“Please buy gold coins” or How banking is personal in Bangalore

One of the most important things you have to get when you come to India is
a bank account – why? Most US credit cards “fail to be approved”. My credit card company consistently declined transactions “for security reasons” they claimed. Since there are no credit agencies here, banking is a
relatively “personal process”. Too personal one might conclude, if you
are used to the automated, impartial and objective “credit score”
process in the US. My mom has an account in the Indian bank, close to
home, so I figure why not go there.

The
personnel (all the way from the branch manager to the “water-filler
person” and the cleaning lady) know her by name. Obviously my mom is very well liked. Favors have been done consistently from both
parties. One side is happy listening to stories of how her
grandchildren in the US are “very smart”, and the other side
consistently puts large amounts of money in certificates of deposit for a less
rate of return than you’d get from micro lending $50 per year to a
vendor selling coconut-water in New York City (for those of you that
dont get it, vendors selling unprocessed food in NYC are prohibited, so
there’s a slim chance you’re going to get your principal back).

So
in due course of the first week I made my way to Indian bank to open an
account. As you’d expect, I had none of the things they’d expect any
person wanting to open an account would have – 3 set of passport size
photos, original and photocopy of PAN card, original and photocopy of
address proof, LPG card or Ration card, Driver’s license and copies of
passport and a “statement
from a known person”.

I walk in with my cousin, fully expecting
to be there for at least 2 hours. They all seem to know him – Good, I
think. I hear “Mrs. Mohan’s son” from a certain lady. Expecting her to
inquire me about mom, I was prepared to answer, when I realized she was
talking to my cousin. Of course I think, what did I expect.

I
was escorted to the branch manager’s cabin, a nice enough man, who
after asking me for the third time if I had breakfast proceeded to ask
me “Do you want to buy gold coins?”.

Huh? I think, gold coins? That’s a new one.

I tell him I want a simple bank account.

“No problem. We can do it today, but also please consider buying some gold coins sir” he says.

I
get a new account form and I proceed to explain that I have none of the
things he wants from me except for my US driver’s license.

He
cuts me short – “Oh you are Mrs. Mohan’s son? Ok. No problem. We’ll open
an account. We dont need those other items now. Just please consider
buying some gold coins”.

What’s with these gold coins I go out to ask my cousin.

He’s
busy filling out some paperwork for my account, and pauses for a
second, “Every bank’s been calling me to buy gold coins. Its the new
thing they are selling”.

I wait for a few minutes still not
having to do anything to “open my account”. The branch manager has
filled out the details from his side, my cousin’s taking care of my
information and all I have to do is sign. In fact my mom can
countersign for me, so I dont technically need to do that also.

I see posters for Akshaya Trithi and put two and two together.

Turns
out there’s an auspicious time and day (April 18th) to buy gold in
India and if you do buy on this day that gold multiplies during the
year. “Like rabbits” prompts my inner evil twin.

Well long story
short – Every bank has been given a “quota” to sell gold coins during
that season and if they dont sell them, the branch manager’s given hell
daily.

So now jewelers and banks are all competing to sell gold and obviously there is a lot of unsold inventory.

I
get a last plea before I sign the 5 page of the account application
from the teller – “Sir, we have very pure gold coins if you want to
buy” she says.

“Not right now” I reply sweetly, claiming to have bought some last month – liar!

Had
to move the application to another gentleman who was the supervisor. He
looks at all the paperwork, seems a trifle irritated and opens his
mouth to complain when he sees my cousin and a shifted grin appears.

“How is Mrs. Mohan?, he asks, “is she coming today”?

“She will come later” replies my cousin. We are all liars, I opine to myself.

“Ok, so you are her son” he gestures me to a seat, “Did you just come from US?”.

“No, I came here a while ago” I reply.

“Oh”, seems disappointed “You could have bought some gold coins from us. No?”.

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