Entrepreneurship has always been associated with the mentally tough and stable breed amongst the humans. In simple words, it involves the activity of setting up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit. While the developed nations recognized the value of such risk takers who in a way are assets to nation building and thus made rules and regulations to cover up the many risks that these entrepreneurs take in their treacherous journey. However the developing or the underdeveloped nations are still at a loss to value these assets in human form and thus leave them to fend for themselves in times of uncertainties.
In addition to the financial and ‘n’ number of risks that the small time entrepreneurs face, one unexpected risk looms large – that of ever changing policies and rules and regulations of the state. In democracies that churn out strong majority governments, the welfare of the public takes a back seat as the policies and practices get more revenue generation oriented for the government and less welfare oriented for its citizens.
Its here that an exposed informal entrepreneur is maximum at risk and has to fend for himself with little help forthcoming from the state. This becomes more prominent in times of survival of the fittest as the entire clan gets exposed to similar risks across the society.
On 8 November 2016, a strong, stable majority Government of India took a step that affected thousands of such risk taking and bold assets, the informal entrepreneurs, that all this while had helped and contributed to the burgeoning economy of India. Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India suddenly announced the demonetisation of all Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes of the Mahatma Gandhi Series. The government claimed that the action would curtail the shadow economy and crack down on the use of illicit and counterfeit cash to fund illegal activity and terrorism. The sudden nature of the announcement—and the prolonged cash shortages in the weeks that followed—created significant disruption throughout the economy, affecting common public at large.
While none of the desired goals of demonetisation could be claimed to have been achieved with certainty but the stories of devastation that it caused have slowly started trickling out and going viral while flooding the media.
Many people who do not find easy access to the print media or TV to air such heart rending stories are finding innovative ways to publish them through the digital and social media networks.
One such story came to light when Rohin Dharmakumar took to his novel way of airing a story about the brutality of “informal entrepreneurship” in India. Today, the so called journalist entrepreneur tweeted and sought excuse beforehand for a series of some 35 odd tweets, that he was to shower upon. He even cautioned that those not interested may mute for an hour or so if they wanted to be disturbed by his barrage of tweets to the world.
N4M Media compiled the whole string of tweets to build the entire story and highlight the message that Rohin wanted to reach the public at large. The story in the words of Rohin, verbatim, goes like this:
“It’s about 2 families from Bengal who moved to Bangalore around 6-7 years ago. Two brothers, their wives and 2 kids each.
The brothers did odd end jobs as carpenters for the first few years, while the wives worked as household help in nearby apartments. Over a period of time, the brothers managed to save a bit of money to open up their own carpentry works shop. And started hiring staff.
By 2016, they were employing somewhere between 12-15 people under them. They were proud of it, I could tell. Enormously. The kids were admitted into English medium schools, because naturally, the parents wanted a better future for them.
From staying together under a crowded single roof, they were able to afford living apart, although very close to each other. For a while, it looked like a success story of internal migration within India and a “breaking out” of previous economic realities.
And then in Nov 2016, the bottom suddenly fell out of their carpentry business. Their govt had just “demonetized” 85% of their currency.
Biz started drying up as customers had no cash (or desire) to spend. Meanwhile, salaries had to be paid. They were brave, at first. The wives, always proud, impeccably dressed and graceful beyond their precarious economic reality, were devastated.
The women, who’d previously never bothered to prod their employers for salaries even if it was a week late, had to swallow their pride. “Please give us cash only. We have no cash at home and all business has dried up.” they told their employers.
Some, probably all of their employers, managed to scrounge around for ATMs with cash to pay them their salaries.
Meanwhile over the months, as cash “gradually” started returning to the economy, the brother’s carpentry biz was over. Informal businesses operate on cash. Employees need cash. Supplies need cash. Take that away for a few months, you’ve killed the biz.
The pride and swell in their steps was gone. From entrepreneurs, they were back to being carpenters, trying to find work to survive. Come the new school year, they wanted to move their children to better schools. But the donations were 50,000-75,000, per child.
So the mother swallowed her pride once again (as only mothers and parents are capable of) and asked their employers for advances.
“I’ll pay it back monthly over the next year,” she said stoically. Knowing fully well reduced salaries would make life even tougher. She’d originally wanted to move both her son and daughter to the same school, but couldn’t afford it now. Only the son was moved.
“My daughter said it’s okay ma, I can study for another yr at the same school,” she said. Only another parent will understand her pain. Through all of this, the women remained stoic and smiling. Giving *no* hint of the troubles going on in their lives.
One of the brothers was particularly hard hit. He somehow couldn’t reconcile himself to the brutal fall from what was a new life. He became paranoid. Imagining people were out to get him and his family. Shutting himself indoors with all doors/windows closed.
He would step out of the house at night and go sit under a tree, watching it intently. Till his wife/brother brought him back. “Don’t switch on the TV, they’ll get us!” he shouted at his kids, to whom he’d been the gentlest of dads till now.
“They’re all out to get us. We need to go back to our village (in Bengal) right now. Pack all your bags!” he told his family last week. With both kids in school and poised for (what was to be) a new life, the wife had no easy choice. It must have killed her inside.
So she agreed to let her husband be taken back to his village (by his brother) for a while. “Hopefully it’s just a phase” she hoped.
With her husband gone, she – who doesn’t know Kannada and has no social network beyond the other family – is alone with her kids. Two kids who must be frightened and confused out of their wits at what’s happening to their dad, their lives, their family.
It makes my blood boil and my eyes water to see how patently bad and impetuous decisions like demonetization have wrecked lives! I hope the husband gets better. And comes back. And seeks treatment. And restarts his business. And finds his lost confidence.
Because I’m sure the wife is his rock and pillar. And that of their kids too. I will keep watching and praying for them.”
And with that ended the barrage of tweets that, if followed and read with patience will bring tears to anyone’s eyes. The insensitivites and brute force with which the Kings and Lords of erstwhile kingdoms functioned could easily be gauged in a matter of few minutes.
Like many concerned citizens, who themselves went through such ordeal, immediately came out with offers of help that were politely accepted by the tweeter on the family’s behalf.
However such offers of help can best be cold comfort. Watching something you built fall apart despite your best efforts and with no fault of yours, can be both infuriating and demoralizing. Worst, it can be paralyzing, as the brother who was sent back in this case, as you begin to doubt your own abilities and destiny.
But before you’re lost in a negative feedback loop, remember it’s possible to bounce back from failure and become stronger than ever and that’s exactly the essence of Entrepreneurship.
In the end, just like the twitterati, we too hope that the entreprenurial spirit comes back to the family, and helps it bounce back with the same earlier zeal and ferocity and keep contributing their little best helping India move ahead on path of development and progress.