Tuesday, March 10

Symbolically speaking

While the Indian government's quest for a currency symbol is interesting and probably important, I cannot seem to get over the potential problems it could present. The competition guidelines say that the symbol should reflect India's "historical and cultural ethos". This is a huge problem. I don't think there is one particular way of describing or understanding our historical and cultural ethos. So expecting someone to do it through a symbol, not greater in width than a zero and easily adaptable to the digital world, is almost like expecting the impossible. Even if someone were to come close to it, what are the chances that it will not hurt someone's religious, regional, linguistic, caste, racial, gender...sentiments? I will put my money on very high.

If through a miracle we were to surpass that test and a symbol were to be created, how do you incorporate it in everyday life. While computers can be taken care of rather easily, what about the cash floating around. Will the government recall all currency notes and coins and reprint them with the new symbol? How long will that take? How much would it cost? How long before the old notes and coins become invalid? Or would they remain in circulation along with the new ones?

I understand the intention behind this move to have an universal symbol for the Indian Rupee. But to be recognized in global markets would we have to follow the unstated horizontal/vertical line rule?* Do those lines always mean something? For the Euro they mean stability, but I haven't found much about the pound or the dollar. Could having lines then be interpreted and criticised as an attempt to 'fit in'? Or do we let creativity flow and have something really unique? Will that affect how the Indian Rupee is perceived in the global market - someone not integrated enough, a free spirit, a snub at the 'western' economies? Does a symbol really matter in determining the value of a currency?

While I would happily welcome a new symbol for the Rupee, I do think that 'Rs.' is a decent enough way of saying things. It is straightforward, easy to write and type and well-established. Of course five other countries use the same name and symbol. And we would like to stand out. But it would still be called the Indian Rupee. So how does having a symbol change things symbolically?

I don't know how much thought went into announcing the competition, but I would like to trust the government's intentions and abilities. And yet it is hard to not think about the upcoming elections and the bragging rights a new symbol would give the UPA parties, and Congress in particular.

Go ahead, create a really controversy free symbol representing the "historical and cultural ethos" of India in a "Indian National Language Script." I would have, but I am not eligible.

*www.xe.com depicts the Rupee to be symbolized by Rs. with a line running through the R. Does anyone know where this comes from?

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