Introduction The economically poor classes have so many behavioral patterns that stand out. Lessons on coping with their coping strategies or outlook towards life can be easily understood when one interacts with them. It thus turns out that such classes have certain behavioral patterns related to a) Factual acceptance of their difficulties b) Their ability to tolerate ambiguous situations c) Their acceptance of "people like us" d) Inclusive economic activities and e) Their belief in educating their children.
Factual acceptance of their difficulties The economically poor classes are down-to-earth practical people. They readily accept their difficulties as a matter of fact. However, it is commonly observed that as a set pattern, they co-operate among themselves and face any situation at any point in time. Some forty days ago, the daughter of the servant maid was admitted for viral fever in a local government hospital. When I called up the family to check what was going on, I was surprised that a neighbor had cooked food with some good side dishes for all the other family members. Only one of them was allowed to stay on with the patient. I was later given to understand that for the entire four days, the neighbor helped out with food for the entire family. The families seemed to have a genuine concern for each other at some point in time. Every difficulty is met with support from the Government. For instance, the 20 kilograms of rice or wheat, given free to every household is a big plus and it does help them to keep away hunger. I know hundreds of families in specific localities, who mix this with some better quality rice from the open market and make idlis and dosas. In fact, many operate small catering establishments from their home and offer such items at extremely cheap prices. In a particular slum in Chennai, I did find a shop offering three idlis for just Rs.10/-. Life goes on and on. The economically poor classes know what it takes to survive against huge odds. The middle-classes and the rich have to learn a lot in terms of tolerance from these poor people.
The middle classes and the rich often grumble about tough situations. In the urban areas, the co-operation among peers and even neighbors is not as good as what we normally see in the economically poor classes. In particular, the middle-classes do not accept their difficulties as a matter of fact. They tend to ape the rich and often indulge in corruption. The rich play their own games to even become richer.
Their ability to tolerate ambiguous situations The 2008 economic crisis jolted hundreds of thousands of poor people. It was at this time that I noticed that thousands migrated to places like Tiruppur, a textile town, some fifty kilometers from the city of Coimbatore. I was allowed to interact with the migrants through a good translator, as part of a project assigned to me by a research organization. The details are not provided here, as everything is confidential.
However, the situation brought to light the numerous ways in which they managed their lives. I was shown a single room, around 100 square food in size and was shocked to find six people living there. I had just one common toilet a little away but within the same compound. The language was new. They had some friends from the same village in Madhya Pradesh. Yet, they were clear that they will stay on. It was revealed that they were given free rations and free accommodation, but low wages when compared to the locals. It then transpired that there were thousands already working in a similar fashion in the engineering industries in Coimbatore city. The locals did not have any problem with the migrants. Many Hindi-speaking migrants picked up phrases and words in Tamil and were really appreciative of cheap food options available in the textile town. It was then that I learned something from them. The ability of the economically poorer classes to tolerate any ambiguous situation is always far better than the city bread middle-classes and the rich. For instance, the poor have better resistance power to various diseases as their immunity system is built by consuming food available at cheap prices, but of inferior quality.
The middle-classes have a number of lessons to be learned from such classes. Only by observing them and understanding their ways will this ability to tolerate ambiguous situations become obvious.
Their acceptance of "people like us" This was not only seen among the migrants quoted above. Other poor people from places as far as Tuticorin, readily accepted people in the same economic bracket and went all out of the way to help them. For instance, in a particular village, around eight kilometers from Tiruppur, there were three families who lived together. When quizzed about the education of children, they merely said that they put all their children in the nearby Government school. This research project was a socio-economic project and the sociological dimensions of the same were as interesting as the empirical data collected. The results were shared with some NGOs who are doing something to improve the lot of the poor classes in and around Tiruppur. I do not know the present status. Caring and sharing is the lesson that the richer classes should learn from such people.
Inclusive economic activities Several orphanages that I know of near Coimbatore get free food for at least six old people from the "mobile" catering establishments nearby. Similarly, the entire food for over thirty inmates comes from the six or seven such establishments. For the record, the "mobile" catering establishments are run by individual entrepreneurs and serve mostly vegetarian and sometimes egg in some form. The idlis and dosas and packed and sent to the orphanages. This is extremely good in terms of intent and scope. The logic is simple. Let me share a bit of my profit with someone who deserves to be helped. It should be noted that each of these mobile catering establishments throughout any town or even big villages in Tamil Nadu, would easily make a profit of between Rs.400 to Rs. 1000 per day. They get to eat their own food. Some Upidi restaurants do such service too. However, mobile entrepreneurs are always ready to help. The vegetable vendors in wholesale markets give the leftover vegetables at around 9 PM, free of cost to the nearby orphanages in many towns. Lunch is generally cooked. Dinner is cooked too. The outside food that is solicited is reportedly meant to reduce the cost of operations.
The best lesson is one of empathy. It is this empathy that the richer classes should have more in their blood. In fact, during the 2015 Chennai floods, it was the poor people who saved so many lives. Similarly, during the Mumbai bomb blasts, many lives were saved by the poor people who mobilized all their resources to transport the wounded to the nearest hospitals.
Their belief in educating their children Reportedly, some change is noticed even among the migrants. They have no hesitation in educating their children, even in Tamil Medium schools. The children learn to read and write Tamil. Similarly, across Tamil Nadu and the other Southern States, the craze to educate their children is found and the secondary education enrolment is now at an all-time high.
Life goes on but the poor are now very much clear that the education of children is priority number one. Savings through chit funds is a big game in Tamil Nadu. The poor have chits that start with just Rs.100 per month. Somehow or the other, they find the resources to educate their children. The important lesson for the richer classes is the positive attitude of the economically poorer classes.
Conclusion Certain dimensions of the lives of the economically poor people and how they take on different challenges in their lives, with the lessons that we should learn from them, have been described in some detail in the aforesaid paragraphs. The middle classes and the rich have so much to learn from them.