One of the biggest advantages that the middle class in India counted for itself was an ecosystem of people on hire to help them with almost everything – cooking, cleaning, gardening, driving and even child upbringing. In fact, ‘outsourced parenting’ was one of the top ranking insights out of deep ethnographic studies during the last couple of years. However, now mandated to be locked inside, with little or no support, the past few months have been a great training ground for India’s middle class to turn into an independent class. With help from YouTube tutorials and some technology, we have learnt, with varying degrees of proficiency, how to cut our own hair, tend to our gardens ourselves, roll our chapatis and mop our floors.
The imperatives of social distancing have plunged us into a giant experiment in work from home, study from home and so on and so forth. With the option of ordering in and maids off the shelf, people are discovering new talents in their own backyards – their kitchens, their homes and in grooming. With the mindset moving from – ‘who can help me do this’ to ‘how can I do this’, this newfound independence is leading to many business propositions.
People who have a newly acquired love for gardening are seeking more lessons on how to grow their kitchen gardens, those who want to learn more about baking, are buying new apparatus and ingredients to help them in their experiments. There’s evidence that people have already started exploring products that help them ease into independence further. LG Electronics reported a 400-500% spike in the demand for dishwashers during the lockdown period. Similarly, other products that help with household chores like vacuum cleaners have also seen a surge in demand.
This need for self-reliance is finding comfort in virtual groups. The physical distance has pushed people to seek help online. New online communities and support groups have come up, that are creating tutorials and content to help people be self-reliant. These are forming alongside the existing communities. For example, niche food vloggers are creating content in local languages with how-to videos to help lockdown cooks make basic items like roti, rice and dal or how to use leftovers creatively. It’s clear that in this pursuit of independence, the Indian middle class is not alone, it has the support of its virtual communities.
Even as we embrace ‘Unlock 1.0’, the fear of infection is likely to linger, pushing people to adapt more independent ways of functioning. For instance, more people are likely to opt for personal transport. We expect a rise in demand for entry-level new or second hand cars and bikes. We also expect that many of the behaviours learnt during these days of lockdown, would hopefully continue – such as a continued interest in the kitchen experiments. Both kitchen and household products, designed to make us independent, should stay in demand.
While the coronavirus has created deep anxiety and concern for us all, it has also created new forms of behaviour which may hopefully have more long-term impact. One of them certainly looks like the rise of a more independent middle class in India.