November 8, 2016. A normal evening at the ICU waiting area. As normal as it ever is. A lot of visitors, most in their office clothes, who would meet the attendants staying there and leave. The evening visiting time had ended and there were discussions over every word the doctor said, and everything the patient did, if anything. Many patients just wouldn't open their eyes for days on end. Was it better to see a sleeping (that's the word most would use - sleeping) loved one, or one in pain? Not all fit either of these two possibilities, but most did.
It was Prime Minister Modi's first 8 pm appearance. No one was hyperventilating worried about what announcement would be made. The five hundred and one thousand rupee notes would not be valid currency from that midnight. There were two televisions, one in each hall. Everyone was glued to these. Is it a joke? Does it mean something different from what I am interpreting it as? Worried, panic-stricken looks were being exchanged.
The visitors scampered away. I know of one person in particular who had come to Delhi for at least a week from his home about 7 hours drive away. His first stop had been the hospital even before checking into a hotel. He immediately left to go back home.
Phones started ringing. It was a happening night, that is for sure.
The canteen (there was only one outside this ICU waiting area) was the only reasonably-priced eatery in the whole hospital. It stopped accepting the said currency notes immediately. Some people who had been in the canteen were shocked to know the money they held in their hand was worthless. Some didn't even have money for their dinner that night.
Or tea next morning, and so on and so forth.
The rules kept changing and the information would trickle in. The government hospitals would accept old currency notes. This one was not a government hospital.
Then the other hospitals would too.
Well, many came back exasperated after arguing with the cashier who would refuse to accept these old notes still.
I am from the same city. My home was an hour's drive from that hospital. I have family here.
There were people there who had been parked there at the hospital for weeks. Some had taken a hotel for the first week or so and then given up on it. The cheapest of the hotels they found nearby was still too expensive.
Everyone has their democratization story. Where they were when they got the news? What they did? How many ATM queues they stood in? How they used up the cash they had?
My story is different. It would be another 16 days before I left that place. My stories revolve around the people there. My story is about my caring family and the fact that I never queued up in front of any ATM. My story is about finding old currency notes in some long-forgotten wallet or a pair of jeans long after they could be exchanged, because I never searched my house during those days. I had a different temporary home then - the ICU waiting room.