100 Days in India Project

A Green Scooter in India

53/ 100 Getting Money for a Taxi

After a gruelling trip through immigration in Chennai Airport, in the south east of India, we were keen to get to our apartment and start exploring this wonderful country. To get there from the airport we needed a taxi, and to get a taxi we needed money. Not just money either; we needed hard cash.

India is one of those countries where you cannot get hold of their currency, the rupee, anywhere outside of their border. Arriving on our second trip was easy because we were sure to keep a few hundred rupees back from the first visit (don’t tell anyone) but this time we had empty pockets apart from some pounds and a few dollars. As we walked through the airport we passed a couple of ATM machines but one was broken and one had a huge queue at it. I asked a security guard and he assured me that there were definitely more outside.

Emerging from the airport into India was overwhelming. I was also overwhelmed when I travelled to Venice for the very first time and arrived by train into Santa Lucia station. The darkened glass doors opened and revealed a bustling Grand Canal, crumbling buildings and bright sunshine – everything I had hoped would be there.

I was overwhelmed in India for very different reasons – the relentless cacophony of sound, the acrid smell of smog and wood fires and petrol fumes, the weird orange sky and the huge number of people wanting to sell us something in return for a payment that we could not yet give them. I’d have purchased a life-sized marble statue of Vishnu if they had promised to help us get some cash.

The taxi rank was right by the door and they made it clear that they wouldn’t accept anything but rupee notes in exchange for a ride. They also had no idea where the ATM machine was apparently. We tried to go back into the terminal to use the one there but we were told it was absolutely impossible, but that there was an ATM further down the concourse outside. After a tiring walk all the way along the broken pavement we hit a dead end and walked back again, still with a full bank account, but empty pockets. Where was this darn ATM?

Finally, as I was about to give up all hope of ever leaving the airport and considering staying there like Tom Hanks in the film The Terminal, a kindly guard pointed us in the right direction. The ATM was, obviously, through a broken and blacked-out door in a room that you could only access by walking through some building works. Was there a sign? Of course not. That would be far too helpful.

Inside the dimly lit room was another room, and in that room there was the machine of our dreams with its bright digital display offering so much promise. But our dreams remained nightmares for a little while longer as we had no idea how to use it and couldn’t extract any money from it whatsoever.

Time and time again I inserted my card, followed by the PIN, typed in the amount of money I needed and waited whilst the machine thought about my request before spitting my card back out in disgust without any helpful advice as to why.

It turned out I was trying to withdraw too little as my overly tired and frazzled brain had completely forgotten what the exchange rate was (about 100 Rs / £1). I was trying to withdraw such a small amount that the machine wouldn’t let me.

Finally we had a few thousand Rupees in our pocket, got the taxi and we arrived in our apartment in Chennai. Bags were dumped, ridiculous amounts of street food were eaten and I was propositioned in perfect English by a beautiful transvestite prostitute. It was quite a first day.

Speaking of money, did you know that you can buy prints of most of the photographs used in my stories? Here’s a link to the green scooter if you fancy a bit of India on your wall https://www.trevorwilsonphotography.com/product/green-scooter/