Revolution Is a Dirty Business but the Middle Classes Have to Do It: City Life: DELHI

Article excerpt

THE INDIAN middle class can't get by without servants, but for the first time in history they are minded to give it a try.

If you catch Bollywood's big new weepie, Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai (My Heart is For You), you will notice an odd thing. Although the protagonists inhabit a palatial villa in south Delhi that would require a staff of 10 just to keep it ticking over, their chic little nuclear family appears to live there all alone.

The heroine, played by Aishwarya Rai, draped in high-fashion saris, answers the front door, whips up cordon bleu meals and carries them to the table, all with no visible means of support. One has to suppose that she also does the washing-up afterwards, though Satish Kaushik, the director, has not taken fantasy quite that far.

Until recently, moderately well-off Indians suffered no embarrassment from having their lives buttressed by servants. The typical view - though rarely spelt out - was that the British middle class was short-sighted in letting its domestics slip through its fingers. A sufficiency of hard-working domestics - often working seven-day weeks - is one of the few things an Indian housewife can put in the scales against all the advantages her Western counterpart enjoys: spending money, exotic holidays and freedom from the nagging fear that at any moment half a dozen distant relatives may roll up without warning, expecting to stay for a week or three.

When the Indian lady collapses in her armchair and cries for "Chai!", she enjoys the momentary sensation that the West does not have a total monopoly on the good things in life. But all this is beginning to change in a most uncomfortable and disturbing way.

Commercial Indian films are becoming schizophrenic. The bedrock audience is in the big Indian cities, but a rapidly growing slice of the market lives abroad. …