Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Thursday, January 11, 2007

expt 2 - urban debt and khan chacha

poverty is a tough quicksand. education is one strong antidote. thats one of the beliefs i hold true to my heart.

in my best knowledge, majority of families in urban settings are in debt. and sadly through loan sharks.
10% is the MONTHLY interest, i.e., Rs 100 of loan will result in Rs 10 per month as interest (Rs 120 per annum - 120% rate of annual interest). once a family is in this web, there is no respite and rare exits. families then take the only route, borrow from another to pay of another and the web expands.

so how hard is the struggle when one is battling through this quicksand with the antidote.
very very hard. needs little explanation.

so i resolved sometime earlier to help one such struggler with a soft loan. a simple one time help to wipe out all earlier liabilites. for me it was a 'no brainer', though there is a larger picture of 'why this family only?'. i let them rest.

so yesterday was on way to make the 'transaction'.

so khan chacha was my taxi driver. was irritating at the start. going to a fairly well known place, he kept asking me directions at every turn.

somwhere midway, the conversation blossomed.

csm - where do you stay?
kc - shivaji nagar, mankhurd.
csm - own vehicle?
kc - no chance.
csm - where are your from?
kc - ahmednagar.
csm - since when in mumbai?
kc - since british times. am over 70 now.
csm - arent you too old to be doing this?
kc - useless boys and greedy wife? majboori hai (no other choice)

he talks a bit about his sons and wife. one son is a vagrant and the other has married and moved on separate. he also tells me about his family economics and how he manages with the taxi.

kc - saab, dont mind, you know women, they only want 2 things, daulat aur paisa (wealth and money)
csm - arent they the same thing?
kc - yes. they are.
csm - (bulb flasing) oh, ok....but thats not entirely true. i understand your experience and position, but dont agree.
kc - only telling you from my own experience
csm - dont you have daughters? they usually are more caring than sons.

this is where i was stunned.
kc reached into his pocket and picks out a snap. he, his wife, daughter and his 2 grandsons. pretty family snap.

csm - nice, where is she?
kc - she died 2 months back.

holy crap.

csm - allah!! how? what happened?
kc - stomach pains. admitted in hospital. they hardly fed her for 10 days. neither husband or in-laws paid attention and she died.

screwballs. how unfair life gets.

csm - the kids? who takes care of them? you see them?
kc - father is there. i can never step into their house. they treated my girl like a servant (chal jaadu laga besharam, kutti ki aulaad....sweep the floor you shameless sonofabitch). how can i ever see their faces again. kabhi nahin (never).

i really am struggling for responses now. my questions dry up. he is obviously hurting and i am thinking aarula valayathathu aravathula valayathu (tamil saying....what doesnt bend at 6 will not bend at 60).

csm - chacha, choti mooh badi baat (free wisdom from youngster), love is the only solution. the more you give the more you will get.
kc - i know (with resignation). but have no one to love.
csm - you do. you just have to do it with those right next to you.

no response. journey ends. i alight.

csm - thank you bhaisaab. khuda haafiz.

went around the community and spent time with some families and talked to the kids. there is so much love and affection. at the same time there is so much negativity, fear and rage.
can sense the former while being in a house and talking to people, can feel the later while just loitering.

i do smile a fair bit, but i resolve to do it more and more and especially while loitering.


Vanessa said...

You really can Communicate i must say.
Don't you think another important reason for increasing poverty and the debts is the rampant alcoholism among the men? All the maids i have had till date, work because the husband is alcoholic, if earning spends all of it on alcohol. And also eyes the wife's income. The mother looks after home, children, their education.

In Chennai, it was the same with my maid (She spoke toota-foota English!) Her husband was an auto-driver, alcoholic. She had to hide her money from him. But she had put both her daughters in English medium. I used to give tuitions to a few kids,(esp for hindi). Asked Amma to send her younger daughter to sit in my class. She was a sharp little girl. Once i challenged my students, "whoever gets more than 75% will get a gift". My fee-paying students were all useless, but this girl took the challenge and got almost 75%.
don't remember the exact figure.
(Her average till then was in 60s)
She made me really proud.
That reminds me, she had given me her postal address, i promised to write to her and never did. I think i've even lost the address.

Preeti Aghalayam aka kbpm said...

Khan Chacha. Heart-wrenching. Hug him next time. Seriously.

Re the debt funda -in my experience its not always about alcoholic husbands. There are a billion other things. Like the door of their house falls off during monsoons. Ganpati needs to be celebrated resulting in expenditure of rs. 10000. Weddings. Death Ceremonies.

I do this too - soft loan. Tough to even call it a loan on some levels as there is very little chance of getting paid back. But I get upset when they spend so much on festivals and weddings. They assure me I can never understand ...Perhaps I cannot..

csm said...

j - get the address at once. these things are way more precious than the million family photographs and marriage albums !!
too many reasons like kbpm mentions cause indebtedness. many are really avoidable - the costs at social functions, oh gosh.
the start could be any one of items, the continuation is the repayment spiral. there is little to no respite from the demonic interest rates.

kbpm - wished i did hug kc. he was obviously in much pain.
as i told kc, we can understand their position, but we will never agree.

Preeti Aghalayam aka kbpm said...

csm have read the other posts, but need to get back to this one with questions.
Is it not possible to inculcate the savings mentality? For e.g. I know there is a wedding coming up the minute I have a girl child. Is it impossible to plan, even reasonably for it? Instead of running to those sharks in the last minute. I know that making ends meet every month is itself too tough, but as far as I recall this was true in my parents generation for much of the middle class. Nevertheless there were savings - that were meant for special things and not monthly ration. My argument is based on surmise that expenditure is more or less proportional to your income, so why not savings too?
I had mostly persuaded four women to do this. At least last month they had agreed, now they are avoiding the discussion. I had said Rs.200 a month, come hell or high water. Hope it works out soon. They are keen to have a bank passbook (which is where I come in) But huge activation energy to even have this discussion.

csm said...

kbpm - savings is an unknown factor. mostly it is a bishi based, which is unorganised and like a small SHG.

the future is an unknown for them, so being used to living with what is available.

mostly they want to belive that they live hand to mouth, that they are averse to savings. they would love to save. dont know how to.
concurrently, there are few instis which manage small savings in urban settings.

a grameen bank could be a boon for these families.

you are doing a great thing with the 4 women. keep it up. thats how it will start. get them to market and grow the group. certainly possible. we could tie up with some bank to take up this project.