Date: December 8. Time: 10:45 PM. Location: CR Park (Delhi)
Exactly a month after that damned (some call it haloed) day when the Indian PM declared Rs.500 and Rs. 1,000 worthless, I ran out of patience and money. The resolve to withdraw Rs. 2500 from any ATM was too strong to be dampened by biting cold.
These days, people don’t crib much about long queues outside ATMs. They set aside two unproductive hours, accepting this vivid waiting. I felt tad confident when I approached the queue in front of the Canara Bank ATM near Market 1. But then, when you have about 80 people standing in front of you and stories do rounds about unfortunate countrymen and countrywomen coming back with empty pockets despite waiting for hours, a feeling of fighting a lost battle doesn’t escape you easily. I have hours to wait before I get cash. That was the only certainty.
While some grumbled about coming from as far as Badarpur Border to withdraw money, few others had a stoic expression on their face, perhaps hardened by the harassment. Some red-eyed folks with stinking breath had lined up in a group. While they were sharing wisdom about which ATM in the vicinity is dispensing cash at some ungodly hours, I was toggling between Twitter and Dr. Manmohan Singh’s write-up that demonises the idea of demonetisation.
Distraction appeared in the form of a young fellow, who, in a bid to get attention of the crowd, suddenly proclaimed, “Machine kharap ho gaya, doosri ATM mein jaao (the machine has conked off, go to some other ATM). He narrowly escaped being beaten up for the cruel joke he played. Just when the frayed tempers had calmed, a clamour from inside the ATM made the wait even more tense. Someone was trying to use second debit card to withdraw money and faced the ire of the fellow queuers.
It was beyond ordinary to see how people cope with difficult circumstances. As I write, I can distinctly recollect a motley crowd who stood in the queue for the second time after a long-one-and-half-hour wait in their first turn. They had withdrawn Rs. 2,000 at about 11: 45PM on December 8 and they are now ready to wait for few hours more after midnight, as the new day entitles them to withdraw Rs 2000 more.
In the same queue was a 20-something guy who was bragging about how he hoodwinked a security guard in one of the ATMs into using two debit cards and withdrawing Rs. 5000. There was a smirk on his face. Desperate times drive people to break rules.
As we moved one step a time, gathering hope by looking at the shrinking length of the queue, a mini scuffle emerged. This time, a man was accused of absorbing his recently-arrived friend into the queue. The lady, standing in front of me, asked in English, “Why do they have to jump the queue every time?” I didn’t know to whom was the question directed, but my instant response was an unconcerned shrug.
All this while, a little fellow was sitting on his father’s back, quite patiently. Seeing me come out of the ATM, he uttered in excitement “Humara number aa gaya”. I sincerely hope that this child grows up to see Modi fulfilling his promise: “Line that I’ve made you stand in is the last line, to end all lines”.
As I reached home at quarter past 12, I am reminded of what the old security guard at the ATM had said sardonically, “Acche din ke intezaar mein, humari raatein kharab ho rahi hai.”