In this era of suspicion, intrigue and back-stabbing, I had made the mistake of remarking how easily I found money at an ATM. Instead of admiring my fortune, a couple of friends insinuated that I had prior information, probably from Modi himself. They accused me of being a Sanghi.
What I have, however, is luck, which favors the brave. That night, for example, I was not even looking for money. I was sitting at a dentist's office for my father. The office was full with men, women and children in pain. However, apparently, there is a well-hidden ATM right below this clinic.
Suddenly the door opened and the ATM guy HIMSELF walked in and told the couple of dentists standing around that the ATM has just been loaded with cash, and they could avail of it. We, the patients, all looked at each other, unable to believe our luck. There was a mad rush downstairs, during which I may have pushed aside a couple of old ladies. I am not proud of it.
When I reached the ATM, there were just two people ahead of me. The first guy's hands were literally shaking when he put the card in.
When I came out, I had a Rs.2000 note in my hand. I surveyed the line proudly, not knowing I was carrying around a curse, probably put on me by one of the witches I had stepped on.
Over the next couple of days, instead of managing to change it, I just got saddled with another Rs.2000 note. The Rs.2000 notes may not have a GPS, but they sure do find each other. If you get one, you keep getting others; and they all clump together in the wallet forming one big pink blob. You cannot get rid of the damn things.
From my experience breaking these notes at different shops yesterday, here is my advice.
First, you cannot beat the ATM machine. I saw different people trying to convince the machines to cough up Rs.100 notes, but Modi is too clever. One couple conspired to ask for Rs.1800 even though the machine clearly said it had only Rs.2000 notes. We all laughed at the anti-national couple. Do not try such manoeuvres. Get the Rs.2000.
Now that you hold it, you need to spend ABOVE Rs.1000 in a fancy high class shop to break it to 100s. This is how the economy is forced to grow by the PM. You need to work hard for lower denominations.
In my case, I visited the Odyssey book store and Pizza Hut, in Adyar, Chennai, planning to splurge enough money in order to earn change. However, even there you need to be lucky. There are so many little ways in which you can capture the attention of the cashier.
Prior to demonetization, you probably acted like a landed gentleman in Victorian England at these shops. You spoke clipped English and ordered the staff around. That will change very fast.
You know that at all these shops, they have a lot of useless things like keychains or chewing gums next to the cashier. Nobody ever buys them. Now is the time to invest in some keychains or expired bubble gums. For some reason, purchasing these pointless items seems to please cashiers a lot. This is something I learnt yesterday. I am the proud owner of twenty Barbie keychains now.
Participate vigorously in any in-house event they have going on. For example, if there is a book reading in a high-class book store, sit there until the manager notices you. Cheer the author. Ask for their autograph, all the time mindful that the manager is around.
At Pizza Hut, my son and I kept beaming at every one of the waiters, and even sang Happy Birthday along with some other family. That family was startled, but you can bet I rose a little in the cashier's esteem. These pro-active measures create a positive win-win climate.
When, finally, you are at the cash counter, you bring out the Rs.2000 note. Do not make eye contact at this point. It will only reveal your desperation. Act as if the nation has always had Rs.2000 notes.
After getting Rs.4000 from the ATMs, and spending Rs. 2400, my possessions last night were:
4 packets of Orbitz gums
20 Barbie keychains.
A book on tropical spiders and their mating habits
16 Rs.100 notes.
While returning last night, a tired man, I felt guilty about this experience. My thoughts were never about the nation this whole past week. I only thought about the soldiers at the border while idly waiting at the ATMs, that too only with reference to their cool weaponry.
May be, if we all pretended that the Rs.2000 note is completely normal (and not a godless abomination), this entire crisis would blow away.
The writer is a member of Arappor Iyakkam.