Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Attraction called India

So, IKEA is entering India? And so are the supermarket giants, Tesco, Carrefour and Wal-Mart? And even Starbucks wants India’s mega bucks?

Suddenly, realizing that the nouveau riche middleclass of India now has a bigger disposable income, and a greater purchasing power, the multinational giants are all making a bee-line to India - salivating from the corners of their mouths, and looking at India with dollar-signs in the blacks of their eyes.

If it is not for a piece of the pie called market share, what else are these corporate bigwigs interested in India for? If it is not for earning revenue from that seemingly bulging wallet of the hardworking Indian, who slogged since Independence to fill his wallet, what else are they after? Isn't the market of the teeming millions beckoning?

But then, anyway, it is not altogether new. You can ask Christopher Columbus or Vasco da Gama. They will say they wanted a sea-route to India for somewhat the same reason. India had always been rich and famous, beautiful and attractive.

But, over the centuries, it had been attacked, marred and robbed of its wealth, time after time, by invader after invader. Plundered. If it was not by war, it was by trade. Even now, it is hard to see the blurry line between the then British government and the then British East India Company.

Yes. Famed travelers like Megasthenes, Marco Polo, and Ibn Battuta have advertised India so well in their writings that young men walking the streets of Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries dreamed of getting into India.

If that was the occidental fascination for India, the writings of Fa Hien and Hiuen-Tsang (Xuan Zang) created an oriental fascination for this land - The land of snake charmers and rope-climbers, of tigers and elephants, of palaces and forts, of rajas and maharajas, but most importantly, of spices and herbs, and of gems and jewels.

So, when Turks occupied Constantinople (now Istanbul), the only piece of land between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, through which European traders used to visit India, did it stop the Europeans? No. it did not deter the dreamers in Italy, Portugal or Spain to attempt to find a sea route to India - for Trade. They decided, if we can’t go to India by land, we’ll go there by sea.

And so, with Vasco da Gama and the rest, the European connection got reestablished. And soon, in came the European knives and forks, and Indian gems and jewels went abroad. And in came European clothes and finery, and the Indian handloom textile industry virtually got killed; which is why Gandhi started the movement of ‘Be Indian. Buy Indian’ and had spun his own cloth. Here's LIFE magazine's iconic picture of Gandhi with his spinning wheel, or chakra.

Oh, shouldn’t I mention here that India’s famous ‘Kohinoor diamond is now a part of British Crown Jewels? And that it was sourced from a diamond mine in my native state, Andhra Padesh?

Anyway, agreed, that - soon after independence - for a while, India had to tighten its belt, and tell the world to keep out. So that India can set its house in order. And, after creating for itself an intensely regulated environment, which protected its domestic industry, and therefore the local economy for about forty years, India rose up again. Deregulation and Liberalization followed. And, post-1990, Trade barriers were lifted. Indian borders were thrown open. And, once again, foreign goods, without the customary customs flowed into India. It was no longer the days of only Ambassadors, Premier Padminis and Maruthis, on Indian roads.

Sony and Toshiba are now already proudly displaying their billboards in India. Coke and Pepsi are continuing with their cola wars since the opening of the economy. Audis and BMWs are running on Indian roads more frequently now. KFCs and McDonald's are filled up with eager Indians wanting to look trendy.

But in the era of globalization, why are you talking so backward-ish, you will argue. In this era of liberalization of economy, why are resisting foreign product, you will say. But what can I say. I have to accept your point. And accept these guys, who will hopefully not only take from india but give India newer jobs, careers, infrastructures, and a better lifestyles. I just had to let off some pent-up feelings.

So, even if IKEA, Tesco, Carrefour, Wal-Mart, and Starbucks are coming in, they are coming late. But if come they must, I hope it is not for the greed of those outside India, but also for the good of those inside India.