Lindsay Pereira: Living on a prayer in DeMo Mumbai

Published: 10 December, 2016 07:38 IST | Lindsay Pereira |

Could this be the last badly-executed scheme by our government before it learns that efficiency isn’t its strong suit? Not a chance

Over a month after the demonetisation drive began, queues are still a common sight outside banks and ATMs. Pic/AFP
Over a month after the demonetisation drive began, queues are still a common sight outside banks and ATMs. Pic/AFP

I spent much of the last two weeks trying to get hold of money that, until a month ago, I mistakenly assumed belonged to me. It was a mistake because I foolishly assumed that, having paid my taxes diligently since my first year of gainful employment, the government would allow me to use what was left for personal consumption. I had long given up hope of my tax money being used for anything positive because we all know how much of the BMC’s budget allocated for the welfare of Bombay is actually used for the welfare of Bombay.

This was new though. This wasn’t just a waste of my money on something inane like a statue of someone who had died centuries ago, or a memorial to someone who didn’t actually deserve one. This was just a blatant denial of access. I stood in several queues trying hard not to complain, reaching office four hours late twice every week, and almost always empty-handed. I didn’t mind the first couple of weeks, to be honest, because I hoped against hope that the government knew what it was doing. I hoped despite a large part of my brain (an organ that has spent as much time in Bombay as the rest of my body has) repeatedly telling me that the government had never, ever shown anyone in India any proof of knowing what it was doing at any point of time.

I persevered though. There were soldiers dying at the border, I was told repeatedly. It was the least I could do in order to make India a clean place to live in again. Soldiers who were not at the border were not being given access to their hard-earned money either, but their voices were routinely being drowned out in the clamour to make India a cashless economy.

The watchmen in my building were caught unawares, as were the maids in our locality and vegetable vendors who had, for decades, managed to survive without darkening the doors of any bank in the neighbourhood. They were being asked, almost overnight, to grasp how credit and debit cards worked, to learn what bank documents stated, to add thumbprints to papers they didn’t understand — all so a few politicians could go and tell the world that India had done what most First World countries couldn’t manage.

And so, in the interest of yet another PR campaign, in a long list of PR campaigns that have been launched over the past couple of years using your money and mine, I stood in line after never-ending line. Some ATMs yielded R2,000 notes after a few hours, compelling me and others like me to struggle with finding anyone who could give us change. Other ATMs swallowed our cards, apologised for being unable to complete any of our transactions, or simply gave up and didn’t do anything, forcing many to stand dumbly before them with questions in their eyes that no one had answers to, certainly not the government.

The people who did complain around me didn’t matter. They weren’t allowed to vent their anger because it wasn’t in keeping with the spirit of patriotism supposedly sweeping our polluted land.

Those who spoke up about this on Facebook and Twitter were asked to pack their bags and leave, because complaining about not getting their money was suddenly tantamount to treason. Illiterate people were being asked to grasp concepts they had no way of understanding — to pull off something that most intelligent people would laugh off as impossible, all so a few leaders could have their moment in the sun.

Those who died in the bargain would, quite naturally, be swept under the massive rug where everything that doesn’t fit into the Incredible India narrative is usually tucked away. Will I get access to my own money? I suppose I will. Will the watchmen in my building, the maids, vegetable vendors and everyone else currently struggling to keep their heads above water manage to regain a semblance of normalcy in their lives? They probably will. Could this be the last badly-executed scheme by the government of India? Will it fin­ally learn that efficiency is not one of its strong suits? Not a chance.

One could complain to the courts, I suppose. Unfortunately for us, they are too busy with other weightier matters, such as making it mandatory for us to prove how patriotic we are in movie theatres, before those item numbers masquerading as entertainment begin to roll.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to

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