Monday, February 15, 2010

Class Distinctions

There’s a Mr Moneybags with dubious sources of income who is one of the most pious people I have ever met. His wrist is covered with sacred red threads which never seem to fade, or maybe he gets his threads renewed with every new visit to a temple. There is also a Mrs Pauper who wears ragged dirty dresses three sizes too large for her slight frame, who is most devout. She spends most of her time praying before roadside crosses and in churches. I know both of them rather well and the similarity of thought, word and deed is startling.

When Mr Moneybags speaks to me, he speaks of good things. He talks of all the good deeds he has done. He had helped get his neighbour’s daughter a job in the police force. He had given money to a boy who broke his leg in three places to tide him over until he could work again. He had just finished one pilgrimage and was planning to go on another as soon as he finished some pending work.

When his employees talk to me, they only speak bad things about Mr Moneybags. He is tight-fisted, mean minded, mean spirited and had a gang of goons on his payroll who could do anything from stoning your house to attacking you with swords and sticks. He ate like a pig and drank like a fish, got into a drunken rage and had a thing for very young women.

Mrs Pauper generally wept when she spoke to me. If she was not weeping, she was sighing. She too would speak of good things like how she was struggling to give her family a good life through honest means. That she did not have money but she had God on her side.

When her neighbours speak about her, they talk about how she has a filthy tongue in her head, how she abuses them regularly, poisons their domestic animals and birds, how she throws filth in front of their homes. They spoke of how she didn’t have money to feed her family, but she had enough to drink herself into a violent rage every day.

And it struck me that both the very rich and the very poor have so much in common. Both rich and poor get a huge amount of freebies. Both belong to privileged sections of society. Mr Moneybags is wooed by the powerful with an eye to his wealth. Mrs Pauper is wooed by the powerful with an eye to her vote. A simple enough concept since using wealth to buy votes leads to more power to the powerful.

Mr Moneybags is not in politics; he owns politicians; he dictates policy. Mrs Pauper just has to ask her MLA to allow her to build an extra couple of rooms on a precarious slope. He makes the necessary calls and even builds a retaining wall so that her house and those of her neighbours don’t slide down the hill.

The very rich and very poor can break the laws with impunity. They don’t even bother to laugh at CRZ rules; they just build their homes, sprawling or simple and get on with life as they know it secure in the knowledge that no one can touch them.

They are dangerous enemies since both resort to extra-judicial activities to sort out issues they may have with others. They think nothing of publicly harassing, abusing or killing an enemy.

Their moral standards (or lack thereof) are similar. Crimes of passion, murders of paramours and spouses are common with both classes. And yet they are so devout.

Laws, morals, ethics and moderation fall to the lot of the middle class. They cannot afford to break the law because they have too much built up through hard work, to lose. As piety is the armour of the rich and poor, respectability is the armour of the middle-class.

The middle class moves in a never ending bourgeois dance between the two other classes. Moving forward always trying to catch up with the very rich. Always looking over their shoulder at the poor, terrified that they will slip backwards into poverty if they don’t work hard enough. Seems like such a waste of time.

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