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People of Bharat: Bhadra

Bhadra, 28, meets me at the entrance of the highway hotel where he works. He is tall, has a wheatish complexion and a pleasant demeanour. ‘Please accompany me to the backside’ he says and I follow him to what appear to be staff living quarters. We sit down in the balcony — I prefer not to invade the sparse privacy of his quarters. ‘My village is near Jawaja in Ajmer Taluka in Rajasthan’ he explains, when I ask him where he was born. The name Jawaja rings a bell — the place is famous for artisans who work with leather and animal hair to make hand-crafted

bags and rugs.

Bhadra’s father left the village and came to Ahmedabad in Gujarat to find work when Bhadra was still a child — he worked odd jobs sending money home whenever he could. His mother was a labourer who worked in the village. He has four siblings; two brothers and two sisters. In 2009 at the age of 17, Bhadra left home in search of work. ‘I studied until ninth standard. I wasn’t good at it and preferred to play in the fields or mind the goats. My father was the only earning member and I was the eldest son. We needed to get my sister married’ he says. His father found him a job as a waiter in a hotel on the National Highway no. 8 and Bhadra has not looked back since.

For the past 11 years, Bhadra has alternated between hotels in Gujarat and Rajasthan, working as a waiter. Before the lockdown he was working at a well-known highway hotel in Rajasthan but the lockdown was severe on the hospitality sector and Bhadra’s employer did not pay him for a month. As others were being laid off, Bhadra quit and joined a hotel on the Ahmedabad highway. His work starts at 11 in the morning. ‘Every place has different timings and rules about work’ he states. Here, he starts by cleaning the dishes, cleaning tables, laying tablecloths and dishes — before the customers start rolling in. He earns a fixed salary of Rs. 9000 — tips from customers are extras he can make on the side. Bhadra tells me he has two children — both under the age of five. His sisters are married and his younger brothers work in Ahmedabad in similar jobs. ‘During the lockdown, my father and brothers lost their jobs — they returned to the village. My mother was in Ahmedabad with me, for medical treatment. We had to walk back to the village. You must have seen people walking back to their villages during that time. We were also one of them.’ His voice wavers and his eyes well up with emotion. He pinches his eyes with his thumb and forefinger and I give him a moment to collect his thoughts.

Bhadra tells me the entire family was together for a couple of months during the lockdown. They managed by dipping into their savings and ate together to save on groceries. Eventually, the menfolk returned to Ahmedabad and found new work. Bhadra’s father had applied to a government housing scheme a few years ago and had secured a house in Ahmedabad. He lives there along with Bhadra’s younger brothers. The family house in the village is becoming small for the expanding families. ‘One day I want to build my own house and live separately’ says Bhadra.

Bhadra was in his village when the local self-help group (SHG) operator introduced him to Kaleidofin’s goal-based savings solutions — he now saves Rs. 1000–1500 every month and has accumulated over Rs.20,000 in savings. Bhadra explains how he feels stuck in an unstable career. ‘Maine socha hai line change kar dun. Gaadi seekh lete hun’ (I want to change my line of work. I want to learn to drive). He tried to advance himself by exploring different, more secure job opportunities such as becoming an LIC agent or a hotel supervisor. ‘For any job the minimum requirement is tenth pass. In those days, we didn’t have the concept of tuition classes — perhaps I needed extra tuitions. Now I have very few options (for job growth).’

Bhadra tells me his mother is a very capable woman and manages the income of his father and brothers despite not having had any formal education. The men, on their part, stay away from habits like drinking and gambling, which they consider wasteful. Bhadra’s mother took major life decisions for him and he sends her almost all of his salary every month. ‘Ghar ka sab mummy hi dekhti hai. Mujhe kuch zyada knowledge nahi hai’ (My mother manages our household expenses and requirements herself. I do not have much of an idea about financial planning.) She manages Bhadra’s savings at the bank and is also the leader of a self-help group in the village which helps her save regularly and take out loans when needed. The household has taken two loans: one for buying a motorcycle and one for repaying the money borrowed from relatives for family weddings, and pays Rs. 2000 towards monthly loan instalments. Bhadra also pays Rs. 1700 as a bi-annual life insurance premium towards a government life insurance policy with returns on savings, which his mother helped him invest in as soon as he started earning. She has invested in similar life insurance schemes for his father and brothers. He explains for me there is a real need for insurance. ‘We don’t have anything to fall back on. We only have our health and our limbs. As long as these are working, we can find work. If something happens to us, there will be no income.’ Bhadra, his father and his brothers own smartphones. They use it for making calls, connecting with people on WhatsApp and other social media and for entertainment. They also use digital financial services apps for making money transfers and remitting money home. His family in the village has access to eMitra[1] kiosks and is able to withdraw limited amounts of money without visiting the bank. While Bhadra believes in saving for his future, the current pandemic situation has made him extremely anxious. He is yet to receive his salary from his previous employer and he is considering filing a police complaint as his ex-employer is not answering his calls. His family did not receive any government aid during the lockdown either. Yet, he empathises: ‘The government is trying its best but the coronavirus has rendered everyone helpless’. The imposition of a weekend curfew in Ahmedabad will mean fewer customers at the hotel. ‘This time if I go back to the village, I doubt I will ever be able to come back’ says Bhadra.

[1] A public-private –partnership to deliver various services in the government and private sectors in rural areas.

This story has been developed in partnership with Kaleidofin. A portfolio startup of CIIE.CO. Kaleidofin is a FinTech platform that propels under-banked customers towards meeting their real life goals by providing intuitive & tailored financial solutions.

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