Cash aisaa hotaa!


Currency notes fished out of a wetland in Guwahati. Photos by UJJAL DEB

MY FATHER probably suspected I would become a journalist. So he gave me a plant on my ninth birthday.

“This money plant will grow,” he said, stopping short of adding “into a rich tree”. All it needs for you to prosper is a bowl of water, he winked.

I live in Guwahati’s Srinagar locality. This has often made me wonder if there’s a locality named Guwahati in the Srinagar up north.

Not far from our Srinagar is Silshako Beel, a wetland that yielded Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes earlier this year. That did not make the water body our Dal Lake, but it certainly gave us the feel of living in Cashmir. It also showed Dispur, essentially a locality in Guwahati, what ‘capital’ meant.

The Poisa Pukhuri – Assamese for Paisa Pond, as the ‘beel’ came to be nicknamed – made a statement: money floats. But how on earth did the money get there? Did someone try to soften hard cash the wet way? Or did the cash fall from a huge invisible money plant optimists had sown believing what a bowl of water can do a wetland can do better?

Father couldn’t have chosen a better year – 1976 – to gift the money plant. It was when Abba went ‘Money, money, money’ on what it means to live outside a rich man’s world, Willie Nelson sang ‘If you’ve got the money, I’ve got the time’ and The Steve Miller Band exhorted us to ‘Take the money and run’.

It was also when Mehmood’s Sabse Bada Rupiaya released. The film’s title song, inspired by the title song of the Depression-induced Hollywood musical 42nd Street (1933), claimed money was bigger than your baap, maiya, biwi and bachcha.

A bachcha… oops… Bachchan named Abhiskeh acknowledged Mehmood’s assertion by lip-syncing the line in Bluffmaster in 2005. But Liza Minnelli had in the 1968 movie Cabaret beaten them to this formoolah insisting ‘Money makes the world go around’.

Years later, Cyndi Lauper crooned ‘Money changes everything’ probably because The Beatles had to deal with the ‘Taxman’ and Pink Floyd found out how gaseous it could be. And while Dire Straits disclosed we could earn ‘Money for nothing’ by just playing a guitar, AC/DC told us ‘Money talks’.

The other day, I made Mr Money talk. “Do I grow on trees? Let’s put it this way; the tree and I are inseparable,” he said.

Did he mean the process a tree undergoes to turn into paper money? Or did he allude to the trees that became fossils 10,000 years ago to yield money in the form of coal?

I will have to refer to Coal Khaata – the audit book, not the City of Joy – to tell you how much money. But before that I have to rush to the nearest bank branch or the wife will haul me over the coals.

Which tree the bank is a branch of? Maybe the one on which money grows.

(This came out as a middle in Hindustan Times on 27 September 2012)

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About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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