Monday, July 07, 2008

City Life - Getaways from Middle Class Delhi

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Window View - Train to Mumbai

Save me from respectable people

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Not long ago, a particular breed of Delhiwallas went to Goa to escape the rush hours of urban living. But now as the middle classes begin to feel the pinch of rising airline ticket costs and food inflation, they have jettisoned the idea of flying, and returned to that traditional holiday hotspot - the humble, not so idyllic anymore, hill station.

So I too, pushed by the two-digit inflation, hit upon the idea of Nainital for a weekend getaway. There I discovered that the entire lake town appeared to have been invaded by Delhiwallas.

Most cars had Delhi number plates. No longer the retreat of the sahebs and the memsahibs, the Delhi's lelenge-dedenge lingo from one end of Mall Road to the other echoed in the misty air. Men with huge paunches and hanging chests wore tight tee-shirts (just as they do in Preet Vihar's malls) while their bosomy women blinded my eyes with Christmassy sarees, look-I'm-on-holiday straw hats, and cameras in place of mangalsutras. And then there were the children, playful, screaming and greedy for goodies.

Little did I know when I planned the trip, that I would find myself surrounded by the regular middle class people of Delhi, the izzatdar species, whom I have adroitly managed to avoid in the Capital. You see, I never dreamed of a moustache, a paunch, a permanent job, an overgrown wife, irksome children etc.

OK, in their defence, this chunk of the society is perhaps good for the economy and TV ratings. But spare me please. There is something about the middle class that stifles the imagination.

So it was unreal to be a part of this parivaar scene in Nainital. You had no escape.

In Delhi, there are hideouts where one can get away with anonymity. It is easy to patronise eccentric bookshops that stock no Sidney Sheldon, no Chetan Bhagat; thronged by booklovers living lives such as Anna Karenina's or Raskonlikov's. Or the seedy gardens where shy lovers trying to make the most of their privacy. Or just ramble around among the old Delhi beggars. A walk in the decidedly non-middle class GB Road, the city's red-light district, can also do the trick.

These booklovers, beggars, garden lovers and prostitutes too seek comfort in their lives. But the narrative of their existence, whether by accident or otherwise, is not plagued by ordinariness. The eccentrics of Delhi can defy expectations; their lives are edgy; and there's more art, than artifice, in how they live.

Alas, no such luxury in Nanital.

I was trapped in the melee of Mall Road, squeezed in by middle class Delhi, and there was not even one half-decent bookshop in town.

Maybe I need to come back to Nanital in ten years from now, when I'm less young, less revolutionary, and I have accepted the inevitable ordinariness of life. There we'll meet on the Mall. I'll be the one with a moustache, a paunch, a permanent job, an overgrown wife and two irksome children.


aman said...

i have been reading your blog for some time now and have come close to commenting a couple of times. this post, however, left me smarting. so here i am.

i am (was actually, but in my head i still am) a middle-class delhi-ite. i am also punjabi, and im about as loud and ostentatious as they come. so forgive me if i've managed to offend your delicate sensibilities somehow, but i felt the need to react to the onslaught you've wrought on my 'type'.

oh, i even have a paunch. and a wife is on the way.

im going to go beyond the standard argument about most people not having the time to go about walking GB road, or ambling by an eccentric bookshop looking at books where you need to dust them a couple of minutes before you can even read the cover. i have, in the past, done both, and am familiar with the abstruse pleasures of each.
no. lets talk about the more ordinary pleasures in life... walking down a street eating eating aaloo chaat in cp, the kabab's at salim's in khan, or just plain walking the streets in delhi on a foggy winter evening. do you look around you, nod your head and worry about the young sardarji who zooms by in his esteem playing something punjabi really loud? are you one of those?

this post, unfortunately, reeks of the sort of psuedo-elitism delhi's so-called intellectuals have become famous for. let's trash the un-caring, self-obsessed, bourgeoisie middle class because we really have nothing else to do, and christ almighty, they all packed their bags and went with their buxomy wives and their snotty little children to nainital, now that they cant fly to goa (snigger), around this time and you should see how those women wear their camera's where their mangal sutra's used to be.


let me make my point.

basically brother, your shit stinks as bad as ours. even if you do read Dostoyevsky and even if we do like to play gurdas mann really loud and take our cars to the mall road in nainital. (personally, i never got around to finishing Crime and Punishment. er, not finishing. Not even 100 pages. Put me to sleep.) Our lives are uninteresting to you because you've already decided about us. here's the sad truth, though... the only thing ordinary about your trip to nainital, im afraid, was your imagination.

ps: nainital? you... walker-of-dusty-bookshops and connoisseur-of-lives-artistic? naintal? really? christ. next time go somewhere that isn't connected by a luxury bus.

Anonymous said...

i love this post...i feel the same everytime i'm dragged to a hill station by my dad.

VK said...

what do i say....

ur post was funny
aman's reaction to it was funnier


Anonymous said...

The article is fairly right in what it addresses, and how. To Aman, who tries valiantly to defend both kinds of 'stinky shit' on offer, please don't bother to make any or all of the Delhi Punjabi middle-class existence appear in a positive light. One doesn't even have to be in Delhi to realise what 'your' lot are all about. Stay in your Preet Vihar malls and have fun. It's the only kind you're capable of feeling.
But Austen, do go to Cheltenham next time, and let's see what you've to say of the English middle class.

garam beni said...

kya likhte ho bhai! you managed to avoid the crowd this time too. just read your post on your weekend getaway to nainital again, and then this one - its hard to imagine you're writing about the same place!!
but good you didnt actually name any community.

aman said...

to anon:
you have a name? use it. or is it just easier to hide behind anonymity when you have nothing consequential to say?

my, or should i say 'our' existence, doesn't need explanation, even in preet vihar malls. it simply is, irrespective of whatever sorts of light you want to shed on it.

yours, on the other hand, seems to be dependent on obsessing about the ways in which we have fun. is your life really this empty?

Anonymous said...

You could call our lives full of delightful analysis, or empty, but I think your lot would prefer to call them empty, because usually there isn't any saas bahu angle to our thoughts. Nor the snotty kids.

VK said...

the space is getting too personal...controversies are good...scandals are better!!!

sandhya said...

Just chanced upon this post, and had the laugh of my life. VK: you said it! :D tee hee!

Anonymous said...

I have to say, this was a piece of pretty snotty writing. What or who gives you the right to feel so superior? Okay, so you have an imagination.

Big deal. You also have a horrible elitist attitude.

Something about the middle class that stifles the imagination. Indeed. Because everyone "middle class" has no personality and no opinion.

Thank you for affirming your true self. Why don't you go live in Goa with the goras who share your derision for the Indian middle class?

applepiecrust said...

Um, not sure I'd actually want to be around book-lovers that live lives like Anna Karenina's or Raskolnikov's. Because, really, depression, much? Now, Clarissa Dalloway I might take, or wait, is that too middle class for you?
And the Deli middle classes... hmm... wait, are you really not a part of those very classes? Of course, here I am talking about the middle classes as a socioeconomic section of the populace of the city. Besides, while loud crass people can be terrifyingly annoying, and annoyingly terrifying, this condescending tone towards the middle classes in general and a certain part of the middle class in particular ("Men with huge paunches and hanging chests wore tight tee-shirts (just as they do in Preet Vihar's malls) while their bosomy women blinded my eyes with Christmassy sarees, look-I'm-on-holiday straw hats, and cameras in place of mangalsutras") smacks of elitism. Intellectual elitism, maybe, but elitism nevertheless.
Now, I like reading my translated Tolstoi and Dostoevsky while sipping my chai latte as much as the next "intellectual" snob, but that does not mean I necessarily condone the sort of snobbery I practice. Oops, hypocrisy. Which is the very thing you are guilty of.

aman said...

@applepiecrust: i was severely tempted to respond with a 'hear, hear', but...

the assumption that you or anyone else is somehow 'intellectually' elite because you read a dead russian is somehow jarring. the fact that any of us can actually read by itself puts us in a rarefied demography. it is by no means reason to claim elitism. maybe you should check up on the educational qualifications of most of the middle class. you will find that they're all graduates. most found something better to do than sit around all day like you and me reading what dead men have to say. that we have nothing better to do is fairly obvious not only from Mr. Soofi's post, but also from the time we've spent here, commenting.

ofcourse, i've found its utterly useless to say this.

(outside of this, i really have no argument with what you. i agree with everything you're saying.)

Anonymous said...

Right. So here we have a man who, a week ago, was, or was on the way to being, everything that the hit-by-this-article middle class people are. And he sort of loved it.
But now, says he, you and me reading what dead men have to say... thereby grouping himself with 'us' - the ones who don't love the paunches and the mangalsutras and the rest of it.
So that's neither here nor there, that is to say, very middle.

Poko said...

I liked your description of the tight t shirt wearing men in preet vihar malls, haha...sensational!!

ladyashlee said...


While I'm all for intellectual snobbery and elitism (and indulge in it far too much myself), I don't think the middle class stifles the imagination. Too much intellectual pretension is as stifling to the imagination as is the mundane world of the middle-classes.

There is a strange sort of beauty in seeing those pot-bellied men, camera-toting wives and grubby children. Their chloroformed existence is often merely a mask, for thoughts they they simply don't dare to think. More than meets the eye, perhaps?