We all know we need to come to terms with the fact of losing our loved ones someday. The loss of a parent is traumatic and takes years to heal. The surviving kith and kin are usually supported through neighbours and friends for a brief period after the bereavement. Then comes the phase of taking care of financial matters, formalities of registering death and legal issues of property succession. The immediate relatives are then left to face the bitter truth of the real world and are not always treated with empathy or dignity.
My mother had to deal with a terrible experience during this period of crisis when my father died of cancer after six months of suffering. Looking after him was not an easy task and she also had to keep an eye on the high medical expenses that cancer treatment invariably entails.
While she was yet to come to terms with the terrible loss of her life partner, she had also to take care of their finances and had to arrange matters of this material world in a manner that her life could function smoothly once again. At this point of time, being unable to manage everything by herself, she requested my help which I gladly extended.
My parents had an account in the United Bank of India in Kolkata. Daddy also had a pension account in the same bank. After his demise, my mom wanted to see if there was any money left in the pension account. To assist my mom with the formalities, I escorted her to the bank – her physical presence was required though she could ill afford any physical exertion since she was frail and not in good health as most aged people are (both her knees were wobbly and painful). We found that a reasonably large amount of money was lying in that account; it was probably lying there for quite a while since Dad was unable to withdraw the amount due to his long illness. We then asked the gentleman at the counter to check and transfer the amount to my Mom’s account.
“This account is without a nominee,” the gentleman informed us after checking his computer. He then advised us to go through series of formalities and a process called mutation before the amount could be transferred to my Mom’s account.
“Here is the relevant form. You can fill this and submit it later on, the process will probably take quite a bit of time before the mutation can be done. In any case, it cannot be done now. Your father made a mistake by not mentioning any nominee!” he declared with a long officious face.
It was difficult for us to believe the bank official’s words, as we had heard dad saying, on several occasions, “Don’t ever make the mistake of having a single account holder without a nominee” – he, in fact, always preferred a joint account (either or survivor). Dad’s words kept echoing in my ears. It was difficult to believe that in spite of cautioning us several times, he would make the same mistake himself. We, however, had no option but to believe the bank official, even though he did not appear to be empathetic to our situation. He, in fact, made us feel as if he was doing a great favour by imparting his sage advice to us. So, we had to swallow whatever he said without any argument.
I accordingly had to extend my stay as my brother was going through an extremely busy period at work and my sister-in-law, a teacher by profession, was also tied up with correction of board examination papers.
We took care of all the lengthy procedures – signing the necessary papers and also submitting a no objection certificate from my end as I too was a legal heir to the money in the pension account. I left for Mumbai after ensuring that all the documents required for a legal mutation of an account without a nominee were completed.
After around a month had elapsed, I learnt from my mom that when she went to the bank to enquire about the final outcome, she was informed by the very same bank official that my dad had actually put my mom’s name as the nominee in the account and we need not have gone through all those lengthy procedures and time consuming formalities. She had to fill in a simple form and submit it. This time it did not take much time. So, all the earlier lengthy legal formalities that we had had to complete were of no use to anyone.
“Now whose fault was that? What kind of experience and harassment was that!?” I asked my mom in frustration. I felt like crushing the head of that bank official who showed no sign of extending the simple courtesy of apologising to my mom for his mistake which had put both of us through so much tension. If I would have been there, I would have given him an earful, but I was sitting 2,000 kilometres away and was not there to physically confront him. The sad part is that this gentleman, if he can be called one, did not feel any compassion for an old lady who had to drag herself to the bank, hobbling along with her swollen knees. She was actually awaiting knee replacement surgery.
This is what that happened to my Mom after my father’s demise. God only knows how many senior citizens suffer like her as puppets in the hands of thoughtless, inconsiderate government officials. Leave aside words of empathy, they do not have any remorse for the wrong doings they inflict on others, even elderly people. A simple word called “sorry” is also not in their vocabulary.
I should have complained to the higher authorities within the United Bank of India or even the banking ombudsman appointed by the RBI, but my mom was so fed up and exhausted with the whole issue that she was in no mood to pursue the matter any further.
The cover image is a sketch by Aparna Mondal