Thursday, May 19, 2011

Memoire of a 25 Paisa Coin

The Reserve Bank of India has decided to withdraw 25 paisa from currency. For the last eight years this apex bank has not been minting 25 paisa coins. It had earlier withdrawn ten paisa and five paisa coins.

In metros like Delhi, years back itself people had stopped exchanging coins including fifty paisa. If you give a fifty paisa coin to a beggar, he may give you an ugly look, a curse and if he has the habit of exchanging graces that he expects from charitable people, he would even give you a one rupee coin in return.

These are the days even beggars walk around with card swiping machines. Beggars amassing coins and becoming super rich is a pet theme of popular movies; at times as a side story.

(Still from Naan Kadvaul)

In a recent movie in Tamil, Naan Kadavul (I am the God or Aham Brahmasmi), director Bala has treated begging as an organized crime sector. You cannot forget temples like Tiruppathi Balaji Temple, Sabarimal Ayyappa Temple, Shirdi Sai Temple where coins are collected in quintals and tons.

I like to digress. Hence, the news of withdrawing coins takes me to those good old days when we used to get coins from our courtyard. It was like this. A group of children play in the courtyard. One boy finds a five paisa coin and the rest start searching and they all get coins of small denominations.

It always happened during the monsoon days. Rain washes away the outer layer of sand. Coins that had escaped the pockets of the grown ups and had found their rest under the sand were suddenly revealed by the touch of rain drops.

Grown ups never claimed those coins back. Those coins belonged to the children. Small coins that brought them candies, pickled gooseberries, lozenges, marbles, balloons, ice sticks and a sense of richness.

Once in a while grand parents opened their chests and small boxes and before the curious eyes of the young kids there opened a sepia toned world or old smells and memories. They took out the coins which had enriched their childhood days.

For children like us, those were just coins that had gone out of currency. For the grandparents those were the museum holdings of memories, love and tears.

Coins tell the history of times that had gone by. Illiterate grandparents tell you about the value of those coins minted by the treasury of the king. Those small little bronze medallions had the profile of the king embossed on them.

That’s why even after independence, people revered government jobs and called the salary as ‘the coin of the king’. Memories refuse to die in their eyes paled by cataract.

Those were the days when I used to wonder why Shri Aurobindo Ghose looked like a creature with two fins and a long neck, and why young Indira Gandhi always sat in a tirbhanga posture (body twisted in three angles).

Years later I realized the truth behind my misgivings. The text books were printed in poor quality government presses. When they took the blocks of these pictures and transferred them into black and white they gained the quality of a Photostat rather than a photograph.

Hence, when the white shirt of Shri Aurobindo Ghose merged with the white of the page, the contours were not defined. Only the black areas were highlighted. So his flowing hairs looked like fins and the long beard look like the sharpened lower body of that creature.

This picture of Indira Gandhi came from the famous photograph where she sits on a cot in which Mahatma Gandhi was lying. The text book illustrator extracts young Indira Gandhi’s image out of this picture and prints in the same way as I mentioned before. So Indira Gandhi sits like a contortionist.

With the coins, these pictures also have gone into the dust covered tomes of memory.

One day piggy banks will become irrelevant.


Muthu said...

This is such a beautiful post. I have a whole pouch of one, two and five paise coins and a few ten and twenty thrown in as well. The twenty paise in the used be really natty, almost bronzed and with a lotus on it. Yes they do bring back memories of a different time and space.....thank you for dusting my treasure chest of them. Keep writing!!

JohnyML said...

Dear Muthamma,

Thanks a lot for sharing those kind words.

Yes I do remember those natty bronzed twenty paisa coins with the lotus image on them.

Thanks again and keep me posted of your new writings..


amrita said...

Dear Johny,
A wonderful article..i really enjoyed going through it.. some of my own memories as a child were rekindled.Thanks!:)

Ravi said...

Dear Johny,
That post brought back a flood of memories of childhood - as kids we were so fascinated by coins !We lived in an old house in South Bangalore with a large compound that turned up many strange things in the soil- including the beautiful copper George V four annas coins -the most beautiful coin ever minted ,apart from the 1 pice copper coin with a hole (thooth kaasu)?!Sad to hear the RIP call for the humble 25Ps coin- it has seen better days when we could buy all we ever wanted-mango,guava,gooseberry,peanuts- from the vendor outside the school (Yusuf ?) Thanks for that nudge of memory...

Niyan said...