Elevate Difference

Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India

The great Indian middle class is that layer of society that no one bothered about until couple of decades ago. People in this layer did not fall into the category of "have nots," and hence did not attract any sympathy. At the same time they did not have the luxury of "haves," so it did not make any economic sense for the others to target them. They lived in their own world where they had enough for their basic needs, but nothing for their desires. Then came the famous economic reforms of early '90s, which changed the Indian middle class forever.

People in the upper echelons of Indian society probably always had everything, and for the people in the lower rung things have still not have changed much (except they probably have a mobile phone in the hand). But the middle class suddenly had more resources than they were used to. They could afford to buy houses at a much younger age, cars almost at the beginning of their work lives, and clothing without waiting for a wedding to happen in the family. Psychologically, for people who grew up in '70s and early '80s, the change was tremendous. While their growing up was in an era of scarcity, they landed in an era of abundance without really making a proportionate effort. They embraced the change, but also had to deal with their cultural roots that lie in another age. They also became the focus segment for many product and service offerings, which they were not used to, and had to learn to deal with this sudden attention.

In Mother Pious Lady, Santosh Desai makes sometimes nostalgic, random observations about the Indian middle class, about the things that we cherished while growing up that have either been lost or are on the verge of being lost, like postcards, a phone connection, or a black and white television set. He looks at the making of this class and their obsessive need for value often leading to the reuse of stuff for multiple purposes. He slowly looks at how we encountered change, and how the change has changed us. Desai talks about our identity evolving from being family-based to being profession-based, and from being local or regional to global. If you belong to Indian middle class, you will relate to everything the author talks about, like someone is narrating your very own dilemmas and situations. Desai covers personal life, family events, socioeconomic change, professional environment, and just about everything that touches our day-to-day lives.

Mother Pious Lady is a collection of small articles that Desai wrote for the Times of India. I have been an avid reader of his articles, and enjoy his simple insights that most people overlook. However, when it comes in a 380-page book, I expected a bit more depth. The articles become predictive, and as soon as you get thinking on a topic, its over. I would have expected more analysis of the observations he has gathered; while the topics have been categorized, they are too broad. At the very least there could have been a pre- or post-summarization of the topic categories and insights thereof.

One would probably enjoy this book more by not reading it cover-to-cover, but keeping it by your bedside table and randomly picking it up when you have a spare ten minutes.

Written by: Anuradha Goyal, August 13th 2010