India has gone digital. Cash transactions are few and far between. Even for those rare occasions when you need cash, you walk up to the nearest ATM. What a sea change from the days when you went to a bank to withdraw cash. Back then, as a child, a visit to the bank was a momentous event.
It followed a fixed regimen. Once it was your turn at the counter, you scrutinised the cashier with interest. He counted the rupee notes with such ease and elan! Off and on, a dab on a wet sponge, and his fingers moved even faster.
Soon, he gave back a sheaf of notes to mother. His counting was not enough. Sitting on the sofa opposite the cashier, she recounted the bunch. It was unclear if it served any purpose. Firstly, there was no precedent for an error on the cashier’s part. Secondly, even if he had erred, how were you going to prove his mistake?
Nevertheless, you sat on the sofa and waited as mother counted. Your attention was drawn to the security guard by the door. He looked stern in his stiff uniform, with a rifle slung over the shoulder. ‘Is his rifle real?’ you asked. Mother did not answer. She only raised her voice, ‘Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three...’
But curiosity could not be contained. ‘Do you think his rifle is loaded or he has to fill it with bullets?’ you enquired. This time, you had successfully derailed the counting. ‘Can’t you keep quiet for at least five minutes?’ mother asked in exasperation. She had to start counting from scratch!
When you left the bank with the wad of notes, it was as if you were carrying an enormous booty on your head. You moved suspiciously, as though thieves lay in wait. You heaved a sigh of relief only when you reached home.
Dealing with loose cash had its share of prickly situations. You had no idea about its origin, but one fine day, you were stuck with a torn rupee note. Anytime you handed the note to the shopkeeper, he returned it with a look of disdain. You tried several times, in several places, with no success.
You thought about the possibilities — passing it on the sly with other notes to someone inattentive. Maybe you could drop it in the temple hundi. After all, God would surely accept it. Sister came up with a counterargument, ‘If you give that note to God, He will give you back in kind. He will shower you with torn notes!’
Sometimes, you got a currency note with an intimate message from some Rajesh to some Neha. You wondered why Rajesh had to write on the note instead of telling Neha directly. The best option was to send it off in the next transaction. That way, you maximised the chances of the note reaching Neha. Maybe it never reached her. Maybe it reached many decades later, when it had lost all significance. But you did your bit and allowed a greater power to chart its way through the rupee note.
Digitisation is surely the way forward. But we will miss those days when cash was king and the rupee note had such riveting stories to narrate.
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