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The eve of 8th November 2016 was a memorable one. As residents of India, wherever we all were, whether at a raving party or sitting quietly tucked under a rock chanting our way to the non-material, there came a turbulent wave of anxiety (of a very material nature) that shook us to our cores. I was at a dance class at that very moment sitting with four other ladies when one of us announced, "Ladies, check your Whatasapp. What is this announcement that Modiji has just made?" I looked at her a bit puzzled. Why would I check my Whatsapp for a political announcement? Well, that goes to show the power of word of mouth. As social media isn't quite immune to hoaxes and uncalled-for, nation-wide pranks, we instead turned to our wider LED screens to confirm.
Our grim-faced prime minister emerged on screen, dead-serious and unapologetic.
"Brothers and Sisters,
To break the grip of corruption and black money, we have decided that the 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee currency notes presently in use will no longer be legal tender from midnight tonight, that is 8th November 2016. This means that these notes will not be acceptable for transactions from midnight onwards."
Demonetisation was something I had read about in my textbooks years ago, on a dreary afternoon in an uninspiring Economics class. Is this really happening? Right here, right now? Am I witnessing history being made so dramatically that the roaring sound of it could be heard in every drawing-room, at chai-wala tapris and stock market rooms alike.
It felt unreal in the beginning.
But slowly began dull murmurs between us. Hushed-up calls were being made, secret congregations were happening in dingy, isolated hide-outs... Everyone had emerged from their houses to queue up at ATMs. People had stopped thinking straight. While standing in the ATM queue, a man asked my husband if he would trade an obscene, undisclosed amount of money for half its legit amount. It was hard to tell from his face if he was serious or joking.
The last four days have seen the urgent rise of pink-faced zombies and money stashes that could build lost civilizations from six-feet under. Wherever I walked, I saw people being worn down by a celestial spirit, the likes of Betal, wearing strings of 500-1000 currency notes around his neck, asking them the one stumping puzzle, "What will you do now? Pray tell." It was a question far-reaching and far from righteousness, but riddling nevertheless.
What had remained a murky mystery till now was out in the open. And I'm not even talking about black money here. No, I'm not talking about an irrational sum of corrupt money stashed away to evade taxes. I am talking about the hard-saved secret "tijori" of women that had been cleverly hidden in kitchen jars, saree folders, lingerie and many other unimaginable safe havens and lockers that were hitherto unknown. "My husband gives me an allowance every week. I don't have to spend all of it. So I've been saving. A lot.", one of my friends confided in me.
I, being a freelancer and having an irregular income, had also got in the habit of maintaining a secret stash. But fortunately for me, I'm also an avid shopper and cannot resist new shoe leather and hardbound leather alike. Thank God for shopaholicism! I had only 500 Rs left in my secret wallet, which I've now laminated to show my future generations what shagun before 08/11/16 looked like.
If you had a sleepless night on 08/11, the morning of 09/11 brought its own domestic confusion and catastrophes. My maid walked in, panic-stricken and heaving, "Bhabhi aap log ne hi toh diya tha woh paisa. Ab humko jail jana padega kya?" [Bhabhi, you had tendered to me 500-1000 rupee notes for salary. Now would I have to go to jail for drawing salary in cash?] Apparently all the fearmongering through Whatsapp and their own circles had got them thinking they were criminals. I sat her down and explained to her the procedure for exchanging her real-life money- that was now about as valuable as fake Monopoly cash- for legitimate cash. She still looked restless. I gave her money to make it through the day.
But calming the f-down seemed a shore too far in a country where money was being flushed down the toilet and being used as fuel for bonfires.
It's been four days since the fear of God struck the country. People are washing their hands off capitalism and embracing socialism by taking to the streets to distribute money to the poor. And for once, you witness the beggars guarding their katoras and bargaining, saying that they will accept Rs. 10 with showers of blessings but not anything that even remotely looks like 500-1000 currency notes. "Humko bhi raat ko sona hota hai saab." [We too have to sleep at night Sir.]
09/11/16 - a day when justice was blanket-delivered, when corruption began to lose its far-reaching grip. But for kitty parties and domestic India, it was the day that the most popular adage went abruptly out of style - "Nope. Don't save it for a rainy day. Not in kitchen jars, atleast."
Image Courtesy - Quartz India