Yesterday, the 8th of November 2016, will be a day all of us will remember for as long as we shall live. We will remember, recall and retell stories to our children and/or our grandchildren of where we were, what we were doing when the news broke.
For example, I was sitting on my faithful old bean-bag after having spent most of the day giving out invitation cards for my wedding, when I received a succinct text message from my fiance asking me to "watch the news NOW". My presumptive brain assumed and feared that it must be a terrorist attack somewhere in the world, or perhaps somebody assassinated Donald Trump before he could do any serious damage to the planet. As my brother and I sat and heard Mr. Modi's announcement on TV and tried to wrap our heads around what had just happened, social media was already on fire with jokes, memes and GIF's about the newly appointed redundancy of the 500 and 1000 Rupee notes. They had been banned, and would be gradually replaced with new notes of Rupees 500 and of Rupees 2000.
For the next twenty minutes, I sat with a dazed expression because, to be honest, the second you throw some numbers in the question, I get confused (as we doctors are wont to be). When realization hit me, it was an uncomfortable and unsettling experience because I suddenly realized that I had no money in smaller denominations at all. The currency notes that we were flaunting with so much style and self-assurance, and worshiping on Diwali with such devotion and sincerity had now become a cause for immense worry. It isn't a worry in my house alone- which will be home to a wedding within this fortnight- but a worry in every house in India. Suddenly, we are worried about how we shall buy our milk cartons in the morning because not everyone will accept our credit cards, and not everyone owns a credit card. Just like that, with a half hour press release, our Prime Minister changed the mood in every single household in India.
Yes, objectively speaking, it is a courageous and intelligent move that shall make it very difficult to launder money, and will also curb terror camps from spurting like venomous mushrooms that feed off of the entire fake currency note racket. I applaud the intentions behind this move, and also admit that it's very likely that its benefits will start getting visible to our presently worried eyes as the month progresses and the days get colder.
But because this entire thing has been sprung onto us unpleasantly and unexpectedly, the blow feels stronger. The purchasing power for every one of us has suddenly dipped, and the markets looked like ghost towns today. As if planning a wedding in India isn't stressful and expensive enough, we are now dealing with this strange new ban. Perhaps this is the best thing that the Modi government has banned so far because at least the intent behind this is firm and difficult to argue against.
I am hardly a financial expert (I can almost hear my father laughing as he reads this line), and I don't know a thing about the way this economy functions, but I sit here wondering how in God's name will our banks deal with this multi-headed monster. When will things get back to normal, and more importantly, what will be the new normal?
In our great nation, 'white money' has always been spoken of with raised eyebrows and a proverbial tipping of the hat. People fear it, in a sense, because it only translates into the painful job of having to pay a larger amount of income tax. It infuriates me to know that I am being a good citizen and paying more than half of what I earn as taxes to my elected government and not really getting the benefit I deserve as every lawful citizen ought to get back in return. I wonder if all our politicians are going to be as worried as we are about all our currency notes right now. Are they fleeing to Switzerland as I type these angry words, to exchange the old notes for new ones? Will they be queuing up too when the banks reopen and face a very unhappy populace that wastes precious time which could have been used, instead, at the workplace? Will the Indian Rupee fall and lose value even further? And most importantly, will Indian relatives have to get used to attending weddings without getting the traditional 'lifaafas' to carry back home as souvenirs?
I suppose these are all questions whose answers will come to us, like birds that return home to their nests eventually no matter how stormy the day might have been.
This day gone by proved to me how funny human beings can actually be. Not because of the hilarious memes I found myself laughing at all evening, but how quickly we get rattled up by money. What was a fortune until yesterday has turned into a heap of paper that doubles up as a time bomb in every single home in India.
This shroud of confusion and apparent misery shall pass- as everything always does- with time. Things will settle down and assume more comfortable positions as November ends, and we will all have a new story to tell our future generations on balmy summer nights as Louis Armstrong sings and reminds us- 'What a wonderful world!'.