## What did you want to be when you grew up?

My parents worked at a bank, the same bank. In fact, that’s how they met, and got married. The bank’s policies around couples meant they could never work in the same branch. Dad took on the role that meant he’d be transferred every so often, and mum would find a branch nearby. In those days, the optimal location didn’t exist: either the parents commuted, or the kids did, or in some cases, both did.

The concept of after-school care didn’t exist in those days either. Kids ended up either at home by themselves, or at a friendly neighbour’s. In some cases, the parents’ place of employment allowed the kids to turn up there after school until the parents wrapped up their day’s work.

I ended up at one or the other parent’s branch after school every single day, six days a week. I’d get introduced to people who came into the bank. There were all sorts of people from all backgrounds and all classes of society. In every little village or town that my parents moved to, people were friendly. Most answered my questions when I cared enough to ask them. I knew nearly everyone of the bank’s customers by name, and often their profession – or at least their spouse’s profession or location of employment.

Bank branches were also located in the busiest part of town. Trade, commerce & industry in full force. Art exhibitions. Handicraft emporiums. Author book signing events. The occasional attempt at robbery. Food and drink for sale. Butchers. Bakeries. Fruit vendors. Bus drivers and conductors. Milk cooperatives. Wine stores. Tailors. Cloth merchants. Other banks’ branches. Hairdressers. Restaurants. Several other shops that looked like offices. These people all would rock up at the bank, of course.

And then there were the wives of “foreign-workers”. The Middle East was a huge employer of people from the south of India. Anyone with basic literacy skills found employment in offices in the oil-rich sheikhdoms. The currency arbitrage attracted several menfolk, even if they didn’t have literacy skills, to try their luck. The womenfolk, single women raising their kids with ‘gulf-sent’ money would be dressed in gold & livery when the traipsed into the bank. When the menfolk returned once every 2 years or so, and weren’t drunk, they too rocked up to the bank to organise their financial affairs.

That was the background in which I spent the first decade and a half of my life. Printed money in strong rooms (cash safes) smelt wonder. Coin- and note-counting machines were fascinating. The sounds of both metal and paper currency being counted and tallied. The frustration of the bank staff when paper records and paper currencies didn’t tally. The elation when they did.

I learnt error-spotting on ledger folios, and short-cuts in arithmetic because mum & dad both brought home them home at month-end time to complete the double-entry system of manual book-keeping. I could identify many sorts of errors: transposition, addition, sequential recording. I knew how to identify numbers from bad handwriting (long before I had ever heard of the EMNIST dataset. I learnt skills because I was exposed to the work that my parents did.

I also learnt that asking questions was endlessly fun. Regardless of their backgrounds, people were eager to talk about themselves. Humor went a long way. I had picked up a ton of dirty jokes from these people. Not everyone was offended (and I made sure my parents weren’t around when I told them 🤪). I learnt the fine art of learning by follow up questions.

I met a caricaturist, Prakash Shetty, when he had his exhibition on the floor above my dad’s bank. I was about 10 years old. Watching him draw, and then listening to him explain how he did his craft was fascinating. I started sketching because of him. I don’t think I’ve thought of him in a long time. I also loved his handwritten font, and began copying it nearly every day. It spawned my initial interest in calligraphy.

I’ve met people from so many different professions and I don’t think I remembered any of those professions vividly enough for long enough. I wanted instead to learn something from everyone I met. Crossword solvers. Wordsmiths. Yoga paduvans. Electricians. Plumbers. Mechanics. Bank managers. Auditors. Milkmen. Bus drivers. Nuns. Priests. Old-age home workers. Doctors. Nurses. Grocery storekeepers. I typed those professions out with specific people in my mind, after all those years!

The one professional I vividly remember not having met during those times was a pilot, or anyone who worked with/ on aircraft. Unsurprisingly, that’s what I wanted to do. I never did.