One morning, Nargis Chokshi, a 27-year-old client servicing manager at an advertising agency from Mumbai looked pretty dishevelled. The reason? She wasn’t able to iron her clothes. When her boss asked why, tears rolled down her cheeks. She said she’d given up her house and had been sleeping in her car as she couldn’t afford rent. She actually chose to give up her house rather than her car – because if she would have given up the car, everyone would find out.
There are many stories like Nargis’ in Gayatri Jayaraman’s book, “Who Me, Poor? How India’s Youth Is Living In Urban Poverty To Make It Big”. But this story hit me harder than the rest. It made me wonder about just how much Nargis cared about how others perceived her. And she isn’t alone. As I read the book, I learned about a guy who lived on glucose biscuits for a few months to be able to afford to ‘fit in’ his social circle, and a guy who broke up with his girlfriend because he couldn’t ‘afford’ the relationship.
From what I read, I believe that a lot of these young people ended up in poor financial situations because of the flawed image of success that they were chasing. It’s a trap that they fell into as they felt being themselves was not enough.
Of course, these disastrous ‘millennial choices’ could have been avoided, but at the same time, the ‘system’ is responsible too. It’s this ‘system’ that makes us think the people we work with will be insensitive towards those who can’t afford an office lunch or an after-work drinks party. Why should we be penalised for this? Or why should networking only count as trips to expensive coffee shops or high-end bars? And most of all, why must struggle be so falsely glamorised?
A lot of young people have started to believe that their success doesn’t count if they haven’t suffered enough. Jayaraman explores this myth in her book, and presents a scary reality of how young Indians today choose a lifestyle of maxed-out credit cards and rising debt because of a flawed image of success. She also talks about the intense ‘need to impress’ so many millennials feel. It’s the same need that makes many people dress for the job they want, rather than the one that they have.
I couldn’t directly relate to the choices many of the people in the book made, but it definitely made me think of other instances I have witnessed. I’ve known people in college who would skip lunch so that they could afford drinks later; I’ve seen my friends pressured to tell their parents that everything is fine, while while their poorly paid newspaper job barely gets them through the month. These are the same friends who end up spending more on cigarettes than groceries because the stress gets too much, and because in our society, one can network quite well over a couple of smokes.
The book also made me think of what would I do if I ever had to move outside of the comforts of my home. It made me ask myself: Do I have it easy just because I still live with my parents? Does my success matter even though I haven’t suffered the ‘glamorous’ way?
It is a book I would definitely want young people and first-jobbers like myself to read, because it shows us a reality that we’re not ready to acknowledge.
And while you may want to debate about whether using the term ‘urban poor’ in this context is sensitive or not, it’s a fact that these people are real and so is their struggle. A lot of us may feel insensitive towards them and think their choices are nothing but irresponsible, but if there was a sensitivity towards situations around us, maybe no one would have to hide behind a mask of happiness beneath which they actually crumble every day.