I have always thought, “I am middle class.” And growing up, I probably was.
Middle class meant the kind of family which was not deprived but you could not just have anything you wanted.
You went out for dinner on an extra-special day like your parents’ anniversary - to Delhi Darbar or Kailash Parbat. A movie in the theatre was a rare treat, as was ‘choco-bar’ and Simba wafers in the interval. ‘New clothes’ included the kind my mom stitched on an Usha sewing machine with a foot pedal. Her special forte was increasing the length of old dresses by adding a jhaalar (extra lace).
Today, we eat out just because we’re in the mall and ‘feel like it’, even though dinner is waiting at home. I can watch 3 films back to back, if I want to and spend more on popcorn than the ticket price. I can buy as many new clothes as I desire, whether ‘on sale’ or ‘fresh stock’.
So am I not ‘middle class’ anymore?
My uncles were not middle class, they were ‘business class’. They had a lot more money than my father, who was a government servant. Yet, I never thought of them as rich.
Our 12 member family lived in 3 rooms and a kitchen. Everyone slept on the floor, when guests came they slept on the verandah. The toilets had no water, let alone a flush. They had cash tucked away somewhere, I don’t know where. But they hardly cared about spending it.
Business class was different from middle class.
My parents drilled it into our brains early: “You have to study hard and make something of yourself.” In the scientists’ colony I grew up in, marks and ranks were discussed among aunties. Every year we exported a batch to IIT Bombay and another to America on full scholarship. We never thought of this as an ‘achievement’, it was just a normal.
Meanwhile my cousins joined BCom and joined the family business – often side by side. They married early, to girls with BA, and started a family within a year. They earned a lot of money and now their children want to do engineering and MBA. Move to a big city and take up a job.
Business class wants to be ‘middle class’ – hurray.
I had a friend in college who I thought of as ‘rich’. She had a car and driver, went swimming and holidayed abroad. Today, I can have all those things – and more.
If I am not ‘middle class’ – then who am I?
Because if thrift and hard work no longer defines me, that’s what I pass on to my daughter. Can I get her another new t-shirt (though she does not need it?). Should I prod her to study hard when I know that marks don’t really matter. Is an international school necessary, or was a regular school good enough?
Where do I set the boundaries, when in my heart I want her to have everything my money can buy?
And yet, I want her to ‘make something of herself’ – not stand on my shoulders. To be defined by who she is, not the handbag she carries. I want her to have lots of money and use it wisely. But also, to value all the things money can never buy.
I am ‘mix n match’ – a grand collage of values and ways of life.
I am the New Middle Class.