One of the characteristic features of the ‘development’ of an economy is the easy availability of credit. And ever since Manmohan paaji opened up the doors to India Inc., credit has been easy to come by. Regardless of one’s views on liberalisation and free-market economics, one has to concede that credit has never been as easily available to common folk in India as it is today. This has fuelled the boom in malls, real estate, cars, clubs, tourism and much more. The flip side is that most of us have forgotten a basic skill that our parents and forebears had distilled to a fine art – saving!
They cut corners, walked instead of taking the bus and generally settled for less, constantly postponing gratification, all to provide us some extra comforts and build up a kitty for exigencies and old age. Even relatively wealthy people of parents’ generation saved money. It was, quite simply, the done thing. They were not parsimonious. They were just prudent.
Yesterday, the BBC reported (click here and here for full story) on the remarkable achievement of a frail old woman in Calcutta. This lady could easily be any middle-class Indian’s mother or grandmother, except for one thing – she’s not from the middle class. Laxmi Das is a 60 year-old beggar who has demonstrated more prudence than we of the instantly-gratified internet generation can ever muster. Over 44 years of begging on Calcutta’s streets, the astute woman saved much of what she made, squirreling it away in metal buckets, hiding the hoard under gunny bags in her ramshackle little hovel. Her 91-kilogram haul of small coins, totalling about Rs. 30,000 was her ‘pension plan’ put away for when advancing age would prevent her from being able to beg.
Officials at the Central Bank of India branch where Ms Das deposited her savings took three days to count it. Despite the fact that her deposit included several old coins now long out of circulation, the bank treated them as legal tender, accepting them at full face value. Treating her as just another customer, bank staff will advise her on how she can best use her savings. The BBC quoted branch manager T K Haldar as saying, “She can be projected as a role model to encourage people to begin saving.” And what a role model she is to our credit-crazy, free-spending generation. With half her prudence, I could be a multi-millionaire by the time I retired. That’s enough contemplation on prudence, for now. I have to get back to looking for car loans!