One of my favourite moments from the news this week was the sight of white smoke finally emanating from the Sistine Chapel, thus signifying the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy S4. (Or as Apple calls it, the Pritam Phone)
But what really caught my attention were the reports about India’s top private sector banks, i.e. ICICI, HDFC and Axis, going the extra mile to keep customers happy by laundering their money for them. Or as their marketing teams call it, ‘Personalised Swiss Standard Systematic Scalable Cross-Platform Financial Camouflage Assistance Synergy Paradigm Shift PPT Let’s Touch Base Jhol’. The expose was carried out by an online magazine called Cobrapost, famous for other exposes such as ‘Gung-Ho: The Most Inbred Redneck G.I Joe’ and ‘Baroness Topless Pictures Leaked!’
(Hey Cobrapost, if you’re a news magazine that pulls off serious stings, why would you want your name to sound like Nagraj fan-mail? And that’s not all. This expose was titled, I kid you not, ‘Operation Red Spider’, because ‘Operation Fuschia Locust’ was already taken. I can’t wait for their report on terrorism, titled ‘Operation Dulhan Ki Vidai Ka Waqt Ho Gaya Hai’)
The expose features hidden cam footage of bank officials talking to undercover reporters, and reveals the shocking lengths to which banks will go to give the common man the same rights as politicians. Now I’m no expert in money laundering, seeing as how I wasn’t born Gujju, but it does seem complicated. The videos, filmed at branches in Delhi, Noida, Faridabad, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore, sound pretty much like this:
Reporter: I’ve got sackfuls of black money.
Bank Official: OK, let’s KKK that shit. For starters, we can get you a second PAN card.
Reporter: Will that be enough?
Bank Official: What the hell, we’ll get you 5 PAN cards. One each for you, your boss, his wife, their dhobi and dog.
Reporter: And then?
Bank Official: For extra safety, we send Leonardo DiCaprio and his team into the dreams of the I-T guys to convince them that your money is white.
Reporter: Sounds good.
Bank Official: And for mega-safety, we will legally change your name to Pawar.
Reporter: Wait, what?
Bank Official: We also have an in-house sardar to slap you at random.
Bank Official: And then we shoot a farmer.
Jokes aside, I happen to bank with one of the accused organisations, so I’m saddened by the news, because I’m not rich enough to afford black money. That’s probably why, when I met bank officials earlier this week to discuss finances, all they offered me were legit investment options. I knew these were effective because the brochures featured Lokhandwala dudes dressed up like rich people, doing rich people things, like posing with golf clubs while wearing suits, looking into the distance while wearing suits, sniffing the air while wearing suits, skinny-dipping while wearing suits, spitting at people from Kurla etc.
Also, every product offered a free insurance cover, which is important because as any insurance ad will tell you, “YOU WILL DIE A GRUESOME DEATH BY THE END OF THIS SENTENCE! NOW GIVE US MONEY!” That’s pretty much their message. I’m sure the people behind these ads have a hard time switching off at home:
Girl: Daddy, tell me a bedtime story.
Insurance Guy: Once upon a time, there were three little piggies, who died after being struck by an errant cruise missile carrying the Ebola virus, because life is fickle like that, and if only they’d bought our Elite Super Saver Diamond Scheme, they would’ve gotten 918% returns guaranteed, along with tax benefits and a massage under section 42D, plus a lifetime supply of spam phone calls from all our affiliates, including the tapri guy outside.
The banks in question will now be probed by the RBI, and there have been calls for suspension of licenses, which would be a shame. I don’t want to have to go bank at some State Bank of Gaonpur, with a density of two branches per solar system. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those decaying government holes, where the relationship manager, the branch manager, the cashier, the fossilised watchman with the .303, the flies buzzing around the dead dog outside, are all just one person. And he’s on leave. Or as Cobrapost calls it, ‘Operation Lavender Platypus Vacation’.
(Note: This is my HT column dated 17th March 2013.)