While the world was going upside down with Grumpy being elected as the President of the United States, India was upside down when the government decided to demonetize it’s 500 and 1000 rupee note. With exceptions to the use of 500 and 1000 legal tender, the announcement came with an immediate effect from the time of announcement which was on the 8th of November 2016. With banks being shut the following day (9th November 2016), many like us were left cashless despite having cash. On sweeping clean all wallets/bags, I managed to get myself enough change to step outside the house to see how Mumbai had reacted to this shock. Well, it shocked me to learn:
1. The roads were smoother than butter spread. For a change, I didn’t require to put earbuds to protect myself from defeaning, I was able to breathe without having to cover my mouth with a mask, and the environment was far less smoggy than a regular day in Mumbai. I think it is a good policy to curb pollution if India is really serious of rising pollution levels!
2. My hairstylist told me that his business has been very quite since Diwali but demonetization has only got it even quiter. He says that while majority of his clients now prefer paying plastic, there are a few that pay only cash, and he doesn’t expect to see them anytime soon now!
3. I took a black and white taxi to have a chat with the all day taxi drivers. He said that he has given a few rides free as he doesn’t want to accept 500 and 1000 and nobody seems to have any change anymore, and that he has never seen Mumbai roads this empty. He continues to tell me how there was a traffic jam on the sea link because everyone took the link to exchange their 500/1000 but sea link ran out of change eventually making it free after mid-afternoon. Nodding his head in disappointment and recounting his daily loss which he says has only mounted because of taxi aggregators like Ola ans Uber, he innocently asked me “acche din kaha gaye madam?”
3. Feeling sorry for him and having only enough change to pay him, I wondered where could I get myself a snack on credit. I landed myself at a bhelwala at which mum and me are regular. He was busy as ever which was confusing. I asked him if he managed to get his supplies and if there have been enough customers today given his business only works in changes, he nodded optimistically. While I enjoyed my bhel ever more than before (It just felt special to be given credit without collateral on such a day), we continued to chat. I was impressed by the nitty gritty of the information he had absorbed through the newspapers. Very quietly he told me that the chemist appears to be doing good business because a lot of people have been buying their yearly supplies! Wow was my response, something I had never imagined and calculated for! Given my profession but obsession to a large extent, the only questions that I had been answering ever since the announcement was the impact on commodity, currency and stock markets. There is so much you learn when talkative is one of your strongest characters.
4. As I walked into my building compound, I found worried watchman and maids asking me on how they can get their salary paid in 500s exchanged so that they can buy their night meals.
5. I felt helpless only to find my father come home fed up from a day where no business was done as truck drivers didn’t have enough change to pay for their meals while driving across states, and he didn’t have any change himself to help them. He told me that a worried business friend called begging for INR10,000 in 100s or 50s to help his drivers get their meals from last night.
As expected, the move went on to stiffle the moving economy!
But yes! India did go cashless on Faith and not on plastic!