On a recent Saturday afternoon, my wife, Bhavana, and our year-old son, Abhishek, went to the malls. We first went to Atria Mall, which had just opened recently. Then, we went to High Street Phoenix, with the obligatory walk through Big Bazaar, Indias equivalent of Wal-Mart. I was visiting the malls after quite some time. On our way home, I could not but help reflect on how times have changed. I was telling Bhavana that the real Indian revolution was happening around us. A mix of malls, mobiles, media, money and movies are reflective of the new India that is emerging. She summed it the change in one word: attitude.
As recently as a decade or so ago, we were still very conservative in our outlook and spending. That has been the biggest change. Urban Indians are now much more liberal and willing to spend. The Atria Mall at Worli is full of international brands. The mall is designed very well also there is a feeling of openness and space You see people walking around mobiles in one hand, and shopping bags in the other. The revolution that India is witnessing, more than anything, is one of attitude.
The Indian middle class has always been talked about as a sleeping giant. In the period immediately after the reforms of 1991, many companies came to India salivating at the prospect of a 200 million strong middle class. Most were disappointed. Those were the early days. It has taken time but finally the promise of the middle class purchasing power is being fulfilled. It has taken over a decade, but now the mix of increasing incomes and the environment around is making a youthful population a magnet for global and local brands.
Malls are sprouting everywhere. The media is shaping a change of attitude more liberal, more open, laced with a bit of activism. Malls, movies, and mobiles mirror the me attitude the most visible status symbol for the young, and personalised with the latest ringtones. India is creating, after China, one of the largest segments of consumers with lots of disposable income.
In all this, there is one note of dissonance the government. The events of the past month centred around the reservation of seats in Indias higher education system for the backward classes has angered a large segment of urban society. People see the move for what it is dirty, caste-driven politics, with no intent to do any good for the masses. The shock is compounded by the fact that a person like Dr. Manmohan Singh should stand by speechless as all of this takes place.
For India and Indians to realise its true potential, one of two things needs to happen either we need a government that understands the true aspirations of the youth and focuses on solving Indias problems at the root, or people take matters in their own hands to counter the short-sighted policies of those in power. The issue about reservation in education shows clearly that the first is unlikely to happen in the near future. The second option is the only solution.
Tomorrow: My Views (continued)