Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Rise of the Mass Affluent

I’m an enjoyer of dank memes. The First World Problems meme makes me slightly uncomfortable, though. Despite living in a third world country, it's unsettling that most of my problems are typically first world problems.

Example.

But these are problems that only certain kinds of Indians have only. That's a problem too - there are so many of us coexisting happily or sadly, you'll never guess from our inscrutable nature in such vastly different socioeconomic conditions that it's hard to generalise and call them Indian People Problems.

I recently discovered a new way of categorising the burgeoning English-speaking Indian with an iPhone and a public school/foreign university/gulmohar league education who now works in a multinational corporation or allied service industry. Introducing, the rootin' Tweetin' mass affluent Indian.

Mass affluent Indians have a fourth eye that they keep blind to the pervasive and cloying inequality of income that India likes to clobber one with hourly third eye reserved for driving assistance sorry please. Me, on the other hand, I've just developed coping mechanisms to deal with this cognitive dissonance.

In 12 years of living here, I've decided to live higher than the 6th floor so that Bangalore's lovely tree-line can block an unsavoury view of the ubiquitous urban slum sprawl. In the old building (where we lived on the 3rd floor) we lived in a lovely gated community and the view out of every room was a gorgeous if slightly stinky lake.

We were also witness to the genesis of a shanty town burgeoning on the shore of this lake. Over 5 years, a row of concrete single room-houses became a bustling maze of blue tarpaulin-covered corrugated metal sheets. With a DTH signal receiver perched on every other makeshift roof. And motorbikes parked outside the shanty town in a makeshift communal parking lot.

India doesn't do cognitive dissonance. How about some cognitive resonance, instead?

As much as I wanted to help these people, I knew from my years at law school and thereafter, that there's no helping the poor. If I had grown up here, my parents, like every middle class parent, would have warned me every day that if I didn't do well at school, I will end up in a slum. I'd grow up with a fire in my belly and an instinctive hatred of these sepia-toned visions of an alternate reality.

Hijra and disabled beggars arguing about which side of the road they get to beg on.

Instead, I directed my bleeding heart toward another cause I care deeply about - the plight of the street dog. Through these adorable furry beggars, I caught a glimpse of life in a slum. The slum-dweller was our friend who kept tabs on the local street dog population and called us to fix problems like un-neutered dogs and the birth of puppies.

We regularly visited these slums under the guise of caring for their dogs and they were always kind to us. Always only highlighting their problems with the dog population and never coming to us with their financial woes.

One Christmas, a friend and I decided to distribute cakes and cookies to our slum-dweller friends and it just made them uncomfortable. That day, I realised that these people don't want our help. That they're proud, hard-working men and women who believe that their work will alter their futures. That they have most of what they need thanks to their mostly kind employers.

I wonder if Mr. Manmohan Singh had intended this trickle down effect of liberalisation?

So most mass affluent Indians don’t hand out alms to the poor but we do reward the less fortunate people who do actual work for us - delivery boys, security guards, car washing guy, cleaning guy, cook, building housekeeping staff, electrician, plumber, carpenter, gardener - all the electrons that whizz around our nuclear families so that we all benefit from the transfer of energy. An analogy will work if you threaten it with poverty.

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