During the 1970s, Koregaon Park in Poona was really a ‘gaon’ beside the river was as green as a park can be. One peculiarity was that the dwelling units were palaces or palace like bungalows…..The two main roads , the North and South were connected by a couple of roads like rungs of the ladder. The bungalows were owned by maharajas of erstwhile kingdoms and multinational companies. The most talked about one was owned by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh situated in one of the roads connecting the two main roads. When I was transferred to the bank's training centre, my colleagues briefed me about the surroundings I could expect there. The whole area was covered with lots of trees.
As all the residents owned cars and limousines, the pedestrians were only the saffron robed followers of the Bhagwan. A few of them also moved on motorcycles. The devotees started their strolls right from the morning. But the out flow from the Ashram premises usually started after the satsang at about half past noon. Many made a beeline to our Bank branch which was housed within the then Blue Diamond Hotel to exchange currencies and travellers cheques. It used to be very difficult to enter the branch premises after 1pm. At least a hundred saffron clad people would be in a long serpentine queue in front of the cash counter.
Since stolen travellers cheques were rampant, the bank had to take care while encashing them. Invariably the passports were verified to prove the identity. But the appearance of the person in the passport and in reality differed so much that identification became very difficult thanks to the change in the habits of maintaining their decent looks. The second impediment was the change of name. The Bhagwan gave a different name to everyone after becoming his disciple. Thus Theresa Gordon became Ma Gayatri Teertha. Swami Paramsatya's name in his passport would be Peter Drownsky……! Everyone wore a negligee type unisex saffron robe. Many came to the bank in a trance very much under the influence of the satsang and other vibrant activities which took place there. Sometimes the couples remained so close that they looked like Siamese twins. Certain people talked as if they had come out of a disco or a pub after hours of revelry.
The payment was generally passed by an officer after verification of the passport confirming identity, and genuinity of the cheques and noting their names ( original and sanyasi ) , the local/temporary address etc. While collecting the cheques and passport , a metallic token was given to the customer. The cashier exchanged the token with the currency and the passport.
The branch cashier was Mr. P K Patil. There was another staff member with the same surname. Hence he was referred as PK in the branch. Sometimes we used to make fun of him by telling ' Patil peekay Aya….' and the like. He was very poor in managing rush hours. He was a naive person and slow in his work too.
That day the rush was a bit unusual. The sanyasi crowd was more than two hundred. It was half past three when he could close the cash counter and go for taking his lunch. By five thirty when the cash was balanced and ready to be taken to the strong room, it was observed that one token was missing.
The cash token was a very important link in the bank's cash payment process in the BC ( before computers) years. It facilitated the payment of cash to the right person. Payment of cash in exchange of the token was an integral part of the duties of the paying cashier. The tokens were generally made of heavy metal with the name of the bank/branch engraved in it. The most important aspect of the token was the token number which ensured the correct payment. Hence loss of a token was very grave too. The situation warranted immediate action. Each payment voucher was verified. It was found out that the missing token was issued to a sanyasin….Ma Anandamohini. The local address given was somewhere beyond Bund Garden. Other staff M V Patil owned a rickety Vijay super scooter. Both Patils P K and M V started with the payment voucher. After a thorough search of the roads and bylanes off Bund Garden, the house was located. They stood outside for a few seconds and Ma appeared in front of them. Now there was the problem of communication. Ma was originally from Finland and she was not very well versed in English. Any language other than Marathi and Bollywood Hindi was difficult for our Patil friends. With the help of the fellow sanyasis who cohabited with her, it was conveyed to her that she had failed to hand over the cash token while accepting the Indian rupees from Patil. She was not very familiar with Indian banking practices. Ultimately, she could recollect that she was having a heavy metal piece in her side pocket of her long flowing saffron kurta. When she dug her long hands deep in the pocket Patil was praying to Dagdusheth Ganpati. But alas, no luck. Ma suddenly withdrew her hand with a statement…." Oh that coin…i think, I gave it to a beggar outside the bank, while I came out…."
Patils were in utter disappointment. P K was worried thinking about the consequences. Ma too was a bit worried. She could not find the proper words to console P K. But in a totally unexpected move, she hugged PK and planted a warm kiss on his right cheek. She said ' sorry ' a couple of times. P K was totally bewildered. They came back to the branch having ' failed ' in their mission…..The procedures regarding loss reporting, seeking explanation etc followed.
Two weeks later….P K was served a memo cautioning him to be careful in future. While accepting the memorandum, he moved his right palm over the right cheek.
One month later….At about two in the afternoon Ma Anandamohini came running to the branch. Went straight to the cash counter gave the ' heavy metal with a hole ' as she put it….to the cashier….and told ' it was in the kurta which I wore that day. 'Somehow' Swami Krishnananda wore it since that afternoon……!
P K came out of the cash cabin elated. Like an innocent child, he asked the staff assembled around…..' how could that happen….?'
All of us standing around giggled…….
Note….All names are fictional…