As I returned home after watching a movie, I wondered why people were waiting in long queues outside ATMs. Never did I imagine that I would have to face the same fate and fight to survive for the next three days. The night of November 8 will always be remembered as a historic night for the country. Though, little did I know that in the days to follow would be nightmarish for me. I had decided to go for a movie alone, without carrying my phone for the first time in my life, a conscious effort to spend some quality ‘me time’. As I stepped out of the theatre, the city seemed to have changed in just a span of three hours.
I was soon going to be informed of the major step of demonetising 500 and 1000 rupee notes had been taken by the government that night. My phone had scores of missed calls and a zillion WhatsApp notifications. I had no clue that spending my last 100 on the cab would be the last expenditure from my pocket for three days to come. Lady Luck was clearly not on my team, as Axis Bank, my preferred bank, was the first to deactivate all withdrawals and I was left with just a ‘transaction declined’ slip in my hands. Thankfully, my friends had already withdrawn some money and that helped me dine that night.
I didn’t think it was necessary to worry as I knew that the ATMs would open up after two days and I just had to survive for two days on credit from my friends and some heavy cost-cutting techniques. Living in a hostel and more importantly surviving in Mumbai, had given me the over-confidence to see this hurdle through.
The next day started with some early morning credit from my roommate and no breakfast. The comfort rides in cabs were turned into long walks to stations in the winter heat of Bombay. There was no second thought given to travelling without a ticket by train. The high amount of caffeine consumption with some bananas and a vada pav kept me going for the entire day at work. The amount of cigarettes consumed was reduced considerably and the chilled can of Budweiser after a day’s work was not considered. By the end of the day, I was left with 100 rupees in my wallet, thanks to some of my colleagues, and food, thanks to my flatmates.
The next day was harsh. Mumbaikars know that a 500 rupee note in this city can just make you breathe for a day, with just 100 left in the pocket I had no other option but to work from home. The whole day was dull. Besides, I barely had anything to eat. The biscuits and a lunch at home that was contributed for were saviours for me. The day ended with my laptop crashing. All said and done, I still had hope, as the ATMs were supposed to open the next day. I don’t remember being even as excited for my birthday every year. This day was special indeed.
The morning was much anticipated, not only by me but also by the entire country. Finally, the value and power of pieces of paper with Gandhi’s face printed on them donned upon me. Never in my life had I imagined that this would turn out to be the worst day of all. I rushed to the nearest SBI Branch at 9 a.m. sharp, soon to realise that not only this but the other two ATMs nearby looked the same as the previous two days. They were SHUT.
The security guard at the SBI ATM informed me that it would open at 11 a.m. The clock struck 11 am, then 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., but the ATM never opened. With long queues still persistent at the banks, I didn’t give it a second thought to invest time in withdrawing money the traditional way as I had stories to cover. The struggle that began from SBI went to Union Bank, Central Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank. Every time I went to the ATM the security guard gave me a guilty smile and shook his head indicating that I had no chance.
A phone call from a friend informed me that Axis Bank ATMs were functioning. The closest Axis ATM was two kilometres away. With not even a single penny in my wallet, I put on my walking shoes! While going to the ATM, I came across three more on my way, but the story was the same at all three. Not a single one’s shutter was up, whether it was ICICI Bank, Bank of India or Bank of Baroda.
My head felt heavy and my stomach was growling, when as I finally saw the Axis ATM open. I rushed to the ATM, but was soon crestfallen. I left with a heavy heart and a still empty wallet with a ‘Transaction declined’ receipt in my hand. These were testing times for my patience but I tried to keep my hopes alive with WhatsApp forwards notifying me that ATMs would function later in the evening.
While on my way back, I saw a dog sleeping comfortably in the shade. I thought to myself, “Every dog has his day! But not ME!” The feeling of hatred towards money had sunk in. The dependency on the currency to survive in this world was crystal clear to me. Just when I saw my grocery guy, my stomach growled. I don’t like asking for credit, but right now my head, my heart and my hunger all led me to do just this. I went up to him and asked, “Uncle, credit par ek do ande aur ek noodles milega? ATM khulte hi aapko paise de dunga?” (Uncle, will you give two me eggs and a packet of noodles on credit? As soon as the ATM starts working, I will pay you.) There was no money in my pocket and no shame left in eyes.
He smiled at me and gave me the essentials. “Ek cigarette bhi milega?” (Will I get a cigarette?) the addiction asked. The guy turned out to be an angel in hell for me as he handed me a smoke. After finishing the snack and smoke, I decided to take up the challenge of withdrawing money from the bank battling the long queues. When I had already been standing in the queue for half an hour and there were only five people between me and the counter, I got to know that the withdrawals had been stopped for the day. The banks were now only accepting deposits but my mind wasn’t ready to accept this defeat. In anguish, I ran to the nearby Union Bank. A glimmer of hope arose when I saw a long queue there. I was hoping for a miracle.
“ATM chal raha hai?” (Is the ATM working?) I asked to the guy standing last in the queue. “Haan ji. Line mai lagiye,” (Yes. Get in the queue) he replied. I couldn’t believe my ears. It felt like I had made it to the top of Mount Everest. But knowing my luck, I was still not convinced for all the good to happen. Fifteen minutes later, I was finally in front of the ATM. The sound of notes coming out of the machine made me want to break into Pharrel William’s ‘Happy’. I was jumping by the time the money was in my hands. As I exited the ATM with a huge smile, the guy waiting behind me shook my hands saying, “Congratulations you made it!”
There was cash in hand and a wine shop nearby. It was indeed a time to celebrate and chug on the very well-deserved can of beer. However, this time the wine shop looked like an ATM I had visited earlier in the day. It was SHUT.