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Almost impoverished for good in the time of the credit card economy

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The ranting over demonetisation, the queues outside ATMs and the debates on prime-time TV had hardly ever bothered me. With half a dozen credit cards in my wallet, cash or no cash never mattered. And with quite a few hundred-rupee notes recovered from hidden purses, old piggybanks and jammed drawers, we were able to fairly manage our daily business when the whole country had come to live in front of banks. Until one day when I ventured into a nearby street out for a bit of window-shopping and finally felt the blow.

Mall in a lane

It was a usual day at work and during the much-awaited lunch break I crawled out of our uncomfortably air-conditioned workplace for an afternoon walk, just to catch some sunlight. Now I must mention that the lane I choose for walk is not a walking path or a park, rather one of the busiest and most resourceful of all streets in north Bangalore, the bustling Bashyam Circle in Rajajinagar. From hair clips to expensive jewellery, lingerie to silk saris, coriander to exotic fruits, this street has them all bundled up, more like a desi mall spread across a lane. No bazaar, however big, can match the variety of things on display in this good old street, and my walking sessions here invariably turned into window-shopping excursions.

Shopping sprees

As expected, the mid-noon walks often ended up with me coming back with bags of unwanted goodies bought on my way. New saris bought well in advance for next year’s festivals or pairs of sandals stocked for use, just in case the existing ones wore out, the shopping spree only thinned out my cards by the frequent swiping. I also bought everything from freshly harvested groundnuts sold on push carts, to strawberries and plums — just for the joy of consuming all that was available.

With the demonetisation bomb much of the cash became worthless, but my shopping walks were largely unaffected. If not the roadside vendors, I now barged into a supermarket on the same street for some more joy of shopping. While I would enter the shop with the intention of buying just a mosquito coil, I would walk out with bags full of onions, apples, kiwi fruit and multicoloured bell peppers, along with packs of noodles, ketchup, paneer and potato wafers, which were nowhere in my ‘things to buy’ list. Conveniently swiping for all purchases, I never even counted how much I spent. It was a convenience all the way.

Still the queen

With the cards in hand I still felt like a queen despite the note ban when the apparent kings holding piles of black money had slid from riches to rags. Laughing at the long lines in front of ATMs, I walked on happily swinging my card. This time my eyes fell on a bakery.

Though not in need of anything on offer there, I went ahead just to scan the things on display. But the aroma of maida baking with butter lured me into packing some for myself. I ordered a pound of bread to start with and then moved on to cakes, chips, buns, biscuits, kodubales and nippats, covering almost all the things on display. After all I had nothing much to lose. Just a swipe and few more bags and my taste buds would be dancing, I had thought.

The items added up to 3,000-odd calories and cost me Rs. 536 including Rs. 13 for a special cloth bag. When I handed over the card to pay, much to my dismay the man at the bakery revealed he did not have a swiping machine.

When vegetable vendors were sporting the Paytm logo, inspired by Narendra Modi, there was this shirtless gentleman still living on cash. His was a age-old bakery, well known for his delicacies, but he was yet to move with the times. With less than Rs. 200 in my pocket, I felt poor for the rst time. The feeling of not being able to afford something despite a bank balance was ironic, and the pain of all those standing at the ATM queue manifested in me too.

Letting go

Ending up with no money to pay after packing all things was infuriating, just like finding a ‘no cash available’ message after entering all details in the ATM machine. Left with no choice but to cut down on my bill, I let go of a few items. With most of the deep-fried items removed from the list, I was left with just the bread, biscuits and cakes as I carefully matched my cash with the cost of each item. For once I had cared to know the price of the things I was purchasing and I did feel the pinch. I realised the value of money when I parted with my precious, hard-earned, hundred- rupee notes, two of them.

Lighter, wiser

With several unwanted calories unloaded from my bag, I felt much lighter and also wiser. I am not sure what effect Narendra Modi’s demonetisation would have on black money, but it definitely saved a few more calories and taught me the value of money.

When the whole country was moving towards the digital economy, I decided to go on my walks without a card with just a few unbanned notes in my pocket, just to curtail my spending spree.

Thanks to demonetisation, I was impoverished for good.

mridu_doc@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 1:12:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/Almost-impoverished-for-good-in-the-time-of-the-credit-card-economy/article17047224.ece

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