THE AUTO driver waits impatiently while I hunt through my pursue for a rupee that that is still due to him – I have four 25 paisa coins that I fish out and offer him. “Aree koi char anna nahi leta”, he grumbles, willing to let go of the rupee, but not to accept four 25 paisa coins.
Telling him that the Reserve Bank still mints them and refusing legal tender is a crime is no use. He just won’t take it. Apparently nobody does - only BEST (Brihan Mumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking) bus conductors are forced to accept them and give them out. But even they will turn their noses up at them. Strangely, the coin itself is more valuable - a newspaper report said that Rs 100 worth of 25 paisa coins would fetch Rs 160, because the steel is melted out for other uses. Just like the silver rupee of the British Raj had to be discontinued because women would make jewelry out of them and also the golden-hued 20 paisa coins which disappeared from the market and appeared on to the necks and wrists of poor women.
But there must have been a time when 25 paise or four annas had value. Till quite recently, the term chavanni class was used to describe rowdy frontbenchers in a movie hall, so at some point, stall tickets must have cost 25 paise.
Folks who grew up in 1950s remember the value of 25 paise .You could get a kilo of vegetables for that much. Bus fare from Churchgate to Andheri was 25 paise. A plate of jalebi or ‘batata wada’ cost that much. And yes, the cheap seats at the cinema could be had for that sum. The common man (or woman) would get the blessing of the almighty by offering char anne ka prasad - and sawa rupaiyya ka prasad (Rs 1.25) was for special occasions. An old timer remembers that membership fee to join the Congress Party was 25 paise. All the magazines like filmfare, The Illustrated Weekly and Dharmayug cost four annas (two of these are now defunct, Filmfare cost Rs 40).
People from the 60s would tell you, a samosa used to cost 25 paise. A big packet of chana-sing could be had for char anna, and a handful of fruit and vegetables. And you could travel a fair distance by bus or train. Half fare for kids from suburbs to town was that much. During Diwali a packet of sparkles could be purchased for 25 paise.
Till the 70s a cup of tea in college canteen could be bought for char anna, a shoe shine could be had for that much and minimum bus fare was 25 paisa In the 1980s, inflation started devaluing the rupee, but still a banana could be had for 25 paise at a pinch and a small cone of chana-sing too.
By the time the 90s rolled on 25 paisa had very little buying power, and now of course even beggars won’t accept a char anna coin…..!