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The Myth of the Indian Middle Class

The middle class the biggest myth of our times. This is a group of people with a strange sense of rootlessness. This lack of identity is us, the middle class.

The so-called Indian Middle Class is perhaps one of the sketchiest concepts in modern Indian times. If you go by the simple run-of-the-mill Wikipedia stats, the Indian Middle Class is 3% or about 40 million of the Indian population. By another estimate, this will account for approximately 475 million people by 2030.

However, the Indian Middle Class is a far cry from being a single monolithic entity. That is, the middle class in India is hardly defined by simple economic parameters. Being of Middle Class comes from a sense of belonging far deeper than of monetary proportions. It is a social construct, even a choice of lifestyle, a body of belief system and sometimes even a sense of smug entitlement. Coming from a Middle Class is a narrative in itself. It is the quintessential Indian version of the rags to riches story. In a world where the strong are increasingly emulating the weak, and need is glorified, where exactly does the Middle Class stand?

Let’s try and examine the fittest example of an Indian Middle-Class family. A fairly young couple, who got married in their late 20’s, pooled in their individual resources, while working long hours in tiny corporate houses of a large Indian metropolitan city. Soon enough they find themselves pitchforked under the weight of an unreasonable home loan for a squalid apartment, while nervously anticipating the arrival of their firstborn. Quite believably confused whether the happy occasion should bring forth celebratory drinks or impending gloom resulting from enhanced expenses. A few years on, the happy family is nominally complete with two tiny tots who enjoy occasional annual short picnic trips with their parents to tiny Rajasthan towns or if more adventurous, to the likes of Shimla and Manali. Parents by now have exhausted their time, energy, zest for life and have dedicated their lives to hatching ambitious educational plots for their kids’ glorious future. They take these two vacation days to dance away into the wee hours of the morning under shady disco lights, in some obscure campsite. Run this on a repeat and it fits into each of our lives, like a hand in glove. Exhausted and wasted aspiration is characteristic number one for the Indian Middle Class.

Characteristic number two is the desperate need of the middle class to cling to the traditional Indian way of life. Perhaps this is the greatest contradiction of our times. The middle class is aspirational, ambitious, willing to push forward to break the glass ceiling. The middle class doesn’t shy away from dedication, hard work. The lack of opportunities for this segment is countermanded by sheer ingenuity. There is a will and almost always, there is a way. But, when it comes to the life choices our children have to make, the middle class is surprisingly rigid. The aspiration and ambition that is the trademark of the middle class, fizzles out when it comes to the question of marriage, parentage, sexuality etc. While this perfect couple would want their kids to grow up to achieve heights of professional success, they will sooner or later put their feet down if either of them refuses to follow the norms followed by their peers. The middle class abhors leading and loves to follow.

The middle class is also plainly fickle. Just like the Roman mob, the Indian middle class is light on the judgement. Political opinion, social judgement, nationalism and religion are formidable forces in today’s times. I don’t say, the entire Indian population is fickle because a remarkable size of the population that sits below the poverty line does not have the luxury of forming or bearing the consequences of having an opinion. Their votes do matter, but the casting of these votes is influenced by caste divide, religious power play and generous doses of entertaining nationalism. Jobs is something pivotal to all but understanding the construct of an economy, perhaps starts with the middle class. Therefore, the socially influenced class, the nationalist class, the piously religious class, is the middle class that has the purchasing power to buy a smartphone. It is plainly not middle any more.

And so, I call the middle class the biggest myth of our times. This is a group of people with a strange sense of rootlessness. All of us are. We have traversed an arc of experiences, where we neither feel at home at our origin nor at the present station. This lack of identity is us, the middle class. It was the same with our parents and maybe it will be the same as us. Unless we take an onus to not follow, and to do what we think is best in the circumstances, and not just what everyone else is doing. Maybe that is what the middle class should include in their life goal list.

Image Source: Movie Mahal

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About the Author

Manojita Chakraborty

Manojita loves to write alongside her regular 9-5. Flair for language, poetry, art etc is what sustains her and often inspires her to be creative. She loves storytelling and is passionate about words. read more...

15 Posts | 21,548 Views

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