Sting in the tale

For you lay people the recent revelations about money laundering by some banks may be just another expose. But only we journalists can fully understand and appreciate the enormous odds that the guys at Cobra Post have had to overcome, especially the one of having to work for a media organisation with the most ridiculous name ever.  To come up with important journalistic scoops for an organisation with a name of a veterinarian’s journal is indeed a splendid achievement.

It is quite possible that Cobra Post guys decided to specialise in undercover sting operations despite the many risks involved because: 1) it is a social commitment and an agent for change 2) it is the only form of journalism in which the reporter need not mention the name of the organisation that he actually represents.

(If Cobra Post were in normal every-day journalism, this is how a conversation between its reporter and the host of the party that he had gone to cover would have probably unravelled).

Party host: It is getting unbearably hot these days (In general, weather is a bigger topic at parties than it is at the International Symposium on Global Warming).

Reporter: Yeah, but as they say those who can’t stand the heat must get out of the kitchen. (Journos are well-known for responses remarkable for having no connection with the subject at hand).

Party host: (The talk of kitchen makes her suspicious) (In a hurried tone) I guess we are meeting for the first time, you are…?

Reporter: (Perking up and proffering a hand), oh hi! I am from Cobra Post

Party host: Cobra Post? So you are from that new Chinese joint that specialises in door-delivery. Should have guessed as much when you talked of kitchen and stuff. For a minute I thought you were from the media.

Reporter: (Looks for a wall to bang his head on).

Going back to the Cobra Post’s recent revelations, there is understandable furore over banks’ readiness in accepting money even in ‘black’. I think we have to blame liberalisation for the state of affairs now. Because back in those days banking was well regulated that putting money in your account even in white was almost impossible.

I am talking about the days when depositing or withdrawing cash was more time consuming than it takes today’s youngsters to fall in love, have fun, and then sadly separate due to reasons of sustained incompatibility —- yes, you needed at least three to four hours for completing even simple banking work then.

And this is what I went through once: I had gone to this bank — for reasons of professional integrity I will not reveal its name except generally point out that every Indian who banks with it better be careful — to deposit some money that my dad wanted to be put in his account. The amount was Rs.1,500. It is a measly amount today. But some 20 years back, well, it was still a measly amount. Let us face it, Rs.1500 wouldn’t have made anybody a crorepathi in any generation.

I wrote out the pay-in slip and waited for my beard to grow a good two inches more, which is the time that the queue took to reach the cashier. One look at the pay-in slip, the cashier asked: ‘how much are you going to deposit?’ I told him that I had written that clearly in the prescribed slip. ‘I know,’ the cashier said testily, ‘but tell me how much are you going to pay?’ In general, you can try to reason out even with ATM machines but not with some human cashiers. Exasperatedly shrugging the shoulders, I told him that the amount to be deposited was thousand five hundred rupees.

‘But you have written it as fifteen hundreds?’ the cashier asked rather incredulously.

‘Yeah. Aren’t they the same? Or is that wrong?’ I persisted.

‘How could you write one thousand five hundred as fifteen hundreds? That is the way Americans write. We don’t do it that way.’ He sounded incredulous as though I was trying to convert my Indian rupees into American denomination.

‘If I write out Indian rupees the way some Americans do, will it amount to a hawala transaction?’ I said, as I let my sarcasm splash across the cash counter.

‘No, it will amount to a diwala transaction,’ he deadpanned, vacuuming all the sarcasm in a jiffy. ‘It means I will not accept your money,’ he said with the same finality in the tone that I am used to getting from my wife these days.

With no choice, I rewrote the pay-in slip the way RBI rules permitted, which is to spell —- pay close attention here —- one thousand five hundred as one thousand five hundred.

There may be divergence of views on how to spell out Rs.1,500. But no matter who we are, and no matter which generation we belong to, I think there will be consensus on one thing, which is, whichever way you look at it, Cobra Post is a staggeringly silly name for a media organisation.