Story Time: No Country For The Middle-Aged, Middle-Class
It is 2016. I am standing in a queue to get a mocha from a Cafe Coffee Day somewhere around Delhi. In front of me in the queue is a woman who looks like she’s giving this shoddy place a try for the first time by the way she is poring over the menu. I want to help her out and tell her it’s not worth it, but I am minding my own beeswax.
She decides on a cappuccino and I am thinking — lady, be ready for a crappuccino. “Can I have an extra shot of espresso”, she adds belatedly. And I think wow; the lady has got things to do, places to be. She has a teacher-like aura about her so I am guessing she’s about to drop some enthusiastic knowledge on the kids.
The barista says “ma’am, eXpresso is like very black tea. Are you sure you want it?”
And I am absolutely taken aback by the barista. Let’s break it down, shall we? 1). you are wrong. 2). I am pretty sure she knows what espresso is because she just asked for it and is going to pay for it. 3). How can you be providing caution with such condescension?
The woman doesn’t correct the barista. She says she is sure and pays the extra amount. She’s got things to do, places to be. She is the working class heroine.
It is 2014. I am visiting Goa with my extended family, just in time for one of those music festivals where morals dip a little deeper just when you thought they couldn’t anymore. Yes, you guessed it. We are on Baga beach. After spending some time by the ocean, if you can call it that — I prefer Lays packets’ dumpster, my folks decide to get some food at one of the beach clubs.
We are sat in an almost empty restaurant. Moments later we are greeted by an annoyed- looking waiter. He decides to open with — “this place is reserved for drinking people only.”
My father tries to lighten the mood, “I drink every day, just not today.” We try to chuckle. The waiter is not amused. “Sorry, it’s reserved”, he says.
It is a beautiful evening. I am stubborn by nature. I will not be frayed by a waiter who is trying to deprive this establishment of even a glimpse of family life. It’s almost like he wants people who come to the restaurant to forget that they have large, working class families back home.
We order our food, and just one solitary bottle of beer to humour him. Nobody drinks it. It doesn’t seem fitting. We sit around it, celebrating its pivotal role. Nobody drinks it.
These, my friends, are not solitary events. This ignorant concoction of age-ism and classism is served with a pinch of unkindness at almost all “hip” places in the country. Initially I tried to reason it away with the lack of training that is provided to the service providers. But really, it all boils down to the lack of empathy. Somewhere along the lines, when the glamorous stars were blinding us, telling us what to eat and how to eat it, telling us what to wear and how to wear it, we forgot how the people who paid our bills looked like.
India is a young country. In the age of 25-year-old CEOs and rapidly increasing privatized jobs, have we forgotten what a 55-year-old government employee looks like? I don’t believe that just because a new Cafe Coffee Day has replaced his old coffee shop around the block, there is no space for his way of life anymore. I don’t believe the middle-aged, middle-class folks are bad customers. Sure, sometimes they ask for “discount please bhaiya” and extra plastic bags in chain retail stores. That is because they have seen the world around them change so bloody rapidly. The malls have replaced their naiwala and doodhwala and sabjiwala. They have had to learn words like cappuccino and espresso. However, in all this transition, they have made sure that they were able to afford these lifestyles for their kids. The working class heroes, ladies and gentlemen, have made sure to be able to afford the latest phones. Not just be able to afford college for us but also be able to afford Baga beach regardless of how much they jack up their prices in December.
So how dare you. How. Dare. You.