Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Saree shopping and the changing face of India.

After I wrote the last blog the heaviness in heart and mind weighed me down. I shall turn to some pleasant aspects now. Much of this will be old hat to those who live in India or visit India more often than me. Nevertheless I hope to add my 2 cents to the narrative.

I just love shopping especially dress shopping. Shopping for women's dresses is the most entertaining one. Back in 1996 one day I felt irritated looking at my wardrobe of pants. The colors were shades of gray, shades of blue, one or two exotic colors thats it. I thought I am probably choosing limited colors. I decided, for a change, to check out what other men wear during traffic stops. This being India in 1996 many were using two wheelers which facilitated me. My dress choices were pretty much in line with the average male. Forget about the range of colors in Churidhars the sheer variety of 'styles' in churidhars is amazing. How many different ways can a man's pant be cut? Maybe 2 variation at the bottom hem, thats it. Having a girl child is a boon too.

I wanted to take my mom to Pothy's at Madurai to get some sarees for her. It was a Sunday evening and I was told that many shops, including Pothys, would be open till 10 PM. Europe shuts down at 7 PM weekday and is completely closed on Sundays. Shops is USA are open only until 6 PM on Sunday. The streets were crowded like a weekday. Pothys was overflowing with people like NY Macy's on Black Friday. It had 4 floors with almost 3 floors for women (Macys too devotes most floor space for women). Around 1300 employees work in that complex alone, with nice photo ID's. The floor is divided into Sarees, CHuridhars etc and subdivided on price/variety. Once you make a purchase (barcoded) you get a barcoded reciept. The merchandise is taken to delivery section. After completion of payment you can collect your stuff. Of course at the delivery section there is no queue, you are better off muscling in. In every saree section its only "salesmen" no girls whereas all errand runners are ONLY girls. The elevators and escalators are swanky enough to match any modern airport amenities. There is a rewards program too complete with a store card. The salesmen, errand girls, cashiers and almost everyone is pretty street smart and sharp. The cashiers especially are savvy to deal aternatively with cash and credit card payments and quickly switch modes of payments when a card fails. Given the thousands of packets being run around the store that they almost never miss is amazing (think dabbawalla's of Mumbai who are a subject of study in IIM's I hear).

The sheer varieties of churidhars and sarees is amazing. I saw a silk saree for Rs 1,06,000 it was sheer gold plated. There was another for Rs1.25 lakhs. Armani suits in Saks Fifth Avenue could be had for less. If only these poor weavers could enter a corporate framework their skills would take them miles beyond proud Italian brands. I wish some Kanchipuram weaver becomes a household name like Armani or Valentino.

The Taj Gateway resort was just fabulous. Set in sylvan surroundings commanding a princely sum it was worth it. The rooms would match the best anywhere in the world. When Ratan Tata bought over the British Luxury car maker Jaguar some in Britain chuckled about loss of "brand value". Tata beat them back highlighting the luxury hotels of Tata group. The staff were polite. I wish they stopped just short of appearing obsequous.

I got up at 4 AM and took a stroll. The resort is located in Pasumalai that overlooks the city. When all was quite around except for the chirping of birds and peacocks at 5 AM suddenly the valley came alive with booming film songs. The sound filled the low lands. If I could hear the song up on a hillock god save the neighbors on the streets. Again a sad reminder of our so called 'values'.

A penchant to spend money of luxury and 'enjoying' life is now reshaping the Indian consumer making MNC's queue up to sell quite a lot that most Indians had no use for until recent times. When a small village like "Kottampatti' boasts of cell phone connection you know that changes have happened.

The service sector is on a jet set. Construction industry is booming with constructions all around the city, need I say anything about IT. Indian students are more confident of better living, better jobs than at any point in India's history. I saw timid girls step into unconventional roles in hotels. Yes change is afoot.

The question though is how deep are the changes? What is the disparity level? Would the changes help India to cure itself corruption that is eating into the bowels of the country? How much of these changes are driven by sensible public policy from corridors of legislature? Are we sowing the seeds for institutionalizing and capitalizing the changes?

Very sadly the answer is NO. A few key incidents I heard and saw would help close the argument. Thats for another day.

1 comment:

David said...

The Taj Gateway belonged to the Madura Coats and was the residence of the Managing director.We were invited as newly weds in 1965 by the then MD Mr. Sivasamban. We had dinner with his family. The drive was interesting and Coats have sold it to Taj group.Nice to learn that you spent time and liked it.
David Baskar.