After Prime Minister Narendra Modi trashed the old Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes, the new Rs 2,000 note appeared pretty quickly like an angel that dropped from heaven to save India from its financial tribulations. But it created a turmoil of its own. The angel, however, turned into a phantom and very few wanted it. The new Rs 500 note took its own time to come. But come it did, at long last, though to make only a cameo appearance in some cities, reminding us how ephemeral life itself is. It appears, disappears, appears again and disappears again with a swiftness that would have put renowned illusionist Houdini out of business.
Reports of people going into rapturous joy over the brief sightings of the Rs 500 note have been pouring in from across India. Here is the story from Bengaluru.
Siddlaghatta Channabasappa was Bengaluru's first citizen to set his lucky eyes on the transcendental beauty of the new Rs 500. As the 78-year-old erstwhile teacher watched his four notes flutter out of the ATM machine on Bharatma Road, he at once realised how Archimedes must have felt when he screamed Eureka after discovering whatever he discovered. Channabasappa went nuts. With a broad smile that smoothened a few wrinkles on his face, he held the new notes aloft in speechless wonder.
The members of the queue behind him forgot why they were there and milled around the old man, shouting in delirious joy: "Aidu nooru banthu (500 has come)". Some patted Channabasappa on the shoulder, some hugged him and congratulated him on not only getting his own money but also in the shape of the Rs 500 which had hitherto been an elusive mirage.
A couple of able-bodied Kannadigas mounted Channabasappa on their shoulders and to the nearby Lakshmi temple, with others on their toes.
Once at the temple, they dropped the old man on the floor, sprinkled kumkuma and rice mixed with turmeric powder on the notes and, after placing them at the feet of the goddess, performed arathi. The priest marvelled at the proceedings, his greedy eyes not leaving the currency even for a moment.
After the pooja came speeches.
An English professor was the first to speak. He said: "How wondrously beautiful and utterly ravishing this new note is! Nothing on the planet except the Cauvery can rival its elegance and pristine beauty. I quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.
Well, it’s afternoon really, for it is now 3.40 pm. Thank you.”
A young boy with a smartphone in hand was the next to share his thrill: “IMO, this note is the cutest thing after Priyanka Chopra. It’s a kickass knockout! LOL. My father, mother, brother and I have been standing in queues in four shifts for god knows how many days. This is the first ATM that’s giving money and giving Rs 500s too! Narendra Modi is super-duper."
"Yes, yes," agreed a woman with a baby in her arm. Wiping tears with the end of her sari pallu, she said between joyous sobs: "Only Narendra Modi can do this. Giving us back our own money. He knew about our hassles with the Rs 2,000. So he’s giving us 500s. Modi is cleaning up India. He is like Lord Hanuman who carried the mountain of herbs for Lakshman’s medical treatment...”
A middle-aged man interrupted her. "What utter nonsense and poppycock is this!” he screamed, jumping up and down as if his shirt had caught fire. "It’s because of the Congress we’re blessed with 500s. Rahulji stood in a queue in Delhi and spoke about our inconveniences with Rs 2,000 and demanded Rs 500s. Apparently, he hadn’t heard of the Rs 100s. And then Soniaji told Manmohanji to tell Parliament what a monumental disaster this is! Stop singing paeans to Narendra Modi.”
A bearded youth with gold-framed Ray Ban glasses that dropped to the tip of his nose coughed loudly to get attention. Having got it, he said: "I studied at JNU which trains the best of the humanity in subjects ranging from ideological intimidation to currency economics. This demonetisation is a devious scam typical of the bourgeois, a cold-blooded fraud on the proletariat. It’s so incredibly stupid that China is laughing at India. And releasing 500s at this juncture further aggravates the situation. Don’t ask me how. Study at JNU or watch NDTV. What Marx once said about currency shook the world ...”
"Shake the tomb of Marx and yourself," shouted a girl with a saffron dupatta.
Even as she was screaming at the JNU scholar, a second crowd gathered to watch the first crowd. They just stood staring, utterly uninterested in finding out what it was all about. Then a third crowd formed to gawk at the second one. Then a fourth one... It was only later that the second and the subsequent crowds found what the whole pooja was about.
Then there was a mad rush for the ATM. Four people died in the stampede. Channabaasappa was one of them.
The author wrote a weekly satire column called True Lies in The Times of India from 1996 to 2001. He tweets at @sprasadindia