demonetisation

Post 81, Abdullahpur Basti, Ludhiana

6:00 p.m.: Although Kamal flour mill is abuzz with activity, some changes are discernible. Bablu Yadav left for his home in Gaya a few weeks ago. This morning Mevalal, like Vishnu, also returned to his village in Gonda. Hiralal is unwell. A new worker Om Prakash Pandey, whose home is in a village in Balrampur, has been recruited for a temporary period. Om Prakash worked in a hosiery manufacturing unit till the introduction of the high currency demonetisation late last year. Demonetisation resulted in the collapse of demand, and Om Prakash lost his job. He has now been hired to work in the mill.

6:15 p.m.: Rachit walks into the mill to collect sacks for delivery. He has had a haircut and is clean shaven. Ambika Prasad remarks that Rachit looks like the hero of a Bollywood film. Rachit asks me what I have been up to. I show him my new mobile phone, a Motorola product.

Rachit disapproves. “Why didn’t you buy a Mi mobile? I have been seeing advertisements on TV and they say the company sold one million pieces in one week!”

I tell Rachit that Motorola is a more reliable brand. He holds the phone in his hand, and clicks a selfie. Seeing the selfie, Rachit is more approving of my purchase.

Post 49, Sargana, Ludhiana

Zaheeb Ajmal reports:

9:45 a.m.: Mahadev Yadav is at his shop, muffler wrapped around his head, investigating a tyre that has been delivered at his for repairs. A man, likely to be in his thirties, walks up to him: he is wearing a high neck T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Twirling a keyring on his index finger, he asks Mahadev Yadav, “Uncle, do you remember me?”

Flustered, Mahadev Yadav replies, “Of course I remember you. How can I forget? But you will have to wait awhile.”

His visitor, Kalru Ram, becomes agitated: “This is not done. You should have told my father when you borrowed the cash that you would pay him in six months, not three. You told us last month that you could repay the loan this month.  Now please give me a date, and stick to it.”

“When are you leaving for Punjab?” Mahadev Yadav asks his visitor, trying to assuage him.

“In about two months,” the visitor replies.

Mahadev Yadav is relieved: “You will have your money before you leave.”

Kalru Ram persists: “Oh come on. My father should never have loaned you the money. Not only are you not paying any interest on it, but the delay is really hurting us. We are trapped because of you.”

Mahadev Yadav now changes the topic: “When did you return from Punjab?”

The trick works. Kalru Ram informs us that it has been ten days since he has been back.

I didn’t want to return. I had planned to stay on for two further months. If I had, I would have earned INR 16,000: As a pehredar responsible for supervising other agricultural workers, I easily earn between INR 8,000 and INR 10,000 per month when I am there. But demonetisation hurt us badly. No employer had the money to pay their workers. Mine kept telling me to either wait or to take my wages in the older now-illegal currency. I accepted the old currency notes, but asked him to allow me leave of absence for two months. He didn’t have much of a choice, so he agreed. [Looking towards Mahadev Yadav] And here, we have debtors who refuse to settle their debts…

Sensing the turn the conversation was about to take, Mahadev Yadav remembered an urgent chore and hurried away.

Post 41, Abdullahpur Basti

6:00 p.m.: Rachit is busy with two puppies, trying his best to drive them away into the adjoining alleyway. “If they hang around here, they are sure to be crushed under a car or jeep. They’ll be safe in the alley,” he explains.

6:15 p.m.: His mission accomplished, Rachit informs me that his brother did indeed succeed in exchanging the now-illegal 1,000- rupee note, but did so for a mere Rs 600!

“What can I do,” he sighs on seeing the shock on my face. “He is the lord of his own world.”

Post 38, Ludhiana

5:45 p.m.: I am at the mill, chatting with Dasharath, who weighs the flour before it is packed into sacks. Vishnu spreads out a mat on sealed sacks of bran for me to sit. Dasharath plans to purchase a Jio simcard for his mobile phone since it will allow him a number of free calls. He has so far been using Vishnu’s mobile to make calls, but Vishnu needs the phone far more than he does: after all, Vishnu has to speak to his fiancée the entire day, Dasharath chuckles. He will buy a mobile for himself in about two months.

Dasharath tells me I resemble his cousin brother who lives in Assam, before turning to the next sack of flour.

Vishnu wants to know the price of gold. He asks me to look up the price of gold online: he wants to purchase one tola of gold for his fiancée. A google search indicates that 22 carats of gold cost INR 2700. One tola is almost 11 grams, so a tola would cost nearly INR 30,000, I inform him. Vishnu’s face falls. Muttering that he had hoped prices would have reduced, he goes back to sealing the delivery sacks.

6:15 p.m.: Rachit meets me in the mill. His brother tells him that he has managed to exchange the old 1000 rupee-note which were rendered illegal following the announcement about demonetisation. However, Rachit is not convinced: he will call his uncle later today to confirm.

7:30 p.m.: Bhullan arrives in front of the mill with his vegetable cart. I ask about his well-being. He complains about the losses caused by demonetisation. “Modi has finished my business,” he rues.

Post 35, Abdullahpur Basti

3 p.m.: Rachit calls to tell me that he wants to purchase a pair of shoes this evening. He asks me to come to Abdullahpur as soon as I can.

4 p.m.: I reach Kamal Flour Mill. Birjinder is entertaining some guests and Rachit serves them water and chai. I wait for him at the mill, chatting with Mewalal and Dasharath. In a few minutes, Rachit pulls out his scooter from the garage and we speed away to a shop by the overbridge. Rachit pulls up here, and we go into the shop. He greets the shopkeeper, a 50-something Sikh gentleman, and requests him to have a word with Birjinder’s wife over the phone. Rachit dials the number on his mobile and hands his device over to the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper and Birjinder’s wife chat for a few minutes. Once they finish, the shopkeeper hangs up and asks Rachit to have a look around the shop. He instructs his shop assistant, a boy who does not look older than 15, to help Rachit make his selection.

Rachit spends several minutes trying on different shoes. He does not like light colours, because all the manual work he undertakes. He is also particular about the size, and finds size 9 comfortable. Rachit finally settles for one that he likes. 

He then asks to see slip-ons, which he wants to purchase for Birjinder’s son. We click snaps of several slip-ons on my mobile and forward those to Birjinder’s son over whatsapp. Once he approves, Rachit takes over both items to the counter and asks the shopkeeper the cost.

“You want to pay for these?” the shopkeeper asks.

Flushed with embarrassment, Rachit replies, “Of course.”

“Rs. 490,” the shopkeeper says.

Rachit adds, “I hope this is the correct price”, handing over five Rs 100-notes.

“Yes, yes”, the shopkeeper laughs as he returns the balance.

Rachit and I drive back to the mill.

6:00 p.m.: We reach the mill. As Rachit parks his scooter, I chat with Bhullan who is standing with his cart outside the mill. “Modi has destroyed my business,” he rues. “Demonetisation has meant people have no cash to spend. Business is ruined.” He wheels his cart away.

6:15 p.m.: I go inside the mill, where Vishnu has joined Mewalal and Dasharath. Visnhu informs me that Bablu, their co-worker at the mill, has returned to attend a marriage in his village, which is near Gaya. He will stay there for a few weeks and return with his wife. Vishnu used to live with Bablu when he had first come to Ludhiana. Back then, Bablu’s wife and daughter also lived with him in Ludhiana.

“One day, Bablu’s daughter borrowed my mobile to call her brother. We started chatting after that,” Vishnu tells me as he weighs the flour before Mewalal and Dasharath begin to pack it for delivery.

6:30 p.m.: Rachit asks me to accompany him on his scooter to the grocery store in Dhuri Lines, about a kilometre away. There, he purchases refined vegetable oil, sugar and some other items. On our ride back, we stop by at a shop that stores soaps of all kinds- soap for baths, soap for laundry, etc. Although Rachit does not buy anything, he says he will purchase some soaps from here before he goes home next year in July.

7:00 p.m.: Rachit wants to meet Mansharam, who sells milk by day and loads sacks of flour for Abdullahpur’s several mill-owners by night. Mansharam’s children, two sons and one daughter, are studying on a wooden cot strung together with jute ropes. In the wake of the demonetisation of high-value currency notes, Mansharam has asked Rachit to exchange the now-illegal currency notes for the newly-minted ones. However, as Rachit has simply not had the time to do this, so he wants to return the notes to Mansharam so he can make alternative arrangements before the deadline for exchanging old notes for new ones expires on December 31.  

7:15 p.m.: I return to the mill, where Vishnu and Dasharath are still working.

Visnhu: I will introduce you to country-made liquor. You will then understand what ‘getting drunk’ means.

Dasharath: You drink country-made liquor? You’ll die earlier than those who drink foreign liquor!

(Turning to me)

Have you heard this song: Dawai Jaise Kaam Karait?

I shake my head. Dasharath asks me to download the song from youtube and play it for Vishnu. I do so. Vishnu listens intently, with the din of the mill as a backdrop, obviously enjoying the raunchy lyrics. He tells me that Dasharath – despite being younger than him and having just arrived from Muzaffarpur- is far more “experienced”.

“Dasharath has introduced Mewalal and me to loads of ‘triple x’ movies,” Vishnu says, while Dasharath chuckles, his eyes gleaming with pride at being thus appreciated by his older co-worker.  

8:30 p.m.: Vishnu decides to call it a day. Dasharath follows suit.

Post 30, Abdullahpur Basti

6 p.m.: I watch the television at Guddu’s vegetable kiosk. Everyone around is watching the latest updates on demonetisation. An official of the Reserve Bank of India declares that indelible ink will be applied on the fingers of all those who withdraw cash. Heaving a deep sigh, Rachit yawns and complains he is very tired: he has been standing in queues to deposit the old high denomination notes and withdraw cash in the new currency notes for his employer Birjinder from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A fresh supply of wheat has arrived at Kamal flour mill.

7:30 p.m.: I meet Hiralal at his room. He informs me that he returned to Kamal flour mill on Sunday (November 13) to work on a casual basis on Sundays only. That way, he can supplement his earnings from the ironworks foundry with wages from the mill. He complains about the perpetual scowl on Birjinder’s visage, adding that his former employer nonetheless offered that he was welcome to come back to work at the mill whenever he wanted.

Post 28, Ghumar Mandi

6:15 p.m.: Rachit is parking Birjinder’s car outside the Mom n Me store in Ghumar Mandi: the store is quite large and stocks children’s clothes. Birjinder’s family has come to the market to shop for the occasion of the forthcoming Gur Purnima festival. Rachit informs me that Birjinder persuaded his family to shop at Mom n Me because they still accept the old high-value currency notes.

AA.2016-11-10.Shashi Devi with her grandchild.People getting xerox of form and id in a grocer store.Ludhiana.jpg

Post 27, Abdullahpur Basti

Credit: Atul Anand

Credit: Atul Anand

6 p.m.: A cold breeze has started sweeping through the city. I meet Rachit outside the flour mill, where he stands with a vendor preparing and selling fried snacks from his cart. He tells me he has been spending his mornings at the bank since the 10th of November. Following the Central Government’s decision to demonetise high-value currency, there has been a flurry of activity in banks and financial institutions across the country to exchange old high-value currency notes for the new ones. Like millions of other entrepreneurs, much of Birjinder’s business operates on the use of cash. Needless to say, it is imperative for him to get rid of the worthless high-value currency notes and exchange these for the new ones. But given their other engagements, neither he nor other members of his family have the time to queue up at banks for this purpose. That is where Rachit’s services are harnessed. Rachit has spent between three and four hours each day standing in queues at the different banks in which his employer has accounts.

Bhullan, a 40-year old vegetable vendor from Jaunpur, hands over freshly-cooked vegetable fries, which we gratefully devour. Rachit takes leave of us, since he has to drive Birjinder’s wife to the nearby shopping center.