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Death of a powerful idiom (ek muhaavare ki akaal mrityu)

The Reserve Bank Of India (RBI) has consigned to history the 25 paise coin, called in public parlance as “chavanni”. The coin is no more a legal tender. Can the idiom “chavanni chhaap” survive this economic assault on linguistic usage? The mandarins of the RBI are rich men and women, a part of the global banking pool of talent, who are busy devising newer methods of serving the interests of the commoners. But by discontinuing the chavanni they have given evidence of their total disconnect with the prevailing economic realities of life in rural India. In the big cities like Delhi, the chavanni had ceased to be legal tender more than 25 years ago. I realized it when the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus conductor refused to accept the fair in 4 coins of the chavanni. Now even the good old athhanni (50 paise coin) is not accepted in Delhi, threatening the death of yet another very powerful idiom “aamadani athhanni kharchaa rupaiya”. Had the RBI paid even the slightest attention to the poverty of the commoners in real terms, it would never have shown such a gross cruelty towards the humble but widely used money unit in day to day financial transactions of the people. I remember having witnessed eatables being sold for a chavanni at bus stops or railway stations outside the glamorous cities like Delhi, around the same time the DTC bus conductor refused to accept the fare in 4 coins of the chavanni.

It was the usual practice for the well to do to throw coins in the denomination of chavannis at the street urchins while moving in a marriage procession on the public roads. All that has come to an end now. How illiberal of the RBI?  They have deprived a large chunk of society of genuine entertainment at such cheap rates. In fact, it only highlights the difference in the economic philosophies of nations: keeping the costs down or raising them high, providing goods & services at cheap rates or high rates! Depending on the choice made, one can become a capitalist and another a socialist; one United States of America (USA) or another Nehruvian India. What the RBI is doing is attempting to consign to history the socialist economic philosophy for the capitalist ideology, in bared complicity with the government economic decision makers. It has resulted in the insensitivity displayed without as much as the slightest remorse by the Manmohan Singh government since 2004. Capitalism sells unethical price behavior as economic growth, even when it knows it to be unsustainable. The global economic meltdown of the last decade should have made the rulers wise. But what can they do if being pushed hard by capitalist instruments like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Embassies of the capitalist countries and their economic intelligence outfits?  Slightest resistance to the desired change (desired by capitalism) can change the government. A deadly combination of technology and economics is going to usher in the neo-colonialism even before the first half of the twenty first century is crossed.

The discontinuance of the chavanni has not only robbed the people of the most interesting sight of elephant  riding big people showering chavannis at whosoever desired to pick them up, but also the whole pleasure of watching the films in cinema halls. The cheapest seats in the cinema halls went a chavanni each and they were the most sought after. The crowds comprised the working classes mostly, who have been vividly celebrated by D.H. Lawrence in his novels. These people displayed their virility in gay abundance in the cinema hall every time the hero and the heroine indulged in some love scene. The shouts, the moans and the groans spiced the script of the film with dialogues instantly delivered in the cinema hall. That elated most people, who were shy to openly express themselves and made them appreciate better the twentieth century veneration of romance and even relationships. Thanks to these chavanni chhaap audiences, the pleasure of watching films was greatly enhanced. Students, being generally surviving on a really very very low budget, would have liked to get a ticket for the chavanni seats, but never succeeded because of the sheer crowd of audiences, who were more masculine than themselves. The women could never think of sitting on those seats and hence were compelled to spend many times more to buy a ticket for a heavier price for a seat in the segment called “balcony”. The virile behavior of audiences in the front seats, as they were nearest to the screen, earned them the good old title of “chavanni chhaap”, meaning behaving like the audiences in the front seats. That never deterred the working class audiences from making a success of any film, as they had no other entertainment, being migrant workers generally in a city (no cinema halls in villages even now) and had to better manage their finances—why would a cinema going labourer waste ten times more when he could watch the film for just 25 paise or a chavanni? It made no sense, excepting for the RBI, WB or IMF! The workers needed to save and support their families back in the village, who would starve without the remittances from their earning members in the cities. There is, unfortunately, no change in the economic conditions in India beyond the borders of mega cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad or Calcutta. The chavanni can still lead to fights among children in the remote places in India, as an athhanni can throw up the same argument in Delhi. RBI must take note that the consumer is never given the 50 paise coin by vendors in Delhi, instead a toffee is given! A wonderful barter system outside the reign of the RBI with the only exception that the vendor doesn’t accept the toffee from the consumer!

There was nothing wrong with the chavanni acquiring the force of an idiom, excepting that it tended to suggest disapproval. A very funny kind of reaction from the classes towards the masses. Is virility a virtue or vice? Are the masculine to be deprecated or appreciated? What are better-showing true emotions while watching it being built up or suppressing it? Can that significant moment be lived at all after hours on returning home? Is it worth it? Does emotion survive so long or is short lived, particularly when not being personal but only on the celluloid? Why then discriminate against the working classes by calling them chavanni chhaap? Is the experience of love different for the two? Do the two classes “feel” different while undergoing the emotion of love? Or is it only the language of the expression that discriminates the two? But should the language be artificial in an emotional area like love? Isn’t the roughness, the rudeness or the crudity of the virile the only sought after goal of love making? An honest self scrutiny alone will throw up an honest answer. The masses may live in homes, but the labourer lives, procreates, is born and grows up on the street in the open under the sky. If the process of procreation, birth and death can be experienced in the open, why can’t the romance of the emotions in the cinema hall? Films don’t sell romance alone, they draw tears too and provoke the chivalrous or the rebel at the villainy of the villain. Can the city people react so vigorously? They seem to have lost their virility, at least in comparison to the virile working classes. Now the RBI has robbed the classes of their privilege to call somebody chavanni chhaap!

Over the years the idiom has stretched itself to cover the ranks of political outfits, who are easily acerbic and can convert peace to violence without any palpable reason or command from their patrons. But they are one of the most feared lot at the cutting edge of administration, who have to directly interact with the citizens daily, like the municipal workers or electricity or water supply officials etc. Such elements are a new kind of labour, yet to be accorded recognition by the International Labour Organization (ILO). They are “Cheap Political Labourers”. They are almost un-paid, prepared to stake their lives for the political commander, who is livid in his/her denigration of capitalism even when being counted among the few millionaires of the country! On provocation, the commander is quick to remind his/her opponent as chavanni chhaap or show him his place by saying that “tumahaari aukaat chavanni ki bhi nahi hai”.

This RBI move also prophesies the creeping end of cinema halls, which have been already under severe financial strains ever since the terrorists made them the target of their explosions. The classes have long stopped watching movies in cinema halls—they own Home Theatres. Besides, television has already made the exercise of going to the cinema hall redundant. What it means in economic terms does not seem to have been considered by the RBI. But the IMF, World Bank & the ILO must certainly devote their specialist skills to the issue in the interests of the labour class and economics. After all the entertainment industry is a money (tax) spinner and is certainly healthier than several other kinds of entertainments being pushed by capitalism in the developing countries’ markets. Human beings are more than mere markets!

Inspite of the RBI discontinuing with the sweet coin chavanni, its idiomatic usage shall continue as long as economic & socio-political dialogues continue to engage public attention. The only anxiety is if it presages the similar death of the athhanni or the 50 paise coin? Because that is the economic barometer of the people in India. The majority of Indians really have no more incomes than can meet even 50% of their needs. The idiom alone cryptically sums up the economic conditions of the average Indian, as the expenses are one rupee when the income is only half a rupee or athhanni i.e. 50 paise. Economic czars can understand the consumption possibilities of the commoners, whose income can hardly buy them half their requirements. When consumption is so low, malnutrition is bound to occur and when malnutrition occurs, diseases follow rather earnestly, bringing insufficient incomes under more stress. To meet the consumption requirements, resorting to loans or debts is common practice. Once in that vice like grip of debts, the individual along with the family loses all economic freedom. The grip starts tightening henceforth, as the cycle never comes to an end. From individuals to nations, the economic consequences of debt are the same. Economic growths fuelled artificially on loans for consumption yield results witnessed in the US housing sector in the last decade and is happening elsewhere in the world. Unfair economic policies are breaking nations into more independent units—the number of member countries of the UN has gone up since 1945!

The question is: will de-monetization of the chavanni lead to improvement of the economic status of the masses? Will the forthcoming demonetization of the athhanni improve the economic status further? Is demonetization the right way of strengthening the economy or imparting it muscle? Treating currency in this fashion will weaken the economy. Chavanni today, athhanni tomorrow and the one rupee coin next. Acting on behalf of the capitalist world is leading to mismanagement of the economy. Merely because less than 190 Indians have maintained secret accounts with foreign banks and not more than 1900 have hidden thousands of crores from the tax authorities, the chavanni does not lose its value for the common man, who is prepared to lay even his life for the dream of a government, which will take care of his needs one day. The food security act is one such dream, imitated from rupees 2 a kilo rice in some states of the southern parts of India. The state there has played smart with the gullible masses by collecting several times more revenue on liquor than spent on distribution of rice @ 2/kg. The state commits a sin by not teaching the masses how to fish, but feeds them fish once in a while. The humble chavanni at least satisfied the poorest among the poor, the most disadvantaged among the disadvantaged and the severely deprived among the deprived. RBI please have a relook at your policies to assure the aam aadmi that you will not undermine further their purchasing capacity.

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