So we have had our own 8/11 event and Mr. Modi has had his CASH-22 moment- just to demonstrate that when it comes to crises we don’t lag behind the developed world, no sir ! The serial is still playing out to breathless reporters and hysterical anchors on TV, grateful for a sequel to the surgical strikes of last month. The common man is bearing it out with exemplary fortitude: I have stood in ATM queues to withdraw subsistence level shekels for hours and have been amazed at the good humour and patience on display, reaffirming a trust and social entente without which the legal fiction of money cannot survive for a day. Contrast this with our pampered politicians: I am no longer surprised at the fact that in India any major crises always brings out the best in our people and the worst in our politicians.
Mr. Modi has achieved with this one stroke what two years of ghar wapsi, beef ban, sedition cases, love jihad etc. could not—revive the real Hindutva spirit! The essence of Hinduism is the practice of a simple life, strong familial bonds, charity, thrift, humility, worship of our Gods, the sober contemplation of an after-life. All these values—hitherto banished by an all pervasive consumerism-- have begun to dominate our lives again after 8/11. With no cash to spend we now expend our shrunken resources only on the most essential items- food, medicines, fuel and so on; no more visits to Malls or Multiplexes, no more parties, no more beauty treatments or spas, no holidays: our lives have reverted to the simplicity of the Mohenjodaro days ! Family bonds are becoming stronger since now evenings are spent at home in happy togetherness, instead of party hopping or pub crawling. A rare humility shrouds the metro landscape along with the trademark smog, from Khan Market to Golf Links to Chanakyapuri, for there is no more humbling experience than standing for three hours at an ATM, grateful for the two thousand rupees you will be grudgingly dispensed. That famous Hindu religiosity is evident again with millions of the now useless rupees being “ donated” to temple “ hundis” ( God will convert them into “ white” again, not to worry). We have rediscovered the uplifting spirit of charity, what with beggars being sought out and being persuaded to accept our murky thousands into their Jan Dhan accounts. And, finally, most of us have begun to think beyond the hedonist pleasures of the here and now, of the future, a future where the Income Tax man will be watching over all ( not necessarily in the manner that the good Lord watches over us), a future in which neither gold nor land would be able to offer much comfort for our hidden wealth. The promised land is beginning to look more and more like Eliot’s wasteland. In fact, in our quest for this enforced simplicity Hinduism may even be moving towards Buddhism with its asceticism and renunciation of all worldly goods and pleasures. Indeed, do not rule out the possibility of Mr. Modi emerging as a latter day religious Messiah, combining all religions in India under the banner of a new syncretic Modiism. We may yet get the Promised Land, along with the new Rs. 2000 and Rs. 500 notes, after all. The millionaire may yet enter the portals of heaven, along with the camel which has already passed through the eye of the needle, but AFTER he has paid his tax and 200% penalty, of course.
But, thankfully, its not all gloom and despair in these cashless times. We can extract some humour and wit from all those long queues. I give below some gems, collated from various prophets and weirdos forming those queues, that irrefutably demonstrate that among the fire and brimstone of the politics there remain nuggets of earthy wisdom, irony and irreverence that will see us through this crisis:
• Mr. Modi has fulfilled his pre-election promise of a deposit of Rs. 15000 in every person’s account. The manner in which the 25 million Jan Dhan accounts are being used for depositing black money by fat cats ( Rs. 65000 crores at last count) holds out hope that Modi may even exceed his promise!
• Sex workers in Sonagachi in Calcutta, GB Road in Delhi and Kodambakkan in Chennai are out of work these days because there is now no cash in an essentially cash based sector. I have heard that, in order to counter these withdrawal symptoms digitally, PayTM is coming out with a customised, untraceable App for the trade, to be called LayTM. I have not, however, been able to nail this down.
• Retrospective taxation is now being followed by retrospective corruption--bribes are being returned! I have reports from my own state and from Punjab that officers are returning the bribes ( taken in better times in the now banned notes) to their erstwhile extortees, to be given back in a post-FIXIT future in new notes, at a discount of 30% which is the going rate apparently. See, even bureaucrats have a code of misconduct.
• In just one week Mr. Modi has achieved more for prohibition than the Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has managed to do in six months. Liquor sales are down 75% because no one has cash. Economists, usually a dismal lot, are happy because it proves their dictum that fiscal measures are better than physical ones. This also provides us a hint as to why Mr. Kumar’s JDU is one of the very few political parties supporting demonetisation.
• A Keralite friend has come up with an eminently sensible suggestion for Mr. Modi and the Election Commission, consequent upon the order for inking fingers of those exchanging old currency. He notes that since all male Keralites in any case stand in queues outside booze shops the whole day the govt should consider opening polling booths and bank counters in these shops and carry out all three activities simultaneously. The proposal, I’m told, is being examined seriously as it will result in major savings to the govt. and also ensure a high turn out. OROP will now become OVOP- One Vote One Peg. As my friend commented: “ How does it matter, bro- whether politics or the booze, its all old wine in new bottles, isn’t it…hic !?”
• By the time the current exercise is over India will have become a truly equitable society. With all businesses at a standstill and all the rich demonetised, the only ones who are making any money these days are the beggars and daily-waged labourers, upto their hocks in exchange commissions and Jan Dhan deposits. Why did this not occur to Amartya Sen and Bhagwati ?
• The reason we don’t see many policemen controlling the lines at the Banks and ATMs is that they are all IN those lines, in plainclothes, depositing their hoards of cash!
• Here are a couple of new words that have entered our lexicon, post FIXIT:
NILLIONAIRE---an Indian millionaire after 8th November 2016.
PREMATURE EJAQUEUELATION---what happens when the ATM runs out of cash before you reach the head of the queue.
• A brilliant take by Babumoshai on Facebook:
“ The old lady you see in the ATM queue used to be a young bride when she joined the line. QUEUE KI SAAS BHI KABHI BAHU THI.
Sometimes our past speaks to us, just to put things in perspective. At a time when the entire opposition is ranged against Mr. Modi here is a quotation from Kautilya’s ARTHASHASTRA: “ Learn-- When thieves, dacoits and traitors in the country become restless, shout, and try to create anarchy—the King is ruling well !”
So brighten up, folks, and don’t listen to all those doomsday politicians and economists. We’ll be laughing about all this one day soon or when the ATM starts dispensing cash again, whichever is earlier.