Recently I have begun reading the Oz series of stories by L.Frank Baum. Some of the stories are new. Reading children’s books during your second childhood is much better than at their first reading, for you discover hidden gems of wisdom in the lines and find allegorical references you can relate to in your world. Yesterday, while reading The Patchwork Girl of Oz, I came across this one. A phonograph, brought accidentally to life by the Crooked Magician says this about the gramophone record it has:
“It is classical music, and is considered the best and most puzzling ever manufactured. You are supposed to like it, whether you do or not, and if you don’t, the proper thing is to look as if you did. Understand?”
That reminded me of some people, and one in particular about whom I had written many years ago. Please allow me to share it again, duly updated and edited.
Some years ago, I got reacquainted with an old contact. We had met briefly on social occasions like marriages and had thought that we had a lot in common – having exhaustive conversations and exchanging mails. That had been more than a decade ago. She was in the corporate world. I was writing for publications and had got a book published; the L&M held a senior position in a multinational. All was well with the world as she must have deemed us to be ‘on par,’ socially.
Then she moved, we moved and we lost touch. The L&M quit the hallowed corporate world, I had stopped writing for various reasons and our lifestyle had generally shifted gears. I had moved in other ways too.
And then we met again. And I realised the inevitable truth with the first exchange of greetings.
The lady must have realised the same too, for she was shocked. She was still the ‘corporate’ lady and well entrenched in the ways of high society (read socialites). Alas, I had not kept up and hence had fallen from grace – I now belonged to the contemptible ‘middle class.’
Over the evening, it took all my elite-class qualities not to punch her on the nose!
I commend the middle class highly. It is the one solid class that makes the wheels of the country go round. It is the invisible workforce, in the lower and middle echelons of the corporate and bureaucratic world and one that keeps things going smoothly, not the Sheila Dixits and Sonia Gandhis or even the page 3 celebrities who ‘patronize’ the arts.
The yuppies and the puppies follow a class system all their own which is measured by the length and breadth of the car they own, the glitter and glitz of their ‘kothis’ (houses) – that have more marble than can be found in Makrana and more glass than Belgium – and the foreign holidays they go on. But this lady was not one of the Yuppies or Puppies. She was a class apart. She was a ‘culture vulture,’ no less!
Still, willing to give her some benefit of doubt about the drift of her thoughts, naïve old me raved about the ‘middle class’ stuff that we ordinary mortals revel in. To begin with, I extolled the Metro that makes it possible for me to go all over Delhi from one end to another or round the city, whichever I chose to get some work done, meet people or go shopping. Naturally some localities were mentioned – Rohini, Dwarka, Sarojini Nagar…
Note: Those living in other metros than Delhi may please substitute the localities with the pertinent ones in theirs.
Rohini: “That is the area of the shopkeeper-types! No intellectual company to be had there! We sold off our house there,” she shuddered at the memory of her narrow escape from such a hell. However she soon found her poise as she continued:
“I only shop in the State Emporia or at the Cottage! (Cottage Emporium). I hate those cheap stuff sold at the markets (Sarojini Nagar and Lajpat Nagar). I only wear class stuff!” – spat out as she delicately adjusted her dupatta. Frankly, I could see nothing classy about her salwar suit, which I could have bought in Sarojini Nagar for at a throwaway price.
I suppressed a smile. I had forgotten that being upper class snobs also makes them rude, as they consider themselves above such civilities.
Suddenly she changed tack and gushed: “I love theatre! In our family, we all are into the fine arts and don’t miss any opportunity to attend a concert or play.” (Of course she failed to mention that this was subject to a free pass to the said shows!) The art patron, no less; wow!
Some of the other gems that emerged during the course of the evening:
If you follow Baba Ramdev to do yoga and pranayam you are plebeian and crass. (I am sure she would have added another adjective – Hindu fundamentalist if I were to meet her now!) But if you join some funky yoga and meditation camp at a resort – preferably run by a foreigner – and pay an arm and a leg for it, you have class!
If you rave about an upcoming musician who performed in the community hall of your housing society, you are oh-so-middle-class, never mind if his music is divine and class. But if you go to a concert in the India International Centre to listen to a rookie whose only claim to fame is a rich and powerful father, you are oh-so-with-it.
And oh, the culture vultures also ‘appreciate’ and ‘enjoy’ folk music, provided of course the performance is in an air-conditioned auditorium, if you please! Get my drift?
I couldn’t resist a dig. “So how come you live in East Delhi?”
She pulled a long face. “It was terrible in the beginning. Now I have got used to it. We have only lived in the best places – Green Park, Shanti Niketan…You know, neighbourhoods where corporate classes live.” I tut-tutted sympathetically while resisting the urge to tell her that the neighbourhoods she proudly listed have an equal number of traders and businessmen, but perhaps by corporate, she meant those loaded with moolah and, money as we all know is a great leveler. Who was I to argue with her logic?
When we parted, I could almost hear her audible sigh of relief for having been delivered from the company of a middle class ignoramus of fine arts and what ever not. As for me, her dissertation on the middle-class and its drawbacks was coming out of my ears and was I glad to escape!
Now, I have no qualms about saying that I belong to the middle class – middle middle class if you please — corporate spouse or no. And I will enjoy the music of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and M.S. Subbulakshmi as much as the music of a Bollywood blockbuster ; would happily shop in Lajpat Nagar or the Cottage Emporium as the moods seizes me. And above all, I refuse to give these culture vultures the right to look down their snooty noses at this solid mass of upright citizens called the ‘middle class’. So there!
To me class constitutes what you are from within, your civility, your graciousness, your willingness to give of yourself and your possessions, your integrity, your ability to interact with everyone without being condescending or ingratiating regardless of the person’s social standing. Nowhere in this definition come I what you do for a living, how much you have or where you live.
By this definition, the poorest rickshaw puller living in the slums or a housemaid can belong to the elite class. Conversely too, the supposedly upper class persons can belong to the other extreme of the social spectrum due to the absence of these qualities.
I am of course aspiring to graduate to the upper class in the true sense of the word and will continue to do so till I succeed. After all life is all about ascending to a higher plane, and becoming a better person, isn’t it?