At 7am, Bihari Das is usually at work on the farm he owns in Bundelkhand in Central Uttar Pradesh. This morning, he headed in the opposite direction.
The 65-year-old, desperate for cash, walked 10 kilometres and two hours to the nearest bank. The long line that had formed by then was no surprise. It was what he has encountered for the last three days.
Except for once, when he got a lift on a motorcycle, Mr Das trekked 10 kms to the bank and back, unable to withdraw cash from his account, money he needs desperately to prep his four-acre farm for his winter crop. No matter how early he got there, others were ahead of him in line. And the money ran out.
Bihari Das wants to withdraw half of the 20,000 rupees that he says his account holds. But at noon, bank officials made an on-the-spot decision: nobody would get more than Rs. 2,000.
So over four days, this senior citizen walked at least 70 kilometres to end up with Rs. 2,000 in cash.
Bihari Das folds his 2,000-rupee note into the pocket of his kurta and says he will use some of it to buy diesel for the water pump on his farm. At the small shop, he is provided a thousand rupees in change because we are filming him. Otherwise, he says, it would have been impossible to “break the big note.”
We drive with Bihari Das towards his village. He has two brothers whose pieces of land adjoin his. His two sons don’t live nearby, his youngest is a 10-year-old girl. “Who would have made the journey for me”, he replies, when asked if relatives could have taken turns to save him the daily walk to the bank.
The concrete or pukka road ends a kilometer from Bihari Das’s village. We walk with him to his two-room hut. Three days spent away from his land mean that there is no time for even a quick cup of tea.
Bihari Das starts his pump with his newly-bought diesel, stretches the pipes out, and starts irrigating his farm. It is a tedious and slow process.
He has a thousand rupees left, but needs four times that to buy the pesticides and fertilizer he needs. “I will think about it tomorrow,” he says, gifting us a packet of groundnuts he grew on his land.