People of Bharat: Sumant

Inching closer to life goals

This story was originally written by Bharat Inclusion Initiative and published on Medium

I take the stairs to the third floor to avoid using the lift. As the cases of COVID-19 rise in Bengaluru, one can’t be too careful. This is the building where Sumant works as a security guard and I arrive to find him seated just within the glass doors of the company’s office. He rises to greet me. Sumant is 30 years old. He is brown skinned, brown eyed and has a mop of curly hair which is leaving his hairline already. He is dressed in a formal shirt and khakhi pants with black, formal shoes characteristic of a person working at a security agency. He is tall and lean and surprisingly soft spoken that belies the image of a security guard. He pulls a chair out from within the glass doors and we sit down for the interview. Sumant joined Lakshya’s saving scheme in June 2018 and exactly two years since, he has built a decent corpus of savings.

Sumant hails from a village in Odisha and was born to a farmer’s family. His parents tilled their 2 acre land and managed to grow one crop of rice annually and a few vegetables. The youngest of three siblings, Sumant has an older brother and sister. His sister is married and his brother lives with their parents along with his wife and their son. Sumant understood early in life, that his family had no financial standing. ‘Kamane waala ek aur khaane waale paanch’ (One earning member and five mouths to feed). Sumant kept up with his studies till his second year of college and then quit to join work. Young men from his village were invited to join a construction company in Lucknow and Sumant along with his friends applied for the job. At the age of 19, he left his village and went to Lucknow to work as a construction labourer at a bridge-building project along with six others. A couple of months later they were transferred to Chennai and six months later Sumant returned back to his village. ‘Wahan Chennai me bahut garmi hai. Doston ke saath hi wapas aa agaya’ (It was very hot in Chennai. I came back with my friends). It was June when he returned, and the festival of Raja Parba was at its peak thus immersing him in feelings of merriment and joyous reunion with family and friends. Six months later Sumant decided to start working in Bengaluru where his brother had worked as a security guard.

It is close to ten years since Sumant came to Bengaluru. He chose the profession of a security guard as his brother had also worked as one. He lives with five other men from his village in a shared accommodation. ‘Ghar mein joh ladke hai woh gaon ke hi hai, isliye gaon jaisa hi lagta hai Bangalore mein bhi’ (The men who live with me are from my village so it feels like home in Bengaluru), he shares. After working for a few agencies as a security guard he has finally found career stability in his current organisation. He tells me how over the years his salary has grown from Rs. 4800 to Rs. 18,400. Sumant was recently offered a job in another company as a supervisor where he could manage 10–12 guards under him, but he is happy here and does not want to quit.

With the lack of a good role model Sumant only relied on his common sense with respect to financial decisions. ‘Mere ghar me kisi ko aadat nahi thi. Lekin main hamesha se panch-dus rupiye bachata tha’ (No one in my family has the habit to save but I have always tried to save at least five or ten rupees), he explains. Sumant aims to save at least half of his earnings each month. Initially, this was difficult but with an increase of income, this has become easier for him. Over the years, Sumant was able to expand his house in the village, buy a cow and make the down payment for a small delivery truck for his brother — all from his savings. At present, the cost of living is shared among those he lives with. The cost of rent is Rs. 6000 and this is split four ways. The men take turns at buying monthly groceries — the budget for this is capped at Rs. 2000. After spending Rs. 1500 towards personal expenses, Sumant is left with a substantial amount. He saves Rs. 3000 with Lakshya in SIPs (Systematic Investment Plans) and Rs. 1400 towards life insurance (LIC) in which he invested six months ago. Another Rs. 3200 he tucks away into his bank account for emergency cash withdrawals. Usually, Sumant does not send money to his village every month but sends a lump sum amount prior to the sowing season. A few months ago, Sumant made a down payment of Rs. 90,000 for an auto delivery truck for his brother to operate within and outside the village. He sends his brother Rs.6000 towards monthly loan instalments for the same.

‘How do you manage to save so much?’ I ask him. I realise that owing to a childhood in poverty, Sumant has internalised feelings of deep financial insecurity. He denies himself much and diligently puts away half of his salary each month as savings. He tells me how much he yearns to watch a movie, buy himself an occasional drink or treat himself to a meal or two in a restaurant: ‘bahut pressure hota hai par control karta hun’ (I face a lot of {peer} pressure but I control myself). He refrains from over spending, keeping in mind the goal he is saving towards. Sumant saves for a couple of goals at a time and when one goal is achieved, he moves on to another one. At first, his financial planning was limited to saving. In 2018 he attended a workshop by Lakshya and came to know about other forms of investments such as mutual funds. Not the one to leap without looking, he instantly made a Google search of the funds suggested by Lakshya and even downloaded the CAMS (Computer Age Management Services) funds tracker app and tracks his investments through it. He is quite familiar with digital financial instruments. He has all UPI apps- Paytm, Google Pay, PhonePe. He also uses mobile apps of banks- SBI, Kotak, ICICI, Bank of India. Every month he transfers money from his salary account to his personal account on his own. He has linked his personal account with all the UPI apps, SPI, LIC etc. He has not linked his salary account, to avoid any kind of loss of income due to fraud. He uses an app called Monefy to manage his budget and track expenses. He mentioned that with all this digital infrastructure, transferring money back home has become easier than it used to be. When his brother was living with him, he trusted Sumant with his ATM card. Sumant made small withdrawals on behalf of his brother and thus helped him keep a check on his spending. Although Sumant is the youngest sibling, he makes the financial decisions back at home.

Sumant is moving towards a new phase in life. His parents arranged a girl for him and he was expected to get married in April but due to the ongoing lockdown he has been unable to make the trip home. His wedding has been postponed indefinitely. Sumant has built a corpus of Rs. 51,000 that he had intended to spend towards his wedding expenses. Sumant invested in a medical insurance a couple of years back. After making payments for a whole year, he decided against it as his health seems to be good. He does not invest in gold or chit funds. He does not know anyone else who invests in chits and does not want to take the risk of trusting unknown individuals. ‘Aadmi ko pahechane ke baad hi chit kar sakte hain’ (One can invest in chits only after getting closely acquainted with someone), he says. He uses the same logic while lending, and gives credit to only close friends for emergency purposes. His upper limit on lending is Rs. 10–15,000. ‘Utna hi loan deta hoon jitna wapas nahi aane pe dukh na ho’ (I lend only that amount which I would not regret losing), he says. At present, he has around Rs. 1 lakh due from his friends. He lent them this money on the condition that he would expect it back at the time of his wedding. He now feels hesitant in asking money from his friends whose lives and jobs have been negatively impacted due to the lockdown. ‘I don’t think I will get my money back for a long time,’ he says in a matter-of-fact tone.

Quite impressed with his skills in employing Fintech apps, I ask him if he has tried educating his fellow roommates regarding financial planning. He tells me he used to at first, but then he stopped. He says, ‘Aadmi logon ko idea dene se bhi nahi samajhte’ (Even after explaining things, people don’t understand). Sumant plans to get married and stay in the village for a few years with his parents just as his brother has done. Someday though, he hopes to return to Bengaluru and work for an organisation.

Sumant is the story of one who overcame mental barriers in adopting to latest technology, inching closer and closer towards achieving his dreams.