, I continued to keep in touch with him during my deputation to State Bank of Patiala. I had even called on him at his residence a few times.
He always had a special place for me in his heart. When I told him that I was being interviewed for the post of the Chairman of IDBI in 2000, he told me, 'You will not be selected, but don't lose hope. You're too young for the position. You will be chosen when the Chairman now selected retires.' Mr Banerjee was very cut up with me when opted for voluntary retirement in 2001 and put in my papers. 'Adversities will drift. Stay on,' he had urged me. That was the one and only instance when I disobeyed him.
I had sent an invite for my son Hari's marriage in January 2009 and was surprised that there was no response from him. Little did I know that in less than three months, he had breathed his last.
I have been remiss, sir, in not keeping in regular touch with you, but the fact that Mrs Sheila Banerjee and Nilanjan sought me out yesterday and connected me to your older son Anup (who, coincidental it may seem, works in the same bank as my own son Hari) tells me that you will not allow the tie to snap.