By Ameer Shahul
Selvakumar is a mechanic, a mechanic by training. He passed out of a Polytechnic Institute in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He is still not a mechanic by profession. For, he hasn’t found a job, despite his meritorious grades at the Polytechnic. As with any other kid of his age, he is anxious to find a job.
He has been on the run for a job ever since he passed out of the institute. He couldn’t make the cut for the limited campus placement that happened at the end of his three-year diploma program. Most in his batch couldn’t make it because of the sudden slackening in the automobile industry.
So he took a train to Bangalore, the job capital of India. The inspiration for the decision was that a lot of his seniors, friends and relatives have made gold in Bangalore. Most of them in the IT industry.
But does he have a qualification in IT? “No,” was his answer when I asked him the question. “You don’t need any IT qualification to get a job in an IT company, sir,” he explained. “I know a bit of coding, I can work as a system admin, and a network admin job will be a piece of cake for me,” he rolled out his expectations on the job packs.
I was travelling to my home town for a not-so-emergency situation back home in God’s Own Country. I couldn’t get a flight ticket, rather it was extremely expensive because of the dynamic pricing ‘tool’ (read as loot) being put in place by the airlines. Last minute prices have gone over the roof to almost six times of the average price, which would be like 20 times of the cost of a ‘3 AC’ (an abbreviated usage in Indian trains for third class air-conditioned coach, which will provide you a bed in an AC coach of 72 passenger capacity).
Selvakumar was returning home after spending a month of testing of his ‘job luck’ in Bangalore, and was occupying my next berth. He pounced on me as soon he realised that I am a senior executive with an IT company in Bangalore with the hope that I would be of some help in his job hunt in the dream city of most Indian IT graduates.
“But you don’t have a certification in coding,” I was candid and undiplomatic. “You don’t need a certification to do coding, Do you? Give me a piece of work and I will prove that I can do it,” he explained. No doubt, he is smart; confident too.
As the discussion progressed, he opened up his expectation from me – help him find a job. Sooner I advised him to earn a certification in coding, he turned the topic to his investment plans, seeking my advice. That’s how the discussion moved over to return on investments, and the best businesses to start up.
Like most college grads of current day Indian cities, Selvakumar too has a penchant for startups. Since he has been finding it difficult to land up in an IT job in Bangalore, he began negotiating with his dad back home to help him start a business. His dad runs a neighbourhood mom-and-pop store in his decrepit village in one corner of Tamil Nadu. The dad has not been doing anything great with his business, but earns just enough to make both ends meet for the family. In the process, he was successful in keeping aside some small savings. The dad suggested the son to take over his mom-and-pop business. But the son didn’t find it his kind of business. Also, he thought, it is best run by the dad, it will keep him engaged at his old age, and will give enough to maintain the family.
After a lot of up and down talks, the son attempted to convince the dad to loosen his purse strings. He even gave the dad a ‘business offer’ that any money given now as an interest free loan will be returned with a decent interest as soon he settled down in his business.
What business he wants to start? “Two-wheeler workshop,” was his answer. “There is no workshop in my village, and there are at least 1000 bikes. If you add up the bikes from five to six neighbouring villages, all currently depending on the nearest service station some 30 km away, I would do a good business,” he explained. That’s not a bad idea, I thought.
But will his dad give the money needed? “He almost agreed. He has agreed to give me Rs 300,000 as an interest free loan for three years. I should just be able to put together the workshop with that money,” he exuded with confidence.
As the train started picking up speed after a brief halt in what looked like a large station, the conversation turned to me and my work. I had returned from Hyderabad the previous day where I met up with some senior government officials for a project on Blockchain to be used for vehicle tracking – from the time of manufacturing to registration through the users and insurance companies and so on – till its very end of life. Though I was referring to the travails of Hyderabad traffic, he jumped right into Blockchain and wanted to know more. The conversation veered over to cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin, which had just begun making news headlines with the digital currency inching towards the $50 mark from below $5 an year ago.
He asked my views on Bitcoin, and I said I would bet on it for the next five years. He wanted to know the risks involved. I explained to him that it would be considered as ‘black money’ by the banking systems, and, therefore, investors would be dealing in something which is not completely legally acceptable.
And he had a lot more questions on the topic, from distributed ledgers to use of Blockchain to digital tokens to the regulations and to the world moving into a single digital currency. Unusual for his age, he has also commented that this will be the one moment the world has been waiting for so long. “Only a single currency can unite the world and it can happen through a digital currency”, he volunteered his opinion. He felt satisfied with the contribution of Satoshi Nakamoto and wondered why he wanted to remain anonymous after such a pathbreaking invention.
My eyes were getting heavier and heavier because of the hectic Hyderabad travel the previous day; I began dozing off and asked the boy to excuse me. He got into his upper berth after assuring me that he will not wake me up when he disembarks the train in the middle of the night. After getting into the berth, he leaned down with a pen and paper to note down my phone number.
Almost two months later, I received a call from an unknown number. As I picked up the call, the caller began talking with a bit of proximity, greeting me with “Vanakkam.” It took almost a minute for me to place the boy whom I had completely forgotten. With profuse apologies and asking me whether is it the right time to have a quick chat, he threw a question at me, “will it be a good decision to invest in Bitcoin now?” I said it will be his decision, but pointed out that there has been steady activity on Bitcoin which is currently ruling close to $50. I also told him that I am not an investment advisor, but I would certainly put in, if I have some spare money. And he is gone.
Three months would have passed when I received another call from Selvakumar asking me whether I can spare some time to have a coffee with him. Since I was completely tied up due to some pending work and travel, I rather invited him to my office for the coffee at the office food court. He showed up in time.
Reasons for his meeting with me were two. One, he wanted to thank me for our accidental conversation on Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. As an unexpected fallout, he completely changed his plan after the train journey. He did get Rs 300,000 from his dad’s hard-earned savings. Instead of starting a service station for two-wheelers, he invested the entire money into Bitcoin. The investment he made at a rate below $50 per Bitcoin three months ago has now doubled, and he is happy that he has done the right thing. On the flip side, because of that decision, he continues to be jobless and had no option but to take a bus to Bangalore.
“The second reason”, he said, “is that I wanted to have a respected reference in Bangalore for a coding job in a company for which I have completed all the formalities, including the final interview”. I was glad that the boy has been able to find a job and agreed to be his referee.
Adjusting my chair and sipping the piping hot cappuccino, I asked him, “now that you have changed the course, what are your plans”?
“The moment my Bitcoin investment grows into an amount good enough to buy a Ferrari, I would take it out and buy my dream car. I would be able to run my life with the new job that will give me Rs 30,000 per month,” the boy was clear.
I wasn’t. “What if Bitcoin crashes before reaching your expected level,” I wondered.
“It might. But it will bounce back,” he explained with the help of a lot of graphs, details and forecast from his iPad. In fact, most of it were news to me. It showed that the boy has been deep into cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin. Not only that he knows the Economics of it, he equally knows all the technical aspects of it from mining to starting a new crypto.
“But for you to buy a Ferrari, your Rs 300,000 should appreciate at least 100 times. Do you think that is happening”? I probed him.
“I am not in a hurry, sir. I am 21 and single. I can wait for a few years. But, you know, already my Rs 300,000 has become 600,000, just in the last three months,” he reverted.
As the Uber app was showing that my cab has arrived and is waiting for me, I wound up the conversation, which has already gone over 45 minutes, to head home.
And there was no news from Selvakumar for almost three years. I have forgotten him to a good extent, except that it crossed my mind sometimes as to what would have he been doing now. One thing was sure to me that with the way Bitcoin has been moving up ever since, the boy might be a very rich guy today. Has he bought the Ferrari or has he become a crypto geek altogether? No idea.
And then comes his call, out of the blue, last week. This time from a landline number indicating that it is from Tamil Nadu. Truecaller app helped me one step further, by showing the name of a service station.
After identifying himself, he asked me “Sir, can you give me your residence address”?
“Do you want to drop by during Diwali,” I asked.
“I would love to, but it is to send you my wedding invitation,” he said.
“I can give you the address, but it is enough if you send me a scanned copy by email.” I said, and asked “would you be going to the bride’s home in your Ferrari”?
“No sir, I would be going in a normal sedan worth Rs 1,000,000.”
“But then, what happened to your Bitcoin investments and plans to buy the sports car?” I had no option but to ask him.
“I logged out of Bitcoin with 100 times return last week, the day my Rs 300,000 (~$5000) has become Rs 30,000,000 (~$500,000). That should have been good enough for a Ferrari. But I changed my mind and decided NOT to buy the Ferrari.”
“But why? That has been your dream and plan”? I quipped.
“It is always good to have a dream, and it is fun to chase a dream. But all dreams are not meant to be fulfilled. When you reach close to fulfilling the dream, you realise that you need to be practical and change the decision, and that’s what happened to me,” he whispered like a philosopher.
“I used the Bitcoin money to set up a car dealership and service station in my nearest town. I left the Rs 30,000 a month job and am hiring a few employees, whom I will be able to support in their lives. By the way, I can now drive any car from my shop, but it is certainly not going to be a Ferrari,” he said disappointing me.
As I was about to hang up the phone, he quickly added, “sir, who knows one day I will not own a Ferrari dealership?”
I am sure he will.