Aravind P's Reviews > Great Indian Middle Class

Great Indian Middle Class by Pavan K. Varma
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Nov 03, 2011

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Watan ki fiker ker naadaan! moosibat aanay wali hai
Teri berbaadiyon kay mashwaray hai aasmaanon may

Na samjho gay to mit jaao gay ai Hindoostaan waalo!
Tumhaari daastaan tak bhi na hogi daastaano-n may - Iqbal

This is how the book "The Great Indian Middle Class" by Pavan K Varma, started. I had many doubts clouding over my head, my conscience was waging war between ‘Randian’ selfishness against an individual’s social relevance. I could remember only one phrase that engaged in this tussle - Middle Class. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to grab that book from the shelf hiding beneath many other administrative reports and journals. The book is about the much hyped, the 30% of India which form the horses that apparently drives this country - the Educated, proud, religious, socially, economically and politically conscious people, which is called Middle class. Most of us fall into this category. This book is basically, or I feel the first of its kind, dwells into the lives of this class and tries to visualize the past, present and future of India analyzing the mentality of this singularly powerless, yet the most powerful class of this country.

Independence and a new India
It starts with the birth of the class, how the British to cut the cost and bring more local involvements in local administrations created the breed which we call ‘babus’. The well advanced British education was then a boon to the society that was very much divided on caste and religions. Though this could never be clean and impartial as the British would have thought, they got what they wanted – An elite, British-educated, intelligent individuals to take care of their administration level jobs. The author then moves to the era of Independence struggle, how the empowerment made middle class more conscious of the need for Independence. The idea of an ‘organized’ Independence movement were born to such minds, as it would be very apparently visible that all the independence leaders were British educated(in India and abroad). The Indian congress consisted of Intellectuals like Nehru, Patel etc the young bloods which fought with their small group against the British policies in a more diplomatic way. It then mentions how the Gandhian theory of mass movements helped the struggle in getting popular widespread support with the middle class from different corners of the country joining their hands. Needless to mention the invention of nonviolent hartals, lockouts, boycotts etc which the British administration found hard to oppose fearing a widespread condemnation or a further escalation of situations.

From Innocence to Insensitiveness
After independence the Congress leaders with the support of this class comes to the power. Though drained of all the energy they held in their youthful years in pre-independence India they built the machinery, schools, defence, Industries, states, constitutions etc more or less in British structure, which was considered very progressive in those times. Nehru’s visions of a democratic socialistic country now finds its hurdles well within in state. How the division of federal powers to state took out much of the control from the hands of Center becomes more and more evident. It quotes many such instances like the failure of land reforms in many parts of the country, how the social fabric became a major hindrance in the path of the people, how educational policies, famines and poor public distribution systems pushed the societies into crisis. The final nail in coffin was the defeat of 1962 war against the China over Aksai Chin, the popular dreams of being a super power shattered that year. The educated population was getting more and more exposed to the happenings around the world and how they moulded their mindset for an ‘aim high’ strategy in most of the endevors. The book also brushes through the roots to find out why there is a lack of social equanimity in the society. The inevitable parts played by the Hinduism(being the majority religion) is stated in the book very well, the religion which is mostly spread through the stories and epics often fails to justify the reality. For eg. Raama asking for Sita’s fire test, Krishna stealing the clothes of gopikas, etc. Moreover the religion instead of unifying the people divided them on castes. Unlike Christian missionary activities Hinduism never preached or created any social upliftment activities until very late. The tendency is mere to pray in temples and give money as ‘dakshina’. There ends the social responsibility of a Hindu. There is nothing different in any religion in that matter, nowadays.

The flavours we like
The key information the book tries to tell convey is on how the middle class have become more and more insensitive to happenings in the society. The clause of ‘Pride’ drives much of the class behaviour as it states tells though how much they believe in liberalization the idea of caste, religion, region, language still hold them back in the dark ages. The typical middle class dream is to get education, then a job, then marriage, then children, then retire. Few of the middle class behaviours explained are the ‘Resilient by choice’ - how even after seeing and knowing about many issues and problems the public tend to fall resilient to it. Like the take on corruption, how well the public have learned to live within this enterprise; There are many example – Traffic etiquette, public display of mannerism, waste disposal etc are few things which the public have adopted as ‘Indian’ rather than improving. Another thing is the ‘lack of social empathy’, as stated above a general insensitiveness towards pressing problems like poverty, child labours, domestic violence etc have drawn a big lines amongst societies. The environmental degradation, injustice etc are the things that burns the country yet the popular verdict is to chose silence. ‘Indian Pride’ – A general inclination to empathize with those elements that gives pride to the individual is monumental, minor things like Ambani becoming richest Indian in Forbes or a sonofasonofasonofan Indian getting nobel prize, or boasting about the extinct glories of Indian cultures of bygone eras, believing Indian culture to be better than western etc. When the public starts empathising with such things, the conflicts often become egoistic – one fine example would be the IPL. When Army and a group of people fight naturally the morally the public feels like supporting the Army!.

Why is middle class always stuck in Middle class?
The middle class is pseudo class, such a class doesn’t exist. It is a feeling of a perpetual deficiency of money that drives one to give that middle class feeling. Buying a house, a car, kids educations etc are the monumental never ceasing burdens on the shoulders of an individual, hence a person born to middle class planning to go through its age old route would always hesitate when it comes to money. The idea of savings took birth then, this concept found crores of money stashed in the saving account for an unclear future. Now when the kid grows up he or she too would follow the same thing. Further to that the ‘pride’ thing traps them under the ‘manufactured demands’ so they buy the decent car, decent clothes, admission in best school and thus finds them trapped under a perpetual race where the money is priority. As a result the prosperity of the society or community or state takes the back seat. Even when the people wants to do good things they cant, of the fear that a change from the norms might become a social catastrophe!

Politics and us!
Now the biggest threat that the democracy of the country is facing is the popular contempt of the middle class towards the politics. Every individual would love to argue how bad their politician is, how corrupt he is etc. The concept of democracy is ‘by the people, for the people’ - but the middle class believes that it is By the government, to the people. Keeping aside the corruption and other ‘politics’ the junta fancy in washing off their hands from the public responsibilities completely over to the government and its machinery offering not even a single effort in as much as possible(except the popular claim of Income tax remittance). Complaints about bad sewage systems, municipality not cleaning the roads, traffic departments’ responsibility for the mess in the streets, communal problems, social evils etc. At the same time, while sitting in a velvet cushion, closing the eyes and ears to the problems and injustice happening to the compatriots in the country. Until the day the people realise their power and responsibility towards the society, the democracy will remain autocratic and sooner or later it will boomerang back.

The book ends with many positive things that have happened despite the smug from the middle class. The advancement of technologies and the advent of NGOs have open a new avenue. The absence of reformation policies in the society is now fulfilled by the presence of various NGOs and the connectivity through fast growing technology. But again is it still keeping us away, back into the velvet cushion? There is time, we are now living the age of information. And examples to share was a famine in Orissa in 1970s when the population in a couple of villages dwindled following the famine, but the Indians never saw that news. But now though such situations though still arises and people still die we cannot give the excuses of being ill-informed. Sometimes to see such news we have to look beyond the page-3 news papers.

Start thinking about your country, the calamities are brewing
The signs of your destruction are written in the skies

If you don’t understand it now, one day everything will be gone Indians
In the annals of the history, there wont be even a trace of you story.
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Aruna Kumar Gadepalli Thought provoking and interesting review

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