Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Professional DROP OUTS

An HT article a few days back  stated that only 3 of the Top 50 companies in India had a women force of 30%.
Have come across many such stories which, when read at a glance, paints a perception of a glass ceiling for women, or an inequitable work place at times or factors that are not exactly women friendly.

But beneath all the data and the stories of  work place and work life balance, perhaps lies a deeper truth.

That there is a substantial number of professional women who have chosen to "drop out".

What prompts these Drop Outs?

When the partner starts earning in multiple digits and the pressure of the double income quotient eases off.
When children become a priority over everything else.
When , again, a comfortable financial status means one has the freedom to dabble in a passion like art, NGO work, writing etc, instead of the rigours of a profession.

Let's face it.
We are still brought up in a way that gears us to "get married".
Our education and exposure does drive us to careers but we are judged, still judged, by our marital status.Or lack of it.
We are still conditioned to the role of wife, mother, homemaker first and these responsibilities cannot be a compromise, even if we want our independence by working.
We still cook or supervise whats on the table for meals, check the kids uniforms and homework and stay up late on those school projects. Not just office powerpoints.

So if we are not under pressure to "earn", we do have a choice.
And can still be socially embraced and personally fulfilled.

While the economy does lose out on half the bright creative multitasking minds, we have happy families that laugh and live together.
It is a different happiness quotient, in a society that puts family over everything else.
Perhaps rightly so.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Yo Basanti!

Welcome on board the young Indian girl from what we like to segment as "small town India".
Basanti. Kurti clad outside, nightie clad at home.
The sacrificial mindset. Always giving up that extra mithai for her sibling brother.
Not because she always wanted to. But because she was conditioned to.
Helping mother at home was important. She was the youngest amongst the womenfolk of aunts,married and unmarried, old grannies lying on cots in the sun, daughters in law stuffing masala in pickles. She was spirited. But clipped.

The clips are being discarded today.
Bit by bit.
She rides her scooty to college.
One of the lucky few to own one.
Goes to the "Parlour" not just for the usual threading and henna but for a regular trim.
yeah. She leaves her  waves unlocked.

Dines out with friends, even watches movies once in a while.
Her family demand less of her, so that she has more time for herself.

She is the emerging, new thinking young girl.

One we showcase in ads.
Wax eloquently about in articles.
Write about as our new target audience.

Ever wondered who has been equally participative in this change?

It is her parents.
Maybe her granny.
Or her aunt.
The elders of yesteryears.
Without whose blessings, life would have been one long curfew.

Dads who have realised that daughters are the new sons.
Moms who have vowed that their little girls will not lead the same closetted lives they had.
Brothers who drop her off to that audition. So that she gets to live her dream.

The generation of forty somethings who themselves led a life of Enforced Austerity and are now gradually unlocking their own minds.
Who want this generation to live the lives they compromised upon many a times.

It's time we said Yo! to that generation.
Who has made all the Yo Basantis come alive.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Magic of Mealtimes

Indian meals always remind me of the "thalis" we had at home.
The big dishes , usually stainless steel ones for regular use, would be dotted with a lemon wedge, chilly or pickle before the meal began.
There would be smaller bowls by each dish , for dal and curries and yoghurt.

The rice or chapati is accompanied with generous helpings of  the vegetable of the season, a bowl of dal and if non vegetarian, a mutton, chicken or fish curry. Papads , salads and chutnies sit proudly on the table.

This is what sets apart Indian meals and mealtimes from most of the West.
We eat together and the meal is designed to be shared and consumed together.
We reach out for the last piece of paneer or wipe the curry bowl clean with our roti.

This extends to eating out as well.
Dishes are ordered as common dishes for everyone.
There is a huddle and conversation and leafing back and forth of the well thumbed menus before the food is ordered alongwith with the rice and parathas.  The dishes are shared.

I  never remember ever having ordered a paratha and mutton curry all for myself. If the group decides on rice, I will go by that. Majority rules. And no complaints.

The size of the servings also reflect that. It is never meant for a single serve. If it is, it is deftly carved, sliced, dissected by the waiters themselves without being told.

Even if "continental" dishes are ordered, the roast, mash and veggies again sit on the centre of the table and are divided up by the family. So are the pastas and the salads.

The concept of "my own dish"  is quite alien and seen only amongst the elite and evolved, for want of a better term.

There is more to this than just food.
The sharing shows the strength of bonding in Indian families.
The respect for each other.
The giving up rather than giving in.
The values the little ones learn around the table.
Saying No  to the last helping just to ensure that everyone has had enough.

That's the magic of Indian mealtimes.
One I would never give up, just for "my own dish".

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Female Protagonist

Ipads and smartphones have invaded our lives.
Packaged  foods jostle for space in kitchen shelves.
Travel destinations means international.
We are global  in every which way.

BUT, our fetish for the boy child remains.
Not just behind closed doors and social circles.
Not only confined to fervent prayers and offerings in temples.
But in the elite marketing and communication industry as well.

Every script starts with - We see a cool young dude.......
All TVCs have  girls,  with roles just a little more than an extra or a prop.
Creating visual eye candy for the ad and the viewer.
All strategic briefs segment men.
Most pen pictures are about Rahul Sharma from Lucknow.

Yet we see a quantum leap in the way Indian girls are evolving.
The consumption patterns, buying behaviour, attitude to life.
Indian wives and mothers being key decision makers- from Kelloggs to Cars and Insurance.

Little girls can be as cute as little boys.
And not just in soap ads.
Little girls grow up into young women, with a career or great homemakers, a mind of their own and fairly independent.
Women who will be active brand endorsers of cars, mobile phones,  laptops, confectionery and not just doting mothers nourishing their family.

The Oreo TVC with the father- daughter, Birla SunLife Child Plan TVC with the daughter and father conversation on jobs nahin passion, Nokia's "Epic Drama Shoes"    are examples of the male bastion being nudged aside to make room for the new spenders and endorsers. But there room for more.

The Indian woman has come of age.
She is the new brand protagonist.
And not just a feature in an additional  ad or a multiple ad campaign.
It is time the industry recognised this.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Aromas of Train Journeys

Veining the great Indian landscape, Indian Railways has connected places, homes, families, dreams, careers and more. Many a romantic relationship has sprouted  in the rhythmic sway of the cabins as students travel frequently across the country. With low fare airlines, this may have reduced , but trains in India are a journey by itself.

One of the things I always remember about train journeys is the food.  The tryst with food starts from lobbies in buildings, or cabs and rickshaws, where, sitting proudly on top of suitcases, is the tiffin carrier. A steel or plastic or any other metal container packed with cases and compartments of food.

This is usually opened at the first meal hour inside the train, with aromas of aloo parathas ( potato stuffed Indian breads), mango and mixed pickles, oil kissed and smothered potato dry fry, sweetmeats. Newspapers are thoughtfully folded and become make shift mats and trays.

In between meals are the savouries which emerge and are shared liberally with fellow travellers. These savouries  carry the aromas of the region and are absolutely addictive.

The train meals which are carried on trays by the waiters are also quite a delight. So are the hawkers peddling peanuts and fruits and tea in clay pots which can be smashed after the tea- making it very eco friendly.

Each station, or most stations in India are also known for their food specialities. Like puri and aloo ( puffed breads and potato curry) served in dry leaf plates in Jadavpur in West Bengal, pethas of Agra , the lunches at Nagpur station etc.

But what these food boxes carry with them are much more than just meals.
They carry love and the grief of separation, in a nation where families still come first, even amongst youth. Where every departure from home is an occasion for the family, with relatives and friends bidding goodbyes and wishing well. Every journey stands for a moment in life, a purpose- careers, aspirations, home coming- where often one is torn between love and comfort zones and the zeal to go out there and make one's life.

Train journeys also stand for vacations. With the family looking forward to sights and sounds of new places in the country, local tours, shopping, eating and being together.

The meals packed and consumed in the trains add to the celebrations or  act as good consolation or pepping up for emotions of separation, if any.

That is why, rich in emotions, the food in trains always taste like nothing on earth.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ma, I am going to the pub

One of the most spontaneous and unprompted responses in most youth groups across small and big town India on what they like doing after college or work is Going Drinking.

Quite a transition in India where for most families, anything remotely connected to alcohol is bad and taboo and " does not drink " is a great brownie point for a propective groom. And as for girls, even stating this is, or rather, was, taboo.

Wanted to dive deeper into this trend.

As far as the families are concerned, there is an increasing permission for the youngsters to drink.

a. Demystifying the "drunk"

For most of the younger generation, they are the first drinkers in the family.They walk into the house after a pub hangout, and go on with normal life. For the elders of the household with vivid imageries of real life drunken uncles , relatives and maybe even fathers and husbands walking in sloshed, loud decibels, even extremes like wife beating, hugely popularised as a stereotype by Bollywood as well, this is a complete reversal and also a great reassurance.

b. Lifestyle quotient

Pubbing is a lifestyle. Late night parties are the order of the day. Much more in metroes. But creeping into smaller towns as well. Earlier non drinking parents themselves may, in all probability, have taken to sipping a glass of wine in parties. Carrying a wine bottle instead of a box of sweets is also a trend nowadays. Wine has in a way erased the earlier taboos of heavy drinking and aftermaths that created the fear of "being drunk".

c. Parent child dynamics

The relationship between parents and children are also undergoing a huge transition. More permissiveness, friends rather than elders, sharing clothes and passions are the new order. With conversations freely flowing, parents today make an effort to understand the perspective of their teenage or twenty something offspring and not make blind rules that will only result in distancing them further.

When it comes to youth themselves, drinking is not the end but the means to an end.

a. Freedom

Being able to drink with buddies is a sign of freedom. From early strict societal norms, parental pressure and also from their own inhibitions. Today they have exercised relative freedom on various fronts... career choice, relationships, personal grooming, choice of gadgets etc. Being free has brought in a sense of responsibility as well, like freedom always does. Which has largely removed the self inhibitions of guzzling a beer after work at the cafe.

b. Great Hangout

With curfew hours relaxed at home and more money in the wallet than before, pubs , cafes are the new hangouts.A place to meet friends, friends of friends, a place where relationships form and break, where conversations flow.It is a great break, a good fun dose and a social life booster.

c. A stress reliever

The pressures the young face today are big. Yes, every generation had pressures of growing up. But the pace of change, the options before us, the desire to achieve in a much shorter time span has added up to the stress of the first jobber. We see younger faces at work every day, as trainees, sometimes yet to sit for their final papers. The evening hangout over a drink with ex college buddies or friends at work is a stress reliever. Even a time when fresh ideas germinate over laughter and cheer.

d. Be with it

This is more for young girls, where the inhibitions and lack of permissiveness is stronger.
But applicable to everyone in general. Being with it and not being leftout is important. So in a lot of drinking and pubbing groups, there will the Coke, Pepsi, Juice ones as well.

The Drinking Eco System

This has become much more open and hence at its flamboyant best. From happy hour deals, to crooners and rock stars jamming on weekends, to wine and meal combo offers on e commerce sites and wine shops lined with cocktail mixes and everything else, it is never been so good. This has dragged boozing out from undercover to being part of social life. Good boys drink on the silver and small screen... actually there are no good boys and girls, just smart and cool ones.

This does not mean that we are turning into a nation of alcoholics! It just signals change.
In attitude.
Emanating in behaviour.
It is about being confident.
Being responsible.
And being bold.

So there we go.
India has finally uncorked.
And pubbing is the new popular hangout and past time for young India.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kebabs and KFC- The Indian Palate Transition

Our treat, usually on birthdays, was a meal at the local South Indian joint called Malabar.
Or , at Ming Room, a chinese restaurant.

Chinese cuisine had tickles Indian palates for decades.
So much so that noodles, or chow chow as my mother said, was dished up quite often at home.
Now the way it was cooked was simply stir frying sliced carrots, cabbage, onions and green peppers, dousing it in some soya sauce and tomato ketchup and then adding the boiled noodles wobbling in the colander, as the water seeped out through the holes. Served with more tomato ketchup.

Chilli chicken or paneer was the other dish made at home. Occasionally.

Then entered Maggi with instant noodles and our childhood changed.

The Ming rooms and Malabars holding fort in small towns were shaken out of their reverie by a new breed of fast food chains serving burgers and coffees and pizzas, with logos people had only seen in english movies and a promise of fun within the budget.

Soon this food made its appearance on the dining table.
Home cooked pizzas, grilled sandwiches, pastas are often sunday dinners served with pride by housewives to husbands and in laws. Who relish it with equal pride.

There is a sense of celebration over these non Indian origin meals.
A sense of casualness... the steel dishes may have given way to the melamine ones, forks replaced bare fingers, ketchup made its appearance again.

Grihashobha and Women's Era recipe sections now boasts of grilled aubergine and lettuce, paneer dumplings in white sauce and exotic desserts.

TV shows have shows with chefs dishing up such " conti" dishes.

Truly, our palates are changing.
Like we are.

Embracing cuisines so comfortably reflect a mindset which is open and liberal.
Signals confidence and security to move along the journey instead of staying rooted.

The fact that this change is being led by the woman of the house is also reflective of how women are equally welcoming change and donning global aprons wth elan.

As for me, I enjoy both my kebabs and KFCs .
Like most Indian families.

Shows that even when we are rooted, we can still fly.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Embracing Imperfections

The Kurkure Tedha Hai, Par Mera Hai is more than just a twisted savory crying out for attention.
The campaign is a reflection of how India today is embracing imperfections.

The matrimonial columns a decade ago had "fair, beautiful, slim" as a firm checklist for prospective brides.
We were conscious of society, of occasions, of expectation.
We were groomed and coached to achieve perfection, gold standards set by society.
Good wife, accomplished career oriented men, family car, own house, family values.

Bollywood epitomised perfection with the actor profiling.
The Ma, the Bahu Beti, the Hero.

Skin colour was and still is, in many ways, a measure of perfection.
The Kajol Bipasha brigade never quite matched up to the Ashdom of the screen, acting capabilities definitely not being a yardstick.

We liked following the norms.
The right lengths... hair or kurta.
The right smile
The right words
The right relationships
The right jobs

Today, this picture perfect canvas we all liked to strive towards has a few impromptu brush strokes. Maybe an occasional wrinkle. A couple of dark spots. But it is a more achievable, acceptable and likeable picture.

So what if the girl is dark? She can still be as good.
I don't mind my son becoming a diving coach
I am not fluent in English but that's fine. I am great at expressing myself.
Fat is not equal to ugly
I am open and outspoken

There are many obviously many more statements and expressions that show that we are increasingly embracing imperfections.

This is a manifestation of a strong undercurrent of self belief and pride in who we are.
We are drawing back the shades of pretense and revealing our true selves because we have the conviction to listen to what we really want to do and be and go ahead and just do that or be that.

It is a great place to be .

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Life Unbuttoned

Raunchy numbers like Choli ke peeche and many more have always added mountains of ooze and oomph to entertainment.

The "vamp" of yesteryears was an icon by herself.

Always better dressed, a much better dancer, street smart, the "vamp" was looked upon as almost evil by India. At least by women.

India is unbuttoning fast and  definitely loosening up.
Low cut kurtis and lower cut blouses
Crystals adorning navels peeping out from chiffon clad waistlines
"Lip to Lip" kisses victoriously marching past the censor pens
Six packs, bare bodies make men more sensuous than ever.
Wake up Sids glorify older women younger man relationships- live in at that.

The ad world is a great reflector of this .
Am-Sutras rub shoulders with Akshay Kumar unbuttoning his Levi's.
Pre production meetings no longer have clients insisting on long kurtas and full sleeves for mass India.
Plaits have all but become obsolete.

Smaller towns are quick to pick up the trails
Shaadi.com is also a dating site
Curfew hour at home is much more relaxed
Patriarchs  have realised that raised eyebrows will not reduce the shorter hemlines.

Yes, India is still rooted.
To its traditions and old values.
Maybe that's what keeps our minds rooted as well .
And our feet more grounded.

But the wings  have sprouted as well.
There's no caging back the young.

We are proud to flaunt.
Not just our toned physique.

But also our confidence.
Self Believe.
Even audaciousness.

It is indeed Life Unbuttoned.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gotta be Rich to lead a Poor life

As I scour the supermarkets for bajra flour to make coarse rotis for my dinner, many thoughts cross my mind.

Actually, these thoughts are prompted by the large font labels waving out to my eyeballs.

Jaggery, organic, whole wheat, unrefined oil, unsalted butter, farm fed chicken and more.

The prices printed in small print actually do make eyeballs roll... super premium is an understatement.

Natural living, Back to nature are new mantras.

Deluxe resorts tucked away in mountains where you leave behind your ipads, mobile phones and your busy lives to eat fresh fruit meals, meditate on grass, and have bodies massaged with natural oils, finally retiring to natural lamp lit rooms with cane furniture and mats.Even light mosquito coils to make it absolutely natural.

Being evangelists for food brands which have the magic words Nature Fresh, Whole Wheat, Organic and Pure.

We even like wrapping hand made gifts in hand made paper for that house warming do every now and then.

Landscaping is done to simulate the rural farmyards.

The list is endless.

Rustic is modern. Coarse is the new finesse.

And comes at a super premium mark up.

For a life our grandfathers and maybe even some of our parents grew up in.
A life led by most Indians even now in the farming expanses across our massive nation.
People who would give an arm and a leg to spend just a day like we do.
Have a meal like we do, a ride in a car, a shopping bag full for just one day.

Maybe a simple exchange programme of our lives would fulfil a million dreams and let us lead the natural lives we want to. Just for a day.

We don't have to really pay to lead a poor man's life.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

From Nightie to Kurti- The Indian Woman's walk to change

One of the common sights in my grandmother's place was my cousins and "aunties" wearing nighties.
Wearing nighties to the kitchen as they cooked meal after meal, wearing nighties in the courtyard when they bottled pickles and dried chillies, wearing nighties in the evening as they chatted at the gate with the neighbouring women, who were also in nighties.

The nightie travelled outside of home as well, to short walks to the neighbourhood grocery store for that packet of Britannia Thin arrowroot, the Jabakusum hair oil, or even to the bus stop for dropping the little kids off to school. Only that the nightie was demurely covered by a stole or a chunni.

Many have written about nighties and the way they actually stood for the emerging Indian woman who was taking baby steps towards modernity.

Today, the nightie has given way to Kurtis.
Long, medium, loose, semi loose, skin tight, embroidered... they come in all shapes and kinds.
The more conservative women  wear the kurtis over a  tight churidar - like a pair of slacks- reflecting the bridge between the two worlds she herself lives in.
The more adventurous invest in jeans  or trousers, usually not skin tight. Bangles, bindis and even gajras complement these outfits and the women look beautiful. The confidence shows in the walk and talk.

The younger lot in small towns of course wear kurtis with capris, with skin tight jeans- and it  never raises the eyebrows a shirt would raise amongst the older women.

This is a great example of the attitude of change and the behavioural manifestation of change in our wardrobe.
About the way we adapt rather than adopt
The way we adjust so well
The balancing act we play with great skill
About how the Me factor in women is fulfilled along with the We and family.

Kurtis unleash the spirit of freedom .
Freedom without a revolution or a crusade.

In fact, this is  perhaps the best ways of embracing change.