Bhool Bhulaiya is the Indian word for labyrinth – a place where one can lose
loose sense of direction completely. For my Egyptian friends this is the equivalent of getting lost in the Mogama3. In this instance it was the Indian version. It started off with a simple issue: creating a bank account.
For a bank account, I figured I’d go for an Indian version of HSBC – something dynamic – so checking my surroundings, I decided on HDFC, 4 letter acronym with only middle initials changed. And that made all the difference. On my first visit, I met with a customer rep. who appeared helpful, but somewhat indecisive and uncertain. I got bumped up very quickly to the branch manager. He looked busy, answering a phone, nodding and scratching his initials onto some memo. Efficient. And he was. Very soon he’d decided we were in a quandary.
As a newly returned Indian, without a Voter ID (application in progress) or anything other than my passport, the manager really had no idea how I could be given a bank account. He shook his head and gave me a list consisting of 7 documents which included my passport, a letter from my landlord, and a bill from some utility addressed to my landlord at the address I was leasing. Finally, almost tentatively, he asked if I had a phone registered in my name. Of course, one of the first things I’d gotten in my place was an internet connection and along with it came a phone number. In addition, he said, I was required to leave my address so they could independently verify it. We’ll call you in one week, he promised. And that’s where things went awry.
The first problem was with my ADSL provider. I called Airtel up no less then 4 times to log a request for a “hardcopy of my bill”. They insisted on sending me the ebill – it’s greener! Yes, it sure is, but tell that to my bank. Getting a copy of my bill meant chasing the Airtel folks for nearly 4 weeks with 2 service requests and one escalation! But, there was a catch, as I was about to discover.
In the 4 weeks I spent waiting for my bill to arrive, I got no call from the bank and their one week seemed to stretch endlessly. Of course, without that damn bill, there wasn’t much use going to the bank to follow-up. When the bill arrived, I gathered up my papers and headed over to the bank. This time, after a moment of hesitation, a gentle reminder of my case jogged my customer rep.’s memory. He looked a bit embarrassed and bumped me up to the manager immediately.
The manager looked unchanged, phone clutching, paper scratching and all. Yes, the regulations have changed now, he informed me. We can proceed immediately. And papers started flying as I joined him in scratching my signatures everywhere. We need some cash, 10,500.00 Rs to open up your account, he said. Upon asking him if the ATM would allow such a number, his response was, you can withdraw up to a Lakh. I don’t think I need to prove that this was pure baloney. It took me two turns at the ATM with about 400 Rs charged for the withdrawals to get less than a quarter of the amount he boasted.
Withdrawal done, a wad of cash in my wallet, I seated myself across from the branch manager. He’d found another issue. Remember that catch about the bill? Here it comes. Yes, the bill is addressed in your name and I’m sure there’s a phone number, but it’s not listed on this bill, so this is a DSL bill, and I can’t really accept it, he explained. We’ll need that utility bill from your landlord… he droned on, but I was done. I smiled and thanked him and asked him to stop the process. I withdrew my request. He obliged gracefully. I decided, I’d had enough. I’d take my business elsewhere. Just in case, I called up Airtel and explained the issue to the rep. His response, yes sir, I’d love to forward your request, but could you call back in two hours. Yes, I’d heard this one before. Their system is down, or being upgraded or perhaps it’s the database this time. Happens all the time, with Airtel – and I had 4 weeks of waiting as my experience.