Symbols are important, and the United Progressive Alliance government has done well to choose one for the rupee. The days of the good old INR (Indian rupees) will become a memory as the world starts using the new rupee symbol. Of course, millions of computers all over the world will have to pick up the ASCII or American Standard Code for Information Interchange for the symbol and that could take time. But for a single geographic and cultural entity with a more or less unified currency for a few thousand years, a decade or so won't matter much. However, it is now also possible to do the conversion quite easily. There are websites that tell us how to do it by presenting the symbol first as a graphic and then in ‘Unicode-friendly' fonts. The new symbol is also symbolic of India's new-found self-confidence. Even China, which is altogether more assertive than India, has the same symbol for its yuan as the Japanese yen, namely a Y with two lines drawn across the stem (¥). Many countries have chosen to call their currency “dollar” and simply use the $ sign and, in a rare stab at joviality, the Singaporeans call their currency Singdols. Oddly enough, although one would have expected it as a natural given, the British pound is yet to find a symbol on most keyboards. The letters GBP have to be typed in each time. It was perhaps because they were mindful of the mild insult implicit in this that the Europeans got themselves a symbol for their Euro from the very start, ironically the Greek epsilon with a couple of stakes through its belly (€).
It is hard not to wonder why so many countries choose symbols with lines drawn across them, either vertically like the dollar or horizontally like so many others. The lines across the symbols for the Euro were supposed to stand for stability! These lines do not make an appearance when simple letters are used, like Kr for the Krona or RM for the Ringgit of Malaysia. So what is about a symbol that compels its designer to resort to these lines? It is probably one of those things that get done quite mindlessly. That said, will the new symbol launch the rupee into another currency league? Or is it going to be just one more of those vanities that we Indians are so good at embracing? Some people think that the rupee will become a greatly preferred currency if it is allowed to be fully convertible. Others disagree. Time will tell who is right.