Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Emperor’s New Coat. The one I do not have change for.

This madness is uncalled for.  I have never heard so much about money in my life. I bump into friends at the friendly market place rushing to the bank with waddles of cash. And I know very well he has not earned anything in a while. Somewhere else when I go to meet someone I am asked by the maid to wait for a while. ‘She is busy. They have to count all the money you see’ she tells me in a voice mixed with pride and innocence. I call my personal banking guy looking for change. ‘I have a crore to deposit. How do we go about it?’ - I joke. ‘Oh! Let’s see how we manage that’ - he tells me. ‘Can you wait till tomorrow till I figure out?’  He is serious and matter of fact. Obviously he has dealt with similar requests in the last couple of days.

Frankly speaking, this has been the only good spot in this entire black money sweeping spree. The fact that the banker dude actually believed I have a crore of cash. The rest of the stories are grim and dark.

Irking factors in this gimmicky reform measure are many. One is that it chooses to completely ignore the fact that corruption in India is a national disorder. It is a way of life used to looking for undeserved benefits, unearned privileges and a deep rooted hierarchical disrespect for people. Corruption in India is a reflection of its culture, its 6000 years of learnt misconduct and not about accumulated currency. Corruption is such an ingrained part of Indian lives that for the last 3 days people are busy both hailing Modi the great distractor for this magic vacuum cleaner of corruption and figuring out a way to put the black money back into the banks with 10 to 50 percent cut.

The amount of scheming that is going on in every household, every shop, every street corner, every office at this moment is an ironical display of the corrupted Indian mind which the banned 500 rupee has failed to change. The very move that was supposed to have cleared the country of corruption has actually expanded corruption to those who were so far left out. People are putting money into the accounts of minors, rickshaw pullers, chai wallas and domestic helps. Minors, rickshaw pullers, chai wallas and domestic helps are thinking about getting money from the rich. CAs are helping people figure out how to turn the black money white. My help asks me with a greedy glint in her eyes – ‘Baidew, if someone gives me a lot of 500 rupees, I will keep it for them if they give me half of it.’ So it surely has failed in whatever symbolic anti-corruption thing it was supposed to do.

What on the other hand it has done is inconvenienced a lot of poor and non-corrupt middle class people. The daily wage labourer who looks after my garden has been calling up every day. He needs to go home to harvest his paddy. But he only has the last few 500s I had paid him with and he had kept to take home. He does not have change for bus fare. And I have been unable to help.

This is not the only thing that has made me feel helpless in the past 3 days of demonetization. After some 35 years of dreaming about it I have finally managed to open a café of my own. (Quick self-promotion: It is called Back Benchers Café. You must check it out on Facebook, like our page and come over if you are in Guwahati). Over the past two months, since I decided to finally go for it, I have thought about millions of ways in which I will face difficulty running it. Every penny I have spent on the café is earned by me, paid tax for it and spent in the most accountable way. But the biggest difficulties I have faced are from the very system. The thousands of license, certificate and registration required for opening a food business in India is supposedly to make sure I do not make too much money from a small coffee shop and evade paying money to government. At every step, for every document I have been asked for a bribe. I have decided not to pay any of it and hence now I have started this small, homely place without a single license in hand. I have not taken nor paid any bribe till now. I am told by everyone that to do business in India one HAS to pay bribe. I will not do that. So now I wait for raids from the concerned departments every morning as I brew the morning coffee and we wait eagerly for our first customer.

Talking about customers, we have not had many. Amongst all the reasons I thought why customers won’t come to my café, not having change was not one. My irritation with Modi’s gimmicks increased into the-bilillion-of-lakhs-of-black-money-stashed-in-500-and-1000- in-Indian-homes times the moment he announced this stupendous decision the night before the opening of my café. People have been calling me up to tell me they are not coming to the café because they do not have money. I will never ever never never forgive him for this.

But seriously, my personal problems and serious economic explanations of where the actual black money is aside, this whole thing is such bad math. And I hate bad math. Bad math gives away bad lies. For example if you are banning 500 and 1000s because these are big denominations and ill-gotten money is stashed in these then shouldn’t you keep the currencies smaller? How does a 2000 rupee instead help? It is obvious cuts from business projects and bribe taking isn’t going to change in near future. Or was it made to increase the rate for bribes?

It is also irritating to think how utterly insensitive policies are towards poor people. If you wanted the poor people to have money you will make smaller currencies available first to replace the 5000000s and not expect them to start using their credit card overnight.

What about those big promises of it only taking two days to sort this out? What has instead happened is utter chaos. There are not enough employees in the banks. There are too many forms. There is no change in the market. And there are rumours and rumours galore. The new 2000 rupee is printed by Donal Trump’s company and it has a CCTV camera. Bags and sacks of 500 and 1000 rupee notes are being thrown in the neighbourhood garbage dump. Someone died of a heart attack because he had 7 lakhs cash he got from selling his plot of land for his daughters dowry.  10 rupee coins are not accepted anymore. The big monetary bang has managed fuel the great Indian desire for apocalypse-anytime-now into a universal proportion.  

What the move is really about is to change the status quo in a most obvious dictatorial way. Obviously if I want to have complete control over an economy, I have to change the currency. Others in the past have abolished entire monetary systems and introduced new currencies with their own photos on them. The idea isn’t even a new one. Modi’s sadness perhaps is that he cannot go the whole hog because India is some kind of a democracy. But he isn’t a fool. He knows what he is doing. The one who isn’t seeing the emperor’s new coat is the common Indian. The one that believes Modi is this savior who is going to rid India of its corruption and all other evil.

Who has been made a fool into is the poor Indian.  Why, you go to the bank, wait for the whole day and get a piddly 2000 shoved in your face. You come out and you want a cup of tea because all that waiting and form filling has made you really thirsty. But no, you can’t get that. Your chai walla does not have change. Modi of all people should at least think about the poor chai wallas na?