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What an Idea Sirjee. The idea, the typical-ness, the extraordinary dreams, the even better reality, it just comes together. Indian Middle Class is actually more than the sum of its constituents. Every little thing we do, everyday that we do it makes us. The way we have our food and eat it too, the way movie is not just a 3 hour long collection of songs and drama and every other emotion you can fit into the 70mm gauge. It is a plan, an occasion it's a celebration when we all pass, it's a "family thing "- when we all come together, the way good old hindi songs are just that , the way the 2 wheeler that takes us to the groceries and other places is not just a scooter but a "hamaara Bajaj". It all just adds up to so much more. Well the middle class is not so because of lack of choice.. on thontrare cy - they choose to be so . They choose to opt for cheaper or let's say more economical ways in life, they choose to eat at local restaurants and order extra free salad and they choose to make their own versions of pizza and cola instead of ordering in and they choose to reuse and recycle and try not to regret. Let's take a look at what all makes the middle class this mighty chunk one part wants to reach and the other part comes from.
Roti Kapda Aur Makaan
We are what we eat: and we all are foodies. The diversity that India exhibits is best seen in the food served. From dosa to dum aloo, rasam to rajma you name it - every spice every vegetable every fruit grown on our land (and under too) is put to best use. Food again comes with the unsaid rules, like how everyone has to come together for dinner - having someone over is incomplete without a few frieds and some chai or depending on time of the day a good spread of handmade piping hot food. On the table is where all the equations can be studied and sometimes solved like husband-wife , kid-mom, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and somehow the dining table is not just used for dining. One's homework, cutting/dicing/peeling vegetables, little fixing of old clothes ripped here and there (an integral part of being the common (wo)man , the first place the tiffin, the coat or the bag everything is kept on before it reaches the designated place , playing "table tennis" at beginner level and sometimes for the most important focused group discussions -the dining table is in fact a very important piece of furniture.
Remember when we were kids and our pants would sometimes get stuck below our shoes or our tshirts could have been worn with another one inside during winters because they were just right to fit another one in, and also did your mom give away your old clothes to the maid and the better ones to your cousin? We love to extract every drop of worth from anything seemingly imperishable which is why our clothes go around the entire and extended family finally ending with the maid so everyone is happy. One can also observe the change in the way we dress up over years, it's no more a tailor stitched shirt-pant where the cloth has first been bought and then the tailor looked for. It has now moved to the "readymade garments". What with the advent of big bazaar and other big-ger bazaars. Girls no more want to wear the passed on kurtis , they would rather wear the passed ons from off shore or simply put the rejected DKNY.
"ek bangla bane nyaara"
The aspiration of each and every common man , one house one home they can call their own. It is a matter of great pride to own a flat , in fact every father looks for a boy who if not owns one then at least is part of the plan where he will buy a flat .This they feel is the biggest achievement. The grih pravesh gains its importance from this very fact. In fact this is the very belief that most home loan providers and in fact even paints producers leverage on - by making advertisements that hit the chord just right, by making them feel that their aspirations are just like anyone else's and that it is so easy to fulfill them.
Another uniting factor - it is this where the family differs in choice and it is here again where the entire family comes together every night to watch the latest news, Kaun Banega Crorepati (Or Dus Ka Dum) or how can we miss out the grand IPL. Since most houses have one main TV set it is only fair that a family show is tuned to after a long day of hard work. The change from Chitrahaar to Big Boss itself is an excellent example of our taste change and idea of evening togetherness. It somehow excites us to be a part of the virtual world where we the big boss calls and where every turn is as or if possible even more dramatic than the previous one. It is more than an esteemed purchase; it is the pivot of the household.
"Main Madhuri Dikshit Banna Chahti Hun"
Friday is awaited by one and all more for the movie less for the weekend. December has become the "Amir Khan Movie Release" month. Diwali season brings with it clash of the two expected blockbusters. Rajnikanth , Amitabh Bacchan , Shahrukh Khan -they are more than actors or stars or even mega stars they are the gods of the household. Every haircut they sport, every dialogue they deliver every action of theirs, their laugh.. They are talked about as if neighborhood boys but looked at as greatness. Dialogues from movies get accepted in the language so easily that it's hard to imagine they were introduced ages after the language was scripted. Sholay, Anand , DDLJ - these movies are like historical events that took place and the characters in them like eminent personalities. "Kitne Aadmi The", "Mausi ji "- with the same zing that Dharm Paji (Dharmendra becomes Dharam Paji , Akshay Kumar Akki and Aishwarya Rai Ash - An example of subtle affection for our dear cousins behind the screen ) said it and "Ja Simran Ja , Jee le apni zindagi " are as popular as common phrases and idioms.
Hindi movies are not just sources of entertainment - they are a reflection of how we would like to look at ourselves and the movie industry takes good advantage of it by showing us exactly what our dreams are made of. The Switzerland snippets, the take home to mom girl clad in pretty white saree, the super stunts of Rajnikanth - it's all that we want or at least we think we do and by watching them on the wide screen is how we live our dreams.
Another example of how highly involved we are with the movies are the famous rajni jokes. We love to ultimatize him and this comes from the perceived distance between him and well us mortals.
"Sa Re Ga Ma . TVS Sa Re Ga Ma "
From discographs to walkman to discman to musicplayers to ipods to I phones .. it has only gotten better. From AIR to radio city from RD Burman to Himesh Reshammiya , music has simply gotten better and better established as our interest , hobby or love. It is because of them that movies even have songs in them for they are the ones who bathroom sing , they are the one who travel in autos where the drivers know the lyrics by heart. It is the Indian middle class who decides what song is a hit.
"Mujhse Shadi Karoge"
Marriage as a tie between two individuals is a long affair - the BIG wedding however seemingly longer. It pretty much starts right when you pass your 10th standard - the subjects you choose consequently decided the graduation you pursue thereby getting the apt job and thus the perfect wife it's all planned out at different levels. It literally is "arranged marriage".
The hunt for the perfect bride then the perfect jewelry and the right date - it just is one endless plan. And for every choice an expert is asked who may after his work is done have nothing to do with the lasting effects like Getting a match from a friend / distant relative or getting the perfectly auspicious date from the pandit and so on.
The common man jokes on wedding and marriage are circulated often be it at the bachelor party or through SMS or sometimes just generally.
"Mere paas Maa hai".
The prompt to the point reply by Shashi Kapoor sums it all up. It's the mother - the in charge of his man and subsequently the household. Women play an especially important role since they are the ones who spend maximum time with kids - feeding teaching and very often scolding them, they are ones who do the saving using various direct and indirect cost cutting ways starting from haggling with the vegetable vendor going to getting cheaper clothes stitched with design same as that of the expensive in store ones. The middle class family has also evolved from women starting their work from home businesses like beauty parlor or tailoring to taking up more authoritative roles and going out for more demanding jobs.
The kids no longer feel bound by the tag and want to try out new things and do as their friends do. They want to have maggi now over pakodas and Pepsi over aam panna. The mass level marketing and the incredible media penetration have changed the way people look at international brands, even the earlier hesitant ones have now given these products their share of space in the fridge.
The Family Car
"Mannu Bhai Motor Chali Pum Pum Pum"
Another important part of the house, the household and the lives of the middle class is THE car. Everyone has a say in the purchase making it one of the most elaborate dining table discussion topic - From the brand to the size to color to the ad to the celebrity endorsing it. Every detail is carefully studied. Thanks to the increasing purchasing power the first car now comes earlier than it did for their fathers though what has changed is its status as the prized possession.
"Arre ghoomenge firenge naachenge gaenge ash karenge or kya"
The ultimate idea of travel to pack up the bags and everything that you will or even you may require so the checklist would include everything from safety pin to bed sheet ( to spread on the sleeper berth). To take the food for we don't expect everyone to make food as good as we do. We normally plan the trip much in advance so that we not only have enough time to plan and build our excitement but also since we get tickets cheaper - who wants to pay for tatkal. Another reason also is that holiday is almost always family affair so these trips are usually planned during the summers and more often than not they are or are combined with the visit to grandparents.
What we talk about
"Kuch toh log kahenge- logon ka kaam hai kehna"
The "logon" here clearly refers to the masses, the regulars and the run of the mill sorts - the middle class mentality as some may put it. We more as Indians than as middle class love to talk! About everything - the dinner to be cooked , the girl next door, the weather , politics, sports, clothes , food, movies, music, kids, husbands, mothers in law, TV shows, jewelry - everything.
"Papa Kehte hain bada naam karega"
The one quality every and by every its is implied across nations , castes and states possesses is that of being highly ambitious. They want to go out there and make the change in their lives. They want to earn the big money they always dreamt of, they want to get the perfect government job that gives them the ultimate security they always looked for, and they want the big title under their name in the card that people would talk about. Yes they are very very ambitious and this is where they set themselves apart - for upper class doesn't work for money and the lower class works only for money it is in between the two that we find the "sandwiched" middle class. They want a job that pays well and also that earns them respect (self and otherwise).
The definition of the perfect job however has changed over years - when long ago it was to get a government job which was synonymous to getting settled and then marry a" fair and beautiful "girl for the perfect life, it has now changed into getting a professional degree, a high paying job in an MNC and going abroad "through the company". This would result in being eligible to marry a "smart well educated fair and beautiful girl" which will ultimately bring life back to perfectness.
Thus THE JOB should pay well in cash as well as worth.
"paanch rupaiya.. baara aana.."
Money gets its importance from its power to buy anything as they like to put it but so does love. It's the tangibility factor that makes all the difference. The seekers (earning between 200,000 and 500,000 rupees) and strivers (between 500,000 and 1 million rupees) constitutes India's huge middle class. Most of this is spent on education - it is highly important for them to pursue a professional course and earn a job. In some cases like the owners of small and medium enterprises, education may be limited to high school but the share spent on education more or less remains the same. Apart from this, the EMIs for car and home loan are a major outflow. The middle class loves the idea of spending out on eating too, which is what makes it an occasion like on promotion or a birthday or anniversary. Another differentiating factor for our middle class is how money brings savings and not spending to mind.
One important piggy bank that the savings are also deposited in is for the daughter's wedding. It is the biggest milestone in any father's life to have her daughter wed with pomp splendor that he can afford. Or even more. Medical Bills in some cases also dig a big hole in pocket - this giving way to health insurance policies in India.
If there is one thing that could cause all the states of India to come together and sledge Pakistan wholeheartedly it would be a cricket match. The enthusiasm and the energy that the game brings is incredible. Cricket has become a religion where the god is just one. Kids want to not go to school and men get down because of "unexpected high fever" every time the finals are not on a Sunday. The one who owns the biggest TV becomes the obvious host and no other TV show gains TRPs. Such is the craze of cricket in India. It has been exemplified over the years through movies and advertisements - with Anupam Kher being ready to go play if required in the movie Darr and the girl running through the field to congratulate her loved one in the famous Cadbury's Dairy Milk advertisements. And the one person who everyone loves - Sachin Tendulkar: God of Indian Cricket.
The God of Small Things
Google number of gods in India and the first result you get sys there are about 330 million faces. Now one wouldn't believe this but the number is close enough. But why? Religious? God Fearing? Don't know?
A probable reason could be because India is actually birth place of four major religious traditions; namely Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. And also because we associate everything with God- the explainable and the more so the un-explainable - the rain, the sun, money, education, beginning, end - everything has a god. We "Thank God "and we curse Him. But we are inseparable from Him. Every new purchase has to be met with a shloka and a pooja thali.
This also explains the numerous festivals throughout the year - right from ramnavami to Krishna janmashtmi to dusshera to holi and so on.
With festivities beginning from Lohri and Makar Sakranti and running through xmas and new years - our year passes by soon. Those who wish can celebrate up to 90 festivals throughout which implies celebrating one festival every 4 - 5 days.
Of the 300 festivals and fairs that take place in the country - some festivals welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon. Others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings, saints, and gurus (revered teachers), or the advent of the New Year. The main festivals however remain Diwal for Hindus, Eid for Muslims and Xmas for Christians.
Thus the Indian middle class exists - very much. In fact there is a little middle class in every one of us. The basic values, beliefs and perceptions are broadly applicable to all. We all want to show our selves better but at the end of the day we all are comfortable with whatever it is we have. We want to pull ourselves to the upper class level and would make every effort to get there. If however we do not, there is always the option of pulling them down, of calling them vain and pompous, of calling us more rooted and them high heeled.