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D91 Labs

#5 |Aalim: Decoding Bharat 🇮🇳

The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about.

Short story:

Aalim, a 23-year-old security guard from Bangalore, who discontinued his studies after high school to support his family. Even today his family in Assam looks forward to the money Aalim sends every month to run their household. Aalim dreams of providing them with a better life by staying in Bangalore for a few more years. This is a story of his journey to attain financial stability.

Financial Journey💰:

  • Aalim is the second child in his family of 5. His elder sister is married and his younger sister stays with his parents.
  • He stays in a company-sponsored accommodation along with some of his colleagues where he has to pay his electricity and water bills.
  • His monthly expenses come to around 4.5k and food is his biggest expense. He tries to cut down on this spend by cooking for himself.
  • Taking leaves for long durations is a luxury he cannot afford, as his salary depends on the number of days he shows up at work. He even skipped his sister’s marriage for the same reason.
  • Aalim’s family owns a small piece of land and have always been reluctant to pledge the land during a financial emergency as it is the only asset the family owns. This also arises from their fear of getting caught in a debt trap.

Snippets from the transcript:

S: How many times a month do you deposit money?
A: Once in a month. Around Rs. 7,000

S: Why did you come to Bangalore? Was it only job or was there anything else?
A: No, I came to Bangalore only for a job. I came here for work, I am a poor man. So for this purpose, I have come from my village. I have to work, we have to keep the household running. It is difficult to do that now.

S: Who else is earning in the family?
A: I don’t have a brother. I am the sole breadwinner. Dad is there, but he is also old now. He does not do anything now. Farming is our occupation. We grow rice. I had been farming too, before coming here.

Credit Sources:

Financial Planning:

  • Aalim owns only a salary account that was opened by his company.
  • On most months, Aalim’s low income renders him with zero savings. However, he manages to set aside Rs. 500 every month to make up for untimely and delayed salary times.
  • He has not parked his money in any financial instruments like mutual funds or even chit funds because he barely has any money left at the end of the month. His reluctance to invest also stems from the risky nature of returns.
  • Financial help is a 2-way street in his family. Whenever he is in need, his family comes to his aid and so does he when they face any crisis.

Snippets from the transcript:

S: Have you taken any loan?
A: No, we haven’t taken any loan until now. My father tried in many places but it was not possible. We were asked to make a mortgage. My father once tried to take a mortgage, but later dropped it. It is very expensive, lengthy process. He was afraid he will lose his life just trying to pay the interest.

S: How did you hear about mutual funds?
A: People like you who discuss it in passing, or those people who go around saying you can either take money or invest money. Those who understand the whole thing will go for it, those who don’t will not. That is how it works. And sometimes we may not get our money back. I haven’t seen it happen, but I’ve heard of such incidents.

S: Why are you not interested in chit funds? Is it because of lack of information?
A: No, I am aware of how it works. But the thing is that we need to have a decent amount to park in chit funds. Our monthly salary is so little, after sparing some for myself, sending some amount back home, whatever remains is spent within a day, what will I have left to park in chit funds? So this is why I have no interest. If there is something that remains in the pocket I can consider these chit funds, otherwise what can I keep there? My salary right now is Rs. 11,500. I send Rs. 7000 back home every month. What remains with me is Rs. 4,500. With this amount I have to manage my food expenses, also have to take care of health expenses, all in a month. And with the Rs. 7,000 that I send home, my mother, father and younger sister have to get by. Nothing remains really. How will I park it in the bank?

S: Whom will you approach for your financial emergencies, in case the company does not come to your aid?
A: Some friend. In case I ask my company and they do not give me financial help, I talk to friends. I will ask them for help. Or my family will help me if I ask them.

Tech Journey💻:

  • He is mostly a passive social media user.
  • He is hesitant to use online shopping and online payment apps because he finds them difficult to use. His limited digital literacy often leaves him at the mercy of others, especially with online payments.

Snippets from the transcript:

S: What do you use the social media apps for?
A: If I have to send any picture or a message, I use WhatsApp. Or if I have to video call somebody from home, I do it through WhatsApp. I use Facebook to just keep browsing, sometimes I put up pictures too. I watch movies on YouTube.

S: Have you done online shopping from somebody else’s phone?
A: Yes. I have done online shopping for clothes and even purchased a phone. I don’t have any of these apps on my phone. I will tell our officer what I want, and sir will book for us. The item will be delivered to our office here.

S: How do you pay for these?
A: By cash.

Personal Journey 👪:

Lifestyle:

  • Aalim rises early to prepare food and leaves for his shift.
  • He consumes news through his phone sometimes.
  • He has resolved to work as long as it takes while he is still here so that he can save up for his family when he goes back.

Belief system:

  • Aalim expresses a sense of despair that he and his siblings could not pursue education further.
  • Though he has stayed away from home for a long time and misses his family, he strives to do the best of the enormous financial responsibility thrust upon his young shoulders.
  • He comes from a close-knit community built on trust. He had to let go of his inhibitions and be a little more accommodating since he interacts with strangers on a daily basis at work.

Snippets from the transcript:

S: What are your future plans?
A: I’ll stay in Bangalore for another 2–3 years. After that, I’ll head back home, get married, do some work there and stay in my village. Whatever I get, I will accept it, it’s all a poor man’s fate.

S: Are you sure about the 2–3 years?
A: Yes. In case that is not adequate, I’ll extend the stay for another year. Then I’ll go back home and not return.

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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