As the country dissects the consequences of demonetizing the old Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 currency notes, queues at ATMs and banks on Thursday were long and winding.
The new grey-coloured Rs.500 and the magenta Rs.2,000 notes are finally out in the market.
To be sure, for the past couple of days, the images—released by newswires and circulated on social media—disheartened many in the design community. They were disappointed with the aesthetics of the currency notes—some even calling it a wasted opportunity.
While the notes follow security features supplied by a global procurement processes, they are designed by the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) in-house design teams. The new designs are here to stay, and are the successors to the Mahatma Gandhi series that first started in 1996.
“I know this is a subjective, armchair point of view, but I feel a little disappointed…there are at least 7 or 8 typefaces there. There seems to be no basic understanding of cohesiveness,” said Sanket Avlani, a Mumbai-based design professional.
The notes are markedly of a different material than the paper used previously, though as to what it exactly is (a blend of plastic or polymer of some kind as with some European currencies) is not mentioned in the RBI’s citizen information posters. The magenta of the note does not offend Avlani, who said it will seem fine after a while— much like with the old Rs1,000 currency note, which seemed a little too bright when it was reintroduced in 2000 after a round of demonetization in 1978.
“Yes the current demonetization and the consequential introduction of new notes is a game-changing move, but we do need to also think actively about the smaller things,” added Avlani who took to Twitter to compare the new notes with Norway’s concept for the Krone, designed by a branding and design firm called Snøhetta. Norway’s Norges Bank had invited eight teams to submit their proposals that would keep to strict currency design and security guidelines. Snøhetta’s winning design is a pixellated interpretation of the concept of sea and winds, and is to be introduced next year.
The Rs.2,000 currency note is markedly more compact than the previous Rs.1,000. The intaglio printed Gandhi is much smaller than before, and at the back of the note, in addition to the Mangalyaan, there is also a new strip of animal motifs— an elephant, a stem with three blooms of the national flower, and a bird (most likely a peacock). The panel with the denomination written in the words of 15 Indian languages still exists, but is now accompanied on the side by the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan logo.
Hanif Kureshi, a Delhi-based designer who works with typefaces, hasn’t yet accessed the currency notes either, but looking at pictures he, too, doesn’t think highly of the design. “The currency note tries to be modern and minimalist, but doesn’t fully reach there. Neither is it slick and nor is it like the older ones,” he says referring to the ornate, floral borders, and elaborate decorative patterns of the previous notes, which have now become tinier and have receded further into the background, blending with the larger colour tones.
While the notes do look more “international” in appeal, perhaps the RBI and its currency-issuing PSUs could have done what India did in 2009 when it announced a contest to design the rupee symbol. The “ ₹”, a design by Udaya Kumar Dharmalingam, who now teaches at IIT-Guwahati, was approved by the Union Cabinet on 26 August 2010.
It isn’t like the current dispensation is alien to contests for citizen participation in government initiatives through portals like MyGov.