"Who Me Poor?" | Battering realities of a dream life
Home, hearth, and family may keep us cushioned from the jerks and jolts of making a living, but only for as long as one is not smitten by their own aspirations. So, what happens when you set out in search of your pastures, and realise that you are far from prepared to contend with the unexpected accompaniments of an independent life? You put up an appearance of having everything under control when actually it is the circumstances that dictate over you. Who me, Poor?, beneath the superficial question, is one of introspection.
“Broke is a romantic state of being when you are coming of age.” This is how we begin after the very first narration. Indeed, if it is not denial, it is rationalising, and – for the purpose of validating our voluntarily chosen struggles – we romanticise the ‘broke’ state because we understand and justify the economics behind it.
Everything comes with a risk. Everything comes with an elusive possibility of a reward. It all comes with more pros and cons than one could imagine, assess, and manoeuvre through. Such is being on tenterhooks for months together when you are still ‘beginning’. Getting a foot hold comes with a price that must be paid.
The pressures of squeezing into a well-to-do-adult image are immense. Most of it is at the cost of being an “unthinking fool” which is the result of a very strategically thought-out plan of action, all for the sake of keeping up to the ‘standard’ of being successful (“If you can’t take a cab home once a week, why are you working this hard anyway?”). But with every upgrade, these standards move further away and the struggles to keep afloat get more intense but are made to look brighter and shinier.
Professional socialising must happen because those are the rungs of the ladder leading up to that place to be in. And this does not come for free: going to a club or a restaurant where one would rather not go on their own, not even sipping coffee at a client meeting lest one might have to bear the expense for everyone (and declining to pay is not an option). Every day, every act of conforming is a bill. And at the end of the month, when all the necessary social-cum-professional bills are paid, what is one left with? Some snacks for the lucky ones, packed by their mother. Or water for supper.
There is a study quoted, a survey conducted by People’s Research on India’s Consumer Economy (PRICE). It was concluded that “cash is seen as a means of control and discipline over spending”, and that “most developed economies with high degrees of financial inclusion are characterised by low usage of cash as a medium of exchange”. With the changing faces of dealing with money and more fluid class mobility, migration inevitably follows.
The writer analyses that people with aspiration traverse the country to fulfil them and moves like demonetisation are pushing the cashless economy. Thus bringing about greater exposure to methods of transaction beyond exchange of cash. That’s how credit cards are seeing an unprecedented growth (32 per cent in 2017). Credit card usage is also linked to high consumer confidence levels. In a parallel study, PRICE looked at a true Middle India and found a rising confidence and an optimism in them even though 69 per cent of them met their basic needs with great difficulty.
With a series of economic analyses, it is concluded that the millennials will drive our economy. And what no one is telling them is that they (both beneficiary and the victim to this promised boom) are its fuel. With that, fitting in comes not with a price, but as an investment. Because, what is the point in moving to a new city far away from home and not having fun while doing it. Hence, it is not a choice, but an investment in fitting in. Personal experiences substantiate this rationale. And it is soon realised that nothing is enough to keep up.
What, in fact, compounds this state of urban poverty among the young, despite vanishing incoming resources, is the lack of adequate urban infrastructure. It fails to keep up with the pace of changing and growing society. We crave the fulfilment of our desires and that takes us places, making us do things without thinking much about whether we would do it otherwise or not, because, in pursuit of our dreams and ambitions, everything that should be done must be done.
Without a doubt, Gayatri Jayaraman exquisitely presents her meticulously undertaken study of the urban poor youth of different kinds who struggle to keep afloat and not crumble under the weight of their aspirations. This book is a brutally realistic account of drudgery beneath the glitters along the path of ambition.