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Business News/ Opinion / The witticisms of K.C. Chakrabarty
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The witticisms of K.C. Chakrabarty

It is rare to find a banker with a sharp sense of humour

A file photo of K.C. Chakrabarty. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/MintPremium
A file photo of K.C. Chakrabarty. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

When K.C. Chakrabarty moved from the chairmanship of Punjab National Bank (PNB) to the deputy governor’s position at Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the fraternity of bank analysts was deeply disappointed. We just wondered who in the sector will entertain us. After all, there are few bankers who are great entertainers. And a banking regulator by definition will be even less of an entertainer.

But Chakrabarty did not fail us. His indomitable spirit sustained the rough and tumble of central banking, and we got to have enough of him in that avatar as well. If a de facto demotion to the rajbhasha department in the middle of his stint could not dampen his boisterous self, what possibly could? He even managed to fire his last salvo through an early retirement, dumbfounding most outsiders.

As I pen this, he prepares to demit office. I have been a witness to several of his witticisms in events that are either not or not so well-covered by media. Here are some of those gems.

When a number of questions were being raised in an analyst meet about PNB’s restructured assets going up very fast, Chakrabarty (in his booming voice that combined frustration and challenge) said: Why should I not restructure? If the fellow pays me back, I have to find another borrower.

On the same subject, in a call:

We hear that restructuring is being misused to give some sweetheart deals to borrowers.

I need to have a heart, these are borrowers in trouble. Whether sweet or not, only time will tell.

Immediately after the Lehman crisis:

Are you not concerned about the impact of the global financial crisis on banks like yours?

No. You see, in India, banks control risk. In the West, risk controls banks.

When talks about his moving from PNB to RBI started:

Are you happy with this turn of events when you will be pulled out of this bank prematurely?

I have said that this bank needs me because both the executive directors are also very new. But there is no question of being happy or unhappy because I am the servant, not the master.

When, after Lehman, there was a surge in bank lending in India, and the dependence on banks went up to unprecedented levels:

Why is it that you are being accused of not lending adequately?

I hold the Scottish responsible for this.

They are the ones who gifted us the useless cash credit system. We all do sanctions thinking that borrowers will draw about 60% of the limits, but on an average. Ha ha, but that’s statistics. The present problem is arising because borrowers as a community have decided to cross the average barrier and draw 120% instead of 60%. We cannot manufacture resources.

In an RBI post-policy conference call, after the introduction of higher provision on so-called teaser home loans:

(Actually directed to the then governor D. Subbarao): In the policy document, you have increased the provision on teaser loans, but you have not defined what a teaser loan is.

Chakrabarty (who was quiet in the call till this point): You see, anything that is neither fixed nor floating is called teasing.

Back to his PNB days. In a panel discussion:

The government keeps talking about consolidation in public sector banks, but whenever we ask bank chairmen, they avoid the issue.

No, no, no, I will not avoid the issue, I will take it headlong. Do you know about the Indian marriage system?

You see, in that system, the bride and groom’s parents will meet and discuss, the neighbours will analyse and discuss, but the bride and groom won’t.

And here’s the penultimate one. When PNB’s joint venture with Principal was about to end:

Your joint venture with Principal, what is the status?

Well, we are separated, but not yet divorced.

(Mustering some courage after the bouncer): Why is that so?

Because they want a fat alimony. (Then turning to the rest of the audience) All you youngsters sitting out there, do not get married to an NRI (ono-resident Indian) girl. If you get divorced, you will be in serious monetary trouble.

On his retirement:

In whichever role you will be in from now, we fervently hope to see a return of your persona. You cannot afford to ride seamlessly away from the arclights.

I will continue to work in this field, but I am not in the lighting business. For that, you need to consult the new government.

Okay, the last one was made up by me.

The author has been a senior research analyst on financial services as well as other sectors at various investment banks, and is currently an independent consultant focusing on banks and financial services.

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Published: 23 Apr 2014, 03:02 PM IST
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