Rama Bijapurkar is a thought leader on market strategy and consumer related issues in India. She has her own market strategy consulting practice and works with Indian and global companies. On her Web site, she describes her mission as bringing ``market focus to business strategy’’. She is an independent director on the boards of CRISIL, Axis Bank and Give Foundation.
It is pretty clear now that growing national income and increasing association with the western world have not altered the essential structure of People India. We are not coalescing into a more homogeneous, well-fused chemical compound, easy to identify with a single label or description; we remain a physical mixture of several different societies and cultures. Ironically, increasing wealth — leading to a consumer-respectful and consumer-led society — as well as increasing access to innovative technology are not working to blur our differences. It is rather enabling us to express our diversity of thought and behaviour more thoroughly than before. In fact, we are becoming an even more atomised society, and one in which each sub-group is continuously mutating in different directions.
We stare at the large crucible that we call India, which is the holder of all these different societies and cultures and search for a meta society and culture that we can describe as ‘Pan-Indian’. But the difficulty of doing this is best understood by thinking of the crucible as a kaleidoscope — an instrument that forms different patterns with each little shift. Sometimes you see a mosaic of tradition and modernity, sometimes a rapidly Westernising society that has lost its cultural moorings and sometimes it looks like it is returning to its roots with a vengeance. That’s what makes the new India harder to comprehend than the old one.
Over the last two decades, several new ‘culture classes’ have emerged and older ones have morphed to define themselves through new customs, values, or new degrees of tolerances. The modern young upper class women are a distinct new culture class — at home in mini skirts and in sari and blouse ensembles that sizzle. She dresses like she could be anywhere in the world, in business suits or in jeans, living in homes that look like they could be anywhere in the world, serving food that embraces all cuisines; she shops at supermarkets and malls for her regular stuff, patronises international and Indian brands, but will go to local markets for entertainment shopping — the opposite of what some other culture classes would do; she has domestic staff like her mother did, only these are more professional; she thinks of herself and her children as global citizens, English is the only family language and her family unit is built to live life king size — free from uniquely Indian traditions and social restraints that she grew up with. Market watchers would like to believe that this is the new Indian mainstream but that is naïve and wishful thinking.
Another large culture class is the rapidly prospering small business man — shop owner, contractor, furniture maker, tailoring establishment owner. He continues to transact in the vernacular with his family, vendors and staff but manages reasonable English with his customers who he needs to SMS; he eschews ‘costly’ big shops and big brands, and is a big fan of the ‘imported’ label. This label stands for ‘cheaper’, more exciting novelty available through his usual shops, sourced by people like him. His children are his biggest teachers and modernisers; his idea of a vacation is to gather a large group of families and take a helicopter trip to Vaishno Devi.
Another new culture class is the socially conscious upper class elite who have decided to embrace causes, run marathons for charity, join Anna via social media, or work for or start an NGO. The jhola is being replaced by the Blackberry, the bhashan by a media panel discussion and saving India is a new passionate goal. IT kids are another culture class even as new culture classes in rural India are emerging.