Mujhe Change Chaiye – I want Change

Sep 7th, 2012 | By | Category: Articles

Change shortage is a problem that has been troubling us for a while. Makes you wonder, where have all the 1 and 2 rupee coins gone?

A couple of years back our humble coin managed to rise to the status of contraband when it started getting smuggled to Bangladesh. These coins are supposedly melted and made into shaving blades, idols of Gods and Coin-God knows what. Some say this might have contributed to the shortage at home. If that wasn’t enough the RBI put a cap on the number of coins dispensed at its various centers to 100 coins per person. This seems to have caused a shortage in the coin supply chain. The coin traders are not happy with the limited supply of coins as they are not able to meet up with the coin demand from the shopkeepers, who in turn are almost always out of change.

Is there anyone who can honestly say that change shortage is not their problem? Regardless of how it sounds, this was not a rhetorical question. After all there is some truth in the old saying – “One person’s loss is another’s gain.” So who could be the lucky profiteer in this penniless, oh sorry, chillarless situation?

Let us analyze our day to day coin crunch a bit closely. Try to remember, what does your neighborhood mom and pop grocer or retail cashier give you instead of 1, 2 or 5 rupee change? That’s right- ‘toffees’. Coin crunch has proven to be the greatest thing since sugar for the toffee and candy companies. Toffee is the new coin. From making mint to minting money, these confectioners have come a long way. But are they the only profiteers? What about the shopkeepers? Coin shortage may have started out to be a problem for them, but call it their evil genius or plain resourcefulness, the silver lining they found to this cloud seems to be working out far better than the clear cloudless situation of coin abundance, not to mention the candy companies owe their windfall to them. Buying candy by the bulk at wholesale price, they make quite a handsome profit per toffee they sell. With a rapid increase in the sale of toffees their profits have soared to unprecedented heights. No wonder they are holding on so tightly to this otherwise passing cloud and making it hover over the customers’ head for what seems to be an eternity. But is this ‘overtly’ visible angle to the shopkeepers’ toffee fetish the only one or could there be a ‘covertly’ concealed angle as well?

I have a theory. But a little background first: We have all heard of doctors being seduced by big pharmaceutical companies to prescribe only their brands. While the discovery of this illicit affair set headlines on fire and rightly caused public outrage owing to its flagrant nature, a very similar nexus between the shopkeepers and companies selling a range of products trying to get the retailers to give their products special treatment, has not been able to grab headlines despite the obvious ethical murkiness, probably because of its relative harmlessness. Although it would be unfair to say that all companies and retailers have such unholy nexus, it would be utterly naïve to deny its existence.

Coming to my theory; but before I state it, let me clarify that I am just spitballing here, so I could be really on to something, or way off. I’ll let you be the judge of that. With every toffee brand vying to convince both small grocers and big retails to push only their brand, our kiranawallas must be finding themselves in quite a comfortable position to negotiate their pound of flesh or in this case “sweet-meat”. But, if this favour-mongering is such a common practice and is probably being done with every other product, then what makes this toffee deal so much sweeter than others, besides the obvious pun, I mean. The answer lies in the vantage point in which candy as a product finds itself all of a sudden. Unlike other products we don’t have the option of buying toffee if and when we choose. They will be sold to us whether we want them or not. Free will is out of this whole buyer-seller equation. Good riddance eh!!

Irrespective of whether the shopkeepers are in cohoots with the toffee makers or acting on their own; stuck with a Hobson’s choice, on the business end of this swindle are -“the customers”. These customers essentially fall in two categories:

The first kind are but of course the sweet-tooths with a bull’s eye painted all over them. Together the confectioners and shopkeepers have got these sweet-tooths “sucking” on treats creating a quite literal winner-winner-“sucker” situation. High on sugar with their judgment clouded, these suckers are in no condition to protest. All you shady drug dealers, cutting deals in the shadows and flying under the radar, step aside and recognize: the new over the counter, day light peddlers are in town.

Even if they fail to make an absolute junkie out of these sweet-tooths, they in the least succeed in making Pavlovian pets out of them. All one has to do is to shop as often as they can and in turn get rewarded with a treat or two every time. The only thing missing is a pat on the head and a – “Atta boy/ Atta girl. Who’s my favorite customer? Yes you are, yes you are”. What say sweet-tooths, in the dog-house yet? Come to think of it, conditioning is harder to reverse than addiction.

The second kind or shall I say my kind of people feel that we are force fed toffees on a daily basis. Did we unwittingly declare a toffee strike? With the shopkeepers force feeding toffees as if to break our toffee fast, it sure seems that way. I ask them for change and they stick a toffee or 2 up my nose. I say to them – if you insist on force feeding me at least let me choose my own treat. They say, “Sorry ma’am but the treat you are asking for will come in a pack with minimum of 50 pieces. I don’t have those in loose form.” Ok dude, you don’t have loose change, don’t have loose treat of my liking, all you have is just one particular brand of toffee which happens to be all loose and all available. The most interesting thing is that every shopkeeper has a specific brand of treat that acts as a change substitute and it differs from shop to shop. You will come across toffees and candies you have never heard of or seen before. Resistance is futile. If you refuse to be “candied”, they give you 2, 5 and 10 rupee coupons to ensure that you visit their shop again because they are holding your change hostage. If you don’t go back again, they keep your money for free. Day time robbery has never been easier.

Taking cue from retailers, even photocopy shops, take-out places and hash houses have started forcing toffees on customers. Where does it all end? Before you know it the dentists will be in on this deal too. Think about it, with sweet consumption going up we are now more prone to cavities and tooth decay. Next thing you know the walls and doors of every shop, every restaurant and every supermarket will be filled with ads of dental clinics. Now that’s what you call- subliminal advertising.

Well I might be getting a little ahead of myself. Must be my love for conspiracy theories. Getting back to the problem at hand – Tired of the tyranny of these shopkeepers, one day my aunt collected all the toffees forced on her instead of change and took them to the local grocer insisting to buy goods in exchange for those treats. Needless to say the grocer didn’t accept the deal, but the scene my aunt created was enough to ensure that the grocer was never short of change to give to my aunt. We need to take inspiration from this incident and refuse to accept any sort of change substitute. Let’s not shy away from making a scene, because the only weapon they have against us is our own vanity. We have to be strong enough to fend off their appeals to our vanity. All of us have a cheapskate living deep inside us. It’s time to unleash the ‘cheap’ within. It will not be easy always. We might have to walk out of a couple of shops and supermarkets that refuse to part with their change. Whether it is a small grocery store or a retail chain, no one would want to lose business especially with an audience present. Our little rebellion might not make a dent in their business, but will surely cause them inconvenience. It’s like I sometimes say – If you can’t beat them, just mess with’em. Unless change shortage affects every single one of us, be it traders, vendors or customers, no one will take this problem seriously and seek a solution.

History has kept its promise. But we can’t let this Tughlaqian farce continue anymore. We have endured this status quo for too long. It is time for change people; lots and lots of change.

(Image courtesy: ba1969 from sxc.hu)


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Srividya has written 3 articles on The MAG. View all articles by


3 comments
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  1. I’ve been going around this spot a lot ..An eye-opener ,something fresh and an unique style of writing.

  2. Nice 1.

    My neighborhood chai wallah tells me that the going rate for Rs.100 worth of 5 rupee coins is Rs.125. Chillar business is more profitable than we think it to be.

  3. Very well said Srividya & with a style. Also the research on bringing the truth about the travelling route, for coins, is appreciable.

    Nevertheless, I bring a different perspective to this issue, that this issue is not noticed by many of us, as an “Issue”. End of the day, If I lose 1 or 2 pennies would probably be more expensive than my time, to make a scene at shop. Also, the bigger malls/shopping retails chain nets, always keep a change irrespective any amount with brand new coins.

    Additionally, we are also witnessing the value of coins which is going down, through the PAN wala whose rate increase is from Rs. 10 to not Rs 12, but directly to fifteen. All the biscuits comes in a Rs.5 pack & further, there are very few items which stays at the denomination below Rs.5. Perhaps the card purchases had increased in many places, means the kirranawala, accepts payments by cards as well, nowadays. This also shows, that this issue is over looked by many of us.

    Its, indeed a nice issue, which public should be aware of, instead of just enjoying nameless brand toffee. Last but not the least, with the available heading for this article, I could not correlate for firts 2 lines, since I was thinking only on “Change” but not the “coins”.

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