On November 8, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled address to the nation to announce that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 were going to be defunct from midnight the same day, I was in the newsroom. My first reaction was “are you kidding me?!” And I didn’t even know back then that these two denominations make up for more than 85% of the currency in India.
What followed was, breaking news, breaking news and more breaking news. After I was done with work that day, I went to a bank, withdrew Rs 2000 from an ATM which lets you choose denominations (IndusInd), so all of it was in Rs 100 notes. I knew I didn’t have to worry for at least a week.
But it was obviously not the case with millions across the country. Even those from the more privileged class, those who could conduct their day to day lives with their cards were complaining. Stories of deaths and disenchantment were all over the media.
Some of my friends were really enraged with people who were supporting Modi’s decision. “I have been reading articles, so many people support demonetisation, I don’t understand why,” a friend said, exasperated.
I couldn’t say much for all the sections who were supporting the move, but a conversation with my help shed some light on the matter.
After a few days of demonetisation, I had asked my help if she was doing fine. She was sweeping the hall at the time, she looked up and beamed. “Modi ne bahut acha kiya na beta, (Modi has done something so good)” she said.
“All these people hoarding black money, it’s a good lesson for them,” she said. But what about her, did she have money to spend I asked.
“I don’t like standing in queues beta, my daughter went to the bank, she stood for the whole day and got money. Little hardships we have to face, but its okay. If we want something good, we must be ready to face a little hardship,” she said with her persistent smile.
I only wanted to know if she was doing fine, which she was, so no counter-arguments were offered.
But on November 27th, I asked her the same question again, since pay day i.e. December 1 was nearing.
“Are you having any problems with cash? I can give you your salary today if you want,” I asked.
“No beta, I have no problem, you should not face any problems, you go to office na, you will need change. It’s all right for us, we can even get things on credit if we want, we have been living here for so many years, we know people,” she said.
My pay day is on the 7th and while I was not facing any cash crunch, I would if I paid her. So I told her that I would go to the ATM and withdraw cash to ensure I wasn’t short on cash and pay her on 28th.
She again started praising Modi for the move. And then said how it must have hit terror funds hard and told me something unexpected.
“We lost a relative in the 26/11 attack, my husband and my son were also very close to the CST station on that day,” she said casually, as she continued to sweep the hall.
“Your husband and son were at the station?! Were they okay?” My immediate response was shock and worry.
“Yes, nothing happened to them, but a whole wedding party from Karnataka had come to Mumbai and a relative of mine died in the attack,” she said.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) was one of the main targets of Pakistan-based terrorists in Mumbai. Over 160 people had lost their lives in the terror attack that took place on November 26th 2008.
My help genuinely believed what Modi said – that demonetisation would cripple terror funds and wipe out black money from the country. Would telling her about the continued terror attacks along the LoC help? I decided against it. Sometimes, it’s best just to listen.
Oh and the next day, I paid her salary, two days before pay day, all in legit notes. “I hope the others too don’t give me old notes,” she said laughing as she left the house.
I hoped so too.