Cashless Birthday

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fivehundred_giftnotI’m adding chopped mushrooms, sliced onions and grated carrots into wok, carefully mixing them with golden brown slices of garlic floating in hot oil. Then transferring ready tadka into boiling vegetable broth with potatoes, cauliflower, bay leaf and pepper corns. I am moving to Farhan Akhtar’s “Manzar Naya” on the radio, slowly sipping Cabernet Sauvignon from red wine glass by my side.

It’s my birthday and i am making soup in Indian kitchen.

Mr. Sharma woke me up, asking Siri to play a birthday song. My Siri replied instead, making me hide under the pillow in attempt to catch some more sleep. I enjoyed this relaxed weekday at home with husband, looking forward to family dinner at Copa Cabana in the evening.

At 8 pm we were done with cutting cake and had few rounds of starters when the news came on the phone. Along with hundred birthday wishes my Facebook timeline was buzzing with “America counting votes, India counting notes” messages. By 9 pm demonetisation discussions were heating up with main course getting served across the table. The question was, who has how many 500 and 1000 notes which won’t be valid in another three hours. Blushing and with anxiety in voice, my father-in-law declared he doesn’t have any. Which meant exactly opposite, as we know he hasn’t used his debit card since it was issued.

I remembered, i had few notes in my wallet, which i would normally spend at kirana or medical store next door and sometimes at toll plazas. Idea flashed through my mind, – “We can pay for birthday dinner with this cash!” If they take, of course. I headed to parking confident that my handbag is on the back seat of the car. To my surprise, it wasn’t. I realised that i left it hanging at the washroom visited with mom before dinner. I rushed there, thinking worst:

“I reapply for driving licence, which took ages to get even otherwise. Tons of paperwork to restore debit card and PAN card. Lost memberships, discount coupons and a little cash – naturally clean wallet and karma.”

I open the door, – and there it is, – my tan Fiorelly on the hook contrasting with dark brown tiles of the wall, untouched. As if it was hung few minutes back. What more would make my special day! I returned to the restaurant, thinking how lucky i am.

After paying the bill, unwanted 2000 were still left in the pocket. I thought of buying four boxes of ice cream in Bavdhan on the way home. Passing Chandani-Chowk at around 10 pm, we saw closed HP petrol pump, shops and Natural’s parlour, around 15-20 people lines at ATMs.

I happily exchanged those four 500s in few days to a brand new Rs. 2000 note before weekend trip to Bangalore. But there was no way to spend it, – Indigo flight attendants, CCD at Kempegowda and taxi wallas didn’t have change. On the way back to Pune I bought two bottles of water at the airport. Rs.1920 change was given as pack of nineteen hundreds and twenty rupees. The next day I spent that at Kiranawala, stocking up veggies for the week.

Some are happy, some are not; an old man fainted in the line to exchange currency; infuriated politicians and businessmen, having crores of rupees in cash; bags of black money abandoned in trains and on the streets – “breaking news” running on TV all the time. Design circles are criticising new notes design or rather it’s absence.

ATM lines slowly decrease now. You can hardly feel any difference in life of the city otherwise. We went to Westend-mall to watch Force 2 premiere at Cinepolis. Parking fee of INR 30 was taken in cash and all two underground floors are full. Food court is overcrowded, – no place to sit or walk. Young couple shares hakka noodles in the same plastic plate while standing. Some counters take cards and some deal in only cash, – people don’t mind any of it.

It’s been more than two weeks as I live completely cashless. BigBasket and Reliance fresh became preferred choice for grocery shopping. But I missed convenience of small purchases from kiranawala.

Things are slowly changing. On Saturday Mr. Sharma went to pick up medicines from Balaji medical store, while I was waiting in the car. In a minute he rushed back to get the phone, – Sachin now takes Paytm! The next day we payed with Paytm for cake from a tiny bakery next to Reliance on Sus road. Yesterday I dropped in to Manju-Manish kirana for few fruits, and imagine my amazement, – there’s Paytm sticker on the wall. Few days of inconvenience and all my regular places are already doing cashless business.

For many of us it’ll take some time to live through demonetisation. But i believe, this bold move will strengthen our economy, ease the burden for dutiful taxpayers, make loans more available and help cleaning someone’s bad karma too.

This started on my birthday. I wouldn’t have thought of more powerful gift for myself and whole India.

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