India Insights: How can 10 rupees be worth more than 100 rupees?

I leave the house in the morning, and run through a mental checklist. Wallet – check. Cell phone – check. Keys – check. Wad of 10-rupee notes and assorted coins – check.

Change is king here. I need it, I hoard it, and I part with it wistfully and often under duress. It’s actually kind of funny, to tell you the truth. I mean, I get it. If you’re a rickshaw driver, or a chai wallah or a shoeshine guy and you’re doing hundreds of small ticket transactions a day, then you need change. And you can’t suffer fools when some customer tries to pay for a 4 rupee chai with a 100 rupee note. Not cool. And I get that.

But the funny thing is, there are a lot of more formal businesses – car service companies, fancy coffee shops, department stores – where you simply can’t extract a 10-rupee note if your life depended on it. At a Cafe Coffee Day one time, I was about THIS CLOSE to getting my coffee totally for free for the fact that the woman at the register didn’t want to break into a new wad of tens she had under the tray. Crazy.

This quirk has been an accepted part of my day to day since I moved here a year ago, and I’ve found ways to adapt. In fact, when I lived in Hyderabad, I once went to a liquor store around the corner from my first apartment and changed out a 1000 rupee note for 99 ten-rupee notes. 1% commission was no big thing. After all, those rickshaw drivers were killing me and I wanted to have exact change to support whatever negotiated price I’d settled on.

However, the ten-rupee note thing came to a head the other day at, of all places, the bank. Long story short, I am sans ATM card for a few days, and while waiting for my new one to come, I withdrew some cash at the bank. While there, I figured, “Hey, let me go get some tens so I can make rickshaw change, chai change, etc.”

With two 500-rupee notes in hand, I walked back to the cash cabin, and politely asked the gentlemen sitting at the desk, “Hi. Can I have some change, please?”

“Yes, yes. No problem. You want hundreds? Fifties?”

“No thanks, I just got hundreds and fifties from the teller. Can I have a hundred ten-rupee notes please?” I asked, showing them the two 500-rupee notes.

“No no. Not possible. No tens.”

WHAAAAAAAA? My face widened into a smile, and I must have looked totally incredulous.

“Really?” I asked, “No tens?”

“No sir, sorry sir, no tens, sir.”

I was not to be deterred. “Guys, I’m sorry, but I know you have tens. The teller told me you have tens. And you’re the bank. You have to have tens. It’s your duty!”

“No sir, sorry sir, no tens, sir.”

I tried again. “Please? I know you have tens. I just want a few. Can I please have some?”

This time, god only knows why, it worked. “Okay sir. Wait outside. Two minutes.”

Two minutes later, he beckoned me inside. I watched as a machine counted out 100 ten-rupee notes, fresh and crisp from the vault. I smiled at my adversaries, “Thank you.” I got the head bob in return, with a couple smiles to boot.

Small victories.

And THAT, my friends, is why 10 rupees can – and often is – worth more to the average Indian resident than 100 rupees.

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About Rob

Twitter @robertkatz
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2 Responses to India Insights: How can 10 rupees be worth more than 100 rupees?

  1. Minna Katz says:

    We love your blogs on day to day life in India!!
    Things that we take for granted ,you have to negotiate,and visa versa!!
    But a smile-a BIG smile,can work wonders in almost any country!!
    Love, and hugs

  2. Wilma says:

    Reminds me of 30 years ago when we picked up a paycheck at a bank in Greece with a couple of thousand dollars US in 100 drachma notes. Paper bags full of them. That was the largest denomination they had, although others existed. Hard to hide in our rental house, so under the bed in a suitcase was the solution. Had to get most of them to Italy to convert into larger denominations and reduce the bulk.

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