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Who me, Poor? By Gayatri Jayaraman – Real Stories for and about the Urban Poor of India

24th July, 2017

Book Review : Who me, Poor? by Gayatri Jayaraman

An account of being broke and hungry even when you can afford not to be. Gayatri Jayaraman lists out how India’s urban population is struggling to survive.


Last year, Gayatri Jayaraman’s article in Buzzfeed, The Urban Poor You Haven’t Noticed: Millennials Who’re Broke, Hungry, But On Trend, made waves in social media. The article garners our attention to the new generation of youth who need to dress up for the occasion and need eat at an Instagram worthy place rather than have a filling and nutritious meal from a cheaper joint. In other words, what we all do – wear a mask and exist because there is no other way to survive in the harsh world. I loved the article and was eager to read an expanded version of the same in the author’s book Who me, poor?

The book is divided into four sections with sub headings that give a clear picture of what to expect in that chapter. This is extremely helpful since the sections can be read in any order. I read them in the order they were listed and found the statistics mentioned in the first section really pull me into the book. Who me, Poor? is filled with many anecdotes and stories. We read about the girl who has sex so that she can afford to buy a phone; the man who gambles away his savings but does not regret it, rather he would do it again if a suitable opportunity comes by; small towners who are in a cultural shock when they migrate to big cities for work and hence struggle to make friends and many others.

Gayatri stays as an unbiased author throughout the book. She neither praises those she has interviewed nor condemns them. I was very pleased that the book allows the reader to read and experience the characters with no authorial remarks. There is a personal touch to the book when Gayatri tells her story of surviving in the city of Mumbai and the corporate sector as a single mom. The pressure of caring for your child, having the needed wardrobe for work meetings and scraping through the rent and high expenses of the city life was so honestly portrayed. There is a passage where the author recalls searching for centres to donate her eggs because of financial issues that was particularly heart touching.

This is a book that everyone can relate to. Have you ordered only starters during a work lunch because you cannot afford to pay for the other courses and later felt a pang of dismay when one person suggests to divide the bill equally? Have you frequented meet ups and just had a glass of water because you cannot fit anything else into your monthly budget? I have done both and I could understand how this might seem trivial but it is something you cannot escape from. Work lunches are fancy, restaurants are fancy, meeting old friends has to be fancy – there is no end to this dilemma because you cannot avoid some expenses because of your work life, social life, friend circles and so on. Everything needs to be fancy, even a cup of coffee, which might explain why Starbucks still thrives on its overpriced coffee. Life in a city is more about keeping appearances and building the brand that is ‘you’ but the money for the same sometimes dulls our senses from differentiating between the important things in life and what we do just for the show.

It isn’t easy to list out what exactly one dislikes in a non fiction book. Since the topic is broadly the same over the various sections, sometimes the boundaries seem to blur and seem slightly repetitive. However, the book makes you think deeply about your lifestyle and that of your friends’. It makes you question yourself where to draw the line and when to say ‘Enough’. This is a wonderful book for all age groups to read – the millennials who are struggling to survive and the older generation who thinks the youth need to get a grip on their life.

Final Verdict

When Tim Gurner suggested that the youth solve their housing problems by not craving for avocado, the internet exploded with memes. But the statement has both a hilarious side as well as the bitter truth that we, as a generation, spend more than we save compared to our previous generations. Sometimes these expenses cannot be avoided and sometimes they are crucial in taking a step towards that bigger dream. But do we know when to stop?

Overall, Who me, Poor? is a good book that leaves the reader brimming with questions. It gives an honest picture of the financial situation of Indians in metro cities and the choices they have to make in order to exist in temporal peace.


Disclaimer : Much thanks to Bloomsbury India for an advanced reading copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

Title : Who me, Poor?
Author : Gayatri Jayaraman
Publisher : Bloomsbury
Publication: 2017
Language : English
Rating : 3/5

Let's discuss

Have you read the book? What are your thoughts on the youth living in a state of urban poverty in order to achieve that big dream in their minds?


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Who me, Poor?: How India's youth are living in urban poverty to make it big
This Post Has 16 Comments
  1. This underlying question of authenticity versus pretention makes for very interesting reading, whether in fiction or non-fiction, doesn’t it?!

    1. Yes indeed. There are so many angles to the question. On one hand some actions might seem pretentious; on the other hand maybe some of them are needed to be accepted in a particular social/job circle and so on. The fine line between the two is too fine

  2. Seems to be like a book every Indian ought to read, or atleast the article that you mentioned at the beginning.

    The book seems to be a promising one. How is the writing style?

  3. This sounds fascinating. I love works of sociology and anthropology, learning how people live in other places. Luckily when I was younger there wasn’t such an instant and curated culture so I could be poor and shabby without fear. You say the author makes no judgements, but does she sum up and/or offer any solutions?

    1. She does not actually offer solutions but the reader would get a nudge that financial problems can really cause havoc. The last section of the book talks about savings and investments; so yes, indirectly Gayatri hints that we need to be in control of our expenditure and know what is important (like an expensive outfit for an interview to give across the right impression that you are fit for their brand) and what is not (maybe a limit on the number of parties and social gatherings etc). Gayatri also mentions cases where debts add up and in the end become unmanageable. So it kind of makes the reader think about urban poverty.
      PS: What is written in the brackets is my opinion that I formed from the book, not the author’s.

  4. Another challenging book. Back in the sixties, living in newly independent countries I thought this would end soon. But no. And as a matter of comparison, in France median monthly income is about 1600$US. That is 50% of the workforce earn 1600$ or less. Now, a one bedroom apartment in Paris can cost anywhere between 500 and 750 $… 🙁
    (Bought the ministry of utmost happiness in Paris last week. 🙂 Look forward to reading it)
    Take good care of yourself Resh.

    1. Thank you for the statistics. That just shows how life is a big struggle for so many out there. I hope you will enjoy The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. It is a dese read and meanders at places, but it has the political scenario in a capsule.

  5. Interesting! Social media has it’s good points but more often I think it just over-complicates things. Things seemed simpler back before smart phones! (I sound like an old fogey – maybe I am becoming one, LOL.) Even without that aspect, the cost of living (well) vs. stagnant wages is a big problem.

  6. This is a very interesting topic to write about. At first sight this seems like its weird, but when you think about it, it’s so 21st century… it’s all about how things look anyway. This would be a very interesting read.

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