Turned away from four banks on Saturday morning, a tired and frustrated Mohammad Yasin broke down on a pavement on Netaji Subhash Marg. “Aulad nahi hai na, isliye yeh sab ho raha hai (We are childless, that is why this is happening),” the 68-year-old said, leaning against a pushcart in Daryaganj, as his 62-year-old wife, Imdad, looked on helplessly.
Yasin and Imdad, residents of Turkman Gate’s Kalyanpura area, had not dared to join the long queues outside banks so far. But when locals informed them that only senior citizens will be allowed to exchange old notes on Saturday, the couple decided to give it a try and get Rs 4,000, gifted to them by wealthy cousins on Eid, exchanged.
The couple had a frugal breakfast of rusk and tea at 7.30 am at their house, which is more of a room in a dilapidated building left to Yasin by his parents.
They stepped out and started walking towards Daryaganj because someone had told them that there are “fewer people outside banks there than anywhere else in old Delhi”. “We usually walk everywhere. A rickshaw would take Rs 30. We can manage milk and biscuits in that much,” Imdad said, slightly lifting her burqa as she negotiated potholes and garbage.
Yasin, bow-legged because of knee surgeries, trailed behind Imdad, who marched on towards Ansari Road 2 km away. On the way, they got two forms for money exchange photocopied for Rs 10. “We did not know banks were giving these forms for free. Rs 10 wasted,” Imdad said later.
When they turned up at SBI, a crowd huddled at the gate told them the bank was not exchanging money. The guard, shoving away restive youths, curtly said, “There is no exchange today.”
Yasin suggested they try Netaji Subhash Marg, thinking that at least one of the 10-odd bank branches there would be of some help.
But at Bombay Mercantile Cooperative Bank, crowds comprising mostly senior citizens told them the bank was not exchanging notes. “They are only allowing us to deposit or withdraw money. All these old people have come to deposit or withdraw because they think they will get special privileges today. But the bank has forced them into common queues,” Shahnaz Begum, a 40-year-old homemaker, said.
“We have not eaten anything since morning. What if someone faints?” said Shahid Mansoor, a 70-year-old.
Yasin and Imdad were then turned away by Dena Bank, which said it was not exchanging money. The crowd at Central Bank of India and Axis Bank discouraged the couple from even asking around, and guards at Kotak Mahindra and Yes Bank said they had run out of cash for exchange. When Yasin approached a policeman, he was told, “I am not here to guide you. I am only here for crowd control.”
Yasin tried to calm him down: “I am only asking. At least tell me if there is money and whether I should go in.”
A few feet away, a 30-year-old scrap dealer from Mayapuri argued with his father. “I taught you how to unlock the phone,” Salman, who had given his father Rs 1 lakh to deposit, said. His father Ahmed, who was unable to deposit the money, replied, “The cellphone screen did not light up, and I could not see my PAN card details. What was I supposed to do?”
A few minutes later, a stranger told Yasin and Imdad that State Bank of Patiala was not as crowded. They decided to give it one last try. A woman constable helped them fill up the forms and within 10 minutes, Yasin and Imdad were holding up brand new Rs 20 notes. The policeman supposed to put indelible ink on visitors let Yasin off the hook when he showed his nails, damaged from years of contact with chemicals in a motor repair shop where he worked a decade ago.
The couple walked home at 1 pm, victorious and waiting for lunch, and their diabetes and back ache medicines. They did not mind losing the Rs 100 Imdad would have made had she spent Saturday stitching a salwar suit.