Robin Hood and the shock of stealth #demonetization

Bereft of tourists during peak tourist season in December and wearing a look of desolation, Goa’s Candolim beach stands forlorn like a jilted love — broken dates, cancelled tickets, missed opportunities. As I stand in the only functioning SBI ATM’s serpentine queue for that princely sum of Rs 2000, an 81-year old gentleman from UK who was standing behind me, exclaimed loudly, ‘Never again to India, never !’.

Pretty much like in the case of Herge’s immortal canine Snowy (yes, from Tintin comics), the devil in me overcame all good instincts and I couldn’t resist my temptation to prod him about his disappointment. Perhaps he’d been waiting for this very opportunity for he bemoaned, ‘I love India; have been here to your beautiful country eighteen times in the last sixteen years, but your demonetization drive or whatever that is, has made a complete mockery of your own people and international tourists like us’.

Eager to seek a distraction of any kind (not that kind, you morons) that’d take my mind off the endless queue which seemed to have covered as much ground as the slow moving maal-gaadis that used to bring traffic to a standstill at Bhilai’s railway crossings during my childhood, I egged him on with my two cents of knowledge gained over the past few weeks about a term that has become a buzzword and its implications (the last was Green Shoots, remember!).

However, the elitist and unpatriotic (wait, he’s not Indian!) Martin Kent was not to be pacified and fumed, “Where on earth do you see ATMs shut for weeks together, currency rendered worthless overnight and people burdened with the most basic banking woes? By this time the beaches in Goa throng with tourists but this year the shacks are few, the hawkers and the maalish-walas on the beach have vanished! You guys have joined the ivy league of Ghana, Zaire, North Korea and other countries ruled by dictators!’

With a jaunty lift of my shoulders and an intonation befitting a theatre actor, I tried reasoning with him that this ‘small inconvenience’ is all for the sake of ‘achche din’ and is our government’s strategic blueprint for choking the supply of black money and uplifting the marginalized by swelling the coffers of banks with kaala dhan. After all, a change is what was promised and what better way to show change than India becoming a cashless economy — literally. Small price, isn’t it for big gains?

Let it never be said again that our leaders lack spine and are incapable of difficult decisions. The previous government paid a heavy price for inaction and policy paralysis, and the current one has shown us of what mettle we are made. So the fastest we could demonstrate change was to suck the money out of the system like a giant vacuum cleaner and Eureka! we printed new money that smells of pink roses. The world now sees us as a nation that not only acts but also has good stealth capabilities!

The last time the world, and especially our friendly neighbours, got a stealth shock was when President Obama sent his elite Navy Seals across the border on a dark night. Today, every Indian can proudly claim that even we have a leader who is capable of swift action. Mr. Robin Hood has swept clean the illicit cash lying with the filthy rich, the opposition parties, and terror groups in a similar raid on a half-moon night.

By now Mr. Kent was perspiring profusely and his skin had turned an alarming shade of red. And yet, the queue stood still. ‘Enough of this, I am going for my beer, I will pay by card. But what’s upsetting is I won’t get my maalish on the beach — I don’t have any cash,’ he complained grudgingly and walked away.

I was a bit hesitant to wish him a happy vacation, but as one who believes in our credo of ‘atithi devo bhava’, I mustered courage quickly and wished him a good day. As he walked out of the queue, he looked back bemusedly and asked, ‘Did we at all move ahead standing in that queue?’

Now that’s one question I wish I had an answer to.