Monday, December 5, 2016

Black Money!

Our bank finally had some cash, so we got our hands on some old used dirty looking 100 rupee notes.
Looking at the soiled notes, Aloka (having heard her agitated mom going on and on about the issue for the last 2 days) turns to me and says "Is this black money mom?".
We laughed for a good five minutes, confusing the poor kid even more.

Parallel Universe!

Part 1: 
What are educated Modi fans reading that is so different from what I am reading? What are they seeing in their cities and towns that is so different from what I am seeing? What life experiences makes people spew words like "slight inconvenience" and "nation building" in the face of this totally bungled unplanned operation?
We must be living in parallel universes.

Part 2:
Honestly, I try to read what the people, who believe the whole demonetization thing is right, share. I try.
There are these articles on the deep profound progressive thought behind the act, which will result in the betterment of everyone finally. I read these articles with an open mind that is willing to believe that there is something profound that I, as a layperson, am missing. After all, I am no economist.
But then, I am jolted by a stronger thought that does not require me to be an economist, but just a sensitive kind human being, which I am sure I am.
Deep profound acts require deep profound minds to have thought them up. Can I believe that of the current government? In the face of the cruel jokes and farcical PR dramas and total lack of empathy for the pain faced by our people, can I believe that there is something profound at the back of it all?
No, I can't. Sorry I can't.

Tales from a Parallel Universe!

Once again, it's me with another WTF post from a parallel universe.
Local taxi drivers have no business. People are avoiding going anywhere unessential. Those who must take a cab have only 2000 rupee notes. No change for the transaction. So, no business.
Simple hard working people being hit badly. Yeh rozi roti ka sawaal hai bhai. Thoda soch liya hota.

Kanto's Problem!

I woke up this morning to some loud noises coming from downstairs. It was our gardner, a 70 year-old hard working man, talking to my mom and cursing the great man. Our gardner is hard of hearing and talks rather loudly, so I could hear it all. I will spare you all the details of what he said about our great PM because that's not the point of this post.
His son got married on the 8th, and he hasn't been able to pay the village folks who cooked the dhaam food, played the band, and put up tents etc. He owes 40k to them but has no way to pay them. They, in turn owe money to their staff and shopkeepers from who they arranged the supplies.
The entire fabric of rural India is based on cash. My gardner can't write them a check, assuming he has a bank account and a check book and finds someone to help him write a check, because many of those he owes money to don't have bank accounts. Everyone needs to work on their small farms right now to grow their wheat crop and don't have time to stand in bank queues to open accounts, or deposit checks, and navigate the system- just to withdraw small sums of money everyday.
It is the person at the very bottom of the chain who is most distressed and in pain.
Point to note- I stayed upstairs and did not influence or incite him. I didn't have to. The system is doing that just fine.

Have you tried operating an ATM in another language?

Have you tried operating an ATM in another language? 
In Singapore once at an ATM, I selected Malay as my language by mistake. Despite having used that ATM a thousand times, despite the language being readable due to the familiar script, I froze. I cancelled the transaction hurriedly and logged in again in English.
Now can you imagine having to operate an ATM when you can't read any language? Empathise empathise. Please.

Sheer Exploitation

This morning, I stopped at the construction site near our house and asked a few workers standing on the first floor of a new apartment building if they were all okay. They grinned and said no salary all month. I asked how they were managing and they said that the contractor gave them "kharcha" (expenses) so they were not starving.

The contractor gave them 2000 rupees for the entire month and have been eating with that. But no money has been sent home because the money is enough just for their subsistence.

Each person earns 300 rupees daily. So, they have received about a fifth of what they are owed. Can you imagine receiving a fifth of your salary any month? Will you accept it without a fight, in the name of patriotism?

That they still smile and continue to work is not an expression of their desh bhakti, but of years of oppression and helplessness, and consequent resignation to their fate. It is also a result of their lack of understanding of their basic human rights. The unorganized sector is unorganized. They have no unions or leaders to speak for them.

This is sheer exploitation. Not by their contractor, who is a mere pawn too, but by the government and its supporters.

What are you Doing beside Complaining?

I wrote this in response to some comments- almost directly to those people, but some people think it is self praise. I am embarrassed if it appears like self praise. That is not the purpose.

Quite a few people have asked me what I am doing to help the poor whose suffering I keep writing about. What is the big deal in going on and on about the issue and criticizing the govt and spewing negativity. Let me answer that.
  • First of all, I am writing about those who are invisible and insignificant to most. Giving a voice to the voiceless is a big deal.
  • By sharing what I see, I am showing the insulated what is invisible to them. Showing someone what they can't otherwise see is a big deal.
  • I am not just forwarding what I read. I am writing original stuff too. I am a writer. Try being that. It is a big deal.
  • To write, I engage with the village folks. I enter their houses and they enter mine. I am breaking barriers of class that have existed for a long time. It is a big deal.
  • In engaging with them as fellow human beings, I am living my principles of equality and dignity for all human beings. No lip service but actual action. It is not a big deal for me for I am like that only, but try doing it yourself. It will be a big deal.
  • If this is all too up in the air, and not concrete, here are some other things I have done since Nov 9th. I helped fill out forms for people standing in the bank queues. I lent money to those in crisis. I advised the uninformed about the ever changing rules. But most of all, I have taught village kids to be kind to each other and to empathise with the less fortunate, so that they won't ever have to ask anyone doing what I do "What's the big deal?".

Is that enough?

Only They Are Sailing Through!

I went to see the mother of two of my students, wife of a migrant worker, to see if she needed any advice or help with exchanging her old money. She is illiterate, has no bank account and her husband and eldest son work in Kinnaur at a construction site. I understood the meaning of abject poverty only when I first visited them some 6 months back.
When I asked her if she needed any help with her old notes, she said no, no problem. I am guessing that her money for the month was in 100 rupee notes. Guessing because she looked very clueless about my question and I didn't want to confuse her. I told her to contact me if she needed any help with exchanging money and left it at that. It was obvious to me that she had no idea about demonetisation. Her husband is to return next week with more money.
While at their house, I met their landlord, a man in his sixties. I asked him if his family is okay. He said he faced absolutely no problem because his son works in a local bank. "Ladka bank mein hai to hamay kya problem" were his exact words.
So, two types of people in the village are sailing through the crisis- those with no money and those with close relatives working in banks!!!

Small Town Reality

On the way to Mandi on Wednesday to get the car serviced, we stopped at two petrol stations to get diesel. Neither had operational card machines, or the guys manning the station that early in the morning didn't know how to use them.
Finally, I had to use cash that I was saving to buy trout. I offered a 2000 rupee note. The guy asked me to buy diesel for 1000 rupees (instead of 500 that I wanted) for he did not want to give me 1500 rupees as change. Sab change khatam ho jayega, he said. There went my cash for 2kg of trout.
At the car service station, the folks didn't accept my card (no reason offered, just that we don't accept cards). Luckily, I was carrying my check book and wrote them a check.
Long and short of it, I needed cash. Having 4 credit and debit cards doesn't help. This is the reality in smaller towns and cities.

Social Engineering

A couple of days back, a very good doctor friend got scammed into giving her bank details to a caller pretending to be a bank employee. He knew she had requested for an inactive account to be reactivated just the previous day. He knew she had requested for a check book. He conned her because he left no doubt in her mind that he was from the bank. He was that convincing.
That convincing. To a highly educated doctor. To a person who has used banks ever since she became an adult. To a regular online shopper. To someone who has read about such scams many times.
He robbed her of 20k within minutes. She was able to limit the damage because she realized her mistake almost instantly and rushed to the bank in her car to cancel the card.
This is called social engineering. Smart educated people, who have read time and again about not disclosing any bank details, get scammed by social engineers.
Read the words carefully- Doctor, scammed, realized mistake, rushed in car, canceled card, limited damage.
Now imagine an ATM card in the hands of a poor uneducated gullible villager!

Side Effects!

Went to the super popular Illiterati cafe at Mcleodganj for lunch today with my girl friend and found it totally empty. We had the best seats in the sun to ourselves for a good 2 hours and were the only customers for most of that time.
The last time we were there for coffee a few months ago, the place was brimming with customers and we had trouble finding seats.
Reason? They accept only cash.

Very Annoyed!

A young man from a nearby village comes to me twice or thrice a week to practice speaking in English. As he is appearing for a competetive in two weeks, he asked me to help him with some grammar issues he finds confusing. I don't teach grammar generally, but gave in because of his persistance and desperation.
Today, he asked me about the difference between "annoyed with" and "annoyed at". Here are the examples I used to explain the difference.
1. I am "annoyed at" the ad-hoc and random changes in the demonetisation-related rules. I am "annoyed at" the lack of preparation and risk management in the exercise.
2. I am "annoyed with" Modi for putting us all through this mess.
He he. Sort of makes up for my discomfort with teaching grammar. Simple pleasures!