Sixty years ago, India threw off the chains of the British Empire and became a free nation. And now the world’s largest democracy is rushing headlong into the future. As the brief heyday of the West draws to a close, one of the greatest players in history is rising again. India has seen the ebb and flow of huge events since the beginning of history. Its tale is one of incredible drama and the biggest ideas. It’s a place whose children will grow up in a global superpower and yet still know what it means to belong to an ancient civilisation. This is the story of a land where all human pasts are still alive. A 10,000-year epic that continues today. The story of India.
Thus began Michael Wood’s narrative in the famous BBC documentary – The Story of India. The documentary, which was released almost a decade ago, revolves around India and the subcontinent, right from the beginning of the first civilisation to how India has shaped up the world around it and how it has been moulded by the influence of the West and the East.
But you get the irony in the series right? A British historian travels through the lush green landscapes and modern cities of India and Pakistan (which was India till 1947) to uncover, discover and unravel the culture that abounds India to air it on British television via Britain’s pride in the media industry, BBC. All this comes after the British ruled India for ages. The rulers now have become the researchers who want to know further how the world’s largest democracy was formed and how it is rising again to be a global force, despite the saga of ebbs and flows.
This introduction is befitting a post about India, the world’s second largest population, and the world getting ‘Indianized’. What follows are illustrations of the turning of the tide and the emergence of a superpower in the making, breaking the stereotypes of being the land of snake-charmers and poor scantily-clad farmers. Michael Wood recognises the new India as not the land of the plague and disease but as a land of opportunity and ideas. With such a brilliant talent pool, infused largely due to a rapidly expanding educated workforce, India is just beginning to gear up in its march to be a superpower. Its phenomenal success at putting the Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) into the Martian orbit in the first attempt at the cheapest expense lends credence to this transition. The Economist and The New York Times, which took a dismissive stance of indifference, were vilified for their unsolicited forthrightness.
If this recent exemplary success is not enough to sway an opinion, let’s consider some other aspects of ‘Indianisation’ that have been particularly notable in contemporary India.
This section needs no introduction. The entry of Amazon into the Indian e-commerce market is more than enough proof of American interest in India. Flipkart, Snapdeal, Jabong, Myntra, Lenskart, Zomato and several others emerged from the roots of India to become large enough to grab the attention of global giants such as Amazon (and its founder Jeff Bezos, who made a recent trip to India).
The Flipkart-Amazon rivalry in India is not one to subside in the foreseeable future. In fact, it is likely to intensify as Amazon gets more ‘Indianized’ in its approach to sell merchandise online. Its “Diwali Dhamaka”, “Dhanteras Dhamaka” and other Indian initiatives such as the infusion of $2billion cash into its Indian operations speak volumes of its interest in becoming more acceptable and adopted in India.
All this is happening not just because India is a huge market, which it is, but mainly because everyone has realised that to survive and thrive in India, they have to acknowledge, accept and adopt the Indian way of doing things. Getting ‘Indianized’ is just the beginning of setting foot in India.
Gone are the days of bullock-carts as the primary mode of transportation for Indians. The opening up of the economy in 1991 has brought in global brands, including large automotive makers such as Ford, Toyota, Hyundai and Volkswagen. General Motors, which sells its Chevrolet brand in India, has stiff competition from other automotive makers on being more ‘Indian’. The competition is not to sell foreign cars in India; rather, it is to create customised cars in India to cater to the different yet specific needs of the Indian masses.
Fuel efficiency, one of the most important concerns of the Indian consumer, gains far more weightage as a selling point in India than in, say, UAE, where cheaper oil prices and higher standard of living facilitate lesser focus on that parameter. All foreign automotive companies are getting more ‘Indianized’ by trying to improve fuel efficiency, offer more boot space, make sturdier cars for the rough terrain and reduce component costs by better managing supply chains to reduce the on-road price for the price-sensitive consumers.
Even niche and premium-segment brands such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes Benz undergo the same considerations, highlighting how the global automotive sector wants to pervade Indian households. Everyone wants to be more ‘Indianized’ and associate themselves in a niche market in much the same way as Indian households are synonymous with the renowned Indian manufacturer – Maruti.
The burgeoning middle class in India and the rising disposable income bring forth unprecedented rivalry in the electronics market. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, hard drives and even accessories have found a huge market to cater to. Korean, American, Japanese, Taiwanese and Indian firms all vie for the larger share of the larger pie that the Indian market is becoming.
But every single firm has specific requirements to cater to. Price-sensitive customers in India prefer the easy-to-use cheaper manufacturers such as Karbonn, Micromax and Spice, while the middle class prefers the Samsungs, HTCs and Apples. In trying to address the specific needs of the Indian masses, such as low bandwidth connectivity, longer battery life, more robust devices, these companies have become more ‘Indianized’ than we think.
IKEA, Walmart and Target might not be common brands among Indian households but each of these companies is trying to enter the Indian market. Addressing the legal requirements and maintaining regulatory compliance, while lobbying the government to permit full-fledged entry, have made these companies more ‘Indianized’ than they themselves intended to be. The market potential and their ability to meet the unmet yet unrealised needs of the Indian consumer have driven them to adapt to the Indian landscape of doing business.
Fast Moving Consumer Goods & Durables
One of the best examples, if ever, of the world getting ‘Indianized’ is the transition of global companies such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever from the behemoths of global FMCG manufacturers to competitors in a densely contested oligopolistic Indian market. The different tastes of the Indian public and the varying demands of Indian households necessitated the innovation in these companies to bring forth newer products specifically targeted for the Indian market. Skin creams, scrubs, deodorants, perfumes, soft drinks, detergents, and what not… Everything has been customised to Indian standards and tastes. There cannot be a better example to the ‘Indianization’ of the world than this huge industry that sprawls the entire landscape of over a billion people, touching their lives and making them its own.
Even Tomorrowland, the insanely popular electronic music festival that is held in Belgium each year, is rumoured to be entering India by early next year. Whether it may become a reality is another matter. But the fact that the electronic music industry realises the potential of the Indian ears and their tastes manifests the ‘Indianness’ of the music industry.
Last, but not the least, is the airline industry (which also happens to be the trigger for this blog post). Be it Lufthansa or British Airways or Emirates or Qantas, the Indian consumer is constantly on their minds. The fledgling airline industry, partly owing to the recent tragedies of the two Malaysian Airlines planes, is feeling the need to customise its products and services to particularly suit the needs of its consumers.
Having personally travelled Emirates and Singapore Airlines, I have experienced the transition of their offerings from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy to a more customised solution. As Lufthansa has also succinctly conveyed in the ad across Indian media, the ‘Indianized’ version is much more conducive to the Indian masses, be it through the language, food or the in-flight entertainment.
Right from the English language, which has also undergone customisation to suit Indian speech and written word, to the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded this year to an Indian, Kailash Satyarthi, everything seems to revolve around India. As Michael Wood states, the children of India are indeed growing up in a global superpower with over 65 percent of the population below the age of 35. The young demographics of the country, coupled with a new government that is expected to deliver on its promises of more infrastructure and better business opportunities, is more likely to shift the focus of the West towards India. The waning sentiment of the West might bear ripening fruit.
Despite all the modernisation, we belong to one of the most ancient civilisations known to human history. Our rich cultural heritage, despite the plundering over years of foreign rule, stands tall in the face of adversity. We are as Indian now as we were decades and millennia ago and we will be decades and millennia later. Everyone wants to come to India for business, pleasure, tourism, relaxation, etc. Everyone wants a piece of the pie that India has to offer. The vastness and diversity of the land that draw people in. Varied cultures, different people, numerous thoughts and inspiring ideas all lead people to a certain degree of being ‘Indianized’.
Culture and people are far-reaching and are spreading the word. The world is becoming more aware. The world is becoming more informed. The world is becoming more ‘Indianized’. More ‘Indianized’ than you think…
This post was composed as an entry to the More Indian than you think competition on Indiblogger.