Responses to a Demonetisation Short Story – can you guess what they might have been?

As previously mentioned, I’ve been taking part in a short-story writing challenge this year. One of the December stories, and surprisingly only one, had the ongoing demonetisation fiasco as part of its theme.

The story was a simple one. A man takes his last ₹1,000 note to market to buy a longed-for item. To his dismay, his is informed that his ₹1,000 note is no longer acceptable. He is emotionally crushed by confusion and disappointment at this news. But later, along with a group of others, he is serendipitously gifted lots of newly-minted ₹2,000 notes. The story is a fun read and, pardon or not the pun, right on the money in terms of being bang up-to-date. The story line even ends on a happy note (a rare thing in the short story world – short-form writers tend to be joyful realists).

However, out of the critiquing round, can you guess what was the most consistent response?
Was it that the characters were not well drawn?
No.
Was it that the setting was not well described?
No.
Was it lack of a good plot?
No.
Was it that the sudden appearance of new ₹2,000 notes was unbelievable?
No.

OK, suspense over. The consensus was that given the story has an upbeat ending, in amongst the₹2,000 notes there should be plenty of ₹100.

I think this tells us something about people’s true reactions to the demonetisation debacle – which continues unabated – despite Modi’s ascertion that all would be well for everyone by 30th December. Sadly, with only a few days remaining, we still have no sight of the necessary and much needed ₹500 notes or even access to larger daily ATM withdrawal amounts.

Now remember, the story ended on a happy note, yet several of those critiquing the story wanted an additional hit of realism added to the ending. Here’s why.

Much as those ₹2,000 notes would have been welcome, cash is cash is cash after all (hear that Modi and all), those darn ₹2,00o notes are difficult to deal with; many people and businesses cannot constantly give away their precious ₹100 notes as change to every customer. Nor are there enough ₹10 or ₹20 notes to make up that short fall. All in, every day people are continuing to struggle. For some, farmers and labourers in particular, they are facing starvation for themselves and their families, employers can no longer employ workers, or they use workers but can’t pay them. There is much strife and much fudging of the truth around this. For example, propaganda abounds about villages that have gone cashless. IN TRUTH these villages are not cashless, they are poor, have low internet connectivity and regular power outages daily. IN TRUTH cashless educators have simply been to the village and inducted some of the villagers about the processes around being cashless. Giving advice and training about how to process cashless payments is far from being truly cashless, a state which I feel most villagers would decline if they were offered the choice.

Here I am going to do a ‘I told you so’ mini-rant given I expressed this belief back in November  – the ongoing push towards a cashless society was the true motivation behind Modi’s demonetisation drive, and not the hounding of black money dealers he originally declared. Because anyone with even an ounce of savvy about how corporations and governments are behaving can see that being cashless means the populace at large become more visible to an ever-increasingly despotic and authoritarian notion of governance.

As things stand, we in India are only a few days away from Modi’s earlier assertion that things will return to normal by year end. Given the images of long ATM queues, lack of useful change at shops and businesses, and the long, long wait for new ₹500 notes to appear, me thinks ‘normal’ is still some weeks off.

Fortunately, Mr D and I are currently blessed to have minimal needs as well as the opportunity to withdraw cash from a bank branch other than SBI: we’re not hungry; our bills are minimal; we plod on. I’m still hankering after getting certain tasks and jobs I have on my To Do List attended to, but for now they are still deferred until there is cash to fulfil them – clearly that’s a minor worry. For now I am on a Modi-imposed belt-tightening drive. The skipping is helping too.

But back to that short story. I’m truly hoping the writer is even now doing her last round of edits and getting it sent out. The timeliness of the plot line and the wonderful twist at the end are a winner!

Happy Holidays Everyone
   ❤︎    

 

#RIPAmma (the woman who was otherwise known as J Jayalalithaa)

The internment of Fidel Castro’s ashes took place in Cuba early on Sunday 4 December. Today it is the turn of one of Tamil Nadu’s most enigmatic political leaders to have her own state funeral. A few short hours after Castro’s ashes where interred, Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister, J Jayalalithaa, began her final journey – one that had, in many ways, started a few months earlier when she was admitted to the Apollo Hospital in Chennai on 22 September. Following some 70+ days in hospital, and during the evening of Sunday 4 December, she suffered a cardiac arrest from which she never recovered. She finally breathed her last around 11:30pm local time Monday 5 December (GMT + 5.5 hours).

Today, unlike in Cuba where there was over a week of national mourning before the state burial, the citizens of Tamil Nadu are being granted only a few short hours to pay their last respects, to get a final glimpse of a woman who has been hailed as a formidable Indian politician. As I write, several news channels continue their unabated coverage of her lying in state as fellow politicians, super-star actors and other dignitaries flock to Rajaji Hall in central Chennai to bear witness to her passing.

Curiously, or not, only a few days ago Mr D and I had speculated about the fact that she was still in hospital. So on Sunday evening, having watched one of my favourite kinds of TV shows (dance contest Jodi on Vijay TV) I decided to flick to one of my preferred news channels. Along with BBC World News, I enjoy the style of reporting on CNN News 18, which provides Indian news primarily in English. I wasn’t entirely surprised when I saw that the Breaking News bulletin was that the long-hospitalised politician had suffered a cardiac arrest and was on crucial life-support, her situation grave. Because Mr D and I had only a few days earlier mentioned Jayalalithaa in passing I thought he’d be interested. But by the time I climbed into bed next to him he was already in the land of snores.

The next morning, up too early and bleary-eyed even as I made the requisite coffee, I decide to wake up slowly with a few moments of flicking through the latest news. I again selected CNN News 18. Again unsurprisingly, their top story was about Jayalalithaa who was still on life support and about to undergo surgery. The reporter was asking experts to opine about Jayalalithaa’s chances of survival given her various other health issues that would likely complicate the problem of a cardiac arrest.

Throughout the day I kept returning to the news, both CNN News 18 and BBC World News. As the reporting became more fervent, Mr D and I came to the conclusion that she was probably already dead or soon would be. Either way Mr D postulated that news of her death would not officially be announced until later that night.

As the hours passed and more officials rushed to be at Jayalalithaa’s bedside the reporters continued to speculate about how events would likely unfold. Certainly, CNN News 18 seemed to have sent some of its top reporters to Chennai. Even to an innocent eye, activity was already under way to prepare for what was to come. Likewise, Mr D and I decided to make our own preparations. Already in need of a kitchen and fridge restock, Mr D suggested we get enough supplies to cover us for an extra few days.

We left late afternoon yesterday for a quick but unhurried shopping trip to one of the small supermarkets we frequently go to. While there we happily filled a small shopping trolley then strolled to the check out. As my bags filled I noticed several of the staff dash about. Then as Mr D paid, the manager flicked the lights on and off. I didn’t immediately understand why – until I saw some of the female staff, out of their regulation green jackets, hurry out the store and up the steps to the street. The lights remained dimmed. With our bags packed, we left the store. At the top of the steps the door was held open for us by the doorman who was making sure no-one else entered. We had, once again in the last few weeks, been very lucky with our timing.

Riding home, satisfyingly laden down with full bags, we were witness to an extra level of fervour in the regular evening traffic – there was something akin to a rising panic in the way people seemed to be rushing to complete their business for the day, to return home, to close doors to any potential mayhem should Jayalalithaa be announced dead before nightfall. But for Mr D and I, back home, we had a quite night; enjoyed supper, each other and down-time after a full day.

This morning, unable to resist checking the news again, CNN News 18 was showing images of Jayalalithaa’s body at the top of a set of steps covered in red carpet at the front of the grand-looking Rajaji Hall in Chennai. She lay in a coffin, her face exposed, her body draped in a national flag. Next to her people where bunched up, others flowing past her, touching her feet, laying flowers. Seated on either side of the red-carpeted steps were row upon row of mostly white-clothed men.

jayalalitha-state-funeral-1

Several feet in front of the building a growing number of mourners were being funnelled through a police-lined series of barricades, all wanting a last glimpse of their beloved leader. Throughout the day the flow of people became a crush as more and more followers pushed from behind, eager to see Jayalalithaa one last time in the short window of opportunity open to them.

jayalalitha-mourners-3

jayalalitha-mourners-2

While Mr D had correctly predicted that news of her death would not be announced until most people were asleep, what I hadn’t considered, even though I know quick burials are the norm in India, was that she would be cremated so soon, that she would only be lying in state for a very short time. Given the numbers of people, not just in Chennai or close enough to reach the city, but the thousands of mourners across the state, I would have thought bucking that death tradition to allow for a longer period of lying in state would have been more effective. But then, doing things quickly means the passion and fervour, the dramatic effect if you will, is heightened. Certainly, a rapid progression from death to near frenzy-like activity for a few hours has the feel of a Kollywood blockbuster – something the late J would have been familiar with and possibly, for this last appearance, something she would have expected, perhaps even relished. After all, she led her party by having a strong personality and cultivating the Amma monicker. Many a household in Tamil Nadu will have some item or other that bears a sticker of her face on it. Even in this district that prefers her opposing party, families own such things. I have to confess I do too – a gifted item via Mr D of course.

So the #RIPAmma tag is just that. Tamil Nadu’s Amma is dead. Soon she will be taken to Marina Beach, that long sweep of sand along the Bay of Bengal, to the memorial site of her mentor in both movies and politics, M.G. Ramachandran, where her body will be cremated and then interred.

I’m guessing her death brings to a close a significant era in Tamil Nadu politics of the last 60 years or so. From what I can gather, her presence at the head of her political party (The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam [AIADMK] ) was a relatively seamless follow-on from her predecessor and mentor.

Now, with her death, comes the opportunity for a new political era to emerge in Tamil Nadu when the men and women of the party will have to reshape the persona of their politics for themselves. They cannot, in any sane vision of political progression, imagine they can fill her shoes. Not yet anyway. All they can do, I imagine, is ensure her wishes are carried out, that the party fulfils on some of its election promises and ensures her legacy is not lost as they carry out business during the remainder of their term of office. No doubt, next election, the opposing party will be in power. Such is the game of politics.

In the meantime loss and grief abound. Even mine. I have absolutely no attachment to the now-dead heroine of movies and politics that Jayalalithaa was to so many in Tamil Nadu, but the collective consciousness of grief is evident. This morning I did shed a tear, not for her per se, but because the heart’s connection commanded it. I cry easily, freely, mostly unashamedly – even as I did earlier today. Jayalalithaa was definitely not a perfect politician, such a thing not being possible. But curiously, even if only in the background, she has been a steady presence throughout my entire experience of being in India on and off since 2008. I was in town when she helicoptered in for a rally during her 2009 election campaign. I didn’t see her, but, staying only about one km from the site of the rally, I certainly heard her arrival. Following her departure a loud furore was unleashed by her passionate supporters.

And life goes on. She succeeded in politics in a way that maintained her identity as a woman, something that, when I think of another female political leader also known as the Iron Lady, one Margaret Thatcher, I do not think the same can be said. Where Thatcher presented herself as more macho than anyone in her party, Jayalalithaa had been called Amma, mother. A tough-love mother perhaps, hence the Iron Lady term, but mother nonetheless. In Cuba they were, and probably still are, grieving the loss of a father figure. Today in Tamil Nadu, as well as further afield, people are grieving the loss of a mother. Perhaps we can all share in the empathy of knowing what that is, what it might be like, and offer up a moment of appreciation that a woman who shouldered her duties as best she could, sometimes badly, still managed to positively touch the lives of so many. Today they feel her loss keenly. Today a state mourns. During the tomorrows yet to come we may see more strong women take her lead and ensure they become even better advocates for female empowerment, a direction that will undoubtedly serve us all.