Cash Ya Cashless?: The Big 9 pm Debate at Home


Cash Ya Cashless?: The Big 9 pm Debate at Home

Illustration: Arati Gujar

“Cash hai na?”

It is a standard question thrown at me by my parents each time I leave the house. If I’m heading to work, they want to be assured that I have enough cash in my wallet, and if I’m going on a vacation, they want to know if I’ve stuffed my pouch full of rokda safely between a pile of clothes, or in that one hidden compartment in the bag that even detectives won’t be able to locate two decades from now.  

For my parents’ generation cash is indispensable; it is the only mode of accessible payment they have known most of their life. My father has vests designed with a special pocket where he can safely keep his money while travelling. The only art he believes in, is that of arranging your wallet and he does this methodically. There’s a special section for coins; the smaller denomination notes go in one particular compartment of the wallet, and the big notes are arranged in a rainbow-coloured formation.   

When my dad gets a bundle of newly designed ₹10 notes from the bank, he consciously saves them for future use. For him, they are as precious as the gold-studded limited-edition iPhone. He has a box full of different currencies from all foreign countries that we have visited – not because collecting coins is his hobby but because cash is an obsession. My mother, like my grandma, stores bundles of notes in dabbas in the kitchen even today.  

In stark contrast to my parents, my sister and I are quite cash-averse. We have grown up in a world where technology has drastically changed how we interact as well as transact with people and companies. We now use emojis to express emotion, a phone camera to capture moments, and tap on screens to make payments. We carry a limited amount of cash because “online payment, bro”. While my parents pay for everything in cash, we pay for everything using UPI, net banking, wallets, and cards.

When my dad gets a bundle of newly designed ₹10 notes from the bank, he consciously saves them for future use.

From food delivery to booking cabs, shopping to travel, furniture to real estate, even groceries and milk are now purchased online. But big corporates aren’t the only ones cashing in on technology to do business. The sabziwala in my neighbourhood sends images of vegetables to customers in the building on WhatsApp. The chaiwala near my workplace accepts digital payments. And my friend’s house help asks him to transfer the salary to her bank account. 

Today, you can pay for whatever you need with the help of an app. (And if you’re desi enough, you will somehow find a way to get a discount as well.) Concession pros use AIO (all-in-one) apps like YONO SBI that provide shopping, banking, and investment features. You no longer have to download a new app every 12 minutes. 

But for some reason, mum and dad don’t believe in app-iness. Each time my father asks me to go to the bank to withdraw cash, I remind him about the YONO SBI app. But I realise we are generations apart and to convert him will take some time. He believes money should be in your possession; I have little patience to stand in queues at ATMs or the grocery store. He believes I carry “too little cash” and I believe he carries way too much. And this disparity between our two worldviews makes for colourful debates. 

My father’s standard response is: What if you don’t get network, how will you pay money? He then makes a customary joke about how I’ll have to do the dishes at a restaurant someday because I won’t be able to swipe my card. I tell him that if one mode of payment fails, there are multiple options available and the probability of everything failing at the same time are as slim as South Africa winning the 2019 Cricket World Cup. 

He believes I carry “too little cash” and I believe he carries way too much.

Each time he makes a remark about being cashless and careless, I checkmate him: “Why do you carry so much cash, what if you get robbed?” He then resorts to classic whataboutery and says, “Someone could also steal your phone and then without cash, you’d be like Bear Grylls roaming in the forest. But lacking his skills to survive the trek and make it back to civilisation.” 

Our arguments often end up like the debate on the 9 pm news – in need of intervention from mom. But unlike panelists on TV, we have, over the years, come to a middle ground. I carry a little more cash than I would like to, and after the events on November 8, 2016, my father took a tutorial from me on online payments. He has had a State Bank of India account for decades and when he found out he could transact online using the YONO SBI app, he was more open to give it a shot and learn. After all, it is his trusted bank. It started with figuring out how a smartphone works, to tackling online messaging, then social media and now he has become a pro at online payments and shopping. 

He has a long way to go before he jumps onto the cashless by choice bandwagon. But for now, I’m just glad he has downloaded the YONO SBI app. It has become his go-to app for banking transactions, making payments, booking tickets, and more importantly getting discounts. Is there anything else that can make an Indian happier?