Silent Friends by SriLakshmi #InclusiveIndia #SLIIS2014

Have you come across this photo on Facebook?

funny-woman-office-playing-solitaire
Pic Source: These 20 Employees Have Totally Given Up On Life

Thinking this is how bankers work!! Play Solitaire when the world around is waiting for assistance. Well, not really!!

I work in a rural bank in India. Our customers are mostly the meager daily wagers, landless peasants, local baniyas and at times neo rich landlords. Oh, did I forget to mention local politicians, both current and erstwhile leaders. (A Sarpanch’s right hand 10 years ago is also a leader, mind you and we have to treat him like one). But mostly it’s the uneducated, both men and women who keep asking questions about everything, at times the same question twice, thrice and sometimes even the fourth time that keeps moods flaring up in the staff.

Without being based, sitting on the other side of the glass is just not the same as that image out there. More so, when we have a board stating Banking Ombudsman and RTI rules that people can use against us.

A typical day in a bank involves ensuring the cash received and given out are as per the vouchers, writing down denominations on the vouchers, updating scrolls and operating the system – all this in parallel while trying to be patient in answering the N number of questions that people ask. Some negligence in this whole system and you end up paying from your pocket. And man that hurts.

And this along with the attitude issues of ex-Sarpanch, double ex Chairman’s nephew, that odd depositor with the largest balance who throw tantrums like we are living because of them; PHEWW!! Those are to be experienced to be believed. In all these, there comes an innocent old aged village man who asks if he can open an account under Modi Scheme with just his Aadhaar as told on TV. Add the sound of a generator to this and the occasional buzzing phone from head office asking for the latest update on KYC norms; now beat that!

One such frantic day, where most staff was at their rage’s best a young lady walked in. Standing in the middle of the hall with people shouting all around; she seemed oddly oblivious of the sounds. With a smile on her face looking around wondering whom to contact for her work. No one bothered to even make eye contact. We had our own piles to clear and were really not up to adding one more task to our list.Inclusive Society

She waited for a minute; wondering whom to approach. With a faint shrug, she took out a pen and paper and started scribbling. As I was wondering if she was a research student or a scribe out to write an article on how bad Indian banks are; she caught me looking at her. With a smile; she started towards me. I cursed myself for looking at her and yet managed a smile with great effort. I was about to ask her about her work when she pushed a sheet of paper towards me. It read:

“Hi, I am Nithya a teacher at the school for hearing impaired nearby. Would you care to give me a sheet of the rules to be followed for opening an account at your branch? We intend to open accounts for our staff here. Oh, by the way I am challenged too. So please care to write down your name on this sheet for easy communication. Thank you”.

Suddenly, it felt like the whole world was silent. I really didn’t know how to continue the communication. I scribbled hesitantly “Hi did any one come with you”?

She read it with a twitch in her face and underlined the word name and shoved the paper back at me; looking irritated.

I realized my mistake and wrote my name on the sheet. She read it, smiled at me and replied “No, I have come alone. I am a post graduate in English and am a teacher too. Do you think I need support to understand about opening an account”? While the statement sounded polite on paper her face definitely didn’t reflect it.

I realized my foolishness. I realized I offended her. Unknowingly I have just insulted a confident individual for a challenge that she has spiritedly taken. She smiled looking at my guilt filled expression; I felt forgiven.

I realized we had no written rules for account opening documented anywhere in our premises. It was just verbal till date. I hesitantly asked her to give me 5 minutes. She readily obliged. I picked up a sheet and wrote down all the necessary documents needed for account opening wondering how insensible we were till then thinking that we didn’t document such a simple task.

While handing it over; I once again apologized. She waved off with a smile. And the incident was kind of forgotten till 3 days after.

For, there came a packet in courier for me after 3 days. Wondering who sent a courier to me to the office address, I opened it carefully. My colleagues joined inquisitively. There it was. All the rules for account opening neatly typed down in 3 different languages written in children’s handwriting. And there was something else too. A Braille copy of the rules. Without looking at the address, I knew who has sent it. Nithya was still fresh in my mind. Accompanied was a card that read “Hope this helps”. It sure did, to our minds.

Beyond all the fight for gender and social equality I realized; we were not recognizing a part of the society that was trying hard to get included. That tried to fight away their challenges and stand proud in their own way. People who were not asking for help or support; but demanding for their right to be included in a dignified way.

Today; Nithya is one of my close friends. I went to her school uninvited once and was amazed at the discipline and talents of the kids there. Raring to go, raring to fight out their challenged and make their mark. With big dreams and bigger hopes for tomorrow. And the best of all they made me feel as one of them. They tried their best to make me understand their expressions with simple signs without using their seemingly complex sign language. Amongst them I did not feel out of place. Thanks to them, I felt included; in their world.

As I came back I started thinking. Why is that there was not a single challenged person in my school/college or workplace so far?

Shouldn’t we all go to the same school? An inclusive place, where we can learn to communicate with each other; make friends (so what if in signs and scribbling, learn lip moments), and experience each other’s world and passions.

For if the world needed speech to make friends, where would be pets? If we could befriend animals cant we make friends with our fellow beings too.

Best Friends
Pic Source: Some of my best friends on imgfave

The challenge is not for them. It’s for us – To change! Come, Let’s change. Let’s include. Let’s get included.

This short story is an entry in the ManipalBlog.com writing contest 2014, in support of India Inclusion Summit 2014 to be held at Bangalore on November 29th and 30th. To know more about the idea of an #InclusiveIndia follow @IndiaInclusion on twitter or visit their Facebook page at India Inclusion Summit.

About the author: Ms. SriLakshmi  Mukkala is a bank employee from  Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

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