If god was a banker, p.1
If God Was A Banker, page 1
IF GOD WAS A BANKER
By the same author
Devil in Pinstripes
I Bought the Monk's Ferrari
The Incredible Banker
IF GOD WAS A BANKER
First published in 2007 by
Rupa Publications India Pvt. Ltd.
7/16, Ansari Road, Daryaganj
New Delhi 110002
Allahabad Bengaluru Chennai
Hyderabad Jaipur Kathmandu
Copyright © Ravi Subramanian 2007
Cover design: [email protected]
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters, and
incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination.
Any resemblance to actual persons—living or dead—events or
localities is entirely coincidental.
This digital edition published in 2012
Ravi Subramanian asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
Digital edition prepared by Ninestars Information Technologies Ltd.
All rights reserved.
This e-book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated, without the publisher’s prior consent, in any form or cover other than that in which it is published. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, print reproduction, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Any unauthorized distribution of this e-book may be considered a direct infringement of copyright and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
It was 5.45 a.m. on a Monday morning. New York city was dark and cold. The sun was yet to leave its heavenly abode. A few cars could be heard in the distance. Early risers, who had to travel a long distance to work, were making their way to office.
Rrrrrnnng... Rrrrrnnng... Sundeep was wide awake. Yet, he could not hear the alarm bell go off. He hadn't slept the whole night. His eyes were tired but open. By this time he knew the entire topography of the Greco-Roman chandelier, which hung from the roof of his modern five-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. He himself had no idea of how long he had been staring at it... the whole night maybe! Numerous questions were flashing in his head. What would Natasha think of him? Will she accept him? What will the kids say?
'Sundeep, will you please turn it off.' It was Natasha, his wife of nineteen years. She had just woken up, her sleep disturbed by the constant ringing of the alarm. Sundeep stretched out his right hand and pressed the button on top of the alarm clock to stop the irritating buzz. Natasha went back to sleep almost instantly. She was normally the first to get up. But today was not a normal day. Sundeep hadn't slept at all.
It was not the first time that Sundeep had been awake all night. Any other day, he would be the last to leave the dance floor at any party. He would breathe life into any gathering. His admirers said that Sundeep's parties began only after midnight. But today was not 'any other' day. Today was indeed very different. There was no party tonight. Life could change dramatically for Sundeep in the next eight hours. He was a worried man.
It was only after six long hours that the Greco-Roman chandelier ceased being the centre of Sandeep's attraction. He glanced to his left and looked at Natasha. She looked like an angel in her sleep. The silky linen added a heavenly touch. Even in sleep, her lips curled up in a delicate smile. Sundeep knew that Natasha had not the slightest clue about what awaited her before she would hit bed again on Monday night.
Natasha was a bomb. Once a beauty queen, she had been attracted to the frail frame of Sundeep twenty years ago. Attracted to power, to fame, to adulation. Since then she had become quite used to it all, and probably enjoyed it too. Of late, signs of age had begun to show on her face. Her skin had started withering. Slight wrinkles could be spotted on her forehead. But, even today, only a madcap could have suggested that she was a day older than thirty.
Sandeep had not told her anything till now. But he knew that this wouldn't last. Sooner or later she would get to know. Should he tell her now and prepare her, or should he tell her after everything was over, after the verdict was out. After all, he was a very senior guy and there was just that small chance that he might get past the entire problem unscathed. But he knew it was extremely unlikely.
Staring at the chandelier all night hadn't helped him make up his mind.
He let out a deep sigh and stepped out of bed. His feet felt the exquisite texture of a Persian rug, imported from Tehran and gifted to Natasha on her thirty-fifth birthday by his NRI banking team. She was the wife of the Business Head, wasn't she?
'I will take a chance,' he muttered under his breath. His mind was made. Natasha was not to be told.
By 6.45 a.m. Sundeep had showered and got dressed in his impeccable pinstripes. He was wearing the red tie that Natasha had picked up for him from Harrods about six months ago when they had gone to London on a holiday. Their last holiday together. Sundeep was lecturing at a leadership course in London and had taken Natasha with him. That was around the time his problems had deepened. Things hadn't improved since.
He looked back over his shoulder. Natasha was still asleep. Sundeep walked up to her and kissed her on the cheek. Natasha smiled back. 'Come back soon,' she murmured, unmindful of the fact that he might be coming back for good.
'Hmm...' Sundeep turned and walked out of the room. On his way out he glanced into his children's bedroom. Alka and Ajay, six and seven years of age, were firmly tucked into their beds, fast asleep. Unlikely to be up before ten. Schools were yet to reopen after the Christmas vacations, and they were in no hurry to go back to their classrooms. 'God bless,' muttered Sundeep as he made his way down the hallway to the garage, where his prized possession—a recently acquired BMW 9S—was parked.
He would have to give it all up, unless the gods decided to side with him today. 'But why would God even think of me?' It suddenly struck him that he was thinking of God, for the first time in, he couldn't even remember how long.
'Even God needs to be spoken to, else he'll forget that you exist,' his mom had once told him when she caught him running away from a pooja at a family function. How he wished he had heeded her advice.
Within fifteen minutes, Sundeep's car pulled into the basement of the sixty-two-storied building that housed the headquarters of New York International Bank (NYB), the world's fourth largest financial services conglomerate. The moment they saw his car, the guards at the gate stood up and released the lever, activating the access-controlled door for a special floor, that served as the parking lot for the Group CEO and his direct reports. A reserved parking here marked one's arrival into the Ivy League of New York International Bank.
Sundeep eased his car into the slot marked Managing Director-Retail. This slot had become his when he moved into New York twelve months ago. To manage the retail business of New York International Bank in the emerging markets, the Group CEO had handpicked him from a shortlist of fourteen candidates across the bank.
He got off his car, a beep signalling that the car had been locked. The same beep also activated a device in the parking lot, sending out a signal to his secretary on the sixty-second floor that her boss was on his way. She would get about three minutes before her boss walked into the office.
'Morning, Mr Srivastava,' said Louisa as Sundeep stepped out of the express lift and took measured steps towards his cabin. A hot cup of black coffee, without sugar, was waiting for him on his table. Natasha
He had hardly settled into the plush leather chair when Louisa walked into his room.
'Michelle called a couple of minutes before you arrived.'
'She has left a message for you. Mr Bridge wants to meet you in the boardroom at 9.45.'
'Hmm... thanks,' was all that Sundeep managed to say. He could feel his heart sinking. His worst nightmare was about to come true. Tedd Bridge was the Group CEO of New York International Bank. If he wanted to meet Sundeep with Michelle, it spelt disaster for him.
It was 8.30 and he still had seventy-five minutes before the scheduled meeting.
'Ladies and gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure to call on stage the winner of the Director's Gold Medal for the Best All-round Performance in the batch of 1986,' a beaming M.R. Rao announced over the public address system. He was the Dean at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore—a premier MBA college in India. The occasion was the convocation for the outgoing batch of 180 students. Ratan Tata was handing out the degrees to the dreamy-eyed students who were embarking on a long and arduous journey into the corporate world.
'Please put your hands together for Sundeep Srivastava.' The moment Rao finished saying this, the audience erupted. Sundeep was very popular among his classmates and was liked by one and all. Son of an Army Major, Sundeep was fiercely combative. He typified the aspiring middle class in the country.
The women in Sandeep's batch adored him. Without looks that would put Tom Cruise to shame, it was his aggression and intelligence that won him friends.
Sundeep walked up to the stage with a swagger like Viv Richards'. He exuded tremendous confidence while accepting the gold medal from Ratan Tata. Then, departing from laid out protocol, Ratan Tata took the microphone.
'Hey, young man. Congratulations on winning the Director's Gold Medal.'
'Thank you, sir.'
'Sundeep, I am sure you have worked hard for this medal. How do you feel?'
'Great. It's an honour. Winning this medal was very important for me.'
'Did you think for a moment what you would have done had this medal gone to someone else?'
'Pardon me sir, but that option never existed. I play to win and not only for the spirit of the game,' said Sundeep, with the attitude of a veteran.
'That's excellent, Sundeep. I like people who play to win. I am sure you will too. This attitude will take you a long way. Could you tell us what you aspire to achieve over the next ten years... in the next decade?' asked Mr Tata.
'I would like to be standing here and asking the same questions that you are.' He was getting cheeky now. Everyone in the audience was shocked. Such impudence was very unlike Sundeep.
'I am sure you will. Thank you, young man. Congratulations again.' Mr Tata, visibly embarrassed, cut short the discussion and handed the microphone back to Rao.
This was the first time the world had got a taste of the real Sundeep. The Sundeep they had not seen till now. The successful Sundeep Srivastava had marked his arrival in style.
In the mid-eighties banking in India was dominated by state-owned banks. These banks were slow and laid back. Customer service was not a word from their dictionary. Archaic technology, lack of customer-oriented processes, and antique products were their hallmark. Foreign banks were very small. They had very few branches and operated in a heavily regulated environment.
Banking was synonymous with pinstripes-clad corporate bankers. Retail banking hadn't made its presence felt. The small individual customer was not on anybody's mind.
These banks made so much money from large corporations that it was not worth their while to invest in building relationships and to run after small customers. No one in India even considered retail banking a viable option. That is, before New York International Bank (NYB) proved them all wrong.
World over, banking had metamorphosed. Corporate banking had lost its sheen. Large corporations had started squeezing banks on margins, and the banks had little choice but to comply with the demands of these giants, or else exit the business. There were always ten banks waiting at the doorsteps of the corporations, each willing to lend at rates lower than yours.
Every bank worth its dime in the developed world had transitioned from servicing high-end corporates to higher margin retail customers. Banks in India were slow to catch on. They were still running after the miniscule margins they were making on the large Tata and Birla companies. They couldn't see the change coming in at breakneck speed.
And that's where New York International Bank saw a golden opportunity. It decided to step in and fill the gap in the retail banking sector in this country.
The NYB local management, however, was from the old school of thought. They were all corporate bankers with no exposure outside the country. They had obvious reservations on the launch of retail banking. Convincing them was taking so long that NYB decided to hire a completely new team for this purpose.
Retail banking needed a new aggression, and a thought process different from what was found in the world of Indian corporate banking.
Aditya Rao moved from New York to India, with a mandate to launch NYB's retail banking business in India. Aditya needed energy, passion, and drive in his team, and decided to hire fresh talent from premier institutes. It was thought that anyone from outside the banking industry would come in with new ideas that could redefine banking. Along with energy and aggression, the team members had to possess high intellectual calibre. Where else would they find it, but in the top MBA institutes in the country.
In 1986, NYB decided to hire the top five students from every IIM in the country.
Sundeep, IIM-B topper, was one of those who got an offer. He did not have to think twice before accepting, despite an ordinary pay packet. Smart Sundeep could read the future.
His decision was driven by the challenge of doing something new and different. Something that hadn't been done in India before: setting up the retail bank franchise of one of the largest retail banks in the world. He was confident that, with the bank's global expertise, it won't be long before it made its presence felt in Indian retail banking. And this, he was sure, would catapult his career into the stratosphere.
So, in May 1986 Sundeep joined New York International Bank as a management trainee in the newly set up Retail Banking Unit.
'You don't look OK, Sundeep. Are you unwell? Should I get you something?' Louisa interrupted Sundeep's thoughts.
'Sundeep, it's a call from home. Your wife. I didn't get you on your extension and walked in,' Louisa's voice was full of concern.
For a moment Sundeep was surprised. Natasha would not normally call him so early in the morning. 'Put the call through.'
'Natasha, what happened? Hope all is fine.'
'Yeah. Ajay has been insisting on going to the zoo. I am taking both the kids there. Will eat out. Was planning to watch a movie at the dome with the kids. Will only be back by six. Just wanted to check if that's fine with you. You would anyway be back only after that.'
'Of course, Nattie. It's perfectly fine. I would also have come, had it not been for...'
'Sundeep... do you remember the last time we went out. I have stopped expecting you to do these things. Be back by dinner time. See ya.' Click. Natasha hung up before Sundeep could say anything farther.
Monday. 6 May 1986. Sundeep Srivastava walked up to the gate of the NYB office at the busy Nariman Point area in Mumbai's central business district. It was a quarter to eight in the morning, too early for an induction programme for new recruits, which was to start only at half past nine. The bank offices had not even been opened. A towering security guard, rifle in hand, refused to let him in. The guard insisted that the gates could only be opened after an authorised personnel came in. And corporate bankers were not known to be
The bench had been put there for the guards to sit for a while when they came off their duty. No more than three people could squeeze into it.
He cursed himself for having come so early and turned towards the wooden bench. Sitting on the bench was a young man, roughly the same age as Sundeep. Wearing an oversized coat, he was deeply engrossed in reading a copy of the Economic Times. He had plonked himself right in the middle of the bench, leaving no space on either side for anyone to sit.
'Will you move a bit to the side and allow others also to sit.' Sundeep's tone and manner was curt and unnecessarily aggressive.
'Yes, of course,' said the person sitting on the bench, taking his eyes off the newspaper and looking up for the first time. It was only then that Sundeep noticed the file in the man's hand. It had a letter that looked quite similar to the one Sundeep had got at the time of his appointment. He quickly realised that the person sitting on the bench had also come to join NYB. He had, in fact, reached earlier than Sundeep. The vibhuti mark on his forehead, and his well-oiled and combed hair gave him away as someone from the south of the Deccan. 'Looks like a Tam-Brahm,' thought Sundeep. Tam-Brahm was slang for Tamilian Brahmins—upper-caste people from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, belonging to the Brahmin community. Tam-Brahms were known to be highly intelligent, honest, and not so aggressive.
'Sundeep. My name is Sundeep Srivastava. Am joining NYB today as a management trainee. I can see from your letter that you have also come in to join today. Have you been waiting here for too long?' Sundeep's tone had mellowed down the moment he realised that the guy on the bench was a fellow NYB employee.
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