The day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned Indians from spending their 500- and 1,000-rupee notes, merchant Bhagirath Barik started getting strange offers.
Rice, honey, leather. With large bills voided, his neighbors were offering to barter whatever they had for his vegetables and spices at the weekly market.
“We have to feed our children,” said Anima Sandha, who helps run a small beauty parlor in Mr. Barik’s village of Khulia, in eastern Orissa state.
Mr. Barik traded one customer a kilogram of potatoes, cauliflower and tomatoes for half a liter of honey. That was a good deal, he says. In normal times, the honey would be 120 rupees in the market (around $1.80) and the vegetables 70 rupees.
But these are not normal times, not in Khulia or anywhere else in India.
As authorities struggle to replace the more than 20 billion notes that are being yanked out of the economy to punish cash-hoarding tax evaders, the sudden scarcity of paper money is being felt most acutely far from India’s megacities.
In the countryside, bank branches are few and understaffed. Villagers report waiting all day at a bank for usable bills, only to return home empty-handed. Cash machines are also rare. India only has 18 for every 100,000 adults.
Few rural residents have debit or credit cards or the ability to make digital payments. So to get by, communities are turning to decidedly older forms of cashless payment.
Rice, abundant after the autumn harvest, has become a common medium of exchange. Rice for lentils, rice for potatoes, rice for cooking oil, rice for salt. One woman in Orissa even said she traded rice for the flattened rice flakes known as chivda.
Others said they hoped to be able to transact with money again soon.
“It is becoming very hard to survive,” said Ms. Sandha, the beauty-parlor worker in Khulia. “How many days are we going to barter?”