Since the rupee is so much in the news, I would like to present my introduction to it. When I first came across it, it was divided into 16 annas, and the annas were further divided into paise, but since the present generation will find this difficult to comprehend, I will speak of the old rupee in the more familiar term of 100 paise.
In barding school, I used to get Rs. 2 per month as pocket-allowance. In this, I used to buy postcards to write home, have a haircut, buy little tablets which were dissolved in water to make writing ink, buy sweets and chikki on Saturdays, pay fines when I was caught in some misdemeanour.
At the end of the month, I used to save one rupee. The rupee saved, my father would put in my account in a bank so that I may use it when I grew up.
Some boys used to come to the school, at the start of the term, with a ten-rupee note. The school used to frown on this practice and confiscate the money. So much money in a little boy's possession, it was felt, would totally spoil him.
In college, in my senior years, I graduated to a rupee a day. I used to envy a boy who was getting Rs. 1.50 a day, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that there were others who got much less.
A rupee took me quite far. For six paise, you could travel in a tram from Sasson Dock to King's Circle, though nobody I knew ever travelled dup to King's Circle in those days. In my imagination, it was a place where King George VI sat in the centre of a circle of knights.
At the newly-opened Strand, you could see an American film in air-conditioned comfort for 25 paise, buy two large chicken samosa in the interval for ten paise, and an ice-fruit for on paissa. In the cinema foyer, Mr. Shanbagh sold books for almost the same modest price as he does now at the Strand Bookstall.
Strand was a posh theatre, at other cinemas tickets were cheaper. At Alexandra Cinema on Bellasis Road, the front stalls cost ten paise.
You could buy grams for five paise, fill your pocket with them, and make them last all the way as you walked from VT to Museum. You could have your shoes polished on the road for six paise (12 paise with cream). Buy a Liberty shirt, with turbanised collar, in a plastic bag, for Rs. 12. I though that was very expensive.
Occasionally, I used to give my clothes to Bandbox, the best laundry in the country, for 25 paise per piece. If the buttons on your shirt were missing, they would stitch new ones when they returned the laundry.
When I went to England in those early days, my glasses broke. So I was forced to buy a new pair over there, which, when converted into Indian currency, came to about Rs. 50. On return home, I showed them to my optician at Girgaum. He laughed heartily, showed them to his assistant, and said: "See, his English glasses… for Rs. 50!"