Of middle class and humble origins


Amidst the flurry of articles and opinion pieces on the meteoric rise of Sundar Pichai I stop at the mention of his middle class roots and humble origins. Most of the news articles I read specifically mention how their family only had a rotary phone in the mid 80s. I pause and wonder why there is so much fuss being made out of it.

Curiosity propels me to google him (pun intended). I read up the Wikipedia entry and realize he grew up around the same time I did in the same city and probably in a similar family background. I look back on my school years and wonder if there is anything wrong about being middle class. Phones, refrigerators, TVs, washing machines were all luxuries. I remember the pre fridge days with the ‘valai almirah’ or netted cupboard housing day old food. ‘Pazhaedhu’ was consumed for breakfast. Yogurt was made fresh each day and milk consumed before it could ferment. Before telephones became ubiquitous, the rare phone owner served as a communication point for the entire street. Messages were shouted across bent wire fences and concrete compounds. “Akka kku phone” would be followed by a rush of activity and someone running down to wait for the person to call back.

Our lives were minimalist. Clothes were bought twice a year. Deepavali and Birthdays. It involved a shopping expedition followed by dinner at a hotel. No fancy restaurants then. The order would pretty much be the same each time. Cars were rare and auto outings were looked forward to. TV time meant the entire family and possibly neighbors huddled around a flickering TV set watching the only program available. Antennas were rotated for best picture and flowers touched each other to indicate everything from love, lust and sex.

The nineties ushered in consumerism and middle class became upper middle class. I look back on the 80s with nostalgia and a touch of reverence. There was so much about the way we lived then I try to emulate now and fail. If there were a couple of things I could bring back, it would be going back to fresh food and minimalIst living.

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