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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sweets new legal tender in Goa

I do not really like to shop. I make a list, go to the shop and realize that I have left my list at home. Then I fix the grocer with a glittering eye and will him to remember everything I wrote on that list.

Another thing is calculating change. Sometimes the numbers just don’t seem to add up but one has to pretend to look mathematical and walk out with the change in one’s hand. Then I calculate and re-calculate all the way home or to the next shop. For instance I have trouble with numbers like 38. If I proffer a hundred-rupee note, at the immediate point of transaction I know I should receive Rs. 62 as change but somehow my brain tells me, you havta get 72, 72, 72…

Now there’s a new complication. Sweets. Sweets have become the new legal tender in the larger stores and in certain pharmacies. In the past they would round off a .50 paise piece of change they owed you and offered you a sweet instead, generally a mint or a cough lozenge. Later they went into Eclairs and toffees in lieu of Re 1 change. Now they hand over five cough lozenges if they have to give you Rs 5 change. This is annoying, not just to me, but to my friend Omlet. He sat himself down, looked earnest and said, “Tell me, since when have sweets become legal tender?”

I understand his pain, because frankly this sweet business distresses me in no small measure. Now I have to calculate the cost of the sweets, then I have to find out the wholesale rate of the sweet, then I have to calculate how much extra the shop cashier is bilking me of in terms of change. Five sweets at wholesale rate are a mere fraction of the change actually due to me, this I discover as I am digging out bits of sweets that have lodged in my teeth, spawning brand new cavities and blood-sugar levels, while my mind and other nine fingers are calculating cost of sweets and amount of change due to me.

In the past they made it very easy, they gave you your change in the form of a token, which was a pretty neat thing, because it guaranteed that you would return to the shop to get back your Re 1 or Rs 2 or Rs 5. It made for more footfalls as I think they say in business and the shortchanged person did not feel shortchanged since he could come back and use that change towards buying more stuff.

Some shop owners had the wonderful idea of keeping postage stamps of many denominations, but with the advent of email, stamps were stamped out. With the amount of diabetics in Goa, sweets are about as useful to them as a stamp to someone who does all his communication online. I am diabetic, I cannot take your sweets does not seem to work, so the only option which seems to work in the big stores is to return the goods with the proper amount of regret and lo and behold the change is instantly forthcoming.

Change shortages are cyclical – like kurtis and three-quarter tights, and it happened in the late seventies, in Bombay. The BEST bus conductors used to make a good commission selling coins to shopkeepers and agents. They terrorized hapless commuters into forking over exact change for tickets. One such Incident happened to me: gimme change he said in chaste Marathi, I replied in foul Marathi, you have lots of change in your bag; it is bulging. The other passengers laughed. You get off; he told me and rang the bell to stop the bus. I told him I would; provided he opened his bag and showed me that he had no change. We glared at each other until the rest of the commuters began shouting that they were getting late, then he jerked the cord, the bus moved on, but he refused to take my money or issue me a ticket. I told the commuters, you are witnesses; he is refusing to take my fare. He took my fare, dug into his bulging bag and gave me my change and my ticket.

Sometimes self-righteousness works.

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