What does it feel like to be poor?

Answer by Amit Banerjee:

It feels suffocating.

I belong to a middle class family and had never seen 'real' poverty during my childhood. Yes, I had a Hercules bicycle. Yes, I was given good education. Yes, I would go to Disney Land once a year. Yes, my parents would take me on holidays. I had a TV video game and a huge collection of cartridges that my mom had bought for me when I scored good marks.

Then I entered college. My sister's marriage was planned, my father bought an apartment and had to pay my fees for engineering. All three events happened in quick succession and we were suddenly caught in debt.

Somehow, we got scammed and got ourselves chained into bank loans and then, poverty crept in. It all happened in such a rush that it felt I had to jump from an airplane without any preparation and learn to fly as I fell, or else, I'd be dead.

During this time span of 2 years (2008-2010), I had to fight poverty on my own.

Here is a crux of what happened:

  • No money to pay college fees. Figure out a way to earn it all by yourself.
  • No money to pay for daily transport? Walk.
  • No money for entertainment, movies or recreation. Ask your friends for a smoke.
  • No money for anything except basic food.
  • Worst of all, deal with the hassles of the bank. They would send 'bouncers' to my house to recover the EMI amount and I would have to guard my mom. I had to sell house furniture, gold, and what not.

I told my father that pursuing my education was not worth it given the crisis situation, and that I should take up a job and earn money for the family.

To this, my father said,

"Son, you can make money whenever you want to but you won't be able to learn later. This is a difficult time, don't worry. I myself could not study further and had to take up a job at 18 so that I could feed a family of 10 which included my brothers, sister, parents. I won't let it happen with you. We will somehow manage through it; just do your thing."

The year was 2008. My monthly expenses ranged between Rs. 900-1500 (including food). My engineering fees was Rs. 7000 per month; on the other hand, my family was fighting debt. In Lakhs. Each month, the debt would increase because of the education fee.

I was literally beaten and broken because I had no idea on how to generate money while I was still a student.

  • I sat for interviews for a BPO. Rejected.
  • I sat for interviews for part-time jobs. Rejected.
  • Applied for a teaching job. Rejected.

Every door that I knocked on, I was turned away. Every relative/ friend I asked for money from, slammed the door on my face.

There came a point of time in my life when I had just Rs.10 in my pocket for emergency or just in case, I needed to make phone calls from a local telephone booth. I would walk on the streets for days because I didn't have enough money to afford riding in a rickshaw. I would work for hours in a data entry job and get paid Rs.1 for filling up forms. This way I earned Rs 80-100 a day. I saw my father giving up his scooter to save fuel costs. I saw my mom giving up attending family occasions. I saw my sister selling her jewelry. And I cried in the bathroom. Alone. For months.

When disaster comes, it comes with a battalion from all directions, all at once.

My girlfriend left me when I needed her the most. She said,

You yourself are in trouble and without a job. How will I present you in front of my family?"

I lost her. I loved her; she was the only thing that made me smile but I lost her. For money.

I had died many deaths in those two years but this was the hardest blow. Losing the love of your life because you don't have enough money. I remember our last meeting. It was raining and we were standing below an asbestos shed, enjoying an alpenliebe as that was the only thing I could buy for her.

This was painful and I almost gave up on everything. Weird thoughts started hitting my mind.

Meanwhile, I got a public sector job which I did not like. I walked away. I was already broke, beaten and pushed to the corner but I  walked away. Somewhere inside my heart, I still had hope. I knew that this was a temporary bad phase and that 'This too shall pass'. But I could not allow mediocrity to creep in. I had a dream and a temporary crisis was no excuse for giving up on my dreams and settling for mediocrity.

Here is the resignation letter (some portions have been blurred for privacy)

Crestfallen. Defeated, what were my options now?

Mission statement: Raise money as rapidly as possible and repay the debt.

  • Government sector – This is a dead end.
  • Private sector – No degree. No experience. No skills. Shitty resume. Bad idea.
  • Part time jobs – Possible but not scalable as they are low paying. Won't be able to scale rapidly.
  • Business – Scalable but read mission statement again. No money in the first place. How do I start a business without money?

They say when you have hit your lowest point, you're bound to make the greatest change. That is the point when you realize that you've nothing more to lose and then the animal within you comes out.

Solution: Start a business which does not require initial investment. But this model should be able to scale itself rapidly. In short, the rate of its scaling should be higher than the rate at which the loan scales. Also, there should be some kind of virality associated with it so that it spreads itself without me having to spread it.

The real problem is not money but time. I need to raise money with limited skills and absolutely no resource (degree/job/experience/vision) and I need to raise it fast.

Weapon: Internet and Time. Now let's get some shit done.

I made up a website with 700 INR. Fuck, I did not have Rs. 700 to buy a domain name. I bought it on debt again. Here is a bill which is very close to my heart…..(it says Rs 275 in debt)

I didn't succeed in the first go. I had ZERO technical knowledge on how to build a website. But that was not going to stop me because I didn't had any other option. My survival depended on this and I had to do it, come what may.

My first website didn't pick up. Failed.
I made a second one. It didn't work either.
I made a third website. Failed.

Devastated, I gave it a fourth try. Countless hours spent googling, coding, writing and building it. I remember those days when I used to lock myself in a balcony and google all day long. Days, nights and weeks, I have toiled like a madman. I burned the midnight oil night after night. I crossed mountains of failures and I wrote, I wrote and I wrote. I suffered from Jaundice and lost 14-20 Kgs. That was the time when I realized what hard work meant.

First month, I made $1.29. Second month, I made $8. Third month I made $21.

And then some more.
And then some more.
And then some more…

When a wolf smells blood and flesh around, it becomes a dangerous beast. I had smelled my flesh and now I jumped on my prey with all I'd got.

I generated $40,000 in two years. For the curious and those who doubt my story in their comments – I didn't raise it from a single website, there were some small sites as well. Also, I did a good amount of freelancing. This was to ensure that I had multiple ways of generating money, should the main site crash. The site did suffer a major blow but by that time I had solidified my basement.

Here is a picture of my balcony where I used to work on my website and other things (yes a CRT monitor and a broken laptop which college authorities had gifted me)

I had not wanted to share the stats. But after some people requested for it, here goes the journey of the website.

Adversity causes some men to break, others to break records.

I paid off the whole debt. Even saved a bit.

Today, I work at LinkedIn. It's like a dream come true for me.

No, I am not an MBA. I am not an IITian either. Nor did I go to U.S. to get a degree from an Ivy league university. No, I did not get the job through campus placement. Neither did I make it through employee referral. I am just another average graduate from just another average engineering college. I just did one thing and did it well –  put my heart and soul into what I really wanted to do.

(I am at the extreme left, red kurta and dhoti. Colleagues are overjoyed on cultural day. More pics here Cultural Day @ Slideshare/LinkedIn Delhi)

But the lessons I learned in those two years have helped me shape my character and be a better person. Those were the longest and the hardest 2 years I will never be able to forget. Also, the most worthwhile time of my life so far.

I don't waste money now.

  • No show off.
  • Yearly vacations – Yes. Weekend parties – No.
  • No costly gadgets.
  • I don't buy shit I don't even need.
  • I don't buy 'branded' stuff just because every other clueless idiot is doing it. No. I don't.

Lesson learned the hard way – Be grateful for what you have.

These days, my parents are looking for a bride for me. When the girl's father asks for my salary, I smile and say "I hope your daughter gets a wealthy guy. Because I know money matters. Every single rupee counts."

When I return home in flight, a part of me cries. Not because I am spending money on traveling which can be done through train. I feel bad thinking someone on this planet needs this money to feed himself. And here I am, traveling in a jet to save time because I am short on leaves.

Lesson: Be kind, for everyone out there is fighting a hard battle.

Here is sharing the first cheque I received for my website. This was that day when I have cried the most.  Whenever I am in trouble, I open my archive and see this cheque. This gives me all the strength that I need.

Some tips to graduates, students who are yet to enter "real world"

1. Lead a loan free life. Need a car? Wait. Don't jump into an EMI. Save and then buy the car. Avoid banks as much as possible. No credit cards, I don't need cashback and other things. Want to study abroad? Don't take huge educational loan. If at all you take loans, have something to fall back on. Money is fire, you gotta be careful. Save. Every month Pay Yourself First

2. Make mistakes. Fail, fail fast and make it public. Don't drag it on. I wouldn't have succeeded in this wild venture had I listened to people telling me I write shitty articles. In fact, all I wrote for the first year was pure garbage. But here is the thing. I didn't stop. I kept pressing on because I had no time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dT4Fu-XDygwIf you are not failing, you are moving backwards.

3. Do not be ashamed of your situation. I could have written it Anonymously, so that my Facebook friends never know how miser my life was. But No. I am not ashamed of the truth. Accept life as it is.

4. Do not compare your life with anyone.

I see a new trend, specially in Quora. People comparing their life with IITans and IIM graduates. As if, IITans don't have any struggle in life. As if IIM graduates are the happiest people. Trust me, its a myth. They too have challenges, they too have problems in their life. Keeping the expectation of society because you're an IITan or IIM graduate is no easy feat. If you compare your life with someone else's, you will not achieve peace.

5. Be very careful when success comes to you easily. It’s a treacherous path to tread on. You must see failure before success otherwise you will not know its value. Let's say you sit in a campus interview and clear it in one shot, take up the job and keep doing it for years, chances are high that you will regret – "Why I did not explore? What for?" Also, do not expect to get lucky every time. You will be in trouble somewhere down the road, then what are you going to do?

6. Do something on your own. However small or big, doesn't matter. Do something completely from scratch and learn how to sell that thing. This will teach you lessons you will use for the rest of your life.

7. Do not make one disappointment the center of your life.

When any incident shatters all the plans, hopes and aspirations, people start considering that pain and hurt to be the center of their lives and continue to live their lives around it.When people start considering one obstacle, challenge or misery to be the center of their life, and stop the very momentum of life, they cannot succeed. Nor can they achieve happiness and contentment.

8. Hustle, hustle, hustle. I will admit, I did not hustled from the start. I started hustling only after I went broke and had a big problem at hand. Whatever it is, hustle. Take risks. The biggest risk in life is not risking anything at all. But the initial risks should be calculated.

9. Help people as much as possible. My friend Soumen Halder was with me during that tough phase. WE have had many fights. But he was there. When the storm had settled down at my end, he was going through a tough time. I pulled him out and secured him a position at a startup I was working.

10. Do not be obsessed with 'perfection'. You don't need a perfect solution. You need a solution which is 'good enough'.

People say 'passion' is everything. Trust me, it's wrong. Passion is not everything. No one interviews a passionate musician who has played guitar for 20 years, has never copied someone else's music and called it his own.

You should have a Goal. Well, wrong again. How do you know where you are going when you are full of doubts?

I believe, you need a problem. A massive problem. A crisis. Solve that shit and you will have those answers. Most of this comes from experimentation. And to experiment, you need systems.

Big things will happen from many small things. So let's say if you have 10 small things in your pocket, one of them will be big. You don't know which one is your trump card.

Now this calls for a well deserved rant, take it with a grain of salt.

<rant>

11. Failure is acceptable. Every single person fails. You know what's not acceptable? NOT TRYING. I see most people giving up without even trying in the first place.

So you hate your job. What are you doing to find something you love? You dedicate so much to your girlfriend, you spend hours chatting on Facebook, you go to weekend parties and then on Monday morning, you are ready with your excuses. Stop pretending. Yes You, I am telling this to you. Stop being a hypocrite to yourself. Yes, I am angry and shouting because I know you're not giving your 100%.

You keep feeding excuses to your brain everyday. Things like – "I don't find time to do this. I don't have 60%, I won't be able to sit in some campus placement interview, I am a loser. She will leave me, my parents, he is lucky because he has an MBA, I don't have a rich father, recession is coming, not many companies are hiring electrical engineers, everyone is shooting for IT companies. I must get some money to pursue MS from US, otherwise it will be impossible to succeed…..I am a girl and I cannot survive outside my home because of rising crime against women, I am this I am that…." FUCK..!

WTF dude? WTF are you thinking? You need a massive thrashing from life. Someone must tie you with a rope and beat you up like shit, then you will do it. You dumb ass, stop telling yourself those imaginary lies. Stop cribbing over your misery. Stop crying over your weaknesses. JUST DO IT. You're not a kid who cries over a fucking lollypop. Get off your ass…!!!!!

</rant>

12. Time for another analogy. It's what we call 'Filmy bullshit' 🙂

Hector and Achilles – Both are great warriors. Hector is a noble spirit while Achilles doesn't give any damn about anything.

Hector doesn't 'seek' wars. He sits within his comfort zone and waits for the war to come. His logic – "Yes, I am a warrior but that doesn't mean I should be looking for a war and invite trouble."

Achilles 'seeks' war. He never sits within his comfort zone; he finds out where a war is happening and goes there to fight it. His logic – "I am a warrior, my character is fighting wars. I will find wars and fight it. If I don't, war is going to come anyway and then I will be beaten."

Now who do you think will win, the person who sat within his comfort zone waiting for the war or the person who fought wars anyway?

Be like Achilles. Find wars, fight them. If you behave like Hector, someday an Achilles will come and beat the shit out of you, kill you and drag your dead shit in front of everyone.

As he said – There are no pacts between lions and men.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80SsC_ZNbyI

13. Life is hard. Remember that dialogue from Rang de Basanti,

“Gate ke is taraf hum life ko nachate hain, to dujji taraf life humko nachati hai”

I don't care who you are and how much money you have, life will bring you down to your knees and keep you there if you let it. Be prepared. Value relationships: you will need them some day.

The things I am grateful for in Life

When I look back, I can clearly see what life was teaching me. (You can only connect the dots looking backwards)

  • I am grateful that I get to eat at least 3 meals a day (yes I know what it feels to run around hungry under open sun with no hopes).
  • I am grateful that I have parents who gave me sound advice, courage and the zeal to take life heads on.
  • It is unfortunate that I lost the love of my life when I needed her the most. But in some ways, I am thankful. Now I have the ability to see "hidden" faces .This taught  me the value of empathy, kindness and above all, taught me how to love others who can do nothing for me.
  • I am grateful that I could afford college.
  • I am grateful to God for teaching me how to be happy without material things. When I was broke, I was stressed but not unhappy. So nothing can break the state of contentment I have in my heart. I was happy then, so I will be happy in any situation.
  • I am grateful to have the opportunity to fail and hustle. I learned the value of blood and sweat and tears.
  • I am grateful that I have seen misery, helplessness and adversity early on in life. I am wise and grounded, nobody can take the wisdom away from me which I have learned on my own.

What has poverty taught me?

I got a few questions in my inbox – "If you succeeded in your website, why did you choose a job?"

Here is the thing I have learned from poverty, being broke, establishing a small business from scratch. Money is not everything in life. Neither is your job title. Nor is your MBA degree. Life is much more greater than these petty things. Life is all about the experiences you make. I could have pursued my website, made more money but I would have missed out on experiences which are far more valuable. 25-35 is that time of your life when you can explore and do whatever you want. If you give up your freedom for money, one day you may have to regret it. You're going to die anyway, so the amount of money in your bank account is useless.

Make experiences, not wealth. Money is important and it matters but far more valuable is gaining experiences, inviting challenges, accepting how life unfolds. Live in different cities, work on small jobs, you will see the true color of life. You will never be able to realize this if you stay within your comfort zone. Get out of your comfort zone and do stuff you're afraid to do, do things you want to do.

Some People you can take inspiration from

When you have an empty pocket, you will need inspiration. Let me tell you, I am not the only guy out there. I am just average; there are people who have exceptional stories of their own. I know some of them personally, have met a few and have connected online since 4-5 years.

Here is a small list of entrepreneurs and technology bloggers I know whom you can refer for inspiration (in no particular order)

  • Amit Agarwal (the godfather of Indian tech blogging) – Digital Inspiration
  • Keith D'Souza (this guy is my hero, he was my source of inspiration and mentor. I am grateful to him in so many ways beyond any explanation, not because of the money I earned from freelancing. I am grateful because he gave me guidance, he taught me the tricks of the trade. I was a sophomore, would commit silly mistakes and he would correct it, show me the way.  I wrote close to 400 articles in the site he started. my articles – Amit Banerjee – Techie Buzz)
  • Amit Ranjan (SlideShare COO and co-founder.) Webyantra
  • Raju PP – Technology Personalized
  • Sandip Dedhia – BlogsDNA
  • Abhijeet Mukherjee (I know him. Amazing writer.) http://www.guidingtech.com/
  • Rohit Langde ( I know him personally. Nice fella!) Blogsolute
  • Rishabh Agarwal (He quit his corporate career and pursued Photography. and he is a real bad ass at what he does – Rish Photography)
  • Pathik Shah – growth hacker at Hike. He quit his IIM dream and went the startup way. Pathik Shah
  • Debajyoti Das – We belong to the same hometown, Calcutta. Our stories are similar.  Snaphow.com
  • Ashish Mohta – http://www.technospot.net/blogs/
  • Harsh Agarwal – This guy teaches how to raise money online. Good resource- Shouters Who Inspire
  • Unitechy Tech Analysis (this goes to all those girls who think technology is for men; she will blow your mind)
  • Rajesh (we call him Pandu). If you break your mobile into a million pieces, he will still fix it for you. Rajesh (ePandu) on Twitter
  • Puneet Jain MobiGyaan
  • Sathyajith – Sathya Says
  • Arpit . http://browserfame.com/)
  • Mayur – http://webtrickz.com/
  • Shankar Ganesh – He is just 22 years old and well ahead of his time. Killer Tech Tips   

This list is endless and I can go on and on. More awesome people here
The Best Indian Bloggers
______________________________________________

To the people who think this is a cooked up story to garner popularity, sympathy, upvotes or whatever:

Dude, I didn't write it for you. Because I know you haven't been through what I have been. Had you walked in my shoes, you wouldn't have had doubts over my crying words. I have written this for that soul who is in trouble and needs inspiration. I know that soul is reading it and I know that soul will one day thank me for this. That is all.
______________________________________________

What does it feel like to be poor?

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