The nation has never have witnessed such large number of queues in its history as in the past 10 days, after demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes was announced. As about 60 per cent of the total population of India, 130 crore (80 crore), are adults, even if 25 per cent of them were standing in queue before banks and ATMs, that’s a whopping 20 crore people in queue. If all of them were put in one long queue, one foot apart, it would stretch one-and-a-half times across the circumference of the earth!
That’s indeed how long people felt their individual queues were as they waited hours on end to deposit their old currency and get new ones. So, it was not long before the ingenious Indian brain came up with ‘jugaad’ to beat the lines.
The first stroke of genius came from among the waiting crowds in Kerala. As someone joked, before necessity became the mother of invention, Kerala was born. So Keralites started the creative trend of leaving their names on pieces of paper with a stone as a paperweight, to mark their spots in the queue. They then proceeded to chill out at nearby tea shops, indulging in their favourite pastime of debate and discussion over a glass of tea, instead of standing in the sweltering heat.
Soon, followed Madhya Pradesh with its passbook queue. Citizens left their passbooks on the floor to take their place in the line, while they took refuge from the sun under the shade of nearby trees and shops.
In Gurgaon, a start-up called Done Thing, which offers Concierge services, saw a business opportunity in the queues. On making a request on the Done Thing app, you would be assigned a runner who would take your place in the queue while you continue with your routine. When it nears your turn, the runner would inform you, so that you arrive in time to deposit or exchange your money, showing your ID card. The startup would charge you Rs 100 for every hour that the runner stood in the queue instead of you.
While that was a paid service, the Chennai Tri-colour initiative — a people's movement that started after last December’s massive floods in the city to kindle the spirit of volunteering and community participation — sought volunteers to help people deal with the basic but rather harrowing process of depositing or withdrawing money, amid the swarming crowds. All it took was a Google Docs form and many volunteers signed up. The volunteers helped anguished customers at the banks as well as eased the job of bank officials by explaining the basics to those in queue and helping them fill forms.
Anticipating an opportunity in the queues to gain some quick goodwill, fast food outlets like Pizza Hut distributed free slices of pizza in many big cities like Delhi, Pune, Chennai and Bangalore to both hungry customers and harried bank staff who hardly got to time to take their regular lunch breaks.
Some big banks like State Bank of India, foreseeing the crowds from day one, put up awnings at some of their Chennai branches to shield their customers from the blistering heat and sudden showers. Some banks even hired plastic chairs and arranged them outside for the tired, cashless souls in queue. All in all, it was almost festive, like a wedding eve. All that was missing were soft drinks and short eats. And banks in Coimbatore even remedied that by offering soft drinks and snacks to their waiting customers.