I was online when the news of the demonetisation trickled in. Too engrossed in the final moments of the Trump Hillary showdown, I wondered why the Prime Minister was talking about currency that had been phased out long ago. And then it slowly sinked in. He was referring to the money lying in my wallet. As he ominously declared that the notes would lose legal tender I thought of the million Cinderellas whose riches would turn into rags at the stroke of midnight.
I sat marvelling at the act, its intention, its execution and far reaching implications. Chutzpah was the word which kept resonating in my mind, brazen boldness. I watched news bulletins and listened as analysts fumbled on the issue. The newscasters had prepared for the American Presidential Elections. Trump leading the fray was a surprise, this was a shock and completely out of syllabus.
While I was looking for answers there was a scramble for damage control all around. People rushed to their trusted jewellers to invest in the yellow metal. Their trust was somewhat betrayed as gold prices climbed higher with each foot fall. Those who could think out of the box explored other avenues. Swanky automobiles, expensive gadgets, luxury holidays all were bought in the few hours before money lost its power.
A friend was waiting to pay for a T shirt he had bought in a mall. The woman ahead was getting gift cards made. As she fished out money from various pockets of her big designer purse and got dozens of cards made my friend became restless and left without making his purchase. It was only when he was on his way home that her ingenuity hit him. She had effectively turned lacs of rupees into legit money in the form of gift cards which could be used later.
To ensure that travellers do not get stuck the government announced that train and air tickets could be bought with old currency. Suddenly the sale of first class AC train tickets went up. People bought whatever tickets were available with a plan to get them refunded. It took a while for the government to realise and close the route. Similarly people bought large supply of medicines because the government had compassionately allowed old notes in chemist shops. A man bought diapers worth thirty thousand rupees to put his tainted money to use. Now he has to produce enough babies to taint the diapers!
For most of us fuel efficiency is the most important feature of an automobile. ‘Average kitna deti hai?’ is the first question any true blue blooded Indian will ask. Now people have stopped cribbing about their petrol guzzling cars. Since the government has allowed old currency to be used in petrol pumps an empty tank comes as a relief, a chance to put old cash to use before relieving it.
To say that the move took out the extravaganza from the fat Indian marriage is an understatement. This segment is worst hit as all the money which turns a wedding into a spectacle is paid in cash. I came across a bridegroom who looked rather grumpy with his garland made of thousand rupee notes. It didn’t help that his friends were making jokes about his ‘junk’ jewellery. As the baraat made its way to the bride’s home with the usual singing, dancing and showering of currency notes, I noticed there were more people scrambling for hundred rupee notes than the higher denominator ones. After a while the shower of small notes stopped. Perhaps the dispenser realised that he would need money for breakfast.
After a restless night a lady in the neighbourhood woke up early and visited the temple. She was not seeking solace in God as one would think. She had gone looking for small change but was beaten to it by some other enlightened soul. Only 500/- and 1000/- bills lay at the idol’s feet.
Happily, the last week was not only about milking the cow dry before abandoning it. It was also a time for camaraderie, introspection and realising the importance of the petty hundred rupee bill. A friend recounts how he had gone to buy munchies for his parents and spent two hundred instead of the intended three hundred. At the time he felt that the saved money could be put to better use. Now he feels guilty and wonders whether he was being wise or otherwise, just stingy.
With news of people buying gold at unheard of rates, leaving sackfuls of notes on roadsides and burning money I felt a little alienated , a little morose. A friend suggested I burn a sack of newspapers just to raise a stink. I don’t think that will work. Burnt currency smells different, perhaps, because the heart burns with it.
( published in my column in the Sunday Tribune on 20/11/2016)