Monday, October 19, 2009

Trust and Distrust in Currency Notes

I witnessed a very small interaction at the Pune railway station while waiting in queue to buy a train ticket. It was a very ordinary incident, but it reminded me that there is a very thin line between trust and distrust, and one can become the other very easily.

By way of background, I should mention that people here in India are extremely wary of accepting 1000 and 500 Rupee notes. There is a widely-held belief that a good number of counterfeit notes are circulating in India. Therefore, vendors will spend a lot of time carefully looking at the note, feeling it, and scrutinizing the watermark against the light before they accept either of the 1000 or the 500 Rupee denominations.

In Pune, after a longish wait to buy train tickets, I was second in line. The man ahead of me handed a 500 Rupee note. The person at the ticket counter spent a good while checking it and refused to accept it. He wanted another note. The man ahead of me, who was wearing dusty clothes and looked to be a day laborer, said he didn’t have any other currency notes.
“Then go and get another note. I can’t accept this,” the ticket vendor said.
“Where will I go, saab? No will give me change. The train will leave.”
Meanwhile the other people in the queue were getting restless and started to murmur.
“Where did you get this note? Where do you work?” the ticket vendor asked.
The man said he worked in a construction site nearby.
“Do you have a mobile phone?”
“Yes, saab.”
“Give me the number.” The laborer rattled off a number, and the ticket vendor wrote it on the 500 Rupee note. Only in India have I seen people freely writing on currency notes. The ticket vendor didn’t do anything to verify the phone number or the identity of the person, but his distrust had somehow morphed into trust. Satisfied, he issued a train ticket and gave the man his change.

1 comment:

  1. Its sad how our fellow Indians mal-handle the currency notes. But the fantastic fact is that even ppl in banks, generally accountants, are found scribbling on the notes.

    And government is asleep as usual.