Today my mom had a fight with the bhajiwala. He had earlier covertly given her a tattered Five rupee note and she later, not to be outdone, duly returned it to him. He complained that she had singled him out to return it, but my mom insisted that it had only gone back to the quarters from where it had come in the first place.
When she told me about it, rather complained, I remembered having read somewhere about the big problem these old and tattered notes caused.Somebody had even written that at times they were so dirty and moldy that it was sickening having to handle the and one might even catch some sort of skin infection too. Of course many Banks exchange such notes for better ones, but then one has to find time to visit the Bank to withdraw money so who’s got the time and patience to go there just to get an old Fiver exchanged.
All of us know that there are quite a lot of these dirty notes in circulation, in particular the smaller denominations of One, Two and Five. So it is quite likely and in concurrence with the law of averages that one of them makes its way to you. It could come from anyone but the more probable source is your doodhwala, bhajiwala, grocer, pan wala or the dhobhi. And what do you do then?
You too, like the others try to get rid of the note. And we all continue to play the game of passing the buck in the literal sense of the word. A few of us are so peeved that we dash off letters to the Editors and eventually they are published only to extract some more sympathetic letters in response. But no one really understands the tremendous good these old notes do to all of us. Good did you say? So how is that possible.
Well let me elaborate. First of all when such a note arrives and when there’s no way in which you can quickly get rid of it, then you are left with the task of dealing with it. You place it carefully and delicately on the table. You turn it upside down and take it in your hands rather gingerly to survey the damage.Your brows furrow trying to find out the best way to repair the note. Now isn’t this a good exercise for a budding archaeologist and so the next time when you, by some odd chance, get a manuscript of the ancient Harappa or Mohenjo-Daro civilization, you know how to handle it.
Next one tries to minimize the damage and the cello tape helps you stick the frayed edges of the note. Not only does this aid the market for the cello tape but it also enables you to pick up the handy art of repairing your cherished books when they suffer damage due to ageing and careless handling and in particular literally at the hands of your ‘one-and-half’ year old niece.
With the repair work done, one folds the note in such a way that its damage is less apparent and now one starts looking for an innocent and unsuspecting bakra to palm off the note. Of course do remember some basic axioms of ‘passing-the-buck’. It helps to venture to get rid of such notes in dark or semi-dark conditions such as the milk booth early in the morning or the panwala late in the evening. And it is better if its crowded and the other party if pressed for time and when you can get away quickly on your scooter or by the auto. The game is played with great zeal and a real bakra is remembered, not out of gratitude or kindness but for the next time when the note needs to be given off.
So you now approach the target and casually hand off the note. And he will accept it most of the times with a cursory glance. But wait don’t jump up at your success yet, instead maintain your control and look as somber as if you are looking at the mummy of Tutankhamen. Only when you have safely moved away from the spot, you may smile, snigger, snicker, giggle, gaggle or laugh. So you see this hobby is also good for your health; remember ‘laughter is the best medicine’.
It is also good to develop some theatrical skills.So if it is noticed that the note is tattered then you will need to use it. You can begin defensively by puckering your face and saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t notice it at all’. Or you smile sweetly and try your luck again by saying, ‘It is such a small, teeny-weeny tear’. And if he does not agree, you may as well shed a tear or two, from your eyes I mean. And the final strategy is to try an aggressive approach and grumble, ‘It Is people like you who give us such notes in the first place.’ Little wonder if we all end up emulating Naseeruddin Shah or Sridevi.
And finally these notes can prove to be lucky as well. See my mom mentioned her story to me and I ended up writing this article. I will be glad when it will be published and I get a small windfall from it.
The article appeared on November 12, 1994 in the column ‘Tongue-In-Cheek’ in the youth supplement of The Indian Express in Pune, India.
Times have changed now as coins are mostly used for smaller transactions and the notes are made of polymer print to ensure that they last better. Using cards and shopping at malls has meant that we deal even less with currency notes for our daily transactions. And future may see further innovations wherein your mobile will act as ‘secure e-wallet’ enabling you to do the small transactions too without any cash.