The shops that border Pappu ki kalonie is a rich repository of emergent professions and relics. Today I got talk with the Siddharth, who runs a phone recharge and money transfer shop. Siddharth's shop is really minimal, with a Desk, a printer covered by a cloth, a laptop, a bench for customers to sit on and a few posters on the walls. During the day he is usually free and checking his phone or laptop.
I used the pretext of getting my phone recharged to strike up a conversation with him. He is a second generation migrant from Nalanda district in Bihar. His parents had initially moved to Panipat to work in the garment manufacturing sector. He grew up in Delhi mostly and around 10 years ago his parents moved to Kapashera. They continue to work in garment manufacturing though he complained that the contracts are not as strong now and his parents can be fired whenever they wish. He had the privilege of being educated in a school unlike his parents, upon graduation he couldn't find a job and went to work in a garment unit and was removed soon citing they don't hire juniors. He said that there is a bias against the second generation migrants as they do not accept such bad conditions. He then spent some time job less before he thought of becoming an entrepreneur and start his own phone recharge and money transfer shop. He said that in the first few months, he had to pay the rent of the shop out of his own pocket but after that he started to hit a return on investment.
As we are talking a migrant worker walks into the shop hands Siddharth 3,500 Rs and with a click of a button the money reaches somewhere in Bihar. As Siddharth writes this man a receipt for his money transfer, he gets a call from the beneficiary that the money has been received. Siddharth then tells me that he charges 20 Rs for transfers between 500 and 5000 Rs and 40 Rs for anything over. He makes about half of that as a profit and the company takes the rest. He says the infrastructure is minimal and it is a lucrative business as the migrants don't have time in their daily life to visit the bank and stand in a queue to transfer the money. Earlier people used to send the money home with people and more often than not the money used to disappear on the way. He says that the business builds upon trust, his volumes have gone up as he lives right behind the shop, people know him and his parents and know that he is not simply going to disappear. The level of embedded trust is such that most people don't even insist on getting a receipt from him. He whispers to me that the volume of his transfers reached an all time high of 10 lacs last month, that is pretty considerable considering that he built his business merely 15 months ago.
A few moments later a man walks to his shop presses his finger on a fingerprint scanner and withdraws 3,000 Rs from his Bank account. He gets a electronic receipt for his transaction and Siddharth counts and hands him the money. Siddharth later tells me about this gadget.
He says that if your account is Adhar Card linked you can withdraw money from your account from his shop like that. This way he is able to maintain a balance of payments from his shop, the money that comes in cash leaves as withdrawals in cash and the pay phone app promotes and allows this model as then there is little exchange of money in cash between them. He said that this withdrawal function was introduced during notbandi and has caught on since as ATMs are usually out of cash or not working. This saves a lot of time for people in the community.
Siddharth's shop has become virtually a one man bank and teller machine. It has digitally bent the fabric of space-time and brought the worlds of Kapashera and Bihar closer for many people in the community.
He then explains me about the different phone pay platforms and how currently there is so much competition in this space. He tells me that Paytm started with free money transfers and is charging people 5% at the moment and he has stopped using it pretty much, the platform novopay is still affordable but their rates are climbing. He tells me as the previous platforms become expensive new ones arrive and he always makes a switch when this happens.
He has plans to repaint his shop before Diwali and also expand his business to mobile phone accessories. As we are talking a street sweeper parks his broom outside his shop takes Siddharth's phone and calls his son who lives on the periphery of Kolkata. As he leaves the man thanks him but offers no money. Siddharth tells me that this guy has no phone and he has a lot of respect for him as he keeps the street clean for everyone and they don't have to bother with it. He thus let's him call from his phone every once in a while. There are these ties of empathy and solidarity that keep deprived communities like Kapashera up in the face of extreme hardships, they form bonds of community resilience.