Friday, April 1, 2011

Your Money Just Vanished!

The first day of April, 2011 was yet another hot, sweaty, chaotic, and busy summer morning in Mumbai. Sharon was up early in the morning, running against time to get her two children ready for their school. It was exam time and they had to reach school by 7am, after a twenty minute bus journey from their home. Sharon’s husband had left early that day, to participate in his company’s three day business planning summit at a hill station resort in Shimla. Sharon’s maid had fallen ill and not reported to work. The school bus honked repeatedly at the gate of their multi-storeyed building, before Sharon got her children to board the same, just in time. Phew! The elevator wasn’t working since the previous night, and she was already feeling exhausted as she climbed the stairs to her fifth floor apartment. As she walked back in to her house, she could see the two lunch boxes of her children on the table, almost mocking her lively spirit into meek submission due to guilt and frustration. She almost panicked as she climbed down the stairs with the lunch boxes thinking, “Oh God! That seals my fate. I am certainly going to be late today for that crucial meeting at work”. ‘Beep’, her phone beeped, as she sat in her car. It was a short message - “Your Money Just Vanished!”, from her colleague, Mohit.

As she drove speedily to her children’s school, she just could not make any sense of what Mohit meant. One of her little girls was sobbing at the school reception, with a teacher consoling her. The child’s sob erupted into a loud heart wrenching cry, seeing her mother. It was ten precious minutes before normalcy was restored and the child returned back to her class for her exams, feeling secure. Secure that her lunch box was not lost or stolen and there was nothing to worry about mummy scolding her! Almost instinctively, Sharon picked up the phone and tried reaching Mohit a couple of times. She then tried reaching her husband a couple of times and then her parents as well, without success. Her calls just wouldn’t connect, to anyone. The clock was ticking by faster than usual, it seemed. Sharon got ready to go to work in double quick time. She was certainly going to be late to work and realized that she had run out of cash as well. She got down at an ATM near her office, and couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw no queue at the ATM. “At last something positive today morning!”, she thought. As she attempted to withdraw money, the message on the screen ominously flashed “Your Money Just Vanished!” Sharon stood stunned, shocked, scared.

She gathered herself together and simply ran across to her office building round the corner, leaving her car where it was. An empty reception and an empty office greeted her. It was around that time that Sharon fell down, unconscious. She was not alone in her panic. It had spread world over. People, organizations, governments, banks and anyone who had anything to do with money, found that it had vanished, just like that. People found their wallets empty. Their banks reported zero cash balances across the counter all over for everyone. There was no money in the bank. There was no money in the government mint. There was simply no money to be seen anywhere. None of the back-end information systems reflected any records of any money existing anywhere. Credit/Debit cards were now mere junk. Money had vanished. The shock and disbelief took a toll on many people, like Sharon. The world and its well oiled systems were not prepared for an eventuality like this. The world simply collapsed under what seemed like the mother of all calamities, that no one could make any sense out of, except bear the after-shocks.

The effects of this event were far reaching and beyond most people’s comprehension. None of the living generations knew what life was like without any Money! An entire mass of humanity seemed to have suddenly lost the ground under their feet, almost in an instant. People just did not know how to react and who to seek assistance from. Entire masses of people were literally on the streets, trying to make sense when nothing at all seemed to make sense. Food, Shelter and Clothing – basic necessities of life, all available in exotic forms in exchange for money, could no longer be bought or sold for money.

The rich and wealthy were extremely concerned. The huge middle class of all types too were seriously concerned. It was probably only the poorest of poor and the several herds and tribes living far away from the “real” monetary world, who did not seem to be affected due to this development. Off course, the beggars merely changed their demand from money, directly now to food, shelter and clothing – a change that most found easy to adapt to. Money could no longer be made or earned by any means, money could no longer be exchanged for anything, money could not be saved or spend or stashed away into legal or illegal ‘safe’ havens. And whatever money existed anywhere had vanished. Money lost its value completely.

In an almost striking contrast, everything else apart from money still existed. This meant that people still had houses that they lived in. If it was their own, they still owned it. If the house was a rented premise, the ‘rent’ was something that they no longer could pay or receive. The rental agreements were still in place and legal, except that the value of the rented house happened to be demanded the form of money that no longer existed and hence in that interpretation, the house was for ‘free’. Food items stocked in houses got consumed as they naturally would. Perishable food stocks could no longer be bought or sold and hence was left free for anyone to make use of, while it lasted. Non-perishable food stocks were hoarded by people who had it, for future needs. There were those millions who had not stocked any category of food, at all and they were scurrying all over in search of food and water , consuming whatever was anyways ‘freely’ available; besides begging, borrowing or stealing some of it from hoarders. It took a few days for the stock of food, shelter and clothing to start depleting from people’s home and market places. A lot of people simply perished due to the shock of emptiness that money famine caused, despite food being available in abundance. Organizations could not function, despite all their infrastructure, suppliers, distributors and customers being available, simply because there was no money and also because they had systems in place where nothing would move forward or backward without money transactions, be it sale, purchase, or cost and accounts. Power stations stopped, information and communications networks collapsed. Airlines, shipping, road and rail networks failed to function. Fuel stations and water taps ran dry, everywhere. Slowly but surely, entire nations came to a grinding halt. Life, suddenly transformed itself into what existed nearby and surrounding you. If at all people could give or take assistance, it was only through anything of value, being sought or offered by anyone else in the neighbourhood.

Sharon had a twin sister Simone, who had almost nothing in common to Sharon except her parentage and looks. Simone had long ago eloped with a young boy who had nothing else, except a god gifted ability to paint pretty pictures. The boy had met Simone at their arts college where they both studied. While Simone had liked his paintings, it was his earthly nature and innocence that really captured Simone’s imagination. Just after graduation, they both decided to live life together and expressed their thoughts to their families. Sharon was not very impressed and neither were both families. The couple in love, gradually faced resistance at home to their affair that eventually became unbearable, leading to their decision to elope. They both travelled thousands of miles away and settled down in unknown territory, amidst nothingness. Their families made contact with the couple, but with neither side willing to budge, their drift widened over the years until all contact was lost.

The boy was pretty good at nature paintings and the countryside offered an array of colourful creativity throughout the year. The village where they settled however did not care much about these paintings and the couple was forced to take up odd jobs and work in the fields as well as in the local school and military base. They both shared everything, including their intense struggle and adjustments in the initial years. Over the years, they managed to win the hearts of the villagers and soon had their own little house to stay, one which also had a small bright room – their exclusive workshop for paintings. Officers from the plantations and the army base would visit the workshop, albeit infrequently. The couple had a lot of admirers of their art amongst the officers. Soon, their art found buyers and their admiration spread far and wide through word of mouth. People from nearby towns started coming to their village to have a look at their work. Soon, the village started being included by tour operators, as a unique nature spot for tourists from across the country and world over. What started as a trickle grew into a flood of visitors through the years. The villagers were only too happy to see it grow, since they started earning more than ever before, from the basic amenities of food, shelter, clothing and other local village produce, that the visiting tourists lapped up in their day’s stay at the village.

Despite the increase in demand for their work, the couple continued to charge nominally for their work, ensuring that it was affordable and delivered good value to its buyers. Most of the admirers and buyers who purchased their paintings, not only liked what they had bought dearly, but also saw their money investment in art, grow manifold over time. Most buyers developed a unique relationship with the couple and they all often returned their gratitude in other material forms. The couple and the village got enriched in several ways through this route. The entire village got electrified, and all houses got water connections at their door step. The couple became members of several art societies that called them to deliver guest lectures and conduct workshops. Art material, books, gadgets, equipment, and many more things kept pouring into the couples home as well as into the village. The couple became iconic to the extent that their life inspired values, created value and enriched life for many simpletons far and near.

And then, the news of money having vanished reached their village. All hell broke at the plantations and the army base as well as amongst the villagers. Simone and her husband too got worried a bit, but not unduly. They were already a part of the well knit community in their village. They took the lead to have all the villagers gather at the only school in their village to discuss the impact of the situation facing them. The village was primarily a farming hub with a majority of villagers engaged in farming throughout the year, on land that they owned or someone in the village did. The village folks did depend on power mostly for their water pumps to run in the farm, but over the years, solar and wind powered smaller pumps had proliferated across the farms, generously donated by well-wishers of the couple and visiting tourists. The village also had solar lamps on their streets as well as their homes. Experiments by agriculturists and visiting researchers and academicians had thankfully saved the villagers dependence on fertilizers and pesticides. In fact, the village was something of a role model for others in terms of its complete use of naturally cultivated soil, rich in minerals and content essential for several crops. The village also relied on traditional and ‘inefficient’ ways of tilling their land using bullocks, horses and other animals. At an hours’ walk from the village was the local Khadi Clothes Weaving and Stitching Centre, where several of the men and women folks from the village, not working on farms found employment. The Centre had over the years, benefited equally from the tourists visiting the village, since it happened to be their last destination in the day’s tour itinerary, known especially for super value shopping. The villagers enjoyed a special endearing status and relationship with the centre, and both benefited from it richly.

In the discussions that happened at the school hall, these facts were once again brought to the fore, and went a long way in comforting the villagers of their acquired self-sufficiency for basic needs of life such as food, shelter and clothing. And the discussion then eventually transitioned into what the villagers could do, to assist people in the nearby villages. Villages, that relied heavily on the power of money, to achieve faster progression. A simple to execute plan was chalked out. All villagers took the responsibility of spreading the same through word of mouth, as well as executing it well. The beneficiaries would include neighbouring villages, as well as the Khadi Centre, the military base and the plantation workers and whoever else could be included in the local support framework. There was nothing that the villagers expected back “in return” or “in exchange” of their services! Over the weeks, it was a huge success and achieved magnificent synergies in terms of a give and take amongst the locals in that region. The lack of money simply did not matter to them.

A bright array of lights blinded Sharon’s sight as she slowly opened her eyes. As she looked around, she found herself lying on what seemed to be on a hospital bed, in an independent, well equipped nursing room. She was surrounded with a lot of equipment and tubes running all over her. She noticed a bell switch near her bandaged hands and could press it a couple of times. In rushed her husband and children. They all had a smile on their faces and tears in their eyes. Within an hour, she was discharged and noticed her husband paying their hospital bills as well. She was feeling dazed on her way home, but soon got hold of her hand phone, looking for Mohit’s message. It was there - “Your Money Just Vanished”. She checked with her husband if all was well and if there was enough money at home and if all their savings and investments were intact. She got a loving caress from her husband, stating that all was well. Sharon had pursued a successful career and had married pretty late in life, around the age of thirty-two. He continued comforting her that she had only sustained minor injuries during her fall, with some loss of blood, and she needed to relax, take things easy. She then shared Mohit’s message with him. He laughed and said that there had been plenty of folks who had received this “April Fool’s” message and many had succumbed to this prank. She persisted that it was not just the message from Mohit, but the bank’s ATM machine too had flashed the same message that day. Her husband once again reassured her that nothing like that may have happened since, he himself had withdrawn money that day at the airport and all was truly well.

Sharon was very confused and in a state of disbelief. She cross-checked with Mohit who wished her a speedy recovery and was apologetic about his prank message as well. In the next couple of days, Sharon found the strength to search her attic for the dairy that had Simone’s last contact details. It had been around twenty years since her last contact with Simone. The dairy reflected a school address against Simone’s name. A number of calls to several people followed, until she could get the school’s current phone number. She called and enquired and the person at the other end was most respectful in his confirmation about Simone’s living in that village and provided her with Simone’s number. An emotional conversation lasted for almost an hour and soon enough, Sharon and family travelled the thousands of miles to visit Simone and her village, not as visiting tourists, but as a family reunion. Sharon explained to Simone whatever had happened and how she had probably dreamt about Simone’s beautiful life evolving despite the absence of money. All that Sharon narrated to Simone were affirmatively confirmed as being true by Simone, except for the news that money had vanished. Nothing to that effect had happened.

The bonding between the two sisters and their families grew exponentially over the week that they spend together. The two husbands got along very well and the children too had a great time. For Sharon, it was a week of enlightenment that completely changed her perspective of life. She realized having chased money for over two decades. Presumably thinking, money was the only real tool that could buy her, her desired world of happiness. Her reality stared at her like a bad dream, and her dream suddenly seemed like her distant image of a real life that she would love to pursue. After coming back home, she discussed this with her husband and also with her children. They were all encouraging in their feedback, but it all seemed to be a facade aimed probably to help Sharon feel good and recover completely. Over the next few months, they all settled down to their routine hectic lives in the city. The dream of life’s opportunity lost out to the mirage of life’s reality. The bank’s ATM never again flashed the message “Your Money Just Vanished” and promptly provided cash, always, forever.


  1. This story resonates so much with my thought process lately --- nothing can be done and there is no way to escape from the material world where Money is the king. Great story --really the one that makes you look inside, and think about yourself, ask questions like , What am I doing?

  2. what a coincidence i read this story now.. the last weeks the thought that one day in the coming years we won't be able to get money out of the ATM crossed my mind a couple of times. i even asked my mother: what would you do if one day you don't have any more money to buy food, water and electricity? she answered: i'll see about it when it happens, but you are way too pessimistic..
    a bit too late if you ask me. when i read this story it makes me think even more about what i should do in a situation like this. rob the supermarkets in order to survive?
    i guess selfsustainable living holds the key for the future - we have to start building more ecovillages, selfsustainable communities and transform our cities in order to free ourselves from the self-destructive industrialized western societies we live in.