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Friday, September 21, 2012


Vehngi of the vendor looked like the
one in this historic painting.
It is true, but hard to understand why value of money has eroded so exponentially since the last decade. Perhaps it is all due to unbridled inflation in our country, fuelled by faulty economic policies and the scourge of widespread corruption.
There were days in the long gone past, when hundred rupees’d buy provisions for the family and one paisa had some value. Let me take you back to nineteen fifties when I was a little girl and had a friend who had many siblings and her mother was perpetually in some stage of pregnancy. (My later deductions). But financially they were sound as the father of my friend had a well paying job. You won’t believe, but on the outer wall of their house was written in bold numbers Rs.500/-Tankhah (salary) for public consumption. I read it whenever I visited the house but never gave it a thought beyond the mere numbers. One day I overheard my mother and a neighbour referring casually about this aspect. Rupees five hundred was a large sum of money in those good old days and thus was publicized perhaps to proclaim the family’s exclusive status. People were tolerant then and accepted it anyways. So much for this amusing idiosyncrasy!
Traversing the past through the memory lane, here is a sneak view of the spending power of a paisa then.
It was about that time that I joined primary school and my mom used to give me a taka (a two paisa coin) as pocket money in the morning (some days) before I went to school. It was like possessing a fortune. I soon graduated to one anna after throwing tantrums. Some children just got one paisa, but that didn't dent their joy. This was enough to buy a handful of groundnuts and gachak (jaggery mixed with nuts).There was sufficient choice though. The vendor used to have triangular shaped paper bags to give the stuff in. In the last period before recess, we experienced over active taste buds, in anticipation of the mouthwatering goodies to be consumed. As soon as the bell chimed, the jubilant youngsters’d run to the vendor, encircling his wares and creating a din, wanting to be the first to be served. The poor man joyfully attended to everyone and even gave the jhunga (small amount free) to every child, who’d scamper away victoriously The nuts tasted swell and sometimes few shells were munched along with the nuts to prolong the finishing point. The simple fare was a favourite of all and each day the desire to enjoy the stuff in no way lessened. The law of diminishing utility was irrelevant then. The kind vendor had a special place in the hearts of children, as his wares provided untold joy.
His silhouette is still outlined in the reservoir of my childhood memories. On digging deep, I spy a swarthy, middle aged, lanky figure, attired in grimy whites- a loosely tied turban, a full sleeved shirt and a large sheet of cloth tied to his waist which covered three fourth of his legs and bared sharply boned dark ankles and thin forelegs. On his feet were shoes made of cheap, partially treated, brown leather by a village cobbler. He balanced a wooden bar (vehngi) on his sinewy shoulders, carrying his wares in, two large, round, flat bottomed, short brimmed baskets made of bamboo.They were threaded securely at three places each at the bottom with sturdy ropes and tied through a hole to the edges of the wooden bar, suspending it down to waist length. I can recollect his receding figure moving jauntily away and the pleasure of doing good business palpable in his steps. He charmed the little ones with his heart of gold.
A little later in time, while coming home with friends after school hours, during hot summers, we ‘d converge around a hand cart selling barf da gola (grated ice formed into round shape, around a stick and saturated with multi-coloured sweetened water). We were transported onto seventh heaven of pleasure as we sucked and licked the iced magic. We were picture of innocence and naivety and free like birds. The only thing which mattered was the simple joys in the company of friends.


The denomination of Indian currency before decimalization in 1961:*

One rupee = 16 annas / 64 paise / 192 pies

Atthannee = 8 annas / 32 paise

Chawanee = 4 annas / 16 paise

Dawannee = 2 annas / 8 paise

Anna = 4 paise

Taka = 2 paise

Paisa = 1/64 rupee

Dhela = ½ paisa

Pie/ Dhamri = 1/3 paisa

*Our Arithmetic sums in school had a lot of inter-conversion of various denominations.

Image courtesy:
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  1. Sheer magic Uppalji. How did you remember the vendor so clearly? This is written in a flowing style straight from the heart.
    Do go on. Dig into your memories and give us more treats, please.

    Loved it.

  2. Hi Pattu, I'm so glad you liked it.Thanks a lot for those encouraging words.
    Oh yes,curiously enough my childhood memories are vividly outlined in my subconscious.I only need to concentrate for a day or two while taking a walk and the impressions get refined.

  3. I read this post again today and crave to have the the old but gone sharpness of the taste buds again. How stupid of me to long for the impossible!