The November 8 demonetization of Rs.1000 and Rs.500 currency notes has thrown life out of gear throughout India. Funnily it has sharpened my financial analysis of the situation.
These notes were popular because they coincided with our daily expenses. Each of my shopping trips either for veggies, grocery or meat totalled only Rs.500 including auto or taxi fare. If there was any function or wedding in the family and it was a cash gift an envelope of fresh Rs.500 or Rs.1000 note with the token Rs.1 coin was readied. Similarly Rs. 500 was the chosen note for donations to a national disaster relief or school building fund, social organisation fund raiser or other like occasions. All our family outings to restaurants, movies or late night ice cream and snack trips cost exactly Rs.1000. They were the idyllic middle-class family notes and rested snugly in any wallet or purse.
How many times have I converted my piggy bank collections into Rs. 500 notes and made sure to exchange them only when absolutely necessary, the Tamil colloquial term for this was Gandhiya Oddakurathu (the photo of Mahatma Gandhi on the note symbolized that we shouldn’t break its ‘unity’).
For the first time in many years, my conservative husband allowed me to operate my savings bank account for a withdrawal. He was forced to do it, as all customers had to come and verify themselves with innumerable ID proofs.
That day, my bank branch had about 100 customers who stood in three queues with only three officers to attend them. I admired the patience of these officers who dealt with bewildered questions like signatures, cheque filling, deposits and withdrawals in the unfamiliar new Rs.2000 notes.
Also the colourful curses against the ruling government by the customers entertained me. Many grumbled that the govt had allowed ultra rich to convert their hoarded wealth, while we working class had to subsist on meagre withdrawals after hours of queuing. The ATM counters were no better as the queues extended up to entire streets in several areas. They also became dry fast, because wily account holders often brought several cards and withdrew the allotted Rs.2000 per swipe from different banks. Also the ATM machine’s capacity for Rs.3 lakhs each time, cannot accommodate Rs.10, Rs.100 and Rs.50 notes whose bundles are larger than the banned notes. So, again curses can be heard at such counters.
At the hospital where my mother is undergoing chemotherapy after a mastectomy, we paid all their fees with our debit card, but the petite female accountant could not calculate the surcharge and fill in the receipt. Imagine we spent two extra hours waiting for her to figure out the transaction.
The deadline for exchange of the old Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes is December 31. Hundreds of legitimate schemes like e-wallets, card swiping machines at stores are now mingling with dubious methods like home delivery of Rs.2000 cash for a fee by online store Snapdeal, a growing black market in currency exchange and investment in gold and silver coins. The great Indian public is learning digital money but prefers cash in hand.
It is just like reading paper editions of newspapers daily, no digital version can replace it. No wonder Tamil Nadu has about 100 newspapers and even more magazines with average daily circulations of at least one million.
We like to touch and feel our money not use some card and password and be permanently hooked to our smart phones to update our net banking.