My first ‘mehnat ki kamai’: What it means to get some cash amid demonetisation

After seven hours of wait, for the first time in life the cash in my hands felt like 'mehnat ki kamai'.

Written by Shreya Das | Kolkata | Updated: November 11, 2016 4:26 pm
cash, cash exchange, demonetisation, 500 rs note, 2000 rs note, Rs 500 note, ATMs, Kolkata ATMs, Kolkata news, India news People standing in long queues in front of a SBI branch in Kolkata on Thursday. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

On November 8, the Prime Minister literally bowled a googly at the nation, yes to fight black money. I woke up to the news almost three hours late, too late to rush to the nearest ATM to secure cash. Paranoid, I started to look at all ‘hideouts’ where I usually tuck away notes, leaving not a single diary or old piggy bank. Between my father and me, we gleaned the precious change.

The next day there were no banks and ATMs to relieve us of our miseries. By 10 in the morning, seeing Hillary Clinton trail Donald Trump, my paranoia was only elevated. By the end of the day, somehow we got over the US election result and got to the impending task at hand, ‘The great Indian cash clean-up’.

The next day I finally ventured into the real world and arrived at a bank around 11 am. I was there for the next seven hours. Seven hours so eventful that they can make it to my Facebook timeline as a life event.

WATCH VIDEO: India Queues Up Outside ATMs

Within 15 to 20 minutes of standing in queue, the security guard announced that the private bank has run out of cash. However, two bank executives announced that we could deposit as much cash as we wanted. I stood in the queue hoping it would not take much time just to deposit what I had. Then, I left for only three minutes to fill the deposit form. A mistake. I was soon at the end of the queue.

An elderly couple ahead of me took turns to stand in the queue as they discussed their misery. When the executive passed us, he politely asked: “Aren’t you people setting up some stalls of kachori and alur dom?” People couldn’t help but smile. In fact, with almost everyone rushing to the bank early, missing at least two meals, this seems to be a solid Swasth Bharat diet plan. You will end up dehydrated though as drinking water might make you leave the queue for a loo break. Not advised at all.

After almost one-and-half hours we were inside the bank, with some shade and fan for comfort, it didn’t help much. In the next few minutes, my feet started calling it quits. After another hour, I was finally able to deposit my useless notes and turn them useful. Never before have I felt a bank’s stamp bring so much relief.

Once I was out of that bank, hoping to relax on my off day, I heard that the bank next door was still supplying cash. Despite the four hours on my feet to swap my money, I was ready to take on this new challenge in quest for legal tender.

However, by then the news had spread and a serpentine queue had already formed in front of the branch. While the government instructions said an original ID proof was required, the banks decided it wanted a photocopy as well. So, the next mission was to look for a ‘xerox’ shop. Incidentally, the friendly neighbourhood shopkeeper not only supplied the photocopies but was also selling the exchange slips for each bank, complete with branch name and code. And as my new friend (a woman who stood next to me the entire day) put it, “Eta eder joth (The bank and the Xerox shop are in alliance).”

While there were no food or water stalls nearby, I did spot some other vendors – a man selling umbrellas, a peanut seller, two men selling Reliance Jio sims and another with a water purifier. All doing brisk business.

By the time I set foot in the bank — a government one this time — it was already past 5 pm. With the onset of winter, the Kolkata sky had turned orange. The man giving instructions was all exhausted by now and reminded us they would function only till 6 pm and that they want us “out of the bank” more than the customers. After eight hours of relentless service to the nation, there were no inhibitions. As the clock marched towards the closing time, his jokes became cooler. “Deposit as much as you want, deposit as if you are Tata and Ambani, but if Modi pulls you up by the ears, hope you are also as dear(er)!”

On that funny note I received the money I was waiting for, all in spanking new pink. As I stepped outside I almost broke into a victory dance. Others were clicking selfies with the new Rs 2000 note, almost beaming “Ek profile pic toh banta hai boss!”

As I arrived home winning the battle, I was greeted with the first meal of the day, along with some proud smiles. Handing over the cash to my father, for the first time in life I felt it was “mehnat ki kamai”.

Views expressed by the author are personal.