The most valuable Indian currency note is the ten-rupee bill. Why? Because it’s so handy… You can use it to pay bus and auto-rickshaw fares, tips, cups of tea… It’s also essential to have lots of ten-rupee notes in your wallet at all times because no one has change.
Auto-drivers will always say “Change illa!” even if they do have change because they hope you’ll be forced to round off the fare in a way that’s favourable to them. If I play his game and insist I don’t have change either he sometimes suddenly remembers he has a few bills in his shirt pocket. Or I’m forced to surrender some of my precious brown-coloured bills.
At the supermarket I always pay with 100 or 500 rupee notes in the hope of getting some change back from the cashier. But invariably he or she will always ask: “Do you have change?”. I will say no, because I cannot part with my precious 10-rupee notes and I know that the cashier most likely has change but (like me) is trying to hoard as many of those brown bills as possible! In the eternal quest for the 10-rupee note, this is the game of deception played by all!
Bus conductors have plenty of ten rupee notes (they tuck them, folded lengthwise in thick wads, in-between their fingers) but they don’t have coins. Once you hand over your ten-rupee note to him, he will write down the amount he owes you on the back of the ticket and hand it to you. Then he will promptly forget and ignore you for the rest of your bus journey. I slyly observe him collecting fares from other passengers and wait to hear the clink of coins as he puts them into the leather purse he carries slung across his shoulder. Aha! The next time he passes me (in a hurry and looking the other way), I thrust him my ticket. He stops and nonchalantly digs around in his purse for my change.
ATMs add an additional challenge to this quest for change. They seem to only dispense 100 or 1000 rupee notes. Once I had to make a payment of 25,000 rupees in cash. I went to the ATM. It would only issue 5000 rupees at a time, in 100 rupee notes! By the time I finished making five withdrawals, I had a huge stack of bills which filled up my purse. I went into the bank to see if I could exchange this gigantic stack for some (more discreet) 1000 rupee notes. The clerk watched as I piled the stacks of bills on the counter in front of him. “Where did you get this?” he asked, eyeing me suspiciously. I explained my battle with the ATM. Having established that I was not a robber of banks or dealer in some kind of shady business, he slipped my bundle of notes into the counting machine and then counted out 25 crisp 1000-rupee notes.
Of course when I need a significantly smaller amount from the ATM, the machine inevitably spits out only 1000-rupee notes. Then I’m in the very unfavourable situation of needing change! After some reflection I have figured out how to proceed. I go to the usual shopkeepers I patronize and since I’m a familiar customer, they’re happy to give me change. Suddenly everyone has change! The man at the photocopy stall has lots of small change if I need coins. The man in the shop where I recharge my mobile phone has lots of 100s. The pharmacist is another person likely to have change. He also has lots of torn or ripped bills which he has tried to pass off on me in the past but he now knows this doesn’t work with me. I carefully examine each bill and if there are any tears, I promptly return them because I know they won’t be accepted. He takes them back without a shrug. He’ll try again later with another less attentive customer!