Who Me, Poor? Gayatri Jayaraman tackles the issue of urban youth & poverty

Gayatri Jayaraman

Who Me, Poor?: How India’s Youth are Living in Urban Poverty to Make it Big is a book that will use the case studies of young Indians, typically in their first or second jobs, migrants to major Indian metros, living in these conditions. The reasons for the poverty they experience are varied and influenced by the industries they work for, their family backgrounds, other financial obligations, social stratas and peer groups. Below is an excerpt from the book

I was so emaciated, I fit right in” Shweta Ratnakar, 27, Fashion Assistant, Mumbai, from coastal Karnataka When I first came here as a student out of NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology, Ahmedabad), I stayed in Khargar. But when I started working full-time with a fashion house in town, more than Khargar not being cool enough, it was socially isolating from the industry that I hoped to build a career in. The commute to town was also too long for me. So, I moved to Bandra where many of my classmates were living.

We four girls rented a one one-bedroom apartment and paid rents of Rs 25,000 each. My salary was Rs 35,000 and the rest would go in electricity and mobile bills and commuting. Also, working in an industry like fashion you have to turn up wellgroomed.

You have to network with designers and clientèle that knows the best brands in the business from experience. If you have the fortune to have been to one of the top fashion institutes in the country, and are assistant to a top design house, it’s just not an option to show up at work in salwar-kurtas and chappals. Fashion requires you to dress a certain way, and that requires an expensive investment in clothes, accessories and grooming. You have to convince your employers and their clients equally that you know what good styling is. Fashion was my dream, and I do not come from a wealthy family. My mother single-handedly raised three of us on the earnings of a small-town bank job. I was given the opportunity to pursue my ambitions, even though the fees were a burden on her. As the eldest, now that I had made it this far, I could not back down and go try something else more lucrative and less socially pressuring. I had to not just work with what resources I had, I had to ensure that I rose in my career and made a success of it. So I bought the clothes I needed, and attended Who me, Poor?.

The parties and dinners that required me to network and be noticed in the industry. What I compromised on instead was food. I lived off vadapavs, which cost me Rs 5 a day, and soon enough, I got a stomach infection. Because of the infection I couldn’t eat anything for a while. I didn’t have money for doctors and soon it turned into a full-blown eating disorder. I would keep telling people who offered to go to lunch with me that I was on a very specific diet and I consequently began to lose a lot of weight. That’s common in the looks-based industry we are in, so nobody questioned it too much. I couldn’t afford to have all this known back home, where they were convinced I was on my way to my dream life. I gradually stopped visiting my relatives in Mumbai whom I used to initially visit once a week when I first moved here. They would have alerted my family. By the time my uncle came over one day to find out why I had stopped going over to visit them, he found me so emaciated that he had to carry me down the three flights of stairs in his arms. I was a skeleton.
Published by Bloomsbury, Rs 399