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Help! My brain’s a PIN cushion

MUMBAI: Three little letters have become the bane of my existence: ATM.

No seriously, ‘Money when you want it’ is just a misleading piece of marketing. It should read: ‘Money when you badly need it, provided you find this innocuous hidey hole on your way, and it works, and you can find your ATM card, and remember that infamous PIN and the machine accepts your request.’

I have four bank accounts, though none of them is Swiss. Account number one was like my piggy bank. A haven for my childhood booty, it was fed with all the 21-rupee birthday envelopes that kind uncles and aunts bestowed on me.

The alluring bait of ‘A pot of gold when you are 21’ was more than a little tempting, I must admit. The account still continues, though the pot of gold was never to be found. Superstition doesn’t allow me to close this account. It’s my stepping stone to the world of investment, I tell myself. Along the way, accounts two, three, four, and five happened.

No it’s nothing to do with my net worth, perhaps something to do with my job hops, and the emerging bank accounts thereof. You cannot close account X because the PF of job X will be credited to it (someday, if you live to see it). But job Y won’t be caught dead with its salary going to account X. And that’s where the trouble starts.

This is something I hate about a new job. Come payday, and while you are dying to reap the fruit of your labour, you are told, "Please get two passport-sized photographs tomorrow. You have to open an account for your salary to be credited."

"But I already have two accounts", you plead.

"Sorry, our salaries go to KTC bank, comes the curt reply. It’s doom in capital letters. Damb! Another form to fill. A week later, I got my account-opening confirmation and was aghast. My new account number was all of 10 digits.

It’s funny how the more things change, the more complicated they get. All this while, your friendly neighbourhood bank had a four (at best five) digit account number, and it was easy to dream up a short story to help you remember it. Like "Twentyone crows sit on my window five times a week". Then ATM’s came along and things have never been the same.

For starters, the good old homely passbook was efficiently bypassed. Now, to begin with, there is an account number. Then there is a customer identification number (you had better remember this, because without it you are doomed to listen to endless rounds of hold-on ‘muzak’). Then there is a PIN for your ATM, a TIN (for convenient tele-banking services), and a Netbanking number. Should you decide to get yourself a credit card, please get back in line. Think about it- if this is the plight of an alleged math wizard with a South Indian head for numbers, dates and addresses and who is routinely used as an Ask Me service by friends and family, I can imagine what others must go through.

The funny thing is that these treacherous numbers come in innocuous white envelopes, where the said number is hidden behind a dark smudgy veil with explicit instructions to memorise the number and destroy it immediately and do not, under any circumstance, scribble the number anywhere, least of all behind the card.

Now, the probability of someone finding this ‘secret place’ and the card it belongs to is beyond me, but never mind. I once took so long to muster the courage to use my card that by the time I did, I was told that my number had ‘expired’ due to non-usage. Time to fill another form.

Soon, I had one card too many. Nevertheless, I followed the instructions to the T, and a few days later when it was time to use the card (read desperate for money), I promptly got it swallowed after three unsuccessful attempts. Later, I realized that I had memorized the number right. Only, it was the wrong card.

Recently, my friendly neighbourhood bank installed an ATM machine. "Do you want ATM facility?" I was asked. "It’s free."

"No no, no," I muttered hastily. The gentleman behind the counter thought I was off my rocker. I knew that one more PIN prick would certainly do the trick.

Courtesy: The Times of India
Date: 1st August 2001.

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