I was one of the four officers, trainees selected from Punjab who had received posting orders for Madras (now Chennai) after our appointment in the bank. To us born-and-brought-up Punjabis, language was one of the immediate impediments to face down south. In spite of our best efforts, we could never be comfortable with Tamil.
Our amateur attempts to use the language often landed us in awkward situations. In the initial period of training, I was assigned to bills counter, one of the busiest desks in the branch, where hundreds of outstation cheques were discounted daily and dispatched to other destinations via post.
We north Indians were unable to pick the lengthy, difficult names of south Indian cities and towns we had to write on the postal envelopes. One day, a cheque for Rs 5,000 came to me for process and it did not appear to have the name of the place written on it. I took it to my officer, who also happened to be a Punjabi.
After a careful look at the cheque, he switched to a bit-complaining voice. "Bhai zara achhi tarah dekh liya karo, Notover ka stamp laga toh hai (please, look at it carefully; the Notover stamp is affixed)," he said. Feeling slighted on my ignorance, I returned to my desk, prepared the envelope, wrote the name of the bank and the station, "Notover", on it and sent it to dispatch.
A few days later, the envelope was back, undelivered, with the remark: "No such place".
Again, hesitating, I took the envelope to the same officer. He did not show much concern for the non-delivery and advised me to re-dispatch the envelope after writing down the PIN code and the name of the district from the banking directory. I gave the cheque a thorough look and could not hold my laughter. "Notover", which we thought was the name of the place, was in fact "not over Rs 5,000", a banking safeguard to obviate the chance of tampering with the amount of money instruments.
For many days, the incident was a common joke in the office, much to the embarrassment of the particular officer, who was since nicknamed "Notover Sahib".