Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Single and Exceptionally Broke: My Chronicles with Rs 130

This is a story on how I survived with Rs 130 borrowed from my friend for the next 48 hours of my life

By Taenaz Shakir

My mum keeps telling me “Stash a thousand rupee spare note in your wallet for emergencies”. Never did I feel prouder about myself for being such an unruly daughter.

As a single woman working in Delhi, more than 2,500 kilometres away from my laidback hometown in Kerala, life is already hard enough. A recent graduate like me earns barely enough to cover rent, groceries, Uber (pool) rides, and other necessities. That being said, life’s not all bad! I do get to splurge my salary once in a while and the independence is just exhilarating.

Working for a personal finance magazine, people assume that I should be good with money. True, I do try to spend judiciously to a point but the success of my attempts is another story altogether. This is the story of how I survived a day in south Delhi with just Rs. 65 spent from my wallet.

Day before yesterday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on national television that all Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes will be rendered useless come midnight, my initial reaction to the news which I first got as a forwarded message on a Whatsapp group was “This is a joke, right?” Evidently, it was not. Billions of notes worth much more billions of rupees turned into paper overnight. The impact this is going to have on 1.2 billion citizens of this country is colossal.

While PM Modi kept his promise of attempting to remove black money from our economy, all I could think about was my friends for whom I had just transferred Rs 5,000 to their ATM earlier that day since they fell short of money during their short vacation. One phone call later, I came to know that they had not withdrawn the money and were in deep trouble.

Same day in the evening, my roommate and I were doing some serious window shopping for clothes we did not really need. I usually prefer using my debit card rather than hard money and I always postpone withdrawing money from the ATM. The same happened that day. But around 9’o clock in the night, I knew I had to have some hard cash on me the next day for my work commute as I had promised myself to take bus to work since Uber spikes charges as per its fantasies. However, all three ATMs near my house were shut. Mind you, I was yet to get the news and had no money in my wallet at all. Not even a penny. So I asked my friend to lend me some money for the next day’s commute and thought that I was sorted.

Like a bomb when the news dropped on us that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes have become practically equivalent to monopoly money and that ATMs won’t be functioning for the next two days, I knew I had no other option but to borrow ‘usable’ currency notes. And for the second time in my life, I got to learn the value of each penny (the first was when my only ATM card got blocked last week along with thousands of others). This meant that I have to live on Rs 130 borrowed from my friend for the next 48 hours of my life. This also meant that my guitar strings which I had ordered online as a cash-on-delivery item might not be delivered. My lunch that I order via internet will now ask me for online payments. Of course, now I have to take the bus not because I want to cut my expenses, but because I have no other choice than to cut my expenses.

So today as I write about having survived in this city at the mercy of the spare change my roommate had kept and graciously shared with me, I am faced with several epiphanies. For starters, it is one thing when you are running short on money; you are mentally prepared to forgo your comforts. It’s a totally different deal when there is money in your account and you cannot access it.

Yesterday I took a bus to work, ate a pretty decent lunch of quarter plate of Rajma rice at the office canteen for Rs 25, took a bus back home and made sure that dinner was cooked and not ordered online. My guitar strings did not get delivered. I sympathised with the pain that the pizza delivery man will have to face when handed over Rs 2,000 note for a bill of Rs 350. And I have realised that I would be a lot richer at the end of the month if I manage my money more wisely.

Even today, I hardly have any cash on me. I have to stretch the remaining money till the ATMs start functioning. Up till now, most of the ATMs in Delhi are not functioning and from what I got to know from a friend who managed to withdraw from an ATM, that he waited for more than an hour to do the 2-minute task of withdrawing money. At my hometown, like most of the other cities, towns and villages in India, none of the ATMs are yet functional. I’m not yet sure whether deciding to not stash my wallet with a Rs 1,000 note against my mum’s wishes was a good idea or a bad one. Probably it’s a good one since I don’t have to wait in those long lines to get my money exchanged. But I really, really crave for some chaat which I can’t afford right now. Not yet, at least.


Taenaz Shakir is Reporter, Outlook Money. The views expressed in this article are personal in nature.