Times of Change – 2

Remember that coin in Sholay?

The one that Jai (Amitabh) tosses, and calls right….The coin that Veeru (Garam Dharam) discovers to be a fake, with ‘Heads’ on both sides?

(Fake coins, known in colloquial as “khota sikka” were a world of their own. Received wisdom had it that you recognize one by rubbing the rim on your palm and if it leaves a black mark, it is Khota!).

Coming back to the toss…

Coins are meant for tossing. I shudder to think of a world where plastic and e-money replace real metal money. Can you imagine a world where the question “Heads or Tails?”, that fine interplay of fate and free will, is not asked? The great game of Cricket is great becoz it starts with the toss of a coin.

Tossing reminds me of the twenty five paise coin. This coin was called ‘chavanni’, in fondness (Nicknamized form of Chaar Aanaa – four annas)…There were some coins one was fond of. Chavanni was one of them. And so was Attanni (Eight Anna coin). These coins were the common man’s daily instruments of life, and one and all were quite fond of them. They were family.

For some reason, the probability of a Chavanni falling ‘Heads’ up when tossed was more than falling ‘Tails’. This was an extremely valuable insight, and a matter of life and death those days, when after returning from school, we had an hour and a half of sunlight during which a whole game of cricket had to be played. If you called right, you bat first.

To my mind, the Litmus test for a coin is whether or not it feels good to toss. The low denomination aluminium coins that came in the sixties, I feel, failed this test.

Take the hexagonal three paise coin, shown here…or the twenty paise one…

Both had a flat tin-coated-wood sort of feel. Looked as if you could bend the coin by pressing hard. Tinsel stuff.

But then there was this other twenty paise coin. Not aluminum stuff. It was a round coin. Bronze. They were of two types. There was the regular one with just a lotus, and there was one with the lotus and the Sun.  Here is a picture, of the one with the Sun…

The magic word whispered about was that the one with Sun had Gold in it! We used to focus x-ray gaze at it when it came to hand..Felt like we were holding the coin equivalent of Alladins lamp! 

Money, money, money
Always Sunny
In the rich man’s world!
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
Its a rich man’s world!


4 Responses to “Times of Change – 2”

  1. Srinivasa Says:

    chavanni is not a nicknamized form but a dimunitive form of charaana. The derivation is chau+anna (dim) —> chau + an(n)i –> chavan(n)i. Dialectally chau is as prevalent a form for ‘4’ as char.

  2. gkamesh Says:

    my table oxford says: Diminutive: n shortened form of a name, typically used informally. not much to take from what i wd call a nickname. but no need to split hair over that. there is a familiarity, ‘familyness’ suggestive of the alteration…a fondness…and thats what is conveyed.

  3. Srinivasa Says:

    Fondness perhaps hits the spot. As does familirity and the associated (slight) contempt.

    You’re right. Dimunitive therefore is not the exact term. Exactitude was sacrificed when using an English term for a Hindi grammatical process.
    A grammatical parallel may be seen in the Skt derivation of ‘balaka’ from ‘bala’. ‘hastika’ – a small elephant therefore a toy elephant for sale! In this context, please refer ‘jeevikaarthe chaapanye’ (P 5.3.99) 🙂 Enjoy!

  4. Anant Narayanan Says:

    It’s elision aka sandhi (in the combination of the two words) and dimunition (in the affectionate reduction of the rather masculine anna to the somewhat feminite anni).

    You forgot about Gandhi’s late appearance on Indian coinage … wasn’t he on the 20 paise coin issued at the time of his birth centenary?

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