The psychology of car class

The psychology of car class

A new class of people is growing, quite distinct from the traditional caste system which, anyway, is institutionalized by our political leaders. There...

A new class of people is growing, quite distinct from the traditional caste system which, anyway, is institutionalized by our political leaders. There is every chance that the name of a person can give out his/her caste through its suffix or prefix. If they are missing, sometimes they are appended to give the bearer of the name a distinct identity, though of late many youngsters prefer to have 'sanitized neutral' names which will have no clue to their antecedents or familial links.

The new class of people need not bother about their names because hardly they interact with others who don't share their lifestyles, pub culture, hi-flying life and flashy living. They are a class apart. This particular segment of people belongs to the upper crust, not because they are born into traditional higher classes but because of their power, wealth, social standing and celebrity status. Caste is not the criterion; in fact, little attention is paid to it except during the election time or census. It is the political and money power one wields and the popularity he/she commands among the masses is all that matters.

Those who belong to this particular class are conspicuous by their presence in star hotels, late night parties, social dos, cultural extravaganzas, the sleek cars they drive, etc. They also suffer from a disorder called compulsive attention grabbing phobia, in short, Cagp. If the media fail to notice or ignore him/her for any reason, they have to seize an opportunity and publicize themselves � to remind ordinary mortals that they are very much there. Public attention deficiency makes them miserable and they can go to any length to reclaim it if they feel that they are out of focus.

That is done in many ways, thanks to the growing prosperity of certain groups of people, well-connected and well-heeled. The most noticeable among the nouveau-riche is the motor vehicle, one of the visible symbols of post-economic liberalisation in India. Not very long ago, the official transporting vehicle for our leaders and officials on muddy roads was Ambassador, likened to the iron horse, and a slightly better Premier. To get hold of a car in socialist India, one had to wait for ages, first registration, then possible recommendation and a long wait for the vehicle to be delivered.

In the last one decade, things have changed; they are literally on a roll. The country has travelled a long way from the days of the late Sanjay Gandhi's pet small car project to Ratan Tata's cheapest car Nano to make the masses mobile on four wheels. They have succeeded to a large extent in one way or the other: From ordinary to super rich people, anyone can now buy any kind of car � locally made, foreign made, imported and completely custom-made.

It's a revelation to major global auto makers that so many Indians could easily splurge millions on luxury cars which generally adorn the glossy magazines in the West but not zoom on the pot-holed streets of India. In a way, luxury cars, made in India or imported, have bred a class culture among their owners and drivers who are more conscious of the vehicles they drive than their owners.

Once behind the wheel, the power of the vehicle, its luxury and gadgets give the occupants an air of superiority. They feel all-powerful on the road and those sitting in the driver's seat exude kingly feelings, though the behavior of many is anything but regal.

A common trait among them is superiority complex inherited by virtue of being the owner of a high-end car. Other low or medium priced vehicles are driven by ordinary people (aam aadmi, now mango people!) and they are expected to give way to swanky cars as soon as they are spotted on the road. Doesn't matter, whether there is heavy traffic on the road or the traffic signal is red.

Like a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution, the right of way is posh car's and if the fellow in front car obstructs the rear vehicle by any chance, the least he can expect is continuous honking or flashing of headlights until he is allowed to overtake; scornful looks; obscene gestures and in the worst cases, thrashing and beating.

Small car users may have already been familiar with this kind of scenario -- a menace, of course -- on city roads which are increasingly getting crowded. In certain localities big car owners behave as if they own the public roads. The worst sufferers, obviously, are small car owners who mostly drive their own vehicles. They have to face the ignominy of being edged out if they happen to be driving past an expensive vehicle. Probably, it explains why the much-touted people's car Nano is not moving in the market. Its sales numbers are dwindling from four to three digits. Its tag 'cheapest car in the world' may have decelerated its sales and its presence on the road is associated with 'cheap' rather than its utility value.

No doubt, it is a strange psychology, but like in George Orwell's Animal Farm, some always remain more equal than others. Even if traditional classification of people is removed from the psyche of Indians, a new class will always emerge just to challenge the utopian principle of equality and the statutory principle of equality before law.

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