By Dhyan Abeyagoonasekera
Money, yes money, the stuff that makes the world and everybody on it, go round and round is indispensable. It superseded the ‘I’ll give you this for that’ in singles or in numbers in systems of bartering adopted by our ancients. However when buying from the corner boutique or from bigger places made big strides in the world ‘this for that’ arrangements gave way to what is called ‘money’ and financial institutions like banks.
Identification with money
And money became a medium of exchange. Various types of currencies were established in different countries in the form of ‘coin’ money and more aesthetically designed ‘paper money’ bearing the mugs of famous people in the country concerned. ‘Paper’ used to make currency notes made stronger with the mixing of linen and other synthetic fibres was designed to withstand a beating in the hands of the public.
In world finance, American dollars, Sterling pounds and Euros became strong and also benchmarks in international finance. In fact it seems that these currencies appear to lay emphasis on their supremacy, through the very appearance of their coins and currency notes–beautifully made and looking practically indestructible.
Something else happened: people took a certain pride in their currency. So for the British it was the sterling pound, the dollar for the Americans, Euro for the Euro zone countries, Yen of the Japanese and so on.
Of course the same cannot be said with certain other currencies that look more like hand-me-down clothes pilfered from the Red Cross. Money in Sri Lanka belonged to this category as Tommo a pussycat and Ooty an owl employed at the Wallside Restaurant and Bar found out during their errands for Joy the restaurant owner’s wife.
The pussy and the owl problems with government stuff representing exchange values began when they bought stamps at the local post office.
“I want stamps for thirty rupees,” meeowwed pussy when his turn came at the counter to ‘Register’ one of Joy’s letters.
“No thirty rupee stamps,” said a partly painted damsel sitting at the counter, “but can give mixed.”
“That’s all right,” purred pussy. (What else is there to do?)
The postal miss went on to open a tattered book of sorts looking as weary as the post office. She kept opening tagged pages to tear out stamps bearing various values totaling Rs 30 for the registration. She counted, “Five, five, ten, ten,” and pushed four stamps of those values across the counter quite dexterously and looked towards someone else in the queue behind the pussy.
It was when pussy tried to paste the stamps on an envelope given by Joy, that he realized that one stamp was torn and the corner of another missing. He lost no time in complaining to the miss in charge of selling the stamps.
“That’s all right. All our stamps get damaged easily; no problem–just paste them as they are,” she said.
Her reply confused pussy who was under the impression that damaged stamps are not valid. But the lady said it was OK, didn’t she? So pussy licked the torn stamp and stuck it along with the torn one and the two good ones–but the stamps refused to stick completely–their corners turned up like dog -eared pages of a well-thumbed novel.
“Thuhootohgosh (Gosh). Will the stamps last the journey of Mrs Shelton’s letter?”
“No way, that’s the reason I want to paste them down with some gum,” said pussy heading for a dirty bottle with a broken ballpoint pen sticking out of it. That was post office gum kept in readiness to paste stamps that resist pasting. (Sure, the post office people knew all about it.)
“Whoom, whooom, so much so for our governors’ stamps. Don’t they have any standards in these things? Wonder what else is in store for us.” The two friends encountered a sample of their governors’ ‘what else’ at the counter of a super-market.
Money pains in Sri Lanka
“That will be Rs 3439.25; cash or card?” A poker – faced counter girl in a gaudy uniform asked pussy who was ready with Joy’s money. After counting the money paid by pussy, she asked, “ Do you have 25 cents change?”
“Meeoow, let me see,” said pussy rummaging in his wallet. He pulled out some notes and gave them to Miss Poker. “Sorry, but I don’t have coins” pussy was interrupted by a “Yuk, from where do you get these? I can’t accept these,” on the part of an annoyed poker-face who was dangling between two fingers a dying twenty rupee note and two clearly dead and putrefying ten rupee notes. She could not have been faulted: the paper money looked as if they had been fished out of a sewer and wiped dry on grass. The ten rupee notes looked worse than its twenty rupee brother with one torn tenner, repaired with sticky tape while the other, equally dirty, bore someone’s sewer- washed signature.
“Purrshsh, but, that money is in circulation; so it’s good for payment, no?” And pussy was right.
Miss Poker scowled, threw the money into her drawer and asked again, “Don’t you have 25 cents to give?” Pussy shook his head. “I don’t have change, shall I give you a toffee instead?” she asked with her hand on a bottle of candy.
“My friend doesn’t eat toffees, but he looovee..s milk” thuhooted the owl in support of his pal.
“Purrr, thanks Ooty, that’s a good alternative. I’ll have a Milo,” grinned Tommo. “If payment can be made in toffees, remind me to bring some the next time.”
It tells a story
Poker-face went red, “I can’t be blamed for this situation, sir, take it up with the authoritiesê”
“Purshsh! That dame was right, what can she do if our governors don’t care about the condition of their paper money, the shortage of coins or excuses for postal stamps among many other things.” The owl and the pussy were driving back after meeting Joy’s requirements.
“It’s a damn shame really. I nearly fainted when I saw those notes in that dame’s hands. What would visitors to this country think of our governors? But then it’s not up to the governors, is it? Their government must see that stamps and currency notes used in their country reflect the strength of character and status of the country, its people and its administration ê”“Meeooww, ha-ha-haaa” pussy chortled the way pussies do. Throwing his butt out of the car window he asked, “Are you that dense? Our governors’ government lost in the woods is doing a great job of doing just that by setting up mirrors that reflect inadequacies and the state of the country lying among the dregs in a barrel. Some might say that the quality of stamps and paper money is a minor issue, but it leaks a subtle tale to the world and the leak is getting heavier by the dayê.”
Our Tourist industry is missing a cheap cost-effective trick that is used shamelessly by other countries. We seem to be blessed with beautiful tourist attractions and I cannot understand why these are not depicted in our stamps that especially go overseas. It would be profitable too as these stamps get collected and not used.
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