What's in a signature?

It was rush-hour at the bank and I was there on relief duty. In the early 1970s, computers were virtually unknown which meant that everything had to be done manually including signature verification on the cheques. Thanks to the computers it is such a simple exercise today. There was a payment scroll with one withdrawal waiting to be cleared. Meanwhile, I had been clearing other payments that were coming in an endless stream when the peon came to me reminding about this payment. He told me that the customer waiting for it was very important and she was in a hurry, pointing in the direction of a lady at the counter; patiently or otherwise I had no means of knowing because she was in a burkha. He was a senior peon of the bank and I being new to the branch he was only trying to help.

It was a withdrawal slip for Rs 15,000 and the signature was very different from the specimen on record. Normally we need to be extra careful with regard to withdrawal slips that are freely available at the counter and unless accompanied by passbook we do not allow withdrawals.

Forthwith I went to the branch manager Jossy in his glass cabin seeking his guidance as he knew most of the customers personally. As soon as he saw the name of the customer he panned the customers waiting at the counter from his cabin and the lady had by now fortunately lifted the veil off her burkha. Instantly he recognised her and passed the payment himself.

I showed the specimen signature card to him and pointedly drew his attention to the fact that the signature on the withdrawal was so very different when he too felt fresh signatures needed to be obtained from the customer so that the problem may not persist. The lady was therefore summoned inside the manager’s cabin.

Jossy said, “Your signature appears to have changed a great deal with passage of time madam. Therefore we need to obtain fresh signatures...” “Oh, no! It has not changed at all,” she protested. She was able to speak in flawless English. I felt I had to convince her of the need, so I showed the specimen appearing on the card as also on withdrawal slip signed by her saying, “You can see the difference for yourself, madam.”

From her tell-tale expression on hearing this, it was abundantly clear she understood it all. She smiled and said: “In fact my signature hasn’t changed at all for years. Now, since I’ve difficulty in signing due to my arthritis problem, I requested my daughter here to sign and that’s why!” She showed her daughter who had accompanied her to the cabin.
The branch manager and I were stumped for a moment and remained frozen in that position for a while.

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