The times they are a changing. And changing too fast for my poor muddled little brain to comprehend. The biggest bane in my life being technology and within that, the alacrity with which folks transfer money from one account to another or make payments. Just like that. Without batting an eyelid. And here I am, counting notes and coins and asking for change and then getting a tad miffed when the man at the counter (and that includes your friendly neighbourhood grocery seller, the vegetable and fruit vendor, the washerman and even the chemist… I could go on and on) asks me with a very superior air if I have Google pay, UPI, Paytm (now on its way out), tap and pay, Apple pay and then looks at me in utter disbelief when I say no. ‘Which era does she belong to’ …he must be wondering and so am I. Seriously, which era do I belong to?
Has the world moved on and left me behind? ‘Stop the world and let me off’, is the ditty doing a little whirl in my head. I’m tired of going round and round and that’s what happens when too much technology is shoved into my face without so much as a by your leave.
I look back at the man disdainfully and match him stare for defiant stare.
‘I don’t believe in plastic money,’ I say. ‘You know how many scams take place these days. I like to play safe with my hard earned money’.
‘This is not plastic money’, he replies patiently, looking at me with the kind of look one reserves for an errant child.
‘I’ll wait’, I reply nonchalantly as the queue behind me gets longer and people begin to talk in hushed whispers and glance sideways at me as if I am an alien from outer space. ‘Till you get the change’.
So reluctantly, one cashier leaves the counter and disappears in a bid to get that elusive change and now there is only one cashier at the counter. Slowly and silently the people behind me start shifting to the other queue while I pretend to be blind and deaf to all the shufflings and murmurs. And stand there defiantly with one elbow on the counter in a proprietary fashion. Minutes tick by and finally the cashier returns. Well, guess what. He still hasn’t got the complete change so he sheepishly asks if he could give me a ‘pay later’ note. I have no choice but to agree so now he goes off again to look for a pen. ‘You don’t have a pen?’ I ask incredulously. Now it’s my turn to look superior.
‘We don’t need to write. Everything is here on the computer,’ he replies. The patient look seems to be dissolving and now I sense impatience writ large on his face
OOOOPS. We’re back where we started.
The other day a cousin was visiting so I took her sightseeing. In one popular place of worship, we took our shoes off and kept them in the designated stands. On our return, we were asked to make a small payment. Needless to say I had no change. And my cousin never travels with cash. Obviously.
‘Who carries cash? It’s a thing of the past’, she remarks. Not quite seeing eye to eye on this one, I zip my mouth and keep my peace.
So she whips out her phone and the man at the shoe counter simultaneously slides a rectangular piece of white board in front of her. It has all sorts of squiggles, lines, dots all beautifully arranged in a square. I watch in awe as she places her phone close to the square, (almost as if the two are kissing, I think absentmindedly) and then the sound of a beep, a questioning look in my cousin’s eyes and an imperceptible nod of the man’s head, as she drops the phone back into her bag and I stand there dumbfounded.
That’s it.
Transaction complete.
Deal done.
What just happened? Not a word was exchanged between them yet there was an unspoken understanding. ‘Nazar se nazar milao’ and all that jazz. I stand there mouth agape, gawking like an awkward teenager at this pantomime. Was I missing something here?
That same evening, I took her to the little temple near my house and as usual I dropped some cash into the box. And she said, ‘ I’ll do PayTm’.
‘To whom?’ I wanted to ask. ‘To the Good Lord Himself?’
Are you listening, God?
It’s high time you woke up and smelled the coffee. Like I said before, the times, they are a changing. Get to work or better still, get your minions to work for you. Ask them to devise a QR code or a PayTm number for you to enable people to bribe you directly.
Just like AI is doing away with so many jobs, maybe we can do away with your middlemen, here on earth and even those trusty old steel and wooden boxes with rusty locks that these middlemen keep for us to fill.
No more second hand bribing. How does that sound?
But now the question is, what are the Gods in their Heavenly abodes going to do with so much of money?
Now there’s some food for thought.
(Ratna Manucha is an educationist, a columnist and an award winning author of fact, fiction and text books for children and young adults).