Standing in the ATM queue during demonetisation I called my mother to check if she had seen the new currency (as she works in a bank in some other city). In a very underwhelming manner she said “Ah. They even don’t look like notes. Nakli lagte hain (they look fake).” There were similar reactions on social media, and What’sApp jokes called it monopoly currency, baby bank notes, indicating that they looked positively non-serious.
Well, if you come to think of it, the 2000-rupee notes do have a flimsy quality. They are small, slippery and suspiciously pink. To a country that has been used to dull and serious-looking notes this looks a bit childish.
Although we have had pink notes in the past this one stands out for its fuchsianess. One wonders if this is just another note or will it have a deeper impact on what we imagine money to be.
Can colour, texture and nature of notes subconsciously reshape our relationship with it?
Historically we have had a deep reverence for money as it was scarce and accrual was painfully slow. It was spoken about sombrely.
Therefore it never became a dinner table conversation in India. Money always had a great sense of viscosity around it and so it refused to be circulated freely. It was almost like honey; gathered with great effort over a period of time and nurtured with the tenacity of a grandfather keeping 10-rupee notes in a secret pocket of his vest.
At a time when fizoolkharchi (extravagance) could raise questions about your character, money could not, not be taken seriously.
The last decade has, however, drastically shifted how India views money. There is a greater degree of comfort around it. It now boldly legitimises individual desires.
The new pink note in that sense is a befitting expression of the new thought around money. This is a bigger value note yet it is smaller and lightweight. In a way it tells us that the value of an object today is not derived from its stature but from how dynamic it is. The vibrant pinkish purple colour gleefully announces it as an object that you can play around with and pass on quite easily.
In fact, for the first time in India, money has become currency. It now carries current, an energy that makes it easy to fly. Unlike its yesteryears’ counterparts, the new 2000-rupee note doesn’t take pride in its crispiness; instead it draws pleasure by slithering in a buttery modernity.
Frivolity is its strength and not its weakness. If the earlier notes created reverence by emanating wisdom about the times gone by, the new note enchants through the promise of future trends. The durable paper is an assurance that it won’t witherover time; it will age gracefully. It hold the promise that the future will remain rosy for a long time.
Interestingly, it also validates the notion of money as described in Indian mythology. Money is seen as chanchala (restless) and that’s how the new note intends to behave. Rightly so, it borrows the pink colour from Maa Lakshmi’s lotus but it does so through a readjustment of hue and saturation.
In fact the colour has a mystique around it. It is not conventionally pink or purple but would probably correspond to a lipstick shade which is in vogue. In that it breaks a certain continuity. Its unfamiliarity helps its charm. It subtly winks at tradition by mischievously flirting with it.
It talks to the new economy. It metaphorically flushes blood into it, reassuring everyone that economy is in the fuchsia of health. What it also does is give it circulation and speed. The new note very well understands that its power lies in moving quickly and continuously. In fact its self-actualisation lies in moving so quickly that it almost disappears. Its arrival coinciding with ‘demonetisation’ is an indicator that the new note needs to evaporate before it plants itself firmly anywhere.
It’s as if the new pink note has vowed not to stay at the same place for a very long time.
At least it can now be imagined to be forever in motion making people merrier as they come into its contact, even if fleetingly.
Even Gandhi looks a tad happier on the new pink note.
This article was also published in Hindu Business Line.