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?