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Bank open, cubicle empty

The first customer at SBI Bhowanipore since the shooting incident last Friday arrived 20 minutes ahead of time on Monday, so eager was he to encash a term deposit that had matured a few weeks ago.

Swapan Paul, 65, had visited the branch on Saturday, only to find it shut. “The fixed deposit matured last month but I was busy with some work and couldn’t withdraw the maturity amount immediately. The branch didn’t open on Saturday, so I did not take a chance today and reached before time,” Paul, the first in a queue of seven customers, told Metro.

Two guards requisitioned from another SBI branch were on duty on Monday. For the first time in many years, the familiar face of Sunil Kumar Sarkar wasn’t around to greet customers. Radhakrishna Mondal, also a regular member of the security staff, wasn’t there either.

“Today, banking operations will be delayed by 10 minutes,” one of the new guards told Paul and the other early customers after opening the gate at 10am.

The reason for the delay was apparently a condolence meeting organised by the bank staff for cashier Manab Bose and guard Radhakrishna, both felled by bullets from Sunil’s service rifle on Friday afternoon.

As the first batch of customers walked in following the meeting, two bank officials stepped out to remove the notices pasted outside about banking operations being suspended till further orders. A guard followed them out carrying a yellow lunchbox that he discarded at the foot of a tree along the pavement.

Someone said the lunchbox belonged to the slain cashier. If the box was indeed his, the food in it might have been left untouched on Friday. Guard Sunil shot him dead before the official lunch break at the bank.

Paul, possibly unaware of where Manab used to sit, headed for counter number 3 opposite the bank’s entrance. There was nobody manning the counter but he stood there.

Dada, otay ekhon kodin keu bosbena. Apni edike chole asun (nobody will sit at that counter for the time being. You please come this way),” the teller at counter number 2 said, waving his hands to draw Paul’s attention.

He moved away from the counter but other customers continued to head for counter number 3, some standing on their toes for a good view of the spot where cashier Manab had been shot.

“Unless there is a rush, we have decided to keep the counter empty as a mark of respect to Manab Bose. For the time being, we have opened a counter on the first floor in place of this one,” said branch manager Chhabi Sarkar, who had risked his life to snatch Sunil’s gun after the assault on Friday.

“It was a sad incident but we have moved on and there is no fear among any of the colleagues or consumers,” the manager said.

But several bank employees said they felt insecure about working in the branch after what they saw on Friday.

“I was sitting right next to Manabda when I heard a shot and a spray of blood on the glass separating our cubicle. I froze. I was wondering whether robbers had entered our bank when I heard another shot and saw Manabda on the floor in a pool of blood,” the official recounted. “There is something eerie about sitting here. I am looking straight to avoid casting a glance at Manabda’s empty cubicle.”

Barely 30 customers had visited the bank till 11.30am, less than a quarter of the number of people inside the building at the same time last Monday.

“Some of our employees have gone to Manab’s house and a few are on leave. As for our customers, they will surely start coming in large numbers once word is out that we have reopened,” the manager said.