The Middle Class Myth

May 29, 2009

In the last post, I said that middle class voter apathy was a myth. In fact the problem is worse. Where India is concerned, the middle class is itself a myth, which is why I used the scare quotes. It’s neither middle, nor a class.

Let’s look at ‘middle’ first. What Barkha Dutt and similar luminaries call a ‘middle class Delhi audience’ is by no means in the middle of anything – it’s probably in the top 20% of all income earners, if not top 10% or even top 5%. Considering at least 15% of the population is below a poverty line which is drawn incredibly low, and another 20% is struggling above it, people with five figure salaries and cars are very very far above the middle.

Next, ‘class’. Using the word class implies that there are mostly shared characteristics. But how shared the characteristics are depend on how flexible or granular you go. They’re split mostly evenly between the Congress and the BJP. You could call it a preference for national parties, but isn’t that a bit of a stretch?

Occupationally – the middle class includes salaried people working for MNCs, salaried people working in Indian family owned businesses or publicly listed professionaly managed IT firms, family business owners, traders, successful artists and performers, and SME owners. They all have different incomes and different agendas. One single middle class. Really?

The middle class has social liberals who send pink chaddis to Muthalik and social conservatives who go on Rediff and abuse the liberals for supporting drunkenness and immorality. It has vocal supporters of karza maafis and vocal opponents of government waste. One single middle class?

The middle class includes IAS officers who set up the Sanskriti school so that their kids don’t have to go to Kendriya Vidyalayas and people who do dharnas to protest school fee hikes. More pertinently, it includes people who have government employees in their family and can tap on a network of government servants, and people who don’t have that access and have to either spend huge amounts of time or money or both when they need to get anything done. One middle class, eh?

So speaking or writing about the middle class is not terribly productive. There are many middle classes, and unless you talk about which one you mean – salary-earners in IT companies and MNCs, SME or public sector employees with much smaller earnings, the self-employed – you’ll trip up. If you don’t control for regional and caste differences you’ll trip up again.

What classification you do chose is up to you. You can flatter me by using my hippie-yuppie-lala behavioural categorisation. You can go with the NCAER’s classification of people along consumption patterns – Destitute, Aspirants, Climbers, Consuming Class, and Rich. You can invent your own. But as long as you talk about the middle class, your argument will be muddled.

Our Very Own Friedman

April 19, 2009

It is fascinating to read Seriously Sandeep these days. Sandeep’s use – or rather abuse – of metaphors is fast approaching Thomas Friedman levels.

Like this:

You need to really think from another bodily orifice to impute symmetry between the two.

Another bodily orifice? Which bodily orifice do people usually think with? Is this morbid obsession with orifices due to the influence of Es Y’golonac?

And then there’s this:

The news fresh from the oven is how the mass of concocted turd that Teesta Setalvad threw against Modi came back and landed on her own face after seven years.

WTF? Seriously, WTF? How do you concoct a turd? Does it involve carefully monitoring how many beans and pulses you eat? And even if you did concoct a turd, who in their right minds would preserve a turd for seven years?

Let’s not forget the man’s Pioneer op-ed:

The frenzied shindigs surrounding the battle fortifications bring both amusement and concern at the eve of every election especially after the demise of single-party dominance in Indian politics.

I can imagine a situation where you have shindigs inside battle fortifications, when the fortified army has enough resources to last out a siege and decides to party. But if you’re talking about the stuff surrounding fortifications, it’s usually siege weapons and infantry companies. Rarely shindigs. And forget the shindig. What the hell does that sentence mean? How do you parse it? I fed it to the Stanford Parser (thanks, Arnab!) and it took almost 1.75 seconds to come up with this. It still doesn’t make sense. This, by the way, is the man who wrote:

It also, further, suffers from the same potomania that characterizes Marxist writings: a glaring paucity of clear thought and a tendency to use a thousand words instead of one.

What can explain this outpouring of mixed metaphors? My theory is that at any given point of time, there must be one ranting desi blog that is obsessed with shit. Last year, it was Jagadguru and poopi. And now it is Sandeep with his turds. When He stopped blogging in January, it was not to abandon us. Rather, He has returned as Seriously Sandeep. Blessed is the Jagadguru!

The Campaign to Losen Standards

October 1, 2008

I am starting yet another NGO. This one is in response to people everywhere adding an extra ‘o’ to the word ‘lose’. So we have TOI editorials talking about India loosing the war on terror, blogposts talking about Ganguly being a looser, and news tickers flashing breaking news about investors who loose money on the stock markets.

This regrettable tendency is leading to an excess amount of ‘o’s in the English language, which may eventually overwhelm its carrying capacity. To bring the ecosystem back into balance, I propose that we start writing the actual ‘loose’ with only one ‘o’. So we would have lose jeans, lose women, losened monetary policy, and Nokia’s losening grip on the Indian handset market. People would go to gastro-enterologists complaining of lose motions.

I think it is time to unleash this idea. Or rather, to let it lose.

Is Justice Khetrapal related to Pyotr Periyar Pandey?

September 23, 2008

How else do you explain this?

“Such a person must be taken to be astute enough to know the difference between a Harry Potter film and another titled Hari Puttar. In my view, the cognoscenti, the intellectuals and even the pseudo-intellectuals presumably know the difference between chalk and cheese or at any rate must be presumed to know the same,” the Bench said, dismissing the plea to pass an interim stay on the release of the film with the same title.

(Indian Express)

Sexual Innuendo Down the Ages

August 22, 2008

Today’s wikisurfing led to this remarkable piece of information:

Early in its development, the Merlin engine’s lack of direct fuel injection meant that both Spitfires and Hurricanes, unlike the Bf 109E, were unable to simply nose down into a steep dive. This meant a Luftwaffe fighter could simply “bunt” into a high-power dive to escape an attack, leaving the Spitfire sputtering behind, as its fuel was forced by negative “g” out of the carburettor. RAF fighter pilots soon learned to “half-roll” their aircraft before diving to pursue their opponents. The use of carburettors was calculated to give a higher specific power output, due to the lower temperature, and hence the greater density, of the fuel/air mixture fed into the motor, compared to injected systems. In March 1941, a metal diaphragm with a hole in it was fitted across the float chambers. It partly cured the problem of fuel starvation in a dive, and became known as “Miss Shilling’s orifice” as it was invented by a female engineer, Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling.

This reminded me of two streets in England: Penny Lane (because of the Shilling connection), and Threadneedle Street, which was originally called Gropecunte Lane. And also of xkcd 322.

Atal Bihari Vajkitteh

May 7, 2008

Anybody remember how in the 2004 general elections, the Congress put character attack on Atal Bihari Vajpayee by spreading rumours that he ate beef using the immortal slogan ‘गाय हमारी माता है, अटल बिहारी खाता है’?

I realised only today how easily that slogan lends itself to LOLspeak.  It becomes ‘Atal Bihari had a mother… but he eated it.’

This Pwns Vajpayee’s Knee Replacement

April 9, 2008

Reuters Headline: Pope aims to heal sex abuse wounds on U.S. trip.

More toilet humour: that story also features a quote from ‘the Vatican’s number two’.

Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice

February 16, 2008

Amit has blogged about the Saudi Arabian ban on red roses here:

The decision has been taken by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which sounds like something right out of Kafka.

There’s also a CNN story on this, which contains these priceless quotes:

Ahmed Al-Omran, a university student in Riyadh, told CNN that the government decision will give the international media another reason to make fun of the Saudis “but I think that we got used to that by now.”

Because of the ban on red roses, a black market has flowered ahead of Valentine’s Day. Roses that normally go for five Saudi riyal ($1.30) fetch up to 30 riyal ($8) on February 14, the Saudi Gazette said.

“Sometimes we deliver the bouquets in the middle of the night or early morning, to avoid suspicion,” one florist told the paper.

Anyway. As evil organisations which nevertheless have really cool names go, the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (according to Wikipedia, a more accurate translation is Committee for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) is right up there on both counts, scoring high on both evil activities and cool names.

Kodhi and me have concluded that the reason the name is so cool is that it contains not only the base objective (i.e., Promotion of Virtue) but also the negation of the opposite (i.e., Prevention of Vice). You could similarly make a fixed deposit sound cool by calling it an Instrument for the Encouragement of Savings and Discouragement of Consumption; or mobile phone silent mode sound cool by calling it the Mode for Preservation of Sanity and Reduction of Stress. We have also decided that our sitcom must contain either an organisation named on this principle, or constant Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice references.

The MPVPV also scores high on the being evil front. In addition to banning all things red, it has also banned cats and dogs, as pets are a Western influence and thus nothing to do with Islam:

“One bad habit spreading among our youths is the acquisition of dogs and showing them off in the streets and malls,” wrote Aleetha al-Jihani in a letter to Al-Madina newspaper. “There’s no doubt that such a matter makes one shudder.”

“Then what’s the point of dragging a dog behind you?” he added. “This is blind emulation of the infidels.”

It also beats up Catholic priests, junta who put daaru, and women found talking to men.

However, it’s greatest hit ever was in 2004, when it stopped firefighters from pulling girls out of a burning school building because – wait for this – they were not in burkhas and pulling them out would have incited lust in the firefighters. 14 girls died. The ‘BBC’ says:

According to the al-Eqtisadiah daily, firemen confronted police after they tried to keep the girls inside because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islam.

One witness said he saw three policemen “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya”.

The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police – known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned “it is a sinful to approach them”.

Depressing as it is that in India we have to deal with nutjobs like the Hindu Makkal Katchi and Syed Imam Bukahri, we can at least take solace in the fact that we don’t have a Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Holding Saudi Arabia as a benchmark is slightly unambitious, but it’s a start.

Sania Says K

February 6, 2008

IIMB lingo evolves rapidly and continuously, throwing up new words and phrases with every batch of MBAs. Skimpy has already written about how ‘are’ burst on to the scene and gained currency. Slightly after that, another important meme evolved in IIMB: K.

Just as ‘are’ was originally supposed to mean ‘exists’ and later came to mean ‘is good’, ‘K’ too mutated. It was originally shorthand for ‘okay’, but then came to be used only in situations where the okay was accompanied with vast wodges of contempt.

So K now means ‘Your argument is so bereft of logic that I will not waste time responding to it. I refuse to acknowledge your terms of debate. Instead, I quit the discussion, or I will do my own thing.’ Which, honestly, is an amazing amount of information to communicate with a single character.

The verb form of K is ‘say K to’, i.e. to refuse to defend yourself in the face of nonsense. Whether you say K by walking away, or by attacking is up to you. The important point is not to acknowledge the other party’s demands.

The act of saying K existed long before the phrase did. There are hajaar precedents and all. For example, when Hitler wished him Happy Birthday, King Christian X sent back a terse, three word reply. That Snopes page also debunks the urban legend about all Danes wearing a yellow Star of David, which would be a fabulous example of saying K if it was true. And when Mahatma Gandhi went on the Dandi March, he was basically saying K to the British Empire.

The most prominent literary example of saying K is in Atlas Shrugged, where the inhabitants of Galt’s Gulch say K to the world at large.

And now, Sania Mirza has said K to one and all by refusing to play in India:

“Everytime I have played in India, there has been some kind of problem. So we just thought it was better not to play this time,” she said.

Full respect are there.

The Meaning of Socialism

January 9, 2008

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’


The Supreme Court has rejected Good Governance Foundation India’s petition to have the word ‘socialist’ struck out of the preamble of the Indian Constitution. This is because the word socialism does not actually have a fixed meaning, and can be interpreted any which way:

Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, who headed the three-judge bench, observed: “Why do you take socialism in a narrow sense defined by communists? In broader sense, it means welfare measures for the citizens. It is a facet of democracy.”


“It hasn’t got any definite meaning. It gets different meanings in different times,” PTI quoted the the Bench, as saying.


The vital question now is – does this whole different meaning in different times thing apply to the other words in the preamble – democratic, secular, and sovereign – as well?

If these words don’t have any definite meaning either, that’s good news for me. I can go ahead with my plan to create a one-Brahmin-five-votes imperial republic where Saivism is the official religion, and it’ll still be in accordance with the current Constitution. No need to expend effort writing a new one.