In need of change

In need of change


In need of change

 “We just came back from a vacation, what more do you want?” he asked. “I don’t mean that kind of a change. I need one, two and five rupee coins,” I said.  “I have to travel by town bus.”

 I don’t know how it is elsewhere in India, but in Mysore, we are suffering a chronic small change shortage. If you had your own vehicle, you wouldn’t be aware of it. But if you take KSRTC, you are going to hit the problem head-on. Offer a 10 rupee note to a conductor and watch him change from a genial amicable man to Attila the Hun in khaki, in a split second. “What do you people think? We are conductors, not bankers. Please give me correct change. Or else, you’ll have to wait until you get off.”

This happened to me recently, when my fare was rupees four, but I didn’t have change. As I handed over my 10-rupee note and received an IOU scribbled on the back of the ticket, I couldn’t help wondering if the Indian Mint was going to send a special delivery of small change to the bus. Meanwhile, I kept an eye on the conductor, hoping to trap him in a compromising situation, change in hand. He did give me the remainder when I got off the bus, but my journey was tainted by the suspense: would he get the requisite amount in time or not? I am in no way blaming the poor conductor, who was as much a victim as me. He was not running a Mint, but was expected to supply change to every Tammaiah, Doddanna and Herappa who took the bus. I’ve even heard of instances in which bus conductors were offered 500-rupee notes for a six-rupee fare.  No wonder, conductors are a grouchy lot these days.

 Today is the day of 500- and  1,000-rupee notes. These days, you go out shopping with a 1,000-rupee note and within an hour, you are out of funds, rooting in your pockets or handbag for a 100 rupees to get you home. Even corner B shops (the beedi-biscuit-banana-beeda shacks) carry change for the big denominations.  However, one, two, five and 10 rupees are in acute short supply. Only auto rickshaw drivers like today’s situation. If the fare is Rs 42 and you only have a 50 rupee note, they will graciously accept the note and forget about the change.

A while ago, there was an article in the newspapers about how the government could curtail counterfeiting and corruption by abolishing the big denomination notes. There is a lot of sense in this argument, and I will illustrate. Just imagine a government official accepting a bribe of a lakh or more rupees. If the transaction is made in 1,000 rupee notes, it will involve just 100 notes, something that can be stuffed tastefully in a large envelope.  Now, imagine the same transaction made with 10 rupee notes, or five rupee coins. You get the point, I think.

This change, I mean in government policy, will also help those of us who have to deal first-hand with shopkeepers, bus conductors, and auto drivers. Commutes will be hassle-free and shopping will be a peaceful experience. Shop keepers are contributing to the obesity epidemic by handing out candies in fistfuls in lieu of change — Alpenliebe, Five Stars, and Cadbury’s éclairs that form today’s currency of exchange.

As a result of these events, I can now divide my acquaintances into two groups based on whether I will tell them the truth or lie about the amount of change I have. I confess that I will lie like a rug to vendors, that I don’t have change. Only to a handful of trusted family members will I reveal my true status of  small change. 

A few days ago, I went out to buy vegetables from my usual roadside vendor, accompanied by my eight-year-old daughter. Having obtained my requirements, I gave a 100 rupee note to pay for my purchases which cost Rs 65. The vendor asked for five rupees in change.“I’m afraid I don’t have change,” I said with a shy smile and wide open eyes which I had practiced in front of the bathroom mirror that morning. Unfortunately, I’d ignored the presence of the little third party at my elbow. “But Mom, you do!” While my little daughter hopped on one foot, uttering agonised sounds as a result of being trodden on by my size 10 sandals, the vendor and I locked gazes.“I said I don’t have change,” I repeated from between clenched jaws. He was silent, but his gimlet gaze said “Yeah, sure! I believe you.” He broke down first, losing the visual battle by turning away.

But my triumph was short-lived because he won the war for small change: along with Rs 30 (a 20 rupee note and a 10 rupee note), he handed me a banana, 10 green chillies and a piece of ginger, and departed as I watched with chagrin. Yes, he won that round. But I’d like to see him offer a banana, some chillies and ginger to a bus conductor.