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Is there something known as the Indian middle class? How does it manifest itself in everyday India? Illustrate through Santosh Desai's Mother Pious Lady.
Ans. The layout I have chosen to answer the question is on the lines of the various phases as outlined in the book itself, the reason being that I think I can do more justice to both the books illustrations and the concept of manifestation of the Indian middle class by analyzing most of the nuances Desai speaks about. The various instances mentioned in the book are definitely not an exhaustive list of Indian middle class-ness by any means. However, all of them essentially bring out a common sentiment or a common trait that goes a long way in explaining the growing realization of a social belonging that we designate as typically middle class in our daily conversation.
Where do we come from
1. Our Chitrahaar Selves
The essence of growing up as an Indian, if there is such an essence, is really in understanding what it takes to really experience India in all its trivial everydayness.
Instead of seeing these symbols only as amusing and heart-warming symbols of middle class life, what if we were to discern the underlying pattern that they reveal?
The middle class needs to understand it responsibilities.
Something about the negotiations that the middle class is known to make every day are some that the author talks about so earnestly, in the following lines :
Middle class India negotiated ceaselessly with itself, other classes, the government, and above all, with circumstances. Balancing responsibility with indulgence, the need for external display and internal comfort, the family and self, anxieties and aspirations, desires and duties, self-respect and pragmatism, these were all quests of an unheroic, everyday kind that made the Indian middle class what it was.
Middle class India is moving towards greater affluence but somehow, the mindset governing consumption isnt changing all that much. The fear of separation from ones roots runs deep in our way of life. As the world becomes a smaller place and we travel increasingly for pleasure, the fear of travel is giving way to an ability to deal with it more matter-of-factly, but we still never travel alone we travel with our entire way of life and sometimes that has trouble fitting into an airline cabin.
The book starts off on a simple note, not eluding the subject of middle class mindedness one bit but in fact, displaying how simple yet so intrinsically thoughtful and thought of, are each and every action of an Indian from this social stratum. The frugalness, simplistic indulgences and ready acceptance have continued to evolve over the years while still staying a symbol of our identity.
2. Vehicles of Escape
The vent that is usually kept secret and silent the escape from the anxiety and fear of rejection, the quintessential refuge in keeping love unsaid and the much deserved pristine special-ness of an Indian honeymoon, so typified by the way the Indian society views it. We, the people, have had our own ways of indulgence and escape routes in the most inimitably middle class style. Our simple love of street food and pitthhoo, simultaneous craze for the Hindi film hero and playing cards render us unique in our own habits of thought and action.
3. Rules of Hierarchy
I think the Indian middle class essentially is a growing consciousness about the way we are, about the way we live our life, the way we bring up our children, the way we teach them the importance of getting a job, even if sometimes it opposes and usually interferes with their dreams, the way we instill in them the blind faith in divinity, if not God per se and a whole lot of other rituals and habits that we ingrain and imbibe as part of this mushrooming phenomenon called the Indian middle class.
4. Disclaimer India
Apart from the common concepts mentioned in the book such as Paisa Vasool, supreme attachment with our roots, the fascinating strength and shine of stainless steel giving way to the modernity of plastic and bone china, paper and ink being replaced electronic screens and digital text, property disputes in times of seamless sharing, and sharing in times of scarcity more importantly, affluence promising lesser breaking up of family legacies yet duly threatened by the slow pace of this change, summer vacations being inextricably linked with fun times and the connection with our larger community being such an enriching and satisfying experience, the Indian mother who is still an absolute ageless figure of unconditional love and affection, the discipline of white and creased shirts and hair parted in a straight line with an incredible feeling of achievement, technology creating lesser and lesser time leading to times when purposelessness would never be a reason for anyone to call on you, matrimonial ads not changing much from the fairness of the girl and money of the boy centric marketing gimmicks routine, the high of riding the Bajaj scooter, hugging the roads in a more conventionally romantic fashion than the bikes do today, the harmonious co-existence of misery and magnificence of the auto-rickshaw, Godï¿½s first cousin ï¿½ the hindi filmy doctor being relegated to just another one of Godï¿½s own men are just a handful of the many nuances Desai takes up to outline how the Indian middle class is evolving from a cluster of people with a characteristic income level and behavioural attributes to a growing percentage of the population with an increasingly evolving identity forging a connection with time and lifestyle as the situation demands. In this regard, Iï¿½d agree that even if not an unabated revolution or a radical rebellion, the Indian middle class has surely expanded its sphere of influence to make its presence felt, be it to consumer goods manufacturers or media/content providers or even the government.
5. The Patterns Within
Our need to stay connected continues unabated. Even if postcard is passï¿½, our gleeful embrace of the mobile phone so much so that every vegetable vendor to cleaning worker owns one proudly, goes to evince that we, as an evolving realization, have come a long way; such that even if the process and the means of realizing it changes forms, the sentiment remains the same, deeply rooted as it always was ï¿½ typically, essentially, wholesomely middle class.
New adventures in Modernity
6. Loosening the Past
Change has been ushered in the Indian middle class albeit a bit grudgingly, with subtle loosening from the grip of the age old notions and attitudinal beliefs. Starting with the change in mentality about drinking and alcohol, Desai explores the thought process of the Indian middle class today and clearly establishes the fact that we have finally accepted that growth comes with the fulfillment of desires, not to say that we should let alcohol reign supreme on our bestial selves but that no longer do we talk about offering drinks in hushed tones and no longer are we scared or ashamed to drink in public circles. In fact, the Indian middle class has assimilated the fact that liquor can actually be used to be socially integrated more easily. The question of morality inextricably associated with drinking has been put to reasonable critique and finally decided to be answered kindly and ï¿½warmï¿½ly (pun intended).
Another interesting way the middle class manifests in every day India is the ease with which it seamlessly blends into all regions and religions and cultures. It unites Indians across caste, color and language. Simple instances such as summer vacations implying a trip to the hills, only now changing to beaches, owing to filmy suggestions about the same; Punjabi words used across the nation effortlessly; Amitabh Bachhan and Sachin Tendulkar being relatable icons for almost everyone; show how
Desaiï¿½s statement ï¿½We look back as a way of looking aheadï¿½ probably contains a fair deal of metaphors that the Indian middle class exhibits everyday ï¿½ the way we go back to our roots to decide every single step we plan to take forward; how we derive wisdom from the experience and opinions of our elders, how we will still do something new only to conform with the set routine processes and rituals, as is evident in how we have become free in thought and expression about embracing the concept of sex. Freedom to enjoy sex. Yet enjoy it legitimately, post marriage and non-promiscuously. Unlike how freedom is usually perceived to be wild and unthinking, the Indian middle classï¿½s freedom involves enjoying sex with less guilt. The same shy sentiment, only lessened with the growing evolution of thought and progression of the Indian middle class.
7. The Headiness of Mobility
ï¿½The desire to live life to the full is the most commonly articulated desire of todayï¿½s middle class Indianï¿½
The change in the mental model of the Indian has undergone considerable change in being more open to newer ideas and thoughts about the mere existence in accordance with the ebb and flow of life to now being an evocative desire and responsibility to fill our lives with meaning. We have accepted the waning away of the cult pigtail as a parcel of the freedom that entails us to follow our heart and do what we wish to do, within our ability. Believing in plastic as Maruti made us believe, hoping sports talent will awaken to a new dawn very soon, still maintaining the purpose and the righteous reason to insist on women wearing hijab but also accepting that women have done exemplary work in bringing about a modest revolution of sorts all by themselves.
Another crucial aspect where the Indian middle class stereotypically manifests itself as a changing evolution is the conception of the future and the associated relationship with money and how everyday life is no longer as fearful of it as it used to be, how the middle class has finally awakened to eke out the desire to lead a magnificent life out of the ordinary monetary resources available instead of living a restricted life, bounded by the constant threat of savings for tomorrow.
8. The Badges of Modernity
ï¿½Every element in the home is now a potential site of beauty; even the lowly waste paper basket is no exception.ï¿½
ï¿½It is interesting that one of the biggest signs of change in India has been refurbishment of the bathroom and the toilet.ï¿½
The modern has patiently bidden its time to come out in full resplendence in the Indian consciousness as well. No longer are parents or couples shy to express their affection or murmur words of endearment to signify the ï¿½laad-pyaarï¿½ which has traditionally been showcased through more subtle gestures. However, even as a middle class couple would go on to do ï¿½something specialï¿½ about a Valentineï¿½s Day, the warmth and response to a Mothersï¿½ or a Fathersï¿½ day still has a long way to go in being a force to reckon with.
The specially customized and convenient nicknames we choose, the inconsistently homogenous and politically incorrect Hinglish that we propagate as a more-than-official language, appreciation of western toilets and the advent of more focused and thoughtful investments in terms of toilets ï¿½ a change which has the potential of being largely widespread and a sign that we have started seeing our bodies differently are everyday observations in an Indian middle class household today. From the TV serials we watch to how we converse with our secondary support system such as the postman, vegetable vendor, cable guy and most importantly, guests and relatives, embodies a certain code of conduct that has spread universally across the nation and the characteristics mentioned above are absorbed across various levels through every little act and activity of daily life.
9. Changing Outside In
Desai, very cleverly mentions how change and the middle class are inter-penetrating each other , in turn, evolving in a bundle together, where remixes are now accepted since they gratify eyes while retaining the touch of an old classic, sexual undertones have never been so pronounced and so over the ground. Essentially, Desai outlines all that has been changing over the years with this particular stratum of the society, thought, mentality, tolerance levels, acceptance measures, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan et all.
True to what is mentioned time and again through the pages of the book, the Indian woman has metamorphosed in titanic amounts. It isnï¿½t that she has broken away completely from her value system and institutional meekness, but today, she is confident of her opinion, her stance and her demand for her space. Her taking resolute charge of the situation in todayï¿½s competitive times and not giving into the circumstances thrust upon her only go to manifest the ï¿½changeï¿½ into the big canvas that the Indian middle class has been turning into, over the years.
I had read this statement somewhere, ï¿½Our stars are the headlights of a man-made skyï¿½. The talk about fakeness, celebrities and the following they command so firmly so much so that the idea of measurement of the world by weight rather than value, by glitter rather than preciousness has taken precedence over all other schools of thought.
Apart from the various facets of the Indian middle class society and its changing choices and decisions, some things still continue to remain the same, such as the fanaticism for cricket, among other crazy passions that we love to dwell in. The ï¿½recurrent hysteriaï¿½ about cricket has changed its form from constantly present adoration to this new trend of heaping critical abuse on our beloved cricket heroes, if need be.
10. Changing Inside Out
Having internalized the outside changes in our system quite seamlessly, now is the turn to analyze how the internalities if our middle class thought affect the way we behave in the society and how the entire manifestation of this Indian school of thought is showcased through every single time we have to discern and decide. Matter extremely close to our heart such as joint families with everyday tiffs and disputes, arranged marriages, wives never calling husbands by their name, IITs and IIMs being the only force to reckon with in terms of high quality education, encroachment of any space seemingly free, paranoid parents worrying endlessly about the future of their children and the like still continue to be essentially same in order of priority ranking and significance in our everyday lives.
However, what have changed are intensity and the perspective, in inconsistently skewed magnitude about the various issues. For example, women are still secretly, sub-consciously feared, their sexuality is still thought of a dark force best kept hidden and repressed albeit highly innocently, unknowingly and most unfortunately, but slowly but surely, the society has become more accepting of what a relationship between a husband and wife is supposed to be like. Expression of affection or admiration between the two is not longer abhorred even if it is not restricted to the confines of the space and time inhabited only by the two of them. We are growing up, in a weirdly stubborn way considering how we take such a long time in accepting what comes so naturally to us and accommodate almost instantly, whatever is thrown at us and appears just more than a little exotic.
11. Media Smoke and Mirrors
The ï¿½chaotic energyï¿½ of the Indian media is breathtaking and imbued with vivid meaning that completes in many ways, the critical examination of the fabric of the Indian middle class.
The media has always been our tool to shape ourselves, as we think and form opinions and act according to what we see and experience through what is ideally the vanguard of the society. However, the response to the content we are exposed to has been changing over the years. In addition to being more shock-proof, interactive and receptive to handling debate about various social issues, the Indian Media has arrived in more ways than one, in terms of creativity and innovation. Of course, a lot of that is decided by the response the Indian population, in this case, the majority of the media receiving population, the middle class provides them with.
All said and done, the last word still stays the one with the media, be it the K series, Baba Ramdev or Munni badnaam hui and the other infinite number of instances where it has been more than just instrumental in shaping public sentiment that harbors the life force of the biggest democracy in the world. The aspirational values of the middle class are embedded in every piece of media content that is available across TV, Radio and print. It is another way that proves how crucial the middle class and its multiple existent forms are, in every day India.
Dilemmas of Change
12. Not everyoneï¿½s invited
As much as we may talk about incessant change and progress and modernism that is seeping in every echelons of the Indian middle class and its assimilation of the same, we need to also keep in mind that many measures are the kinds that are, in some innocent sub-conscious way, undertaken to escape the past. Desai talks about flyovers and and an upcoming common linguistic code that binds across the otherwise diverse compartments of a separate sentimental identity within the beloved Indianness, as metaphors about how change is also selective in its approach and acceptance.
13. The Politics of a New India
ï¿½It is only politics in India that is truly democratic and it is only when we think about India in political terms that we have no choice but to include all of India in our calculations.ï¿½
The politics in India is omnipresent, be it in the forms of posters on the streets or birthplaces of Gods or the highest echelons of public administration to the biggest celebrities in the country. In fact, some rightly believe there is a fair amount in terrorism too. The middle class has joined its hands in both reverence and irreverence, at different times, for Hindutva and the Gandhi family, for Laalloo and Mayawati, for growth and reservation, among other things, for water and electricity, over the years as it has seen India grow into a strong willed mature woman from a delicate frail young girl that had gained independence only some sixty odd years back.
Itï¿½s one of the most important aspects in which the middle class, which is taking to dutifully voting more and more with each passing year, creates an impact, gets itself heard and more importantly, shines as a mirror that reflects all the democracy puts it through.
14. Dreams of Grandeur
We come to the end of the discussion by taking a step back to look at the bigger picture and musing to ourselves about where we have come so far, be it in preening while calling ourselves an emerging global player, branding the educational institutions that have always been our pride on a world class level, a note of silent admiration and gratitude to the Indian soldier, the acknowledgement of the ever-rising living standards of the Indian middle class, the never ending lists of ï¿½wantsï¿½ and the increasing open acceptance of the same. The book closes itself magnificently while leaving you to think about how exactly the cause, reactions and effects of the majority of the Indian population have shaped and held a nation together. Of course, what constitutes a nation, is another crucial moot point in itself. But assuming the sentimental and geographical confines that do, to a certain extent, explain the phenomenon of nationality, the concept of the Indian middle class is a similar one, albeit without a geographical, religious or regional identity. It manifests itself across all possible, imaginable, thinkable usual barriers that we make in our minds.
To conclude, I might sound like I am reiterating once again what has been attempted to be brought out most compositely during the course of this article, the Indian middle class is a growing burgeoning evolution, which is catching both speed and realization as it moves ahead in time, assimilating all that history can add onto it, like a snowball, only becoming stronger in identity in the process and enriching and renewing every time, as it gets recorded, day after day, across time, space and middle-class-ness, in the pages of the book called India.