“Q” Please

I just stood in line for an ATM. This is the first time I have tried to get money since the government demonitized the 500 ($7.50) and 1000 ($15) notes, rendering all the cash I had on hand unusable.

My ever-vigilent driver and helper, Kumar, saw that the State Bank of India ATM next to the hotel where we were staying had a short queue (line for us Americans) of about 20 people. The sign on the door said, “‘Q’ Please”. He wanted to stand in line for me and have come in 10-15 minutes and take his place. I wasn’t doing anything sitting in my hotel room, so I queued up instead and waited about 20 minutes to get 4000 rupees (about $60), while he went to check on the ICICI bank ATM nearby (which was out of money).

Each withdrawl has a limit of 2000 rupees, but I have two ATM cards (actually three but the one would not work) so I could make two withdrawls. It feels good to have $60 that I can use now. I was down to about $8 of usable cash, which was somewhat of a worry since I am on a 4-day trip to visit districts and do training.

Most hotels and nicer restaurants take credit cards, so that has allowed us to travel thus far. The problem is not everyplace that takes credit cards takes foreign credit cards, so I have been somewhat reluctant to venture out as I don’t have cash to back up a declined card.

The current hotel even allowed us to pay with the old bills, which they probably are not supposed to, but perhaps they prefered that over the credit card fees. Since the old bills can be deposited up until Dec. 30, some places are still accepting them. We stopped at one restaurant that allowed us to pay with them. We also saw an electronics store boldly advertising that they will accept the old notes. Evidently they are hoping to capitialize on the long lines at the banks and ATMs and hope people will spend the “worthless” bills instead waiting to deposit them: “Come several days in a row to stand hours in line in hopes the bank won’t run out of money or buy a new TV?”

The man I was standing behind in the queue was surpisingly in favor of the move to suddenly with draw the old notes, despite the inconveniences it has caused. I wonder what the attitude is of the majority of Indians. The news reports on how hard this move has hit the poor who do not have credit cards or even bank accounts.

The winter session of the legislature has begin with intense discussion over the demonitization and the hardships it is causing. Time will tell how soon things will return to normal and if the people will give the prime minister the 50 days he has asked for.