The tail of a Thousand Rupee Note
By Ramla Zaid Malik

I am a traveler, I am a prisoner. I am a sinner, I am a saint. I have spent years shifting around in a beautiful valley, amongst sweet-smelling flowers and the rush of the flow of the river, I have spent lifetimes seeing and feeling nothing but darkness, behind the brutal bars of a bank; so many others of my kind locked up alongside me. I have seen it all; the absolute tyranny of humankind and also its most merciful selves. I have lived a thousand lives and served a thousand masters, I have survived the pain of washing machines and the humiliation of being stepped on.
I am a thousand rupee note- and this is my story.
The earliest moments of my life were not easy. Of course I don’t remember what exactly happened on the day I was born (who remembers their birth anyway?!) but my fellow thousands told me the process was far from pleasant. Now that I am old and experienced, I know it to be true; the printing, stamping, cutting, makes me shiver every time I think of it.
Anyway, my early nursery days were spent where all newborn notes went – the local bank; tall and clean, it was a place I remember well, for it was a time of hope and anticipation, of wondering where life would take me. Life finally did intervene, and I took my first step outside the Bank through an ATM machine. The man who was waiting to take my brothers and me home was tall and burly. Donned in a businesslike suit, he looked like the kind who would trade us away in a jiffy. Foolish that I was back then, I could not identify him for the kind of man he was. Despite the sorrow he gave me, I was glad for the lesson he taught me, to be prepared for what was to come ahead.
The first year of my life, I saw and felt things I could never have imagined during my sheltered stay at the bank. I had a mistress who would look after me very well. Every night before going to bed, she would open the drawer that I shared with some cousins and count us all to make sure we were safe. I don’t think her husband knew she had kept us because her late night visits always seemed to be so secretive. But soon, she too turned traitor and traded us all away at a jewelry shop. The shop owner kept us in a drawer too, locked away all the time. I longed to be free of that prison but could only wait for what luck would throw my way next. A few days had passed before my rescuer arrived. A scrawny young girl walked into the shop one day. I couldn’t see anything from my locked drawer, but I could hear very well.
“Please tell me how much you can give me for this necklace?” she inquired.
“Not much, I’m afraid”, came the curt reply.
“Please just give me whatever you can. I have nothing else to use,” she begged.
As the transaction was over, the cashier opened our drawer, and he pulled me out! I was free!
My new owner looked at me miserably, tears streaking her face.
“Couldn’t you have been five thousand instead of just one?” she complained bitterly to me before she tucked me out of sight and into her small purse. Clasp. The world sealed to me once again.
And so life went on. The crying girl passed me on to a taxi driver, the taxi driver to a grocery store, the grocery store man took me home and gave me to his landlord. The landlord had captured many of my siblings and cousins. Rumor said that his children would use us notes as toilet paper and still never run out. That bit was untrue, but the concept behind it was real. To that family, we were everything and nothing at the same time. To the world, they would brag about how many of us they owned, and how it was because of us that they were able to live in their royal-like mansion and drive their lavish cars. But it was also them who would throw us around, treat us like rubbish, like we meant nothing…
At their house, I liked being out in the open. The landlord had given me to his son and the young man had just tossed me onto his dressing table, not caring to hide me away like many of my earlier masters had done. I did not mind sitting atop that table and looking down at the happenings of the world from my master’s window. In fact, I enjoyed it. Master Harris was by far my favorite one; he seemed to have forgotten about my existence, and I was okay with that. So it came as a disappointment when the day finally came that I had to leave. Harris’ maid was dusting his room, after days of him allowing no one inside when she spotted me on the dressing table. She looked around, wondering, without doubt, if she could keep such a fine note like myself as her own. She weighed out the options and eventually decided against it as she called out to Harris, “Sahib, I found some money of yours!” Harris snatched me out of her hands and went back to munching on something he had been before.
That night, for the first time, I experienced what my brothers had warned me about – the exhilarating thrill that came with the lives we led. Master Harris took me along to one of the many parties he frequented. A glimpse of the party; lights and people and food awed me, but soon I was slipped back inside, seeing nothing but the inside of Harris’ wallet. The party still in full swing, Harris stopped to chat up a group of people. I followed their voices as they all got into a car and drove away.
Fifteen minutes later, we got off somewhere – somewhere quiet from the looks (sounds?) of it. Harris spoke, his voice low, “Do you have it?”
Another man replied, in a waspy voice, “Do you?”
“I have exactly what I promised you. Now give it to me. You’ll get your money, don’t worry.”
Harris pulled some of us out of his wallet and received a small package in exchange. He smiled, preparing to open the package. Before he could do so, the other man punched him in the gut. Harris doubled over, his face contorted with pain.
“What the-?” he managed to get out, his face scrunched up in a questioning manner.
“Sorry mate, I saw some more notes in your wallet here,”the man shrugged.
“A man’s gotta make his money somewhere”, he said as he pocketed Harris’ wallet and let his men haul Harris away, my old master cursing my new one, to no avail.
So my journey resumed. The drug dealers didn’t take long in sending me off to a new home. The nearest hotel they found, I was deposited, resigned again to my fate in a cashier’s drawer. This time help came quicker. A middle aged couple adopted me. The husband pocketed me and we were on our way. For the first time in my life, I got on a plane. We were going to a place called Gilgit, I heard. The plane landed and the couple’s vacation began. Though a vacation was what they called it, it seemed far from one. They would barely speak to each other, and when they would, it was only to fight. Despite that, I didn’t care much as long it didn’t involve me…until one day, it did.
They were fighting again. “What do you want from me, Maria, tell me!” the husband yelled.
“I don’t want anything from you,” the wife shouted back.
“No. You better tell me what it is that you want. I’m sick and tired of playing these mind games with you. You want money? Here you go!” he retorted, shoving my brothers and I in her face.
“I DON’T WANT YOUR MONEY”, the woman erupted, throwing us to the floor and stomping all over us.
The rest of the fight blurred away for me as I faced the greatest humiliation I had in my life. Little did I know that this was to be the first time of many many times I would face this disgrace. How pitiful was my life? To be revered and wanted by Humans one day, and scorned the next…
I spent the next couple of years in Gilgit; always on the move, person to person, house to house, pocket to pocket. Life was normal, I was beginning to see a pattern; people would crave me, then use me, then lock me away. And the cycle would be repeated.
It was one fine morning that I was in the care of an elderly pious man when I finally learned that my existence could also be used to serve good. The man was a righteous servant of God, much of his time spent in prayer. He didn’t have many of my cousins, but treated us well. There was no throwing or plodding or snatching of notes in that house.
That day, the man was out and about in his usual business as a cobbler. A little boy came running to the man’s little shed-like shop and put his hand forward.
“Uncle, please help me. My Baba has run out of medicine. If I don’t get more to him, he will die!”
The little boy burst into tears, his voice breaking as he recounted his family’s strife.
The old man pulled out his wallet and gathered us up. Without hesitation, he thrust me into the child’s hand. “Here you go son, now hurry off so that you can get that medicine quickly.” The old man smiled affectionately and that was the last I saw of him. That day my faith in Humanity was restored; if a poor man like my master could give me away in an instant to help another person, perhaps, the world wasn’t so bad after all. My purpose in the world, too, didn’t seem so bland anymore. I was a tool for good, a means to help people. If only my masters were all as kind as that old man…
The child, true to his word, used me to buy medicines, and introduced me to a whole new world – a world of sick people and packaged tablets and strong smelling liquids. There I truly understood my importance. People would come and beg the doctors to cure them, they would scream and cry and wish that they had some of my kind so that they could live a little longer. And I would scream back, I would tell them that they could have me, that I was more than willing to become their messiah.
But I was never heard.
As the days passed, I grew older and more experienced. Each day brought me new discoveries about the Human kind. I found people betting me during gambling rounds and poor parents longing for more of my kind to pay their children’s school fees. Businessmen would carefully count every one of us, eager to never let us out of their sight, thieves would set their eyes on us. They would all want us, but rarely would anyone keep us for long.
Soon I learned that though humans loved us more than anything else, they loved some of us more than others. A note too grows old, and like all mortal beings, we too are forgotten one day. My day came when I was in the hands of a young girl. The child had kept me for several months, longer than any adult ever had. She would pull me out from under her hiding space beneath her bed every day and would talk to me for hours on end. “You know, I wonder how many places you’ve seen,” she said to me one day.
“So many” I wished to answer.
“I wish I could go to other places too,” she continued, “I’ve never even left this city, but I know all about the world and all the beautiful places!”
I wanted to tell her that she lived in the most beautiful place of all, but my cries fell deaf on her ears.
“Anyway, I’ll save you up, and then one day I’ll have so many like you that I’ll travel the world!”
My heart ached for the little girl who had kept me for so long. Could it be true? Could I really travel the world too?
My excitement knew no bounds, but soon enough, it all came crashing down. The little girl took me to her school the next day. Apparently, she had forgotten her dream of travelling just like that, now she seemed more interested in purchasing a packet of crisps.
“Child, this note is too old and too fragile, I can’t take it”, the canteen guy said to my companion.
Old? Fragile? Was I really that feeble now that this man was going to refuse my usefulness? Was my service of a lifetime going to be so easily discarded?
“What?” the little girl cried out. “So I can’t get some chips?”
Her face crumpled as she began to wail. “What use are you to me then?” she snivelled and tossed me into the trash.
Today, I sit at the bottom of a heap of trash. Once so revered and sought after, I have now been reduced to a despicable piece of garbage. How selfish could Human beings be? The same humans I had given so much happiness had repaid me in despair and solitude.
The garbage and I were scooped up from the school trash can and dumped in a field of trash. When the floods came, we became part of the river. Amongst the rain and cold and loneliness, I thought back – I thought back to the days of my glory, when I was safely folded and placed in a safe for protection or when I was used as a dying man’s salvation. Today, I was none of that, today I might as well be dead.
I am a thousand rupee note – and that was my story.