The Bourgeois Class of India

I have been in 3 great cities of India this week.

Delhi, Mumbai and then Chennai now.

One thing I can say with confidence after this trip – the middle class of India is fast becoming the “upper middle class bourgeois” society.

What I mean by that is not a surprise. The middle class of India is growing wealthier by the day, and could soon become the second wealthiest emerging market group in the world, right after China.

And it is going to be of more than 300M people in size – this estimate could be wrong due to measures that differ from the rest of the world. However, it is an indisputable fact that this fast moving and growing middle class is establishing a new set of contours for the society, in which peoples’ attitudes are dominated by materialism, lack of spiritualism, contempt for the poor people and those at the fringes of the society who couldn’t make it, and of course, more materialism in whatever they aspire for.

I do not think I am wrong in my assessment.

I saw a variety of folks and things during my travels – modern men and women, young people who seem to dominate the corporate circles, the polish exhibited by 5 Star hotel staff, the prices of everyday common items, the approach of doctors to healthcare problems of society, the packed cinema halls even during weekday evenings, the footfalls in super rich looking malls, the luxury car brands which seem to have now arrived firmly on the Indian landscape, etc.,

I look for evidence via what people say and what people do. I am careful in spending – I get only what I need, not what I would want in my dreams (I do not dream by the way) to carry on with life, I focus on achieving simple things successfully in a daily routine, and I do not let others think that I am from a privileged background (I am not). I look for attitudinal changes – which are prevalent all over India in the metropolitan cities – which makes a society what it is. The new bourgeois class of India is super confident of itself. It commands a status in society that was previously the prerogative of the rich and famous. It is a high-spending, brand conscious class. It is not family oriented. It is selfish, it cries for attention, it is snobbish, and it is focused on exhibitionism.

I was staying at a nice hotel in Mumbai yesterday, and saw several young women walk into a secluded area of the hotel where smoking is permitted. I was in the adjoining restaurant from which I could see what was going on. While the camaraderie was evident  in the giggles amongst the women, it was not surprising they were all smoking, and continued to smoke after their first cigarette since their break time was not yet over. Personally I have never smoked, I do not like smoking, and I do not like to see young women smoking – they are too young to be spoiled into a habit from which they will never be able to recover. The bad influence of the West is clearly felt in such situations.

Well, from the dashing North to the cosmopolitan West and now to the so-called conservative South. I expected Chennai to stay where it has been all along in the conservative spectrum, but that appears to be slowly but firmly changing. I was in a big mall this afternoon shopping for some essentials. While waiting for an auto-rickshaw (yes I use it for short rides if you are wondering) at the mall entrance, I saw young couples (who were not evidently married) holding hands, and sometimes almost hugging each other. I did not see kissing. But this was a revelation – that this is happening in a society which has had tight contours all along, and looked down on other permissive societies up North and West. The other surprise was that nobody seemed to care (except me of course!) – everybody was doing their job and couldn’t care less about anyone else – another sign of the emerging bourgeois class.

Even while shopping, I noticed that shoppers generally went for the highest priced items in a particular category – for example suitcases. Shoppers wanted imported brands, and that too costing 50% more than the India made brands. And, so on and so forth. Surprising? No, not really.

The Indian society is changing. It is changing fast. I do not think I will be able to recognize it in about 10 years from now. It will become the “new” West. The confidence is contagious and I believe this aspect is good for India, if not anything else. You need confidence – a lot of it – to build out a nation on a new trajectory. I also noticed that people were not indulging in political small talk. Only the older ones were talking about politics. Again, that is a sign of times. No young person cares about anything or anyone else, except himself/herself and his/her desires. That is selfish and materialistic. But nothing can be done about it as it has become a #metookindofmovement.

As I travel around, I learn a lot of stuff about the places I visit and the people I see and meet. India is special as I was born and spent a long time there, and I thought I understood India well. I am wrong. I have to learn more by watching India move. And, it is moving very fast.


Vijay Srinivasan

20th July 2018