One of my everlasting memories of the US is the remarkable ability of that country to dole out loose change. I had gone for my 24-day sojourn to Atlanta, NYC and Boston last summer with six Benjamins (and an empty credit card which was subsequently maxxed out) and returned to India (via Paris, Rome and the Amalfi Coast) with a few kilograms in loose change. The inside seam on my jeans pocket was coming off under the strain of the additional weight and when I opened my suitcase I discovered that I had stuffed some of the compartments (I just love suitcases with tens of compartments) full of coins as well. I tried to get the guy at Delhi's Duty-Free store (it is the cheapest Duty-Free store that I know of, despite the almost total lack of choice) to accept $20 in coins (which must have weighed a fair bit) but he said nothing doing, so I had pay with the final green notes I had in my wallet (for some strange reason the guy refused to take Euros). When I got home I estimated that I had close to $40 in change - from pennies, dimes, quarters and the occasional half-dollar and dollar coins.
So, why do I bring up something that happened 15 months ago, because Mumbai happens to have the same bad habit. Everyday from the Auto's at Bandra to the taxi's in town and the newspaper guy at the station and countless others (like the guy who brings in tea and biscuits to office) I end up with painful amounts of change. Painful? Have any of you ever tried sitting on a wallet full of change? It is painful. But one day while scanning the coins (I was really bored) I discovered that every once in a while, there is a special coin. You know the commemorative coins that the Indian mint brings out, and I started collecting them.
In the past three weeks, I have managed to find some rather interesting coins that the mints produced. For example, a 50p coin from 1997 which marks the 50th anniversary of independence with a representation of the Dandi March. Another Rs 5 coin from 1995 with a 50th anniversary of the UN engraving. Nowadays, it seems that the Rs 2 coin is the one marked out for special purposes, I have a coins with marking/celebrating Chattrapati Shivaji, Appu the Railway Mascot, Motherhood and god knows what else. I also managed to acquire a crisp Rs 2 note somehow. It is very old - because it was signed by Monmohan Singh when he was Governor of the RBI - making it almost two decades old. This is something that I really would want my kids to see.
My mother has some old 1p, 2p, 3p, 5p, 10p and 20p coins - the joys of Kolkata trams where the fares were weird amounts like 17p or 23p in her young days. I even remember a time when 5p coins were openly accepted when I was a kid. Heck, one of those Kwality ice-lollies cost only Rs 1.50 when I was eight years old and really in the scheme of things that wasn't very long ago.
Nowadays, you can't even buy a decent cigarette for two bucks, let alone ice-cream. Yesterday, a hawker outside Bandra station told me that a bhutta would cost Rs 10 (though it was decidedly good bhutta).
Anyway, I'm going to continue collecting coins, if for nothing else as a means of maintaining my sanity in this city. But there might be fiscal considerations as well. If I recall correctly, my mother also has a 1917 silver Ruppe coin, which is worth some astronomical amount now (the silver in it must be worth some Rs 250 or something). I wonder if my coins will be worth anything in twenty years time, or will the Rs 2 coin be as antiquated then as the 10p and 25p coins are today?
Hey, PageRank really works, Rashmi's website is #4 and Gaurav's blog #6 in this search.
And this search which two weeks ago might have only revealed thirty or forty results now reveals 1000 plus! The IIPM saga continues.
And then there is this story in the Express (carried in Delhi Newsline) about how AICTE will curb 'Private Institutes', and if IIPM really has to change its name what will it become - the International Institute of Ponytail Management?