Petit Bourgeois (pronounced as Petty Boorzhwah)- this was the most hated term from my growing up years in the Communist ideology dominated Kerala. Poor fellows neither belonged to the affluent bourgeoisie class or to the powerful proletariat class. They always had to live under guilt and also under pretensions, owing to their class status.
However, petit bourgeois has suddenly gone out of fashion even in Kerala. Materialism and capitalism making their deft moves in Indian society, with the active support from liberalisation and globalisation, clearly seem to have taken the wind out of this most common insult. Or was it the slow but steady evolution of the quintessential communists with Beedi and black tea, into channel and hospital owning petit bourgeoisie themselves that blurred the distinction into oblivion?
Let us leave it to sociologists to break their head on what caused the extinction of this often laughable but always hated class, even though for most people, almost every other person whom he wanted to pull down (except of course himself and his political friends) in the society was eligible to be called by that name.
Let me now take you through the life of one such petit bourgeois, so that we can record the trait of hypocrisy attributed to this class of people. While doing so, I will not take sides or be judgemental but merely record the events as they unfold. For the sake of brevity, I will refer to him as PB (actually I find it tough to key in the confusing spelling each time and therefore this shortening; and it is in no way with any intention to cause blasphemy by equating Polit Bureau to Petit Bourgeoisie).
Take 1: Early 1970s- PB as a student
PB is walking to his secondary school in the rural Kerala, which is 4 kilometres away from his home. Like many of his friends he has not chosen to travel by bus for the simple reason that his pocket money won’t allow him to afford that luxury. Now let us listen to this conversation:
PB: “Hello uncle”
Uncle: “Why young man? Why do you have to walk all the way? Why don’t you travel by bus and save some time and effort?”
PB: “Uncle, I don’t like the bus journey. I love to walk with my friends who join me on the way. It is so much fun to be chatting and walking together”
Uncle: “That is very nice”
Take2: Early 1980s- PB in his first job
Like most PBs in those pre-liberalisation years, our PB also managed to get into the job of a clerk, with the government, as soon as he finished his studies. All his fellow clerks used to come to office by their own bicycles. And believe me- how proud they were of their valued, exceptional and local body licensed possession! PB did not have a bicycle, for it would still take some months for him to accumulate enough money from his paltry salary to be able to buy a bicycle. Now this conversation:
Fellow Clerk: On seeing PB walking very fast to reach office in time, slowing down his bicycle, “Hi, why don’t you buy a bicycle, my friend? It will save you a lot of time”
PB: “I know. But I like to walk. It is a great exercise for people like us who sit for the whole day in office”
Fellow Clerk: “Good thinking, man. Keep it up”
Take 3: Late 1980s: The days of 100cc Bike revolution
PB has by now bought his own bicycle. But then many of his more senior (and therefore more affluent) colleagues and those colleagues who had means of ‘other income’ have now changed to 100cc bikes, taking advantage of the easily available bank loans. PB was not yet rich enough or corrupt to afford a bike or the monthly instalments of the bank loans and therefore continued to ride his bicycle to his office. Listen to this conversation, during a lunch time:
Female colleague: “You should also get a bike now. Bicycles have really gone out of fashion”
PB: “Oh no. I don’t care about fashion. But I do care about my health. If I buy the bike my only exercise of riding the bicycle will go for a toss”
Female colleague: “Yeh, I think you are right. All those bike men are beginning to get paunches”
Take 4: Mid 1990s: PB resigns his government job and joins the booming private sector
With liberalisation being initiated in 1991, the Indian private sector assumed a new respectability. Private sector was opening up and it was not limited to the lifelong class enemies of PB- Tata and Birla, anymore. Even in the marriage market (the ultimate scale of status in Indian society), the private sector employees started getting better value than the till then reigning government employees. By mid 1990s, PB sensed the opportunity and jumped the ship to join private sector that was paying much higher compensation by now.
On the joining day itself, at his new company in the Metro city, the two wheeler salesman caught him and explained about the new attractive scheme, of course, exclusively designed for the employees of PB’s company. PB soon joined the two wheeler class.
But the story did not end there. The Indian car revolution soon followed. As this defining decade came to an end, the growing affluence and the easy instalment schemes made it very attractive for the PBs to give up their Bajaj Scooters and 100cc bikes and embrace the small cars that began to rule the Indian roads.
History repeated itself with our PB. More and more of his colleagues bought the Marutis and Santros and Matiz (now forgotten car that looked like a beetle). Well, our PB continued to lag behind on his bike. One morning, as he was stopped by the traffic police for not wearing his helmet, he reached his office late by an hour. Having missed an important meeting PB was upset and his colleague in the next cubicle, chided him:
Colleague: “You are really a miser. Why don’t you get a car? Why do you have to undergo this struggle every day?’
PB: “It is not that I don’t have, or don’t want to spend, the money. I love riding my bike. It keeps me macho and among the masses and rooted to earth. Once I sit inside a closed car, I will lose the touch with public and the car will isolate me from them”
Colleague: Merely smiled- knowingly.
Take 5: Mid 2000s: PB gets his new car
Our PB got married in the beginning of the new century. While he was taking his newly wedded wife to a movie on his 100cc bike, she complained to him about not having a car. It did not take much time for the complaint to turn into full time pestering and soon PB gave in and bought his first Maruti 800. He felt proud to own the new car, even though it really upset his budget, which was already under strain from the multitude of new expenses caused by his married status.
When he drove the car for the first time to office, same colleague taunted him:
Colleague: “Arrey Bhai, how come you have decided to give up your love for the masses?”
PB: “Oh man, times are changing...with so much of pollution and traffic, it is so difficult to ride the bike anymore. Also, Indian masses are changing too. They are not pedestrian anymore!”
Colleague: Merely smiled- very knowingly.
Take 6: 2011: PB goes airborne
Life went on rather well for our PB. Lifelong loyalty to the employer, the hallmark of Indian employees, has become a story of the past. PB also mastered the trick of job hopping, the new art introduced by the new times to Indian employees. The ever improving job market in India ensured that there was no dearth of opportunities. He had acquired a new paunch, a new sedan, a new 3 BHK house and a membership in the Club of his new housing society.
He decided to go for their annual family holiday. Unlike his previous holidays where he used to travel by train, this time his wife and their only child insisted that they travel by flight. When he informed his friend about their travel plans, his friend asked him:
Friend: “So, you are going by flight? How come? Didn’t you always say that you prefer to travel by train on your holidays, so that you can get to know new people and get to see new places? How come this flight journey, now?”
PB: “Oh man, who has the time? I just don’t have so much leave to spare.... When we travel by train so much time gets wasted. Also, in flight, no one disturbs your privacy”
The saga of PB goes on- only that he is not known by the name PB anymore (Polit Bureau must be happy about that?). PB has now got a new and more respectable name- MC, the Middle Class.
P.S: I have limited the story to his travel modes alone here. However, if you have enjoyed this even a bit, I recommend you to read this clumsy poem of mine – Saint I, to get an insight into more aspects of our PB http://confused-ambadi.blogspot.com/2011/06/saint-i-new-indian.html