Internship at M H Khadki was an amazing experience. There never was a dull moment. Every day was filled with a new adventure. After having been a student of Medicine for four years and three months- this was a huge new experience. To be treated as a physician did wonders to one’s self-esteem, never mind the errors of omission and commission. The consultants were happy to assign work. Everyone around us took it upon themselves to teach us something new. Life was good.
Once we got our commission and donned the Olive Greens, there were additional administrative duties assigned. Checking Medical Stores and Quarter Master Stores was a novel experience. Conducting Medical Boards every afternoon was another regular feature. DMO duties in the A & E were an exciting assignment every fifth day. It was common to receive other interns in the evening and narrate the day’s experiences to them over a cuppa.
Some Senior DMOs were very friendly and hospitable. I clearly remember Major MSC. He was an Orthopaedic Surgeon and from B Batch AFMC. His duties were always accompanied by special snacks lovingly packed by his wife for the ritual evening tea at A & E. One evening, after demolishing quantities of hot Pakoras accompanied by delicious chutneys, Kris Rau remarked, “Sir, mazaa aa gaya!” Major MSC wagged his finger and said, “Swad aaya hoga Pyaaray. Mazaa toh sirf Munne ki Amma ke saath aata hai!
Well, in March, we had begun strutting around the hospital in crisp, starched Cellular Cotton Olive Green shirts and matching starched Olive Green Drill Cotton trousers. One morning, I was summoned to the Senior Registrar’s Office.
Lt Col A K Ghose, the Registrar, was seated behind his large desk. Peering through his extra thick glasses, he looked at me. He then handed over to me a cheque for an obscenely large amount that I had never seen before in my entire twenty-one years. He gravely pronounced, “This is the cheque for the entire unit’s salary for this month. There is a vehicle waiting outside my office, along with an armed guard. Go to SBI Khadki, encash this cheque, count the amount and bring it back to me as soon as you can. Is that understood?”
“Yes Sir!” I said, clicked my heels, gave him a smart salute and, carefully putting the cheque in my breast pocket, walked out of his office and straight into the waiting One Tonne vehicle. For effect, I screamed at the driver, “Be quick! Let us go!”
The driver looked quizzically at me but got into the driver’s seat. The lone armed guard scrambled into the rear of the vehicle, and we were on our way. The driver drove us into the bank and parked. I jumped down from the vehicle’s cab and briskly walked into the bank. I headed for the branch manager’s office, introduced myself and handed over the cheque to him for encashment. He verified the signatures and sent it to the cashier.
He politely asked me if I would care for a cup of tea. I declined and asked him for a glass of water instead. It was April, and already, there were fine beads of perspiration on my forehead and face. After waiting for what seemed like years but were actually only about 20 minutes, the cashier asked for me to collect the cash. I gestured to my armed guard and walked across the bank’s floor to the cashier’s counter
I do not clearly remember the exact amount but a small mound of notes of various denominations in bundles of 100 notes, was placed by the cashier on the counter in front of him. He also smiled faintly and asked me to count carefully.
I asked for a piece of paper and tabulated the assorted bundles. After counting twice, I was satisfied. I now asked the armed guard for a box or suitcase to carry all that money. He stupidly shook his head from side to side and said he does not have one. He said he barely had time to jump into the vehicle as I had asked the driver to hurry up.
Barely concealing my anger, I asked him to go and ask the driver. He returned five minutes later to say that the driver also does not have any box or suitcase! The driver followed him into the bank and once again reminded me that I had asked him to hurry up. Otherwise, a double padlocked steel trunk was lying right there outside the Registrar’s office!
There was a minor commotion around the cashier’s window by now. There were people queued up behind me, asking me to hurry up. The cashier wanted me to clear his counter and move on. The onlookers began to watch the proceedings with grins on their faces. They all waited for me to find a solution to the vexatious problem of carrying a ridiculous amount of cash from there without a proper container.
I decided to undo two buttons of my cellular cotton shirt and began stuffing all those bundles of cash into it. I pushed many of them towards the back to accommodate more of them in front. I thanked God that there was a broad Army belt to keep them all in. By the time most of the cash had been shoved in, the onlookers were actually laughing loudly and clapping.
The shirt had lost its starched razor-like crease and was actually damp. I looked as broad as I was tall- a real rotund comic character. Thrusting the remaining few packets into my ample trouser pockets, I walked out of the bank with my driver on my left and the armed guard on my right, to a thunderous ovation from all the other clients. I asked the guard if his weapon had ammunition. He gave me a silly grin and that usual side to side shake of his head. I had to ask him to get into the cabin of the vehicle and sat wedged between him and the driver.
We rushed back to the hospital. I have never felt more loaded in my life, before or since that day. Every traffic light on the way seemed like an ambush. Every traffic jam in the narrower segments seemed like trouble. The sweat wouldn’t stop gushing out of every pore. And the heart raced like never before. The adrenals had probably never worked that much in all of their existence.
Presently, the vehicle turned into the hospital gate. I could espy Colonel Ghose pacing up and down the verandah outside his office like an expectant father outside the labour room. He stopped, and with arms on his hips, he looked positively inflamed. I got down from the vehicle and gave him a sloppy salute. He saw my grotesque appearance and gestured for me to follow him into his office.
“Have you got the money?” he croaked.
“Yes Sir!” I answered.
“Hand it over!”
I undid the same two buttons of my shirt and began pulling out all the packets of notes. Finally, having regained my slim form, I patiently tallied the amount with the piece of paper I had in my pocket. Feebly, I said, “All correct Sir!”
He took a deep breath, sighed and then permitted himself a faint smile. “Why didn’t you carry the steel box lying outside?”
“But you never mentioned the steel box Sir!”
They changed the SOP after that fateful day.
The officer entrusted with encashing the cheque was ceremoniously handed over the keys to the padlocks on the steel box, and shown the box lying outside the Registrar’s Office.
He was given clear instructions to carry that Treasury Box with him in the vehicle waiting outside.
And I was never again entrusted with the onerous responsibility of encashing any cheque.