Dhan ki Baat: An IAS officer’s two biggest money mistakes

If you owe a bank Rs 10,000, it's your problem; but if you owe it Rs 10,000 crore, then it's the bank's problem!

While banks and depositors suffer massive losses, defaulters continue to ''live the life of the Sultan of Brunei'', remarks Avay Shukla (photo: Getty Images)
While banks and depositors suffer massive losses, defaulters continue to ''live the life of the Sultan of Brunei'', remarks Avay Shukla (photo: Getty Images)

Avay Shukla

I should have listened to Mintu, 10 years my senior, way back in 1973.

If I had, I wouldn’t be living in a village near Mashobra, waiting with bated breath for my pension every month, hoping the Treasury Officer doesn’t question my Life Certificate, which states: “Brain dead but still breathing and smoking Wills Flakes.”

I'd be rubbing shoulders in Kensington Gardens or a Bangkok penthouse with the Nirav Modis and the Vijay Mallyas of the world, handing out lavish tips to ravaging beauties, all debited to the Bank of Punjab or Baroda, as the (suit)case may be.

I'd better explain.

In the Delhi university of 1973, you couldn't take a girl for a ‘band omelette’ to Khyber Pass unless you had a Jawa mobike between your knees, its exhaust sawed off in some reverse phallic ritual. Lumbering through my final year MA (no, Mr Narendra Modi was not my classmate), I petitioned my nearest living ancestor for a loan for a bike. Now, my dad sold oil (Burmah Shell) for a living and was harder to pin down than an oil slick. Like Mamata Banerjee, I kept hoping for the funds but they never came.

Fed up of waiting and seeing a life of enforced celibacy awaiting me, I decided to take matters into my own hands and sat for the SBI Probationary Officers' Exam. To everyone's great surprise, I made it — but then developed second thoughts: I'd always wanted to sit for the IAS. Enter Mintu, to whom I went for advice. Now, Mintu was the hotshot in the extended Shukla tribe, a go-getter in a multinational company. "Take it!" he ordained. "Why ?" I sought to know.

"A bank job," said he of the unlimited expense account, "is worth dying for. The fortunate guys can play around with their own money, but only the blessed play with other people's money. That's what you'll be doing for the next 35 years, you know (give or take a few years of suspension and jail time). You can borrow as much money as you want. Remember, a borrower never dies — he just loses interest.”

I didn’t heed Mintu’s Delphic advice and now have the next 15 years in village Puranikoti to regret it. I have an aversion to taking loans, believing implicitly in the old adage: Neither a loaner nor a loanee be. A mistake, which I ascribe to a double promotion between nursery and KG II, which made me miss the other adage which Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya, Lalit Modi, et al, learned by heart in KG I: ‘A buck in the hand is worth two in the bank."

I guess I better explain this paranoia also.

I have had this great suspicion of loans ever since my dad visited me when I was posted as SDM (sub-divisional magistrate) Chamba in 1976. Now, my dad used to make a smooth transition from oil to alcohol every evening, Scotch on the rocks. I had no rocks — since, with a salary of Rs 700 a month, I could barely afford to keep my wife in clothes (not a bad thing when you're just married, but you get the drift), and therefore had no fridge. My dad immediately directed me to buy one, saying he would put up the money for it. It was an (All)wyn-win situation. He went back to Kanpur after a few stiff ones on the rocks, had some second thoughts of his own, and informed me that the Rs 4,000 he had advanced to me was not a grant, but a loan. It was my Ashok Gehlot moment. I borrowed money from the district nazir to repay my dad and decided never to take a loan again.

But life has a way of making you eat your words. Suddenly, retirement loomed over the horizon and I realised that soon I would no longer have a leaking sarkari roof over my head. At about the same time, my younger son Saurabh discovered Madhusudan Das ("Indian universities are the slaughterhouses of intelligence") and decided to study in London. So I polished up my begging bowl and went with it to my bank manager for two loans: house and education.

I got the loans, but not before the bank had squeezed out every drop of information about me, a data extortion even Facebook would be envious of: salary slip, GPF statement, land revenue papers, default guarantee from employer, architect's plan. If I recollect, it also took from me my horoscope (to ascertain that I would live long enough to repay the loans), blood reports (to check whether I had AIDS), my ACR (Annual Confidential Report) dossier (was I likely to be dismissed from service before repayment of the loan?), an IQ test report for Saurabh to satisfy itself that he was intelligent enough for further studies (that was a close one), and perhaps even a report on my sperm count (to be sure that the bank would get a bang out of its buck — it didn't, nothing lowers the testosterone more effectively than two EMIs a month ).

After that experience, I have never applied for a loan, not even a credit card or a post-paid mobile account, because I can't bear the thought of owing money to anyone. A big mistake, because the only way you can get uber rich in India is by borrowing big time, and not returning the moolah.

In this blessed country, if you owe a bank Rs 10,000, it's your problem, but if you owe it Rs 10,000 crore, then it's the bank's problem! Just look at the couple of dozen bankruptcy cases before the NCLAT (National Company Law Appellate Tribunal): while all the banks and depositors are taking what are called ‘haircuts’ (but are more like fiduciary castrations) in the thousands of crores of rupees, the defaulters continue to live the life of the Sultan of Brunei.

So, if you want to live the big life, go and borrow money — in crores. As the duchess advised the ageing duke: "If you can't raise it, you ain't getting no piece!" Which, by the way, appears to be a slight adaptation of that Confucius gem: Man who quarrel with wife get no piece at night.

Which is also why I live in a village, doing yoga when the sun rises and meditating when it sets. In between I think of Nirav Modi standing on tiptoe, peering down designer cleavages; of Vijay Mallya and his life membership of the Mile-High Club; of Lalit Modi, who still appears to have the government by the (cricket) balls; of the captains of Indian industry at Davos in their bespoke suits which have no pockets — they don't need pockets, because their hands are always in someone else's pockets, you see.

Maybe I should have listened to Mintu.

Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer and author of The Deputy Commissioner’s Dog and Other Colleagues. He blogs at avayshukla.blogspot.com

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines