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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Recovery From Cardiac Bypass Surgery: Day 16

This turned out to be a fun day! After getting up, taking a shower and having my breakfast, I had to accompany my mother to the local bank. There was a very old savings account at this bank which had my mother's and my name on it. This was from the days before I left for the US. Since I was not a citizen of the country anymore, it was not legal for me to hold ordinary savings accounts in this country, so my name had to be removed from this account. Of course, the bank had no clue about my citizenship status or whether I was eligible to hold this account in my name, but my parents were law-abiding citizens and did not want any trouble later because of this.

So, we had to go to the bank to get my name removed from this account. In addition, my parents also wanted to get a couple of other things accomplished at the bank. Pretty simple things, really. They wanted a couple of term deposits renewed and needed an interest statement on another account for income-tax filing purposes (yes, banks here provide interest statements only on demand, not as a matter of course, even though everyone is supposed to file income tax returns as a matter of course, not on demand!).

My mother and I reached the bank around 9 AM, as soon as the bank opened for business. This branch of the bank has about 100 employees, believe it or not. Even though everything is supposed to be computerized, there were stacks of paperwork on everyone's desk. Computerization had made a difference though: the stacks of paperwork were taller than before, because the papers had to be piled onto a smaller area of the desk, with a big CRT monitor and dot-matrix printer occupying the rest of the desk! Different employees had different jobs at the bank. No two employees did the exact same things, so everyone was indispensable! It also meant that no one at the bank could take care of all your banking needs in one stop. Every type of service and/or transaction required you to go to a different employee, and some transactions needed stops in front of multiple employees!

Most of the employees sat in front of computers, seemingly doing nothing (actually, to be entirely fair to them, they did stare at their CRT monitors quite intently from time to time. All the writing on the computer screens was mon0-space white, yellow, green or blue characters on black screens. I am sure the software had advanced user options to enable the users to adjust the colors of the characters according to their preference!). There was a special class of employees who acted as gatekeepers, keeping customers away from these idle employees so that they could enjoy their free time without having to fend off customers themselves.

Since my mother knew one of the employees from previous dealings, we managed to get in front of him right away. When we explained why we were there, he asked me to write a letter requesting that the bank remove my name from the joint account. The bank could do nothing about the situation (even though it was against the rules) without explicit written instructions from the customer. You see, the government here passes rules about every conceivable situation under the sun (I am sure I am in violation of some rule because I blink too fast or too slowly, for instance), but there is no enforcement of any of the rules. It is only law-abiding people who hear about the rules and request changes to comply with the rules. I am sure there are many others who simply couldn't care less.

And they did not have a simple form I could fill out to make my request known to them. It turns out changing ownership of accounts was sufficiently rare that there was no standard form for accomplishing it. So, I had to write a formal letter to make my request. The first letter I wrote did not pass muster because I just requested what I wanted done: the bank wanted my reasons for requesting what I was requesting! I was incredulous, but I had to write another letter explaining why I wanted my name removed from the account in question, then my mother and I had to sign it and hand it over to the bank. And letters in the land of bureaucracy don't just mean a few scratches of the pen on a piece of paper. These were formal, grammatically and stylistically correct, letters that reminded me of my English composition classes in school, and that would have made a lawyer filing a brief before the Supreme Court proud!

After that, the bank wanted documents to verify my mother's identity and address. They could not act on our letter or renew their term deposits without that documentation either. Luckily, my mother had anticipated the need for this verification and had taken her passport and proof of address with her. But the bank wanted copies of the documentation. No problem, right? Wrong. The bank needs copies of these documents from every customer, but the bank did not have any facilities for making photocopies of documents. So, I had to take the documents and find a photocopying shop to get copies. By the time I came back to the bank, we had already spent about 45 minutes there. My mother told me to get the rest of the transactions taken care of and come home by myself, while she went on ahead to prepare lunch.

I waited while the employee then started making entries in his computer to accomplish the seemingly simple tasks of renewing two term deposits and printing out an interest statement for another. One would think that banking software would have the requisite functionality to do these tasks with a few keystrokes each. But, I was apparently badly mistaken. The seconds stretched to minutes and the minutes stretched to just over 2 hours as I sat and watched in mute disbelief. I would have suspected the employee of writing a novel if the computers had been advanced enough for him to do something like that. As it is, I have no idea what the employee could have been doing on that yellow-on-black screen for so long, but take that long he did. Finally, he did produce an interest statement (it had several lines of interest, by quarter I think, but no total, for some reason!). He also renewed the two term deposits and gave me two new term deposit certificates. As for the letter, he took it and told me that it would be taken care of. I had my doubts, but I was beyond caring by now. I thanked him and left the bank, three hours after I had gotten there! At least, the bank was air-conditioned, so I had sat there comfortably, and I was not really missing anything else that I had planned.

We had expected the new internet service provider to install the new equipment either yesterday or today, but so far it had not happened (and no, I was not surprised. As I keep repeating, the more things change, the more they stay the same). It looked like I was not going to get internet access even to confirm my return itinerary. I hated doing it, but I had to make a trek down to our neighbor's place once again for about 15 minutes to take care of confirming my return itinerary and checking to make sure there were no emails that required my immediate attention. While I was at it, I also sent a mail to my manager back in the US apologizing for the silence and explaining to him my lack of internet access. I wrote to him about the progress my father was making, concluded by letting him know I would update him in person once I made it back to the US.

In the evening, the tailor to whom I had given cloth to be stitched into shirts and slacks stopped by with the stitched clothes. I wore one of the pants to check it for fit, and was satisfied, so we paid him and thanked him profusely for stopping by the house to deliver the clothes rather than forcing me to make another trip to his store to pick them up. As a sign of my gratitude, I paid him the equivalent of 50 cents extra over what he had billed me originally, and he was very happy with my generosity. If I had known how to contact him, I might have had him come home to measure me and collect the cloth also instead of making a trip out to his store. I collected his business card, with details about his personal cellular phone number, etc., so that I could do that if the need arose in the future.

All the stuff I needed to take back to the US was fully assembled, so I packed up all the stuff, leaving outside only the clothes I would wear the next day. As expected, all the stuff fit neatly in the two boxes, and their weights came to within a few pounds of the free baggage allowance, so I was good to go. Now, all I had to worry about was whether the luggage would reach the US with me without the airline losing track of it, and whether all the stuff in the baggage would get there without damage. And obviously, I have to cross that bridge only if and when I reach it!

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