Saturday, October 16, 2010

Copycat materialism is not working

Many cynics of the Emerging India/India Shining story or whatever one may call it point out the brashness of the new Indian middle class. Maybe it's a statement generalised from popular culture or from the tantrums of some of our sports personalities, but it is a perception that is perhaps being felt by foreigners as well.

In The Times of India, Dipankar Gupta talks about the importance of manners in the formation of a world-class middle class.

Catching up with the West begins with good manners; not cars, stereos or even blue jeans. It is simply a matter of putting the horse before the cart. Manners are all about how we treat others whom we don't know personally, and probably never will. If Europe has a head-start of more than a hundred years us, it is not because they got to commodities first. The advantage they sprung on the rest of the world was in evolving social manners. While we were still aspiring to be good clients to mercurial patrons, they were learning to treat their social others as equal overs


Gupta refers to a 1873 book The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette by Thomas E Hill. It essentially dealt about manners, and how one ought to behave, both as individuals and as a society. Gupta ends the article with a question that we all must reflect upon.

... can we attain western living standards by pure material acquisition and emulation? We have tried that for years and yet 23 per cent of our people have to forego medical treatment because they cannot afford it. Further, about half our school-going children are unable to master a simple paragraph or compute elementary sums. Copycat materialism is clearly not working.

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