Author and journalist Gayatri Jayaraman kicked off the SheThePeople.TV Bookclub at Barking Deer on Wednesday (July 5), with a candid discussion on her new book ‘Who Me Poor?’. Jayaraman’s essay on India’s urban poor — i.e the millennials who will buy iPhones, but will go hungry, went viral on Buzzfeed last year with over a million views.

Jayaraman read out a passage of the book to illustrate what she meant when she talks about ‘the urban poor’. A story of a young girl trying to make it in the fashion industry, was particularly touching. The girl could barely afford her rent for a 1BHK in Bandra, which she shared with three other girls, and as a result, she often went days without food. The pressure to look a certain way, live in a certain location, and party at the right places, ate away at her bank account, and she ultimately developed an eating disorder.

“Consumer society sells you an idea of success, from every possible channel.”

Jayaraman says that when she started tweeting about the urban poor — these millennials who spend out of their means in the hopes of attaining the jobs they want to have, “it tore the fabric of what was holding that curtain of silence together”.

After hearing about a colleague who slept in his car, Jayaraman wanted to find out more about people who are going through similar experiences. The number of stories she received was overwhelming, she says. And they all had the same themes. In fact, she has left out most of the stories she collected because there were just so many.

Jayaraman has also tried to lay out the social and economic context in which this kind of spending occurs. She says that the way migration is happening has changed, and that we have overburdened our cities, whose infrastructure is crumbling. She also talks about the pressure from new-age industries and consumerism.

“The emotional and financial debt keeps piling up. Lot of young people beat themselves up thinking this is me, this is my fault. You don’t realise that you are in an ecosystem pushing you from various angles.”

“Consumer society sells you an idea of success, from every possible channel,” she says. The new-age industries also put pressure on these young kids, she says.

She talks about young people who buy themselves into a certain tribe by purchasing fancy degrees. But they find that they cannot pay back the loans that they took to pursue their studies, because by the time they start their first job, expenses rack up.

“The emotional and financial debt keeps piling up. Lot of young people beat themselves up thinking this is me, this is my fault. You don’t realise that you are in an ecosystem pushing you from various angles.”

“It is important to share stories,” she says, “because it makes you aware that there are others like you. You are not alone.”

Jayaraman talks about how when she was starting out, her boss told her to buy a Ritu Kumar outfit, which she certainly couldn’t afford. “I bought it anyway. In fact, I picked up two,” she says. “But I should have said that I couldn’t afford it.”

“Success in the social media world is like modular furniture — easily put together, and easily dismantled.”

“The more we keep quiet, the more judgement we will get from people who don’t go through this, and the people who do go through this will become more quiet about it.”

She also talks about how media and Bollywood sell the notion of success. “These [success] stories have been magnified and been sold as capsules — here is the formula for success, say all the stories we hear.”

But what about the value of a plodding success, the value in trying and failing, and trying again? she asks. We are not sold these kinds of stories.

“Success in the social media world is like modular furniture — easily put together, and easily dismantled.”

Jayaraman wants the reader to take away a sense of empathy and awareness from the book. She wants more people to ask questions, and be open about their situations.

Also Read: Gayatri Jayaraman’s Shambhu Immortal: Story of a boy who survives moral & political sieges

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