Fifteen years ago, when Noor ul Huda went on a picnic with his friends to Guwahati, he noticed something bizarre outside the regional RBI office—men buying damaged currency notes. The business model was rather simple: customers bringing in torn notes, agents buying it at a price depending on the extent of damage, and the RBI taking it from the agents at a rate that again depended on the damage. For example, for a Rs 100 note torn in half, with no frayed edges, the agent would pay Rs 90 and sell it to the RBI for Rs 98.
Noor decided to experiment with the model in the snake-like streets of Bara Bazar in Shillong. Gradually, business got good, the good man found a woman who respects the halaal meat and money he brings home, and together they are proud parents of three great kids. Competition, though, has now come in the form of young men who ape the 37-year-old man’s idea, but no one encroaches on the other’s territory. Noor continues to owns the maze that is Bara Bazar. He stands in a corner of the marketplace in Meghalaya’s non-stop rain—men, women, kids and carts constantly bumping into him. Nothing shakes the ever-smiling Noor or moves him from his position. When tired, he sits down on a stool he keeps handy and rolls a tenth of a betel nut into a fourth of a betel leaf smeared with lime and a slice of ginger. When the Khasi words for torn notes, ‘Bajot Pisa’, swirl out of his Kwai-filled mouth, topped with an Assamese twang, they transform into ‘Budget Poysha’. At first, shopkeepers around him would urge him to rectify his pronunciation, or request him to stop chewing paan while advertising his business. Noor would smile, but would not give up either.