Recently I have noticed a new phenomenon among the upwardly mobile Indian middle class. Is it new or was it always there, and I was blind? Well, whatever the case, it is the brazen display of everything about oneself, ranging from the artefacts, mobiles, cars, jewelry, houses (yes, in plural…seems that it is a must to have more than one to be respected), in-laws ( they are amazing, good, bad, vile, interfering, neutral), sons, maids and so on - anything that is worth being spoken or not!
Last week I was a victim of this trend. We were visiting a friend’s newly done up house. We were given a guided tour of that state-of-the-art masterpiece. What you would think as a part of the wall was actually a cleverly concealed bar and what you would think as one of the knobs of the wardrobe revealed a Jacuzzi behind it. I was duly impressed! A lovely chandelier from some exotic part of the world caught my attention. I naively praised it and there I walked into the trap. A long story attached to it followed …how the hostess spotted it while traveling, how much it cost them to get it flown from there and how much more effort went into figuring out whether the ceiling of a Mumbai house would hold such a grand and heavy piece of art. “You know it is worth every cent I spent on it….everybody notices it. “
Oh dear! So I was not the only one who had fallen prey to this hanging bait. And if I thought it was the end of my torture, I was gravely mistaken. Thereafter followed the little stories attached to paintings (Gasp!! The price tag was still discreetly visible), curtains, cushion covers, glasses, utensils, bathroom fittings and the ceramic potty. I felt like asking in P L Deshpande (the great Marathi author) style whether it eases the constipated ones or the struggle continues. Well, but being true to the food eaten on that day in that house I enthused “Can’t believe so many designs are available in potties.’’ As the guests poured in, I was a mute witness to the sufferings of the gullible listeners.
The same week, we were invited to a relative’s place, an elderly couple whose both children are settled abroad. We were visiting them after a long time. Obviously we had the preset idea of bonding over old times, memories of the past and of course, our current lives. What we had in store was not anticipated. After initial quick how do you dos, we enquired about their kids we haven’t met in ages. And that was quick sand! The more we enquired the more we were in for the trouble. The husband was in his elements narrating stories about his annual trips abroad and his grandchildren, daughter in law, son in law etc. The wife taking a cue from this produced a huge plastic box containing albums….the many places they visited, grandchildren, their friends, their friend’s friends, the barbecues, the parties, their houses, everything along with a commentary. (See this is their house and this is the living room, sitting room, bedroom, basement, garden, gazebo, garage, garbage bin) They wanted to make it a virtual reality experience for us and perhaps that was not enough, there came in CDs and DVDs. I felt like asking, “What about us?”. Aren’t you interested in knowing how we are doing, ups and downs in our lives or our children? No, obviously they were not interested. My husband exchanged a frustrated look across the room which read “How to escape?”. I darted back a reassuring look which said, ”We will survive”. On our way back home my husband commented,’’ Growing old has nothing to do with growing mature.” I liked the thought whether original or borrowed.
The final and absolute confirmation of this phenomenon came from an acquaintance who decided to call on us. Well, he was quite welcome. My husband always used to share a light banter with this person. He came at lunch time. The plates were served and we were about to begin. Obviously, we invited him to join us. But no, he would not. He certainly had an agenda. And very soon we realized that he had not come to see us, but had come to display the talent of his daughter, a wannabe singer. He started playing the songs from her upcoming album on his I phone. It was a melodious number. We loved it. It was followed by many more, conveniently ignoring the lunch table. Was he a moron? Couldn’t he see we needed to eat? All my ears could hear was angry loud rumbling of my hungry stomach. I took a stand and reminded the man of the waiting plates. He generously allowed us to go ahead with our meal while playing the music and commentary in the background. I could clearly see the idea of a siesta going out the window. I screamed in my mind (as usual),”Why? Oh why do I have to go through this?”. Mercifully his daughter was no Lata Mangeshkar and had a limited repertoire of songs. Finally, to the great relief of our numb ears, this musical punishment came to an end. If I were alive in the feudal era, I would have made a significant contribution to the then existing unique punishments. ‘’So and so is ordered to listen to some obscure music on a hungry tummy till his eardrums explode!’’. I could actually visualize this person with his potbelly and an evil grin holding the Iphone in front of the poor criminal as he tries hard with his tied hands to cover his ears.
These are just some classic representations of many experiences I come across every day. Basically the thumb rule is if you are spending so much on your dinner, dress, diet, vacation, flowers, funeral, then people must know about it otherwise it is a waste. You do everything to be seen, admired, envied. The display of wealth, position was always there but it was more subtle. Now, it is in your face. Is it that important for our society to make it public where and with whom we eat, sleep, vacation, fight, make love? What could be the possible reason behind the rise of this particular trend…..one up man ship? Making others jealous? (nana nana nana.. we had fuuun…you watch and envy). I don't think so. Its image marketing at work over time. Can you escape it by confining yourself to your house? No way…..it is omnipresent. You can see these blatant boasts on the statuses of people on social networking sites (I travelled first class, carried my stuff in a Louis Vuitton, stayed in the same hotel where Michael Jackson stayed and peed in the same loo). Is anyone interested? It is cheap, crass, uncouth, but does anyone care? I am sure like all fads, this narcissistic trend will also fade but not so quickly. Till then what we can do is, flash a fake smile, suppress a yawn, mock enthusiasm and respond, “ Oh really!! This is so wonderful! I Unbelievable!! Cho Chweet! ………..”