JAMMU: At a time when demonetisation has left us all groping in the dark, here's a chai and barfi vendor plying his trade on the Jammu-Pathankot highway who can tell you which denomination a currency note is just by the feel of it. So what? He's visually challenged, and has been managing his trade thus for 35 years, entirely unaided.
Bhisham Das is justly famous for his barfi, which has to be the best in the world, but also an inspiration to people in the area who throng to his shack. His vend lies amid a cluster of shops near a well called Thandi Kui in Dhamore village near Vijaypur in Samba, 25 km from Jammu. Almost every motorist passing by stops to have his tea and barfi.
The 56-year-old vendor conducts every transaction, accepting notes and returning exactly the right change, with an efficiency honed over 35 years. "My hands have got used to the texture of every currency note including the 500s and 1,000s. My hands just feel the dimensions," he says.
He is not in the least upset by the demonetisation of 500 and 1000s. "I think it's a great move by the government. I am sure I will learn the feel of the new notes, which at any rate have some features for the visually impaired. It is going to be business as usual,’’ Bhisham Das tells me.
Just to make sure, I handed Bhisham Das a Rs 500 note. He ran his fingers over it, and smiled and said, "You want me to throw this in the nearby well?’’
Das was never really happy with the Rs 500 note anyway. It was the favourite tender of counterfeiters. He's not sure that the new notes being introduced will beat the racketeers. "They," he says, waving his hands in the direction of Pakistan, "may come up with new techniques."
Bhisham Das's father migrated from West Pakistan and he was born in Jogpur village in Samba district of Jammu. he has four brothers and a sister.
Though he does not know what caused it, Das remembers being partially blind as a child. "By the time I turned 20, I was completely blind. I went to a couple of doctors in my village but they were unable to tell me what the problem was. Then I decided not to go to doctors anymore. I started this business and today, by god's grace, my family is doing well,'' says Das.
He opens the shop everyday at 11 am and mans the counter till 8 pm when his son comes to take him home, leaving the kiosk in the care of a relative. On an average, he does about Rs 10,000 per day. Has there been an instance when he got the feel of a note wrong, he smiles and he says, "Not one instance."
Apart from his chai and barfi, Bhisham Das is the star attraction of his village. "He is an example for all visually challenged people. If someone is determined, he can achieve anything," says the sarpanch of Dhamore, Sukhjinder Singh Bhola.
Adds Bhisham Das, "I strongly believe that if god takes something away he gives us something back."