Demonetisation and the hidden parallel economy of the Indian couple

“Did you hear the news?” my friend moaned into the phone just as I was wrapping up dinner last Tuesday. Fearing the worst, that someone we knew had passed or been diagnosed with a disease, I feebly asked, “No, what news?” “Check your WhatsApp,” she said. And thus, I received the biggest news of the day, one that upstaged the Clinton/Trump election drama and has been the top topic of conversation, rants, social media, WhatsApp, what-have-you. Currency demonetisation could well be the news item of 2016, easily giving the US presidential election a run for its money (pun carefully inserted).

“Meanwhile, married men in India are finding out how much black money their wives have,” was one of the viral jokes on social media. Only it is neither a joke nor funny for the couple involved.

“We bought x amount of gold last night as soon as we heard the news,” said my friend’s yoga buddy. “Of course I had to declare my own little corpus fund of 1.5 lakhs,” she said. Now this friend doesn’t have a source of income that I am aware of. Noticing my perplexed expression, she offered, “I keep collecting money on the sly from household expenses, gifts, envelopes. The money is actually an emergency fund not to be touched under any circumstances,” she says without a trace of irony. “Does your husband know about this little kitty of yours?” I asked. “No, of course not. That would defeat the whole purpose of having a secret nest egg.”

Related reading: 10 reasons why Indian couples fight

But many women from my mom’s generation have upheld this enigmatic ritual, this dosh collected over a period of time and hidden away in grain boxes, behind almirahs, sewn into clothes and whatnot.

The fine art of hustling your own black money from the household expenses was and is still considered by many a wondrous war weapon from the homemaker’s arsenal.

Apparently, the legacy is still passed on from mother to daughter, as many of my friends called me up for advice. “What shall I do? I have saved some 5 lakhs over the years,” cried one.

There’s a parallel economy of sorts within the Indian household
There’s a parallel economy of sorts within the Indian household

“You have to confide in your husband soon and see what he has to say.” The husband, while amused at the discovery, was not a bit pleased about being thus outwitted.

Like it or not, there’s a parallel economy of sorts within the Indian household. The power of sly moolah keeps the women happy and secure in the knowledge of the clandestine shastra. When I quizzed various friends and acquaintances about the motivation behind this pursuit, the answers ranged from the practical to the bizarre. “It is good to have cash stashed away for a rainy day. You never know when someone might be in need of hard cash on a bank holiday. Anything can happen,” said one.

“Of course, my husband is aware that I have my own ‘saving scheme’ but I always deny it. In times of severe liquidity crunch he borrows from me and returns it with 18% interest,” said another, who doesn’t part with it very easily. The motivation ranges from trips with girlfriends to jewellery shopping and presents for family/relatives – nothing that a husband would possibly say no to, but yet the liberation of not having to ask is a driving force.

While housewives are the collateral damage or unintended victims, a number of my ‘working’ (read those who get paid for their work) friends surreptitiously confided. “I have a clandestine bank account that nobody knows of,” said one who is clearly not affected by the recent events and revels in the knowledge.

Apparently financial freedom is not enough; financial privacy or discretion is also equally important when it comes to the modern couple.

“I have my means of keeping it confidential and I think everyone should have a classified account,” said my friend. “What if your husband did the same to you? A covert account,” I asked.

“He wouldn’t be able to do so. Trust me,” she responds confidently. The financial emergency continues, with new stories of jugaad and wealth declaration surfacing every day. Husbands have become wiser and wives will have to be cleverer. After all, it’s about money, honey.


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