Poor Rupee

Suman K Sharma
Once upon a time, so goes a Dogri folk tale, the elders of a remote village across a river had to deposit the annual revenue of the whole village     in the raja’s treasury. The personages were worried how to carry the huge amount through the jungle and across the river (there were no bridges those days) – it could be looted or lost on the way.  Finally, they decided that the sarpanch carry the amount in his mouth.  After all, it was a precious coin of one rupee!
Revert to the present times.  The rupee coin is still around but like a relative in dire straits, it is counted only in multiples, not to be paid much attention in singles.  A recent television ad of a mobile company says it all: ‘Ek rupye se kya hota hai?’ Taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers will give you a funny look if you wait – even if don’t ask – for a balance of less than five rupees.  (But to be fair to the crew of Jammu’s Matadors, the passengers are given their balance to the last rupee;  unlike the conductors of Delhi’s public transport buses who will rudely demand the passengers to produce a 5-rupee coin for a ticket of Rs 5, 15 or 25, or wait till such a coin is available.)  Shopkeepers have also adopted a disarming little trick.
When it comes to paying up the balance, they fop off the customer – be he five or eighty-five – with golis (as in goli de di), one goli for one rupee, two for two and so on.  And if a foolhardy customer protests, the man on the counter tells the customer to give him the exact amount.  For a kilo of dal, for instance, the buyer must pay fifty-seven rupees, and if he produces six tenners, or a hundred rupee note, he should be prepared to receive at least three golis in lieu of the last three rupees.  The onus is on the customer to carry the change, not the vendor to supply it.
That is the nub of the issue.  Granted that there is no law to compel a vendor or a service provider to pay back in small change, but from where would customers get it?  The Union Government and most of the State Governments make disbursements through electronic transfer or by way of cheques – that means no hard currency from the primary sources.  And the banks would not think of handing over bagfuls of coins with each and every transaction.  Then?  Should we go back to the religious places and street beggars asking for change?
Rupee is in poor shape – down to sixty for a Yankee dollar and no one knows going where.  Too true.  But try giving the neighbourhood grocer your yesterday’s paper in lieu of that last rupee you owe him for the day’s purchases!  The stale newspaper may be of little use to him, but then you also did not need all those golis he has been passing off to you in place of your rupees?
Ever since Emperor Sher Shah Suri brought it into market some five centuries  ago, rupya (Sanskrit for beautiful form) has warmed the hearts of people in more than half a dozen countries beside India –   Afghanistan (till 1925), Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mauritius,  Seychelles and Maldives. It is not a question of what a rupee coin can buy today, it is about what you have to face if you don’t have it with you.
Perhaps our vendors should be more supportive to their clientele and return the small change where it is due.  After all, it is a practice followed by their ilk all over the world.


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