“Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Those were the wise words, spoken by Winston Churchill, to get me started off on this new endeavor which was bestowed upon me last week by Blogadda. After numerous attempts at requesting for a book review opportunity, I finally succeeded to land myself a book to review. After receiving the confirmation e-mail, it was only a matter of time before the book of Ravi Subramanian was delivered to my home. Unfortunately, inspite of all the excitement inside me regarding the book review, I was not the one to receive it at my home. My parents received it and I came to know of the package only when I reached back home. I could feel a rush of blood inside me as I tore off the package and held up the book to a token of appreciation. Visibly, my parents were quite interested and curious about this new member of the house. So, here’s my very first attempt at book reviewing, hope that I do a decent job.
I must admit that I did not have a look at the book or any other news related to The Bankster to keep that freshness alive. As a result, when I first took out the book from the envelope, it looked quite impressive. The fonts have been given a slight indent so that you can feel them on front as well on the sides. The cover design has been done by ThinkWhyNot, a start-up based out of Mumbai and which was founded by Sangram Surve. The cover has a slick feel to it and the colors used are of a darker shade, indicating the basic outline of this novel touted to be a thriller. The cover also reveals that the Wall Street Journal have already crowned the author as the John Grisham of Banking.
The title of the book suggests that it has been made up of two words, one of which is Bank and the other one is either Monster or Gangster. Both the words combine to give Bankster which indicates towards the fact that we would encounter bankers gone renegade in this novel. The back cover reveals the broad outline of the story and gives the names of three cities where the action will be unfolding.
As I have stated above, the author of The Bankster is Ravi Subramanian. Although this is the first book that I have read by this author, he has already authored four books before this one. He was also conferred with the 2008 Golden Quill Readers’ Choice Award. He’s a banking veteran who has worked for various MNC banks over a span of two decades. Naturally, all of his books have the financial industry as the backdrop and The Bankster too, focuses on the banking sector. In a way, this is actually the best part as I too, have been a banker by profession and hence I can relate to the book and the author quite closely.
The plot and the characters
The narration throughout this book is in the third person perspective and the events unfold either in parallel or in sequential order. Through the book we come to know of Joseph Braganza, who’s working undercover to get hold of blood diamonds in Angola whereas Krishna Menon back at Cochin is trying his level best to alert the government of their opaque policies regarding the Trikakulam Nuclear Power Plant. Krishna’s stance is similar to that of Mahatma Gandhi i.e. peace and non-violence. However, he falls in the trap of people with power and money in their hands. Jayakumar is one such person whose motive is to completely thwart the inauguration of the nuclear power plant.
The lion’s share of the plot takes place at Mumbai in Greater Boston Global Bank’s(GB2) headquarters. The plot develops through Vikram Bahl who is the head of the Retail Banking division, Tanuja who is the Human Resources head and Nikhil Puri who is the Cluster head of the Bandra cluster of Branches.
Vikram is a verbose, loquacious, ambitious and manipulative person. He wants to be the center of attraction of all events and uses people to his advantage.
Tanuja on the other hand portrays the role of HR very effectively displaying cold and deceiving behaviors. In the book, the relationship between Vikram and Tanuja has been shown as an intimate one. There is an act of making out in the car as well with loads of kisses loaded in between the chapters.
Nikhil is shown as a hardworking manager who is very particular about his performance ratings and displays the courage to fight for it till the end. However, he is double crossed by Vikram who uses him for his personal motives and this becomes evident on page 41,
“For the first time, Nikhil was exposed to the games business leaders play.”
Then the book talks about the rivalry between two Relationship Managers, Harshita Lele and Zinaida Gomes. Harshita has been a star performer for GB2 whereas Zinaida is the newcomer who’s pretty and willing to do anything to achieve a lot in little time. The rivalry goes out of hand and we have three murders happening. The book picks up a fast pace after the first murder and we also see the arrival of Karan Panjabi who’s an ex-employee of GB2 and presently works for The Times of India. Karan uses his wit to unravel the mystery behind the three murders and an ultimate truth which extends beyond the borders of India and manifests itself over a colossal scale.
The reactions and experiences
I must admit the book managed to keep me hooked on to it till the last page. As a banker by profession, I enjoyed it even more and could relate to it quite appropriately. There were many points throughout the book which literally made me smile while reading. One of them, on page 101, is a sms written by Harshita Lele about her rival Relationship Manager Zinaida Gomes,
“The b***h got the Best RM award. F**k. And guess what, Tanuja’s husband gave away the award. I don’t know whether to be disappointed about the former or the latter. Life in Branch Banking sucks.”
The author has made generous use of conversations and slangs in Hindi and other expletives as well to give the book a more everyday feel to it. However, the above quote only underscores the stressful working cultures of both Indian as well as Multinational Retail Banks in India. Growing competition between Banks which in turn is giving rise to competition among the employees working for such banks is fast becoming a reality of modern day. On page 114, the author clearly highlights the desperation arising out of this competition,
“When they opened the (cheque) box, all of them were shocked. Inside the box, were twenty-eight hurriedly stuffed investment slips signed by customers. Most banks instruct their relationship managers and wealth managers not to take blank instruction slips from customers. These slips are normally signed when customers ask the bank to invest, or redeem, their money into mutual funds. Relationship Managers, in the quest for quick returns, might use these blank but signed forms and transferred customer funds into mutual funds without explicit customer instruction, or even swap them across mutual funds……Eventually, when the customer finds out, either the RM silences him/her with some other sops or the matter snowballs into a major customer service and compliance issue.”
This single quote itself, highlights the true picture of private sector banks of today. Clearly, the author has used his experience of over two decades and used the backdrop of The Bankster to show to the readers how cracks are developing in the pillars of banks of the modern world. I strongly agree to this point of view expressed by the Author. Having worked in the Banking sector for over 2.5 years, I can now say this to all of you with a bit more certainty than when banks were considered to be trustworthy corporations,
“Do not trust the banks and the bankers, especially the private retail banks. You never know what target must be compelling them to carry out such unscrupulous actions. In the name of competition, these banks would do absolutely anything to achieve profits and margins and this is true for junior-most as well as the senior-most employees. Even if you do decide to hand over your trust to the banks, do so with caution and with proper documentation and proof.”
The author has also pointed towards the larger concerns of nuclear proliferation, money laundering, fraudulent accounts, benami accounts and cross-country politics. Ravi Subramanian also pays very specific attention to details. He has chronicled the Tsunami floods, the shifting of the US consulate from Breach Candy to BKC in Mumbai and other famous landmarks of Mumbai. However, not only Mumbai, the Author has researched extensively about organizations in Angola, Luanda, Cochin and Devikulum as well. Some of the examples are as follows with links for further reading:
- Angola is rich in diamond deposits which are alluvial in nature.
- UNITA – The National Union for Total Independence of Angola
- MPLA – People’s Movement for Liberation of Angola.
- Srikakulam Nuclear power plant (named as Trikakulam in the book)
- Devikulam in Kerala lies in zone 3 grading of earthquake prone areas.
The author has hit the bulls eye in matters relating to the banks and their working cultures. He has not only exposed the dangers awaiting the customer’s important identification and financial documents, but he has also thrown light on the greedy nexus between the Human resources department and the recruitment agencies. The author also paints the picture of what lies in store for us if we become the Boss’s pet. Unabashed proclamation of the temerity with which business leaders manipulate the situations to their benefits, by the author, is also commendable. The book could be used as a standard module for teaching newly joined employees and existing bankers as well about money laundering and fake accounts.
The book has its share of typos and grammatical errors as well. I was also not completely satisfied with the manner in which the antagonist was treated by the author. He could have shared some insights or some thoughts in connection with the actual negative characters. Their motives , though implicit, are not explained from the horses’ mouth. In fact, one of the characters doesn’t even get a chance to come out in front of the audience with his/her views/motives in the latter part of the book. The author must give equal opportunities to the protagonist as well as the antagonist to express their views, thoughts and motives clearly and lucidly.
The lead characters could have been given a little more depth and a little insight as to why they did what they were doing.
The final verdict
This book manages to hold your concentration with its fast pace and is an interesting read. If you are a banker, go ahead and give this book a read, it has been written for all you bankers out there. If you’re not a banker, read on to find out how bankers at private retail banks take customers on a wild goose chase.