Those who have been fortunate enough to work in a Public Sector Undertaking commonly referred to as PSU would have many stories and anecdotes to narrate.
If all these people could start penning down just one interesting story out of their myriad experiences it would create copious and interesting literature.
We would have a great compilation of short stories and who knows a very interesting novel too.
This is one from my memory manuscript during my days at National Insurance.
Rewind to 1990.
I was posted at Indore, the financial capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh in India, as a greenhorn Assistant Administrative Officer. Being an engineer I would have to travel extensively within the state to visit and carry out Risk Inspection of various Industries and factories both in the large and MSME Sector.
The visits to the MSMEs were interesting as that took me to the interiors of the state and often to remote and Godforsaken places to visit small solitary units standing in the middle of nowhere. It was tough too as sometimes I had to stay at run-down motels, pillion ride on someone’s two-wheeler on muddy village trucks, eat at roadside dhabas, sometimes walk miles and so on.
However, in the process, I visited many interesting places and met many interesting people.
Khargone was one such place and Mr O.P.Jain was one such man.
Khargone is a district in Madhya Pradesh and the District Headquarter was in the town of Khargone named after the district.
The district lies in the Nimar region.
In the ancient period, the Haihayas of Mahishmati (present-day Maheshwar: Does that remind us of the Film Bahubali ) ruled this region. Later the area was under the Paramaras of Malwa and Ahirs of Asirgarh. The area was under Malwa Sultanate of Mandu. In 1531, Gujarat sultan Bahadur Shah brought this area under his control.
Later it passed on to the Mughal Rule as Akbar annexed the territory and later the territory passed through the Peshwas to the Holkars of Indore, Sindhias of Gwalior and Ponwars of Dhar.
Post-independence and merger of the Princely states with Union of India in 1948, this territory became West Nimar district of Madhya Bharat.
Khargone district had been part of the Nerbudda (Narmada) Division of the Central Provinces and Berar, which became the state of Madhya Bharat (later Madhya Pradesh) after India’s independence in 1947. On 1 November 1956, this district became part of the newly formed state of Madhya Pradesh.
O.P Jain was a simpleton. He was posted at the Khargone Branch of National Insurance as the Branch Manager. He was thus a Senior Government Officer in a small town and carried this post of his with a badge of honour. In and around he was known as “Manager Sahib” and he quite enjoyed the adulation and the respect and why not as this was quite a big deal for a man from very humble and meagre origins.
He was the Branch Manager of a large PSU and he was proud of this.
The area is largely a rural area and his business was confined to insurance of two-wheelers, crops and few cotton ginning and pressing factories. He reported to the Divisional Office at Khandwa which in turn reported to the Regional Office at Indore which in turn reported to the Head Office at Kolkata and for business purposes he often toured the various villages that came under his territory.
One day the Village Panchyat Pradhan told him that being the Manager he should have a car and that would add to his prestige and position.
Mr Jain knew that he was entitled to a car in his current position and he was also aware of the 80-20 car scheme. As per the car scheme the car would virtually be available to him without any extra cost and he only had to make an application to the Division Office at Khandwa. The application would then move up the bureaucratic ladder to the Regional Office – Head Office and would return approved via the same route. After that was done Mr Jain could buy the car and start claiming maintenance, fuel and other perks that came with it as per the scheme. Not to mention the pride of owning a car.
Mr Jain decided to act in right earnest. He immediately contacted the Divisional Manager at Khandwa who directed him to Mr Quershi who was responsible for admin and personnel and handled such matters.
A word or two about Mr Quereshi. Mr Quereshi was a colourful personality and an interesting character. He believed in living life to the fullest with a smile and he was great at pulling pranks on people without batting an eyelid.
Of course, Mr Jain did not know this.
Mr Quereshi placed a call to Mr Jain, introduced himself, in a jiffy made friendship with him and called him over to Khandwa. A date was decided and the meeting was set up.
On the appointed day Mr Jain reached Khandwa with a surreal glow on his face awash with the thought of becoming the proud owner of a car. He was heartily welcomed and greeted by Mr Quereshi and they immediately struck up a chord. In half an hour Mr Quereshi knew a lot about Mr Jain,his upbringing, his family, his ambitions, his wishes, his dreams. Very soon Mr Quereshi was hosting Mr Jain to lunch at a nice restaurant that boasted of sumptuous vegetarian food. He was hosting Mr Jain at Company’s cost of course.
During lunch, Mr Quereshi came to the topic of the car.
“O.P so you want to apply for a car”, said Quereshi.
“Oh yes”, replied Mr Jain.
“Are you aware of the Pros and cons of the scheme and do you realize that in your present posting as Branch Manager of Khargone which is a small town it is not a good idea to go for a car”.
Mr Jain was just enjoying the Tomato Onion soup when he was taken aback and looked askance at Quereshi.
“Look” Said Qureshi, “ Car is something you can apply any time you want in your position as Branch Manager but it does not make sense when you are posted at Khargone”. “The area you cover is largely rural and most of the villages are better accessed on foot or a two-wheeler and since you have a two-wheeler of your own already you can easily cover these areas on your two-wheeler. Most of the times in the bad roads of the area you would not be able to use the car and the problem will get compounded during the monsoons. The car will mainly lie idle, require maintenance and you would not be able to produce the required fuel bills as you would hardly be able to use it. Since the car would not be used much you will lose in terms of the maintenance allowances too as these are linked to the kilometre usage of the car”.
“ You need to think rationally O.P” continued Quereshi”. “This car would only become a showpiece and would soon become a financial burden on you”. “The car is not lost upon you”. “As soon as you get transferred to some other place which is urban you can immediately apply for the car”. “Only then will the car make sense to you and I mean financially as well, what with all the allowances and fuel reimbursements and the like”. “But Now, not at all”.
Mr Jain was bewildered but what Quereshi said was making some sense. “ “Well Quereshi, I get your point,so you are saying I don’t buy the car now”. “ If so what next”. This was the Question in Mr O.P Jains mind which he posed to Quereshi,
“Aha there you go O.P”.
“I knew you were an intelligent dude,” said Quereshi. “Let us first order the main course”
The menu was decided. Paneer Tikka, Yellow Dal Tadka, Jeera Rice and a Mixed Veg. Items which Mr Jain liked. He was beginning to think that Quereshi had something better in store for him.
Quereshi was a Pure Non-Vegetarian and he hated this food but he knew O.P had taken the bait and that kicked him. In any case Salma, his wife was making Mutton for dinner.
“So O.P do you know that in such situations the Company has a special provision of providing a horse and only the CMD of the Company has the authority to sanction this”.
Mr Jain almost fell off his chair. “ A horse”… You mean, “ A Horse.” He blabbered almost knocking off the glass of water in front of him. With a bewildered expression writ large on his face he looked up at Quereshi.
“That’s exactly what I mean”, said Quereshi with a mysterious smile hanging from his lips.
But Quereshi “ What will I do with a horse, Where will I Keep it, how does it help, I don’t know how to ride”. Mr Jain was feeling nervous as well as confused.
The Panner Tikka had arrived and Quereshi urged that they start eating.
“ Look O.P”, continued Quereshi. “A horse would mean huge financial gain to you”. “The company pays for maintenance and fodder and unlike the car, no bills are required for this as there are no Garages and workshops for horses”. “You can thus claim a monthly amount towards these expenses without any bills and this money is yours for keeps”. “This is a direct financial gain to you as there is no way one can check and verify these expenses”. “And, as for the horse, you can let it graze in the lovely green fields of the village”. “The horse grazes for free and you get paid for it”. “It’s the jackpot O.P”. “Very few people know about this scheme but you are a friend so I am telling you”.
“As far as riding it is concerned you need not ride it”. “You can just keep it with you tied outside your house, and we will get one of the village lads to look after the horse at a very nominal cost”. “I can reimburse you for this and you can present a handwritten self-declaration towards this expense”. “See this bill is in your hands and even if you claim slightly extra no one would question”.
“If you so wish you could start learning to ride too”. “You could soon be the next Texan on horseback you know”.
“Just one word of caution O.P”. “Tell no one about this as this is a very special sanction”.
“All in all you thus stand to gain financially to a great extent and this would not be possible with a car”. “The car you can always buy later as per the company scheme”. “See you are lucky that you are posted at Khargone and you financially stand to gain by applying for a horse”.
Quereshi sounded genuine and Mr Jain saw reason in what he said, he was starting to get convinced.
The main course had come and Quereshi was enjoying this.
“ There you go O.P, “ said Quereshi. “Now let me tell you how to make an application”. “You need to apply on plain paper mentioning your Name, Employee Number, Location, Designation and give brief details of the locality, which I will help you with”.
They were into the main course now and Mr Jain was happy with the prospect of getting a horse on Co’s money. He had realized that this was a bit of a money-spinner and who did not want money.
The dessert was the only thing that Quereshi liked. Jalebis and Rabri.
After the lunch while they walked back to the office they discussed the process of applying for the horse and that Mr Jain should directly post the envelope to the CMD marking it as Personal and Confidential as this was supposed to be a special sanction resting only with the CMD. Superscribing the envelope as Personal and Confidential would ensure that no one else opened it.
Satisfied thus and thanking Quereshi profusely Mr Jain went back to Khargone in the evening. The next few days went into secretive discussions with Quereshi and preparing the application. As Quereshi had said this was a very special sanction and no one should know about it.
Finally, the application was ready and under the advice of Quereshi Mr Jain posted it through the local post office.
He had even calculated the amount of money he could gain monthly in terms of fodder, maintenance of the horse etc.
Almost every day Quereshi and Mr Jain would speak to each other and discuss the prospects of the approval of the horse.
In the meantime, Quereshi narrated the incident to quite a few people in the Company known to him.
By word of mouth, the news had spread and almost everyone knew that Mr Jain had applied for a horse. Everyone waited for the Head Office to respond. The rumour was circulating but Mr Jain was in a small office in a small town and the news could not penetrate his world of make-believe.
15 days after the posting of this letter to the CMD of National the landline phone of Mr Kakkar, the Regional Manager rang on a Saturday at 8.00 AM. A lazy weekend when Mr Kakkar enjoyed some extra sleep. He cursed and abused as dreary eyed he got up from bed, staggered and stumbled to the phone in his half slumber state, groped for the phone and picked it up.
“Kakkar” the voice at the other end was stern and strong. Kakkar recognized the voice of the CMD and the slumber left him immediately. He was fully attentive now. “ Yes Sir”.
“ Are we giving horses to our Branch Managers, have you lost it”.
Kakkar was dumbstruck but in the next ten minutes, he was given to understand what had happened along with an earful from the CMD inter-alia warning him of posting such foolish people as Branch Managers. In the next half an hour he spoke to his Personnel and Admin Head who knew nothing about it, they contacted the Khandwa Divisional Manager who knew nothing about it but whose gut feeling told him that Quereshi might have been involved in this. Quereshi was called on his landline and he admitted to this prank.
Both Quereshi and Mr Jain were summoned in person to the Regional Office the next working day where they were admonished and hauled up and had to apologise and were let off with a warning.
Later the Regional Manager took Quereshi aside and told him not to carry his pranks to a level that the CMD of the Company would get involved and they had a laugh around it.
Over the next few years, Mr Jain had a tough time facing people from National Insurance as they would laugh both in front of him and behind him. Some would directly ask him about the horse or tell him how foolish and gullible he had been and he had to carry the embarrassment with himself for long. He was also given various nicknames like Horsey, Colt, Ghoda Babu and so on.
Mr Jain did not speak to Quereshi for about a month but finally called him up and vented out hurling abuses at Quereshi for making a fool of him. Quereshi had expected this and was up for this situation. He charged back saying “ O.P I trusted you but you let me down and I would not speak to you ever”.
“Oh Hello,” said O.P “who trusted whom”?
“O.P I had told you that this had to be a secret as these are special sanctions and I am sure you told somebody and that’s why this got messed up”. “ Come on O.P” continued Quereshi “ I tried to help you but ended up apologizing and getting a warning”. ”This is not done”.
Quereshi sounded agitated, angry, hurt and Mr Jain again fell for it. He thought and thought.
“ Oh Yes Quereshi”, he said. “I had told this to my friend Pawan the Branch Manager of Datia but I had told him not to tell anyone”.
“ Now I know,” said Quereshi “ As they say never do a good deed for anyone” and banged the phone down.
Afterwards, Mr Jain made up with Quereshi feeling guilty about not keeping a secret but till his last day at the office, he was not sure whether Quereshi did play a prank on him.
Had O.P Put his cart before the horse? The readers may decide.