The Levelers

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!


  • Saraswathi wrote:

    very beautifully written Sir, i am so touched with the last para. Beautiful, i am proud to be a Matungam person.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Thank you Saraswathi

  • The simplest greatest leveler of them all –

    The TRAFFIC Signal.

    They guy in the swanky new Audi R8 could zoom past you,
    the notorious biker on a pulsar could miss scratching your ORVM & race by…
    But – 100 mts later –
    most often that not – look outside your window & you shall find them both
    At the SAME damn traffic signal.

    With one at every junction & very very few nice open roads in the city – this is a common occurrence.

    Where vehicles of all sizes & clasess – are right next to each other.

    As you are checking your email on your iPad in the backseat –
    take a look to your left & right.

    Somewhere a poor guy in a rick going to the hospital,
    A worried biker late for a meeting or picking up kids from school,
    a family packed in a small budget car like a can of sardines going for a holiday,
    a ‘seth’ in the BIG backseat of a S-class relaxing his feet while the body guard sits up front
    a couple enjoying a moment of ‘solace’ in the backseat of a dingy cab
    a kid making faces ‘down’ at you from the backseat of an SUV.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Thanks for sharing Suraj

  • Sujata Morab wrote:

    Yes, death is a great leveller.
    All greatest levelers are related in one or the other way with nature :
    – Birth
    – Natural calamities like flood, earthquake etc.
    – disease
    and so on….
    we are but puppets in hands of the mighty nature. nobody can and should try to mess with it.
    All things not bought by money are great levellers.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    You are right about that Sujata. Should have added the calamity stuff – nature is a great leveler.

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    The surest leveler is a surgeons knife! Prince or pauper all structures laid open by it look the same.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    All organs look the same…and yet how the surgeon approaches this and the calibre of the surgeon and the associated facilities differ based on the Class you are in and the money you are willing to spend.

  • C.J.Patel wrote:

    When one thinks in terms of LEVELS, there is always a leveler somewhere!!

  • on a lighter note, was having a similar discussion with friends other day and we seemed to agree, politicians are the greatest levelers – rich, poor or somewhere in between, all suffer them in one way or other!

    good post!

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    That is a good one…though the upper classes can have politicians in their pockets and the lower are in the politicians’ pockets.

  • N P BAJAJ wrote:

    Let not Ambition mock their useful toil
    Their homely joys and destiny obscure
    Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
    The short and simple annals of the poor

  • Great lines of wisdom … though the upper classes can have politicians in their pock­ets and the lower are in the politi­cians’ pockets.

  • Sriganesh wrote:

    Very well written!

    All of us breath the same air which is also a leveller. When we stop breathing, we reach a greater leveller.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    As well, but the Upper Classes can breath a more rarefied and purer air for at least some time of the day.

  • great article, save for one factual error: there is no such thing as anant chaturthi. it’s on anant chaturdashi, which falls 10 days after ganesh chaturthi, that the immersion is typically done.

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