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The essential guide to Urban Poverty Syndrome

Our expert explains the symptoms. They aren't pretty.

May 7, 2016. One of urban India’s worst kept secrets is out – a silent nameless epidemic is ravaging our youth. A generation of underfed and well-dressed youngsters is on the loose, fuelled by hunger. Literally and otherwise. The silent nameless epidemic has a name now. Based on an extensive study by the Anecdotal Survey of India, this malaise has been identified as the Urban Poor Syndrome.

Using an extensive sample size of four anecdotes, this survey describes UPS succinctly and scientifically as an affliction wherein “objectively and relative to a vast majority of Indians, they aren’t ‘poor’ at all. But they’re certainly hungry and broke a lot. These are the metro-dwelling twentysomethings who’ve internalised the pressures surrounding them, and spend a majority of their salaries on keeping up the lifestyles and appearances that they believe are essential to earning those salaries.”

The signs of UPS have been staring at us in the face for quite some time – but as the saying goes, if it ain’t a Twitter trend, it ain’t worth noticing. I feel that it is crucial that I simplify the data presented to us by the survey in a form that the urban poor would be most comfortable with. The listicle. Ideally, I should throw in a few GIFs too – GIFs traditionally validate the infinite wisdom found in assorted listicles. But I digress. Here we go.

Six signs that you or someone you know is in the throes of UPS or better still: The girl at LPQ orders a sandwich. What happens next will make your heart wrench.

If you know a millennial, these are the signs you should watch out for:

  1. The millennial has started bringing a lunch box from home. It is nutritious and good food – but clearly the facade of prosperity is crumbling. It is a distress call.
  2. The millennial starts drinking chai from the tapri on the street. This is a dead giveaway. Who does that? Actually everyone in my workplace but shush. 
  3. The millennial stays back in office to use free WiFi to watch GOT. A prudent thing to do normally, but UPS has now got him firmly in its clutches.
  4. The millennial gets into a local train – like millions of regular commuters in this city. But this is where he or she has clearly reached the end of his tether.
  5. The millennial drinks tap water – even though the office has free mineral water. But now poverty is a mindset.
  6. The millennial does not go to watch Captain America – Civil War but instead becomes the only one at a massively discounted show of YoYo Honey Singh’s Zorawar. That way he plays out a fantasy where the air- conditioned hall with no occupants is his living room. This is where UPS is now totally deep set – and the lines between reality and fantasy blur. This is the point from which there is no going back. 

If you know someone with any three of these signs, you have a full blown case of UPS on your hands. I have discovered rather disturbingly that the young workforce I routinely bully is clearly all afflicted. I have now taken to displaying my humane side at work – I accost and stalk them, wait at office corners and insist on pouring coffee down their consolidated gullets. I stopped a young junior from eating a protein bar for lunch in spite of him insisting that he wasn’t poor, just unhealthy. I know better now.

But still there are signs which confuse me – for instance, another colleague regularly car pools or shares an Ola with others. I suspect now she has borderline UPS and I will counsel her on that.

To conclude, UPS is a firm reality of our times. As concerned citizens, besides the free advice that we can dole out to the less privileged, we must all invest in a stack of Starbucks discount coupons and dole that out as well. Poverty is not the urchin at the streetlight rubbing his nose at the car window – it is the younger well-heeled colleague squashing his metaphorical nose against your cubicle wall.

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