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  • Jaspal Kahlon

Being Middle Income Class

Income differences became clear to me when I moved to Chandigarh. Here, people lived in their own houses. The difference in lifestyle was evident. Driving a Maruti car and owning large pockets of farming land were added to my definition of rich. Since then, the list kept on getting longer. By the time I moved to Indore for higher studies, I had realized the list is never-ending. All these years, I compared my standing as per the list.


As a kid, being rich meant any household having a TV, refrigerator, and a two-wheeler. I had no clue about the net worth of my parents or grandparents. As a kid, I was not privy to any talk on the shortage of money in our lives. Even less likely to have known that society I lived in is classified based on income.


I grew up in Kalimitti, a town renamed as Tatanagar after Jamshed Ji Tata built its first manufacturing plant. Kalkmitti, as known before Tata set its foot, was a remote tribal village rich in mineral resources. The workers employed at the plan had migrated from other states in India. My grandfather had landed there sometime in the 1930s when the British ran a tin manufacturing unit. He was hired as a worker for his physical strength to work in the unbearable heat of a hotmill plant.


As I grew up in the town, I observed little difference in the daily routine of families around. The city had a majority of its population employed with Tata Steel or Tata Motors. People worked in shifts of 8-hour each altering every week. All the major manufacturing companies had their residential clusters within the city. The workers, engineers, and managers all had a flat or a house allotted as per the grade and seniority.


I could hardly notice any difference in income levels as a kid. All of them had a similar routine and lifestyle. All of them went shopping at one of the three main markets- Sakchi, Bistupur, and Golmuri. In evenings the portable mud chulhas were left on the streets for the smoke to blow away, and the coal inside the chulha is lit well. As I grew up, gas stove replaced the mud chulhas, color televisions replacing black & white ones, and scooters getting replaced with bikes. All of these changes happened almost uniformly across the township.


I got my first job in 2001. Since then, my lifestyle has improved for the better. Today, most of the items on my rich-list are within my buying power. We book the AC class on trains. We take flights occasionally, own a car, and carry expensive handphones. I have little doubts that I may have to face an unstable situation in my career. I am pretty sure about my earnings rising and doubling in another 10 years. There is no shortage of jobs for my skills and experience. The Indian economy is the fastest-growing, and professionally, I am turning out to be the right person at the right place and at the right time. But I was wrong. I misread the changes in my life.


Three main expense heads make-up 50% of my monthly earnings viz. taxes, rentals, and children's education. I am not able to save for my retirement. The increase in expenses has overtaken the growth in my earnings. The higher education cost for my children will be much higher than anticipated. I often recheck my definition of the rich. I have a tick mark against a good no of them except the wealth creation one. I have failed to focus on the most critical item on my list that is to create enough wealth so that a multiplier effect comes into play. I doubt if I have fallen prey to lifestyle creep. When I research, I take solace in a report published by OECD in May 2019 titled "Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class."


However, my guilt does not go away.


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