Friday, January 6, 2017

On A Demonetized Night

Last month, I was getting back home after a late evening call in the office.  It was supposed to be a short call but got extended unusually long. It was around 11:30 PM as I took the last turn from the main road towards my apartment. As I was passing through a cross-lane I saw two bikes parked almost on the middle of the road with 4 men sitting around one of the bikes, as if they were repairing something. I felt sorry for the guys stuck on the road so late in the night and was trying to negotiate my car through the space available.

I was dead slow as I got too close to the bikes and suddenly the guys got up and surrounded my car. One of them took out a large knife – that kind of size I had only seen at the butcher shop – and asked me to come out of the car.  While I was confident to handle the goons, I had no choice but to come out of the car at that moment. 

The guy with the knife spoke in the local dialect and asked for money. I pleaded that after demonetization, I had not been having any currency with me. And, as a matter of fact, would be too happy if they could exchange some old currency notes that I still had in my pocket. They looked at each other in amusement. And then another guy spoke in English – do you have ATM card. I said – yes, but that doesn’t help either. There is no money in the ATMs for the past one week. He said – don’t worry about that. We will find out. How many cards do you have? I responded – two, but that will give you only four thousand. He didn’t appear too disappointed with the amount.

He took out his mobile and called someone to check as to which ATM was having currency. They spoke for a while and then he came back to me and asked me to follow the bikes to a certain 17th Cross, 24th Main.  Either they were too naïve or had too much trust on my gentlemanly gait that they never thought I would desert them. I too followed them confidently as if a pilot bike was guiding the car of the local governor.  I had my chances of getting away but the lure of finding an ATM with currency was too strong for me to do that.

Upon reaching the ATM, I observed that there was no familiar banner proclaiming ‘no cash’. The lights were on and there were no customers waiting in the queue at that late hour.  They instructed me to get the cash as they waited outside with the bike engines still on. They didn’t want to get caught in the camera that was placed in the ATM room.

As I came out of the ATM kiosk, proudly flashing the two crisp magenta notes of two thousand denomination, they appeared relieved. As one of them walked towards me, I placed my right hand inside my side pocket, while still holding the two notes on my left, and took out my licensed revolver. The man was taken aback and immediately retreated towards the bikes. The other guy on the bike shouted – Boss, leave him. But if you were amongst us, why did you waste our time. I smiled, for the first time in those twenty minutes, and said – first, I am not one of you and this one is only for self-defence. Now, just stay there until I call the police. They were stunned. I realized my mobile phone was not in my pocket and was left in the car for charging. As I turned and got into the car to take out my mobile, I heard the bikes zooming past on full throttle.

I felt bad for not having noted the bike numbers in my excitement of having found the crisp currency notes. Nevertheless, it was worth the pain at that mid-night hour. As I drove back home I also felt bad for not having thanked them for finding me the right ATM with loaded cash, through their efficient network. And I was wondering if the digitization drive will put a check on such robberies.

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