Mind-boggling annas and pice : The Tribune India

# Mind-boggling annas and pice

Ranjit Singh

It was in the late 1950s that we changed over from miles, furlongs, yards, feet and inches to kilometres, metres and centimetres. Similarly, our coins also transformed themselves from annas and pice or paisa to naya paisa.

People of my generation will also remember that one pice had three pies! I was studying in school then, and it used to be a Herculean task to remember that 8 furlongs, or 1,760 yards, made a mile, and that 220 yards made a furlong, and each yard had 12 inches. To complicate further, an inch was subdivided into eight or 16 parts in the ruler. In the geometry class, we had to deal with figures to be drawn with dimensions like ‘a line is 7 and 3/8 inch long’. One can imagine the difficulty for a student!

Similarly, the complication extended to financial matters, too. A rupee had 16 annas, each anna had 4 pice or paisa and each pice had 3 pies. Thus, a rupee had 16 annas or 64 paisa or 192 pies. In addition to all these complicated numbers, we had to learn tables up to 16, so that the conversion of annas into rupees was possible.

All this mugging up of tables, additions and subtraction done in school — under the threat of the cane, which would always be by the teacher’s side — meant that we were, and are, able to beat the calculators of the shopkeepers when they start adding up the bill!

The conversion of 16 annas into 100 naya paisa presented its own difficulty because 100 could not be divided by 16 evenly, without a remainder. (An anna was strictly equal to 6.25 naya paisa.) The conversion of 8 and 4 annas posed no problem. The problem lay in converting lesser amounts.

The solution was that each pice was made equal to 6 naya paisa, but 3 annas were equal to 19 naya paisa and 4 annas were made up of 25 naya paisa. One could frequently find people arguing with the vendors about this equivalence, because they felt cheated of one or two naya paisa — this showed that the humble naya paisa also had a value. The ingenious solution was to buy two annas worth of an item (one can’t imagine now that two annas could get you something) and pay him 12 naya paisa, and as an afterthought, buy another two annas’ worth, thereby saving a naya paisa! We took quite some time to get out of the habit of asking for chavannis (4 annas) or athanis (8 annas) worth of goods. Some companies also issued a conversion table, with unique designs.

Over time, coins have remained but structural changes have taken place along with denominations. New currency notes and coins have phased out the old ones. Old-timers will insist on the worth of what little they had, and the essence remains that no matter what amount you spend, it is value for money that we seek. Or paisa vasool, should we say!

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