Friday, 25 July 2014

Prehistoric Banks Of Bengal

Old ancient wires wound together into cohesive bundles, bound by greying plastic encasing ran across the length of the dusty walls of the bank.
I waited, with folded hands-a patient facade put up to encourage a faster response from the bank employees-as Mr. Ghosh shuffled around looking for my papers and account information at his own lazy pace. The truth was that I was, and always have been, the most impatient woman in the world, and yet, I knew that haggling for time and whining about shoddy service was the last thing one ought to do in a bank in Calcutta.
"You shall have to wait. This is going to take some time. Coming after ten years to activate a dormant account isn't so easy. This isn't a Domino's Pizza outlet. No half an hour guarantees here madam", said Mr. Ghosh through his rather translucent, thick spectacles, wagging a fat hairy finger at me.
Father had told me to hold my tongue and stay calm despite possibly infuriating responses, so I remained silent and understanding of the old man and his careless shuffle, nodding in agreement.
The bank looked like it was stuck in time, in another century, when telephones weren't thin black slabs to touch and fiddle with, but big bulky boxes that rang like relentless alarm clocks. Even the people who worked here looked like they belonged to an older, more complacent era. They wore clothes from the previous decades-bell-bottoms and puffy frilly blouses, sitting sleepily at their work stations and staring at their computer screens as if they were looking for answers to some ancient unsolvable questions. In fact, the computers were probably the only clue that could make you believe that you were, indeed, in 2014 and not a passenger in a time machine.
"Madam, why don't you sit? As I said, this could take a while. Should we get you some cha?" asked Mr. Ghosh. Bengalis and their cha-loving ways will never allow for a guest or a client to escape from their clutches without a cuppa. I nodded my assent and thanked him for the hospitality.
A young boy of about fifteen pulled me a dusty wooden chair out of a corner as he smiled at me, staring rather disconcertingly at me from head to toe, and then settling his eyes on my chest area.
I cleared my throat, as if to tell the kid to snap out of it, and then smiled back at him to express my thanks.
"Oh wait, madam. The chair is awfully dirty, why don't I clean it for you?" said the kid. Without waiting for a response, he pulled a rag out of somewhere and swatted the dust off the rickety chair, making it fly towards me, so that I sneezed for the next two minutes.
When I opened my eyes after the sneeze-fest was over, I saw the same boy walking towards me with a tray in hand. He placed a white porcelain cup with a slightly jagged edge in front of me, smiled again, and trotted away merrily.
Trying to avoid the jagged edge, I sipped on the sickeningly sweet tea, wishing for Mr. Ghosh to really hurry up with my papers. I was suddenly aware of the fact that there weren't too many women in the cramped up bank, and there were at least five sets of creepy eyes set on me and my cup of tea. Like all of us tend to do nowadays in awkward scenarios, I pulled out my phone to fidget with and distract myself.
In reality though, a visit to this place wasn't something I would manage to distract myself from for a while, I was sure.
The fact that it remained like a grimy little bubble, impermeable to the effect of time and change really fascinated me. Less than two hundred metres from the palatial residence of the Governor of West Bengal, it stood there, very inconspicuous from the outside, very resistant to all outside effect and influence on the inside. I wondered how these employees dealt with the real world after 5 pm everyday. Did they step out, expecting Victorian era horse-drawn carriages? Or perhaps the more recent 1960's style cars and trams? Did they, perhaps, go back through some time warp to sleep each night in another decade, coming back the next morning to once again live on this mysterious floor?
My imagination was in overdrive, swapping theories and hypothetical situations when the inimitable Mr. Ghosh returned to his station, noisily dragging his chair into position and dropping a pile of papers on his table for me to sign.
After the formalities were finally completed, I was relieved, and rejoiced in the fact that I was now allowed to return to the 21st century.
I speed-walked my way out of the bank onto the street, inhaling deeply, leaving behind stale oxygen from the time machine I had been sitting in for the past half hour.
This strange little visit left me feeling grateful, for possibly the first time, to be really living in the present. In 2014. We might have wars, rapes, pollution, and corruption, but we can still breathe free, without a sense of claustrophobia or of walls pushing down on us from all sides.
I told daddy that I was never going back to the bank again and that it made me severely uncomfortable and uneasy. He wasn't surprised, simply irritated to know that he'd perhaps have to make a visit to the place himself the next time some paperwork was due. No one likes going there, I realized.
I also realized how there really is no time like the present, no matter how terrible it may seem. No one likes to go retrograde; human beings are genetically designed to move forward. Didn't Darwin say so? We adapt to survive.

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