I spent the first week of the year freezing in Lucknow (Lakhnau these days?) with members of a our team working on the design of new financial instruments. Most rural folk store their money in physical assets or financial avenues like cows, pigs, goats and chickens — how can they be persuaded to consider formal banking products? While we were there we went out every night for Lakhnavi kababs, about which I rapidly educated myself. So days spent in workshop wrapping our heads around folk theories of money, value and financial instruments, evenings noshing on kababs, nights freezing. It is inevitable, is it not, that these topics will blend together in the mind…?
What is to know about Lakhnavi kababs is that they are not a pure form: that is, they don’t amount to pieces of meat dusted with spices or braised with marinate. They represent shredded, mashed and minced approaches to meat, and so once you know what you’re mixing the meat with, so you also know what genre of kabab you’re making, as for example:
Mutton + Chickpeas = Shami Kabab
Mutton + Kidney = Kakori Kabab
Mutton + Papaya (or Pumpkin) = Galawati Kabab
Now in practice each of these core additives may be in fact mixed up with others in the preparation of one or another restaurant’s ‘secret recipe,’ and they are therefore only ideal types that together make up the building blocks of the repertoire of what are called Tunday Kababs. I think philosophically interesting for us is the question of whether and how the core additive (along with other seasonings) inflects the user’s appreciation and understanding of the nutrient vehicle, or dish, that they are about to choose and consume.
This, in effect, is also the problem we were grappling with during the day. Every financial service appears to operate according the the same fundamental metaphor of liquidity against time, which is governed by a series of disciplines or constraints. That governing logic, of liquidity against time, is the meat of any financial matter. But what of all the other flavors and seasonings? The importance of a given chunk of money. The variability of any given commitment. The vividness of a financial avenue. The immediacy of a particular financial avenue. The meaningfulness of a commitment. Formal banking products and especially digital products offer none of these dimensions of richness — every piece of meat is treated like every other piece of meat. This may be a big part of the reason that they have largely been rejected, not only in Lucknow, but also all over the rest of India and the rest of the world.
I’ve offered a loose restatement of the theory Ignacio Mas offered us for review, validation and testing. Our challenge will be to design new financial kababs, which will be more savory and appetizing for rural and lower-income people. If they’re used to the multi-sensorial complexity of cows, pigs, goats and chickens, how do we bring some of those flavors to mobile financial instruments? The metaphor of Lakhnavi Kababs seems to be serving us quite well for the moment. More findings soon.