Why a 500 rupee note can’t buy you a guava.

I have nothing but hazy low res photos hastily snapped with my blackberry for this post. And even though the shoddiness of it all pains me, STABS me to the core, shatters me to smithereens…still, I must tell you this story.

Four days ago, my cousin and I were scramming out of old city, Hyderabad. We were chai-deprived, hungry, and driving as fast as we could to get away from the traffic cop whose beady eyes had inconveniently landed on our illegally parked car across from a row of squished-together stalls.

600 rupees challan. [translate: Gotchya.]
Cousin – Please! My cousin is not from around here! She just had to get down and buy something from that stall, we’re leaving already!
Me [best puppy face ever] – Ditto.

Where’s your license? [translate: Question – how many different ways can I make ‘em squirm.]
Cousin – Uhh…it’s at home. Seriously, I promise. I’m just not carrying it on me today.
Me [best shit face ever] – Crap.

Come with me to the checkpost, I’m going to write you your fine. [translate: answer – …three delicious ways, and still counting…burn offenders, BURN.]
Cousin – Seriously?! We’re not getting out of the car. Can you just write the ticket, bring it over, and we’ll leave. Take my car keys if you think we’ll run away.
Me – mmmpthhthth. *incoherent hysterical grunt of frustration*

FINE. Give me 100 rupees. [translate: I won’t write you a ticket for 600, just deal out a 100 rupee note for my personal chai/paani and I’ll let you off the hook.]
Cousin – Give him 100 and let’s leave.
Me – Ummm…I have a 500 rupee note, would you have change?

Woman, I’m a cop. [translate: do I look like a cash register to you?]
Cousin – Sorry saab, no change.
Me – 500 rupees is all I got.

No… I want 100 or nothing. [translate: I can pocket 100 for my personal perks, not a penny over, else I’ll get caught.]
Cousin – …
Me – …

*Awkward silence* [translate: hrmph. Stupid pathetic ladies. Time waste. Go already – vanish!]
Cousin – Thank you saab, thank you, we’re leaving, we’re leaving!
Me [with unwanted 500 rupee note in hand] – That makes it…nothing then? I’m confused…?

Moral of the story: When life slams you with a 600 rupee fine, 500 rupee note can let you off the hook.

That, and…yeh hain India.

Next stop, chai. Cousin had been raving about the Iranian chai in old city, so there was no way we were leaving without a cup. We [legally] parked our car and strutted into an all-male tea joint with 99.9% of the benches chock full of men – bearded men, shaven men, young men, old men, happy men, sad men, staring-at-us-lecherously-men, staring-at-us-lecherously-men. The 0.1% of a bench that was available was right across from a more fatherly sort of man –uncle was kind enough to let us park ourselves on his table for a quick cup of chai.

The waiter, blushing to bits cause he’d won the ‘I-get-to-serve-ladies’ lottery that afternoon, brought over two steaming cups of Iranian chai and a plate of Hyderabad’s coveted Osmania biscuits.

One sip of that milky sweet chai, thickened over a slow consistent boil, made all the gawking men suddenly fade into the paan-stained walls. This is what the fuss was all about, and sure in hell, anything as strong yet soothing as this cardamom-hinted chai was totally worth fussing about. The strategy is to take an initial nibble of the Osmania biscuit and let it play solo in your mouth – salty, buttery, rich with a vague whiff of cardamom powder sprinkled somewhere in the crumbs. Then you dangle it in your chai. Not an all-out slam dunk else the biscuit would just melt into crumbly soggy lumps in your chai. And not a coy little dip that leaves the biscuit high and dry either. Just enough to make it soft and slightly mushy, so that the sweet chai and salty crumbs marry on your tongue and give birth to giggling little flavour bunnies that beg you to dip back into the chai once more.

Time to pay. 24 rupees…no scratch that, 26 rupees. Cousin just lifted one more biscuit off the plate, and this shack charged by the biscuit. Great. That meant my plate of biscuits at 2 rupees each had probably been manhandled by at least one of those gawking men before it landed up in front of me. Sigh…hygiene to the rabid dogs…those biscuits were still totally irresistible. I enjoyed every bite to the last mushy melting buttery crumbly chai-sodden moment, trying to tune out all potential ominous-sounding diseases I could be afflicted with because I’d dug into a shared pile of biscuits. After all, whatdya expect. Yeh hain India.

26 rupees madam. We had only 18 rupees in change. And my fancy 500 rupee note. Which meant that we were back to the ‘no change for 500′ scenario. Crap. Could we pay the balance with dirham coins? A dirham is thirteen rupees and you know what, we’ll be extra sweet and leave you boys TWO dirhams so that you have a nice fat tip?

No. [translate: HELL NO…and red alert, we have crazy women in the house.]

In our desperation, we dragged the tea boy with us back to the car so that we could gather up any coins stashed away in the corners, near the A/C, near the gearbox, anything, to pay off what my 500 rupee note could not. Mission accomplished. The tea boy walked away with his 26 rupees, and with a few more generous coins to spare.

Perfect. All’s well that end’s well. We reversed the car to leave, until we realized that we had yet to pay the boy manning the sandy little space that he’d claimed as his formal parking lot. 20 rupees sister.

You know the drill by now. No. Effing. Change.

We were beggars holding a blasted worthless 500 rupee note. We stripped the car bare, finally mustering up two precious 5 rupee coins. The rest…just had to be on the house. 10 rupees only…no change…sorry brother.

I pondered over the inverted insanity of the entire situation on the ride home. We had effectively practiced the most advanced [translate: screwed-up] form of begging…payment evasion…that I have personally ever come across. Heck, we both could be politicians.

My thoughts were interrupted by a line of street carts piled high with pyramids of green guavas, the kind you cut open and sprinkle with salt and chilli. I eyed them greedily through the window like a child does through a chocolate cake display. I wanted just one tiny guava, maybe just 3 rupees?… I wanted it bad, and I could afford 166.67 of them in one fell swoop with my 500 rupee heavyweight. But I wanted just one, just one semi-ripe and sweet one.

My cousin shifted her gaze off the road and glanced at my needy stare, grinning. I looked back at her hungry and pathetic…I know. No guava. I got no change.

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

18 thoughts on “Why a 500 rupee note can’t buy you a guava.

  1. dina says:

    hahaha… u just keep getting better!!!! I have been in a similar scenario!!! but yeh, i got change from a beggar next to the stall!!!!!

  2. zerin says:

    Seriously, Yeh Hai india meri jaan!!! super story !!! I once had a beggar giver me back a ruppee coin which I handed out to him, telling me that I could keep it! (like in your story, that was all the change I could rummage from my purse other than the blasted Rs. 500 note!)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @chiragnd – don’t you love how the crappiest moments in life can be so entertaining…in hindsight?!

      @dina – hahaha…now why in the world didn’t I think of that? Beg borrow steal for change. ;)

      @Kulsum – Amen. :)

      @Rajani – lemme complete that. 500 rupee note…you rock as long as you’re sitting cushy in a bank account making interest. Old city runs on change. No change, no game. ;)

      @zerin – hahaha…wow, moral of the story – take 500 rupee note. go to bank. exchange for sack of coins.

  3. elainegan says:

    Lol, love a good fun post!
    Actually even here in Dubai (with ATMs spewing out Aed200, 500s) i’m still annoyed that some restaurants or supermarkets boldly ask for smaller change?!

  4. farwin says:

    loved this to bits,Arva…I love your way of writing,totally engaging…I have had similar experiences too back at home and here in Dubai where there are children’s rides in which you have to insert coins.I have waved notes and begged for coins coz the kids never let me off the hook till they get to ride in those.. :)

  5. ginger and scotch says:

    LOL! What a crazy world we live in.

    I shake in fear every time the ATM dispenses a 500 dirham note bc of all the hassle it always causes when trying to break it for change.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @elainegan – me sees an opportunity to design these awesome change breaker machines. I could be FAAAAMOOUS.
      …wait, don’t they already have these in some parts of the world?
      …no matter, I will make them for Dubai and India and get rich. [GRAND MASTERPLAN]
      [shucks…I probably shouldn’t have written my get-rich masterplan up here for the world to see…doops.]

      @Sarah the hedonista – you do, and make sure you get tons of paisa coins before you go!

      @farwin – thank you! you know, little kids asking for teeny change = not a problem. big kids asking for big bucks = mega problem. enjoy the ’lil ones while you can! ;)

      @ginger and scotch – I should stand next to ATMs and save people the hassle by offering to take away those ghastly 500 dirham notes…
      I have found my sole purpose in life. Hallelujah.

  6. dubaiveggrowers says:

    lol I have had a a few such encounters with uniformed men on the streets of Karachi….even the most stern looking ones will shift their gaze and stroke their chins thoughtfully – hint, hint- u r lucky he quoted the amount- usually with me, they just mumble ’kuch chai pawn ka kharcha’ and then u work it out yourself…..

  7. chefandsteward says:

    Mad funny! Very witty, dah-ling. I know what you mean.. and it seems India may have yet another thing common with the informal sector in Jamaica, which also often includes police and traffic offences- pay your way out. Though I must warn than in Jamaica, you had better have change or part with all of it!

  8. najla koya says:

    Yeh Hain India!! hahaaa.. loved ur encounter with the cop.. his personal disapproval of taking more than 100 rupees. Quite an honest chap ;) .

  9. Rads says:

    haha…great post Arva !! what an amusing series of events :) faced something similar this holiday , when I could not use my 100 $ to buy food on a flight and just sat there for 5 hours with my tummy growling !! fun times :) lol …

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @dubaiveggrowers – hahaha…in that case, I would start from the lowest denomination (IF i had the change) and work my way up…ek paisa, no? do paise? no?…

      @chefandsteward – I think I got plain lucky, every other cop in India probably behaves exactly how the guys in Jamaica would…I met the most honest cheating cop in the book ;)

      @najla koya – I know. Either that, or he had a pretty messed up math teacher in high school.

      @Rads – no way, even in a first world country hm. I would have bought up enough snack boxes for a 100 bucks and eaten it for the rest of the week…can’t deal with hunger, especially when I’m mid-air. GROWL.

  10. Zain says:

    am from Hyderabad as well…a few tips on the best chai (tea) there, the Blue Sea at Secunderabad and the Red Rose at Kapadia Lane have awesome chai, the best osmania biscuits by far are from Subhan bakery, next time bring it with u and give it to ur friends here…they will go crazy!

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @eac3d12dafc4ddc59834a1c425863d3f:disqus – Thanks for the recommendations! :) I have yet to try Blue Sea and Red Rose, though Subhan bakery has been checked off the list – we get our biscuits from them all the time too! 

      And on that note…I’m craving some warm buttery salty Osmania biscuits…

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