Monday, April 16, 2007

My Republic Day Parade

We spent this Republic Day at the shopping mall down the road. The irony of it - celebrating the anniversary of a republic based on the principles of Svadeshi and frugal Gandhian living at a mall
showcasing the finest and the most decadent of western hedonism - was not lost on me. And this heady consumerism, far from being ruinous, has ushered in a wave of prosperity, look around you.

What a change from my childhood, I was thinking. Everything was scarce back then. Milk, water, sugar, rice, kerosene, cooking gas, name it. Except babies, of course, who abounded. I recall one economics professor saying that our problem was that "the woman of India is more
fertile than the soil of India".

I was bragging recently to my sons that I could have a proper bath in one bucket of water, including shampooing my hair. (They heard me out silently and with a sombre expression, fervently wishing, no doubt, that my goofy traits are not genetically passed on). This is a skill featuring in the C.V. of everyone who grew up in Bombay in the 70s. What an unnecessary deprivation, foisted on us by namby pamby politicians and bureaucrats who, instead of being lynched, as they richly deserve, have streets and public institutions named after them. I'm
rambling, of course.

Coming back to the mall. There were thousands of people tramping around in the place, and it wasn't rush hour yet. Virtually every shop had a "SALE" sign out. "Up to 50% off" was the popular one, with "Up to" in 3.2 millimeter letters and "50% off" about 4 feet high. The only ones with 50 % off would be three white shirts that the staff had mistakenly used as dusters. The rest would be 10 %. But the word "SALE" had the same effect on the general public as a red cape on a bull. Pawing the ground and snorting impatiently, the wife would plough into the teeming crowd, myself and the boys following as inconspicuously as possible. Diving into heaps of merchandise, she would pull out a few worthy ones, conclude commercial transactions and move on to the next shop. Looking into her eyes, I could see pure delight. It was retail therapy at work.

Down in the lobby, an enterprising businessman had kept a Formula-1 car. This goofiest of sports (after golf) has an amazing ability to grip the minds (I use this word in the loosest sense possible) of the younger generation. It was more of a bill board on wheels than an automobile, and carried the most improbable ads. Mobil, Elf and Pirelli I could understand, but what was Henkel doing there? Fed Ex? Siemens? I was disappointed not to find Durex, Nestle and Boeing. I mentioned, sarcastically, to the boys that they could have a Life Insurance ad on the undercarriage for when it flipped over which, I am given to understand, happens now and then, though nowhere with the frequency I would like to see. My sons thought it a brilliant idea and suggested I write to Bernie Ecclestone about it. Anyway, they milled around it along with a thousand other young people, and took snaps from all angles with my phone (which has a camera, another goofy feature which only young people find useful.).

In all the confusion, I managed to escape to a cookie shop called "Cookie Man" and extensively sampled their wares. Ummmm! It was wunnerful, as they say when their mouths are full of brandy snap cookies.


GVK said...

What are your plans for I-Day, Mr Shenoy ?

Guru said...

"What a change from my childhood, I was thinking. Everything was scarce back then. Milk, water, sugar, rice, kerosene, cooking gas, name it. Except babies, of course, who abounded. I recall one economics professor saying that our problem was that "the woman of India is more fertile than the soil of India".

Growing up in Mysore city in 1950s, I do not recall that our family had shortages of Milk, water, sugar, rice and kerosene. My father was a government school teacher, but yet was able to build a house on a vacant land, got our milk supplied by a milkman who was a primary teacher but owned over a dozen cows, sugar and rice was available in plenty which we could buy in bulk in mandi shops in Santhepet, a five rupee fetched a bag full of fresh vegetables in Devaraja market, The coorg cooperative society would sell unadulterated honey, baskets of lemons and oranges, farmers coming not far away from outskirts of Mysore city used to deliver green mangoes and ripe ones during seasons and we celebrated all festivals with gusto, all in my father's teacher salary. We walked to schools and colleges and young and adult obeisity was rare then.

What has changed the above? Besides the problem of adding one Australia every year to India's population which creates huge supply-demand imbalance, aspects such as disproportionate expectations, yieding to the pressure of consumerism, living only for today which
meant desire to become rich quickly etc.. etc.. dog the Indian society.

The demand so much outstrips the supply that the inflation has made the buying power of a rupee very weak indeed. Coupled with it, the black economy (not originating from smugglers and the criminal fraternity alone, but from government employees whose services are essential to a community. I have seen in supermarkets in Paris officials who came in droves to Athens Olympics outnumbering the athletes, buying perfumes and other goods peeling dollars out of fat wallets,and filling their samsonite suitcases) After living in the West for a number of years, a few years ago, I visited Mysore to see my relatives. When I was preparing my visit to nearby Nanju Malige one morning to buy vegetables, my relative saw me thrusting a ten rupee bundle into my packet, and asked me to take the hundred rupee bundle instead for vegetable purchase!!

When a relative visits me, he/she is surprised that we have a few designer goods,do not possess Armani suits, we buy my clothes watch TV when necessary, do not own plasma TV, do not use our platinum credit cards often etc.. etc.. When asked about our income, we say modestly it is enough to keep our mortgage payment, send son to the university and set some aside for retirement.

narendra shenoy said...

Guru, thanks for your comment. In Bombay, there used to be queues for EVERYTHING. Milk, sugar, kerosene, buses, cooking gas, I've stood in them all. I used to love the occasional altercation over "you were standing behind me" issues.

Your analysis is qualitatively correct, I think, though it would be great to have a quantitative researcher estimate how much the employees of the Government of India and its various states actually milk out of the system. The figures will run into billions, don't you think?

By the way, my wife is from Nanjumalige.

GVK, on I-day I think I should spend some time with my sons to find out what music they listen to. A cursory appraisal strongly indicates that most of this music comes from other planets.

Guru said...

I would rather say that the civil servants use the government system to milk money out of public -the hapless victims.

During mid-1960s, two days' before an annual auditing of the branch, the branch manager of a bank in the Devaraja Market area wondered how he would account for a 'missing 100,000 rupees' during that week, and mentioned this to a mandi mercahnt who came to see him. The merchant said he would meet the manager the next evening after the branch working hours to give him a solution to this problem. The merchant saw the manager the next day with 100,000 (collected from hsi fellow merchants)and the problem was solved. One of the accounts clerks who retired 20 years later told me this story.

Dew said...

Interesting blog and specially that bit about vijay Mallya...or is Dr. Mallya.:)

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I like the thought of nearly every shop have a 'sale' sign in their store front window :)