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.


Paghna said...

i almost picked up my phone to dial you joel.. until i reached the last 2 paras.. i've been rolling my eyes at the bharat bandh and ridiculous protests today.
if this is such a drain, may be they should consider protesting against the levi's, marks n spencers, tissots and m & m's of the world in india.. a) these foreigners should not be present here and we shuold not be flashing these labels b) they should not be using our labour for producing their goods, who are payed a paltry fee and then sell it to the world at branded rates. there have been loads of times when I have walked into a marks or BHS in bahrain and seen a flimsy t-shirt priced at some 9/10 Bd and its made in India or Srilanka.. how much does our labour honestly make out of it?
more so, they should be taking off their blinkers and asking them selves.. as the middle men or agents in the system, how much of profits honestly go to the small man toiling more n more and earning lesser and lesser.. in the village or home industries.
this entire protest is baseless.

Joel Indrupati said...

You are absolutely right, Paghna. When I once toured a factory that made shoe-uppers, in Pondicherry - Its called Pudducherry now, I think - I saw hundreds of workers, many of then women, working on leather cutting and leather-stitching machines. They were dyeing material with colours, cutting the material to different shapes and sizes, sewing it together, fixing rivets, and polishing...and making a host of other things, before they are boxed and shipped to Italy and France. Soles and Heels are fixed there. The women workers I was told got a paltry Rs 850 per month, for their labour (It was in 2010, but still the wages were shocking low). And did you know what the IIM educated Managers of that factory told me the shoes will become? Guccis and Pradas!

Shabab said...

Apt timing of article as India is discussing FDI in retail. Both me and dheena really miss the self checkout tills available in tesco. Here everyone will have to group together at the counter and fight your way out to make a payment. Many times we came out without purchasing after reaching the counter :-) Hope they bring that standard also along with them. But then you do have option of better shopping experiences also, but may have to pay a bit more than the normal. That is the beauty of Bharat and India ;-) 1.2 billion people - there are people for tata nano and there are people for mercedes as well.

Joel Indrupati said...

Yes Shabab. Since you now know both sides of the story, you can relate well to the supermarket shopping experiences. Lets hope that if and when they come in, they will bring those standards. Self Check out tills may be too much to hope for, for India right now. But I am sure, India will slowly change too.