Coins: An Obituary

Few days ago, a comely woman in a stationary store lost a bargain for change in return of a bunch of envelopes she sold. Reluctantly she tendered a Rs.10 coin to her impatient customers. I was surprised; Sibaji started using the envelopes as we were already late for the late Post-Office of Hauz Khas.

Along the way, I think of the white and pink stripped candy we called peppermint. It was both the least desirable and most affordable candy we could buy while we were in elementary school. I don’t actually remember buying one for 5 paisa, but I know they did cost 5 paisa, and whenever I saw 5 paisa coin I couldn’t relate it to anything else but the peppermint. 5 paisa coin was also important in replacing the 25 paisa (4 anna) coin, along with a 20 paisa coin or two 10 paisa coins, cause those days 1 tanka was 16 annas a lot more often than 1 rupee used to be 100 paisa. I remember expressing my profound doubt over annas, because first of all nowhere “anna” was written and second, what would be ek-anna(1 anna), six-and-half paisa? Impossible. But I could swear someone showed by a very antiquated half paise coin. Besides, there was this bollywood song “panch rupaiya bara anna” on radio.

While elders gambled their money away in card games and sometimes in carom, before all those betting and other stuff entered village, kids had a special gambling. You draw a circle and a straight line couple of steps apart. Then you throw the coins you have pooled among the players into the circle from the line, that is if you win the toss. If any of the coins fall outside the circle you are out, the next player collects and throws them in again. When all coins are inside the circle, you draw your weapon- a circular flat piece of stone that you custom make yourself and hit as hard as you can at whatever coin your competitors point out. If that specific coin goes out of the circle, you take home the dough.

I remember having a lot of 5, 10, 20 paisa aluminum coins dented and distorted beyond recognition. It was only their wavy or orthogonal edges that vouched their worth. A lot many of them would gather in my hostel drawers, too many to be stacked, but they looked neat when stacked. Often, when there is no money after paying all the dues, I would get these out and try to use them, unsuccessfully most of the time, either because of the unwillingness of the shopkeeper or my own embarrassment. Slowly they disappeared and it was the 25 paisa and 50 paisa coins that accumulated in the drawers, shy of the shopkeepers. In fact, in Raipur (Chhattisgarh), in 2005, I was refused a 50 paisa due for something that cost Rs 2.50/- and I had given Rs.3. I checked almost all shops in the railway station, they had derecognised 50/25 paisa coins and effectively raised price of everything to the next round-able Rupee figure. If you bought 10 different items from 10 different shops you could lose more than 7 rupees. In a few years, the marketing industry took cue from Raipur and all retail prices were rounded off. I don’t feel cheated anymore, although I know am.

I remember the excitement to have a Rs. 5 coin as a kid. Five rupees was too much for us, but the unmatched thickness of the coin, although smaller in size than Rs.1 or 2 coins fascinated me. I found out only yesterday, the 1 rupee coin has shrank to as small as the Rs. 5 rupee coin. May be to the size of a charanna.

From the Metro station to my rented house, the DTC bus fair is Rs. 10. The mini-van-look-alike fair Rs 5. instead. It more like a Maruti Omni body on three wheels, with the space inside is imagined to accommodate people’s butts, no heads or legs. But many of us get into that. For people who make that decision, the travel of life is difficult ahead.

P.S- Fair in non-AC metro mini bus services also cost Rs.5.

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