Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The World is More Indian Than We Think!

What goes up, comes down, What goes around comes around! Newton formalised the law of Gravity, but something a little similar is the unwritten law of Karma, which basically says that wheels of fortune can come a full circle!  India actually had the distinction of being the world's largest economy hundreds of years back, as it accounted for almost a third of the world’s GDP.The goods produced in India had long been exported to far off destinations across the world.Therefore, the concept of globalisation is hardly new to India, but as we begin the story in the 1980’s and the 90’s, India’s contribution to the World GDP was less than a 1%, being completely isolated from world markets, completely in contrast to how India was perceived hundreds of years back.

The 80's and the 90's were quite the times for reserving your awe towards developed countries like the US,UK or Australia. Your cousins in the US spoke about having Mac computers at home, while you were were still hoping that your neighbourhood school got itself a computer. We Indians, were happy playing catch up, waiting for the cousins to come and haughtily narrate tales of the west. Hoping for India to be on par with the world, was still a dream that was never saw the light of the day. In 1991, as India's economy opened up, brands flocked to India, and soon we had the same brands that some of our cousins used to have in the west, right here in India. Things as simple as having a global chain like Pizza Hut or just having ACT II popcorn in your kitchen, meant a lot to your self esteem, eventually trickling down to a globalised world in the late 90's. The Foreign Direct Investment in India as a percentage of India's GDP was still low at 0.2% but the ascent towards a "Happy Days Are Here Again" sign had begun in the right earnest.

As a 10 year old kid, I was happy to be watching the highlights of  a Zimbabwe vs England World cup cricket game(1992), on the same day as the match happened. What a Zimbabwean fan or an English cricket fan, used to watch, now I could also watch. The rapid spread of news, fashion and thoughts through media was making me a globalised citizen, even before I knew it. Life could never be better. I felt included, as part of the world.  To add to it, a Bengali girl had been selected Miss Universe, and a Mangalore girl had been selected as Miss World, and a little more importantly for me, India had won the Wills Cricket Cup soon after, capping an excellent 1994. India had arrived for me! I went out striding a bit more confidently with my bicycle on the road, feeling a sense of accomplishment as I overtook cars with a perceived foreign connection(DCM Daewoo and Cielo). On my way home from school, I used to stop my cycle with a swagger, just to stylishly drink a Fountain Pepsi and be in time to watch Small Wonder on Star Plus. Those very products that was the awe of Indians, when their desi cousins use to come home in the 80's and 90's were now, available at our Kirana store or in our living room. We Indians were more than happy to be included as an invitee for western brands to consider India worthy, as we swept past the Y2K bug into the next century. 

My world view of globalisation, was then largely limited to just cricket and technology, and it just helped that India under Saurav, had begun to form their best team in years. When India beat other countries at Cricket, my confidence level seemed to surreptitiously suggest that I was increasingly seeing myself as a global citizen, on par with the world. As much I needed the scores of Mambalam Mosquitoues vs Jolly Rovers in Chennai, I also needed to know if Lancashire could beat Essex at Durham. My world had expanded through television, through retail and through the internet(Cricinfo).  My life was  getting intertwined with those of distant people and places around the world culturally. Western Culture seemed to have diffused to all parts of the world including India, through Television, internet, newspapers and magazines, and was amply getting reflected in art, sport and pursuits of leisure.

It also helped that most of my friends found migrated way to the US either through writing code, or cramming vocal books in a fortnight, that one could envision a career abroad more easily than people a couple of generations ago. So far so good, India's was expanding steadily and the global potpourri mix had a bit of Indian'ness seep in. Basically a global cocktail, with a drop of Indian Jaljeera. To me, it looked like the world around me had compressed and there was an intense thought around the consciousness of the world as a whole.India's Foreign Direct Investment as a percentage of the Indian GDP now stood a 150 basis points higher at 2%, but still well below growing economies like Brazil and China, who have a number of around 5% for FDI flow as a percentage of their respective GDP.

The next major tectonic shift that tilted scales in India's favour were a bunch of seemingly unconnected events that seemed to happen around the same time. Apple iPhone's launch, IRCTC, Prime Time Televsion, A liberalised FDI policy, IT revolution, Real Estate Boom, and India's burgeoning billion plus population. Well it may seem disconnected, but here's how we connect the dots with these events. 

a) Mobile and Tablets- Apple's iPhone launch, left a lot of people around the world developing the strong desire to own a touch based smart phone, but not having the money to own one. Google and Samsung worked on an affordable model in Android, and   a lot of people around the world could now buy smart phones, and what that meant was a globalised world existed in the pocket of every soul who had a smart phone. Also a new order was created in development of Apps. A team of 3 sitting in Bhatkal in Karnataka could now make an iOS app for children in Sierra Leone, or adults in Las Vegas. The world was truly at your finger tips, with the 'touch' devices revolution, that has snowballed into an avalanche over the following years. A lot of app purchases are done through credit card transactions virtually, and the next mega trend, shown below in point b, helped app purchases achieve scale.

b) IRCTC- Opening up Indian Railway's ticket inventory to the public over the internet, meant a lot of productivity for Indians who did not need to go to a physical centre or depend on a travel agent. What it also did on a large scale was set the ball rolling for a burgeoning yet-to-arrive online travel industry, the backbone of which depended on credit card being used virtually. India bonded with the world instantly, as one could purchase any service across the world with their credit card. 

c) Prime Time-The ICL in 2007, was an attempt at pitting city based leagues in a new T20 format, played at times when the family was together at home. The fact that it did not have the blessings of the relevant authorities, gave rise to the beast called IPL. Life was never same after the entry of the money spinner called IPL, which established India's financial muscle in cricket.This new time-christened as Prime Time Television, between 8 PM and 10 PM, got a lot of viewers, where television show formats were licenced from the West, like Kaun Banega Crorepati.

d) The Boom Years- The IT software services, which started providing low cost maintenance work for companies in the West, started getting more work, through the end of the 90's and started to peak around 2003-06, where a lot of hiring happened at the fresher level. This huge job demand, created a demand for real estate in cities where IT jobs were concentrated, which in turn resulted in a huge construction boom of malls, which were very similar to those of the west with all modern amenities. These were further boosted by the liberalised FDI policies in 2005, which further opened up the economies. The increased population further helped in giving audiences and demand for various services like television, services and real estate.

So the learning from these mega trends, is that when all these mega trends converge it leads to a huge revolution wiping businesses and paving way for the new. As Steve Jobs once said in his Stanford Commencement speech that death, could be life's biggest change agent, and a similar view is valid for convergence of individual mega trends.

India has done well to be part of a global village all along, where India has blended well into the global mix. Globalisation is like a wave, and one can grow together along with it, and also fall along with it. While India is dependent on globalisation to make it better, India has also evolved certain aspects that make India unique to the outside world. 
The red carpet welcome to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the USA recently, showed the importance of India in Obama's plans. India has shown a lot of leadership, and has a lot of potential in helping out our neighbouring countries to foster peace and economic development, keeping India as the fulcrum for trade. Moving to the field of technology, A lot of Western tech companies have people of Indian origin at the helm, and many Indians defining the culture of these companies(Sundar Pichai at Android, Satya Nadella at Microsoft etc).India scores high on culture, history,technology,wellness, cricket and cinema, and is slowly making the outside take note and take in a bit of Indian-ness in their daily life. 

a) Cinema-Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey doing the lungi dance in an Indian award function, or Hollywood movies with an Indian theme(Eat Pray Love/Slumdog Millionare), definitely opens up India to the world. While the attention is on India,  India need to keep honing their excellence at their craft, and work tirelessly. As they say in the movie '3 Idiots', success will follow excellence wherever it goes.

b) Wellness- In the cult classic best seller in the West,"The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari", the world looks at India as the mystic place, whose ancient habits and rituals have protected Indians from ages, helping them lead a happy and contented life. The world is flocking east, to understand the ways of life and the rituals that make India what it is. May it be the flocking of faith, which attracts the largest gathering of people in the world at the Maha Kumbha Mela, or burgeoning Yoga and Ayurveda treatments which are needed as an antidote for today's "Tune in and burn out" work culture.

c) Sport- India for the last couple of decades, have produced sportsmen, who have shined individually like Sachin Tendulkar, Jeev Milkha Singh, Mary Kom and Abhinav Bindra, putting India on the sporting map. While India's position is still a blinking light, compared to the athletic and sporting development in similar economies like Brazil and China, India's sporting revolution seems to be led by Cricket. The global cricket economy runs on India's audience, and after the success of a globalised tournament like the IPL, India has been looking for revolutionising other sports like hockey, football and tennis with similar initiatives. Sport is a great way for cultures to mingle, and for opportunities for creating Indianisation in Sport(which is already happening in cricket)

d) Tech- While India has been lapping up the benefits of a technology revolution, there are lot of efforts made by people of Indian origin who lead a lot of the tech firms in Silicon Valley. India is warming up to entrepreneurship in technology, opening up avenues for India to slowly become a global power. 

If you looked at each of these 4 pillars through which the world is becoming more Indianized, you would have realised that all India has done, is put the right foot forward. These are baby steps and needs all the support in growing big over the years. These 4 pillars are mega trends in their own right and right now, will wait to converge. That will be the true power when the world will get to be more Indianized than ever, relative to the world being a similar Global village.

While these are positive steps and helps India carve a niche for itself in the world, it needs to take a holistic look at how  technology can make its primary economic driver of agriculture better, and make technology access to the bottom of the pyramid possible. Primarily, India needs to identify what's unique with its culture, and follow that. There's a line in the sand we draw between Indians getting globalised and the world getting Indianized, and thats possible only if we Indians are awakened spiritually to know what's right for us, instead of accepting a template and being blindly globalised. Blind globalisation of trends can some times erode into a region's uniqueness. You just don't want the world to be a place where you by default have a McDonald's, a Star Bucks, a Hard Rock Cafe and a Hilton Hotel. While Globalisation is great, India needs to ask itself its acceptance of Globalisation is coming at some cost, which is eroding into its Indianization. There's a very thin line there that separates both of these, and recognising that thin line is what will determine how Indianized the World will get relative to India getting Globalised.

So to answer the question, while the  world is set to get more Indian than we think, if we look at it holistically India is still more Globalised than the world being Indianized. I've written more on the trends that helped India adjust to Globalisation, and what's taken us so far here.But hey, we are in the incipient stages of the next big Mega Trend- The World getting more Indianised, and hopefully by the unwritten law of Karma, India's heydays should complete a full circle in the immediate future.

This is written for Indiblogger and Lufthansa's contest. Do check their video below as Lufthansa tries to beat the perceived grayscale and integrates with India's vibrant customs and colours! #MoreIndianThanYouThink

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