Not being able to use cash in India
Dear G & B (and bump),
I’ve spent the past week or so in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune enjoying the heat whilst it hits zero degrees at home.
There is some crazy stuff going on in the world at the moment. 2016 has been a funny old year, but I don’t know how much of this will make the upper rankings of history books, so by the time you read these letters, you will need to scour the web to look them up:
1) The UK left the European Union (“what is the European Union” you ask…?)
2) Donald Trump, a businessman/celebrity/nutter has been elected as President of the most powerful nation on earth
3) Lots of icons have died: David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Terry Wogan. I suppose this happens every year, but it seems to have been a bumper crop.
4) There was a demonetisation policy in India
I’ve been experiencing number 4 first hand as it unwinds. Essentially, the Prime Minister (Mohdi) announced at 8pm on 8th November that all 500 and 1000 Rupee notes would no longer be legal tender as of midnight that night and just then be taken to banks to be exchanged for new 500 and 2000 notes. Crazy move and something we in the UK would know would cause chaos (and it has) but there is method in the madness: There are 1.3 billion Indians and only 20 million of them pay tax. That is one hell of a black economy and he is trying to reduce it. All those people that deal in cash now have to declare it. If they declare a significant amount that they’ve been stashing under their mattress the government will ask why, fine them and look into their dealings. Overnight (literally) he has made people have to legitimise their businesses and savings.
In practice, there has been pandemonium and it has hit the poor the most as cash has suddenly become scarce and they have no other way of paying or things. If people get hold of (new) cash they are holding onto it as the queues at banks and cash machines are huge, taking people all day. Even when you get to the front you can only withdraw the equivalent of £50! It is an exercise in patience and I admire the Indian people for that.
Queues at the ATMs. This is actually a very small, orderly one compared to most
I queued for 2 hours to exchange currency when I landed at Delhi airport, which turned out to be pointless – nobody wants to accept my crisp new notes unless they can give me old shitty ones that I can’t then use! I have had to use cards and online payments entirely for a whole week and it certainly makes you plan in advance.
Enough of the economic update. I had great day looking around Pune (used to be called Poona and was where the sport of Badminton was invented) at the old Fort and some of the markets. Beautiful colours, terrible smells, but a nice afternoon adventure. There are a lot of stray dogs and stray people, but neither of them bother this obvious fish out of water, they just get on with getting on.
Some images of the Phule Manai (market) and Fort:
I’m now back in yet another airport lounge in France waiting for my connection back to the UK and you little rascals. I just got sent videos of you both performing the alphabet to camera: G is spot on and quite the little thespian, B’s attempt was full of enthusiasm and interpretative movement rather than accuracy. I’m smiling from ear to ear.
A Pune sunset