Pete Seeger the new middle class icon?

Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- the Indian middle class has come of age. Quite literally so. The motor car, that epitome of middle class aspirations, is no longer a dream. Of course, that automobile is also not the lumbering Ambassador of yore.

Dainty Marutis had long replaced it. Emerging from a collaboration with the industrious Japanese firm, Suzuki, it heralded the onset of a new age. A ticky-tacky one, which would ultimately replace the cardboard dreams of the old days. The trusted Maruti too went through several avatars among them the sleek Zen. The middle class really wanted change, and it wanted it fast.

Its impatience has become even more palpable today. The middle class's revolt against juvenile sameness has taken many creative forms. It has discovered and coopted new icons. Tea shirts emblazoned with images of the Argentine leftist revolutionary Che Guevara are commonplace. We shall overcome is no more the song of antediluvian socialists.The middle class sings this song of the American civil rights movement with much gusto.

But why are we deviating from cars? That's because the middle class's desire for a new shape to its ultimate aspiration has led it to seek other icons. This time the American songwriter and singer Pete Seeger. Seeger has been known for his political beliefs and his involvement with leftist political organisations, including the American Communist Party. He was a bitter critic of the war against Vietnam and political opponents have called him pejorative names such as "Stalin's songbird"--an unfair moniker, because Seeger has often made his anti-Stalinism quite clear.

All in all, quite an unlikely icon for the middle class. But let's not write off the middle class's propensity to acquire unlikely heroes. The Indian middle class has now acquired this hallmark characteristic. Quite tastefully so. Pete Seeger now sells Maruti's new car the Estillo, the Zen's latest avatar. As the middle class grows out of its cardboard aspirations--becoming lawyers, executives, engineers, whatever--the Estillo rolls in with Malvina Reynolds's Little boxes playing in the background. This is a song that Seeger had made famous in the 1960s as an anti-establishment statement. Who can now accuse the middle class of being uncreative?

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