Reading this book reminded me of the first one we reviewed on Bookstrapping – The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel by Kati Marton. Arundhati Bhattacharya comes across as tenacious and formidably inexcitable; just like Chancellor Merkel.
The book tells you that she survived comic horrors like receiving a marriage proposal at the age of 27, from someone who wanted to marry her to get a loan to buy an apartment. Haha! Let me squeeze my belly and laugh heartily.
As you turn the pages, you learn that Arundhati Bhattacharya’s gene pool exudes quality – her mother was a capable learner throughout her life. She was good at gardening (she received an award from Nikita Khrushchev no less) as well as homeopathy. Mom also dispensed solid wisdom: “Books contain many answers, but we must seek them.”
His hired father had a background in PSU; One of Arundhati’s regrets is that he waited to meet his father in person to tell him about his promotion at the SBI AGM, but he passed away before that happened. Another rare regret concerns the suicide of a colleague. But overall the book is very endearing, in the words of Deepak Parekh, who wrote the foreword.
Five pearls from the book.
1. Arundhati was once slapped by her math teacher in 4th grade. She then failed her quarterly exams and learned a valuable lesson – different rewards and punishments suit different people. She never forgot this when she became chairman of the State Bank of India.
2. She had a “TV-free” upbringing. Apart from places like Bhilai, Bokaro and Kolkata, all she saw were books during her youthful years and her father always had money to spend on buying books. She grew up at a time when Hindi films were seen as a corrupting influence and the simple life was encouraged (Aradhana by Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore was her first theatrical experience.)
3. Can you imagine her being mean? Faced with a particularly dismissive junior guard during her hostel days, she plotted with four other girls to lock the lady up! It took vicious, clandestine planning and painstakingly oiled the hinges of the gatekeeper’s doors for several days. Bite me!
4. When she joined the SBI as a trainee officer, she was handed a roll of newspaper with puffed rice and roasted peanuts and free advice – “whenever you’re hungry, eat a little, because it’s high-pressure work.” This tip was extremely helpful. One day, troublesome union leaders tried to shut down his agency on the pretext that “the staff were suffocating and it was not the job of the security guards to open the windows”. She quickly stated that as a branch manager, it was not below her to do so. Walking ahead, she opened the windows and the work resumed.
5. The particularly touching parts of the book are where she talks about raising a premature child with delayed milestones. Along the way, she’s brutally honest about the conflict between motherhood and her career. She states that good ones are more valuable than diamonds. Now ask any woman how much we love her for saying that!
Arundhati saw remote SBI branches without power. Later in his career, this gave him a very different appreciation for technology. Her courage and determination to become financially independent at an early age – by tutoring weak students – helped her prepare better for the bank entrance exams.
Yes, the burlesque drama is that she was transferred to a new position each time she found a “good tailor for her sari blouse” and a good hairdresser! But this MA in English Literature, who at one point trained as a journalist and ended up somewhere else, opened up about her vulnerabilities. In a world where women don’t show up to write their biographies for fear of being judged – let’s tip our hats to the indomitable.
Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta is a columnist, biographer and bibliophile. She is the originator of the internationally renowned Red Dot experiment, a ten-year study conducted in six countries on the impact of “culture on communication”. The opinions expressed are personal.
(Edited by : Kanishka Sarkar)