Craig Jeffrey


On his book Timepass: Youth, Class, and the Politics of Waiting in India

Cover Interview of March 23, 2011


The book’s significance is threefold.

First, it points to the rise and resilience of a middle class in India—not the upper middle class that we read about in the media, but the “real middle class” of people in provincial India who are not poor but who are also excluded from many of the benefits of metropolitan modernity.  That is, people with motorcycles but not cars, people who have a certain amount of education but not prestigious qualifications, people who are muddling through but lack secure, lucrative work.  These are the people we encounter when we visit India—small hotel owners, taxi drivers, shopkeepers—but they are very rarely the subject of books.

Second the book is a sustained enquiry into young people’s ambitions and actions in modern India.  I examine what young men, especially, are thinking, how they are spending their time, and what they do when they find that their first choice of work is impossible to obtain.  I try to bring out the humor of these young men: joking, horseplay and banter is a major theme of the book.  But I also point to their civility, and the conservative nature of many of their goals: like young men in many other parts of the world, they want to be good citizens and respectable members of local society.

Third, the book is about waiting. I want to suggest that when people are compelled to wait for long periods of time, they inevitably become frustrated.  Boredom and aimlessness become central concerns.  But also something else starts to happen.  People begin to plot new courses of action.  In certain circumstances, these waiting populations begin to assemble and collaborate across historical social divides.  Far from being a passive activity, waiting can be a seed-bed for new cultural and political projects.

© 2011 Craig Jeffrey