Thirty years ago, middle-class parents in urban India wanted their children to be one of three things: doctors, engineers or lawyers. If you were “bright”, you were expected to opt for science, sit for various qualifying tests and eventually make it to either one of the IITs or medical colleges. Women were encouraged to go into professions perceived to be respectable but less demanding ie teaching, public sector banks. Becoming a chartered accountant or an architect were the other choices incase you didnot fancy medicine, engineering or law. Opting for the ‘humanities ‘ stream instead of science or commerce was to announce to the world that you were a lesser mortal, and certainly less ambitious than your peers. Those who stubbornly chose “arts” instead of “science” could redeeem themselves by becoming an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) or IFS (Indian Foreign Service). If you didnot get into any of these alleys, you were the black sheep in the family and an outcaste in professional, middle-class circles . No one I knew dared suggest to their parents careers like modelling, airhostessing, films etc . I remember the peals of laughter that greeted a classmate in the ninth grade( if I remember correctly )when she said she had no plans to go to college and was considering becoming a stewardess in an international airlines. She was pretty and usually came thirty third in a class of thirty five. Everyone including the teacher laughed . A desire to become a flight attendant was viewed as a clear admission of dim prospects in academics. If one wanted to see the world, one was told — study hard, get a job abroad, work at it, become a high-flier and see the world at some one else’s expense. Educated families simply didnot allow their daughters to serve tea and coffee to strangers in lieu of money or opt for a career which made do mostly with high-school leavers. Middle class India aspired, even then. But its dreams and hopes were circumscribed by a myriad snobberies.
Today, I was thinking of that incident in the ninth when I chanced upon the blog of someone who introduces herself as a “saree drapist”. Wow! Middle class India has come a long way! Today, if you are academically bright, no doubt you have a bright future. Choices are plenty. But even the academically challenged have a shiny road ahead if they have a modicum of smartness. Thirty years ago, noone could think of earning a living out of “saree draping”, “trousseau wrapping”, or “organising birthday parties”. If you did it, you did it quietly. Today, a growing tribe of young girls are making good money because there is a huge demand for such activities. And those who are succesful feel they are no inferior to the ones who made it to a medical college or an IIT. Airhostess training schools have sprung up across the country. Girls from lower middle class families, from small towns, with grit, determination and a sense of adventure are queuing up.. Some professional middle class parents would still perhaps shudder but they have less and less control over what their children do. One thing is sure: aspiring India is less snooty than the India of yesteryear. Making money matters. Noone cares a damn anymore how you make it.