Poem on Demonetisation: What Colour, Money? Ballad of the Commoners

R. Umamaheshwari (Veena)

(Of real people, real narratives and real lives. In my neighbourhood and city, Hyderabad.)

Bajji seller Hanumanthu
Mestri Yadgiri
Bangle seller Mohammad Laeeq
Earth-worker, brick layer, matti pani Ramachander
Footwear seller Lakshmamma
Shaadi-khana labour Najeeb
Coolie, cook, etc Jahangir
Miscellaneous labour: Suryanarayana, Baburao, Nagaraju… 
Srikakulam, Mahbubnagar, Nalgonda, Hyderabad, Kurnul
North Andhra, Telangana, Rayalaseema
(Region / State)
SC, BC, Muslim.
Illiterates; school drop-outs.
Dalit Bahujan, the "Common" Ones
Delinked from banking systems, 
Yet, struck by it, in one blow
Delinked from the Nation’s economy
Yet, paying the price for it 
"This is anyaayam amma", says Hanumanthu
Wondering, what happened to all his giraaki, to whom he served 
Hot, delicious mirchi bajjis and vadas, with a benign smile, writ large on his face
His oil-pan now gone cold for days now
The TRS party guy came by, the other day, telling him not to worry
And gave him a 500 rupee note, as a gesture of protection
Another guy on a bike stopped by, ate bajjis, gave another 500 
Adding, "Keep the change" (while a third wasn’t that generous and demanded change!)
Hanumanthu was 1000-rupee rich, suddenly!
Yet 1000-rupee poor, and in a dilemma 
Should he take the money,
That might buy him nothing today?
Or, should he refuse, and go home, empty-handed?
He kept it — a paper without value, begging for change from any kind soul
Hanumanthu has no bank account
He asks, how do people like me use cards, amma? 
Hanumanthu never stepped into an ATM in his 70-year-old life
Banks don’t exist in Hanumanthu’s world, 
Just as Hanumanthu doesn’t, in the Nation’s GDP
Hanumanthu didn’t know (since he watches no TV) 
That the Finance Minister promises a "cashless" economy
Hanumanthu only understands "cash"; the few hundreds he earns each day, 
Cash that he can hold in his hands, coming from a livelihood, honest, simple, pure
Not enough. Hardly so. But pure. 
Not bloodied with farmers’ dislocations, displacements, deaths and impoverishment.
What colour, money?                                                                      
Blood and Sweat and Tears of Hanumanthu, and his Benign Smile, Now Stolen.

Mestri Yadagiri, by the Gandhi Statue, Sitaphalmandi, says —    yadgiri
"More than a week now; no work, no money; we spend hours here
Waiting; we drink tea and leave. Where do we go? What do we eat?
Sometimes a contractor arrives, and, handing us a 500 note, demands 50, or 100, back.
The note buys us nothing; not food, not milk.
Why did he do this? He says it will benefit our desam, amma
But I don’t know those big things; we have no food, no work, no money."
But, in his amazing honesty, Yadagiri adds, "At least my wife works in people’s homes; I am managing
What about the rest of us? There are hundreds of us here."
What colour, money? 
Yadagiri’s honesty, in face of hunger, desperation, and loss of a million workers. 
By the Subhas Bose statue, Jahangir (not the king), part-time auto driver, labourer, cleaner, cook asks —
"Will he just close it all down all at once, this man? Just like that (aiseheech?)
How do we live? My children need milk in the morning. How do I buy it?
They dump 500 notes on us poor people
They have black money; we don’t!
He is the central government guy; happy. What about us?
Do I have a tree growing 100 rupee notes? 
Money can come back, madam, not a human being.
Do you remember the old man who died in a bank queue the other day? 
And the old woman who committed suicide after selling the only land she had? 
What was their crime?’
What colour, money?
Jahangir (not the king)’s question, and anger, and pain.


Coolie pani Ramachandar, by the Bose statue, cries out,
"We are poor people; we will all slowly just die
This is a wound they inflicted on us poor.
By chance if we get a 500 note, seeking change, they give us 300 
And take 200 as their share. We shall go hungry, were we to lose that money…"
What colour, money?
Ramachandar’s cry
"Upavasam has been forced on me since a week now", says Lakshmamma 
Selling footwear since last thirty years by the street junction at Sultan Bazar, once the shopping paradise (for cheaper things, of course!)
Once busy, now pining for busy-ness
Shunned and stumped by the Metro-rail, yet-to-realise.
"People give me a 500 note for a slipper costing 100.
Is there a solution to all this? 
Why did they do this to the poor? 
How do I pay my rent?
Nobody cares for us", says she.
What colour, money?
A Table and cardboard panel of shiny, snazzy footwear, gathering street dust; a lone woman waiting they would be picked up, but not for 500.
By the historic Charminar, Najeeb — with a pretty little daughter with a broken toy, 
Hungry, and a bewitching, momentary, smile — says, "We have no work."
They used to call him for work, any work, in normal times, in the shaadi khana (wedding hall). 
Now "sab kaamaan cancil hain" (all works have stopped)
"It's been a week", says he. 
"I have no work, no money; we just sit here, sleep on the streets."
"Don’t talk much’, friends tell him; they are scared
Of the media, perhaps, or of the government, or both (remember, they are Muslims)?
Says Najeeb, "What will they do? What can a poor man do to them?"
What colour, money?
Silent whispers, muted cries by Charminar
Suryanarayana, landless, mestri (mason), by the Skandagiri temple, says,
"Had no work, no land; had a house, but do I eat it? I came here
Why would I, if I had work in the village? 
Now there is no work here either."
Colour of money? A blank look, a bleak future in a hyper city.
Koti, daily wage earner (painter),
Tells me, "I saved every penny; not a single day I miss at work
For a whole year, 
To bring in our second child into the world, 
The TV shook me up, one day,
Scared, I put all my money in the bank.
What do I do now, amma? The baby is due, anytime now.
The hospital demands advance."
What colour, money? 
The future, of an unborn child.
What colour, money?
Senior citizens’ deaths in bank queues
What of the Constitution?    Who knows?
Right to Livelihood?             What’s that?
Right to Life?                        Who cares?
Who cares, for the right of the people to their money?
For those that pay taxes, without question? 
And stand in long queues, without question, like puppets in a puppetry show?
Who do not question; who believe, almost always; who pay bills on time 
Who do not assert for their "hard-earned" money to come by with human dignity 
Who do not question the inking of their fingers 
Nor the general distrust that governments in power always have, for their ilk (except once in five years)? 
Meanwhile, Simhachalam (doesn’t tell me his true name, others call him Reddy), the contractor, shows me a thick bundle of 500 notes 
Says he is "managing" it; paying the labourers this money or putting them into "zero accounts". "It is now allowed", he quips. 
(I forget to ask, though, what does zero account really mean?)
The construction of the city must go on
For the nation’s good.
The daily wagers stare in silence, as he talks, 
Pain in their eyes, stomachs rumbling from a few days’ hunger.
Another builder, elsewhere, someone tells me, has deposited money 
Into accounts newly created, of daily wage labourers,
To make the "black" legally "white".
They feel rich for a while, the daily wagers; the "ommoners"
"Notionally", at least,
But, of course, he tells them, he will take the cash back
And he gives them a couple of 1000 notes, in return for a vow of silence!
What colour, money? 


R. Umamaheshwari, who also uses the pen name Veena, is a well-known social activist.

This article was first published on indianculturalforum.in



Related Articles