For an entire decade - during the 90’s - being middle class was cool. The middle class had it all… that was necessary. They rarely gave into temptation, and were grateful for food, shelter and clothing. They always had just about enough for essentials and never enough for luxuries. But that was fine - at least, they weren’t poor. Any financial shortcoming could be shrugged off with one smug line: “Hum middle class walay hain…” (we are the middle class). It wasn’t embarrassing to admit, because the middle class defined more than just the working section of the society. They symbolized morals, principles and upheld our cultural values more than any other section of the society. It was a thing of pride.
You could tell the middle class, right away: a couple with two children, a rented apartment and a two wheeler. That is, of course, the stereotypical picture. They had just enough money to their name to live respectably. They were humble people who celebrated and enjoyed the littlest things. Since they were deprived of certain luxuries, they valued and appreciated whatever material possessions they had. Unlike the poor, the middle class had a fighting chance for a better future – a hope - but progress of ambitions was slow. In the early 00’s, all that changed. Banks started sounding suspiciously friendly about giving money. Want your child to go abroad to get a whatever-the-hell-as-long-as-it’s-abroad degree? Banks had your back. Want that car you always dreamed of? They’re there. New home? Done. They were offering some no-questions-asked money with an “it’s okay if you never return it” tone. It was rumored Satan had joined RBI’s board of directors. And people gladly shook hands with the devil. Lakhs were offered with a smile and all you had to do was mortgage whatever little property you had. A little mortgage never hurt anybody, right?
On the other hand, globalization brought in foreign companies, and that meant, OMG! MNC jobs for the working class. Emerging call centers gave the youth a chance to screw up their education for meager pay for tireless toiling. Everyone was happy as there was money in the air.
The middle class was suddenly empowered and luxuries turned to necessities. They just couldn’t do without a car anymore. The dream bungalow was realized in the form of lavish condos, their children HAD TO get into IIT or die (of social embarrassment) and they weren’t really comfortable in any other fabric than the one with the big brand stamps – which they bought from the new mall. Excess was the new minimal and none of it valued or appreciated. The whole social stratum was basking in its new found wealth and stature. No one said “we’re middle class” anymore, and frankly, it would make them look bad. So, everyone pretended the 90’s never happened.
Call the middle class middle class, today, and all offence is taken. They just might smack you with the Rolex sporting pimp-hand, then, run you over with their new Honda hatchback.
Photo credit: neishaagharat.com