>Beg, borrow, or steal?

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My Dad and I share the kind of relationship where we can read each other’s mind, understand it and accept it without asking too many questions. We turn to each other for advice, for affirmation of our beliefs in what’s right and wrong. A few days ago he asked me a question that fit into the latter category.

Uncle V – a childhood friend of his who used to be a rich man once but has gone bankrupt for whatever reasons – was in dire need of a large amount of money. His wife is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and he doesn’t have any money left now to afford that treatment. The sad bit is that he can’t get a bank loan because he has no earnings to repay it. Of course, Papa being Papa wants to help him out and not for the first time. He has already let out a large space in his office on zero rent to Uncle V so that he can pursue some commercial activity there (even though it brings in too little, it brings in something at least!) and also pays for his electricity bills. Now dad wanted to know if it was a wise thing to help him with more cash, knowing all too well that he would never get it back. It’s quite another thing that Papa had already made up his mind that he was going to lend him that money and was only asking me a perfunctory question. And that, because of two reasons: one, that he won’t always be able to help with money and two, because he doesn’t want to make Uncle V financially dependent on him or anyone else. My dad isn’t a millionaire, you know, and he works hard to earn every single penny he brings home. Isn’t it normal for anyone in his shoes to think twice before loaning fifty thousand rupees?

But of course, I said he should go ahead and help out his friend because this was a matter of life and death. But I had the same questions raging in my head: when is it okay to lend and when is it okay to refuse? And can you still call it “lending” when you know you’re never going to get it back? How much is too much when it comes to lending?

You never know when Fortune will turn its tables on a man and before you know, a king is a pauper and a pauper is a millionaire. So it should suffice for us to say that we must do our karma and help out where we can. But it doesn’t suffice, because everyone who borrows isn’t always needy. And everyone who lends isn’t always rich. You may not pause for a moment to think when a domestic help turns to you for five hundred rupees, but when there are larger amounts involved and there are closer relationships at stake, it becomes a difficult choice between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. It’s not that there isn’t a willingness to help. It’s that there’s a fear of your hard-earned money being misused that sometimes holds us back.

It’s easier to loan money to people who obviously need it, who will make an effort to return it to you. But there are people who live off lent money – habitual borrowers. They will not break their Fixed Deposits but will expect you to cut corners and lend you an unreasonable sum of money. They take advantage of the fact that by virtue of your inability to turn down a request such as this, they can extract any amount of money from you and splurge it on unimportant things. If you need the money so badly, how do you justify cocktail and luncheon parties? Is that what you’re borrowing for – so that you can put up a show before the rest of the world that everything is fine you’re your bank balance? To such borrowers, saying ‘no’ should be mandatory. They are leeches that will bleed you and you need to shrug them off before that.

But even when someone desperately requires money, how much would you be willing to lend and how many times? Would you let your financial planning go awry to help someone? Would you be happy trimming on your own expenses to accommodate a loan to somebody else? It’s a tough call to make sometimes.

And come to think of it, how can people bring themselves to borrow stuff they don’t “need”. If you can’t afford to spend lakhs of rupees on your son or daughter’s wedding, don’t. If you do not have the cash to buy a property and you do not want to pay the interest rate on a bank loan, don’t buy that property. Why must you borrow to buy what you can’t afford?

When we were in school and forgot to take something to class that we ought to have, the teachers’ favourite retort used to be, “Beg, borrow or steal.” Borrowing seemed pretty easy then, because returning a pencil, paper or map was also easy enough. But now, neither begging nor borrowing nor does stealing seem a feasible option to me. I’d much rather not have what I cannot have, as long as I have only what I must. What do you think?

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26 responses »

  1. >i would agree with your conclusion. id rather than not have something than buy it by borowwing money!unless its a life 0r death choice (like with your dad’s pal, there is no reason you should get drowned in loans to prove you have something!cheers!abha

  2. >Bus D, my litany over the years has been that may I never be indebted to anyone…that is what freaks me out most…to be in debt…I guess that was one reason I never jumped on the ‘plastic money’ bandwagon..and chose debit over credit cards. And with the house loans Ive entered into, nightmare season is here.How is Uncle V processing it? I wonder what goes through the minds of people who are actually asking a friend for a loan.

  3. >Oh thsi hit close home. My dad is in the same position as yours except that it is his brother who borrows & it seems that it'll continue this way. I have conflicting emotions coz I love my chacha too & I know he needs the money but my papa is no millionaire. 😦

  4. >I agree with you…Lending to a domestic help is different from lending to a relative or friend because the former will pay you back and the latter won’t…I’ve experienced this and so has my husband who still can’t say no to friends who want to borrow…He has even lent to friends who haven’t cleared their previous debts and these friends now earn more than my husband!His answer is always,”What can I do…They are my friends and they need?? money…”

  5. >hmm .. is it even possible to buy an apt or car without a loan? then everyone can buy it at 50 only rite?and yes i totally agree with u on the kind of ppl who take adv of us who cant say the word ‘NO’… they wont break their savings or give up their luxury depending on this trait of mine :(… knowin it ..i still succumb.. wat a loser!

  6. >The title reminded of the same thing a few of my teachers use to say. Although, they stopped saying it in the classes I was because whenever they would say that, I would debate them on the merits of teaching children such “morally ambiguous” habits.

  7. >can completely relate. my dad had always helped my mom’s “poor” brothers as long as i can remember. the money would just go, and it was never expected to be returned.and the worst part of it is that my mom’s bros were never ever happy/satisfied with dad’s help, though they would always take the money.

  8. >Completely with you on this one. To me borrowing is the acceptance of self incompetence, an inability, and to do it for luxuries is unthinkable. There are others though, who shamelessly borrow(with no intention of a return ever) for luxuries. To lend money to such people would be sheer foolishness, because such people have no worth of money and will have no value for our hard earned money either.

  9. >@Abha: Totally with you.@Aneela: Same here. I live in the fear that I may one day have to live off borrowed money.@Monika: The thing with habitual borrowers is that they think others earn to lend them money!@Bones: Sometimes, you just don’t know to say ‘No’, but sometimes it’s so important to do that.

  10. >@sansmerci: I wasn’t talking about a bank loan that you take to buy a car or a home. That kind of a loan has a legal sanction and is (should be) granted only after the applicant’s financial profile has been verified. Which doesn’t happen when relatives or friends come asking for money.@Ramby: Yeah, it’s a terrible thing for a teacher to say to students.@Zypsy: Nothing new. Those who borrow think that if people didn’t have surplus cash they wouldn’t lend!@GM: Yes, for me to brig myself to borrow money would mean all that.

  11. >In general, I completely agree with what everyone has to say.But in your dad’s case, if he thinks that his friend can genuinely not afford the surgery, and if he has the money to spare, he should use a proxy to lend the money. So that the friend would think that your dad doesn’t have the money to lend, and would be discouraged to ask in the future. Simultaneously, this Proxy fellow could be someone distant, and your dad’s friend wouldn’t have the guts to ask him again, and would feel inclined to return the amount.Contorted, I know. But in cases of life and death, one has to be generous and yet, tactful.

  12. >u know i am also totally against borrowing but one also has to see the circumstances… the need the frequency at which the person keeps borrowing etc etc… at sometimes the situation is such that person asking has killed himself 100 times before asking and those times are the times we should not resist however most of the times the habitual borrowers make the general thing towards everyone who borrows bad… ek machli saare talab ko ganda karti hain na

  13. >”Chaader dekh ker paaon phelana chahiye”thats how the saying goes and thats what i believe in… we make up our life on others will and wishes… once we identify this behavior we are at par…about lending some one support in any form is a matter of judgment of the situation going on… of course there are other consideration going on as well… if its my brother than ofcourse i will give anything and as many times as i can… but when it comes to somebody else then i had to think practically too…http://muddleheadedsblog.blogspot.com

  14. >borrow one should not – unless it is an unavoidable situation like your uncle…As for lending, I feel the simple rule one should follow is – lend only that much that you don’t feel the pinch. Whenever you lend, the worst that can happen is that the money won’t be returned right? So only lend to the level where you don’t feel the pinch. We don’t think twice about a maid borrowing – but we don’t lend high amounts to them na.

  15. >I think it all depends on the asker’s reputation, NOT on the closeness of the relationship or the giver’s bank balance, which is what unfortunately most people presume!!! If a friend/relative wants money for a deserving cause and is likely to return it or at the very least understand it’s value, THEN I’d check my bank balance and not vice versa. 🙂 And in a family or close social circle, such reputations are usually very well known.I know my mom lent one of her cousins a couple of lakhs or more for his new business, but he’s been working hard at paying her off, even putting off some much-needed home renovations to repay the money he owes. And then there’s one of my dad’s cousins who borrowed a few thousands and refused to repay anything saying ‘woh dhandha chaupat ho gaya’… while building himself a mansion out of his other successful ventures! 🙂

  16. >@unsung: I don’t agree with you. My dad wants to help his friend, not demean him.@Monika: True. There can be no blanket rules to lending.@GM: 🙂 Seems so.@Afaque: That’s an old adage but so true!@DeeplyDip: That logic works.@Devaki: Wise indeed.

  17. >You pretty much covered every angle in this topic D!We have an adage in Tamil that vaguely translates to, ‘give your alms according to the beggar’. I think this holds true for loaning money as well. There is nothing wrong in borrowing money for some important need, when one know that he/she can repay it. After all, not everyone is blessed monetarily the same way. When people who live from paycheck to paycheck have some big expense, they have no choice but to look for a loan. But they have to know that it is a loan, and has to be repayed.Like you said, it is only those people who constantly want to live out of their means who should not be lent any money. In you example your uncle V’s need for money is genuine. The lucky stars have misaligned in his life and now he needs money for a matter of life and death. This can happen to anyone.Also, with relatives and friends it is harder to enforce strict terms on a loan. And the thin line between a borrower and lender is all the more vague. It can lead to some unplesantness. But all said and done, helping each other is what makes us human. And whenever we have a chance we should do that, but we should also know when to say ‘no’.

  18. >I agree with you completely. I’ll borrow only when I’m sure I’d be able to pay it back, and even now I always, always try to have enough for a rainy day.You’re absolutely right in saying that we all have to learn when to say no. It’s probably the hardest lesson for people who are naturally generous, but after a point it HAS to be learned.

  19. >very thought provoking post and so true also. I myself have mulled over this so many times, but cant say what are the boundaries.May as long as one doesnt put one’s family in trouble..its ok to help.And as far as relatives are concerned, i find that over burdening with expectations is as bad as borrowing.personally i have never liked borrowing,I prefer managing with what i have, no keeping up with the Joneses.

  20. >@Jira: Actually, you have covered every angle remaining in your comment!@Suki: With the reputation of being savers that Indians have, they should have some money saved for a rainy day and not need to borrow at all!@Renu: It’s always wiser to live within your means.

  21. >Hi, my first time here and since the topic’s been discussed enough-I won’t crowd the space with more of the same.Complety out of context-but i love the motifs on your blog 🙂 Very cool.

  22. >@roop: Ok.@IHM: Really? I don’t think it would help their relationship in any way. On the contrary, it may complicate things between them.@quirkyquill: The more the merrier, I say.And hey, thank you!

  23. >hi,I stumbled into your blog , and was hooked by the colour scheme.:-)I will take the liberty of posting a comment wiht a hope you will approve.Lending money or giving financial help to friends and relatives is a usual scene in our country. In the longrun the person who receives help, has contempt for the person who gives . Gratitude or good words are not the norm. Never the less , people continue to give, as they are kind,and have a heart to share.Suckers may be.And the suckers also hope they will receive their share from someother source when needed.( through pay it forward ?).

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