We always look at the right side of the menu card, first. We buy some gold and one diamond ring, earrings, etc and lock it up in our bank lockers. We wear them may be only ten times in all of our lives. We always are gifted expensive crockery and we always keep it in our showcases, saving them for the guests. They come and go but we only sometimes use it. We never break rules and follow all the laws of the state. Though if we do break a traffic signal once every three years we do get caught. We always make sure that we vote and when we get very angry with the government we stand under the scorching sun and shout slogans. ( while constantly worrying about not getting the salary for that day). Welcome to my world, into the world of the middle- class.
My mother and father have struggled their way up here. Their life as youngsters was not easy. Though there was always food on the table, they had to grow up too quickly. Both of them didn’t have too many luxuries but they do say, they had a very happy childhood. When my mother looks at the number of clothes I buy she always tells me her tale. She only had two pairs of frocks, which graduated to salwar kameez as she got older. My grand mom stitched it for her. She had to wash her clothes and iron them, everyday. There wasn’t a choice you see. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have clothes to wear the next day. By the age of 15, she was already taking tuitions and helping with the finances. She would walk miles to her school, if it was really far away, cycle. Spending money on a tanga or rickshaw was a luxury they couldn’t afford. My father was the eldest of all the siblings and there were responsibilities. He gave a bank exam at 18, and got in and has been on a pay roll since then. At 18, he had to start earning, he had dreams of studying more, he still does! Though he still has responsibilities. So he works in the same bank.
My parents came to Bombay after marriage. They both got exposed to tall buildings, rich people and big cars, unlike Gwalior. They like every small town person who comes to Bombay were inspired with what they saw and decided that they would give their children the good life. They worked hard both of them, one as a teacher other as a banker and made some money. If my parents wouldn’t have come to Bombay I would have never played badminton. Badminton is a very upper middle class sport. The rackets, shoes, shuttles, coaching, etc everything is really expensive. I’m still surprised they chose to put me in this sport. I can imagine how difficult it would have been. The adjustments they would have made in their lives. The sarees mom never took, the watch that Baba loved but would never buy. All those sacrifices they made was their struggle to keep my dream alive. I will never forget that, I can’t. When today I live my dream and take my mostly selfish decisions, I am always aware of a fact- it’s a luxury provided by my middle class parents.
My mother retired a little early from her teaching career. Since then she runs the house in the most money efficient way, spending only the money that is really required. She is a professional bargainer, she always takes the bus and never the rickshaw and she tells us to do the same. She might have stopped working but she has not lost her self- esteem. Baba knows that, so when mother asks him for one saree, he makes sure he buys three. As we all know mother will never ask for something unless it’s a necessity. My mother recently was really fed up with the lack of space in the house. She told baba we have to buy a new house, it was time. Baba like the obedient husband went to see housing projects all over the city, nothing was in a range he could afford right away. Mom sensed his disappointment and told all of us how all the houses were so small and ugly and our house was so much better. While she said that, baba smiled and mother kept her hand on his. Oh! Middle class love (if there is such a thing) – it’s not about the expensive gifts, the fancy dinners, or hugs and kisses. It’s about the subtle things- that touch of the hand, that look in the eye, the constant support when the chips are down. There’s nothing flashy about it. To spot it you need a microscopic vision. Though once you see it, you realise it was always there and ample of it.
When Baba today tells people about how I own a bigger car than him, or how I draw a salary which is as good as his and how my tax return file is bigger than his, there is always a sense of pride in him. It always bring a smile on my face. The truth though is, that even if I own a flat, or drive a Beetle, I will always look at the right side of the menu card. I will buy the diamonds and never wear them. Even if I cross the middle class barrier in kind I will always be a middle class girl in mind and heart. I am sure that’s not such a bad thing after all!
Recently one of my BPCL bosses, came and said, ” Aditi you are too emotional and gentle in your ways. In today’s world you need to be a more practical and aggressive person to survive. You need to stop being a ‘ middle-class Marathi girl’. ”
” But that’s my strength sir.” I responded
” What is?” my boss asked.
” Being middle-class.” I said.
He was a little taken aback, stunned. After a few seconds though he smiled and patted me on the back, and left.
It was my turn to smile. I did!