Out of pocket

In 1984, I was posted at the College of Combat, Mhow, which is now the War College. In nearby Indore, the State Bank of India was conducting a course for young would-be managers in their staff college. They sent a request for someone from the college to speak to them on ‘styles of military leadership’. I got picked, not for any special qualification but more because of availability.

On the appointed day, a bank officer arrived with a car to pick me up. On the way to the venue, I asked him what the youngsters would like to hear from me. “Sir, as preamble if you could also tell them what you expect when as a client you visit a bank to en-cash a cheque, it would be helpful”. As the old Ambassador car chugged along I wondered how best I could put across the point requested of me. Luckily in my childhood village there had been many good story tellers. Some were retained in my mind and I chose one.

There was a young farmer whose wife died leaving behind an infant son. As per prevailing norms the younger sister of the late wife married him and a year later they had another son. The two boys, aged some 16 months apart, were growing up together. They wore similar clothes, consumed the same food and attended the same school. The farmer knew that the wife treated the two boys with equal care and love. However, he noticed that the older boy was losing weight and was becoming withdrawn.

On some cajoling the boy opened up and said that while serving them their food, his mother kept her hand on the head of his younger brother but did not do it to him. Driving home the point I said when I visit the bank to draw money, I am looking for the hand on my head; money in any case I would get since it is my own. The point was well received by the young trainees.

The officer came back to Mhow to drop me. After a cup of tea when he got up to leave, he took out a sealed envelope and saying “This is for you sir” he kept it on the table. On opening the envelope I found a crossed cheque for Rs 150 as my remuneration.

As was required, I sent up a minute sheet to the commandant giving feedback on the assignment. At the end I mentioned about the payment. Staff officer to the commandant was a batch-mate and a good friend. He called me up and accusingly asked “what have you done?”  Even before I could explain he cautioned me that accepting the cheque could land me in trouble and disciplinary action could not be ruled out. In a lowered voice he told me as a favour he was sending the file back without showing it to the commandant. He further advised me to return the cheque and prepare a fresh minute sheet avoiding any reference to the payment.     
I sent back the cheque, paying for the postage out of my pocket.

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