Piggy Banks 1: In Which We Discover the Joys of Micro-Finance

I wonder why they call it a piggy bank, that repository of loose change lying around the house.

In my days there were no piggies, though coin collection was a pretty wide-spread habit. Perhaps those were the days when there was an abundance of coins, right from one naya paisa, two naye paise, three, five, ten, twenty, twenty-five, and fifty naye paise. The one rupee coin was not in currency then. These were called “nayapaisa as it was only recently in 1960 India moved to the decimal currency. Prior to this was the (old) paisa and anna regime. Six paise made an anna and sixteen annas made a rupee. You may have heard of the phrase “solah anna sach”. This is still in use and means full truth, cent per cent truth.

The abundance of coin denominations was not to keep the mints busy, but those days you could actually buy tangible stuff with each of these coins. The one paisa coin could get you some chooran, two paise would get you some chooran of a better variety or a peppermint, the three paise coin would get you the basic ice-cream lolly while the five paise coin would get you the lolly and the superior chooran; the lolly was dipped in the chooran which was sucked off the icy substrate before the lolly was bitten into!

Like most kids, even I was into coin collection. But this was a habit and not a hobby (as different from the then popular kiddies’ hobby, stamp collection). Coins were available in abundance. If you went to a shop with a twenty five paise coin and bought a fifteen paise pencil and a five paise eraser, with some persuasion your mother may allow you to retain the balance five paise. Or a visiting uncle, while leaving the house, would pass you a twenty five paise coin as a token of love. Or you would sometimes find a coin on the road. All these would find their way into our piggy bank.

No fancy piggy banks for us. We had our own version, typically a sealed oil tin can, emptied of its contents. In our household, Tata’s Coconut Oil was the preferred brand. (Shalimar too was a popular brand). Coconut hair oil was something we used to apply to our hair after a bath. Ostensibly for hair nourishment, but actually to keep straying hair strands in place! We would eagerly wait for the can to get empty, sometimes even increasing consumption to hasten the emptying. Once empty, the top was the can was “operated” upon with a hammer and a sharp tool (typically some gardening implement) to get an aperture wide and long enough to enable insertion of coins into the can.

This was not enough, though, to start the coin collection process. The residual oil in the can had to be washed away lest the coins blacken while in storage. The oil was washed away by boiling some water and Surf powder in the can. This was followed by drying the can for days in the sun. And then our piggy bank was ready to receive its occupants, the humble coins.

The metallic tinkle as the coin hit the bottom of the can was music to our ears. And the jangle of the can after a few coins found their way in was a symphony! Plans would be made as our coin collection grew: a new book, a new toy, a dosa at the nearby eatery. The options were endless. We could hardly wait for the collection to grow!

But in this love story enters a villain, the local “ice-cream” vendor! He would come rolling his cartful of enticing goodies. And he would time his visits just when we would return from our schools. After agonizing minutes of denial, we would succumb to the ice-cream wallah’s call. But where was the money? In the piggy bank of course! A deft manoeuver with the sharp end of the school compass into the aperture of the can held facing down and a coin would tumble down, and then the other, and then another. Some kids would have mastery over the esoteric art of removing coins from the can with some dexterous shakes and turns of the upturned can. I could never do it!

Ice-cream eaten, coin stock depleted and then the wait to insert more coins. This would go on-and-on in an endless loop.

The coconut oil can would continue to be our treasure chest.

(To be continued)


4 Responses to Piggy Banks 1: In Which We Discover the Joys of Micro-Finance

  1. Sanjeev Roy says:


  2. Mary says:

    A joyous post my friend. Did you ever attempt to bury your cans?

    Your post brought me back fond memories of the amber glass pig shaped piggy bank of my childhood.
    We’d put our coins in confident and pleased to see them but not so confident about how we’d get them back out. Smashing it with a hammer was out of the question, even shaking it vigorously held the dangers of it accidentally being whacked against something or of being dropped and shattering.

    The act of reversing the insertion of coins is definitely an art, a modern dance, perhaps performance art? The sound of the ice cream truck, is it coming or going? Pause to listen, then resume shaking vigorously.
    Will we get enough shook out and gathered before the ice cream truck passes by? Oh no! There are so many pennies! Why do we even save them?
    Shaking out quarters meant the possiblity of a Creamsicle. Mostly nickels would mean a Popsicle instead. And always we asked, will we have enough for both of us? as we’d almost rather go without than to have to share.

    what tune do your ice cream trucks play?
    The ice cream truck in our neighborhood played, of all things, ‘Little Brown Jug’.

    For American coins (excluding the quarter) I recommend a Cabo Wabo tequila bottle for its a beautiful blue with or without coins inside it. (The tequila ain’t too bad either. A nod to Sammy Hagar.) It requires an artful shake to remove anything bigger than the dimes, one where impatience is penalized and rhythm is rewarded.

  3. santoshojha says:

    Sanjeev: Thanks

    Mary: Thanks a lot for your detailed remarks which made a nice little post by itself! There were no ice cream trucks like in the US but hand drawn carts which would clatter down the street. The ice-cream man would announce his arrival by banging on the cart!

  4. Dharmesh says:

    Dear Sir,
    For about 15 minutes I was back in my good golden early childhood days!
    I was cheered remembering those moment exactly as you have mentioned!
    Thanks for giving me a transiant joy by reminding me those golden days!!!!!
    But now a days you know piggy banks are fancy and along with coing bills are going into it.
    It has bacome a routine to take money form parents as soon as salary comes to deposit it into their piggy bank.
    My son used to ask some couple of hundered ruppes as soon as I get my pay check, and at the end of evry year he opens his bank and use money as he wants!!!!!
    What a change and d-valuation of rupee!!!!! In our days we use to get wide choice to buy from coins and now hardly some thing even with 100Rs. bill!!!!!

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