Mid-March is a bad time to come here. An old high-footfall branch of a nationalized bank, handling a huge amount of salary and pension accounts, not to mention all the other stuff that banks must do. Just when you think the salary rush is subsiding, the last minute invest-before-March-end rush begins.
They say the best time to go is just when it opens , or just when it is about to close. It isn't always possible and so one lands up just before noon.
And acquires a token number from an automated machine. A quick look at the currently processed token gives no respite. 40 more numbers to go.
Ever since this token number thing started, the place resembles a crowded waiting room. Except, in a waiting room, some folks are sprawled, some enjoy shut-eyes, and some are having a good crib and / or laugh about something. This actually resembles, sometimes, a wedding reception set-up, where the important types sit on stage, and the guests who are taking a breather before going up to greet the main folks, are sitting facing the stage, like in an auditorium; watching the going ons. Like in a reception, the front row, has sofas, meant for important folks , mostly a euphemism for "the grooms side". The other rows have slightly less value chairs. There are , of course, a large number of folks, wandering around, emerging from doors with intimidating notices and designations. Some with "Unauthorized Entry strictly prohibited". Nothing is said about Exits.
An old lady , who could be in her late 80's sits in a row in front, with someone who looks to be her grandson, in his thirties or forties. Very thick glasses, a tough looking walking stick, and a piercing gaze. They have been there since a long time. Occasionally, the grandson gets up, walks around, using his phone, checks something with a counter, looks at some papers in his bag, and returns. Once in a while, the old lady will close her eyes, mutter something seriously by herself, possibly prayers. The sound of a token number change notification alerts her. Her grandson shakes his head. She waits. This goes on for an hour .
Up ahead, there are eight glass fronted counters, bearing the redundant words "Single window". Except for a six inch by six inch opening, the rest of the window has glass. Behind 6 out of the eight windows there is no one. There are some other windows with different signs. With some people behind them. The hierarchy of windows is complete.
A request to open more windows is deemed impossible. Everyone is busy, no one to handle new counters, there is some excuse put forth about disks. Computer storage disks. In these terrabyte, fancy-networking times, it sounds a bit odd.
Behind 2 windows who seem to be bearing the brunt of the waiting numbers , now exceeding 40, are two folks, busily doing their stuff. To complicate things in a world of queues, these 2 windows bear large notices, saying, you can use your ATM card there, WITHOUT being in a queue. It called the Green Channel . There is this small card swiping machine, and presumably , counter staff gives the money/accepts deposits on some kind of automatic notification. The chanel may be Green for ATM types, but is clearly turning Red for those waiting in lines with tokens, to sit behind the two 6x6" small windows and do their business.
Finally, the lady's token number happens. The grandson has mobilized himself and more importantly, his grandmother, a couple numbers ago. She stands up with great difficulty, pressing on her walking stick, oscillates a bit, before stabilizing, and approaches the window with tiny steps; there is already a smart ATM type there doing his stuff, almost blocking the counter, and she and her grandson wait for some time, before a chair can be pulled out for her at the counter. Passbooks, and forms are passed in and out, signatures done, things are stamped, and she has been looking on, in full concentration, at the man inside, who is staring at a screen.
Five minutes later, she is done. The grandson moves on gesticulating to her. She stands up again, bends, straightens up, oscillates again, as the grandson rushes to help her stabilize in place. She is off, small steps, and the tapping stick, when she suddenly stops, and looks around. Suddenly finds what she is looking for.
Far away to one side, on a shelf, high above an empty desk, is a bunch of photos of the Goddesses of Learning and Fortune. Garlanded with fragrant flowers. She has noticed these when she came in.
She stops, does a namaskar with a bent head in the general direction, touches her hand to her head, and laboriously turns around, smiling at her grandson who has reached the door. The tiny steps, with the shaking stick, resume their journey.
At the end of the day, she is probably happier,wiser and less stressed than so many educated, expert types.
Nothing has fazed her. She knows WHO is in charge.