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Of Evening Friendships & Morning Scuffles: A Night Outside an ATM

Notes and photographs from one night at the Seelampur ATM in Delhi, following Modi’s demonetisation move.

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It’s hard not to make friends when you spend the night outside the same ATM with the same people multiple nights in a row. Tea is shared, blankets lent and scuffles, should they break out, are diffused with a smile.

“Come at 10 am when the bank opens, we will be tearing at each other,” said Shoaib, a leather goods retailer in Seelampur. “All friendships will be lost.”

Notes and photographs from one night at the Seelampur ATM in Delhi, following Modi’s demonetisation move.
Chai helps fight the cold as people prepare to spend the night outside the ATM (Photo: The Quint/ Adi Prakash)

It is true. The Central Bank of India branch and its adjoining ATM at Seelampur in Old Delhi transform into a chaotic melee of people when the bank opens in the morning. People who have queued up all night give in to their feral instincts that have been heightened by having to go through this drill, day after day.

“Many times the queue numbers for who gets to withdraw first get messed up and right becomes might,” Shoaib said.

Notes and photographs from one night at the Seelampur ATM in Delhi, following Modi’s demonetisation move.
Sitara Begum moved close to tears on her fifth night outside the ATM. (Photo: The Quint/Adi Prakash)

With a cap of Rs 2500 on withdrawal of currency from ATMs, the effort is disproportionate to the returns for most.

“Why should we stand here just for Rs. 2000,” said Sitara, a housewife with tears in her eyes. “I’ve been standing in this queue off and on for the last five days. There is no flour or rice at home, my children are hungry.”

Notes and photographs from one night at the Seelampur ATM in Delhi, following Modi’s demonetisation move.
The Central Bank Branch and ATM in Seelampur outside which the queue waits overnight (Photo: The Quint/ Adi Prakash)

The night will be a long one and the boys in the corner have started playing Ludo on their phones. Among the crowd, the frustration grows.

“Is this Modi’s acche din?”, screams a young boy who seems to be in his teens, "Was the surgical strike on black money or the common people?"

As the night progresses, impassioned discussions give way to wistful looks. Another morning battle at the ATM kiosk looms.

Another night at the ATM has begun.

Also Read: “How Can I Go Wait in a Queue?” Chaiwallahs Decry Demonetisation

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