#1 |Surya: Decoding Bharat 🇮🇳

Dharmesh Ba
D91 Labs
Published in
8 min readApr 8, 2019


My passengers are saved but my boat is sinking!

Decoding Bharat is a new series from D91 labs, where we publish intricate stories that illustrate the financial lives of Bharat. Our goal is to bridge the empathy gap between the next billion users and the technology craftsmen of the country.


Surya is a 26-year-old man who works as an office assistant in a startup office located in the ever-hustling city of Bangalore. Surya is married and is blessed with two boys, one 5 years old and other 3. Both of them are yet to start their schooling. Though Surya is a Tamilian, he has been born and brought up in Bangalore. Surya lives in an independent home with his parents and a younger brother. Growing up in the family of 5 siblings, Surya is the 4th kid.

Financial Journey💰:

Unsecured Loan:

  • Surya had borrowed a loan worth Rs.3 lakh in the past from unsecured lenders, for which he pays around Rs.12,500 as interest every month.
  • A couple of years back he was running an informal ‘chit’ inside his community for 10 individuals. Among which, 3 of them defaulted (i.e) withdrew the lottery amount and defaulted on the rest of the instalments.
  • To compensate the rest, Surya borrowed loans at higher interest rates and settled.

Snippets from the transcript:

“Few people had brainwashed me to start a chit in my community. Its a chit for 10 people managed by me. In that group, around 3 people took the money and ran away. That group had few bad folks but rest of them were good folks. They expected the money back. Even though they are good in heart, their patience also has an expiry date. So I had to borrow from other sources and settle their money. This chit was over almost 2.5 years back. But I am still paying interest for the borrowed money. “

Unsecured Lending: These are unauthorised lenders from the local community who lend money on a flat per month interest basis. A 5% interest loan expects the borrower to pay 5% of the principal amount as interest every month. For example, a 1 lakh loan borrower is expected pay Rs.5000 every month, none of which is part of principal repayment. The day the borrower stops paying the interest, he is expected to pay the full principal amount in one go

Simple math would tell us that Surya has been paying interest for more than what he has borrowed and is most probably not aware of this fact.

D: Other than your interest amount, what all do you spend on?

S: I would give it to my family for food. Earlier my mom also would contribute a little. The home expenses come to around 150Rs per day. When I am there, I give around 50 or 100 and come to the office. If I can, then I have breakfast in the morning, else I directly eat in the afternoon. At home, we cook only once, in the night. For the afternoon, they eat the previous night food and I come here to the office. If my interest money burden isn’t there and I start saving, I’m thinking of starting an LIC policy for my kids.

But my brothers had warned me earlier. They recommended me to give out loans for interest rather than starting a chit because in case of lending for interest, its just your money but in chits you are dealing with money from four more people. They also warned me that I might have to sell my home. Now I share a very transactional relationship with my brother and has warned me not to ask him any money.

Credit card — Max out 💳:

  • Surya had been using a credit card which was issued as a part of his salary account with a limit of 25k. Due to the financial distress, he maxed out the card unaware of the interest rates implications.
  • He had been paying around 2.6k per month as interest. Bogged down by the interest payments, he stopped paying interest after a few months, until one day where his salary for the month disappeared from his bank account

“ My salary account was with HDFC and I had a credit card with them. Since my credit card limit for utilised, they started deducting it from my salary account. My company would put my salary and it would be auto deducted from the account. Once I had to check my balance and it showed 22k but my salary was 16k. I assumed they had increased my salary, but then realised it was -22k and when I went back to the salary person, she instantly asked me to get a new bank account to avoid this.”

  • The bank reached out to Surya for the final settlement of Rs.45k for the credit card which includes the principal and interest. Post-negotiation and communicating the financial burden, the bank has finally agreed to close the loan on a full and final settlement of Rs.22k. But now Surya would not be eligible for any future loans from the bank.

Credit Sources:

“ I have my friends, whom I ask money with the promise of returning after the salary. I had a few such friends in my previous office, who would take the money when I receive the salary. Else I would give them my ATM and they would withdraw the money and give it back to me. This used to be my routine. Only in the past two months, I have been free from all of it.”

“All the jewellery that came for marriage is pledged with a pawnbroker. I earlier used to pay interest but later couldn’t manage it and stopped paying the interest. If my problems get solved, I might go back and get the jewellery by paying the amount. I see people around as how they live, I would also like to live like them in a better status.”

Financial Literacy:

I did not know much about the credit card back then. Now I understand that credit card is something that should be used for emergency purposes. While going to a hospital or when you need something in urgent, your credit card will help you buy stuff with it. If I had used the credit card properly, I would have gotten a loan too. I missed that too. I have missed a lot of things in life. Now I feel about it.

Technology 💻:

  • Surya is not much comfortable with technology gadgets.
  • He has been using a basic mobile phone a few months ago. His current employer has given him a second-hand smartphone for office purposes.
  • Once when he visited a bank for a bank statement, the bank officer had asked him to download the bank statements from net banking, but Surya is unaware of how to do it.
  • Surya is familiar with names like PayTM, BHIM, Google Pay and has also seen the QR codes at the shops he frequents but is not aware of how these apps work.
  • Does online purchases through a friend who orders and pays for it and Surya pays him back in cash.

Yeah I have seen them in shops with a black sticker written Paytm, Google Pay, BHIM. Was always curious to know about it but couldn’t explore as I did not have a smartphone. I do not have interests in buying higher end phones and new phones. I would imagine that it is like another bank account. I’m not that well versed with phones. I use SMS and WhatsApp. I earlier used to use Facebook. I haven’t yet installed Facebook on this mobile.

Personal 👪:

“I see people around as how they live, I would also like to live like them in a better status.”

“I want to take care of my family and educate my kids. I would want my kids to study higher than what I studied. All my focus from now would be only on kids.”

Belief system:

  • In the conversation, Surya was keen on not breaking others trust and had also expressed grief about breaking trust in some cases.

In the second group, around 3 people took the money and ran away. That group had few bad folks but rest of them were good folks. They expected the money back. Even though they are good in heart, their patience also has an expiry date. So I had to borrow from other sources and settle their money. They would also need the money for some urgent requirement.

I stopped going to temples and I stopped praying to God. This is a punishment for me. I’m solely responsible for this. I was also wishing that someone could have told me what to do.

Aha moment:

  • Surya revealed that he could speak 4 different languages besides his hesitance to try out new things.

D: How are you familiar with so many languages?
S: I learnt all my languages by interacting with my friends. I had a Telugu friend from my previous office. Speaking to him, I learnt Telugu. Tamil is my mother tongue. My dad is a Muslim but mom is Hindu. So I’m aware of Muslim language and I understand Hindi from that.

To read the complete transcript of the interview, please use the following link

Complete interview transcript

About the research:

This documentation is a result of the in-person interview along with the participants' consent. The interviews might be conducted in their native languages and translated to English in the best possible way to reach a large audience.

Disclaimer: The name in this documentation is masked to honour the privacy of the participant.

About D91 labs:

This research was executed and documented by D91 labs. D91 labs is an open source initiative by setu.co to help Bharat build great fintech products. We organise and publish user research, insights and frameworks for fintech in India. Please follow us on medium for more exciting stories and insights on Bharat.

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Dharmesh Ba
D91 Labs

Building @D91Labs, Design lead @setu. NID alumnus, ex-Cleartax. All things fintech.