Last week, my 12-years old daughter innocently asked, “What class are we? Middle Class?” I immediately said yes. She then asked, “Who is in the Upper Class?” I said “The Ambanis”. The next obvious question was, “Who is in the Lower Class?” I hesitated a bit. She immediately said “It’s good to be Middle Class.”
I tried to probe her, trying to understand what she meant by “good”… as in better than being Lower Class, or not having the baggage of being “Upper Class”. But like most kids her generation, who have multiple parallel tracks running simultaneously in their brains, she had jumped to another thread by then.
That weekend we went to the big Mumbai mela that the Kalaghoda Festival has become. It was a Sunday and the place was packed and bursting at the seams. But it was also a great leveler. There were people from all classes, Upper, Middle, Lower and even Below Poverty Line, jostling each other. And like the Mumbai Marathon, events like this allow at least some intermingling of the different Mumbais that would otherwise coexist without any significant meeting ground.
Very simplistically put, the Upper Class rules, the Middle Class works for the Upper Class and the Lower Class works for both. Except when it comes to day-to-day transactions, such as chauffeurs driving the Middle and Upper Classes back and forth, or Middle Class managers delivering for Upper Class owners, there are few meeting grounds, culturally and socially.
Which is why we keep seeing our world to be so small when it comes to connections. Within our own cocoons, two and three degrees of separation are not uncommon at all and while we keep getting surprised when we find that we know a friend of a friend, even when one is in Vancouver and the other in Sydney, this happens only within our specific social class.
Few events in Mumbai allow intermingling, even if for short periods of time. The Election that happened two days ago is one such example. All the classes need each other during this event and it is not surprising to find the rich and the poor, both rubbing shoulders with each other, during campaigning as well as when standing in line to vote. And given Mumbai’s geography, most areas have a combination of all classes living within a specific election district.
Anant Chaturthi is one more leveler. It does not matter who you are. If you want to take the idol to the sea for immersion, you have to be in that same crowd, either in a truck or alongside the handcart, walking the same distance, taking the same time that everyone does and eventually entering the same water with the “junta”.
Low budget airlines too are a leveler. With full-service airlines, the Upper Class and parts of the Middle Class can travel business, use exclusive lounges and even fast-track immigration lines and stay away from the rest. But low-budget airlines like Indigo, Go, etc., treat everyone pretty much the same way…and given that there are places or routes in this country that can only be traveled using these airlines, very often the privileged classes too don’t have a choice.
Levelers, even if to a small extent, help keep people grounded. And perhaps, in a city that accentuates class differences more than most and in a world where the rich are getting richer despite a growing middle class, it helps to have some occasions, when these differences melt away.
In the end of course, death is the greatest leveler. All of us return to the same Earth…gone…poof…just like that!