If there is one type of publication I heartily dislike, it's the lifestyle magazine. You know the type: the ones you get free in the Sunday newspaper that seem designed solely to make you feel like the entire world is richer, more glamorous and better dressed than you. They only feature people who have fabulous jobs (fashion designers, footballers, TV executives etc), and without fail they always have a smug architect (or, worse, pair of smug married architects) photographed in their insanely gorgeous, self-designed house with mezzanines and hardwood floors, filled with exquisite designer furniture with nary a carelessly discarded book or unwashed plate to be seen.
Nice pad. Now go away and leave me to my cramped, second-hand clutter.
I've long since learned to avoid this type of magazine back home in England, very much aware that they can make what usually seems like a perfectly acceptable - indeed blessed - life seem hopelessly mundane, and my lovely little flat in Peckham seem tiny, untidy and furnished second-hand (actually, it is all of those things anyway, but I still love it). But I was curious to read the Indian version when it dropped out of the Hindustan Times the other day.
I'm very aware that in the UK I have a better standard of living than most, though I'm a long way from being rich. I'm also very aware that my position in India is very different. Here, I am rich. I'm not just in the upper quartile of income earners, I'm in an income bracket that puts me alongside a tiny fraction of the country's population. It would be foolish to pretend that I am not highly, highly privileged in the Indian context. So maybe, I thought as I picked up the magazine, I would be able to relate a bit more to its contents than I could back home?
Ah, the foolishness. The magazine is called Brunch, which immediately set a few alarm bells ringing since I doubt very much that the vast majority of Indians are either (a) familiar with the term or (b) in any kind of position to ever use it. However, I ploughed on.
The first article was about private swimming pools, which according to Brunch are fast becoming "ubiquitous" in India's middle class homes. The item featured a number of interviews with young, successful Indians, including "23 year old MBA graduate Vivek, who owns a Prive Villa at Lonavla". Vivek has "just returned from two years at the University of Wales in London", about which he has this to say: "In London, I had a pool in a rented apartment that was exclusively meant for me, and I was so fascinated with that culture that when I returned, I made it a point to buy a villa with a private pool."
Well, quite. I think we've all been there, Vivek.
I didn't get much further. Lifestyle magazines are, it seems, pretty much the same the world over. But if the UK ones depict lifestyles that are accessible only to a tiny minority, how much more tiny is that minority in India? Are they the target market - holding up a mirror to their own polished lives - or does the whole thing depend on feeding the impossible dreams of those who will never have a chance to become "fascinated with the culture" of swimming pools, private or otherwise? I think we all know the answer.
Ubiquitous in middle-class India...apparently
Aspiration is no bad thing, but when magazines promote lifestyles that are way beyond the reach of even the highly privileged, and complacently depict them as normal and "ubiquitous", I can't help but find it worrying. I wonder what the psychological effect of this kind of thing (and the equally luxurious lifestyles promoted on TV) is on a people still dealing with massive poverty, where the life chances of most remain very limited, even if they do read the Hindustan Times.