People of Bharat: Vishal
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
For my call today, my respondent is from Bihar. I have always carried the impression that Biharis are a studious and intelligent type, perhaps because I have always associated Bihar with Nalanda, one of the oldest universities in the world. A second reason was the preponderance of Bihari candidates in the Indian Civil Services examinations, a legacy of the British system of testing candidates for public services. I imagined my today’s interlocutor to be a typical Bihari — studious, and nursing the dream of becoming a government servant — therefore was eager to speak to Vishal Sharma, to validate my notions.
Vishal, 29, in one of our previous conversations had confided that he was trying to pass the public services examination to land a government job. When we got connected, we took a few moments to exchange pleasantries and then started talking about him. He was born and raised in Baghoi, a village in a small rural district in Bihar. Traditionally farmers, theirs was a joint family, typical of rural households. His father served as a home guard at the local police station and his mother a housewife.
Vishal told me that his family owned four acres of land, inherited from his grandfather by his father and his uncle. His uncle and father hold full-time jobs but have kept tenants who work on the land. Vishal’s was a happy and trouble-free childhood. His uncle, an Assistant Sub Inspector in the police, drilled into him the importance of landing a government job. Vishal recalled the conversations at home focused around this topic. Till he was sixteen, Vishal lived in the ancestral house with his parents, uncle, aunt and two sisters.
Upon completing the tenth standard, Vishal’s uncle suggested that he should move to Patna, the capital of Bihar and a centre for applicants to the UPSC. Vishal’s uncle secured his admission in a higher secondary school and promised to support his education. Vishal found he liked to study. ‘Mera toh mann tha PhD karne ka’ (I really wanted to do a PhD), he says.
In 2013, he enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in Cybertech to do distance-learning, even as he searched for a job. ‘I started to work while I was studying … because, you know, my father is a farmer,’ he said matter-of-factly. Vishal joined a private company commissioned by the government to issue election voter cards and worked there for a couple of years. ‘My first salary was 12,000 rupees. I was quite happy with that and even sent money home.’
Along with his full-time job, Vishal started to study for the UPSC examinations and other competitive tests conducted by public sector undertakings such as National Thermal Power Corporation. ‘Wahan par mera kuch nahi hua’ (Nothing came out of all this), he explained, as he failed to get through the written tests and interviews. After falling prey to depression for a brief period, in 2016, he managed to find work as a mathematics tutor at a coaching class in Patna. According to Vishal, the work kept him going for a year, when he decided to start a business in software services. He quit his job and set up an office. ‘Main jagah jagah banner leke jaata tha. Marketing ke liye’ (I would go from one place to another setting up banners for marketing my business) he said. But he couldn’t find any customers. After a year of trying to make it work, Vishal shut shop.
Vishal started to take up some work on commission basis for a digital financial app. In 2018, he was approached by a startup that provided last-mile services in rural areas through agents. He joined up and started to work for them as well — conducting interviews for data collection. Around the same time, he also found work writing and editing books for a publishing house in Patna. He did not give me clear details about his work, but told me he gets paid INR 40–45,000 for every completed book. He lives in a rented apartment in Patna and pays INR 6000 as rent. He spends another INR 3000 towards utilities and pays INR 10,000 as EMI for a loan he took for his sister’s wedding. He owns two smartphones: one for personal use and one for work. He uses a messaging services app and a couple of digital financial apps on his smartphones. He also spends about two hours on social media and entertainment apps.
At present, Vishal has little time to study and prep for competitive examinations. The people around him expect to him attend these exams and ace them — a rite of passage, so to say in his milieu. ‘Yahan ke samaj me government job ki hi ahmiyat hai. Private job kitni bhi acchi ho’ (In this society, having a government job is the most important thing. Even if you’re doing well at a private firm). I try a few words of reassurance and then we say our goodbyes; I am left contemplating the effects of one’s culture and upbringing in moulding one’s choices in life.
About the Authors: Anshuka Sachdeva is an Account Manager at MIMO Technologies Pvt Ltd., she enjoys interacting with ground agents along with providing them training and helping them complete the assigned tasks.
Valerie Mendonca is a Senior Associate — Insights at CIIE.CO, India’s foremost entrepreneurship centre housed at IIM Ahmedabad. Her research interests are women, entrepreneurs, society and storytelling. She tweets @ValerieHood17.
About Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII): Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII) is an incubator platform at CIIE.CO that provides entrepreneurs the domain knowledge, training, financial support, mentorship, and market access they need to bring inclusive, for profit-business to life. BII’s core design is to promote technology-driven entrepreneurship towards the delivery of affordable services to the “Bharat Segment- the poorest 200 million households in India who survive on less than $5 per person a day” through programs, fellowships, and funding where possible.
The program focuses on solutions leveraging technology, especially the India Stack. It integrates financial inclusion research with entrepreneurship and training to transform these solutions into scalable, viable and high impact businesses. We are keen on partnering with entrepreneurs who are driven by building next-generation digital services for India. Reach out to us at email@example.com or ask your questions in the comments section below.