Yes Ms Shobhaa De, India knows how to differentiate between ’56 Ki Chhati’ and ‘D Cup’

I read a quote by Shobhaa De in The Times Of India, Mumbai dated 5th March 2014. She’s quoted “56-inch chest. This is political chest-thumping at its most ridiculous. What would happen if a woman candidate were to speak of her D cup?” on Narendra Modi’s election rhetoric.

Respected Ms De, you, being an Indian, are well aware of the nuances of our lingo. The term ’56 Ki Chhati’ and ‘D Cup’ don’t amuse the same target. These are targeted to two entirely different segments of the society.

Yes, some people in the society may be interested in knowing about ‘D’ or other cup sizes, and they may be lured by such characteristics, but I believe that won’t be a majority. For obvious reasons, Rakhi Sawants of the society are not taken seriously when discussing the matter of nation’s future and its leadership, even though they may be hit on other platforms and on other occasions where curves and dimensions of a different type matter.

The larger segment of India today is more interested in somebody more resolute and bold who has the courage to lead the country with his vision, audacity and determination. This could be a man or a woman. ’56 Ki Chhati’ is gender-neutral, because it is not in the body, it is somewhere above the shoulder, in the mind, where it matters.

To lead a country, ’56 Ki Chhati’ is a must. To drive a misguided leader, a ‘D Cup’ may suffice in some special cases, as old and recent history has shown.

India needs a person with the metaphorical ’56 Ki Chhati’ to lead it. Others may flaunt their ‘Cups’ to win the battles of the other kind.

The games Indian telecom operators play make customers hate them…

If you ask any mobile subscriber in India about their experience with the operator, 99% chances are that his/her experience is not pleasant. Why? Because true to a maxim in Gujarati which says “All crows are black, no matter from where hail”, almost all telecom operators in India are notorious for their dubious and customer unfriendly practices. I am sure, most of us may have suffered due to some or the other of them. Here are some examples.
1) When a mobile operator comes out with a cheaper plan, it NEVER informs the existing post-paid subscribers about the new plan, which surely can reduce the subscribers’ billing amount. But, when you apply to port out from their service or try to get converted to Pre-paid connection, their customer service (!) personnel get hyperactive. At that time they call and offer “A much cheaper plan to reduce your expense…” I wonder in which heaven these overzealous souls were resting when we were subjected to higher tariffs which forced us to get away from patronizing them. I have had such unpleasant experiences with Reliance Mobile and AirTel.
2) If you change any value-added pack, and then next day you wish to subscribe the same pack again, the operator may give you the bad news that “That pack is no longer available. Now the same pack is available with half of the benefits at the same price.” Previous day, at the time of taking your request of cancelling the existing plan, they don’t inform you about the plan not being available for new subscription. This gross loot they do with the loyal subscribers (whom they classify as “Platinum” subscribers), who have been with them for years. This is the worst gift for loyalty a customer should expect. Reliance Mobile, AirTel, Idea and Vodafone all of them have done this.
3) Mobile Number Portability (MNP), is the facility TRAI has provided to customers, giving them an option to change their mobile service providers. But, in MNP the mobile operators have found a new way of harassing customers. Because of any reason, when a subscriber applies for Porting out, the erstwhile operator puts as many obstacles as possible.  Recently, Reliance Mobile delayed releasing the number beyond stipulated 5 days and then released the number at 10 pm on Saturday night, knowing very well that the offices of the new mobile operator will be closed for weekend and the customer will have to suffer no-mobile services for the weekend. This is like arresting somebody on Friday evening, knowing well aware that the courts will be closed for the weekend, so that the person will have to remain in custody for at least two days as no bail can be processed. This dirty kick by the telecom operator in the butt leaves a painful wound in the customer’s mind.  We had a similar experience with Idea when they, too, delayed releasing the number for a very long time.
Every subscriber in India may have such stories. In response to my post on Facebook about one such grievance against Airtel, one of my friends commented, “All operators are same.”
Truly echoing the fact “All crows are black… regardless from where they hail.”
Do you have any experience with any of the crows? I invite you to come and share.

How many districts are there in Kutch?

India is a country of snake charmers. It is a land of jungles and Yogis. All the Indians are primitives and barbaric. This was the belief the world had about India, until a few decades ago. Until the information about a throbbing, developing, culturally diverse and rich country became available, India was grossly misunderstood by the world. Thankfully, the scene is changing, and we, the Indians, are now seen in a better light.

But, still, a lot about India remains shrouded in mystery for Indians also. That is because, India is not only a country. it is in fact many smaller countries within a bigger country. Each region of the country has its own culture, language, rituals, beliefs and way of life.

One similar veil of such mystery surrounds around Kutch, a region in Western state of Gujarat. Just like people in the world had misconceptions about India, people within India had similar misconceptions about Kutch. They thought that entire Kutch is a desert and people there live in miserable conditions with a hostile nature to battle one’s daily life against.

All this is away from the truth. Kutch is a district. It is a beautiful land with ample greenery, beaches, historical and religious places. It is as developed as any other part of India, if not more. In last one decade, Kutch has got a lot of new industrial and infrastructure projects. Perhaps, within state of Gujarati, Kutch is growing the fastest.

It has its own rich share of culture, language, craft, beliefs, festivals and history. Many communities of different religious faiths live happily together in this calm and peaceful place. Life in Kutch is beautiful, just like life in any other part of our beautiful India.

Kutchis, as the inhabitants of Kutch are called, are very amiable and loving people. They are famous for their hard work, honesty,  friendliness and simplicity. They are an enterprising community. They have spread themselves across the globe. In fact, one will find Kutchis in every country of the world and in every state of India.

Kutch and Kutchis are misunderstood because of the myopic vision of the English media. Angrez mass media in India, which is accessed by hardly 5% the nation’s populations, lives in an ivory tower, away from the realities of a multi-cultural India. Indian English media assumes more clout than it actually possesses. They do not realize that they don’t reach the 95% of the Indian population but still they dream to shape the opinions of those who are not listening, watching or reading them. They create and destroy their own castles built in the air. How in the world will this remote controlled opinion building be possible?

They also do not realize that they are also ignorant of most of the realities of India’s diverse regional varieties. Its journalists assume a power which is as hollow as the fake accent they spit out. Through their well-drafted but poorly researched reports, they take the liberty of maligning and ridiculing all those whom they don’t understand. Kutch and Kutchis are sometimes made victims of this zealous lot of articulate, sophisticated but dumb and ignorant journalists.

Such ignorance is obvious in questions like above. Kutch does not have districts within it. It itself is a district in Gujarat. It is a simple geographic fact. But, to understand Kutch and Kutchis, one needs to get to the ground. Same is true for every region of India and its locals.  From ivory towers, we may be able to see the world, but not understand it. We need to get in touch with the reality to understand it.

India lives and grows on its own terms irrespective of what some cynical intellectuals in metro cities may perceive. It is not because of them that India shines, it is in spite of them.

Angrez style management practices must be adapted to Indian cultural sensitivities

Recently, while I was talking to the HR Head of a reputed company, he mentioned one very important point of impact of culture in organizations and management.  He was referring to an incident about a new junior executive joined in his company. The young man had previously worked with an MNC after completing his MBA. This was his second job. As could have been a culture in the MNC firm, as soon as he joined here, he started calling people by their first names. He did not realize this, but people started resenting him. They began to keep away from him. He did not get support from them. Many of the clients with whom he interacted also complained to his senior about his way of talking to them. He could not understand the reason. He approached this HR Head to find out what was wrong. After discussing with the young man, his senior and other colleagues, the HR Head found out the real cause of the problem. The young man’s habit calling people by their first names without the customary suffix or prefix that people were used to (e.g. Mr Ramesh, Rameshji, Ramesh Saab, Rameshbabu, etc.) was disturbing people.  He explained to the young man about the problem and suggested the corrective practice of calling people by the names they are used to being called.

The young man was puzzled. He argued, “But in my old company, this was the practice. We used to call our CEO also by his first name. This gave rise to an atmosphere of openness, you know. It fostered improved teamwork and bonding. Why can’t we have the same culture here?”

The HR Manager could empathize with the young man’s enthusiasm towards adapting newer, western practices. But, he was aware of the lack of social awareness on the part of the young man. He explained “I agree to what you are saying. But, we live in India. In Indian culture, we give a lot of importance to RESPECT. And one of the ways of showing respect is by how we address a person. In western countries, the person may be called only by the first name, but in India, sometimes some prefix or suffix is added like Rameshji, Ramesh Saab, Rameshbhai, Rameshbabu, Ramesh sir etc. This practice is a part of Indian culture of showing respect to seniors or elders.”

The young man was adamant. “But today, we are living in globalized world. We cannot continue this old fashioned practices of previous centuries. To be at par with the world, we must change to First Name Culture in our company. I urge you to implement this cultural change and start First Name Culture. It will improve out company’s image and performance.”

The HR Manager explained, “You may implement such practices with your foreign business partners or associates, but in India, it is not that simple and not advisable, too. You need to understand the language differences before implementing First Name Culture here.” He gave him an example :

For example, in English : Ramesh, how are you?

can be translated in Hindi in 3 ways :

(a) Ramesh, Aap Kaise hain? OR

(b) Ramesh, Tum Kaise Ho? OR

(c) Ramesh, Tu Kaisa Hai?

Now if we start calling everybody by first name, many people may not have the wisdom to use appropriate Hindi translations, when they speak to the same person in Hindi or other Indian language. This adaptation requires a certain degree of wisdom and intellectual capacity on the part of the person involved in the communication. In the absence of that, they may hurt the sentiments of the other person. Also, we may have got exposed to the global practices, but there are outsiders like customers, suppliers, associates and  millions of others in our country who are yet to be aware of many such practices. First Name Culture is just one example. There are many such practices, where mindless imitation is sometimes funny, appropriate or out of place. We may follow such practices while dealing with foreigners, to express our awareness and respect of their cultures, but by suddenly shifting to such superficial practices in our Indian work practices, we may inadvertently hurt sentiments of such people. By trying to call a big company’s senior manager by his first name who can be a big prospective customer for us, we may lose him forever.

The young man’s enthusiasm waned, but he was not convinced. HR Head was clear about the inappropriateness of changing some superficial practices, without understanding the underlying values in the culture.

Culture is the way we, as people, respond to various events. It gets manifested in various symbols, rituals, habits, languages, practices, images etc. The core of the culture is the values that we hold.  Values are the broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others. These represent the ideas that people have about how things “ought to be”. They are among the first things we learn as children, implicitly, not consciously. These values may remain unconscious to those who hold them. they can’t be directly observed by outsiders, but can be inferred from our behavior under various circumstances.

Respect is a very important part of Indian values. By adapting some practices like “First Name Culture”, we may bask in the satisfaction of being modern, but the reality of cultural difference remains and it may lead to some misunderstandings. Thoughtless imitation of western practices without realizing its repercussions may give rise to some undesirable outcomes by offending people’s sentiments and sensitivities. We must ensure that our organization does not jump into such superficial practices. We are Indians and we must be proud of our Indianness.

In my opinion, the tendency to adapt to such practices is nothing but a management wannabe-ism. We must not want to be a wannabe. Still a lot of our own potential is intact, waiting to be explored. Instead of being blind followers, we must be wise and selective. We must not sell our cultural values for some shallow management fads. If we do not exercise discretion, we will be left somewhere in the middle, neither in the West nor in the East.

That belonging to nowhereness will be similar to Shah Rukh Khan’s character in Subhash Ghai’s Pardes, in which towards the end of the film SRK reaches a bus stop somewhere in rural India, rejected by both the Indian as well as American families. On asked by a villager “Kahaan ke ho sahab?” he aptly replies “Kahin ka nahin….!!!”

Following quote of Peter Senge (Management Guru, Author : “Fifth Discipline”) drive the point home, precisely.

My intuition is that India and China will move somewhat together, but in very distinctive ways. But I think the thing that will be really common to both of them will be the fact that they won’t be able to do this without reconnecting to their heritage. They will have to develop a confidence that they can do this as Indians and they can do this as Chinese. They have learnt a lot from the west but they don’t have to copy, they cannot create an Indian or a Chinese version of a Western model. The Western model itself is basically bankrupt. It does not give enough side to the human side of development.

I think I need not say more on this…!

BIG reasons of Big Bazaar’s success

Sometimes accused of being a Wal-Mart wannabe, Big Bazaar is surely not a Desi copying an Angrez for sure. It has received great success on its own steam and can be called our own home grown “India’s Wal-mart”, even though the comparison is out-of-place and unnecessary. 

How could Future Group’s Big Bazaar achieve what many Angrez companies still dream to do…? There are some very good reasons and learning lessons for all those who aspire to earn from the buying potential of swelling middle class of India.

1) Big Bazaar has given freedom of choice to those who did not have it in their life
Big Bazaar’s founder Kishore Biyani has popularized the very logical categorization of India in 3 divisions. India-1 is the Upper middle class, about 14% of the population that is the actual consuming class. Serving to this India-1 is India-2, forming about 55% of the country’s population. These are drivers, peons, cleaners, maid servants etc. etc. who have very meager salaries and live a hand-to-mouth existance. The third part is the balance 31% of India-3, which is struggling for the existence.

The Kirana shops which sell goods, do not offer the choice, ambience, service and of course the discounts Big Bazaar offers to customers. You imagine going to your nearby friendly grocer to buy a toilet soap. He will ask you “Which one do you want?”. If you know, you get what you what. But, if you want to know how many new brands, types, sizes are there to choose from, grocer will not be very happy to tell you or show you all this. Such situation is even worse for those from India-2. They are not treated very well if asked such questions or trying to get more information, trying to get a ‘choice’.

Big Bazaar gave them choice. A freedom to choose. It offers a very wide range of goods required for daily needs. You can have a look, touch and feel them, compare and then decide to buy. With the plethora of FMCG items occupying the shelves of stores, such choice is really convenient and facilitating the buyers. This choice, I think, is one very important reason for Big Bazaar’s success.

2) Big Bazaar connects with the masses effectively
The communication of brand Big Bazaar is sharply focused and to-the-point. Big Bazaar talks in local language. Observe Big Bazaar’s communication.

  • “Isse Sasta Aur Accha Kahin Nahin”
  • “Saal Ka Sabse Sasta Din”
  • “Hafte ka Sabse Sasta Din”
  • Sell your Bhangar at great rates”
  • “Purana Do Naya Lo… Badal Dalo”
  • Stall ke Bhaav Balcony
  • Chane ke Bhaav Kaju
  • Paise Jodo Kaam Aayenge

All this smart communication has worked wonders. Today also, you observe any of the advertisements of Big Bazaar competitors. Their tag lines are still in English. This Angrez attitude does not connect with Indians. Big Bazaar has understood it clearly and others have not yet woken upto this simple fact, giving Big Bazaar a clear, distinctive position in customer’s mind. Big Bazaar is perceived as a store which knows India and Indians well. Its communication has been successful in achieving this objective.

3) Big Bazaar has understood its target customer very well
If you go to a super store in any mall, we may find some very smart boys and girls greeting us. This may be good for some, but people like me sometimes get frightened by these fine and smart people, because they are so much better looking than me. They speak so much better than me. They are dressed much better than me. I get put off by all this and hence avoiding such stores who have very smart people greeting me. At Big Bazaar, the staff is helpful, but not overtly smart. You don’t get frightened by their style. This is very practical. The customer coming to Big Bazaar is of the middle class If they are greeted by people smarter than them, they feel uncomfortable. So, Big Bazaar has ensured that customers are not made to feel small by overbearing staff members. This is one very smart strategy of Big Bazaar and it reflects its deep understanding of the customer psyche.

4) Big Bazaar has understood changes reshaping India very well
With increasing urbanization, more and more people are migrating to cities from villages. In villages, there are no big stores, but in nearby towns there are weekly ‘mandi’ e.g. Somwaari Bazaar, Budhwaaar Bazaar, Ravivaar Bazaar etc. In such mandi set up, one gets to look, see, touch  and feel all the ware that is for sale. This is what the village customers are habituated to do. When they come to cities, they had to buy from small kirana shops, where the goods were not displayed freely. They had to ask for what they want and get away from there. Big Bazaar recreates that mandi environment for them. It gives them the same open display of all that is available, and that too, in elegant, clean, air conditioned ambiance with helpful staff to support the customer.. And I think, this is profoundly important from a customer’s point of view. The current demographic shifts happening in India are understood very well by Big Bazaar and are implemented profitably.

The mythical 50 Crore Indian middle class is a part of many smart projections of world leader retail giants willing to enter India. But, Kishore Biyani and Big Bazaar have succeeded in getting to the true understanding of Indian middle class. This a very important learning lesson for all those who wish to succeed in retail in India.