Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home |Volume 5, Issue 46, Tuesday, November 23, 2010




The wide middle class bracket

Not so long ago, most people viewed the hallmarks of success as something along the lines of a house, the ability to afford a vacation, two children and the ability to send those kids to college. Today, the middle class is a vanishing breed according to nearly every survey and statistic on the topic. Despite all of the attention to the subject, defining 'middle class' remains a challenge, as everyone wants to be in the middle regardless of their income. Instead of focusing on their paychecks, let's take a look at the lifestyle benchmarks that define middle class status.

Have you made it to the middle?
A wide variety of numbers have been thrown around in an effort to define the middle. People earning 20% of the average income and people earning 80% all claim to be part of the middle class. More than a few millionaires make the claim too. While there is no official financial standard, the middle class is defined by many in terms of certain aspirations, which we can view as benchmarks.

· Automobile ownership
Owning an automobile provides freedom of movement and the luxury of avoiding the hassles offered by public transport. Here, the cost of cars varies widely, as does the kind of automobile required. For one driver, a used Toyota will do the trick. For another, a new Honda Civic signifies the achievement of this goal.

· A college education for the kids
Helping children get ahead in life is a primary goal for middle class families. Decisions about which university of college to attend can have a significant impact on the price tag.

· Retirement security
Retirement is a goal nearly everyone wants to achieve. It demonstrates success and provides a reward for decades of hard work. Once again, definitions make a difference. The amount of gold required to support your golden years will vary significantly depending on your lifestyle.

· Family vacation
The family vacation is a middle class staple. Vacations demonstrate that a family has disposable income and has been successful enough to take time away from work to focus on leisure.

How to get there
Although there are significant challenges to obtaining middle class status, there are some proactive steps that can help make the dream a reality. Budgeting is one of the most obvious. Understanding where your money goes each month can help you determine the exact makeup of the benchmarks you are trying to match. Are you looking for a Hyundai or a Toyota?

Planning is another crucial step. Are the kids going to study in a public or private university? Or aiming higher, will they venture abroad? If so, are scholarships an option?

Working is another one of the requirements. A second job or a side business might be just what you need to boost your income and achieve some of your goals. Putting your money to work is also an important consideration. Investing has helped build wealth for generations. In fact, income earners ranked in the top 1% enjoyed significant increases in wealth even as the middle class fell into decline. Most of that wealth came from investments. Even if you don't have the means to invest for current income, you can always save a certain proportion of each paycheck and save for your retirement.

The bottom line
Don't underestimate the role of hard work and luck. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time or taking one particular course of action over another can make all the difference. So keep watching for opportunities and make the most of them when you find them. As motion-picture mogul Samuel Goldwyn said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

LS Desk
Photo: Life Style Archive

I am middle class, I eat with my hands and lick my fingers afterwards, gently; I sip my daal off my plate when I am home. I like to chew on paan once in a while and listen to the radio. I like salt with my guava, mixed with mustard oil and sugar.

I am middle class, I grew up with parents who were also middle class; they read a lot, dreamt a lot and passed on the middle class complex to me as a prize inheritance. I get uncomfortable with marble floors. I don't like my feet. I prefer showers over baths.

I am middle class, I look forward to bonuses, Eids and pujas; to afternoon naps, hartals, to the morning newspaper and its fresh smell. I fight with my bua and iron my own clothes, I like silk but am most comfortable in cotton. Bright colours suit me and I feel proud to hold on to the age-long Bangladeshi culture of middle class, and even if I go above or below, I like to pretend that I am still in the middle. It's not a balance, it's my religion.

I am middle class, I snub all who aren't and criticise all who can't have my values. I have read a lot, haven't gone to as many places as I would have liked. I have lied about what I did and what I will do. I have been embarrassed, felt I was not good enough many times and now I am secure with my insecurities. I don't like ice-cold water.

I am middle class, I am scared to pamper myself in all the new ways that are available to me, the affordable goodness around me that attracts me to its glitter. I like the look of struggle, not the struggle with poverty but the struggle of living in the privileged- unprivileged middle.

I am middle class, I am unsure if my tradition will follow till the next generation; I am unsure if I have brain washed my children enough for them to become just like me. I am unsure of my genuine sensitivity, my honour, and my establishments. I am unsure about what you think of me.

I am middle class, I know how to play the harmonium, I grew up in a vibrant part of town, I like watching daal puri and parathas being made on the side of the street and I like eating them hot off the stove. I like giving money to beggars, I have a personal relationship with my rickhshawala. I don't like telling people where I live. I have a little garden on my rooftop.

I am middleclass, I am proud of all the things I have experienced, I like taking pleasure in everything, from my morning cup of tea to the toothpaste I brush my teeth with at night. I am proud of my aches, my back pain, my arthritis, my Tiger Balm.

I am middle class, I am proud to be me.


Standing at the alter

The long aisle penetrated deep into the hall, leaving row upon row of wooden benches and tables on one side, ending just beneath the foot of Christ, crucified for the sins of humanity. The statue looked upon the devotees with hazel eyes, a familiar beard and a solemn smile that conveyed words of compassion; it gave hope to those who sought redemption from earthly sin, the hands pegged on the crucifix ready for an embrace for all humanity. The altar remained empty, while the hall kept silent.

Monday morning saw little activity in the hall, a stark contrast to the Sunday flair when choirboys sang from gospels, rendering songs on the coming of the Messiah. Sometimes, Friday brought in a greater crowd. God's Day had transcended from one appointed day to any day where people found time for the Lord. Today, the stage spoke in silence. The music of stillness seemed louder to the ear. It reminded me of solitude, and much to my loathing, my solitude.

I preferred to walk the narrow road snaking its way through the village. The road that lead to the iron gates of the church. As I walked down the sunburnt clay, dirt flew about my shoes and added dust to the winter air. The location was picturesque; food for a few days work but the sun was still canopied by the morning mist and I decided to let the cameras rest for a while.

Some village children kept following me. They moved about their hands and pointed towards me. They spoke in santal and in a dialect of Bengali I could not fathom, but in all probability it was my camera that piqued their interest.

As I looked back, from time to time, they stopped. And then walked again as I turned my head. Their giggles and laughter got louder as we walked along, much to my amusement. I could hear a tingle of bells, and as I looked for the umpteenth time, my eyes caught the little devil, barely three, wearing a waistband of small bells.

I stopped, so did the other boys, but the brave soul marched forward. He was now away from the group, in unfamiliar ground. I took my camera and clicked. The other boys were amused, the valiant tinkler moonstruck. I hid the camera and approached the child, but his feeble heart could take no more and he ran back, while the older boys laughed at his misery.

The church was large compared to the remoteness of the locality. But set amidst the indigenous people, the followers were aplenty. New converts found new hope in a definition of a newer God. The preachers asked them to believe, and they did. They dreamt of a new future set far away from their native lands.

The tin roof formed at an angle from which emerged the large cross, crowning the entrance. It cast a dark shadow on the lawn in front of the church, where swallows pecked and dined. The small banana plantation oozed in soothing green. The yellow bananas looked delightfully edible, far away from the neighbourhood boys under the vigilant eye of Chowdhury, the church guard.

Inside the church, the lonely occupant remained motionless, kneeling before Jesus. I walked in silently, careful not to break his concentration. But he looked back, hearing my footsteps. Without uttering any words he went back to his deep meditation.

I felt at ease inside God's premises. A soothing atmosphere prevailed that instantaneously took me to a different world, where there was solace from the chaos that prevailed. I however had parted my ways with God, maybe not this God but my God, who it seemed had stopped answering my prayers.

I left my camera and luggage on a table and stood beside the child observing the detailed work in capturing the last moments of the Christ. There was the effigy of Jesus on a cross and mother Mary beside him. She looked towards her son with the eyes of a mother, while the rest of humanity stared with the eyes of a child.

The child asked me to kneel before the alter, showed me how to pray. And I did. I knelt down, before the altar, feeling an emptiness inside. I had learnt not to lean before my God for a long time, let alone a God I knew nothing of. But all Gods ceased to exist in my world.

As I clasped my two palms, bowed by head and stopped to think of the world and the chaos outside, I connected. I felt connected to a greater power. It appealed to me and before I knew it, tears rolled down my cheeks. The emptiness inside, the guilt borne in all the years seemed to have taken the form of teardrops. I finally found God, in the house of another.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif


6 ways to getting out of boredom

Of course, when bored, there are the usual things people do to help the situation. Watching television, listening to music, surfing the Internet and sometimes, in desperate situations, even studying!

But you definitely have other options as well.

Communication with your family members
For some people, this is a piece of cake. For others, it may take years to nurture a healthy relationship with parents. When there's nothing else to do, you can take some time to think of things that you need some help with from your family. Make use of that time to get personal and create a bond with your family. After all, they're there for a reason!

Go out for some coffee with friends
Okay, so it's not like your friends deserve time from you only when there's an occasion. Yes, there are friends who you meet almost every day but there are also some that you love spending time with but just don't get around to meeting too often. Give them a ring and get some catching up done!

Spend some time with yourself
As you know, or should know, at the end of the day you should be your first priority. Apart from friends and family, you need to spend some quality time with yourself to get to know yourself and find out your own likes and dislikes. Believe it or not, it might sound crazy, but you'll have the time of your life! Do what you love doing best. Whether it's dancing, painting, writing; just make the best out of your time by bringing out the best in you!

You can always hear and say, 'cooking isn't my thing' somewhere or the other. But all truth be told, once you get into the kitchen and let your instincts take over, you won't even know where that chef came out from inside of you. You might just end up discovering the beginning of a new passion. Never hurts to give it a shot, right?

This may be an 'old mom's tale', but it really works! When you're super bored, you won't even know when you just get into the flow. Spend a couple of hours cleaning around the house, maybe even rearranging furniture and giving your room a whole new look. You can make it just as funky as you like. And then of course, change it back if your mom objects. But save it for when you're bored again!

Travel down memory lane
This is something many people already do and love doing when they're bored. Going through all your old photo albums and reliving those wonderful memories with your favourite people is always a great way to spend a couple of hours when there's nothing important on hold. This helps in remembering the great times you've spent with the great people you spent it with. There's a reason these pictures were taken, and here's your best opportunity to just sit back, relax and reminisce!

Since you now have more things to do when you're bored than you would've thought, there's absolutely no reason for you to just sulk around whining about your lack of things to do. Happy boredom!

By Naziba Basher






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