ATMs run out of money: Now, withdrawing cash has become all in a day's work, or two

8.30 pm (Saturday)

Someone tells you there's money in ATMs. It’s time to make a dash. You alert the wife and the 12-year-old at home. The destination is 100 metres from home. The distance is covered in about five minutes. You find yourself a place to stand. You are the 34th person in the queue. The kid stands in the queue before the ATM of another bank close by. Twenty-six people stand ahead of him. The wife keeps shuttling between one queue and the other to ensure neither father nor son moves an inch to the left or the right.

9 pm

The queues have not started moving yet. You look back. There’s a person standing 35 numbers behind you. You smile. "Is this guy going to make it," you ask the wife. "Think of yourself first. You also stand a slim chance," comes the reply. The kid is getting fidgety. He wants the mobile to play a game. He gets it. One cannot risk him getting disinterested. The man behind lets loose an invective starting with the letter 'b' and ending with 'd'. Others concur with him in their own ways. For a change, you find the vulgar word used in a public space agreeable.

People queue up outside an ATM. PTI

People queue up outside an ATM. PTI

9.30 pm

There's sign of life as the queue stirs. The security guard opens the door and five men rush in. Of the three ATMs, only one is functional. Four guys inside the cabin pile on the first one, noticing everything he is doing. They look expectantly at the machine. There's a sigh of relief as 20 crispy Rs 100 notes come out. The first man comes out and someone tells him, "Hey, say jai shri Ram loudly." He obliges and everyone cheers. The queue starts moving ever so slowly.

10.30 pm

You are 9th in the queue now, almost at the point where you can touch the door of the cabin. The kid’s queue has started moving too and he has been replaced by his mother. A minor commotion breaks out at my ATM. One person has four cards and he is cleaning up the cash quickly, to everybody’s discomfiture. Someone shouts at him: "Saale, hum log yahan makhi marne ke liye baithe hain kya. Nikal jaldi [Are we here to swat flies? Get out fast]". The other man shouts back. A scuffle is averted as others intervene.

11.30 pm

The server was down for some time. The ATM has started working now. You are the third person in the queue now and you are excited. The man at the machine starts flaunting three cards and the man looking over his shoulders shouts: "Sab akele le loge kya?" The other man ignores the voice behind and draws money with two. The third card didn’t work. The second one moves in cheerfully and he types out his PIN and the amount. Then comes the horrifying message: SORRY, TEMPORARILY UNABLE TO DISPENSE CASH. Your heart sinks. You know it’s all over. The man at the machine gives a few more tries, then gives up. You move in, hoping against hope that there won’t be disappointment. No luck. The queue breaks up. The anger and frustration around is so thick that you can hold it in your palms. Outside, the son and wife are already waiting for you. There is no smile on their faces. All three trudge back home dejected and angry.

7.30 am (Sunday)

You finish your morning chores doubly fast and rush out of home with a cheque book in hand. All kinds of identity proofs are in your pocket. You carry a pen too, in case they ask you to fill up a form. There are people already. You are the 49th person in the queue. And the bank starts working at 9.30 am. At the time you produce your cheque at the counter, it will be four hours more at the least. You come back home, angry again.

Debit card is fine but for small expenses — a packet of bread or biscuits, a cigarette, kid’s geometry box and an auto ride — you need small cash. You have used up all you had. The kid’s piggy bank is empty too. It’s a crime to steal his saving, you know but...