The unwritten story of middle class style

Every so often, something I read triggers off an avalanche of thoughts that make me uncomfortable, make me worry a little and make me wonder. A book did that to me today. Not a book of words, but one of images. I just put down Indian Style, a book edited by Angelika Taschen, published as part of a series on Style Icons.

I flipped through the book once, unimpressed and out of loyalty to a publishing house I’ve always admired, I gave the book a second chance. I read each paragraph, each word, each caption under each image and yet I found, to my disappointment, that the book wasn’t representative of Indian Style at all. That annoyed me for a while, given it’s title. When I flipped through the back of the book, what got to me further were the other titles in the series- London Style, Paris Style, New York Style etc. Capturing  a country’s style in a hundred and ninety pages while individual cities seem to warrant the same, seemed a little ridiculous. But never mind my peeves with the misleading title. I’m digressing from the point I wanted to make while writing this. Indian Style, insofar as I’ve read about and researched it, talks broadly of two kinds of India- The fabulously wealthy and the horribly poor. Most documentation of style, design and aesthetic leaves out a massive chunk of our country- the middle class.

On some level, I can see why this might have come to happen. The style of the rich in our country seems synonymous with opulence. Lavish, regal, heavily ornamented style, romanticized by a likeness to royalty and our history of king and palaces. Which, I suppose, is why most books on Indian style tend to focus on Jaipur and Udiapur. (over half the images in Indian Style are of Rajasthan.) The style is novel to a Westerner and seems to fit with the image of India as a land of palaces and kings and tigers. In the 21st century, it tells a story of unimaginable wealth… and makes for the perfect contrast to the second part of India..

Poor India. The India of beggars and slums. The India of mud walls and villages. The India of cows and snake charmers and malnourished children. The India where beauty lies in pathos. In bright clothed women walking kilometers for water, in the happy smiles of hungry children with bare feet. The glamour is in capturing beauty in struggle.

I’m a graphic designer and a lot that I’ve learnt, I’ve learnt from books. I mentioned in a previous post, how much more I found myself knowing about Western aesthetic over Indian aesthetic, but as I dissect my knowledge of the country’s style further, I realize I know a lot more about the two kinds of India that i spoke about earlier than I do about the chunk of the country I design for- Middle Class India. The large section of the country that no ones seems to talk about with regards to aesthetic. The book I spoke about talks of style in homes and interiors, all the while talking about either mansions or huts. What about the rest of the country? The part that lives in small apartments, slowly letting go of tradition and aspiring to a more western aesthetic, creating in my opinion, a style (albeit a confused style) of their own.

I graduated from a design school that allowed me to imagine my dream project as one with a large budget. A client who pumps endless amounts of money into producing my design and an audience with refined taste that laps it up. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but the truth is, very few projects actually fall into that category. Most, in India, are designed for a market, a target audience that so little has been written about. A market I don’t know enough about to fairly understand. And I find myself struggling. And wondering how a demographic so large, could seem too unremarkable, too ordinary, to write about.

Left: Painted walls of a one room hut Right: An opulent bedroom in a Rajasthan palace

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5 thoughts on “The unwritten story of middle class style

  1. Mother, Pious Lady by Santosh Desai would be a recommended read.

    I agree, not only is it surprising that such a large demographic is overlooked, when you actually do begin to understand it, it’s the most fascinating one too. Middle class India straddles the values, culture, restraint of its past and the audacious sense of possibility, exuberance and reckless consumption of it’s present and future. This very aspect (amongst other beautiful quirks) makes it a fascinating lot to try and decode.

  2. Hello Anya, this is Carlton. Just wanted to let you how much I enjoyed reading your post. I am so happy to note how incredibly well you’ve blossomed, since that late afternoon coffee, many years ago, in Melbourne. Good on ya, Anya!

    • Thank you for asking, my dear. Things are good, but could always be better 😉 I’ll keep coming back for more if I can only somehow know when your next post is going to be. Keep creating, keep writing, keep shining!

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