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Don’t improve on perfection – Coins

There are several instances where we Indians meddle in affairs that don’t concern us. And I am not talking world affairs.

We are not a practical race and we don’t have a history of technology. We also don’t realize that every step in the evolution of a product has been well thought of and has a very practical aspect to it. Since we have never been a part of this process, we don’t value it. So when we act as interlopers, and meddle, the result is disastrous.

Look at our currency coins. These were time honored designs, manufactured using imported technology, on imported machines. All was well as long as were just minting new figures with new fonts, changing layout etc. We even got away with changing the composition of the metal. But then some whiz kid with a sheaf of design degrees, not satisfied with the cosmetic changes, must have thought of re-designing the whole coin.

What resulted was a faux pas of monumental proportions.

Lets do a small test. Take a new 1 or 2 Rupee coin, place it on any glass surface like a table top (imitating a cash counter). Now pick it up – in one go. It is near impossible. After a few futile attempts you will end up sliding them off the table. This would never have happened with the earlier coins. Have you experienced this? Do you know why this happens?

We, in our infinite wisdom and childish ‘lets-show-the-west-what-we-Indians-are-capable-of’ attitude did away with the very important grooved serrations on the edge of the coin which helped us grip the coin with our finger tips, nails or no nails.


Why did this happen? This is because we give more importance to aesthetics than to utility. We have been bred on eons of art and never on practical science. Our concept of design is appearance and very cosmetic.

But what is astounding is the fact that this has escaped the notice of a Billion+ Indians for more than 10 years. I doubt if there really is any Indian who hasn’t handled a coin. Rich or poor, we all have. Then is it that we don’t care? Are we so up in the clouds with IT, BT & whatnot, that we feel such thoughts are beneath us?

I spoke to a couple of lay men, after I subjected them to the same test. The feedback is very insightful.

1. We are a very egotistical race. I can criticize my country as much as I want. But if it comes from another, Indian or foreigner, we will go tongs and hammer to defend our country’s honor, right to the point of being absurd and inane. Some even blamed the country which is supplying us with the coins, maybe even Pakistan, and were most reticent to accepting that we design and mint them locally.

2. Several numismatists refused to comment. While numismatists are often characterized as students or collectors of coins, the discipline also includes the broader study of money. May be they were insulted by a rank outsider questioning their competence.

3. Every one felt that it could not be an oversight. Oh no. Not by us Indians. And racked their brains to justify the error in the hope of salvaging some national pride. A few ‘Technical’ people argued that it was omitted to save on the cost of manufacturing. When asked how it was manufactured, they went mute. I was almost expecting them to take refuge under the ‘Official Secrets Act’.


Water, Water everywhere. Where ????

Bored with city life, I once decided to move to my farm on the outskirts of Bangalore. Before any activity began, the first priority was to make arrangements for water. This meant tapping for ground water, always a risky and costly endeavor.

I did the necessary research and spoke to experts in the geological department on scientific water divining. They were of the opinion that there was no guarantee irrespective of scientific or conventional water divining and success was left to chance. One person was more forthcoming and assured me that in spite of the scientific method being more accurate, success depended on the drilling company. He did not mention any specific cause for failure.

Owing to the lack of clarity and based on several recommendations we decided on a conventional water diviner. Watching a diviner in action, running all over the farm with a coconut in his hands was like mumbo jumbo and not in the least assuring. But this spectacle, as usual, attracted attention and soon there was a healthy crowd of neighboring farmers. Their initial whispering and murmuring was ignored as a natural reaction to the antics of the diviner.

Then one old guy came over to me and said that the whole exercise was a waste as he had a farm, not far away, which looked as if it had been invaded by rabbits. It was his way of telling me that he had tried 14 times to find water and all he got was the holes in the ground.

But I had to sink a well as I was hell bent on moving away from the city. The diviner finally placed the coconut over a spot and announced with a flourish that we would hit Ganga Jal at a depth of 400  – 600 feet.

The big day arrived and the impressive rig moved into position. It was 6 AM on a misty farmish morning. It took a bit of maneuvering to get the big Ingersoll Rand rig to  position exactly over the spot identified. Given my love to machines and the fact that I was once a supplier to Ingersoll Rand (I had seen these majestic beasts being built) I was tingling all over.

Once the drill head was over the exact spot, the dirty, mud caked machine extended its hydraulic stabilizers. The wheels rose off the ground. The drill mast lazily extended to its full vertical height. Hissing, the drill head rose to the top, a shaft with a drill bit was attached. And with a roar of its diesel engines revving at max, the rotating drill neared the earth. But something was wrong.

Give my apprehensions about the spot picked by non-scientific methods and the reputation that area had with dry wells, I was hell bent on trying to turn the odds in my favor. I wanted to ensure that no human error (except the diviners) would scuttle the project. Frankly, another attempt would cripple me financially and jeopardize the entire project. Bye bye chirping birds and fresh milk and lazy days.

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