Cityzen Society

Money, money, money....

Illustration : Sreejith R. Kumar  

We were watching a TV programme on the elections in the United States on Tuesday night when my sister called. ‘Heard the latest?’ She sounded agitated. ‘Took us totally unawares.’

‘Yes,’ I responded, eyes glued to the television. ‘Can’t believe it; they are actually giving Trump a chance.’ ‘Trump? Hrrrump!’ Her voice began to break. Was she crying for Hillary? She became intermittently audible. ‘I’m at the ATM at… and …long queue…been standing…’ her voice faded out like the ending of a wistful song. I now realised it was her phone, not her emotion, which was responsible for the histrionics. She has one of those phones that adds excitement to conversation and tests your ear like a tuning fork.

But why would she explain her movements to me? There was a mystery here, so I dialled her number. ‘It’s 500s.’ Her voice went silent, then I heard a whispered, ‘1000s.’ What on earth? Were these the odds for Trump? I didn’t realise my sister even knew the betting lingo. ‘I’m following the polls keenly on BBC,’ I said, not wishing to be outdone.

‘Polls? BBC?’ Now her voice rose. ‘You’re crazy. Don’t you want to know what the nation already knows? Five hundred- and 1,000-rupee notes have been banned. Watch the news. Ah, the line is moving.’ She ended the call.

Banned? I switched channels and the full blast of the hot news hit us. We were flabbergasted to find how adroitly the noteworthy, healthy 500- and 1000-rupee notes had been rendered unworthy and put in quarantine. Hillary was dropped and Trump dumped as we watched in disbelief the news channels playing the theme of corruption and black money.

The next day was declared a holiday for banks and post offices; ATMs weren’t functioning either. A considerate gesture, commented cynics, to give people time to mull over the repercussions of a sudden de-monetisation. A practical decision, said commerce-savvy people since the financial institutions needed to get ready for the prospective assault on their coffers. Shops were open but people didn’t have smaller denomination notes. Most had the villainous currency but shops wouldn’t accept them. So people spent their time soul searching, airing their views and spreading rumours.

I began my treasure hunt, examining my purses carefully. I didn’t know I had so many, most of them old and frayed with rusty zips whose pullers came away in my hands with every enthusiastic tug. But, oh, the joy when the abused purses revealed tenners, the occasional hundred or a fifty, not to mention the loose change! And the chagrin when a five hundred or a thousand popped up!

Someone had told my friend’s maid that banks will take away her money and not return it. Her next worry was she didn’t have an account but her permanently drunken husband had. She had been squirrelling away some of her savings so that he couldn’t get his unsteady fingers on them. Now she would be forced to hand them over and watch them get converted to a one-time liquid investment.

The rich and the users of plastic money are fine; it’s the farmers, labourers, petty traders, auto drivers and daily wage workers who are some of the worst hit. Spare a thought for housewives, working women, women labourers and maids, many of whom had been saving money out of their housekeeping funds and earnings. The money, safe from the prying eyes and greedy fingers of the spouses, was kept aside for an emergency, the education of their children, to buy gifts or for a personal indulgence.

I wondered what would happen to those women who must have been saving for a beauty treatment. I recall this incident that happened a few years back when I didn’t have a mobile. I was setting out to have my hair trimmed when the landline rang. An uncertain voice wished to speak to me. It was the lady from the beauty parlour. I was a little late and she wished to know if I was keeping my appointment. She apologised for calling on my land phone saying she never contacted her clients on their landlines if she could help it. Apparently many of them came incognito to the parlour since their husbands or in-laws would raise their unplucked eyebrows at beautification. I told her not to worry; my hair appointment was something like a five-year-plan and fell just short of making it to the papers.

Now it’s time for my next hair trimming. I have permission for it and a mobile, but no money…


(A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series)

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 5:44:22 PM |

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