There could be any number of senior citizens aged eighty plus in our family and friends circle. But how many of us have met one with a totally positive outlook? Most of us feel that old age is a bane and dread getting older. But just meet B Kamala, the erstwhile General Manager of Canara Bank and you will change your view. She is an embodiment of positive energy.
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As I entered her house on a considerably quiet street in Koramangala, expecting to meet a frail old woman, I was stunned to see Kamala looking the same as she did 20 years ago, when she retired from the service from the same Bank where I too worked! She has hardly changed and she welcomed me with her usual smile and confidence. What was the secret of her good health and skin tone, I wondered.
Swami Chinmayananda is a great influence on her, says Kamala. She has been his ardent follower since her twenties and finds no problem in facing the travails of life. She humbly acknowledges God’s benevolence in blessing her with a very supportive family, cooperative friends, colleagues, superiors, subordinates, servants, cooks and maids. “Thus, my life has always been smooth sailing. The positive outlook and strong will-power in me are thanks to the teachings of Swami Chinmayananda” says Kamala.
Having born in the famous family of the founder of the erstwhile Pandyan Bank of Madurai, she did not find it difficult to get the right kind of support at all times. She was married at the age of 16 to an aeronautical engineer but was unfortunately widowed at 19, when her only daughter was just two years old.
Young Kamala did not buckle with this disaster but took life as a challenge. She joined her uncle’s factory as an Accounts Assistant and picked up accounting skills on the job and by going through books, as she had just finished school.
After a few years, she joined her father’s bank at the entry level – in the early 1960s, Pandyan Bank was a forerunner in employing women. “I cannot give you special consideration because you are my daughter”, said her principled father, “Join the institution like anybody else, slog it out to rise up the ladder”.
After her father retired and passed away, Pandyan Bank lost a dynamic leader. But the newly nationalised banks were on a take-over spree, and Pandyan Bank was taken over by Canara Bank. Kamala felt that was the best thing that could happen to Pandyan Bank, and had no regrets. “Empty sentiments are of no use. We have to think practically”, says Kamala.
Pandyan Bank had a very vast network of rural branches, which was a blessing in disguise to Canara Bank. All the employees too were benefited. “What would have been the fate of those employees, had the Bank sunk into bankruptcy because of mismanagement?”, she wonders.
While at Pandyan Bank, Kamala underwent rigorous training in all aspects of banking, including International Banking in Germany, Chicago and Hongkong. She feels that no city, as such, is unsafe for women, provided the women conduct themselves properly and take all precautions to safeguard their interests. Being from an orthodox Brahmin family, travelling alone around the world in the 1960s when girls were not even sent to colleges, was unthinkable. Yet, she had no problem in any place, including Chicago, which was notoriously known as the city of gangsters! “I do not wholly blame the men for all the crime. We have to accept that certain urges are biological and women have to take care not to provoke those urges”, says Kamala.
She definitely does not approve of women going around in the middle of the night in secluded areas or women going around in skimpy dresses in front of uncultured crowds and feels such women are more prone to get into trouble most often. She feels women can avoid creating situations such as these and tempting the goons. “I went around the world only in my traditional sarees. I won respect everywhere”, says Kamala.
When Pandyan Bank was taken over, Kamala was one among the only three employees of the bank to be absorbed as manager in Scale III in Canara Bank. “Canara Bank treated all of us very cordially and respected us. In fact, I was asked to come to Bangalore but since my daughter was a teenager, I requested for my retention at Madurai until she got married”, says she.
Her daughter got married in 1964, and in 1967, Kamala came down to this garden city. Since then, she was mostly retained in Bangalore in various positions, and never in her service had she requested for any favours regarding her posting or placement. As her colleague, I have known Kamala as a strict disciplinarian, sincere, hard working and straight forward. People, especially women, hesitated to go to her with requests for favours, because that was the last thing she liked.
“The family culture that existed in Pandyan Bank was very much alive in Canara Bank too, though the latter was already very big compared to the former”, says Kamala. "Banking is a service industry which deals with two sensitive aspects – money and people", she says. Unless there is total intellectual honesty, sincerity and openness, it is difficult to work in this field. Hypocrisy and empty emotions do not work here. And, being a woman, she faced absolutely no discrimination through her career.
She says, “My analytical and straight-forward approach helped me win the hearts of my superiors, colleagues and subordinates and also command their respect. Maybe I am blessed but my service was well recognised and I got all my promotions on time”. She rose up to become the General Manager, and after a long gap, only now has the bank promoted two women as General Managers. Kamala also received an award from the Indian Institute of Material Management as the best woman executive.
… and at home
Kamala adopts the same skills at home too. At eighty, with two grandchildren and three great children, she shuttles between Chennai, where they live and Bangalore, where she lives with her late brother’s family, because she is wanted in both the places. Her interests are spiritual and she is very active as a trustee member of the Chinmaya Mission managing committee in Bangalore.
Kamala leads a quiet and contented life, with hardly any professional contacts. In times when old-age homes are increasing and every individual is becoming an island, Kamala has nothing to complain about, as four generations live under one roof both at Chennai and Bangalore. “As elders, we have to give the required space and time for the youngsters to lead their own lives and not step on each other” she says, “we should not dictate or impose our ideas on youngsters but create a congenial atmosphere of implied compulsion which gives them the conviction to stick to the family traits and culture automatically”.
Kamala can get down to the level of the youngest member of the family with ease. It’s no wonder, then, that both the families miss her when she is not around. “We have to accept changes. Otherwise life becomes tough”, says she.
Kamala finds that the city has changed a lot since the 1960s, when she could drive home from JC Road to Jayanagar for lunch and get back in just 30-40 minutes! “Today, the traffic has increased so much that we cannot even dream of such things”, she recollects. However, she has no complaints about old bungalows being replaced with apartment complexes and the way the city is growing, and looks at it as part of development. “These are the needs of today’s generation and we cannot stop them”, she says. She agree
s, though, that the weather conditions have been affected by this exponential growth.
Kamala also feels the new look that the banks are donning today, is a must to keep in tune with the global standards. Mechanisation is a must to meet the increasing volume of work and to catch up with developed countries. According to her, service and personal touch with customers are values that have to be inculcated in the present generation rather than simply blaming mechanisation and changed systems for the poor quality of service.
Does she miss anything here or in Chennai? “Nothing really! I am at peace in both the places. Happiness lies in how we view life and its challenges”, says she. Swami Chinmayananda’s teachings have given her very strong life skills which she applies in her interaction with all people – family members, friends, domestic help, colleagues and everybody else. “Just spare an hour of quality time in a day for your loved ones – old or young and see the wonder!”, calls out Kamala as she bids me goodbye.
Even as her advice rings in my ears, I think what a pleasure it was to have met someone who has no complaints about anybody or anything in life. Kamala is celebrating her eightieth birthday this week and is eagerly waiting to meet all her family members. Here’s wishing her a long and healthy life. Hope her story inspires elders to live their lives happily amid their family members, rather than in the homes for the aged. ⊕