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(Sheila ki) chavanni

It was not very long ago that I used to be the darling of the people. I was light, with a smooth round edge, not big enough to be a burden, not small enough to be almost worthless. PP Wangchuk writes.

india Updated: Jul 04, 2011 10:28 IST
PP Wangchuk
PP Wangchuk
Hindustan Times

It was not very long ago that I used to be the darling of the people. I was light, with a smooth round edge, not big enough to be a burden, not small enough to be almost worthless. I was not really worried, especially when there was talk about Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes being taken out of the system. Truth is, I even chuckled at the thought of seeing those big paper notes being hauled down from their pedestal. But what I had failed to notice was that in the new economy and with high inflation, people had stopped using me. I have been, truth be told, invalid for some time. But still, when the Reserve Bank of India official came over to my place last week to tell me that I was retiring — at 54! — I was shocked and felt betrayed. After 54 years of service to the nation, they’re now putting me in the Great Coin Pile.

Thirty years ago when I was a young man, I was a 25 paise coin who got you plenty of things. I would get you a satisfying cup of hot tea, or a plate of hot, steaming pakoras, or even a paratha, thick and spicy enough to fill your stomach and inject you with energy for the whole day. For those with a sweet tooth, you could barter me for a cup of ice cream or a pocketful of sweets.

In Delhi, I was particularly loved by those folks who went around town in buses. With me in their pockets, they could go anywhere in the city and meet their near and dear ones. They could also exchange me for a few select gifts — yes, cheap and small, but nonetheless special, for you could still get those small plastic toys for my value. I actually quite like my nickname ‘Chavanni’ — from 'char anna' (four annas) from the old British Indian monetary system. I should have realised that my days of walking about unfettered and in demand were going to be over when I started hearing less and less people asking for a 'Chavanni'.

But since I love you folks as much as you once loved me, I will be around and you may see me on the footpaths of Chandni Chowk and in the albums of coin collectors — or as the old (bless his soul!) — one anna coin would call these people, numismatists.

The RBI says I have been 'demonetised'. I don't like that word. It has something a bit demonic about it, not to mention carrying the vague notion of all life being extinguished from me. Economists say that my death — I mean retirement — is a telling reflection of the state of the Indian economy. Some of my remaining supporters try to argue that my disappearance from active life would affect the poor as from now on, there won't be — can't be — any item priced 25 paise. But even I know the truth: nothing has been worth 25 paise for a long time now. To get a toffee or a mouthfreshner from the paanwala, it now takes at least two of me. With my departure, the 50 paise coin moves into the frontline, becoming the smallest currency.

Well, at least now I'll be joining my old pals who were put out to pasture over the last many decades: the hexagonal 20 paise coin, the undulating rim of the 10 paise coin, the sideways square of the 10 paise coin. The 1, 2 and 3 paise were phased out in the 1970s and, to tell you the truth, I don't quite recall their faces anymore.

After all these years of service, only one man in the country has bothered to criticise the decision to take me out of the system: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. He has said that the central government has sacrificed a poor chavanni as it couldn't take out the mighty Rs 1,000 notes as demanded by those fighting against black money.

Oh well, goodbye and all that. I bet you won't get a smoother-edged, classier-looking coin than me. I bet you 25 paise you won't.

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