Schoolteacher Trinanjan Chatterjee exchanges candies with the man at the ferry service ticket counter every other day. Tired of haggling over small change and getting late for school, he came up with this sweet solution, literally — pay the man at the counter back in his own candy…er…coin.
From neighbourhood grocery shops to shopping malls, paan kiosks to bookstores, autos, buses or ferries, two words seem to be chasing customers and commuters — “khuchro deben (please give change)”. With coins becoming as elusive as Maria Sharapova’s dream of beating Serena Williams, everyone from bus conductors to shop assistants seem to be coming up with novel ideas to fight the “change war”.
“The ferry fare is Rs 2 from Hasnabad to Hingalgunj, where my school is located, and I have to give Re 1 each at the ticket counter and to the boatman. They always demand change and often, the man at the ticket counter gives a candy instead of the balance if I can’t give the exact amount,” said Chatterjee, a resident of Dum Dum Park. “So I decided to stock the candies and give them back at the counter instead of change. Tit for tat!”
Not unlike the rather ingenious cabbie in the TV commercial who refuses to return a rupee to his passenger and instead offers to show him a video of Kareena Kapoor shaking her booty.
So acute is the shortage of small change that Calcuttans are more worried about it than waterlogging this monsoon. Sudipto Mukhopadhyay, 29, learnt what it means not to carry coins during his weeklong trip to the city. The professor from Delhi boarded a bus from Hatibagan to go to Amherst Street and handed the conductor a Rs 10 note. Mukhopadhyay was taken aback when the conductor gave him a coupon worth Rs 5 instead of change.
The conductor proceeded to explain that he could redeem the coupon on any bus on the routes mentioned on it. “This is strange! Now I have to take a bus on these routes just to get the balance!” Mukhopadhyay protested.
His co-passenger Madhusudan Kamley felt the “balance slip” was a good idea. “It’s a relief for regular passengers like us. Now we don’t have to bother about coins everyday.”
The story is much the same at shops, where customers are often left with no choice but to buy bookmarks, toffees or chewing gum to make up for change. The idea has found such currency that several shops now stock such items near the cash counter.
Saugata Banerjee, a bank employee, went to a premium sports store at a mall last week to buy a pair of shoes. While making the bill, the man at the cash counter asked him to choose a key chain or a magnetic club emblem to round up the amount. “I didn’t want any of those items,” said Banerjee, who managed to procure the balance after some debate.
Not everyone is as lucky. A young executive recently had this to say on his Facebook status update: “If one needs a lot of money to live in Mumbai, then one needs a lot of short change to survive in Calcutta...”. The young executive, who moved to the city recently from Mumbai, had been asked to get off an auto on the Bridge No.4-Chandni Chowk route after admitting to not carrying small change.
Auto drivers and shopowners say they are forced to buy change at a high rate of interest. “We have to give Rs 15-20 extra for small change worth Rs 100. I spend around Rs 75-100 every morning to get change for Rs 500,” said an auto driver on the Ahiritola-Ultadanga route.