Sunday, March 9, 2008

Saluting Youth

The other day, in accompanied my mother to her bank so that she could withdraw her pension from the bank (a nationalized bank!) she had a hip fracture some months back and although the bank was is within walking distance, she has lost the self confidence to make it to the bank on her own.

The first thing we had to do once we entered the bank premises was to obtain a token. This was the rule even though it was the middle of the month and the bank was empty. But the bank – though a public sector one has gone high tech and instead of the brass tokens that were handed out a decade or so ago (it has been a long time since I actually went to a bank!), they have installed a gadget where you press button and a piece of paper with the token number oozes out of the opening of the gadget which looks a bit like the credit card reading machines in shopping malls.

The man who attended to us at the counter was a man who looked as if it wouldn’t be too long before he himself would be queuing up where my mother was and some other guy would be sitting on the other side of the counter. I thought a man like that would be sympathetic to a senior citizen and her requirements but I was to be proved wrong. As soon as we had presented the cheque which my mother had spent all afternoon writing so that she would get it right, the elderly clerk observed that some piece of writing on the cheque was not visible enough and she should either re write and resign the cheque or write a fresh one.

When I took it back, my observation was that every thing was perfectly legible even though it was true that a portion of the cheque was a bit fainter may be than the rest. But it was certainly nothing much to make a fuss about. By the time I came back my notions about PSUs and the associated images were of course reinforced all over again, but more disturbingly, I came back with some freshly injected notions about age – and whether it was a true aphorism that you cant teach an old dog new tricks.

In my bank the atmosphere is distinctly youthy. There are a few cabins but though they have boards dangling over them, and they are more in the nature of large cubicles. Usually they are not occupied – the folks sitting there are out some where manning some counter dealing with customers whom the bank calls clients. The bank doesn’t seem to have any clerks or if they have, you cant make out who is one. The person who is sitting down with you to an answer a banking query today could be at the teller window tomorrow dispensing cash or in the back office the day after.

But of course this is not a comparison of banks, this is more about attitudes – the young and the old and some of that rubs off. Most of the nationalized banks are close to a hundred years old and most of the newsy private banks are a decade old. It is simplistic to say that they young are all good and great and the old are all cranky, hide bound souls but there is a distinct freshness with which one does business with the young.

But coming back to my bank when you grab one of these young people – they seem forever in a hurry and their attention span to listen is pretty limited, the gut reaction is to try and help – think out of the box if necessary but provide a solution. No they are not breaking any laws, but they are able to think unconventionally, call up a colleague on the spot on their mobile with you sitting right in front, and within minutes you have an answer.

This “can do” attitude is infectious and helpful. Sure the bank wants my business, but so does the public sector bank of my mum. But the old men and women out there have al the time to listen provided you get your tokens and got to the right counters and said your salaams but having heard you out, they will use their newly gained knowledge to only tell you that the problem you thought to be relatively simple is actually more complicated and twisted like knots.

May be I should go out too and make a pitch for younger leaders, parliamentarians and others to be given more roles and responsibilities in running the country; my small example at the bank tells me. The old have heaps of knowledge but they use their knowledge to not solve problems but tie up the whole thing in complicated knots. The young relatively speaking know less, but they use the little that they know to tackle the issues and give life a push forward.

As Asif Zardari was saying the other day about Kashmir; may be it is right to keep the issue in cold storage till all of the older generation who know every thing about the dispute first hand fade away and then let a later generation with less knowledge but perhaps better perspective tackle the matter dispassionately. May be he was right. And some advice for the common man - if you want less red tape and more banking choose a new generation bank; if you want a free course on banking laws and lack hobbies to pass your time – go to a nationalized one.