The art of money

“It’s difficult to make a budget for 10,000 rupees. It’s easier to keep track of the amount of money you earn, spend and save when you have very little to deal with.” Ajmer 
Siwan, 6: 15 pm



“Ajmer, keep this 10 rupees.”
Ajmer shook his head. He wasn’t going to accept money from someone who was poorer than him. Khala’s wall had begun to develop cracks and a large section of the bricks had fallen away. Neither Khala, nor her aged husband, who was a daily labourer like Ajmer’s father, could afford to fix it. Ajmer had painted a beautiful peacock with its feathers spread wide open over the broken wall.
Ajmer collected his paints and brushes and walked home. His bare legs shivered a little in the cold. As is in the winter months the sun was beginning to disappear and the evening sky was bursting in colours – purple pink blue and orange were flowing into each other, as though Ajmer’s paint brush had designed the sky.
It was a long day. He had woken up at 5 a.m. and painted a new section of his house. It was becoming increasingly difficult to find a spot that his paintbrush had not touched. Peacocks, elephants, flowers and detailed paintings of gods and goddesses occupied all walls of his house leaving little space for new occupants. After a new addition of birds flying out of a tree, Ajmer left for coaching class and from there cycled to school. After a tiring day at school where he read about emperors who had fought bloody battles, particles that had broken up into smaller atoms, and numbers that had added up to bigger numbers, Ajmer reached home to pick up his brushes again.
After a quick lunch, he completed his homework and left for Khala’s house. It had been many weeks since he had promised Khala that he would paint her house. But class     tests, household work, painting classes that he took and painting classes he gave, were keeping him very busy.                                         .                                                                                              

Ajmer feels painting is in his soul – his mother is from the distant village of Madhubani, the home of artists. Though she was never a painter, her son was, and he’s teaching other children who love to dip their fingers in bottles of paint and streak them across walls, trees and each other’s faces. Ajmer had invested a lot of time and energy convincing each mother in his village to send her child to him on Saturday afternoons to paint. No one had agreed. Why waste time with colours when you could do so many more important and useful things like cleaning feeding the cows.
First there was none, then there were two, the twins from next door. Then out of curiosity more children came to investigate the source of shrills and shrieks and colour. For six months Ajmer had given classes for free. Children came and used up all of his colours. But soon he began to run out of resources. To continue teaching he needed paints, and to buy paints he needed money. Ajmer had always known the value of money, his father had broken his back as a daily wage labourer to feed his entire family. But today he understood the importance of earning money, being able use his skill to earn money that would in turn buy him resources to be able to continue and survive. Ajmer knew, and the books on Saturday affirmed this, he had begun to understand how enterprises were run.

Although some of his students left when he brought up the subject of money, many stayed. Their parents did not mind paying 20 rupees a month to Ajmer so that their children could go crazy with colours. When 20 children began paying him 20 rupees each, Ajmer invited those who could not afford to pay him to return and began teaching them for free. He had more than enough money to buy new supplies. He promised himself he would never money from those who could not afford to pay – but just because you can’t pay, does not mean you don’t deserve to learn.
The moon had climbed really high by the time Ajmer reached home. His mother had laid out his food for him and was watchfully waiting his return. She smiled proudly at him as he handed over the 200 rupees that Sheikh Saab had given him yesterday. That would buy two months worth of groceries. Her husband had stopped working from the day Ajmer had started earning. Her 15 year old son was an entrepreneur.
Our data shows us that when it comes to saving money, 28% of boys and 36% of girls have a functional bank account, this is interesting because as minors their parents would have had to co-sign for them to have bank accounts [which means girls parents see value in girls having accounts in their own names]. Boys and girls tell us they their accounts to save money. Learning about money, budgets, cash flows and complex concepts such as compound interest are imperative. We love the fact that Ajmer knows how to value his artistic talent, and is saving what he earns to support his family. Ajmer is an artist and he’s converting his art into a financial literacy skill – he keeps track of what he earns, saves and can invest, but his values and morals are always in the right place, he’ll never charge someone who cannot pay.
Do young people like Ajmer, think work is honorable, do they see value in learning about work at school and do they understand money? Yes. 27% of girls told us that they go to school so one day they can get a job to become independent and 24% of girls want to get a job to support their family, 19% say if they work they know their family will be proud, 15% want to work for a company that everyone respects and 12% of girls say they want to get a job to have a stable income.