Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Chaiwallahs are collateral damage in a Chaiwallah’s war

As soon as PM Narendra Modi announced that currency notes in the denomination of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 would be demonetised immediately, people ran to the nearest ATMs and began withdrawing Rs 100 denomination notes. And then… the ATMs ran out of money.

Today, as I was going about gauging the mood around town, I stopped for tea at my usual kitli. After the usual pleasantries with my usual chaiwallah, I took my cup of tea and sat down with my phone to check for updates on the US election. Donald Trump had won. OK, no comments.

But then I saw something closer to home. Something I am going to call the ‘short-term collateral damage of demonetisation of notes’.

Photo Credit: Joel George

The chaiwallah was arguing with his stockist. Since this was a small kitli at the corner of residential block, there wasn’t much traffic here and there are lesser customers. Hence, cigarette sales also aren’t that great. So the stockist gave the chaiwallah two boxes of cigarettes and chaiwallah handed over an Rs 500 denomination note to pay for it.

However, the stockist refused to take it, saying that he would not accept anything except Rs 100 notes. Now, the chaiwallah only had Rs 500 notes since he got the news only this morning and by that time, all the ATMs in the area were already out of cash and customers were unwilling to exchange his notes for him.

After a lot of haggling, the stockist came up with a solution. He would give the chaiwallah the boxes on credit instead of either taking the Rs 500 note or not selling the cigarettes to him at all. The chaiwallah, out of options, agreed and put his Rs 500 note back into his pocket with a sigh.

He then turned to me and said, “What have we poor people done? Why should we have to suffer for all the black money these businessmen and politicians have accumulated? We hardly have enough money to run our business and our house.”

And thus, the chaiwallah remains the unwilling and helpless collateral damage in this nationwide war on black money initiated by one of his own.