After I moved into Agra, land of the Taj Mahal, opening a local bank account became imperative.
I had all the documents required to prove I am an Indian citizen and was confident it would only take a few minutes to open an account with any of the Nationalized Banks.
With this confidence, I walked into a Nationalized Bank with my documents. It was afternoon, and the shabbily dressed, middle-aged, fat man behind the new account counter—perhaps just finishing lunch—was leaning back fully on his chair, as if relaxing at home. A few buttons of his pink shirt were open, showing his undershirt and the grey and black chest hairs peeking out.
Noticing my standing in front of the counter, he glared at me from behind his black-framed spectacles as though I was his age-old enemy. He swung his head upwards with eyes opening further in a gesture to ask, “What do you want?” I said I wanted to open a new account.
Most reluctantly, he bent down to pick up a waste bin and released all the reddish brown gutka (betel nut and tobacco) juice he had been so lovingly preserving in his mouth.
Still chewing on the gutka, he asked me to come back tomorrow with the required documents, the originals and a photocopied set, along with a passport-sized photograph. As he spoke I could see glimpses of deep brown gutka pigments on his teeth, reminiscent of public toilets that are never cleaned.
I told him I had the documents with me now, both original and photocopies. Hearing this, he stared at me for a few seconds as if I asked him to donate his kidney, and he was unsure how to answer.
He stretched out his hand for my papers, and I passed them to him. He put the papers on his desk and started checking them as if he had sniffed some forgery in them. Returning the papers to me he said “But you are not from Agra?”
“I’m not—but I am an Indian. Isn’t that more important?”
“You need proof of residence proof in Agra and an introducer with a bank account here. He has to come here and endorse that he knows you. Only then we will open your account.”
I don’t remember what my mental state was at that moment—rejected, frustrated, or humiliated—but I think it was a combination of all of them.
I came back to my office, and upon hearing about my episode at the bank, my colleague said that he would introduce me in his bank but the paper formalities would remain the same. The next day we went to his bank. It was a different Nationalized Bank, but this one was closer to work. The branch was small with only a handful of staffers. The person behind the account opening counter was a young, smart woman, and the only lady in the branch who spoke English.
The documents verified and submitted, the introducer introduced me and deposited the money, so technically the account was opened. But I was asked to come back the following day to collect my account kit.
“What time should I come?”
“Any time after 10.”
“How long will it take?”
“The kit will be ready in just a few minutes—you’ll just have to sign and receive it.”
The next morning, I returned to the bank at 10 am. The bank had just opened and the staff was getting ready to start the day. The lady was sipping tea. She saw and recognized me and pointed to the seats meant for customers some 5 to 6 feet away from the counter. She asked me to sit. I had an important business meeting and wanted to be there in time, but I obliged.
After waiting for 10 minutes I returned to the counter. The woman was doing something on her computer and gave me an irritated look.
“You will have to give me more time. Please wait until I call you,” she said, as if she were my class teacher.
I tried to calm myself down—any arrogance on my part would only delay things, and I didn’t want to spoil my mood for the meeting I had later that day.
I sat in the customer’s chair looking at my watch every few seconds.
Suddenly, the other middle-aged bank teller sitting next to the lady I was talking to started talking to me.
“Where are you originally from?”
“When did you come to Agra?”
“Is your family staying with you here?”
“What does your wife do?”
“She’s a homemaker.”
“Which part of India is she from?”
“She’s from the States.”
Throughout our conversation, the woman I was waiting on had not looked up from her computer, but upon hearing this, she instantly looked at me, surprised.
“Is she an N.R.I.?” meaning non-resident Indian.
“No, she’s a US citizen.”
Now she joined the conversation with a flurry of questions—How did we get to know each other? Where did we first meet? When did we decide to get married? Where did the wedding take place? Were there any objections from our parents?
I answered carefully, as I am not too eager to divulge personal details to people I hardly know. She took out my application papers from her drawer, went online, completed the formalities, and the account opening kit was handed to me within five minutes with an exclamation, “Love is beyond boundaries!”
That night on the dinner table I narrated the entire incident to my wife.
“At least people give you priority for marrying an American girl!” she said, and we both laughed loudly.
Since that day, the staff was very friendly and helpful every time I went to the bank. My work was taken care of very quickly. The lady who initially made me wait was always the first to greet me. She would take personal initiative to get my work done faster.
And she would always inquire about my wife—How is she doing? Is she enjoying at Agra? Which places in Agra have we seen?
One day she said, “You should bring your wife with you to the bank someday. I want to meet her!”
I could only smile in answer.
I still go to the bank, but don’t see the lady anymore. She has been transferred to some rural branch far away from the city.