A coin crisis of monumental proportions is gathering momentum in the city. Or haven’t you heard that jingle yet?
The only thing that doesn’t change in ever-changing Bangalore is that there is no change. This is not a brainteaser. I’m talking of change that jingles, ah, now the penny drops, does it? It is time to panic. A coin crisis of monumental proportions is gathering momentum in the city. This fact is based on extensive research, i.e. five things that happened to me over the last two hours. Tut-tut, you should know by now what ‘research’ means by a journalist’s standards.
Anyway, let me be the first to announce that the folks at the mint have mislaid the mould for one- and two-rupee coins. What other explanation can there be? Unless there’s a Chillar Monster on the prowl, gobbling up every coin it can find, its belly jangling and its jaws waving menacingly from side to side. A less dramatic reason could be that beggars have been shooed off or locked up; they used to keep change in circulation — I would often see conductors at the Shivajinagar bus stand (before it was spruced up) approach beggars to exchange notes for coins.
The rupee coin has been in hiding for a while, and now it looks as though the two, too, is going off the market. Before I tell you of the five things that happened to me, here are some gleanings from the archives. In September 2003 in this very column I had griped about the vanishing 25p and worried whether the 50p would follow suit. Hah! (There, I said it before you could.) A snippet of more recent vintage: a couple of years ago, while giving you a graphic description of a disgusting five-rupee note, I had hinted that the rupee coin was on its way to becoming a numismatic exhibit, which prompted a kind reader to donate one-, two- and three-paise coins to me, hoping it would contribute to this potential exhibition of the not-too-distant future.
No more hints or conjecture. This is fact. I went out to do some minor shopping this evening. At the Nandini milk store I handed over a ten and two twos, and the woman didn’t have a rupee to give me. This has been happening so frequently that I didn’t bat an eyelid. Tomorrow I would pay her a rupee less, i.e. a ten and a two, thus saving us both the bother of hunting for a single. I took a bus and had to ask the conductor what the fare was because, as you know, it went up recently.
Thirteen rupees, he said. I handed him two tens, expecting him to return a five and a two (no problem with twos, right?). Thirteen rupees, he repeated fiercely. I shrugged. He returned a ten. I gave him two twos, the only change I had on me, and kept glaring at him until he fumbled about in the depths of his leather bag for two minutes and fished out a rupee.
“You have two rupees, madam?” asked the man behind the counter at the medical shop. If I had it, he could have given me only tens in change. I gestured to my wallet and shrugged. “Give me next time, madam,” he said. My next stop was the Bangalore One centre where I pay all my bills these days. The man gave me a crumpled fiver which I accepted with a sigh. He scrabbled about in the drawer for a rupee which he didn’t have. “I’ll add it to your bill,” he said. So now the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation owes me a rupee. I shall scrutinise my next bill carefully to see if it has reduced my dues.
The coffee powder outlet posed no problem. The rates were all in multiples of five. While the boy sealed my half-kilo pouch I gave the man Rs. 200. He smoothly returned a tenner and a five-rupee coin. I now possessed two coins: this five, and the one rupee the conductor had given me. On my return journey I gave the conductor a ten and the soiled fiver I had received at Bangalore One. Would he spurn it? Would he have two rupees or would another silent tug-of-war ensue? Mother of god, he actually dropped two ones into my surprised palm! As I turned into the gate of our apartments I decided to treat myself to a snack at the Mallu bakery. I picked a typical Mallu eatable called the unniappam. Give me two, I said. It’s Rs. 8, he said. Now, I wasn’t going to part with my hard-won change which, quite coincidentally, now amounted to exactly Rs. 8. I gave him ten. What? No change? I couldn’t believe it. The bakery was crowded with evening snackers eating chaat and samosas off paper plates. Give it to me later, I said. “Shall I give you another unniappam?” he asked me innocently. Okay, I said, unsuspectingly walking into the trap. So now, instead of him owing me two, I owed him two!
Let me tot it up: I owe the medical shop Rs. 2 and the bakery Rs. 2. Is that all? Wait. I forgot the rupee the KPTC owes me. A small notebook is what I need, to keep track of change I owe and am owed. But when I buy it I had better see that I have the right change with me.
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