WHEN HE woke up on Wednesday, the morning after the government announced its decision to withdraw Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, Siddha Nath Shukla, 56, a resident of Gulalpur village on the outskirts of Lucknow, saw his wife, Dev Kumari, removing the stitches of a kathri — a handmade quilt of old bedsheets and saris stitched together.
Dev Kumari had stitched the quilt just a few months ago, so Siddha Nath wondered what she was doing. A few minutes later, his unspoken question was answered, as his wife removed two Rs 500 notes that she had stitched inside a fold of the quilt, hidden from her husband, four sons and the rest of the family. She handed over the money to Siddha Nath, and asked him to buy something from the market or deposit it in the bank.
The house has an almirah, but it is also used by her elder daughter-in-law. So Dev Kumari thought the quilt was the safest place to hide the cash. But when she heard her husband and sons talking about how the Rs 500 notes were being recalled, she quickly took out the notes.
“Ka naraz hote. Yuh kauno kaala dhan na hai… Haath mein rehta hai to kharcha ho jata hai, isliye chhupa ke rakhi thi. Chara kaatne ki machine mein laga denge. Pareshani hui to bank mein dalwa denge. (Why would I get angry. This is not black money. She had hidden the money as it would have been spent otherwise. I will use it to buy a machine for cutting fodder. If that is a problem, I will deposit it in the bank),” said Siddha Nath.
Those were not the only Rs 500 notes that Siddha Nath, who has a tea stall in the neighbouring village of Kumrahwah, saw on Wednesday. A few minutes after he opened his tea stall, Durgesh Kumar, the owner of a medical store, gave him a Rs 500 note for five cups of tea which cost Rs 25.
“Arrey, jao jaa ke akhbar padho, TV dekho. Modiji ne yeh note bandh kar diya hai (Go and read the newspapers, watch TV. Modi has stopped this note),” Siddha Nath told Durgesh.
Durgesh then shared his problem. “My son was born 12 days ago. Some relatives gave Rs 500 notes, which my wife had saved to pay for the ceremony to celebrate his birth. She has asked me to use the Rs 500 notes, but nobody is accepting them,” he said.
Another villager told Durgesh that a gas station, about five kilometres away, was accepting Rs 500 notes. Durgesh immediately took his two-wheeler and headed for the gas station, where he was told that they would only accept his note if he bought fuel worth Rs 500. Durgesh readily accepted the deal.
However, Ramesh Kumar, a labourer working at a nearby construction site in Halkapurva, did not have that option. He pleaded with the gas station employees to exchange his Rs 1,000 note — his wages for two days that he received on Tuesday evening. He needed to buy vegetables, but none of the vendors were willing to take the note. And he has no use for petrol or diesel, as he only has a bicycle.
“Hum petrol leke kya karenge, gaadi to hai nahin. Kahan bechne jayenge. Koi khata (account) bhi nahi hai. (What will I do with petrol, I don’t have a vehicle. Where will I sell it. I don’t even have a bank account),” said Ramesh Kumar, tears in his eyes.
The employees at the gas station tried to explain their problem. “Bank bandh hain. Agar 10 sau ka note inhe denge, to grahak aa rahe hain, unko kya lautayenge. (The bank is closed. If we give him ten Rs 100 notes, what will we give to our customers),” said one of them.
And at a vegetable market nearby, the vendors were a harried lot. “I reached the market at 4 am. I did not know about the government’s order. One person bought two kilograms of brinjals, for which he gave me a Rs 500 note. Now I need to buy some supplies, but nobody is willing to take the Rs 500,” said Surendra Kumar, a vendor.
Meanwhile, back in Gulalpur village, Farida, who is six months pregnant, was waiting for her husband to return. He left in the morning with three Rs 500 notes to buy fodder for their two buffaloes. Their only source of income is the milk from the buffaloes. Farida said they do not even have a bank account. By late afternoon, her husband was yet to return.