Demonetisation and it’s after”math”!!!

Ever since the RBI released its Annual report 2 weeks ago, Demonitisation (DeMo) is back in the news. And with its eminent Ex-Governor Raghuram Rajan now in India to promote his book, DeMo continues to hog the headlines and Op-Ed pages. The analysis of DeMo swing from scathing criticism of being a “big mistake” by the likes of Ex-Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu to calling it a “huge success and a course correction” by the likes of Gurumurthy, the veteran commentator on public affairs. So, as it happens in most issues these days, “for every spin there is an equally effective and opposite counter spin”! And where you stand on an issue depends on where you stand on the ideological divide.  On social media, it was a hashtag war between #DeMomenisationsuccess and #DeMonetisationfailure!

Ten months on, based on all the data available (99% of DeMo notes coming back to the banks) it seems that DeMo has not helped in sucking out the black money. In retrospection, I wonder how the government expected anybody in India to give up their prized possession (currency notes in this context) at all in the first place. In my own experience, when coming out with marketing promotion programs for the trade, we usually take twice the time for foolproofing the program compared to conceiving the program itself. This is from the wisdom of previous programs over the years where, we found that the Indian brain works over time always to find loop holes/gaps in any program announced. So, in a sales promotion program for example the trade will end up earning the incentives while you never achieve the increased sales objectives!

This is what happened in DeMo as well. If you remember, the day DeMo was announced, the chattering class’ verdict on WhatsApp group and dining area discussions was that it was a “Master stroke”! While the middle class and upper middle class folks who didn’t have unaccounted cash had to just find ways of beating the lines to exchange their notes, the ones who had, started cranking their brains. The result was the everyday tweaking of the rules and adding more terms and conditions for currency conversion. The then Economic Affairs Secretary Saktikanda Das became a celebrity overnight, thanks to his daily media briefings on what else – change in rules!

By now, it is clear that notwithstanding the anti-DeMo commentary of economists, there was overarching, tacit support for the DeMo move from common public. Inspite of loss of business for traders, loss of jobs for casual workers and loss of income for farmers the Note Bandi didn’t evoke much unfavourable mood towards the BJP so far. I am not sure if it will, from now on. What explains this paradox?

Many of the commentators have alluded to the human trait of Schadenfreude to explain this. That the poor were happy because this was one move which affected the rich and privileged and that the Prime Minister Modi had the guts to do so. This is a good possibility. But there could be more to this as well.  Within days of the DeMo announcement, the initial despair among people who were caught unawares with a lot of unaccounted cash turned into a relief, when they found ways and means to deposit the same into the bank. Among many ingenious ways, one was to tap into their own staff and workers to distribute the cash and get them deposited into their bank accounts. A report said that by Dec, the deposits in Jan Dhan Accounts peaked to Rs.74,609 crore! As of Sep, it was just 4,273 crore! The number of Jan Dhan accounts itself went up 5 times in this period!  My guess is that, in this process of conversion through the conduit of using others’ accounts, there must have been a cost.  The government must have lost an opportunity to earn taxes on the unaccounted income but those who had a lot of unaccounted cash ended up incurring a “conversion tax”! And I am certain that those who were witness to the rich incurring this tax felt certainly happy that DeMo was an equalizer of sorts. And not just being a witness, there would have been many who would have benefited from the sudden largesse of their masters as well and got their share of the “conversion tax”. So, instead of the government collecting taxes from the haves and distributing to have-nots by way of welfare measures did DeMo make it as a Direct Benefit transfer from the rich to the poor without the government in between?  Probably.

It’s evident now that the DeMo move has been a rocking political success for the government. On the economic front, though the objective of sucking up the black money has not been achieved directly, certain fringe benefits have accrued. Like reduction in cash circulation, increase in Digital transactions, and increase in bank deposits,…  These may leave the country in good stead in the future.  In the short-term however, the country skipped its GDP beat.

So when one does the after”math” of DeMo, it may well be like the popular “Elephant and the Blind men” story. For some, it’s a failure. For some, it’s a success. For some, it’s a partial success and for some it could be a partial failure. I would like to go with Rajan’s assessment that the short-term economic losses far outweighed the long-term benefits.  In hindsight, one is always wise. Other times – otherwise!

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The Passport called English Medium!!!

Hindi Medium for the uninitiated is a Hindi film that hit the screens last week sans the trappings of the typical Bollywood fare but which holds a mirror to the society with a strong social message. Without any of the leading “Star Khans” but with just Irfan Khan as the lead star, I am not sure how far the film will reach eventually. After 3 Idiots if there was one Hindi film which leaves you thinking as you left the cinema hall about your kid’s education this must be it. In the film, the lead couple go to unimaginable lengths just to secure admission in one of the Top English medium schools in the city.  Because in the lines of the mother, “If the child goes to a Govt. school, she can’t learn anything. If anybody talks to her in English, she will not be able to fit in the society. Hence she will be lonely and will get depressed.”  The extremes the couple stretch themselves to secure that admission in a top English medium school like even trying to transform themselves to poor people to take advantage of BPL quota as per RTE act may sound preposterous.  But the message – that “English medium” is a mandatory passport for one’s flight to success in life is not lost on anyone.

Not just this one, but there were other films like Chetan Bhagat’s novel turned film – One Half Girlfriend and Sridevi’s super hit – English Vinglish dwelling on the theme of the need to master English to get recognized/get ahead in life. Ironically this is not some typical Bollywood fantasy but stark reality of India being mirrored in films.  At workplaces today, one’s command over spoken English is considered essential to rise up the corporate elevator whether you like it or not. There are very few careers I can think of today where one can still succeed without mastering the English language. Probably politics (where being oblivious to the English language can become your calling card) or some creative fields could be those. Otherwise even in medical field the reality is, you feel comfortable of a surgeon’s ability if he is able to explain the diagnosis and treatment course of your patient in eloquent English!!! Narayana Murthy of Infosys once controversially observed in the context of IITs that with Indian politicians “rooting against English”, the task of getting good English speaking students at IITs gets more difficult and that affected their quality .  He was being practical and honest. In urban India the caste system based on Manuvaad is gradually on the wane. But in its place there is a new caste system based on “Medium of Instruction” – English medium being forward caste and any other being backward!!!

However this is not the case in many other successful countries. In Germany you don’t need to master English to head an organization. In Japan, though knowledge of English is an asset particularly in an Export driven economy like theirs, lack of flair in English has never been a liability.  Same is the case with China.  It’s another matter that they probably now realise that if they had imbibed the English language they could have ruled the global commerce not just in Mfg. but even in services!

But then India is not a homogenous state with one culture, one lingo like Japan or Germany. We are “United States of India” where our culture, language, food habits,…,.. keep changing every 500 kms. We sort of got stuck in the middle where we couldn’t have Hindi or for that matter any other Indian language as a universal Pan Indian language due to our cultural diversity. At the same time English being a language imported due to the colonial rule couldn’t achieve the universal reach across the board. Result – we have a language divide. If we have to get out of this situation, it’s too late or virtually impossible to go back to a Japan or Germany universal Indian language model.  So it looks like adopting English language universally in India is only the practical option left with us to go forward from here.

“Universally” is the key. It was the very articulate Shashi Tharoor who once said, “Denial of opportunity to learn English to our children would be tantamount to destroying their future” and I agree. It’s unanimously accepted that India’s command over English has been one of the key attributes to our success in Software business worldwide. So why not we build on our strengths and leverage the same? That is certainly not by keeping English a privilege of few and sowing the seeds for another conflict. Instead a way forward could be to make ‘All” schools in India – English medium schools and phase in English as the universal medium of instruction from a particular year in the very near future. This is not to shortchange our own native languages which still needs to be taught in the same schools but need not be the “Medium of instruction”. We could expect politics to play and outrage factories running on full capacities over this move.  But then have we seen wards of politicians who get educated from Non English medium schools?  By the way in our neighbouring Pakistan in 2013, I heard that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province took a call to switch over from Urdu to English medium gradually in a period of four to five years!!! This could be a significant reform in the field of education that would ensure English not just being a passport to economic, social and educational advancement universally but a ‘Visa on Arrival” for growth, the likes of Donald Trump notwithstanding!!

This reform may not be “the” only cure for all the ills in our education system but would be a good place to start.

Postscript: While on this, just after the ascent of Mr. Chandrasekharan as the Tata supremo, a picture of him and his 2 brothers has been doing the WhatsApp rounds. It talks of the fact that the 3 brothers are actually are from Tamil medium schools from a village in Tamil Nadu and that today they were head honchos. The message being, one doesn’t need to be necessarily from English medium schools to get to the top. Well, not sure even if Natarajan Chandrasekharan will accept that premise today and forward that to his WhatsApp groups!!!

2016, History & Hope!!!

This time of the year, the last week is usually a “feel good” week. There is celebratory mood around thanks to Christmas, holiday outings to look forward to and with a fresh New year coming up – a feeling of Hope. Had the year gone well, one is anyway happy and hopes that the good days continue into the New Year. If it had not, you want to quickly move on and again hope that the New Year brings some cheer. Was it Ghalib who said – ‘Umeed par Duniya Kayam hai…uska saath na chodo’ (Hope sustains this world, don’t lose its company!) So it is with fervent hope for Achhe Din (oops not the political type) that one usually steps into the New Year – year after year!

While there are 12 months, 52 weeks and 365 days to a year, when history is written a year is usually defined by what happened in a week or probably in a day.  And seldom have we realised when an event unfolds that it is history in the making. That is left to the wisdom of hindsight. For example, we now know that 1991 has been an important year for India. For opening up of the economy. For the end of license Raj. For unshackling the animal spirits. Yet, when the Industrial policy announcement was made in July 1991 by the Government, they were acknowledged by and large only as important “course corrections” considering the state of the economy by the media.  Then, they were not labeled historic.  The “Reforms” were always treated with suspicion and even in the Congress party there were many a doubting Thomases who derided the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and the Finance Minister Manmohan Singh. But today the rearview mirror displays that the reforms of 1991 have indeed left a positive trail in our country.

History is a great leveler. And at times more charitable than the present. So you find more eulogies on Narasimha Rao as a visionary, as a modern Day Chanakya,..,..  today than there were when he was alive. Or even when he passed away in the same month around the same date in 2004. Hence I was not surprised when Manmohan Singh in his last press conference as a Prime Minister famously said – “History will be kinder to me than the contemporary media!!!”

So likewise when history is written I do believe that 2016 will have a significant place in it for the one event which happened on the 8th of November – The Demonetisation of high value currency notes! We will know how the after effects of this move play out in the next few quarters. As I mentioned we live in eternal hope. So the hope is that we get over the pain caused by this move sooner than later and the economy is back in track by March/April.

But apart from this, if there is one thing for which this move will be remembered for in history, it will be for how Demonetisation changed some steadfast habits of Indians. As author Shankkar Aiyyar famously said in his book – Accidental India that almost all of India’s turning points like the White revolution, Liberalisation,…) were not the result of foresight or careful planning but were rather the accidental consequences of major crises that had to be resolved at any cost.  Similarly the cash shortage situation resulting out of the Demonetisation program in the initial few days was panning out to be a major crisis. (Some would say it is still, though I beg to differ looking at how ground situation has changed for the better) This made the buyers and more importantly the sellers think of carrying on with their businesses with no or less cash.

Today in a traditional market in Mumbai – the usual signboard which said “Credit Card and other cards not accepted” – has the word “Not” blackened out! Paan Walas sporting “PayTM Accepted here” is no more just a subject of WhatsApp jeers but a reality. Restaurants and other outlets no more scorn at you if you flash your credit card for small payments. At multiplexes, there was are big lines during the interval not for buying popcorn tubs, but for swiping cards in one solitary POS machine! Personally speaking I am left with more cash in hand than ever in the past few years! The expenses haven’t reduced mind you though I would have lived with that side effect!

So this change in behavior of using less cash and migrating to digital means seen in Metros and big cities which will also spread to small towns and villages in due course could again become one “accidental” after effect of Demonetisation. We all know the overarching benefits of a Cash less /Digital economy. Indians by nature are trained to be less transparent in terms of disclosures – in matters of income and expenses. If we are forced to shrug off this ingrained reticence and have now become more open to transparency (all digital payments leave a trail) I think it is one helluva big step for a country like India naysayers notwithstanding.

2016 has been a historic year when status quo has been demolished everywhere. Brexit, the ascent of Donald Trump and in India – the Demonetisation move. The underlying sentiment has of course been “HOPE” in all these of better times ahead.  With the ushering of another New Year, there is continued Hope. For, Hope is not just a good thing but is the “Best” thing! And isn’t it increasingly perilous to lose its company?

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“Hoping” you will continue to read my posts and provide valuable feedback – see you in the next year!

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Marketing Warfare!!!

“Marketing Warfare” is an 80’s best seller from the famed marketing Gurus Al Ries & Jack Trout in which they elevate “Marketing” to a war and through the book talk about competitive positioning and military strategy. But this post is not about the theory of marketing warfare, but about the way to “market” warfare in the context of Geo-political happenings worldwide and in particular post the “Surgical strikes” which India carried out across LOC somewhere in between 28th and 29th of September.

In yesteryears when wars took place between nations, they were reported. These days they are marketed. I am not exactly sure when this trend started but I presume that the seeds for this were sown with the televising of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991. And then followed by “global gurus in marketing” – the Americans allowing journalists to be embedded with their troops to capture and report real time military action. And in doing so colouring the view as seen through the American prism. This I believe helped immensely in garnering public opinion in their favour back home and came in handy in political battles. A good example of such proactive communication is the tactical release of the now famous image of Obama and team watching live the ‘Operation Geronimo’ to catch Osama Bin Laden from their war room in the States. I am certain that the image played its part in getting Obama his second term after what was arguably a lacklustre 1st term. So as in conventional marketing where it is not enough to just have a good product but consumers be told of the same, in wars it has become important not just to engage in military action but to win the battle of the minds in the aftermath with astute communication, packaging – in short Marketing!

This is where I feel that India played its cards very well after conducting the “Surgical Strikes” this week. We are told that this is not the 1st time that our military has undertaken such operation along the LOC or across the LOC, but this is certainly the 1st time we made a clear announcement of it and let Pakistan and the world know of the same.  Here the 1st principles of marketing as I elucidated before came into play. That of not just carrying out the operation but communicating to the target audience of the same and communicating well. Which straight away helped build the narrative and enhance the image of our Prime Minister as a person who walks the talk. From here on irrespective of what happens, the Modi Government can take credit for having altered the image of India as a soft nation – a baggage we have been carrying for too long.

Not just this – the moves and communication preceding the operation have also been smart. After the Uri attack, the usual platitudes of condemnation followed. And then followed by the now famous statement that “the Army will respond at a time and place of its choosing”. As the talking heads in TV studios started analyzing what it means in terms of actual action on the ground, the Prime Minister while addressing a public rally in Kerala deflected all talks of war/military action by saying that our war with Pakistan must be to eradicate poverty. After this statement by the PM, most pundits started talking of the “return of Strategic restraint” in our nature of response. But most forgot the basic principles of warfare which is “you don’t say what you do and you don’t do what you say”! So I was not surprised that a clear military strike followed though I was indeed taken in by the quick timing.

On the other hand on the Pakistani side it has been utter confusion in terms of communication. While the PM Nawaz SharifStrongly condemned the unprovoked and naked aggression of Indian forces resulting in martyrdom of two Pakistan soldiers along LoC” the press release from Rawalpindi military HQ dismissed the strike as a routine “cross border strike initiated and conducted by India”. And interestingly brought in a “marketing” element by claiming that “This quest by Indian establishment to create media hype by “rebranding” cross border fire as surgical strike is fabrication of truth”!!! So while the Pakistani military establishment understood the concept of “Branding/Rebranding”,.. they walked into the trap which India laid.

India conducted the operation, “branded” it as a “Surgical Strike” and informed the world of the same. Pakistani military establishment and the Government openly echoed different views of the same. Now the question is – can you take to a level of serious military escalation after having dismissed the Indian operation as a border skirmish? In ensuring a muted response to the operation from the International community, India has successfully controlled the post operation narrative so far.

The Government having done its part so far carefully and smartly with effective controlled communication (the presser was addressed by DGMO and the MOE spokesperson jointly) could have reigned in the media from hyperventilating the whole night on Prime Time. There was an unwanted competition among anchors that night as if there was a “Kaun Banega Nationalist Anchor” competition! I believe there was some communication the next day from the Govt. to channels to pull back the rhetoric!

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The back cover of the book Marketing Warfare says “Marketing is war. To triumph over the competition, it’s not enough to target customers. Marketers must take aim at their competitors­­ and be prepared to defend their own turf from would-be attackers at all times”. I would like to paraphrase the same and say “Today, War is marketing.  It’s not enough to just win the war but to win the narrative after the war”.

P.S: Everyone who has seen US presidential debates knows that the real show begins after the candidates have said Goodnight. And that is in the “Spin Room” where cherry picked faces from both sides give a spin on what their masters actually said and meant in the debate!!! It’s a war out there, you see!!!

Shaadi?? – My Conditions apply!!!

Followers of South Indian Cinema in general and Tamil cinema in particular would remember the hit film Manal Kayiru’ in which playwright and stage veteran Visu made his debut as a director. The film has the male protagonist played by comedian S.Ve.Shekhar laying out an elaborate list of 8 conditions which a girl must satisfy to become his wife. The director himself playing the role of a marriage broker in the pre – Shaadi.com/Bharatmatrimony.com,… era lines up a girl and cons the hero into accepting her by proving that all his conditions were met. In these times of sequels, if one thinks of making Manal Kayiru – 2, one important change is called for in the script. Or rather a role reversal. Today, it has to be the female protagonist who has to dish out the conditions to be met by her potential suitor. A survey conducted by a matrimonial site clearly pointed to the trend of more and more girls putting forth conditions before taking the final plunge.

I thought that this emerging change was wonderfully picked up by ‘Shaadi.com’ a leading match making portal when they started running a very interesting TV commercial which showed young liberated girls. They claimed in a montage of visuals that they will marry but in their own terms. You may see the ad here. The ad ends with a super with a very firm voice over – Shaadi.com – My conditions apply!!! I must say that the creators of the ad (JWT I think) have a very good sense of what is happening today and smartly weaved it into the commercial. This is today’s generation of girls who are extremely liberated and self-confident.

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It’s my premise that much of this change must be owed to the IT revolution which programmed India in the late 90’s. In one of my earlier pieces I had attributed the Ascent and Revenge of the Mamis to this same IT revolution. (You may read that piece here). Now I must say that the “Revenge of the Mamis to be” can also be ascribed to the growth of IT Industry in India and its hitherto successful run in empowering Middle Class Indians and the women folk. Traditionally a core Engineering/Mfg. Company would prefer to hire male engineers citing tough conditions at work. But with IT, that line just diffused.

Ergo, India’s IT rise has stopped the party the boys were having, on its tracks. For long in India the boys were a privileged lot and were used to listing a set of conditions and detailed specifications for their wives to be. Must know to cook, must be domesticated enough, must quit the job after children and if it’s Tambrahm community – must be trained in classical music, must be trained in Bharatnatyam (but must stop dancing after marriage) ,…,… were some of the wish list.  But today, it’s the girl who calls the shots. In the “getting to know each other date”, the girls come prepared with a clear set of questions and conditions while the boys just show up.

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  • A minimum 5 figure salary/month (preferably take home that is). To be proved with a copy of the last not one but 3 salary slips😊
  • Should have a house in his name (shared or an ancestral property is not enough😊)
  • Should be owning a four-wheeler
  • If its IT – should have opportunity for “on site”😊
  • Cannot be in ‘Joint family” post marriage
  • I will have to take care of my parents even after marriage. No questions to be asked”.
  • You have to treat my family as yours”
  • ,..
  • ,..

And making it abundantly clear what to expect and what not to expect after marriage. Like

  • “I can’t cook to save my life. Will try to learn as much as possible. But you should manage to cook”😊😊
  • “Will dress as my wont – modern, traditional, whatever”
  • “Will not give up my job under any circumstances”
  • “I will decide when and how many children to have”
  • “No joint family under any circumstances”
  • ‘Will retain my surname”
  • ,…
  • ,…

While most of the above still lie in the realm of reasonable expectations, there are some which border on the extremes. Sample this:

  • Like when a girl asked her potential suitor – “how many luggage you have???” – And she meant parents, sisters, brothers,..😁and particularly wanting to make sure there was no “unmarried sister”😄😄
    • When the shocked boy objected (sort of) to the use of the word luggage for family members, she quipped, “Relax, I just said “luggage” and not “Excess baggage”😄😄
  • Like when a girl candidly said – “I turn on the GPS as soon as I enter the house – so that I can locate the kitchen😜😜
  • Like for a change one girl gladly accepted to live in a joint family post marriage adding “Somebody has to handle the kitchen and take care of the child when we have one, no???”😜
  • Like when a girl scanned the boy’s complete FB profile/posts and ofcourse friend list (particularly the girls type) and asked, “Who is this _____?? You seem to like all her bakwas (If it’s another girl it has to be bakwas😜) posts and post elaborate comments!!!”

Particularly at a time when the gender ratio is skewed against the men in many communities, they are at the receiving end of this revenge onslaught. “So my dear younger generation “to be married” male doston, All the very best! And be prepared with “No conditions apply” from your side and for “Many conditions apply” from their side.”😄😄

Kyunki, Mera Desh, Mera desh badal raha hai, Aage badh raha hai!!!😁😁😁

Writings on the Walls!!!

First a disclosure. The topic for this post is lifted from the ace columnist Shekhar Gupta’s columns – the ones he usually pens on his sojourns to the rural heartland of India during election times to gauge the mood of the electorate and to see for himself the changes sweeping the country. This piece is on similar lines. One which is based on my recent visit to Coimbatore where I spent the last few days of the 2015 and rang in the New Year. Coimbatore is the 2nd biggest town in Tamil Nadu and by no means can be categorized as a rural heartland. It has been an industrial hub with a higher than average per capita income in the state and the country. But for those living in metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or ChennaiCoimbatore is an idyllic place with much cleaner air and purer minds. And as you move further away to the suburbs of this town like Vadavalli the “Writings on the walls” are clearer. Let me attempt to recap some of those which I found interesting:

  • First up, as you drive down into the city from the airport, through Avinashi Road a commercial nerve centre a new Audi showroom has sprung up! Atleast I saw it for the 1st time. Not surprising though for a city where the entrepreneurial class had always high exposure and aspiration as far as cars were concerned. But what surprised me certainly was a brand new showroom which was getting ready for Harley Davidson bikes down the lane.
  • In a lazy afternoon, as we hit upon the idea of watching a film, Bajirao Mastani won the battle over Pasanga-2 (a Tamil film). My own snotty idea that tickets for a Hindi film will be easily available in a place like Coimbatore got demolished the moment I checked for tickets online. It was indeed a year end and generally a holiday week, the film screened only in 3 multiplexes and just 2 shows compared to 5-6 shows of Tamil movies,…,.. But still for the whole period we stayed there Mastani proved elusive. Still griping with the thought that Madrasis are Hindi haters –Think again!
  • More proof of this would emerge when I saw boards hanging like this in gates of houses. Note that stress on “Hindi”

Board in C'tore,012014

  • Coimbatore has huge gas stations. Once as our cabbie got into an IOC gas station, I saw this billboard.

Fitness catching in Cat d towns,122014Written in Tamil, it was talking of a promo by which those filling up petrol were eligible for VLCC gift vouchers. Was interesting to see the aspirational connect. And as we drove further I would see many more billboards for VLCC beauty products (Like this one)

Signage in a Vill petrol pump on face cream,1,122014

  • Again further proof for the increasing thrust on looks showed up shortly as I and the wife were going around looking for a friend’s house. The landmarks wereK.R.Storesand “a beauty parlour”. I kept asking few people for K.R.Stores in vain. The wife then took charge and asked the next lady the directions for the beauty parlour. And lo she clearly directed us to the house we were searching in the scorching sun for the last 15 mins😁. I wanted to tell K.R Stores to change from selling wheat flour, rice flour to being a beauty parlour😁😁
  • When the daughter pestered for taking her out, we went to a household products Trade fair which was going on in the Codissia Trade fair complex near the airport. Frankly I was going to such a fair may be after 15 years. My images of these fairs were always of stalls selling products like Roti makers, Vegetable choppers,… which usually work wonderfully in demos at the stalls but fail miserably at home😞. And then you had the myriad handicraft stalls from different states. Stalls hawking bedsheets, pillow covers,… What I saw this time was revealing. There were no stalls pushing choppers and roti makers first up. But one could see stalls selling organic food products, home security solutions, food products made of millet and other exotic cereals, solar products, foreign holiday packages and few stalls peddling fitness solutions including Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali products😃😃!
  • The neighbourhood cabwala whom we usually engage was now an Ex Ola wala. He got into the Ola App bandwagon and got out of it within few months. In his own words –‘Ola customerukku nalla Appu. Aana engalukku nalla Aappu!!’ (It’s a good app for customers but for us cabbies it’s a bad deal.). Apart from driving a taxi, he runs a provision store. His son is not interested in this business and wants to be an Engineer. ‘Avan eppo paarthalum ethanayachum kodanjukitte irupaan’ (he’s all the time fiddling around with something or other)
  • A videographer in the vicinity now offered live streaming of events. He claims this is a must now as folks abroad need to watch marriages,… live when they cannot attend.
  • And If I dare to call so, Coimbatore is fast emerging as the Retirement capital for Tamilians the world over! What started more as a social concept of community based living option for elders (whose children are mostly out of the country) has now morphed into an aspirational option. Coimbatore is now dotted with Gated community spaces designed specifically keeping “living alone senior citizens managing NRO accounts” in mind.

Now all these (except the last one) may not be unique to Coimbatore only. If one travels to a small town in Maharashtra, UP or Orissa the “Writings” may be similar. What is commonly wringing in all these so called “Writings on the walls” is the aspect of “Aspiration”. Whether it is craving for better looks or learning Hindi or wanting to ride a Harley Davidson or seeking better health, the new Indian (even senior citizen if I may add) is not satisfied with what he/she can make do with. But aspires for the better and the best.

It is this idea that Narendra Modi tapped into in his prime ministerial campaign successfully and rode to power. And it is important that his government doesn’t forget this aspect and does everything to fuel economic growth which will give wings to these aspirations at all levels. Ignore these “Writings on the walls” and the writing on the 2019 wall will be clear.

The “Revenge of the Mamis”!!!

Ever since I wrote a piece on the Mamas“My close encounters with Mamas” (read here) – their counterpart, the Mamis stopped being kind to me. “Ennada, engala pathi ellam ezhutha maatiyo??” (You will not write about us and all??) – was the usual refrain wherever and whenever I met them. Though my immediate reaction was – “Oh so these people are reading my blogs😃”- I thought to myself that I must soon set this imbalance right. Hence this attempt. Typically in Tamil Nadu, any married lady from the Brahmin community is referred to as Mami sometimes in reverence, sometimes with scorn and sometimes in jest. For the purpose of contextualization, Mamis being referred so in this piece are ones who are now in their 60’s and may be early 70’s. And there is a reason for this funneling which will reveal itself at the end.

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For decades, the Mamis were generally a subdued lot – sacrificing their interests, their choices,..,… for the sake of the family and single mindedly pursuing their husband’s and children’s interests selflessly. They took pride in the achievement of their kids and remained contended in whatever they were doing. But since the late 90’s the Mamis started taking a different avatar. It would be tempting to attribute this change to the overall rise of India and the Indian Middle class post liberalization. But I would ascribe this change to the rise of India as an IT behemoth and the subsequent changes it brought to the typical Tambram household. In a book titled “Indian Express” by Daniel Lak, the author quotes Kris Laxmikanth – a headhunter specializing in IT in Bengaluru saying that the ascent of India in the domain of IT can be owed to the “revenge of the Brahmins”. And may I say that the ascent of IT in India has led to the “Revenge of the Mamis” in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere😃😃. This revenge saga manifests in few ways:

  • Far from being limiting their sojourn to pakathu veedus (neighbourhood), Kovil (Temple) and Kacheri(Concert), today the Mamis travel around the globe and if need be alone.
    • If its 1 year in the Washington in the US to meet up with the elder son, then its Wellington in NZ the next year with the daughter!!! “Ennoda passportla pages romba seekram theernthu pogarathu😓” (The pages in my passport get over very quickly) is a lament you can hear if you overhear 2 Mamis conversing. And the other Mami quipping – “Naan oru Jumbo passporta vaangi vachundurikken” (I have taken a Jumbo passport)

     

    • Recently I went to a concert of Sanjay Subramanyam, where the hall was filled with Kanjivaram saris of different hue, one could overhear Mamas discussing Modi Vs Manmohan while the Mamis were comparing Sanjay’s rendition in Thyagaraja Aradhanas at Cleveland Vs Austin. “Kalyani la antha “Bajare Re Chitta” Clevelandla pona varsham paadinaar paarungo,. Romba nanna irunthathu. Austinla Kalyani paadala,..,…,..(In Raga Kalyani, the song he sang in Cleveland was very good. But in Austin he didn’t sing Kalyani)
    • Gone are the days when Mamis used to talk about going to Srirangam temple for Vaigunta Ekadasi and cross the ‘Swarga vaasal’. Now its “Pona Vaigunda Ekadasi annikku Pittsburg Venkatachalapathi kovil poyittu apparam we had a Potluck party. Naan puliyodarai pannindu ponen😆. (Last year on Vaigunta Ekadasi we went to Pittsburg Venkatachalapathi temple and then we had a Potluck party. I prepared Tamarind rice)
  • In my general observations, I have noticed that the Mamis have far better comprehension of Geography compared to their counterparts. When the Mamas struggle to figure out if SFO was West coast or the East, the Mamis have no such confusion. “LA state na Louisiana state pa, Los Angeles illa” (LA state means it is Louisiana state not Los Angeles) – I heard a Mami clarifying to one MS aspirant the other day! And added in some measure “intha loosu payyan Bobby Jindal irukkaane – he is from there only” 😆😆 (This nut Bobby Jindal is from there only)
  • The other thing where Mamis completely overwhelm their better halves is in the domain of health.
    • Mamis are invariably troves of medical knowledge. Finding answers on complex health questions real time with any Mamipedia is more accurate and faster than any other “pedia” in the worldwideweb 😆
    • I can confidently vouch that most of the Mamas have very little clue on their ailments, dosage of their medicines,.. and are completely dependent on their Mamis to guide them on these. “Intha tablet saapaatukku pinnala. Itha poi saapaatukku munnala pottu karele”?? (This tablet is supposed to be taken after meal. You are taking this before???) – is a dialogue one can hear often in Tambram households.
    • On a visit to the Doc for routine checkups, it is mostly the Mami who does most of the talking. Young Docs have confessed to me that they get tensed and their BP starts shooting up when they see a Mama walking in with the Mami beside for consultation. “Dr, last time his LDL was 200 and still you didn’t prescribe any Statin! You better prescribe one this time!” (Why are you coming to me is a question the Doc usually avoids under those trying circumstances😜)
  • For long the Mamas have been masters of the Queen’s language, the kadichu thuppara (bite & spit) accent notwithstanding😜. Now it’s the Mamis who apart from being good at English, have mastered the accents as well. If they give the TOEFL today, they will come out with flying colous! Oops colors nope colours😜😜
  • In the age of social media, it is usually the Mami @ home who is more savvy than the Mama. While the tryst of the Mama in SM is by and large restricted to checking updates, it’s the Mami who is proactively active :). From sharing recipes of now extinct items like Thavala vadai to pics of their trip to Batu caves in Malaysia for Thai poosam to colourful and exotic Kolams (put in front of their daughter’s condo in Singapore for Onam😜)Mamis are in the forefront of the social media evolution and their own evolution.

In the times of Bahubali, the “Revenge of the Mamis” is happening full on. After years of being submissive, it’s their time of reckoning. And they are clearly enjoying it. And the Mamas have accepted it gracefully. Was there a choice??? What is that medicine post dinner???? 😜😜😜

Postscript: I mentioned that this piece is about Mamis in the 60’s and above. What about the younger lot? Ladies in the 30’s/40’s and 50’s?? Well, do I need to stake my personal future, writing about them in a post that too in the context of revenge,…,…??? 😝

Escape,………………………………………………………………………… 😝😝😝

Disclaimer: Satirical piece – hence pardon the sweeping generalisations and stereotyping with no intention to harm anybody.🙏