Final Episode (Real Life).
So, in a week or so, my wife is leaving for India, and then, I’m going to join her in another couple of weeks.
Every year, whenever we get a chance, we return to India, and particularly Calcutta, places that are so near and dear to us. It doesn’t matter that we’ve spent thirty years in America, and have become mainstream Americans in every possible way. Returning to India is always exciting.
This time, however, there is a problem. We have no money.
The Indian government, in its most egregious, unconstitutional, immoral, cruel and inhumane way, has scrapped the currency overnight, putting 500 million-plus people in complete jeopardy. Media are painting a rosy picture of this so-called demonetization and digital India, because they are all sold-out to big corporations and their bribed politicians. Most Indians do not have a bank account, most places do not have a bank, and only 2% Indians have heard of a credit card. Demonetization is a historic crime on India.
So, why are we, privileged Americans bothered with it, with our wallet full of money and credit cards and online banking?
Here is why. We want to go to our neighborhood green market for vegetables and fish and groceries and flowers and fruits: we can’t do it, as we don’t have cash, and the village farmers and city grocers don’t have cash. We want to savor the sweets and samosas we grew up with. But we won’t have cash to get them. Many — countless — small places across the country are doing no business at all.
We will have managed to get the new 2000-rupee notes, but guess what, auto rickshaws, minibuses, electric trams and taxis won’t accept them. Calcutta subway (metro) does not accept credit card to sell daily tokens, or do they? Street-side vendors on Gariahat Road and at Ballygunge Station are practically empty. Soon, they will fold their shops that their refugee parents started at the time of the partition. That history will be forever gone.
The coveted Calcutta Book Fair that we religiously attend will have a sad and depressed look: people can’t buy and sell books from most places at the fair; heck, people who attend only for fish rolls can’t even buy fish rolls.
Yes, we could buy expensive saris and suits and jewelry and electronic devices at South City Mall, using our VISA, but guess what, we never go there for shopping. The only time we went was when we bought gifts for our daughter’s wedding.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg: situation in villages and small towns is horrendous and terrifying, and media — either Indian media or New York Times and CNN — won’t report. I keep calling it Journalism of Exclusion.
So, yes, excited that we’re going back to a place that is like ants licking up Rosgollah from a Bengali’s sweaty cheeks, but that’s about it.
Never did we think we would return to our own place, a beloved place which is now completely destroyed by the new fascists in power.
Never did we think we would return to our own place, where nobody asks any questions, and everybody stands in a long line, to comply with the government and their corporations and media, to give up their OWN money.
(Photo: Parichay Dey, during our Assam reserve forest tour, Kaziranga National Park.)