Santosh Desai documents changing Indian middle class in book

New Delhi, Feb 28 (IANS) The love affair of the Indian middle class with modernism ‘took wing with stainless steel’, says leading social commentator Santosh Desai in his new book ‘Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India’, a racy comment on the contemporary middle-of-the-order India.

‘Stainless steel managed to meet the deeply traditional needs by being incontrovertibly modern. It was seen as pure and indestructible – the two virtues that give it pride of place in the kitchen,’ Desai says in the book that was launched here Saturday.

‘And yet, unlike gold, which is interwoven into custom and the ritual role of which is well-established, stainless steel has no past in India. Dubbed as ‘ever-silver’, in its early phases, it was clearly a modern substance, glinting with metallic hardness,’ the author says, trying to encapsulate the changing Indian middle class with its morphing kitchen ware.

The Indian middle class, feels Desai, is coming out from the folds of its past and has to be seen with new eyes.

‘It has greater headroom for social and economic mobility. And is now looking at the world through its senses – rather than the mind. The Indian middle class had always been uneasy about its senses because it had, over the centuries, been ruled by the mind,’ Desai told IANS.

The writer, who heads Future Brands and was the former president of McCann Erickson, feels the Indian middle class would become a stronger social force five years from now with a more nuanced world view. But he adds that ‘it would not become a significant political force as it was still too consumed with itself’.

Explaining the objective of his book, Desai said: ‘Books on India tend to be big because India is a big country, but my book tries to get behind the scene to infer why the middle class feels sandwiched.’

‘I have grown up in a middle class family. My father worked in a public sector company. To me, the essence of growing up as an Indian, if there is any such essence, is really in understanding what it takes to actually experience India in all its trivial everydayness,’ he said.

The title of the book, ‘Mother A Pious Lady’, says Desai, captures this everyday soul of middle class India.

‘It takes off from matrimonial advertisements in newspapers which often bills prospective brides as ‘very pretty, very fair, Brahmin girl. Decent marriage, father government servant, mother pious lady’,’ he said.

While the matrimonial ads have replaced earlier systems of middlemen who arranged matches offering more leverage space to the boy and the girl, the Indian mother too has changed, the writer observed.

The ‘maa’ is a far cry from earlier times.

‘The mother of today is an effervescent, dynamic cheerleader, who propels her children forward by feeding them healthy things, taking care of their and her own appearance and breaking into a jig with them when required,’ Desai said.

The book published by HarperCollins-India is divided into three sections. The first section ‘Where Do We Come From’ analyses the ‘Chitrahaar selves’ – the social mosaic of the black and white television years.

‘New Adventures in Modernity’, which follows the Chitrahaar years, talks of loosening the codes of the past. The final section probes the dilemmas of change.

The release of the book was accompanied by a panel discussion on ‘The Indian Middle Class: Managing Change or Being Managed by It’.

The panelists included Dipankar Gupta, member of the National Security Advisory Board, Mukul Kesavan, reader, department of history and culture at the Jamia Milia Islamia University, Kiran Karnik, former president of NASSCOM and Rahul Kansal, chief marketing officer of the Bennett, Coleman & Co.

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