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       Volume 10 |Issue 49 | December 30, 2011 |


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The Favour Bank Model

Aasha Mehreen Amin

If you thought the World Bank was the most important bank in the universe Paulo Coelho would probably beg to differ. In his novel 'The Zahir' Coelho introduces the concept of the Favour Bank which, he says is the most influential bank of all. This is roughly how it works: Assuming you are a person of some significance in society, you are in a position to make deposits in this intangible 'bank' by doing favours for someone -helping to clinch a deal, introducing them to the right people, making the right calls and so on. The person now carries in his head a big deposit of favours in your account. You do not immediately take advantage of this. You wait. Then, at the opportune moment you draw from your account and ask the favour. There is no way he can refuse. Refusal to return a favour amounts to a kind of social suicide. Word gets out that this person is an ingrate and he becomes a kind of nobody for whom no one will lift a finger. On the other hand, if he does the favour his standing in society will elevate dramatically, people will trust him and go out of their way to help him. In Coelho's version, the Favour Bank does not deal with money or things, only contacts 'because this world is made of contacts and nothing else.'

For a close-knit society like ours, nothing could be truer. Everything is based on your contacts through whom you will get things done, reciprocity, being a prerequisite of keeping the favour bank profitable.

The best kind of contact is being related to it. Say, you have a famous dentist even in the distant family tree. You, your children, in-laws, colleagues and their relatives will be able to get that special appointment that for normal mortals would have taken at least two months. No serial number will be required. Just a little whisper to the attendant that the patient's appointment has been given by the doctor.

This is true for any activity that requires queuing up. It could be for a visa, a car registration, school certificate, a bank account or even a plate of phuchka (if you know the phuchka wala  you get preference).  Sometimes you can even get away with pretending to have the association. A senior citizen was once accosted by two muggers who just hopped onto the rickshaw he was sitting on saying sweetly: " Unkel please give us your wallet and mobile." The Unkel, being a fighter who refused to be made a fool of haughtily replied: Are you Aurangzeb's boys or Kala Jahangir's? Call him right now and tell him my name." The bluff actually worked and the muggers quickly got down from the vehicle and disappeared into the crowd.

Meeting someone from the same thana or district will provide you with the best contact. Just a second ago someone was elbowing you to get in front of the line. Then, when you protest by saying: Ghedi gulla dimu aane (an ominous threat to twist the offender's neck), his whole attitude changes. He too is from Barisal! He will apologise profusely and strike up a conversation in the shared dialect, even invite you to his village to have pitha that his cousin's wife's mother makes so perfectly.

While all this is very cheery and sweet there is a flipside.

Most of these contacts are not favour bank deposits but just nice, no-strings attached kindnesses. But there will always be one contact that may become the bane of your life.

Remember the attendant of the dentist you are vaguely related to? One fine day he calls you and reminds you of all the times he 'managed' to circumvent the long list of serial numbers just to get you in. Yes yes you say wondering what he is getting at. Finally the bombshell falls: "Apa, my sister-in-law, very bright student, has passed her Honours in Botany. I will send her biodata. I am sure you will be able to hire her..."

One option would be to tactfully say you can't do this. But wait. What about the next time you or one of your long line of associates need a root canal? You calm yourself and just tell him to send you the CV.

Now all you have to do is figure out how to get a job for this young Botanist. You work at a bank.

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