Body Image

How new urban jobs are changing the way Indian men look

Dutch anthropologist Michiel Baas is studying how new urban professions, like gym trainers and coffee baristas, are transforming middle-class notions of the ideal male body.



In 1996, Café Coffee Day opened its first outlet in Bangalore and transformed urban Indian life forever. For the middle- and upper-middle classes, coffee shop lounging soon became the new way to socialise, and the new spaces came to be celebrated in films and pop songs.

But there was another cultural shift underway, captured in this popular tune by pop band Aryans in 2001. In the music video, a humble, albeit dapper-looking coffee shop waiter wins the love of a female customer over the mugs of coffee that he serves her. Cafés, evidently, were not just a cool place to hang out in, but also a cool place to work in.

For young men and women from lower socio-economic backgrounds, a job at a coffee shop became one of the many new opportunities for social mobility in post-liberalisation India. In the 2000s, these opportunities exploded across Indian cities, with new malls, telecom companies and fast food joints constantly in need of attendants, salesmen and servers.

The men who work at these new jobs are the focus of a study by Dutch anthropologist Michiel Baas. “Most youth who take up jobs as coffee baristas or fitness trainers come from the lower-middle classes," he said. "These jobs provide alternate career options where you don’t necessarily need a degree but still make the kind of money that was once reserved for those with degrees.”

Baas's research focuses on how these new professional categories are changing patterns of upward mobility and the experiences of young professionals working for global brands such as Starbucks and Gold’s Gym. To  Baas, the most intriguing of these new urban Indian professions is undoubtedly that of the fitness trainers – the lean, muscular men ubiquitous in the many gyms and fitness centres mushrooming across our cities.  He's studying how the fitness training industry is shaping notions of masculinity.

A good gym trainer, he says, makes between Rs 8,000 to Rs 12,000 a month if employed by an established fitness brand. If he also works as a personal trainer on the side, he could earn up to Rs 1 lakh a month. But the move to the upper rungs of middle-class life is not just economic, says Baas.

Recruitment to these jobs – particularly ones with international brands – is largely based on merit, so it is empowering and liberating for most applicants when they are not judged for their caste, region or religious status.

“Moreover, a job at a gym is seen as glamorous – you get to hang out and connect with clients who are all from the upper middle classes, people who make more money than you," Baas said. "I’ve met trainers who have picked up different dressing styles from their clients, who are exposed to a larger world and who talk of travelling abroad.”

Woven intricately into such aspirational living is the glamorisation of the ideal body. Most gyms, Baas explains, recruit trainers on a commission basis. The more personal clients each trainer is able to bring in, the more commission he gets. So what makes a trainer more successful than others? “In most cases, the one with the better body, the larger, more toned muscles, will end up getting more clients,” he said.

Baas believes that in the recent past, Bollywood has provided a ready reckoner for the ideal, glamorous male body, by going “out of its way to create scenes where the muscular actor can go bare chested”.

“For years, women have been struggling because a certain kind of female body type has been glorified," Baas said. "Now, this is affecting men too, and because of the influence of Bollywood, the body that is considered desirable is a physique almost impossible to achieve.”

In a fitness industry driven by Bollywood, trainers seem to take this as a challenge – they want their clients to ask them how they managed to get their perfect biceps or six-pack abs.

“The lean, muscular body, then, comes to stand for a particular kind of masculine ideal – not just attractive, but also a symbol of accomplishment, because everyone knows it takes immense amount of dedication to build that kind of a body,” said Baas. “Ultimately, the goal of most gym trainers is to work as trainers within Bollywood.”

 

 

 

 
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.

The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:

Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.

BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.