My very young but brilliant cousin, Anindita sen has posed an interesting question on my account of the leisure class. There was a time when the zamindars, the ideal case of a leisure class were promoters and patrons of high art and culture and even in some cases of popular culture as well. But why in today’s age and time, the leisure class is so ineffectual and effete? Where goes their patronage? And why?
To the best of my mind, today’s leisure class unlike the leisure class of colonial times are not, in terms of the income hierarchy at the top of the heap. At the top of the pile straddle the Ambanis, the Tatas, the Adanis, relegating the leisure class to various statuses below these. Besides, the leisure class is not a homogenous class in terms of its income for they can be found across a range of incomes. The leisure class today is defined by its source of income, which in unearned in the current period, or may be unearned in the sense of being never earned. Compensation for land acquisition, rentals on ancestral property, shares of proceeds from land, or mere dividends on stocks held in companies as legatees. The modern day leisure class therefore is made up of families, or even individuals within families of people who have “another source of income”. The present day leisure class is a class within a class, and has a relationship to the fortuitous but not to the production relations of the society.
The older leisure class was a producer class, which, had cleverly managed social relations in a manner that tribute by way of goods and services including cash would flow towards them. The unearned income was not random or unplanned; instead it was Well conspired and managed, orchestrated in consonance with the State power. This is so unlike what it is today since the leisure class is produced only by twists of fortunate sets of accidents.
But more and more people want yo belong to this leisure class since earning incomes has become such a drudgery for all. Bookless in my home, perched upon a heap of cheap Munirka made furniture, all that we could afford after blowing up so liberally on books, I sit at home fighting the noise, the dust and an entire pelt of workmen and an agitated Georgie. I only hope within the deep recess of my mind, with a heroic sense of inner certainty that all this cadaver will eventually end in a beautiful home. That beauty of a tiled floor with shower lights is a state of harmony presently only in my dreams. And I am not a dreamer. So I sit back, blanked out in my mind, vapid in my thought when it suddenly strikes me that I am indeed the leisure class. Everyone in the house seems to be at work, pulling, pushing, lifting, carrying, pounding, rubbing, sweeping and washing and which includes an anxious hyperactive supervision by Georgie, I sit motionless and still. I wonder, what is a leisure class, what are their existential coordinates and what do they do about their thinking?
The leisure class has long been defined as a class of people who need not earn their own incomes, incomes emerge automatically out of nowhere. Nowhere because they do nothing to invest towards an income in the current period. They may have inherited some money, or won a lottery or what is not probable have had some property which by sheer force of time and inflation appreciated to render them with purchasing powers which are enough and sometimes more than enough to give them a dignified lifestyle similar to those who have to pump adrenaline to go to work. The leisure class by the dint of not earning its income is a class that does not really interact with the society at all. It is a class that definitely tries to match its steps with the world as a consumer but because most of our consumption is geared towards earning an income, the leisure class finds it difficult to remain a consumer as well. This is my present state of affairs. I am out of office for the whole of this week, and like a leisure class totally out of work. Sitting at home, I simply do not know what I should consume.
The problem of a society based on the model of consumption, a leisure class is a problem, for even if this class has some money, it knows not what to buy because it has nothing to buy for. I once visited the home of a family which had graduated to the leisure class in a nearby village in the NCR. They we renovating their home with beautiful marble and tiles but inside the house there was only a single hall with balconies all around, resembling a merchant’s home in Mohenjodaro and Harappa. The women of the house asked Madhusree and me what furniture should suit them best. They of course had a leather sofa in the middle of nowhere and a centre table with a black glass. They were confused and pained in that confusion. They we hopeless where consumption was concerned. At the exit I noticed two large hookah. We were told that these were for the ladies to smoke, a powerful item of consumption while they were peasants but now as a leisure class, that had become illegitimate.
As a producer class, the leisure class knows not where to invest. Massage parlours, restaurants, boutiques, gymns, Kachori franchisee are the businesses which a fairly easy to enter but difficult to sustain. Shops close as soon as they open leading to a colossal waste of capital. When leisure class runs businesses, there is no accumulation, no learning, no technology advancement. This is the way in which economies collapse.
As a culture class the leisure class pursues impressionistic art, abstract cubism, the theatre of the absurd or polemical cinema where emotions are spoken of rather than be conveyed. As artists, the leisure class cannot bring about a change in the consciousness on a wide scale.
The birth of the leisure class in a society comes from a surplus, which rather than be circulated, accumulates like a tumour on the body social, wasting away the health towards myeloma. The existence of the leisure class is not only the failure of the market to work through the invisible hand, but is also a political failure.
Why not some extra cash which would help them avoid the trouble of looking for a job and staying on in there? So we have become a nation of adventure seekers, looking to match make between parties, go between deals, arrangers, Networkers, brokers and speculators. The leisure class today is dependent on every other class for the scums and scrap which they throw. The leisure class is horribly depoliticised, desocialised and above all decultured. No wonder they would rathe live off patronage rather than be patrons themselves.