Posted in Economic

Digitalization drive: transforming rural India like never before.

Time to take stock of UPI payments enabled in India. This came close on the heels of demonetization. Paperless transactions may never have amounted to this magnitude in days before demonetization. It was quick and easy for petty shopkeepers and even street hawkers to seamlessly switch over to UPI payments because, even the villagers and rural artisans who have not have received elementary education have turned out to be tech savvy today when it comes to smart phones and can follow maps and keep track of bill payments etc. Digitalization therefore materialized in India more out of necessity as the nation ran out of cash overnight with demonetization. Recently I was in Kerala. As we thronged the streets of Guruvayur, I and my friend found that we did not carry enough cash and our cards were not being accepted anywhere. We were not exactly shopping for big brands whose franchisees had opened posh showrooms or chains in the backstreets. The petty shops, arguably, may not have impressive volumes of turnover. We shopped for papads, nendram (a kind of banana) chips (deepfried in coconut oil) (that Kerala is famous for), lamps, sweets etc. Our bills in the snacks shops couldn’t have exceeded 200-300 bucks. The shopowners too were not the kind to wait for credit card payments settlements. As we know, the credit cards have a window of 3 months for final bill honour and settlement from merchant banks. Running cash remains crucial for small businesses. Plus since I have a phone from Middle east where some features in Playstore are disabled, I do not have Gpay. I have though downloaded desi Phonepe that the shopowners did not have even if they did have the universal payment method Gpay. In which case I had to scan the QR code and make instant payment. The places were not as crowded as the fastfoods in Mumbai that may necessitate speaker announcements for payments received. But the billing clerk and the salesmen did verify and confirm with each other on the spot in the shops in the Guruvayurvappan temple Sannadhi street whether payments were received. Before anyone left the shop,t the verifications were done superfast. These are small things that do not come packaged with qr codes printed in the merchandise to emit the beep sound if someone left with a stolen item. The shopowners needed to be super alert given that the chips packets, pickles and other nibbles and edibles were displayed right through the small shop and were also hanging from roof in suspenders. It must be tough to keep track. But they seemed to have perfected a way to keep track of sales and payments. It would be interesting to see what they would do should there be a crowd. When we were shopping, there weren’t more than a dozen shoppers that made it easy for the petty shopkeepers to keep an eye on every transaction. Even so, the small shops seemed to be stuffy. Its true, from the tender coconut vending woman in the street side to the pani puri wala hawking everything from bhel puri to sandwiches and steamed dimsums in busy market places, everybody has gone cashless. Last two years I have been paying bills for all labour thro UPI. These include the plumber, the electrician, the tailor, the janitor etc. All you have to do is make a phonepe payment or scan the qr printed in the push cart or wherever to make a payment. I haven’t witnessed this level of digitalization even in Middle east where normally tech facilities are enabled better especially when it comes to banking. The advantage with digitalization and cashless economy is that, there is more transparency than ever before and the black market shrinks significantly. More incomes and individuals under taxable net as transactions leave an electronic trail that you cannot erase or refute. With the Aadhar (national/personal) ID linked to our bank accounts alongwith PAN (permanent account number for income tax), when you make a UPI payment, like the credit card payment these minor bills are accounted for. Which was never the case earlier when you bought something or anything from the street stall or an icecream during the park stroll or when you took the giant wheel ride in the fair or sometimes as simply as chewed pan outside the restaurant you dined in. Now the paan vendors have UPI qr code displayed on their stand and would rather prefer you to scan and pay. So what happens? You leave a record of your lifestyle, your habits, your preference, your tastes etc., so far not covered by the credit cards. This can give a totally different perspective to the ways of spending by netizens. The more you make digitalized payments, the more white is the national currency from black. I insist on making cash payments sometimes for groceries because I want to make use of cash – as I have to necessarily swipe my cards at least once in 6 months to keep them active. Otherwise frankly, I have no need for cash at all.

Where Gods and Goddesses accept UPI : In all temple hundis, qr scan code is printed for donations, for special puja services etc! The last time I visited Kapali temple in Mylapore, there was a queue so I opted for a shorter queue for which I had to buy a ticket for 50 bucks. The receipt with qr code was scanned in the queue by a temple worker before I was allowed a darshan of Kapali-Karpagambal! You no more can sneak into any queue even in temples!

The far reach of the digital payments: now its possible to go cashless in the remotest corners of the country where your credit cards may not be accepted but where UPI payments are more than welcome for the safety and security and convenience they present. As good as cash, UPI payments have cut down the ATM precipitation especially in rural areas.

I visited the PDS (public distribution shop) last month where there is smart card in use for 4-5 years now. The latest addition is thumb impression verification matched with your Aadhar to prevent misuse of govt rations. Its a good move and can check corruption – provided the state govt fat rats and central govt don’t eat into the rations literally (pun intended).

How many loopholes has PM Modi plugged. Quite a few. Very smart. Yet it agonizes me that the common man is made to sacrifice whereas those like the Adanis can get away with it all.

Posted in Food For Soul

Not for sale: Soul.

Moved to tears watching ‘the scent of a woman’ starring Al Pacino in Netflix. Too late I know. I don’t want this to be a review of the picture. I am using the filmy quotes just to record my perspectives. Hugs to Charlie Simms played by Chris O Donnel who takes the tough road risking his Harvard admission from the prestigious Baird not wanting to sell his soul for gain – even if he earned the place on merit. His entire future is at stake, given he is from humble Oregon. He is on scholarship at his school. The rich creamy society boy George Willis so easily succumbs with his weak mind, sells his soul without a regret to save his ass. It shows how some of us are BORN DIFFERENT. How our priorities determine who we are. And how some of us would rather slog it than have it cheap and easy with a price tag on our soul. Al Pacino’s riveting closing dialogues just bore into my very own soul. Says he, THERE IS NO PROSTHETIC TO AN AMPUTED SOUL. That is how pathetic are those who sell their soul, who trade in their integrity, who have no shame, no dignity, no honesty, no strength of character but actually have the audacity to justify their smallness. It may have just been a picture but it gives you still a great message. Its what some of us stand for. Fight for. I may not be the naive Charlie but I could very well be that colonel Slide! I am that!

We don’t read books or watch pictures for nothing. If you sing Bharathi, you must try to live like Bharathi. If you talk about Sangam literature, you have to try to adhere to the code of morals and ethics – the basics at least, in today’s context. VALUES ARE EVERYTHING. UNCOMPROMISABLE. UNTRADABLE. UNCHANGEABLE. You have to do justice to whatever you preach. You have to practise what you preach.There is no use going to temples or performing Pujas when our fundamentals are not sound. Following the right path, speaking your mind, alienates you from the rest. You are alone. Still, you are the only one who has the courage to call a spade a spade and you know that. It is worth fighting the lone battle than join the comfortable crowd of spineless cowards who are all sold out. The pied piper led hundreds of mice to their cursed destiny. There is no comfort in numbers so far as ethics are concerned. A clear conscience is priceless. The Puja phalan for those who sell their soul is like the water they may try to fill in a pitcher that has a hole at the bottom. Whatever you pour in will drain away in no time and it doesn’t matter what efforts you put in. It was the very first lesson on Aanmeegam for me, on why it is important to lead a clean life. When the roots are shaky, you cannot build a superstructure over it. My parents raised me in their absence. They never lectured me on anything. I felt this way even the very next day after my mother passed away when I was still in school.

All of us are aware of changing times and what that demand of us. I, more than anyone living abroad for over a quarter century in multi-culture society, am painfully aware of where one must draw the line. What you can trespass and what you may not violate even if your dear life is on the line of fire. We have a word for that: honour. Which in turn earns us something irreplaceable: respect.

Never mind. If someone has to be tutored on value systems, then they bombed grandly in the final exams already, before even the classes started or the bell rang.