100 Days in India Project

Feral dog sleeping curled up against a pink wall in India

54/ 100 Indian ATM Machines

Following on from the last story about trying to get hold of some money at Chennai Airport I thought I may as well keep on the rupee theme. Getting money in India is not always as straightforward as we are used to here.

People often ask me why we want to go back to India again, for a third trip. There are so many reasons, but one of them is simply that you can use the knowledge you acquired on your earlier trips to make the subsequent one just that little bit easier. It is almost a waste if you don’t put your hard-won information to good use again. This doesn’t only apply to India either and we often revisit places, enjoying them just that little bit more the second time.

One good example of a lesson learned in India involves the cash points, or ATMs. Different banks there have different systems, and even the same bank has machines that work in different ways. ATM machines tend to work pretty much the same way throughout the UK, and even in Europe, but we found Indian ATM machines a little more challenging.

We tried about 5 machines in the banking zone close to our apartment on our first ever visit in Chennai without success. We put our card in, the machine grumbled to itself for a while and then spat it back out. Assuming there was a problem with the card, we tried a different one, with the same unhelpful outcome. Wondering whether it was just that machine we moved further on up the road but, yes, again the machine was reluctant to accept our cards.

In actual fact there was no problem at all. You put the card in, it gives it back and you, you pop it back in your wallet then put in your PIN number for the machine to do your financial bidding. Most of the time. Knowing this simple fact would have saved us so much stress, you can’t imagine.

Another strange thing about the ATM machines is that the government varies the limits of the amount of cash you can withdraw quite frequently. I know this isn’t unique to India, as we have found this problem in Argentina too, but the permissible rates seemed to fluctuate quite widely. During one week of our second trip the limit was Rs1000 (about £10) which, even in cheap-as-chips India isn’t really enough. One day I was in a bank in Delhi using one of the ATM machines that they had inside. There were several, all in a row. The guy next to me was withdrawing far more cash than Rs1000.

He saw me draw out my measly limit and asked if I wanted him to help get some more. Perplexed, and more than a little suspicious, I hesitantly agreed to let him assist. He let me enter my PIN number in private and then came to help. Just like a computer hacking film from the 80s he quickly pressed a succession of the buttons on the machine. It responded with some weird sounds before releasing an enormous thick wad of cash. So much cash, in fact, that it almost didn’t fit through the dispenser and him and I both had to pull like crazy to release it before it was sucked back in. He told me that in future I should use his machine because it had a wider slot.

Having a week’s worth of money in my pocket took a huge amount of pressure off of us and gave us some time to relax. Spending hours trudging around a city looking for cash isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. I offered the man a small amount of money for his help and he adamantly refused. Sometimes I forget that the majority of people are just happy to help and want nothing in return other than gratitude.

[I should add that our last trip to India was in 2019 so it is quite possible that things have improved since then].