Looking At The Middle Class Imagining In India Media
India with its 1.15 billion people, has a sizeable middle class population which is expected to grow steadily over the years. There are innumerable things that one would associate with the "middle class". From habits and traditions to beliefs and a host of other things, there are so many associations that people tend to make with the Indian middle class. So, what is this Indian middle class? Who are the people who belong to this Indian middle class? In a country so rich in culture and tradition, so diverse in faith and religion, there are so many segmentations among people. One such broad segmentation is the Indian middle class. They belong to neither the large population which lives in abject poverty, nor to the highly affluent. They belong to that segment which is rarely portrayed in its real sense by any Bollywood movie or any book which speaks of the "real" India. Its little fragments of daily life, little symbols and many other little things that make middle class, the Indian middle class.
India got its political independence in 1947. However, the economic independence happened much later in 1991, at least for the middle class. It was at this point when India took its big bold step towards liberalisation. Thus the political independence eventually paved the path for this economic independence. Thus change is inevitable and the Indian middle class and India as a whole has seen changes at an extremely fast pace. Santosh Desai in his book Mother Pious Lady, offers priceless insights into these changes in the backdrop of the middle class. He offers little nuggets of India that most people can relate to. He travels through time from the past to the present and even goes to the future where he becomes quite idealistic with his views on India. Having read the book, I will also continue in his style of referring to the Indian middle class as "we" here on. Also, there will be a lot of references and examples from the book throughout this essay. He has after all captured India in its true sense, from the good old times of the big-family reunion-summer-holidays to Indian politics and democracy.
India - Figments of the past
We, the Indian middle class are constantly evolving. However, there are so many things about the past that we remember so vividly and would hold very close to our hearts. Inspite of witnessing changes, we still tend remain rooted in terms of a lot of things from habits to beliefs. We can still relate to a lot of our past in our daily life today. This is because some things of the past never end up being just the past. Let's take the example of the famous 'mere pas ma hai'. We have heard this dialogue, 35 years ago in the movie Deewar starring Amitabh Bachchan and today we still hear Shah Rukh Khan saying the same thing. The only difference is probably the fact Shah Rukh Khan isn't necessarily haggard and in shabby clothes because the same Indian middle class has evolved! We still see mothers who think their sons can do no wrong, we still see mothers who are omnipresent, we still see mothers who wear their high 'utility' saris as in the book where the set up might have been many years ago. We talk about feminism and equal rights for women, but in the end, the mother does all the things that she 'must' do because she belongs to that section of the society where she must cook for her husband and see him off to work, feed her children and be the ever-so tolerant person in the house. This is such a strongly middle class expectation of a woman which has remained this way for a long time now.
Communication was barely developed several years ago. Telegrams meant important information. They were expensive and would be written in the worst English language possible as the charge would be applicable word wise! Even letters from a post man would bring excitement in the house and the letter would be read many times over for a variety of reasons which would include reading it out to someone who can't read or the elders in the family. Then came the telephone, the big magic gadget that people wanted to possess but was way out of their affordability level. Little conversations, postcards and handwritten letters have an all together amazing emotion attached to them!
While the upper middle class and the affluent have the capacity to afford almost anything they need, we are more the value oriented consumer. What is there in it for us? What's the ROI? Will I get it elsewhere for cheaper? This is our mindset. Not to forget the absolute need to bargain no matter what the commodity is! Be it with the vegetable vendor or with the man who is showing you those lovely saris, all of which we wish we could buy or with the auto walla who would quote a price which would always be "too much" to pay for "such a short distance". This bargaining gives a sense of satisfaction - a feeling of "value for money". Discounts ofcourse would be a different attraction altogether. All of this appeals to us because of the sense of satisfaction that we have bought something worth Rs.200 for Rs.150!
The way to a man's heart is through his stomach or rather his taste buds! And this holds true for almost every man. We have seen the big Indian thali which has delicious food from starters to the dessert all served at once so one will know what there is to eat without any element of suspense and can enjoy the food in its entirety! This Thali is also a symbol of the pluralism in our country. It makes a person to eat a good meal, to see a good thali with a wide spread of little cups which are almost continuously refilled! Of course, the culture of eating out started to gain momentum in the middle class section. Back then, going out to eat meant street food. As Santosh Desai says, the wickedly delicious street food was something that can never be made at home. Unhealthy and unhygienic, this food would just satisfy our taste buds beyond measure. The habit of not wasting food being ingrained in our brains, it would be almost impossible to even waste the tiniest bit of this kind of a delicacy. As much as the last bit of home cooked food left on the plate, swiped clean from it and fed by our mothers have an indescribable taste to it, street food has its own charm. It not only makes your stomach happy but also your wallet! And Even today, this street food culture exists owing to the sheer taste of this kind of food though hygiene and ample choices have brought down their popularity a little, they are still very much a part of a culture and sure to stay at least for a while now!
Having discussed food, we cannot leave music untouched! Our relationship with music, particularly Hindi movie songs, is a very strong and deep one. Some express our feelings and emotions, some make us happy, some have such a strong connect. But whatever the reason maybe, these songs, from 'mere toote hue dil se' to 'Dard-e-disco', have captured our attention and at times made us addicts! Ofcourse not to forget our very own 'antakshari' where people from all age groups in the family sit together and sing songs endlessly, covering several eras of music, singing with such passion from the beginning till the end! However, with time music has evolved and the lyrics of songs now range from words we can't possibly find in any dictionary to those which still touch your heart because of the poetic flow of words. Be it context less, meaningless, poetic or thought provoking, we love our movie songs because there is one for all of us!
India - today
In continuation with Bollywood, and its music, and its reference to the India in the past, it is one of those things that would be an inherent part of us Indians. So much so, that we can't live without it! Except that with time, there are differences in what we want to listen to. Today, we are most definitely smitten by the whole concept of "remixes". The idea of taking old songs and teaming them up with sound effects and music from the pop and rock genre has become the music people really enjoy today. The emphasis which was once on the lyrics and the melody has now shifted and the remix videos are all about skimpily clad women and their bodies more than anything else! As for the movies of today, it has undergone major transformation. Besides the fact that Bollywood is becoming increasingl popular and the heroes are like demi- Gods to this movie crazy country, the kind of movies that are being made, have gone through quite a steady transformation with time. The very depiction of romance and also men and women was very different several years ago. From Vinod Khanna's chest which would reveal a banian with holes we have moved to the bare chested Salman Khan. Now men are being stared and gazed at as much as the women are! Girls and women aren't shy to ogle at their six packs and their chiseled bodies. Men are as such gravitating towards the process of grooming and having that perfect body which they would love to show off at every possible opportunity. How can we forget our very own Salman Khan who started this trend! As for women, gone are the days when women with their hair open are thought of as too modern, and almost 'loose'. Earlier a woman would leave her hair open purely to seduce a man but today it is associated with style and fashion. Of course, we also remember the days when couples kiss behind an umbrella. That in fact was not very long ago. Today it is explicit, so much so that we sometimes feel that we have had an overdose of vulgarity on screen. Movies have gone through a make-over, in terms of depicting relationships. We see movies in which an old man is almost magnetically attracted to a young girl like in the case of Amitabh in Nishabd. Of course, sex is still a bit of a taboo though it isn't a dark area anymore. These aspects of romance and depiction of emotions have come out of the dark over the years. Even in the television front, there have been significant changes but somehow what appeals most is those shows where they depict a very strong hold of traditional values. Yes I'm talking about the Saas bahu serials. They go on for not weeks or months but years and their talent in keeping the audience hooked for such a long period is truly commendable and all this, in the absence of a good story, logic and everything else that a person should ideally be watching. As much as the saas bahu serials still propagate the very same values that were taught years and years ago and that people still relate to, there is a change in the way the house wife in these serials dresses today. She is more stylish and more concerned about the way she looks. Women have gained importance in decision making in the house and have more freedom. She also goes to work and has a life which doesn't revolve only around her husband. Even in a show like Jassi jaisi koi nahin, the ugly girl is the heroine who is disliked by the rich and liked by the lower middle class. This is barely even sensible but has a huge viewership. We look at advertisements today and even there, women are no more portrayed as those who are restricted to their kitchens without a say at home. Now they are depicted as smart and confident. They have broken their shackles and have come out to face the world. This definitely is a depiction of the changing Indian woman. Along with the soaps which have the highest viewership among women, we see our middle class women changing as well. Then maybe, they are influencing us at some level or are we influencing them? Well, it's probably mutual but the at least the women are taking the forefront though they are depicted as the traditional timid woman.
Once a luxury now a necessity : Do you think we should a buy a car? Well that was a question that the middle class wouldn't have dared to ask several years ago. However, an increase in the disposable income and the proliferation of the middle class as a whole has increased affordability levels and cars are no more a distant dream. Recalling the days of the ambassador, which I still believe is one of the sturdiest and most comfortable cars to travel in, it was a matter of pride to travel in one, leave alone own it. It was beyond the reach of a middle class person. Then of course, there came the Maruti, there came money and there came admiration for the little car which stood for performance, price and promise! Thinking about it, today its almost obsolete. The options and the increase in disposable income gives us a huge variety to choose from, so much so that it is rather confusing and a painfully difficult task to make the decision. From beyond reach , to luxury, today it is moving towards almost a necessity for the middle class man!
We have constantly been undergoing changes. Changes in almost every aspect - changes that would make us lead better lives and changes that would ensure that we are abreast with whatever is new and modern . So what exactly is 'modern'? From the Indian Sari, we moved to the nightie which was and in some places still worn by women of all age groups. Women would even be found going to stores close to home in this long gown, which had to be strictly modest without too much of lace and frills. This very dress has now become something which only the older women wear and is now in the process of slow death. The clothes that girls wear today aren't as 'modest' as they used to be. They are 'modern' and stylish. In fact even pigtails (long braids) which were once a symbol of a girl's beauty and feminity are long gone! The English language which was once not that popular and was seen as a matter of pride to be able to master it has now reached the common middle class man. It has even given birth to the ever so popular 'Hinglish' language. It's a symbol of fusion of both the west and India. Even in terms of music we now have bands like Indian Ocean which make music that have a touch of both Indian and western forms of music. And of course, where are those names like Venkateshwar and Pushpendar? They have now become Venky and Puppy and probably names that are not even associated with the original name. Sandy and Harry and other such nick names are more stylish than their real counter parts. This is yet another change towards modernism. Or is it?
When people don't use their real names while they introduce themselves, are they being fake? Well that might be debatable but whether or not Aishwarya Rai and Simi Garewal are fake, is not quite a question to even ask! The former always wants to look like the right bahu, does way too much to look 'beautiful always'. The latter tries so hard to even get her posture right that we can see through it! They are always trying to be something else, someone else. Why? Most of them go under the knife just to look like something they aren't. They get surgeries and injections done and become genuinely fake. We are allowed to change and move in the right direction. We are allowed to become modern and adapt with respect to whatever could bring out a positive change. Celebrities as such have an almost god status today. Why or how they became famous is almost immaterial. Its only the fact that your famous which matters and it becomes of great aspirational value to a middle class youngster to try and get there someday. Earlier great people became celebrities. Today we have almost lost track of why someone became famous and more than often it ends up being purely because of all the wrong reasons. It just boils down to the fame and money and nothing else. These have gained more importance that almost anything else. People would go to almost any extent to attain it. So where are the real women? Where are the real people? Where are we heading? We will know only with time!
India - Dreams for the future
Having mentioned the word change so many times, it's evident that its inevitable and seeing the trend, we can try and understand the middle class of tomorrow. We have constantly tried to move towards modernism. Luxury is one such thing that has caught the eye of Indians today. We want to possess luxury branded products and want to feel rich and important. In this process are we becoming racists and creating divides amongst us all. Our true interest lies in leading a more comfortable or almost flamboyant life. Let's take the example of the Indian Army. We, the cricket obsessed nation almost go to the extent of comparing the cricketers with the jawans, revealing our insensitivity towards the hardships that the army men face almost every day. Of course the saving grace is the fact that the awards for the 'Indian of the Year' was given to a real army man 2 years ago and not to one of those who acted as one, in a blockbuster film! Through all this, we are becoming more affluent. India is moving towards becoming a richer and more developed nation but obviously it comes with a cost. Those who gain gain abnormally and those who belong to the have-nots, continue to remain in abject poverty. Thus, we need to move forward in the direction where the economy balances out such that it helps this section as well and strikes a balance between wealth and want. As depicted in Slumdog Millionare, a very large section lives in almost inhuman conditions. However the wants for the rich never end, the wants for any man never ends. The rich are becoming richer and the middle class are moving towards the upper middle class. What is happening to the not so privileged?
Today, India is seeing it all. Improved economy, advancing technology, openness towards issues like sex which were once a taboo, profanity and vulgarity almost have no meaning due to the abundance of it, celebrities, cricket and the aspiration of the middle class and the list is almost never ending. However the most significant is India advancing in terms of technology and education. This is an important factor in the progress that we are witnessing. English speaking academics, professional courses being made available for more people, increasing awareness for the importance of such education has changed the face of our nation. We see budding entrepreneurs and people moving from their rural areas to find better options. It's like the flyover, which signifies a movement from one side to the other directly without having to go through what is not required. It is quite evident that the changes that we see are predominantly from that of the middle class. The middle class are the ones who are significant when we talk about transformations. When we talk about women breaking their shackles, we are talking about the middle women of the middle class who have finally come out of their shells. Thus most of the references to change have have always come from this very 'middle'.
India in all its diversity might be chaotic but is very beautiful and that is what makes it India. We have always witnessed so many changes good and bad and have embraced them all. Where are we heading from here? Will India move towards bettering the economy or will we move towards becoming a more real India? Will there be a more prominent divide that will start to develop or will they slowly start thinning down? These are questions that we will continue to have till they are answered eventually. However, no matter who we are and which section we belong to, in every one of us there is a quintessential 'Indianness'. We might be the middle class, we might be seemingly different from the rest but we still remain united in so many ways. We are India and we need to keep progressing. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam said "We must think and act like a nation of a billion people and not like that of a million people. Dream, dream, dream!" So, let's dream, let's propel India to greater heights and let's make India - the Real India.
Article name: Looking At The Middle Class Imagining In India Media essay, research paper, dissertation