Where Have All the Coins Gone?

Achoiba leitey lupa ahumdu meethai haapaklagey — at every dukan and grocery shop at every leirak and leikai, this is inevitably the only reply we get from the shopkeepers because they don’t have the change. When was the last time you got the change from a shop? Have you ever complained when the shopkeeper returned you a fistful of toffees, as if the few rupees are nothing but insignificant? Most of the time we would take the toffees grudgingly, if not, the only thing we can do is to ask for match boxes instead of the toffees.

We know the obvious response from the neighbourhood dukan-fumbers: there is a shortage of coins in the market so they are helpless and are resorting to unasked Chrolomints and Sunflower match boxes. But there are more reasons than meet the eye.

Last year when a couple of shopkeepers’ associations in Mumbai complained to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which earlier used to dispense the coins directly but has given the responsibility to the bank branches now, the latter refuted and screamed that hoarding and black market are to be blamed for. Officially in India, the coins are distributed through RBI offices (in the Northeast, these are located in Guwahati and Agartala), bank branches and currency chests.

Closer home, there is another perspective. On conditions of anonymity, an official at the State Bank of India (SBI) gave me some plausible explanations. He said, ‘There was a coin dispenser installed at the SBI Imphal branch a few years back. But the unscrupulous agents would empty the container, leaving literally, no change for the unsuspecting public.’ That constituted a paltry portion of the black-market economy in Manipur.

Then there is also the high cost of transport, which results in a limited supply of coins. The anonymous SBI official added, ‘Coins are usually transported through flights. The present shortfall cannot be adjusted with more supply as frequent remittance is not possible. Besides, the coins are heavier and are relatively of lesser value than paper notes of higher denominations. So generally,the banks opt for bigger paper notes for transaction, ATMs and other dealings.’

Throughout India there is rampant hoarding and black marketing of coins as countered by the RBI officials to the shopkeepers’ association in Mumbai. For example, a hundred of one rupee is usually sold at a premium of Rs 10, but it can go up to Rs 20 in the fluctuating black market. The rate might be different in Manipur and it is open to question how the coins have vanished into thin air.

An examination of the scarcity of coins in various parts of the country might offer a bigger picture. Earlier this year, the RBI had decided to back out from retail operations and hence halted their distribution of coins from its offices. But there are allegations of procedural inexperience of the present distributors, which has further resulted in the rising price of coin and an uneven demand-supply ratio. Inadvertently this is affecting the economy very badly.

Let’s do a simple math. Suppose in Manipur, a one person loses Rs 3 a day while shopping; then the state loses Rs 81,65,268 daily, if we take into account the present population of 27,21,756 as per the 2011 census. Needless to say, some economists measure the shortage of coins is adding to 3% to 5% inflation in the national economy.

It will take a deeper analysis of the problems but there are several allegations on why the scarcity is happening at the first place, and these are not without reasons. The first of them is the rising price of metals. The RBI, for instance, has reduced the new 50-paise coins to the size of the 25-paise coins. The 25-paise coins are no more in circulation. This explains loosely the possible reduction of the number of coins being manufactured each year.

In an interesting way, there is also an allegation that coins, to the tune of crores of rupees, are in the strongboxes of temples across the country. Needless to say, all of these reasons are providing the banks to earn unethically as most of them simply round off the change.

When the whole country is reeling under the deficiency, it is no wonder our state is also pushed into the corner. But hopefully, consumer awareness could be one of the probable solutions to it.

Perhaps we could also approach the concerned banks with our queries; perhaps the financial professionals can voice on behalf of us.

A wake up call is quite a must and it should start pretty soon. Where have all the coins gone? We should have a solution right?

This article was published on 24 June 2012

Never Too Late to Stop Racism

I do not deny that racism exists in every corner of India; I do not even deny the very fact that in Loitam Richard’s case, the college authorities and the concerned department are tackling the issue with a racial attitude. However, my counter question is why they should have the will to resolve the case when our State Government is least bothered about it? We were shocked to read that our Government had contacted their Karnataka counterparts and their diabolical lies. How can we dare to blame others when our own Government is careless, unreliable and grossly irresponsible? Richard’s case is just another mundane murder case that can be left safely covered up, so the Government think. Is the notoriously-short public memory the government’s best weapon? The fight for justice has been reduced to a pathetic farce. The Government is supposedly prepared to lose more Richards in the future. But we should not give them the chance.

Now, can our collective voice against racism fight this cause? We pray – racism or not – Richard’s murderers must be sent to jail and must be given the most fitting punishment. But what do we want to prove when we admit the existence of racism everywhere? Will there be an anti-racism law, especially for the Northeast? In any case, will it give solace to Richard’s departed soul? Will it really end the era of racial discrimination and profiling against the Northeast people? These are a few open questions that are more bewildering than the law against racism, which some scholars have pointed out that it has taken an institutional form.

Our first priority is to drag our State Government out of its Delhi-dreaming slumber and ask them to get involved in this issue. Let there be more pressure groups. Let there be a one-goal focus from all corners. This is one way to fight the justice for Richard. And in general cases, we should not let our crummy egos and arrogance interfere in our fight against racism and injustice. And yes, we should also stop being mute spectators and mere commentators affluent with free comments. If you feed the troll, it gets more energy of trolling people around it. Let us first stop feeding the trolls. Let us also be a little bit more practical. It would take many years, for example, to pass an anti-racism Bill in this country. We should not waste our time feeding racism and making it a redundant topic that the public memory would get the better of. There is also a bigger problem in us having a facial look which is un-India in a country where the society is structured on caste system. Then we have a larger mission to fight the prejudices of the mainland people against us without negative emotions.

If we accept racism in this country, we become the law un-abiding citizens, because we are admitting to a view, which the government does not. If we deny it, we are nevertheless not different. If you want your voices to be heard, have the guts to drag out your own MLAs or political leaders from your very kendra. Ask them to join the fight in a politically-correct, though restless approach. Seek suggestions from the law makers and keepers. Yelling on social networking sites as keyboard warriors, hammering keyboards to discuss issues, displaying our arrogant badges to others – all of these are so damn pestering. Most importantly we should leave our attitude at home and flush it down somewhere before we commit ourselves to a cause. We should not take the advantage of playing the lead roles of a particular cause, if not in some extreme conditions. One may fathom himself/herself as the hero for a cause, but the ugly truth is s/he often gets tagged as a zero in other’s view. Precisely this is a textbook case of the utter failure of leaders and the lack of real leaders in Manipur.

We should not accept racism, in its raw toleration, because by accepting it we are indirectly providing legitimacy to its very practice in the society. But we should accept it and know the problems inherent in this barbaric social mores. Especially in a not so fascinating country like ours, there are many grave issues that need our attention. As compared to mainlanders, we the people from the Northeast have many things to be proud of. This statement is not about claiming superiority, but that we have a reason which the mainland people should know, we are not the children of lesser god, and that we have a lesson to teach the insensitive India. It is never too late to give up prejudices.

This article was published on 17 June 2012

From Wankhei, With Love!

Home is a place where you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to. 
–– John Ed Pearce.

I cannot agree more on the above quote. When we were teens we thought it was a trend to leave home to pursue our studies and later to shape our career, staying outside Manipur. The lucrative career opportunities, the glitz of big city life, the big fat salary we would earn every month and most importantly, an escapade from the ennui of restlessness and hoo-hah in the state — all of these are a few accountable reasons why most of us prefer to stay out of home for all the years. ‘Yumda leiba bheebhula chudro... toufam chaafam keim khangdabani, meisuu suklaak laakte amambaduda matha sai...’: these are some of the most heard comments from those of us who prefer to stay out of home. We pretend to sound so cool while telling all these but deep in our hearts we know what we are craving for; we know what we want but since there is a big gap between our wants and means, we console ourselves with such make belief melodramatic dialogues.

But for an insane fellow, no one wants to leave home and settle outside Manipur. It has become a drift among most of the Manipuris to stay out of home, either to pursue higher studies or to settle with some lucrative careers. In pursuit of success, most of us reconcile with almost everything that we come across. We often miss everything about our home yet seldom admit it because we the outsourced lots are expected to be strong-hearted creatures. We are expected to be rational most of the time. Emotion should be always checked as it ruins our logic. All these are nonetheless not true as I have mentioned earlier too. The truth as I understand is that we miss home every single day right from dawn to dusk. From a very personal experience, at the outbreak of dawn, when the chirps of morning birds wake me up, I miss the sound of numberless sendrang. Come numidangwairam, I cannot help missing the similar chirps of sembrang and when it is lai-dhoop time, I miss the sight of that dimly-lit lantern (read laaten) at our maangon and the fragrance of burning mekruuk that spreads across the home, making us feel more blessed and pious.

Well, it does not matter whether you live in a big mansion or a thatched khaangpoksung, home is home and it is the best place on the earth, not just because it’s the place where our heart is, but also because it’s where our root belongs to. We cherish everything about our home and its surroundings. From a local perspective, the mundane of the most mundane things are found sweet or nostalgic when it comes to our very leikai. The lamjao sorok, the pukhri beside the road, the pan dukan or Potfham where we buy singju or achapot (it could also be a kwa matap), the hotel where one enjoys ideal chit-chats with leikai friends, the community hall, the leikai lampak etc. — all of these evoke nostalgia on our mind. Taking a golden chance of homesickness, I am filling up the remaining part of this column today with the same homely recipe. It’s about a very special penchant for a place in Manipur where most of my memorable childhood days were spent. So here is a bicycling trip down a memory lane through my lens that justifies the title of my column—‘From Wangkhei, With Love’

The beautiful ruins of Sana Konung, the sacred Govindaji Temple, the vast spreading Ningthem Pukhri, not to forget the quaint presence of Ramji Prabhu, the hub of hockey and football: the Eastern Ground, once a mini market: Keithel Asangbi, the famous Panthoibi and Durga Puja Lampak, one of the Government run schools for Girls in Imphal: Wangkhei Girls’, and of course Kaka Chaoba’s Pork Vendor at Thangapat, Rani Handloom at Lourembam Leirak, the faklaang segaiba school: Wangkhei Boys’ High School, one of the most happening clubs in the city: Lizard Library at Meihoupham Lampak, one of the mission schools in Imphal East: St George High School and one of the popular caterers: ACGRU tent house — these are some of the vivid pictures that continuously strike my mind whenever I remember Wangkhei, the very place where I was born and brought up, the place where most of my friends, family and saagei natei live. Nostalgia is a seasoned disease in my heart when it comes to Wangkhei and anything associated with the place. Call it the ‘frog in the well mentality’ or anything, but I am a typical Wangkhei Ningol who loves to flaunt as much as she can about this very place in Manipur.

I must not forget to mention that Wangkhei is also the place which is authentically associated with the origin of Wangkhei Phee. Small-scale handloom industry is a booming sector in this area at Imphal East district. Wangkhei maidens are always famous for their hard work and diligence. I have come across a very funny local saying ‘Wangkhei Nupada Leirunu, Wangkhei Ningol di Louba yai’. I am not sure if this random saying reflects the ideal image of a Wangkhei Ningol as if she is the epitome of all womanly virtues or otherwise it’s just a saying.

By the way, I am extremely sorry to hear about the news of (Late) Chungkham Rani. She was the one, who created a signature brand in Manipur handloom industry commonly known as Rani-Phee. Earlier known as the ‘Engineer-Phee’, Rani-Phee is an exclusive collection for every Manipuri woman. Thanks to that great lady who set her own trend in handloom industry in the state, she will always be remembered. She had been and will always be one of the ‘Prides of Wangkhei’. It’s a great loss that she is no more. May many innovators join her league in the future and make the place proud. And may God bless her soul to rest in peace!

Before I conclude this write up, I heartily want to thank all those individuals from Wangkhei from different fields who had made me proud in the past and who make me proud at present. This is to all the ‘Prides of Wangkhei’. Cheers!

This article was published on 2 June 2012
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