Tears trickled down his wrinkled face as he feared retuning home without money for the third day from the long queues outside his bank branch in Gurgaon last December.
The Hindustan Times photograph of retired soldier Nand Lal crying and begging bank officials to let him withdraw his pension became the face of the people’s struggle during the cash crunch after the government’s shock recall of 500- and 1,000-rupee notes in November.
A year on, the 79-year-old widower is a happy man.
“Notebandi se kis ko fayda hua mujhe pata nahi. Par pehle mujhe koi poochta nahi tha, ab sab poochte hain. Bankwale bhi (I do not know who all benefited from the demonetisation drive. Nobody cared for me before. Now everyone takes care. Even bank officials),” Lal said.
Withdrawing money is easier now. The bank officials treat him with special care when he visits the New Colony branch of State Bank of India (SBI), usually on the fifth or sixth day of the month for his pension.
Lal lives alone in a dingy, rented room in Gurgaon’s Bhim Nagar, a few blocks from a property he once owned.
He gets a monthly pension of Rs 19,700 in addition to Rs 8,000 his Faridabad-based daughter, Manju, sends. He pays the domestic help Rs 15,000 and Rs 4,000 for the room.
“Earlier they gave me Rs 2,000 notes. Now I get lower denominations as well,” he said.
During his monthly trip this Monday afternoon, bank guard Ram Yadav ushered Lal to a bench in the waiting area for clients. House help Kalawati, who now accompanies Lal to the bank, went to the teller to update the passbook.
The process lasted not more than 10 minutes. Lal had to get up once for the thumb impression on the receipt and pocket his money.
Yadav and Kalawati helped him get onto a cycle-rickshaw to his room, a kilometre away.
“Everyone knows him here. We make sure he faces no problem,” Yadav said, after the war veteran wished him goodbye with folded hands.
Nobody knew him on December 14 last year when he was begging bank officials for “some cash” to pay his domestic help and buy provisions. A photograph capturing his ordeal was published in Hindustan Times that day and Lal became a social media sensation.
Inside his room, not much has changed but it’s tidier now. His belongings — a bed, a trunk, a plastic chair, a bucket, an ashtray, water bottles and two portraits of gods Shiva and Ganesh — occupy the measly space.
Lal shifted to Gurgaon from Pakistan during Partition and his wife died about three decades ago. He served in the army and fought the 1971 India-Pakistan war.
He had his own house till it was sold 15 years ago when his daughter got married.
“His daughter wants to take care of him and asking him to stay with her. But he doesn’t want to leave this place,” Kalawati said.