Reject the West’s rejects

The following article appeared in the saturday issue of “The Mint”.  Since it made an interesting read, I thought of sharing it here…

I’m waiting for the Rs400 hot dog. It’s possible, really, as a recent barrage of retail investment has turned India into a fast-food nation believing it is consuming something epicurean—and willing to pay big bucks for mediocrity. Before you think I am insulting you, I assure you I count my American self among the seduced.

TGI Friday’s? I hate it in New Jersey, associating it with mall culture and plaid-clad guys who don cheap cologne and eat disgusting things like bacon on top of potatoes dripping with cheese.

Here, I freshen my lipstick before I walk in, revel in frozen margaritas balanced on a waiter’s elbow and order greasy appetizers. My bill is almost double what I would pay in the United States for such a second-class meal.

Several friends and I have had similar experiences with brands and outlets such as Marks & Spencer, Ruby Tuesday and Mango. They don’t quite promote themselves as luxury but still command premium prices—for questionable quality and service.

Every day, I wake up to headlines announcing another Western business has big plans for India. Occasionally, I’ll cringe and turn to my husband: “Didn’t that company go under?”

Like earlier this month, when pizza chain Sbarro Inc. announced plans to open 100 restaurants here in a joint venture with Hotz Industries (India) Ltd. You deserve to know the truth about Sbarro. It’s the pizza of choice at railway stations and airports, usually delayed travellers’ lone choice.

Luckily, we no longer live in such desperate times. Indians have long contended with subpar products—colours fading after one wash, fraying office chairs—but the pricing generally reflected this. Why are we not discriminating with pricey imports?

The companies mentioned in this column were contacted for comment; most were unavailable but those reached blame exorbitant import duties and said they are continuously revisiting their India strategy—especially with more competition arriving.

Thank god for that; it’s the only thing that gives us freedom as consumers to reject the West’s rejects.

Like Barney the dinosaur. In case you haven’t heard of him, take a second to be grateful. Once upon a time, Barney, a big purple dinosaur, endeared himself to American parents eager to plop their children in front of a television for lessons on sharing and caring. He was really popular through the 1990s. The operative word is was.

So there he was in mid-February performing with his equally plush and sappy friends in New Delhi, tickets priced between Rs300 and Rs1,500.

Even my daughter’s tony preschool advertised the Barney programme and encouraged attendance. I happily stayed home with my kid and watched Sesame Street DVDs, timeless imports of my choosing from the US.

“When will India stop getting the world’s leftovers?” one friend of mine often asks.

Not until we stop accepting them with our wallets. That’s the ironic benefit of open markets—our discontent can help drive down inflated prices and increase standards of quality.

As with all of my frustrations in India, the experts advised patience.

“We are progressing later compared to the West, said Tejaswini Aparanji, deputy general manager of Branding Entertainment. “Brands like Mango, these are not the Chanels of the world, but Chanel is not far behind. There’s a premium attached to being new.”

Earlier this week, the Hard Rock Café, another Western institution I love to hate because there’s definitely not enough cool rockers’ paraphernalia to go around, also announced plans to expand in India.

“Hard Rock would close restaurants in less glamorous locations in the United States and Britain but double outlets globally to around 250,” Reuters said.

Oh thanks, I initially thought, close the Hard Rock Café in Indianapolis, and please export the guitar used by Michael Jackson’s security guard to hang in the new Patna location.

In Mumbai this week, I gave India’s first Hard Rock Café a chance, mostly to keep my perceptions honest and in check. I was dubious as we drove deep into the compound of the former Bombay Dyeing Mill but impressed upon entry: 6,000sq. ft of a tastefully redone industrial space, red-velvet walls, the perfect dim of lighting, even Richie Sambora’s shirt and guitar. It made the New York outlet seem like a dump. The food was excellent and the waiters staged a dance to the “YMCA” song.

At last, I thought, a new business trying to win over customers with more than a brand name.

The line of retailers, restaurants, cartoon characters, even employees like yours truly, arriving on Indian shores need to learn from mistakes made in the West. Indian customers should stop accepting all things imported as better and return to their roots as demanding connoisseurs on the lookout for a bargain.

And I hope they never pay more than Rs50 for a hot dog.

-S.Mitra Kalita

More of her articles can be found here:Wider Angle


4 thoughts on “Reject the West’s rejects

  1. grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…..
    itni raat ko itna lamba post padwa diya :X

    anyway, now that i have read it
    here are my views…

    “it’s all about money, honey!”
    must have heard that. And thats what exactly happens.
    You (the article writer), tell me
    if u start a saree shop and it fails and you are left with
    a huge inventory of sarees when suddenly an american
    store-owner shows interest in ur sarees, u will not
    think twice about serving americans with out-of-taste sarees
    and will make “extra” profits on exporting the sarees to USA.
    According to me, U have done the most logical, and sensible
    thing and this logic and sense is called: Entrepreneurship.

    Now why does it happen in the reverse (from US to India) more?
    Good question! The answer is, whether we like it or not
    the spirit of entrepreneurship is found in USA soil more than
    Indian soil. Why?
    Again a good question!
    he answer is Indian socio-economic-politic environs
    and policies. Are they wrong?
    Wow, yet again a good question (u are intelligent)
    No, the policy makers did what was right given the
    circumstances. Who knows if they had shown too much
    enthu in adopting capitalism in 1940s and 50s, our country
    today would have been another Argentina.

    So coming to the crux of the article in light of my proposition…
    in today’s globalised world
    nationalities, cultures, religions are fast receeding
    into oblivion and the demarcations are fading away…
    atleast as far as the “consumer” goes. Its Consumerism that rules now.
    Consumer earns and will buy with his/her hard earned money
    whatever brings him/her satisfaction (marginal utility concept)
    and that could be Indian made, American made, in fashion, out of fashion, or even sitting in a resturant where the waiters wear cheap cologne.

    Till the time a business has a buyer for a hot dog at Rs.250
    and the business generates enough volumes to stay in biz
    and can sustain growth, the hot dog will continue to be available at Rs.250
    ……quality not withstanding.
    Its “absolute relative”: My quality can be a cheap taste for u and vice versa.
    Why do road side gol gappe still sell even after higher awareness about health hazard: because that fella has customers who will sustain his business.

    pure economics!

    but it was a post size comment, but then u got to excuse me for it because only two days back i gave my eco exam and all the fundas are fresh as of now 😉 😛

    take care…
    (BTW, you would now be fully convinced that my “analytical types” is a farce)

  2. Whoa!!!
    I’m convinced alright…but not abt wat u suggest at the end of the marathon…shall i call it…lecture…
    i understnd most of this…and completely agree with it too(though my head is still reeling in the new found depth to the perception)…
    Guess, wat can b added here is d fact dat to an extent d Indain Psyche is responsible 4 the flourishing business of the flops in our country..everything western is considered gud(I’m speaking of volumes here…the same that keep the gol gappa stalls running…there must b a few who’ll stick up their noses and walk past, but then again, those things r a big hit)guess the fact dat west is considered the best here hasnt evaded the western entrepreneurs either…to an extent, its the psyche they’re cashing on…i guess shrewdness is replacing smartness in today’s wprld, n rightly so…
    Then again, a buyer in any part of the world, a US citizen buying a flop Indian saree, or an Indian eating in a failed US restaurant in India…simply put absolutely any buyer round the globe would not want to be fooled into believing that the crap served to them in the fancy package is the best in the world when its not…Nobdy likes to b tricked u see…
    thanx for the words of wisdom… 🙂

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