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Life at tirunelveli – a new chapter

It was not too difficult to settle down in the new place. Tirunelveli is the District headquarters and hence had all the facilities of a small town. The town itself comprised of two parts, the Tirunelveli Town and the Tirunelveli Junction. There were cinema halls, decent boarding and lodging hotels and a couple of good hotels which served south Indian meals. The huge Nellaippan (Lord Shiva) Temple stands majestically in the middle of the Town. There were a number of Banks mostly in the Town part of the town but State Bank of India was in the Junction area. It was situated in a large building owned by the Bank. Vast stretches of green paddy fields spread for miles behind the Bank buildings making an ideal setting. I was to meet the Accountant of the Branch who was an old acquaintance of father and had his residence in the agraharam where he was living with his wife. As soon as I arrived in town by train he met me at the station and took me to his home. He told me about another boy, also a new recruit, from Cuddalore who had taken up a room in a hotel and could accommodate me also with him. I shifted to his room the same day. The next morning he took me to the Tamraparni River running close to the town where we had our bath. It was my first experience of bathing in a river. There was a small Muruga temple on the banks of the river where we offered our prayers. This became our daily ritual during most of our stay in the town. After returning from the river we dressed up and had our breakfast in the same hotel before leaving for the Bank. I formally joined the Bank which was to transform two days later into the State Bank of India on the 1st July 1955. I was for all practical purposes one of the early employees of the newly constituted government owned State Bank of India.

It was a thrilling experience to start working in a government institution. The entire staff welcomed me and two other young men who joined the Bank a couple of days later. As I was not very happy with the hotel we were staying in I persuaded my friend to shift to a more modern comfortable spacious and clean hotel on the main road and closer to the Bank. The three of us pooled our resources and shared the room rent which was Rs.25/- per month, pitiable at today’s standards. The same hotel served sumptuous meals at as low a cost as Rs.10/- per month. We spent most of our time in the Bank itself doing a lot of work which pleased our bosses. We spent the week ends going to the movies (Tamil only) or seeing interesting places nearby. As Tirunelveli is centrally situated in the south Tamil Nadu, we could go out to many pilgrim centres like Tiruchendur, Madurai, Tanjavur, Tuticorin etc. We also made a trip to the famous waterfalls at Kuttalam. By this time another boy, also a new recruit, had joined our group and the four of us had a wonderful time together. Time passed quickly and I had almost forgotten my life at Bangalore, the English movies, the cricket and football matches etc. although I yearned to get back. Upon confirmation of my service after six months I applied for a transfer to Bangalore which was stoutly refused by the Agent, the head of the Branch. He advised me not to go to Bangalore which was a large branch where I could not learn anything being confined to one seat for years together.

He wanted me to stay on and learn the different types of work in a smaller branch like Tirunelveli, study for the Bank’s internal tests, pass them and try to get a promotion early as I appeared to him to be an intelligent worker. Though disappointed a little I decided to stay on.I participated in a number of activities in the Bank and on one occasion I even made an impromptu speech, my very first attempt at public speaking. I organized a circulation reading club and arranged volley ball matches for the staff. As I had plenty of leisure time on week days I maintained a very close touch with all my relatives and friends by letters. I was a great letter writer and can write volumes though the recipient of these epistles will find them long winding and boring. I maintained a note where I noted down the names of all those to whom I wrote, the replies received and the subsequent correspondence. I have preserved those letters even to this day almost half a century later. At about this time there was a strike of Bank employees and all the workers other than the Officers in Tirunelveli took part in it. There was a meeting organized to review the strike situation which was attended by all the Bank workers stationed in Tirunelveli. My room mates with me happened to attend the meeting more by chance than design. An interesting thing happened at the meeting. As members of the premier Bank (State Bank) the organizers of the meeting wanted a State Bank representative to preside over the meeting. And my colleagues pushed me to take the chair which I most hesitantly did and made a good speech too! On hindsight I realize that the seeds of my public speaking ability were sown then on that fateful day. Later I have made many speeches in my Bank life, all extempore and won laurels too. I and my friends arranged an excursion to Kanyakumari for a week end and we had a wonderful time visiting interesting places around. There were also excursions arranged for the whole Bank staff to many interesting places around our town which included Manimuthar Dam (under construction) and Tuticorin, an ancient port town. I also visited Trivandrum on a week end when the National Football Championship was conducted during this period. All along I was keeping in constant touch with my folks back in Bangalore and Calicut. I was also able to pay back all the unpaid bills I had incurred during my last few months in Bangalore when I was on my own. All in all my stay in Tirunelveli helped me steady my life. During this period the only regret I had was that I put a full stop to all my writing to newspapers. After almost a year I renewed my application for transfer to Bangalore which happily came through around September 1956. I bid adieu to my friends in the Bank and many outside too. It was very difficult to say good bye to my friends many of whom saw me off at the railway station. It was also sort of heart wrenching to say good bye to the cute little town, my home for the past year, where I spent the initial days of my career in the Bank. I finally said au revoir to the wide circle of friends I had formed many of whom I may never see again.

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