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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vox Populi

Aside from the two comments posted on the website, one by Chicago's Suresh Hathiwala and another by Jimmy (identify yourself, please), I've had several responses by email.

1 Rajiv Badlani, Ahmedabad:

That was very amusing, my friend.

Championing the cause of the emergent middle class as a whole is one thing, but encountering individuals from that class is traumatic for badly brought up people like you and me. We’re anachronisms in today’s India, seeking some refined ideal that has existed only in our wishful thinking.

Its not just India. Brought up as I was on Wodehouse, I wasn’t at all prepared for the reality of England in the 80’s. That was also a shocker.

Ahmedabad used to be a relatively refined place back when we were growing up. There were a few rich folks who made it a fetish to tastefully conceal their wealth. Never would they be seen in ostentatious clothes or cars; they even made it a point to never give larger gifts at weddings than their less fortunate brethren could afford.

But all that good taste clearly didn’t inspire the rest of the city to emulate them. Instead Ahmedabad has made Delhi it’s role model.

This city now vies with Delhi to show off its wealth and every wedding competes with others to see who can literally burn more money by bursting crackers and bombs in the middle of the street.

Every member of this new group of have-it-at-lasts has a chip on his shoulder about people who speak softly and in English. That is considered downright offensive. We’re clearly doing this to put them down, and they will show this resentment as aggressively as they can assuming, quite correctly, that he who shouts loudest will prevail, and by virtue of prevailing, be right.

Welcome to the new India. Fly business class in the more expensive airlines and there is a 60% chance that you will escape encountering this reality, but don’t count on it. Them guys is also aspiring to that! Maybe 2nd class in the train will be a more pleasing experience. In fact, I'm sure it will. The poor are far more graceful.

2 Siddharth Mehta, New Delhi:

Very interesting reading. I loved the title. Cannot but agree with your comments and reactions. We are certainly becoming a nation of rude and crass people. God help us.

Manjeet Kripalani, Bombay:

You have spoken what I have been thinking and feeling for so so so long!

We will be a crude and crass culture, and nowhere is it more evident than the low cost airlines.

I refused to travel Kingfisher, even, when I found that my fellow passengers would turn on their headsets to the highest pitch, watch the TV screen in front, and heave with loud laughter as they watched a slapstick performance that masqueraded as comedy. When I asked one of them to turn down the volume, he turned to me balefully, glared, and turned back to his screen, heaving again with laughter.

They couldn’t have been bothered, the whole plane. Disregarded the staff requests. So I try and fly Jet whenever I can, because the premium price ensures premium passengers, who know their manners and understand that good manners is just being considerate of others around you.

What we are seeing is the nouveau riche – not the Sindhi nouveau riche of yore, who wore big diamonds and had big weddings. No, they look cultured in comparison. These are the nouveau nouveau slightly riche, who have seen little money through dhanda – not professional endeavour – for the first time. They are feeling good, powerful, venal. Are they really middle class? They are aspiring riche, from being low class.

The lower classes, who aspire to middle class status and flying over using the railways, are in fact, more polite, kinder, more considerate. Like your driver and my driver, who has exquisite manners and courtesies.

4 Arthur House, Hartford, CT, USA

Air travel is the most uncivilized means of transport. Here we add short pants, tee shirts and loud talking to the mix. I liked your piece. Reminds me of an excellent George Will piece of writing.