It is little more than a year ago, that our PM decided to cleanse our economy by shock treatment and converted our cash to ‘Raddi’. He urged us to go cashless (There was no need to urge. We were totally, helplessly ‘cashless’ anyway!) or digital or whatnot and help build a better India. I don’t understand the connection between ‘cashless’ and ‘better India’ but there are many things in this world that I don’t understand. Since I want a better India I am trying my best to go cashless and use plastic money. I haven’t been very successful in that. I think that’s why I haven’t noticed a better India yet.
Almost all my patients who have had the misfortune to step into my clinic and grudgingly convert ‘their’ hard earned money into ‘my’ hard earned money, prefer to grudge in cash. So, I accept cash, paper currency - which are usually kept folded together (multiple folds in a miniature purse, if the patient is a female) and are carefully separated using licked fingers, counted and handed over. I straighten them out, fumigate them in a formaldehyde chamber (to counter the licked finger effect) and transfer them to my purse.
Since the vendors of my daily requirement of pav, milk, vegetables, fruits etc etc and my other service providers like the barber, dhobhi, helpers in my clinic and also our domestic helpers accept only cash, there is no chance of ‘cashless’ transaction anywhere. ‘My’ hard earned cash now becomes ‘their’ hard earned cash, and it continues its journey in cash form. So, I have no reason to enter an ATM kiosk or proffer a Debit card anywhere but since my bank has given me a ATM/Debit card, I carry it in my purse along with the picture of our family deity. The card does not do anything other than increasing the bulk of my purse. I hear some banks are offering to print the picture of our choice on the ATM cards. If my bank can print the picture of ‘Nanjundeshwara’ on my card, I can have a two in one card and a slimmer purse!
Since I would like to keep up with the times and since our PM has said using plastic money gives us a better India, I intend using my card and have been trying to master its use.
My recent trip to Chennai, I thought, was an opportunity. I always carry cash when I travel. I hate to get stuck with a piece of plastic money, which suddenly decides not to perform its duties. That is bad anywhere but more so in a place away from home. People who live their lives by flashing plastic cards everywhere have been telling me that I worry unduly and need to change my mindset. This time I decided to change my mind set. I carried very little cash, just enough for the taxi and a cup of coffee at the airport. (You may say that amount is not ‘very little’ at all, but let it be)
My sister and brother in law live in Chennai and I stayed there for three days enjoying a unusually pleasant weather and free classical music concerts. I started my learning process of using my debit card with the Ola auto and persisted using it for the Uber taxi, Tiffin/Coffee at the concert canteen, tender coconut on the footpath and gobi manchurian and ice cream on the beach. It was duly rejected everywhere by the vendors and provided an opportunity for my B - In - law to take out his cash and express his generosity.
My return ticket was booked for the afternoon flight, 4.40 to be precise, and I was dropped at the airport at three in the afternoon. I hate people who arrive late, push aside others waiting patiently in a queue in front of the check in counters or the security gate and rush forward shouting that they have a flight about to take off. My curses follow them. So, I always plan to reach the airport well in advance. The smart CISF guard saw my boarding pass, looked at my identity card and looked at my face. Fine. Normal procedure. Then he looked at the boarding pass again and consulted his colleague - my heart started beating faster. He came back to me and said “saab, yeh aaj subah ka flight tha” (sir, this boarding pass was for this morning’s flight) I looked at the boarding pass and immediately realised my blunder. While doing my booking in a hurry to grab the lowest fare available, I had booked the 4.40 am flight and had arrived at the airport hoping to catch the non existent 4.40 pm flight!
“Aap Indigo ka counter me puchiye agar kuch ho sakta to” (“please enquire at Indigo counter if they can do something”) The CISF man was very kind but I knew that the ground staff at the Indigo counter would not be kind towards my stupidity. I called my BIL who had come to drop me, explained the situation and asked him to remain at the airport till further instructions. (If I couldn’t reach Goa, I had to ensure that I had a comfortable passage back home at least!) I ran to the Indigo counter and asked the girl there if there was any possibility of finding a flight to Goa? She said that I could take the 16.00 flight to Bangalore and the connecting flight to Goa at 21.20. She said that would make me poorer by Rs 5126 but I would reach Goa alright.
It was 15.05 or 3.05 PM, 55 minutes left for the flight. Counters close 45 minutes before the flight. I had to hurry and I had no cash. Now was the time to use my plastic money! The auto rikshaw driver or the Tender coconut vendor may not accept my debit card but Indigo would certainly do.
“Can I pay with my debit card?”.
“Will I be able to catch the flight? There is hardly any time left”.
“Of course sir, I will check you in right away”.
I handed her the card. She entered the numbers and handed me the portable machine to enter my PIN. I did and hoped it was correct. Five seconds, ten, fifteen. The machine remained silent.
“There is something wrong with the connection sir. Transaction is not going through. Can you please pay cash?”
“But I don’t have cash. Is there no other way?” I was panicky.
“Sorry sir. I can’t do anything. But sir, you may get cash from the ATM machine here”
Using a ATM is always a challenge to me. Right from the correct insertion of the card, entering the correct PIN, answering its questions and waiting with a fast beating heart till my cash and the card are spat out the machine puts my physical and mental faculties to a tough test. In the mental state I was in, I doubted my ability to coax the ATM machine to part with its cash. But I had to make an attempt at least.
“Where is the ATM?”
“Near the entrance gate number two sir” (That was just about half a kilometer!)
“Is there any later flight to Goa?”
“Yes sir. 5pm. Via Bombay. You will reach Goa at 7am tomorrow”
Thank god there was some alternative.
“And the fare?”
“Twelve thousand eight hundred sir.”
I knew that was NOT an alternative. Seven minutes left for the check in counters to close for the 4 PM flight. I left my suitcase in front of the counter and ran to the ATM. Fortunately there was no line in front of the ATM. As I was about to rush in a small hand written note stuck to the corner of the glass panel caught my eyes. “ATM out of order”. I was jinxed, as far as plastic money was concerned.
My brain did not know what to do and allowed my limbs to do what they want. They decided to run back to the Indigo counter. I don’t know for what purpose. But as I reached the counter I found my brother in law standing next to my suitcase
“I knew that you were booked by Indigo. So I decided to put the car in the parking lot and came here. I have to pay 100 rs for parking but it is ok” He said. There was no time or need for any civility.
“You have cash with you” I asked eagerly
Oh what a relief! I don’t know why he was carrying that cash. There was no need to know as long as he was prepared to part with it! My ATM/ Debit card may ditch me but god almighty (in the form of my BIL, presently) would not!
I snatched the notes from his hand, snatched the boarding pass from the girl’s hand and ran towards the boarding gate 7, shouting “excuse me I have a flight in half an hour” and pushing aside decent people standing patiently in a line - with a cloud of curses following me.