Letter from the ATM Queue – “I Had a Fiery Dispute With Two Particularly Off-Putting Women”, Khan Market
From the heart of the conflict zone.
[Text by Sanchita Guha; photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Note: This piece is by Sanchita Guha, a Delhi writer dreaded by all those uncivilised men in this city who either dare to piss on streets or are foolish enough to jump a queue when she is around.
December 2, 2016.
6.25 pm at Khan Market.
And it suddenly looked like I might get some of that elusive cash.
I had walked past this ATM an hour earlier, and had asked the guard if bank notes might be loaded anytime that evening. He had said yes. But I hadn’t been too hopeful.
More than three weeks after demonetisation was announced, I was one of those people to whom fate had served either ‘no cash’ notices or hopelessly long queues that I didn’t even bother to join.
However, this evening was going to be a lucky one. “They know the cash is coming. That’s why they’ve queued up,” said the guard at the HDFC bank branch. “They” weren’t the regular pretty people of this smelly but posh market; “they” were store clerks, security guards, and one or two tourists. Already some 20 were in the queue. If at least 20 people are on to something, then maybe I should keep the faith, too. So I stood in line.
An uneventful half-an-hour passed watching the managers of nearby stores banter with the staff standing in queue. Some speculated if the cash would reach this ATM at all. I sent up a prayer. More tense minutes went by. Then a voice said, “Haan, cash aa raha hain (Yes, the cash is coming).” The loading van had been spotted. Relief!
The queue of 20 became a queue of 40 or so, because where there’s a line, there must be cash – that’s the reasoning the whole country is following now.
Another half-an-hour later, we heard the sweetest possible sound: the rolling shutter of the ATM kiosk going up.
Immediately, the genuinely needy were separated from the racketeers. The store clerks of Khan Market treated the ATM like a nightclub – seeing that it was open, they invited their friends to come over and jump the queue. I had a fiery dispute with two particularly off-putting women. And then I had to also tick off a shifty young woman who tried to enter the ATM kiosk through a sort of sideways shuffle that was taking her closer and closer to the door; when told to go to the back of the queue, she claimed a special privilege for “girls”, sadly reinforcing a stereotype.
My turn came, and feeling bitter after the abovementioned experiences, I threw fairness to the winds and used two cards to take out double the per-card quota of Rs 2,000.
At last, I was holding the new-born bank notes. And they were just as stupendously ugly as they had appeared in photos. I won’t be hoarding them at home. The purpose of demonetisation has been served.
Sanchita Guha in the money line
The woman in the blue scarf was one of the trouble-makers. Hope she spots herself here, Delhiwalla!
I actually had a very different experience at HDFC in CR Park. A kind of camaraderie emerged among the people in the queue over three hours, most of it spent in hope and regular warnings, even from the bank’s staff, that the money supply was finishing. I read a book, a couple of people chatted around me. Then came the shocker — we need photocopies of our IDs even to withdraw from our salary accounts with a self-drawn cheque. One of the two guys behind me went off to their photocopies, and helpfully took my driving licence along and saved me the bother of trudging the distance. The shop was closed 🙁
Heart in mouth, I enter the bank. Since I had joined the queue, morning had changed to afternoon. “Why don’t you ask the bank manger if the bank can get the photocopies. Things will be softer if a woman asks,” one of the boys said. I obliged (whatever Things will be softer if a woman asks means). It worked out and we happily got our cash.
I have been looking for a place to write this. The bank manger was on his feet all through, his attitude was great. Professional, firm and understanding. He was up against a queue at a time the money was running out. Many would have to go back empty handed. The guy upped his game. He was out with the queue regularly giving updates. He wasn’t being friendly but all of us standing in the sun understood he was in the same boat as us.
Oh, and I managed to get a lot of reading done. I am not looking forward to the next time I have to queue up but it is also true that various demographics came together and ‘rubbed shoulders’ in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
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