They Give Useless Money a Brand-New Life

They Give Useless Money a Brand-New Life

By Sanjena Sathian

Rajendar Kumar at the makeshift shop on one of the busiest roads in Varanasi.
SourceSmita Sharma for OZY


Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

By Sanjena Sathian

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Rajendar Kumar, 26
Varanasi, India

I sit here every day, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., on the corner, doing this job with my younger brother Ashwani. We do money exchange. Here in India, if your cash is ripped or if there is any problem with it, people won’t take it — not rickshaw drivers or store owners, no one. It is a big problem. People come to us with their ripped bills. We give them clean ones. 

We make money thanks to the Reserve Bank of India. A few times a month, at least once, sometimes more, someone from the bank comes to our stall and picks up the ripped bills. We make a 2 percent commission. And we make about 5,000 rupees — $75 — a month, for both of us together to share. It isn’t so much money, but it is fine for us.

Ozy moneyexchange 1

Ashwani Kumar, a money hustler.

Source Smita Sharma for OZY

Our father did this job, and now we do it. We don’t know where the business idea came from or how long he had been doing it for. We don’t know how business was for him. For us, well, it’s going. It’s fine, it’s OK. The demand is never really enough. We make the same commission our father did, and he used to make about as much too, 5,000 rupees a month.


We aren’t the only ones doing this. There’s another man across the street in a bigger store who will do it for you too, but we aren’t worried about competition. There aren’t so many trying to do exactly what we do. Some of the same people come back over and over, but mostly we don’t have regulars. People can see us on the street even though it is a small stall. See, our sign says “money-changing.” People notice that, and they come by if they have even a small amount that needs changing. This fellow — hello — this fellow has a lot of money in his backpack. He doesn’t say where it’s all from; we don’t ask. 

Security? Well, yes, we are sitting here with a lot of money, but we are not bothered. We don’t feel unsafe on the street. We’ve never had any security, but we can’t spend money on things like that anyway. We are left alone. Everyone knows who we are. They know we have been sitting here for so long.

Ozy moneyexchange 4

Rajendar Kumar at the makeshift shop on one of the busiest roads in Varanasi. Sitting on the right is his business partner and brother, Ashwani.

Source Smita Sharma for OZY

We live over by Chowka Ghat, by the smaller river, not the Ganges, the river this city is famous for. It’s not so far from here. We live together with our mother and take care of her, but as we said, our father died. We don’t have time for much else; no cricket watching or time for friends. We take our lunch right here, in this shop right behind us, just some rice and dal and maybe a chai. 

Anyway, it’s going OK. It changes every day. We’re not worried about the future — what help would that be?

As told to Sanjena Sathian and translated from Hindi.