Poor. What Does It Feel Like To Be Poor?

This isn’t my story. Its story of a brave man I met on quora and his answered changes my thinking about life and money completely. If you have got ten minutes just give this article a patient read. It is his story in his own words. What does being poor feel like? Someone asked this question on quora and Amit Banerjee’s reply touched hearts of many people around the globe, he got more than 12 thousand up votes and thousands of comments.  I don’t know if he has gone from rags to riches but he has managed to come out of poverty on his own terms even if it meant he had to sleep hungry. For some unknown reasons his account has been deleted from quora. Now I will let the man take over.

Here’s the story.

Question: Poverty, how does it feel like to be poor? 


It feels suffocating. 

I belong to a middle class family and had never seen ‘real’ poverty during my childhood. Yes, I had a Hercules bicycle. Yes, I was given good education. Yes, I would go to Disney Land once a year. Yes, my parents would take me on holidays. I had a TV video game and a huge collection of cartridges that my mom had bought for me when I scored good marks.

Then I entered college. My sister’s marriage was planned, my dad bought an apartment and had to pay my fees for engineering. All three events happened in a quick succession and then suddenly, we were in debt.

Somehow, we got scammed and got ourselves chained into bank loans and then, poverty crept in. It all happened in such a rush that it felt as if I had to jump from an airplane without any preparation and learn to fly as I fell, or else, I’d be dead.

During a time span of 2 years (2008-2010), I had to fight poverty on my own. Here is a crux of what happened:

  • No money to pay college fees? Figure out a way to earn money all by yourself.
  • No money to pay for daily transport? Walk
  • No money for entertainment, movies or parties? Ask your friends for a smoke.
  • No money for anything except basic food.
  • Worst of all, deal with the hassles of the bank. They would send ‘bouncers’ to my house to recover the EMI amount and I would have to guard my mom. I was once, beaten in my neighborhood in front of everyone for not being able to pay the EMI amount for a couple of months. I had to sell house furniture, gold, and what not.

I told my father that pursuing my education was not worth it given the crisis situation, and that I should take up a job and earn money for the family. To this, my father said, “Son, you can make money whenever you want to but you won’t be able to learn later. This is a difficult time, don’t worry. I myself could not study further and had to take up a job at 18 so that I could feed a family of 10 which included my brothers, sister, parents. I won’t let it happen with you. We will somehow manage through it; just do your thing.”

The year was 2008. My monthly expenses ranged between Rs. 900-1500 (including food). My engineering fees was Rs. 7000 per month; on the other hand, my family was fighting debt. In Lakhs (Millions). Each month, the debt would increase because of the education fee. Imagine the condition of a 22 years old guy who has never seen poverty in his life, sitting with friends who would spend thousands on beer parties, and live on their mercy.

I was literally beaten and broken because I had no idea about how to generate money while I was still a student.

  • I sat for interviews for a BPO. Rejected.
  • I sat for interviews for part-time jobs. Rejected.
  • Applied for a teaching job. Rejected.
  • Every door that I knocked on, I was turned away.
  • Every relative/ friend I asked for money from, slammed the door on my face.

There was a point of time in my life when I had just Rs.10 in my pocket for emergency or just in case, I needed to make phone calls from a local telephone booth. I would walk on the streets for days because I didn’t have enough money to afford riding in a rickshaw. I would have to sustain on water when I was hungry and try to save as much as possible. I would work for hours in a data entry job and get paid Rs.1 for filling up forms. This way I earned Rs. 80-100 a day. I saw my father giving up his scooter to save fuel costs. I saw my mom giving up attending family occasions. I saw my sister selling her jewelry. And I cried in the bathroom. Alone. For months.

When disaster comes, it comes with a battalion from all directions, all at once.

My girlfriend left me when I needed her the most. She said, “You yourself are in trouble and without a job. How will I present you in front of my family?”
I lost her. I loved her; she was the only thing that made me smile but I lost her. For money. (Edit: I know she loves me to this day, but she was helpless too. It’s not her fault. Situation was against us. I respect her decision now.)

I have died many deaths in those two years but this was the hardest blow. Losing the love of your life because you don’t have enough money. I remember our last meeting. It was raining and we were standing below an asbestos shed, enjoying an alpenliebe as that was the only thing I could buy for her.

This shit was so painful that I almost gave up on everything. Weird thoughts started hitting my mind.

Meanwhile, I got a Govt job which I did not like. I walked away. I was broke, beaten and pushed to the corner but I walked away. Somewhere in my heart I had hope. I knew that this is a bad phase which is not permanent. This too shall pass but I could not allow mediocrity to creep in. I had a dream and a temporary crisis is no excuse on giving up on your dreams and settle for mediocrity.

Here is the resignation letter (some portions have been blurred for privacy)

Amit Banerjee, Resignation Letter

They say you will get success when it is the only option you have.

I made up a website with 700 INR. Fuck, I did not have 700 Rs to buy the domain name. I bought it again on debt. Here is a bill which is very close to my heart…..(it says Rs 275 in debt)

Poor, first-domain

I didn’t succeed in the first go. I had ZERO technical knowledge on how to build a website. But that was not going to stop me because I don’t have any other option. My survival depends on this and I have to do it, come what may.

  • My first website didn’t pick up, Account cancelled.
  • I made up a second one. It didn’t work either. Account cancelled.
  • I made up a third website. Failed. Account cancelled again.
  • Devastated, I gave it a fourth try. Countless hours spent in Googling, coding, writing and building it. I remember those days. I locked myself in a balcony and Googled all day long. Nights, days, weeks, toiled like a madman. I suffered from Jaundice and lost 14-20 Kgs. That was the time I realized what hard work means.

First month, I made $1.29. Second month, I made $8. Third month I made $21.

And then some more. And then some more. And then some more.

Worked like a dog on that and generated $40,000 in two years ( For the curious and those who doubt my story in comments – I didn’t raise it from a single website. Also, I did a good amount of freelancing. This is to ensure I have multiple ways of generating money online, should the main site crashes. The site did suffer a major blow but by that time I had solidified my basement.)

Here is a picture of my balcony, where I used to work on my website and other things (yes a CRT monitor and a broken laptop which college authorities had gifted me)

Amit Banerjee on being poor
Adversity causes some men to break, others to break records.

Paid off the whole debt. Saved a bit.

Today, I work at LinkedIn. It’s like a dream come true for me. (No I am not an MBA. No I am not an IITan. No I did not go to US to get a degree from an Ivy league university. No I did not get it through campus placement. No I did not make it through employee referral. I am just another average graduate from just another average engineering college. I just did one thing and did it well. Put my heart and soul into what I really wanted to do.)

But the lessons I have learned in those two years has helped me shape up my character and be a better person. Those were the longest and hardest 2 years I will never be able to forget. Also the most worthwhile time of my life so far.

I don’t waste money now. No show off. Yearly vacations – Yes. Weekend parties – No. No costly gadgets. Don’t buy shit you don’t need. Don’t buy “branded” stuff just because every other clueless idiot is doing it. No. Don’t.

Lesson learned the hard way – Be grateful for what you have.

These days, my parents are looking a bride for me. When the girl’s father asks for my salary, I smile and say “I hope your daughter gets a wealthy guy. Because I know money matters. Every single rupee counts.”

When I return home in flight, a part of me cries. Not because I am spending money on travelling which can be done in train. I feel bad thinking someone in this planet needs this money to feed himself. And here I am, travelling in a jet to save time because I am short in leaves.

That’s it folks. I have read this answer (You can read more answers here) more than three hundred times by now and some lines are by heart and still I can not keep myself from reading this at times. I love how this man had the guts to pour his heart out instead of acting like he wasn’t poor ever. I hope this answer will remain with you the way it has remained with me.

PS. Have you felt being poor somehow? Share with me in comments.

PSS. I will share another great post from this man soon.

23 comments Add yours
  1. “When disaster comes, it comes with a battalion from all directions, all at once.” That’s so true.

    My parents were never rich, but never poor either. They both came from poor families, though, and taught me well how to handle money. Me and my sisters were lucky enough to work our way through college and each get a degree. But the cliché is true: if you don’t have a lot, you learn to appreciate the small things in life. This man is a hero. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. This is so inspiring, Hemangini. I’ve been at my life’s lowest point, too. I am from a poor family, and as an eldest, I felt the responsibility to have a job right after college. (I had two scholarships that’s why I was able to get a degree.) And then after graduating with honors, I applied and I was rejected for so many many times. I felt humiliated and so sad. It took seven long months before I landed a job.

    But like what you’ve said, the lessons that those trying times will I was humbled. 🙂

    Thank you for such a great post!

    1. Wow, you have done so much hard work. I am glad you are now happily employed and able to help your family 🙂 *thumbs up to you* on top of that you have a blog where you pour your heart out!! How awesome can you be?

      I myself have seen my parents rise from poverty to be someone on whom people can depend. Life has so many surprises for those who dare to raise their heads and work hard & smart!

      Thanks for sharing your story with me dear 🙂

    1. Wow thanks a lot for sharing it 🙂 I was re-reading it just yesterday & thought why not share it here! That way it can reach more people… Once again, thank you 🙂

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