Selling Old Coins

Those days there was almost no bank in the Ward 4, most important commercial part of the capital city except one or two branches in the Maharajah Gunj.
Selling Old Coins
File Photo

Those days there was almost no bank in the Ward 4, most important commercial part of the capital city except one or two branches in the Maharajah Gunj. The  Sri Ranbir Gunj Market was established during the second half of the nineteenth century for establishing the non-Muslim traders from Amritsar with nefarious political designs.

One of the hideous motives was defeating the market around the Jamia Masjid that bustled with commercial activities from the times of the Sultans. During the fifties and the sixties, the Maharajah Gunj market was the busiest commercial center, beside the biggest shopping complex, there were lots wooden kiosks small-time vendors selling rice, sugar and rock salt. Of all the petty traders, the kiosks of the old coin and spoiled notes dealers attracted me the most. For elders and us they were the bankers' for exchanging bad coins, old silver coins and spoiled and torn notes. My pals and me many times visit these coin dealers with 'Khout" coin, against poo'nd one anna he would give two Paisa and for Donin – two anna coin we would get one anna.  

I don't think during those almost bank-less days in our locality; people even had an idea of a bank. They deposited their savings at safe places in their homes. I have heard stories about people keeping their savings- whatever little they had in small earthen pitchers fixed in walls behind the cupboards- some even kept these pots in the Brar-Kani ( lofts). Some families kept them in huge iron safe lockers popularly known as the 'safe.'  In our house, in a room partitioned by a wi'rowsee, there was one safe embedded in a wall. In the family, this two feet wide and three feet tall iron safe weighing almost five mounds had its history. In the late twenties of the past century, my grandfather had brought it from the Raja Bazar Rawalpindi on the Nanda Bus- the bus service that plied on the Jhelum Valley Road between Rawalpindi and Srinagar. Four to five brawny laborers carrying this safe to the first floor of our house and fitting it in the wall for me was as incredible as the stories of Hercules. I have no idea were the weighty bunch of keys of the safe was kept during the day, but at night my father habitually kept it under his mattress. My curiosity doubled to know what was in the treasure trove of the family when my father opened the heavy iron door that led one after another compartment- the currency notes including the quite long thousand rupees notes were kept in a sort of basement that opened from a top of one of the compartments. That since, the day the safe was  purchased no burglar had broken into our house was part of the family narrative. 

During 1962, war when the rumors were rife about the government taking over gold and big currency notes, those having the safes embedded in the walls or their tahkhanas were feeling secure. I remember, a young widow in our Mohalla out of fear of the government denuding her of all her possession buried all gold and silver jewellery and bunch of thousand rupees notes in a tin and buried them in her kitchen. Months later after the end of the war, she dug out the tin and on opening she found that a large number of notes were completely soiled and some partially damaged. She dried up her treasure under the sun, took the damaged to a coin dealer in Maharajah Gunj- and to the rejoicing, he gave her half the value of the damaged thousand rupees notes. 

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