Thursday, February 1, 2007

It happens only in India

Guess what the famed ruthless MNCs fear in India? 500 bhelpuri hawkers, 5,000 dabbawalas, 40,000 illiterate papad makers, and of course, 1 ubiquitous brand called Banta! Rest assured...

There are two stunningly successful businesses in Mumbai. One is run by 5,000 people and makes roughly Rs.25 crore a month. The other provides employment to some 500 people and has net sales of more than Rs.5 lakh everyday. The first one has been ranked by Forbes magazine at par with Motorola and General Electric on the basis of the highly prized Six Sigma rating for quality assurance. It is a business that is probably as complex as FedEx. The only difference being, this one is run with uneducated staff, without telephones, computers or even delivery trucks. Both the above-mentioned businesses are run by simple, almost illiterate people, yet they have made many multinationals gasp at their efficiency. If you haven’t yet grasped it; I’m talking about the ‘dabbawalas’ and the hawkers who sell ‘bhelpuri’ on the streets of Mumbai.

More than one lakh meals in aluminium tiffin boxes are carried from homes and delivered to people at their workplaces – just in time for lunch! These 5,000 odd dabbawalas have no computerised database records. They simply memorize the 30-35 addresses from where they need to pick up and drop the lunch boxes. They have been around for almost a century and the organisation is still going strong, so much so that when Prince Charles visited India, he singled them out and met them – these simple men dressed in white shirts and pants and Gandhi caps, bound and committed so strongly to each other, have shown that if you are motivated and committed, even huge MNCs with very large marketing budgets cannot beat you. They have helped Mumbai retain its passion for home-cooked food, by making sure it’s delivered on their work-desks, right on time!

If men in Gandhi caps have created a stir in Mumbai, then those are Gandhi’s philosophies that have changed the lives of more than forty thousand illiterate women. Started by a bored housewife and her six friends, this organisation took off with no huge initial investment and no super qualified staff to run it. Just sheer common sense and Gandhi homilies have made it today into a $65 million company. Mrs. Popat started Lijjat Papad in a chawl in central Bombay. Today, it has its headquarters in the swish Bombay suburb – Bandra. All that the housewives did was to make papad from the raw material given to them during their free time. Today, the papads are sold in the US, UK and Middle East. A few dedicated women, a sunny rooftop and an idea became the foundation of this organisation, which today fears no competition ‘Yeh Hai India!’

McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC and many more, with their smart packaging and snappy advertising, have not been able to take away the charm of a ‘bhelpuri’ made in 5 minutes and delivered in simple plates made out of leaves on a street corner under the blazing sun, sans any air-conditioning or hip-hop music and modern lighting. So much so that now these very MNC food chains have included dishes in their menu which no one ever thought existed. It’s only in India that one could find a ‘Do Pyaza Tandoori Masala Pizza’ or a ‘McAloo Tikki’ burger. If you need to succeed here, you need to take care of not just their taste buds, but also their religious beliefs. No wonder so many big food joints have ‘Navratra’ meals. Some even have a Jain menu. Guess it wouldn’t be long before a McJain burger would find a place in the McDonald’s outlets here! Necessity is the mother of all invention.

If our taste buds are unique, then so are our TV viewing habits. Nowhere else, could a whole nation come to a stand still when a mythological serial was aired on TV. That is exactly what happened when Ramayana and Mahabharata were aired on Doordarshan. People sat glued to the television sets on Sunday mornings. Till date, no other channel has been able to create such hysteria. However, there is someone who is making a lot of money with her serials. No where else, but in India could bickering of saas-bahus have made so much moolah as in India. ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ brought back TV to life. It turned Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Productions into a Rs.200 crore organisation in a couple of years. In fact, Ekta Kapoor’s serials generate TRP ratings, which are much higher than that of the live Indo-Pak cricket matches!

Nevertheless, cricket is one sport, which can drive a whole nation into a frenzy. In fact, it’s the Indian cricket team that can drive any nation into a frenzy. Whenever our team plays and wherever it plays, the TRP ratings shoot up. No one else worships the game as we do! Coke and Pepsi may fight their guts out trying to prove which tastes better, but on the Indian turf stands a drink that does not advertise, is made in not-so-hygienic conditions, yet has a large market share. ‘Banta’, the lemon flavoured drink, still remains a popular thirst-quencher of Indians. It has survived and thrived in a way that Coke and Pepsi’s marketing analysts can never imagine.

Lay’s potato chips is finding tough competition from our home-grown entrepreneurs – Haldiram’s. Lay’s just sell potato chips, Haldiram’s, with its collection of bhujias and mixtures etc sells a whole lifestyle. The whole country’s culture and its snacking habits are what Haldiram’s is all about. Someone rightly said: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Haldiram’s has found a permanent place in the heart of Indians forever. Come what may – Akhir Dil Hai Hindustani!

We are different, our culture, climate, language makes us so. We have some good and some bad. A population of one billion and yet we cannot win a gold medal in the Olympics. Cameroon, Mozambique, Bahamas, all much smaller than us, yet they each have taken home a ‘Gold’, not us!

We pray to female deities, and yet, there are fewer people hunting down tigers and lions, compared to the number hunting down female children. India has killed 10 million girls in last 20 years.

Snake charmers still remain a very important part of our tourist promotions. Snake charmers, like royalty, attract foreign tourists still. These snake charmers are the ones who don the role of doctors in rural India providing cures for diseases like asthma, skin infection, gastric problems etc. They also provide themes for Bollywood movies. A snake woman got the cash registers jingling never before. ‘Nagina’ could have been a box-office hit only in this land.

Bollywood too, with its unique way of movie-making, is something Hollywood has never seen before. We take their movies and remake them, almost scene by scene, and they turn out to be bigger and better hits. This Republic Day, let’s take a few minutes to ponder on our uniqueness and find a way to minimize the negatives. We are a very special nation. A nation, which still values families, love and all things wonderful. When anyone – MNCs, tourists, etc – comes to India, they need to understand our uniqueness to really be able to succeed and enjoy here... After all, certain things happen in India only!


  1. Really wonderful example taken but more comprehensive study will show you we Indians don't like to have a seat rather people prefer to stay in small journey, youth are fond of seating on railway pad while traveling, we love to cross the tracks when they are closed, Shiv Kheda's party fail here(No responsibility to aam admi plz), we prefer leaders having more notorious image while voting not to lead us but because we love doing this .....really we are so different.

  2. Nice reading for an article. But you miss the point and more or less get lost in the content. May be you have the decipher of the business angle in each of the examples of "being Indian". We don’t require human index analysis report to understand that we are still 50 years away from achieving the basic equality to harmonize the way we live and behave. May be even after that we would have inequalities in abundance and the world would still look at us with shock and awe.

    The bigger point is where our responsibilities start and end in all the mess we are trying to clean up and to stand the torture of watching the clean-up in all that we take pride and sometimes we ignore as if the problems never existed in the first place or assume it’s not my problem because you and me are not on that list.

    Infant foeticide is some thing very tragic and a bigger tragedy is infant mortality rates due to malnutrition during pregnancy and post-natal. Any one who has a child would understand how it feels when his own child is hungry and we have more than half the population in that category hungry and starving to irreversible diseases and death. We have the largest network of government sponsored food procurement and distribution network in the world and yet we are unable to feed those who need it the most. Who is more helpless, the starving child or the one who is supposed to do the Job.

    Coming to the point which I felt you missed, can the Dabbawallah model or any model for that matter can be implemented to reach the millions of starving children and their mothers ??


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