The bank queues are long, the tempers short. Even as India’s cash crunch shows no sign of easing, a system of trust and cooperation is starting to replace paper-money transactions. Where currency notes stated the Reserve Bank Of India’s promise to pay the bearer, there are now promises and acts of kindness between strangers, friends, neighbours, shopkeepers and customers all across Mumbai.
In Bandra, the Wazirs, a family of four, pooled together their usable cash on Wednesday, to distribute it amongst the household help. “It was just a few hundreds, but they would need it more than us,” says Seema Wazir, a mother of two and an HR consultant.
Others are extending the use of their debit and credit cards to those who rely on cash. Colaba resident and food writer Antoine Lewis picked up staples like milk and sugar for his maid at the local supermarket yesterday, to be adjusted against her salary later. Gautam Purohit, who runs the Thaker Bhojanalay thali restaurant in Kalbadevi went a step further. “I had just paid salaries to my staff of 20 when we found out about the notes,” he says.
He took back all the money, sums ranging from Rs5,000 to Rs15,000, to exchange at the bank and repay them properly. “Why should all of them run around when I can?”
Help is being offered in other ways too. Tanya Fonseca, five months pregnant, stopped for coconut water at Carter Road promenade nearly every day for the last few months. Since November 9, her wallet has been empty but it hasn’t affected her routine. “He understands the situation and does not ask for the money,” she says.
Grocers, restaurants, even doctors have been accepting Rs500 notes, or offering credit.
Mehernosh Khajotia, who runs a dessert business, headed to Crawford Market for packaging material with Rs1,000 notes and not much hope on Thursday. “My usual supplier was not accepting the big denominations,” Khajotia says. “I asked ‘Will you take a cheque from an old friend?’ and he made an exception for me.”
When Wazir ordered chicken from Mark’s Cold Storage yesterday, the store sent over Rs1,070 worth of the meat when she explained she was short on cash. Neighbourhood shops record transactions against the customer’s contact details in lieu of immediate payment. “Their notebooks are at the ready,” says Lewis, who took home coffee worth Rs470 on Wednesday. Purohit has also let three dining parties leave without paying. “The bills were between Rs500 and Rs2,500,” he says. “We’re all in a bad situation, I’m confident they’ll be back.”
Some adjustments do more than keep the wheels of business turning. Rishan Shah, a Chembur resident and management student is trying to get his fellow residents of Satellite complex to share rides with neighbours to avoid spending cash on taxis and rickshaws. “No one expects to be repaid for this, but we’re discussing it at a building meeting soon,” he says. Shah knows getting around is tough. He was stuck at CST station on Wednesday trying to get the ticket office to break his last Rs1,000 when a stranger swiped his SmartCard and offered him and a Thane-bound commuter one-way tickets home before disappearing into the crowd.