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’.