Getting correct change is becoming a thorny problem, with coins always seeming to be in short supply
It was a common enough situation on board a government bus during off peak hours, but snowballed into a noisy, verbal exchange that led to the driver parking the vehicle by the side of the road and entering the fray.
A woman passenger had handed over a Rs.10 note and the conductor, trying to give her change, asked in routine fashion, "Do you have one rupee, two rupees?"
The woman did not have any change, but seemed annoyed at the question. A few minutes later, she did get her change from the conductor, but mumbled beneath her breath, "Who gave him this job?"
Normally placid and reserved, the conductor exploded, "What did you say? How can you speak like this to a government employee?"
The bus was approaching the Collectorate and there seemed to be a few government employees on board, for some of them lent their voices to condemn the woman, who, at first, seemed in no mood to relent. However, she was finally shouted down and the vehicle proceeded on its journey.
On board another bus going to a popular mall, a conductor who goes out of his way to be jovial with passengers, made a plaintive appeal for correct change.
"If everyone gives me Rs.10, how will I give them change? Am I running a petty shop where I can give you sweets or betel nut?" he asked everyone present.
A man in a white, flowing beard who was seated beside me on a journey told me, after both of us had given correct change for our tickets, "They give the coins to hotels and Tasmac shops. Even if they have change, they won't give it to us. They get Rs.10 commission for every Rs.100. I know all about it."
However, my sympathies are with the bus conductors. "We have to give tickets to hundreds of passengers every day. How can we bring enough coins to give all of them?" one of them said, showing me his near-empty bag.
One conductor I meet often, took advantage of a traffic jam to run to the bus coming behind and get a handful of coins and a sheaf of currency. "That man is going to the depot. He doesn't need all this," the conductor said, in explanation.
Asked about the 'commision' issue, the man at a bakery counter told me, "We can afford commission of only Rs.5 for every Rs.100. Commission of Rs.10 per hundred is too much."
A popular restaurant chain that used to pride itself on giving correct change to all customers, now displays, behind cash counters, notices that read, "Owing to severe coin shortage, customers are requested to tender exact change."
Medical shops generally try to give cough drops instead of coins. I try to get the ones with mango or orange flavour, rather than those with mint or ginger flavour.
I once received a packet of bubble gum instead of change at a coffee shop and regularly get chocolates and boiled sweets at supermarkets. Another time, I got extra chilli and tomato sauce from a fried chicken restaurant that did not want to short-change me.
One cake shop even tried handing out cards with their seal on it, to be exchanged for small items at a petty shop nearby.
To some extent, the introduction of computers has helped people avoid being short-changed. You can pay your telephone bill in round figures, with the extra amount being deducted from the next bill, or purchase fuel at petrol pumps for a round figure rather than get short-changed.
I love going to clothing shops and restaurants where the bill is always in round figures after addition of all taxes, thanks to software that makes calculations in a jiffy.
Best of all is the use of a smart card at food courts in shopping malls, where you can get whatever you want, at whatever counter you want, and never have to worry about taxes and change. If the food court offers a refund of the unused amount on surrender of the smart card, it is one more reason to frequent the place.
I was happy when a local bank installed a machine that would provide change for Rs.10 and Rs.20 notes. However, the machine went out of order after a few days and attempts to repair it seem to have been unsuccessful.
As a last resort, I have been trying to get change from banks in the neighbourhood. The usual response is that they have run out of coins at the moment, but more coins will be coming soon. I hope so.