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A Dummy's Guide To Indian Hobbies

A Dummy's Guide To Indian Hobbies

August 27, 2012

Have you ever wondered, "What do Indians do in their free time?" Well, this is the answer.

Nothing indicates your class status in society as comprehensively as hobbies do. There is a reason why you never see kids in rich neighborhoods running on the road rolling old bicycle tires with a stick or run into a working class couple who spend their free time volunteering for PETA. 

Chapter 1: The Tap dancers

Poor people don't have time for hobbies. Especially the rural poor because most of their time goes in fetching water from the nearest public tank one bucket at a time and save them in drums. Oh, the intricacies of 21st century life in this wannabe-super-power country!

Now if you’re deprived in an urban area, you don’t have to make three trips balancing two pails of water on your head but you will have to stand in a queue at four in the morning and wait for the government water supply that can start anytime between 5AM (on a good day) and 8:30AM (on a bad day).

A typical housewife endures endless queues, sleepless nights, ugly quarrels, bad weather, water tap politics, and all kinds of drama on a daily basis for just four buckets of murky municipality water that is not even safe to drink! We're still talking about water, we didn't even get to roti, kapda and makaan yet!

Luckily we, the middleclass and the upper middleclass, don't face these problems. We have taps.

Your place in the class hierarchy determines how many queues you encounter on a regular basis. The deprived must be prepared to stand in queues for water in the morning, midday meals in the afternoon, NREGA payment in the evening and the country-made liquor shop at night. These are the daily queues.

There are separate monthly queues for wheat, sugar, kerosene, and rice at the ration shop. Occasionally he has to go the government hospital, the railway station, post office, and the 18 hour General Darshanam queue at Tirupati. (Did you know that in China, you can hire someone for $3 an hour to stand in a queue on your behalf?)

If an election is around, he volunteers to stand in queues for the mass rallies, media photo-ops, 100 rupee note distribution, biryani packet, cheap liquor, and finally the ballot box where he will vote for the highest bidder. Standing in queues is the ultimate aam aadmi survival trick!

Chapter 2: Kill the time

As we move higher up the class hierarchy, real hobbies begin to surface. Middleclass people in general tend to have hobbies that don’t involve spending a lot of money. Hobbies themselves are perceived as something only kids would do. Very few adults do anything interesting outside their dead end jobs.

The only thing close to a hobby that middleclass men have is to walk to the end of the street in a lungi, light a cigarette, sip cutting chai and talk about real estate prices, politics, and cinema gossip with like-minded uncles!

Women do better. Their hobbies are usually fun activities which are also useful. For instance learning how to sew, stitch and knit not only is a great hobby but also saves a little something which otherwise would have been spent on tailors.

Daughters were trained by their mothers from a very early age in activities like cooking, stitching, making Rangoli patterns, simple religious rituals, Perantam etiquette, singing, dancing etc. The girls got opportunities to showcase their various talents to friends and family during the numerous festivals. Hobbies in a way were culturally integrated into a young girl’s social life. The idea is to teach her how to run a household so that she will grow up to be a good housewife.

That was how our parents' generation was brought up. Now middleclass girls are expected to study, earn and compete with the boys (and then the dowry too) which means that they don’t have to restrict themselves to the outdated patriarchal gender roles. After all why should a girl who is studying engineering pursue housewife hobbies like cooking and knitting while her brother is not expected to do any of those?

With that feminist spirit, most girls spend most of their free time watching TV, texting at 72 texts per hour, putting status messages like “I am not addicted to texting. I’m addicted to the person I am texting”, getting mad at the boyfriend for no reason at all just to test how much he loves her, voting on Indian Idol among other things.

Guys, unlike girls, have the freedom to roam around the town for no reason. This advantage is reflected in their hobbies like playing street cricket, watching IPL at a friend’s place, going to every movie that releases, or just simply riding on a borrowed bike. Their indoor activities include social networking, downloading torrents late in the night (when BSNL doesn’t charge for data usage), replying to text messages and other passive ways of killing time.

Chapter 3: Eat, click, drive

Upper middleclass or, as McKinsey calls them, "Strivers"  tend to have a few acquired tastes and don't mind spending some money on hobbies. The “work hard party harder” type frequent pubs where software dudes dance with other dudes to Iron Maiden in a completely heterosexual way. (It’s amazing how they pull that off!)

The outdoor types cycle up and down a hill once in a while.

Other popular Striver interests include Yoga, "being a foodie", following "cool" sports like English Premier League, Formula One racing, and NBA but not IPL. Following IPL is too middleclass. Of course, the really "upwardly mobile" follow Golf.

Do I even need to say anything about the shutterbug endemic? Just look at your Facebook feed. It’s full of pictures of stray dogs, door knobs, rusty handlebars, and fruit salads; poor people in Black & White, old people in sepia, just born people in HD and pretentious people using words like exposure, f-number, angle of view and backlight compensation!

Photography is the quintessential Striver's favorite hobby.

And traveling, a gets a close second place. Middleclass people don’t travel much. For them traveling means going to some temple or a wedding. But Strivers are different. They travel to relax.

Traveling was originally a Rich People’s hobby. Going on a trip to London or South Africa with the family used to be an exclusively rich people thing. It somehow caught on among the young software class. But these guys can't afford to go to London or Monaco, so they just go to Mangalore every other weekend!

Traveling fits very well into the upper middleclass budget. It also has an added advantage. A group of friends can combine all their upper middleclass hobbies like photography, going on long drives, being a foodie, using the GPS on their smartphones etc. as part of the same holiday trip. It's a complete package!

Cars and Gadgets are another popular interest among upper middleclass males – cars they’ll never see in India and gadgets they don't need. Curiously, the registration numbers of cars impress them more than the cars themselves.

We were at a restaurant and there was this yellow topless car parked nearby. My friend on seeing that immediately said, "It's a Mercedes convertible and it is 777! Isn't that awesome?" and I was thinking, “Either the RTO officer is some second cousin’s father-in-law or that Mercedes guy shelled out a lot of money for that number. Where is the awesome part?”

And it doesn't even make any sense. I cannot think of a single advantage of having a catchy registration number for a car. It makes it easier for the cops to identify your car in case something happens. Why the hell would one want that? It is a disadvantage if you ask me!

Chapter 4: A league of extraordinarily boring gentlemen

When it comes to hobbies, rich people or Global Indians are in a completely different league. A rich person just can't like something and let it be. He has to own it. Rich people often like to be exclusive owners. So he just can't own that one thing. He has to own all of them, preferably in his own private collection.

That is why rich people don't just have hobbies or interests, they have collections. Collecting things comes naturally for them. It is this instinct for accumulation that made them rich in the first place.

What they collect depends on how rich they are. It can be anything from stamps, black and white pictures of cats, radios, old coins to medieval rugs, antique cars, renaissance paintings, World War II airplanes, and stuffed seahorses.

In fact, had it been legal, all the Egyptian Mummies would be in Rupert Murdoch's house by now socializing with the other skeletons in his closet. Now you know why Vijay Mallya has a lot of M. K. Gandhi’s stuff?

Privileged housewife
hobbies are of a slightly different nature. They are usually activities that involve social gathering. Volunteering, wine tasting, socializing etc. But they do these things in a very expensive way. If the privileged housewife wants to invite friends for coffee, like sourcing the beans from Ethiopia, chocolate from Ivory coast, sugar from Brazil, porcelain from Venice and the spoons from Sri Lanka (they make the best spoons by the way!)

Their kids throw the most hip parties in town – those featuring techno music, pseudo-underground vibe, non-traditional dancing, strobe lights and maybe even costumes! These loud and dark parties usually go on till it is time for the housewife to stand in the queue for water.

Photo credit
: Muhammad Abdul Majid Majid 


  • navin
    06.02.15 09:33 AM
    i dont know how i ended up here but it felt good reading this stuff ...write for newspapers it will work
  • puneet varma
    puneet varma
    25.04.13 09:39 AM
    Great write Jayant (As usual).. Simple on the surface, yet very profound!
  • zafar
    19.04.13 11:05 AM
    Awesome, to say the least! Most of the things seem correct, but I think that some people also like to read in their spare time.. And of course blogging:P
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    12.11.12 10:46 AM
    @Rohit: I've lived in India all my life
  • Rohit
    11.11.12 09:15 PM
    I am not sure whether you're trying to appear cool or just being sarcastic. Just curious to know how long you've actually lived in India.
  • Sapna
    26.10.12 05:23 PM
    effing awesome!
  • Ankit Chiplunkar
    Ankit Chiplunkar
    10.09.12 01:37 AM
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    04.09.12 05:04 PM
    @Fabia: Honoured :)
  • Fabia Postel
    Fabia Postel
    04.09.12 04:31 PM
    g2 this article was so brilliant, great humor - was actually laughing out loud - but very thoughtful as well and totally true! I'm so happy I read your post because now that I know you're a great writer I can keep following your super writing...! :)
  • Santanu
    30.08.12 04:21 PM
    The first part where you highlighted the plight of the poor (AAM ADMI!)was nicely put. But rest was condescending...
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    29.08.12 10:45 PM
    @indu Chhiber: Of course, yes... :)
  • indu chhibber
    indu chhibber
    29.08.12 09:49 PM
    Are you making fun of us?
  • Sonik
    29.08.12 02:31 PM
    It was a treat reading your post. Brilliant analysis of the Indian classes and there hobbies.

    PS: I had been recommended Purple Haze, but after reading your post, I think I should just run off to Mangalore :P
  • Jaishvats
    29.08.12 08:26 AM

    It was a very enjoyable read . Liked ur analysis .
  • Samik
    28.08.12 09:02 PM
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    28.08.12 05:10 PM
    Thanks Sourav! That was a conscious shift in the topics I am picking. Glad you noticed it and that it is working out :)
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    28.08.12 05:04 PM
    I must say Jayanth, you have become an awesome social commentator. Your earlier articles focused on more recent issues or personal experiences, but the ones you have been writing lately ( like the one on traveling by bus, train, cycle, etc, and on middle class, aam aadmi, upper middleclass, mall culture, etc..) are timeless :)
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    28.08.12 02:23 PM
    @Keshav, @Anop, @Alka and Dr B.S.Rawat: Thanks :)
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    28.08.12 02:20 PM
    @Harry: Purple Haze in Bangalore circa 2012 is the era in which software dudes dance with other other software dudes to Iron Maiden :p

    EPL and F1 have a predominantly upper middleclass following India although it may not be the case in UK.

    The reason I said that it is a disadvantage is because of a general rule that anything that helps the police uniquely identify you is a disadvantage. you know, like tattoos, fancy numbers, pink limousines etc. :p
  • alka narula
    alka narula
    28.08.12 07:33 AM
    A v thoughtful post !
  • Anup Soans
    Anup Soans
    28.08.12 07:24 AM
    Great insights. Oh well, aam aadmi begins his life in a queue, waiting for his birth certificate and dies in a queue waiting for care and then his relatives continue waiting in a queue for his death certificate !
  • Dr.B>S>Rawat
    28.08.12 07:14 AM
    Very exhaustive description. There is one left out, it is making repeated trips to govt. offices for a certificate, a ration card, driving license and this and that.
  • Keshav
    28.08.12 02:06 AM
    Jayanth Ji,
    Very nice article!
    I could relate to most of it. I have been through those queues for water and now I enjoy the long drives with friends. I some how never had interest in Gadgets and expensive cars and getting those 777 numbers.

    Keep it up!
    27.08.12 07:41 PM
    @ Jayanth

    Ohhhh man, what can I say. As always brilliantly written. Couldn't stop laughing as I read your analysis of today's Indian.

    Software dudes dance with other dudes to Iron Maiden. Which era are we talking about, is this happening today in India. LOL.

    English Premier league / Formula One are not upper class sport. They belong to CHAVS in UK now. But I will agree to the rest of the hobbies. :)

    Where the hell is Mangalore? I've not heard it before.

    And last, what's wrong in having catchy registration number and what is the disadvantage about it because I have two of them. One of them looks nice on my Mercedes. :)

  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    27.08.12 04:08 PM
    @Akanksha: Thank you :D
  • Akanksha Dureja
    Akanksha Dureja
    27.08.12 03:37 PM
    Interesting one! Loved the way you categorized 'Indian' hobbies :-)

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