#4 |Parvati: Decoding Bharat 🇮🇳

Soumya Mukund
D91 Labs
Published in
11 min readJun 11, 2019

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Confidence is preparation. Everything else is beyond your control

Short story:

Parvati is a married woman and works with a housekeeping agency in Bangalore. She commutes to work by bus every day and is exhausted by the time she heads back home. As a mother of 3 children, she takes the onus of saving up for the household expenses as well as emergency funds. She fiercely believes in self-sufficiency and this story is an attempt to outline her journey so far.

Financial Journeyđź’°:

• Together with her husband, the household income of Parvati amounts to Rs. 21,000.

• Their biggest spend is on the rent, that comes to about Rs. 5,000. Parvati is diligent when it comes to spending. She is mindful of emergencies that may come up in future, so she urges her husband to save up.

• Once, there was an urgent need to pay for her children’s admission, for which she had borrowed Rs. 10,000 from a trusted moneylender. It eventually dawned on her that she was paying more interest than the sum she had borrowed, and realised that it would be wiser to set aside some amount as savings every month. For this reason, Parvati avoids borrowing money from anyone.

• Her agenda is to save at least Rs. 1,000 every month for such unforeseen circumstances.

• She neither borrows money nor lends it to anybody — partly because of the exorbitant rates of interest and also because their household income is just about enough to fulfil their own needs, let alone others’.

• Her salary depends on the number of days she turns up for work, which means that taking a day off would result in her salary cut. So Parvati is careful about not taking leaves from work.

• Owing to her limited banking literacy, Parvati finds it much more convenient and accessible, even in times of emergencies, to keep all their money at home as opposed to a bank.

• She fondly nourishes a dream of having her own home one day and also ensuring her children complete their education.

Snippets from the transcript:

S: How would you manage your expenses before you landed this job?
P: We would somehow make adjustments with the amount that my husband would get. There was no one to take care of children at home, so I wanted to wait till they grew up a little and then go to work. My previous employer called me again to work for her. She wanted me. She offered more money, but there I will not be getting PF. I would get just the cash in hand. In this office, we will be provided with PF, it may help our children so I turned down the previous employer’s offer. They offered me more money and food even, I didn’t go for it. It was quite far too. I chose my present job especially for my children. Nobody will come to our aid in times of trouble. Even if people do lend us money, we still have to repay it, right? Our expenses will mount up.

Financial Flow Diagram:

Snippets from the transcript:

S: Where would you park your money before your account was created?
P: We would never park our money anywhere. We have not deposited in banks. We have a lot of expenses, what remains after paying all that is around Rs. 1,000. Even if we do manage to save up to Rs. 2,000- 3,000, we will keep it all at home.

S: How do you withdraw cash?
P: I don’t know how to withdraw cash. I either give it to my husband or somebody we know very well.

S: Whom do you trust to withdraw money for you?
P: It will surely be someone among our relatives. Either my husband, or someone from my husband’s side, like his younger brother, or anybody else like that who will withdraw cash for us. Even if I need to withdraw at work, I will not entrust it to anyone here. It is my husband who will mostly withdraw the cash for me. I do not know how to do it myself. If my husband is not there, then his younger brother or my children — my younger daughter — will do it. That is very rare. My husband withdraws cash every month.

S: What have you taken a loan for previously?
P: For our children’s school expenses. Near our house. Once in a while, we would borrow Rs. 1,000 — that’s when I got the thought — we borrow Rs. 10,000 from them, and end up paying 10% every month simply as the rate of interest with our earnings. Instead, if we cut down on our monthly expenses, even if we can save up to around Rs. 1,000 every month, by the end of 3–4 months we will have at least Rs. 4,000. That’s how I calculate and am getting by.

Credit Sources:

Snippets from the transcript:

S: Whom do you reach out to, during a financial emergency?
P: That is exactly why I have money at home and not in the bank. I do not ask anybody for money. I have saved some money at home. More than spending I like to save up some for our home. I don’t really ask anybody. Even if I have to reach out to anybody, they are also sailing in the same boat as us, and it makes me sad to ask them for money. If I do ask, I feel that we will become inferior to them. This is how it works now.

Financial Planning:

Every month, Parvati and her husband mentally keep track of the bills and the rent they have to pay and ensure they have at least Rs. 1,000 remaining as savings after all this expense is deducted.

Snippets from the transcript:

S: How do you save money?
P: We live in a rented house currently, Rs.5,000 is spent on the rent, there is electricity bill, water bill, cable bill, ration, bus commute which costs above Rs. 1,000. My husband will wish to spend on our children on this and that, but I will firmly tell him that we need to have some money at home for emergency. He will drop it and say let’s see next month, and I will still not relent and say let’s not spend till the next month’s salary. I believe a home shouldn’t be empty. There should be at least Rs. 500- Rs. 1,000 of my own money. I don’t spend much on anything. My husband spends a lot on the children, if there is anything we need. I take only as much as required, even for children. We do all this for our children, not for ourselves.

S: You mentioned children falling sick, has there been any such incident?
P: It’s not specifically about falling sick. Even if no one is sick, why should we reach out to others for help. My motive is that we should have some amount with us in such cases. For safety. There has not been any major illness like that, it’s mostly slight fever and other such minor things. We end up spending at the hospitals, that’s why I save up.

S: What is your most major expense in a month?
P: The biggest expense would be the house rent. It is quite high. We have to pay Rs. 5,000. Apart from this, there is the electricity bill, water bill, cable bill — we have to pay them all every month without fail. If we do not pay it even for a month, it will become difficult for us in the next month. Since our children go to school, we may have to buy dresses for them. We have to pay for that as well, for all the months. When all of this is over, we still have to pay for ration, without which it is not possible to get by. At the end of it we will be left with around Rs. 1,000.

S: Why do you think banking is so troublesome?
P: If there is an emergency, or if someone falls ill, we can easily access the money if it is at home. Who will go to and from the bank at such times?

S: What kind of a problem will you face with the banks if you park your money there?
P: There won’t be any problem. It is in fact good. Suppose there is an emergency at night — not that anything of that sort has occurred before, but I want to have that forethought — we can easily take the money if it is at home. We cannot ask anybody at the dead of the night nor can we go to the bank.

S: Have you heard of stock market/mutual funds? (a little bit of an explanation of how it works)
P: No, I haven’t heard of it. People do keep talking about it, but we haven’t done anything in this regard.

S: Who helps you out with finance-related matters like savings etc?
P: Nobody has taught us. We are the best judge of our own problems, we will know what kind of pre-planning to do, that we need to have some money for the future too. In case our children fall sick, or if there’s any sort of sudden emergency, can we really approach somebody else for help? So we think through all this ourselves.

S: Do you pre-plan your expenses? Or resolve them as and when they arrive?
P: We will have a plan. That is the concern that is always running in our heads. If we take a leave, then we will lose a day’s salary. In case we have to pay we will fall short of money and it becomes very difficult. This will lead to problems so we think through all this in advance.

Tech Journeyđź’»:

• Parvati owns a feature phone

• She mostly uses them to make calls and contact her children to check on them or if there is an emergency.

• She has never done online shopping.

• She has never made any online payments.

• She rarely goes out of the house for shopping, her husband takes care of it.

Snippets from the transcript:

S: What phone do you use?
P: I have a phone, Nokia.

S: How would you manage communication before you got your phone?
P: If there is no phone, there was no means of contacting anybody. I had to wait until I got back home. Even in this office, they take away our phones. We will get our phones during breakfast or lunch time, that is when we get to talk. Each day they give our phones at a different time, as per their wish.

S: Have you ever done online shopping?
P: No I haven’t

S: Have you heard of Amazon, Flipkart?
P: No, I haven’t heard of them

S: Have you made any online payments?
P: No. It’s just work — home — work — home for me. Even if we have to get ration, my husband does that. I don’t step out anywhere else. After work, I directly head back home and from home I come straight to work. That’s it. I don’t even go shopping for my children. They go with their father and buy whatever they want. I go very rarely.

Personal Journey đź‘Ş:

Lifestyle:

• Parvati commutes to work by bus daily.

• She has a TV at home. Her children listen to Hindi songs and she watches whatever channel they are watching.

• She knows Kannada and Telugu very well and understands Hindi and Tamil to a certain extent.

• She is relentlessly working towards saving up for her children’s future.

• Her family lives in a rented house presently. She dreams of having their own home.

Snippets from the transcript:

S: How do you stay updated about the current events and news?
P: We get news on TV, at work when I hear people discussing things

S: Do you have a TV at home?
P: Yes, a small one. We don’t really have the time to watch it though. If I leave the house at 6 am, I will return by 6 pm. Time will go by very quick in preparing food, household work. If I get tired, I sleep. I won’t have time for watching TV.

S: What kind of programmes do you watch on TV when you do get time?
P: Some cooking show, on Vasundhara channel. There is another channel, I cannot recall the name. I don’t watch with much interest, I watch whatever my children are watching. If there are any comedies playing on TV, I watch them.

S: Which language?
P: Kannada. We watch mostly Kannada shows. Children listen to Hindi songs. We also watch Kannada movies, Drama Juniors.

Belief system:

Parvati wishes to fend for her family with their own hard-earned money and does not like to rely on anybody else for help. She believes that a home is not a home unless there is some money saved up for emergencies.

Snippets from the transcript:

Yes, we discuss with each other. If he doesn’t listen, I fight with him a bit. I tell him we have children to take care of. Nobody will be there to fend for our kids tomorrow, we are the only ones for them, we have to think about them. Sometimes when he doesn’t listen I mock-fight with my husband. I tell him that we shouldn’t extend our palms to anybody else. If we aren’t the ones caring for our children, there is nobody who will do it for them.

Aha Moment:

• Parvati was offered a job at her previous employer’s for a higher amount, but she turned it down because her current employer was providing her benefits like PF, which she hopes will come in handy for her children’s future.

  • She realized early on that borrowing money at unreasonable rates of interest is a trap, which prompted her to start saving on her own.

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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