By Sharan Saikumar Nov. 10, 2016
After the demonetisation of the ₹1000 and ₹500 notes last year, panic struck Mumbai’s richie-rich. With zipped gym bags, they descended upon jewellery stores.
t was 8 pm on Tuesday night. The traffucked city was giving itself up to its nightly rituals – old men were cursing the new world in front of television screens, kids were throwing iPad-time tantrums, and the millennials were getting started on their sacrament of getting soundly stoned – when the message from Modiji slipped into collective consciousness.
The housewives of suburban Mumbai, who were busy yelling at their maids to chop spring onions finely, had not had a chance to look at their diamond-crusted iPhone 7s. So when they were interrupted mid-yell by their husbands who stormed into the kitchen, they were alarmed. The women were even more confounded when their husbands made a strange request – let’s go buy jewellery right now.
Now this was the stuff of dreams, borne out of many jewellery-parched years, so it took the wives some time to process even as several diamond-lit visions exploded in their eyes, and the thought of paying for this in the bedroom in the months to come weighed them down.
Tossing the onions into the bin and resolving to shut their eyes and endure all advances, they grabbed this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and made a move to go change. However, much to their surprise, they were dragged out of the house and deposited in the car still dressed in their Bebe track pants with nary a chance to tuck in their golden-streaked hair into a fashionable bun. In the backseat of the car, sat zipped gym bags and haversacks stuffed with bundles of 500 and 1000-rupee notes.
Hearts beating fast, they slid under the half-shuttered doors of a posh jewellery store, whose manager was still making up his mind on whether to follow the rules and shut shop, or accept this windfall from Modi and the Gods.
As the husbands went to talk to the store manager, the Bebe-clad women went to swoon over the diamond neckpieces and solitaire, sparkling beneath the glass counters. A few minutes later, their husbands, now with smiling sales staff in tow, gently guided the women to the first floor, where lay the significantly less sparkling but solidly dependable metal that has never let the Indian black marketer down. Here, the husbands whispered to their wives, “Go forth and make me proud.”
The women shopped for their sisters, mothers, mothers-in-law, best friends, friends of friends, the woman who lurks in the apartment next door.
With trembling fingers, the delirious wives broke upon the cases of jewellery. Temple earrings, Navratran haars, Tarakashi earrings, Rajasthani thewa kadhas, Raani malas, Meenakari sets were commanded forth, and out they came, coyly ensconced in their velvet trays. Thence they were duly fondled, weighed, displayed against smooth skins, and oohed and aahed over, and one by one deposited in the hands of the waiting staff.
The staff, already instructed strictly to accept only those pieces with the lowest making charge (between eight per cent and 16 per cent), discarded the ones that went anywhere north of that number and were likely to bring down the monetary benefits of this illicit cash to gold conversion, and put the rest in pre-tokened trays. Even as the men cursed Modi, cursed the store manager for running out of biscuits and coins, and then cursed Modi once again, they kept nodding encouragingly at their wives, grinning bravely through the pain of losing precious margins with this purchase, and yet knowing they had absolutely no other choice.
The token tray began to pile up and the wives looked toward their husbands for a signal to stop. The signal didn’t come and so the choosing, fondling, weighing, and displaying went on well into the night. The women shopped for their sisters, mothers, mothers-in-law, best friends, friends of friends, the woman who lurks in the apartment next door. That night, the women shopped for the nation.
The sales staff, groaning under the weight of the gold, also doubled up as servers of canned juices and bottled water to aid the champions in their noble task. The husbands took the token numbers to the cash counter, where the long process of unstapling, machine counting and manual recounting began and bundles of cash poured out of zipped bags.
By the time the counting was done, empty velvet trays sat sadly under the still blazing lights and the women, exhausted by their endeavours, slumped in a post-orgasm haze. At the cashier’s desk, fake bills, each less than ₹2 lakh, were drawn up in the name of their family members, friends, and the Seven Dwarfs. Any attempt at elegant, ribboned packaging was abandoned, as the jewellery was dumped in plain brown bags and handed over like sacks of very heavy vegetables, which were then stuffed into the now empty gym bags.
As the clock struck 12, the men let out a whoop of joy and exulted to other men on their mobile phones that they had not only managed to sock Modi and his stupid #nomoreblack in his 56-inch chest, but also garnered at least a year’s worth of IOUs in bed.
As the happy couples walked out of the back exit of the store, hand in hand, with a heavy bag on each of their shoulders, the author realised she had learnt two important things about track pants and true love – the idea for a change.org petition to ban Bebe was an idea whose time had come, and all good marriages were essentially made of gold.
The author was, of course, not present at the jewellery store at the time of these proceedings and has certainly not engaged in any black-marketeering activity of her own, brought on by the excess of teen-patti earnings acquired mainly through variations like Kissing Missing and Banko. This is a work of fiction and resemblance to any character living or dead is purely coincidental.
Sharan can usually be found chasing down stories about blackmarket baby-sellers and reformed cocaine carriers. She makes up for her dark side by writing feel-good, puppy-driven prose in her free time.