Saturday, 24 January 2015

An Ode to the Indian Middle Class

downloadMiddle class is typically defined as a group of humans not poor enough to have no dreams and hopes at all and just not rich enough to afford big, seemingly unrealistic dreams. And just like with most products of globalization, we Indians have come to own this category with a touch of our own – don’t take risks, study hard to become an engineer or doctor, ‘if it’s not free you don’t need it’, ‘how the fuck did you dare to dream big’, and most underlying and obvious commandment of all – paise ped par nahi ugte. The rich bigots use the term ‘middle class’ as an offense. But in fact, it’s more of a complementary adjective for an average citizen, bank-balance wise. Jugaad, bargaining are some of the most familiar terms to characterize this class of humans, as we’ll visit them briefly.
There was a time, not so long ago, when we survived on the SMS packs provided by different mobile operators before the practice was brutally crucified after the advent of free messaging services like WhatsApp, Hike, Line etc. Forwarded messages to our loved ones were a sign of friendship and affection and an indication of our sense of humor. This practice seems to be dying, albeit not entirely eradicated just yet. STOP. IT. PLEASE.
To keep on the same track, these SMS packs of the good old days were null and void on special occasions, for instance national holidays and Diwali, Holi, Christmas etc. Then some human, filled to the core with overflowing Indian-ness, decided to send the affectionate messages prior to the said special occasions and voila! – advance wishes. Suck it Airtel. But this seemed to the logical thing to do, where is the Indian middle class virtue?? It’s in the fact that even after the arrival of free messaging services, the advance messaging mentality thrives. We like to play it safe. Just in case, they decide to fuck with us and start charging. I got some wishes for the New Year 10 days before the calendar said so. Because life is uncertain like that.
Moving on. How many of us bought a pen stand during the days when studies WERE interesting?? I mean I never did. I made one from my mother’s old bangles and Fevicol and it worked fine until just recently. Currently I am using a Fastrack watch packaging as a pen stand. This is the simplest of the wonderful thing that Jugaad is. And we Indians have mastered it. We essentially beat the shit out of the elite space nations by successfully sending Mangalyan to Mars through Jugaad. Google ‘jugaad’ and you’ll be amazed by the innovation coming from even the smallest of communities.
And how can the description of Indian middles class be complete without our finest trick – bargaining. We don’t budge without winning a concession, however small, meaningless it may be to our financial situation. Discounts and sales are collective orgasms for Indian consumers and it’s exploited by brands shamelessly. Even if we are affluent, discounts seal the deal. Be it buying vegetables, clothes or an unrecognizable product we won’t ever need, bargaining is essential. Shopkeepers start questioning your IQ if you don’t bargain. To survive as a consumer in this country, either learn the subtleties of bargaining of befriend someone who has mastered this art-form. As Russell Peters famously put it – “Indians and Chinese cannot business together. Chinese cannot give a bargain and Indians cannot live without one.”
Growing up in an Indian middle class family, of which a majority of us inadvertently a part of, teaches us a lot. We get to learn about resource management, which is just a very civilized alias for jugaad. No matter how limited the resources, if you can’t work something out, you will struggle in life. From the makeshift pen-stands to achieving the final result to be proved by any means necessary (even if it means committing numerous mathematical sins), Jugaad is an essential survival skill. We also learn to annoy the shit out of shopkeepers with our top-of-the-class bargaining skills and with the unwarranted longevity of a simple transaction all because neither the shopkeeper nor the buyer would budge from their respective stance.
The middle class is an integral part of an overwhelming majority of Indians based on per capita income. There are positives and there are negatives. But that doesn’t change anything. Even those who graduate from lower to higher middle class of cross over the barrier into the elite rich suckers find it difficult to shed the so called middle class customs – bargaining and jugaad among others. But it’s fun no matter what.
And instead of blabbering on and on, may I recommend Sarabhai vs Sarabhai to better understand the Indian middle class. Also 'Do Dooni Chaar'.
Also published on Campusghanta.com.

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