With a membership of over 2000 'account holders', but a complete lack of assets or savings plans, the Ram Nam bank is a financial institution in name only. Because instead of money, it deals in deposits of 'Ram Nam' - the Lord's Name.
Many Hindus follow the ritual of scribbling the Lord Ram's name on a piece of paper, as an odd form of meditation. Devotees, who range from housewives hurriedly scribbling on the kitchen table, to public employees writing deliberately while eyeing an ever-increasing queue, consider it a quick and easy way to feel connected to God. Which, considering the large population of Hindus in India, means that there are millions of pages with the Lord's name lining sock drawers and filing cabinets all over the country.
Enter L.K. Tiwari, an ex-schoolteacher, who claims to have written ‘Ram’ 10 million times already. He had the great idea to collect all the notes and deposit them at Lord Ram's birthplace, Ayodhya. So he launched the bank 17 years ago, which has since become an organised operation whih gives out free booklets for people to fill in, as well as a network of 35 drop-off centres.
In a move of secularism rare for Ayodhya (where over 2000 people were killed in a communal dispute in 1992) the bank doesn't discriminate between the religions of account holders. The only rule of the institution is this: every account holder must write at least one page a day.
Image: An illustration of Hanuman, the monkey god, writing 'Ram' on clay tablets.