Some years ago, I wrote a piece about the coins Job Charnok used to buy the three villages that eventually became the city of Kolkata. These were pieces of silver earned from the slave trade, making an interesting if brutal link between the great British adventure of exploitation in India and across the Atlantic. Coins are of course the potent symbol of capitalism. And I guess of stereotypes about Calcutta too – that scene with the coin tricks in the Swayze film City of Joy. THere is much more to say (so dig out my chapter on Calcutta coinages in Bell and Haddour’s book “City Visions” 2000), but this little item caught my eye today as I was perusing the northern press (as one does):
“Mysterious shortage of coins grips Calcutta
This is from The Scotsman 16 June 2007
A MYSTERIOUS coin shortage gripping Calcutta has shop-keepers begging for change from beggars and buying coins at prices above their face value.
No one knows exactly why there is no change in the eastern Indian city, but the situation has spurred the Reserve Bank of India to emergency measures, distributing millions of coins to try to satisfy the demand.
Since the coin shortage became acute in early June, the bank has distributed five mill-ion rupees ($121,950) worth of coins, including a million on Thursday alone, said Nilanjan Saha, the bank’s treasurer in the city. But the emergency supplies have failed to stem the demand.
“There is no reason for it ,” said Saha. “But I have heard reports that some unscrupulous traders are melting coins because the face value of the coins is lower than the metal value.”