Another one goes into the annals of history. Re-born in 1968, a modification of its earlier avatar, the 25 paise coin is finally being euthanized, this time for good and I’m running for cover. At a year older, I feel ancient and vulnerable. Is it time to go gently into that good night, I ask. My contemporaries, materialistic and greying, are too wrapped up in their iPads and MacBooks to sing a dirge or even spare a thought for that little round bit of alloy that kept us fed during the short recess in school, back in the 70’s. I know my memory is a bit hazy so I can’t really recall how much a samosa cost way back then, but I’m sure it was around 25p or less. At 25p for those crunchy delicious triangles filled with veggies from the Saint Joseph’s Convent ICSE canteen, they were the most popular of all the snacks on the menu, and then our school amalgamated with its SSC sister and someone killed the cook and those samosa’s never tasted quite the same again. But there was still plenty that 25p could get you.
But I grew rapidly and moved out of the world of 25 and 50 paise coins, going to college where legal tender was in the form of coupons because someone somewhere was hoarding coins and when we emerged out of that fiasco into the world, it was changing. Liberalization was the new watchword. India was getting into the big league, where foreign exchange didn’t really need to be regulated anymore and had to be ‘maintained’ and the Reserve Bank of India changed its outlook from the dismal khaki to an American green and TRIPS didn’t mean that you fell, though it did lead to entanglements.
The 25p meanwhile survived her poorer cousins, even after inflation kicked in again and again… battering the poor and middle classes, though of course we ought not to complain when we are doing fairly well for a ‘developing nation’. Take a look at Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo… Besides who says we’re not in the midst of perennial civil strife….ever watched a session of Parliament?
That India is a land of milk and honey is what the school books had us believe when we were kids… a socialist ideology borrowed I presume from our closest allies at the time. And we were young and impressionable and relatively privileged, so we sucked it all up. Deprivation seemed far away to me when I was little, something that existed in another world, in another continent far away, with those “little brown babies in Africa” and a dowdy Ingrid Bergman out to save them. But reality would dawn, albeit briefly, on cab rides into town to visit my aunt and cousins or to go to the movies. Trips that took me outside the little borough that Bandra was in those days, with its beautifully empty streets and quaint little houses, and sometimes gave the curious me a chance to look out, at kids playing at street corners… running eagerly to cab windows that we hastily raised, their fingers full of grime and their noses running. But even those sightings were few and far between and forgotten as the cab turned the corner and it would be another five years or so before I realized that during that passage of time the land around me had turned arid, the milk had curdled and the honey adulterated. Life wasn’t as pretty as the school books said it was.
And still the 25p coin lived on, through those turbulent times of change, providing something and earning its keep. Why even today in many little Indian villages and towns you may still get something for 25p… and you can get a meal for 10 rupees or less in many places, though the bus ride to and from may cost you more.
Which brings me to the unfortunate truth, that we’re all redundant… something that we know, but omnipotence is so darn tempting, we tend to wander off into little flights of fancy. There comes a time for all of us to depart and leave we must, whether it’s a bad review report that costs us our job, or chasing a chambermaid flabby body on display that gets us the boot, or whether its simply death, which in its inimitable style often creeps up without warning, showing us the way out… We’ve all got to go. But for those who’ve served us well, a farewell seems in order, a little dignity, a few goodbyes, some kind thoughts and words and a solemn burial.