I was still working, when social media was all agog and shouting about the ban of the two bigger currency notes. The chants and the rants were louder than what happens when India wins a major cricket tournament. The social-media-worms had manufactured jokes and memes beforehand.
After finishing, I gathered the details and ransacked my wallet, safe and in every casket for the now, legitimate currency notes. Only two Hundred-rupee notes and four ten-rupee notes were all I had, to fall back on. My car too, was crying for fuel. ‘Tomorrow is going to be a tough day,’ I bewailed grimacing, at my wife. She let out a sigh, showing her usual indifference to my miseries.
As presaged, the day started with distress when my son demanded hundred-rupee notes for going to college. Wondering what I would do, I parted with them feeling pangs of pain.
At the fuel station, I uttered an odd amount of seventeen hundred. The boy let out a cunning scowl. ‘Sir, we’re entertaining only the multiples of five hundred,’ he answered, mistaking my need as greed.
‘Please… give me at least one leaf of Hundred, to buy cigarettes.’
‘Sorry, I’ve none.’
Disappointed, I headed to the bank for an exchange though it was still an hour for the banks to open. At the bank, about two hundred wiser people welcomed me in separate queues for men and women. A two-man media crew was dutifully setting up their equipment. Animated people from all classes, religions, and corners of Indian geography, a mini collage depicting the famous diversity of India, were standing. The mood was upbeat, presumably, because of the possible prospect of an interview by the journalist, or maybe, because of the enforcement of something that would affect the super-rich more than the less privileged who had come to exchange the few of their countable currency notes that they usually keep hidden.
It was the first day of the ban and many had little idea of the requisites of the money exchange. In the queue, an elderly gentleman stood before me. ‘I have brought everything, Aadhar card, voter-card, Pan Card, Pass-book, Cheque Book, to give them anything they would ask for.’
I replied him with a nervous smile, as I had only a Pan Card.
‘The bank manager lives next to me, there,’ he pointed a finger at the D.D.A. apartments opposite to the bank, ‘my wife told me to go to him but, I didn’t want his obligation, you see.’ He said, painting regret with pride.
The bank opened at ten and the queue began to move. Like a python, it crawled and halted. Five women and then five men were allowed to enter the bank alternately.
‘A small trouble for us but, it’s a life-long nightmare for the people who sleep on the mattresses cushioned with wads of notes. Well done, Prime minister,’ another not-so-elderly gentleman, two-mortals ahead spoke, turning his neck.
‘A few had a heart attack hearing the news last night,’ a man, not in the queue contributed. Probably, he was trying to get into the queue.
The media-men started their job. As the reporter, donning a French-cut, un-ironed jacket, unpolished brown shoes and rimless spectacles, buying an impression of a workaholic intellectual for himself walked towards the line, people raised their hands to speak. He obliged a few and went away to sit on a parked scooter.
The first set of men came out. People welcomed them with a volley of questions. But, they seemed in great hurry. Only one of them waved a form, the exchange-seekers needed to fill.
A young man two blokes behind me carried the same form. I requested him to let me see it. Some more hands extended to grab the sheet. As I was going through it, a man standing farther said, ‘Somebody should go and get it photocopied.’ Nobody volunteered to go.
‘I am just coming…going to get copies of this. I am after you,’ I told the old chap and walked out of the queue to go to the Photostat shop few blocks away.
The thin man at the Xerox machine saw the form and pulled a copy out of the bunch.
‘Ah! You have already copied this. Great… You knew about it?’ Surprised, I snapped.
‘Yes, it was all over the internet since the PM declared the ban.
‘Is it? I was busy last night.’
‘Busy last night?’ A naughty smile surfaced on his wide lips.
When you are nervous, such verbal lapses are natural. I realised what he meant and corrected myself, ‘Busy with my work. Give me ten copies. How much?’
‘Twenty bucks.’ The chap had a smart business sense.
Keeping five copies with me, I handed the rest to the young man I had taken the original copy from, not wanting to indulge in the chaos of distribution, expecting it to be worse than doling alms to the beggars.
As we slithered along, views on the ban continued to pour in. A woman started grumbling, ‘How would he understand the woes of the common people. He married and abandoned his wife,’ she called the correspondent, ‘Take my interview. I will tell you how faulty this diktat is. I don’t have a single note to buy milk.’
I wanted to tell her that I was in the same league with her but, why didn’t she buy milk on monthly basis? I restrained.
The uncle next to me began rueing, ‘My son is at home today but, he didn’t come. How many children do you have?’
‘Two,’ I replied.
‘Don’t expect them to help you in any way. I made ‘subzi’ and the dough before coming here. My wife can’t even stand because of joint pain after Chickengunia…will make roti’s when I am free from here,’ I nodded, trying to feel sorry for the affairs in his life.
The bank manager came out to have a feel of the unusual ruckus outside. ‘Should I go and ask for some deposit slips? We can fill them while standing here,’ he proposed.
‘Yes, good idea,’ I said. I too, needed one to deposit those useless five hundred and thousand rupee notes.
He walked towards the entrance of the bank. However, as he was about to reach there, the manager turned and walked inside. The guard refused to give him any.
He came back and moaned, ‘See, he walked in after seeing me. Such are the neighbours nowadays. I had helped him when I was working in the registrar office.’
A boy came out and waved the new two-thousand rupee note at someone known to him. People fell out of the queue to have a close look of the pink delight. Instant reviews started raining, “Small. Paper is thin. Looks like the one we used to get with Chooran. Gandhi is still there. What was the need to bring it out? Who would change it?”
When only ten men remained before us, we were standing next to the reporter who had changed his microphone with ‘India News’ label to one with the ‘Zee News’ label. Somebody in the crowd said to him, “Media is seeking delight in the public misery.” He was furious. “You’re not obliging anybody by standing here. You are here for your own sake.”
“Whom are you obliging, Sir?” I asked, surprised with his reasonless retort.
“We are doing it for you, the public. We come to you and show your problems. Thus, we force the government to resolve them.” The reporter shot back.
“Isn’t that your job? You are paid for it.” Before, he could say anything, the man behind, quipped, “You are here for the drama, for TRP. When you don’t find any, you create it. All drama happens because of you. Everyone wants to be famous.”
“Actually, your frustration is because of the ban,” I heard the reporter saying.
“No, I’ve no qualms for standing here. My problem is your needless presence here. What are you here for?” The man was not ready to give up.
The bank manager had come out again. He saw his neighbour and signalled him to go inside. The old man gaily walked away.
I was still waiting for my turn when he came out. “Had he seen me earlier, I would have finished with cooking and washing by now.” He didn’t wait for my reaction.
The bankers didn’t give me the smaller notes but the two crisp pink notes that fitted well in my wallet. I deposited the cash and returned.
In the afternoon, the grocery-guy in my neighbourhood urged to see the new note. I presented the note and said, ‘I got it but I need hundred rupee notes.’
‘I will change it if you want. At least, I can show it to the people.’
I gladly agreed.
By evening, more than twenty people came to my house, not to meet me but to see the testimony of a change and the promise of a richer India! Smaller in size and greater in value. Yes, the same briefcase now, can hold twice the currency it did earlier.