The mal (l) adjusted middle classes

I wrote in the late eighties a letter to a then-well-known company making diaries with a telephone index at the end. I pointed out that since there were not many names starting with Q or with Y and Z, they should devote more pages to say R or S since, at least in south India, there are more names starting with those letters.

I am, of course, an “alphabetically challenged” person with a name that starts with the fifth letter from the end. I remember how all my friends in school, like Aravind or Ashok, used to get chocolates on Independence Days and only I and another poor Yagneswaran were left out since the teacher insisted on queues based on alphabets and chocolate supply was less than the demand. May be I should form an association with lots of Chinese since the common starting letter in their name is X or Z.

Be that as it may. I got a prompt letter from the chief of the diary company, which was located in India and making diaries mainly for Indians, saying we should learn to “adjust” to international standards or yardsticks.

I could never figure out what he was suggestingand continue to strike out O and Q from the pages of the index and use them for P, R and S and similarly overwrite X,Y and Z to fill it up with more with S T and some Us and Vs.

There was an interesting piece of news recently, sourced to BBC and covered in most of the papers. A survey of more than 1,000 men in India had concluded that condoms made according to international sizes were too large for a majority of Indian men.

The study found that more than half of the men measured had penises that were shorter than international standards for condoms. This has led to a call for condoms of mixed sizes to be made more widely available in India.

I quote from BBC, “The two-year study was carried out by the Indian Council of Medical Research. Over 1,200 volunteers from the length and breadth of the country had their penises measured precisely, down to the last millimetre.

The scientists even checked if their sample was representative of India as a whole in terms of class, religion and urban and rural dwellers. The conclusion of this scientific endeavour was that about 60% of Indian men have penises which are 3-5 centimetres shorter than international standards used in condom manufacture.

Doctor Chander Puri, a specialist in reproductive health at the Indian Council of Medical Research, told the BBC there was an obvious need in India for custom-made condoms, as most of those currently on sale were too large.

The issue is a serious one because about one in every five instances that a condom is used in India, it either falls off or tears — an extremely high failure rate. And the country already has the highest number of HIV infections among all nations. (“Condoms Too Big for Indian Men” by Damian Grammaticu-BBC December 10, 2006)It is shocking that the government or the manufacturers did not think about Indian standards or yardsticks and adopted an attitude of one size fits all in such a critical area for the last fifty years with such disastrous results of one-fifth failure. That Western yardsticks are appropriate for Indians is carried to the extreme in this case.

A third important item came in newspapers regarding the lack of apparel size charts for Indians. It said, “The National Institute of Fashion Technology has launched a research initiative to create standard apparel size charts for Indians as has been done for apparel markets in US and Europe…This would give rise to quality fit.”Tirupur exporter’s association president A Sakthivel informed that though we export garments across the globe, we follow
the size charts supplied by our importers. The US and Europe have standardised size charts, but we do not know the size for Indians (The Hindu December 9, 2006).

Now, I understood the ill-fitting shirts and trousers of Indian men — this is a part of “adjusting” ourselves to global yardsticks.

The picture regarding inner wear is more acute for both men and women since US standards are totally useless in our context. It’s the same in foot wear, too. We have the US sizes or European sizes, but not Indian. Between sizes 8 and 9, there are many feet which either drag along with an oversized shoe or struggle in a tight-fitting one. Part of adjusting to global yardsticks, again, hurt toes and all.

The other day, a cell phone provider gave me a form to fill up. It was worse than the American visa forms where if there are more than five letters in your name, you are out.

The print is small and the space for name and address is smaller. You need to have a two-letter name and a five-letter residential address. But, my address, with all the crosses and mains, cannot be accommodated even in six lines. Yet, I was told that these are internationally designed forms – may be by global consultants. May be I should change my name to fewer letters and shift my home.

The same thing is happening to bank forms and even the simple deposit slips are getting global with small-sized boxes and a clear threat (called instructions) to fill it up one letter per box and chop off the last part of the name, which cannot be accommodated. What’s more, the forms also ask for the father’s name, which is twice as long as mine. May be we should keep the cash with ourselves rather than in the bank, since mutilating the name of one’s father, which alters ancestry, is a cardinal sin as per our belief system.The Indian consumer may well be turning into ‘mal(l) adjusted middle class’, eternally trying to live up to absurd Western standards and yardsticks with not much success.

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