Posted on 30-11-2014
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Our society’s most killing missile that prevents us from taking ownership of our lives is to wonder at every step what others will say.

Nandita, a highly educated, 24-year-old working woman, was telling me that her parents will not object to her possible love marriage. Yet they and close family members have overdosed her to be very conscious about whom to choose otherwise “What will people say?” Her core investigation of boys and the big dilemma that comes to her mind when she feels romantically inclined is, “What will others say?” She was expressing that by nature she will not go against her parents in choosing a boyfriend, which amounts to following a pre-determined pattern of who should be her ideal husband. In India’s contemporary situation, she explained in a matter-of-fact way, having an affair need not translate to marriage, an area that’s not under her control. Somehow she was realizing her inner emotional content is getting disturbed. She said she has time upto age 27, but her conversation became indifferent, “With all my restrictions, I may fail in a love marriage, so I have to depend on my parents to find me a bridegroom.”

While doing some research in an Indian village, a farmer’s son was saying their 2-acre land gives them Rs 50,000, while Rs 20,000 is spent on input costs. So with Rs 30,000 for the year it’s impossible to run their 7-member family. Taking his own initiative, he bought a small motorbike and became a mobile barber going to people’s houses to earn money. This brings him nearly Rs 15,000 per month. But his relatives want to disassociate with him. Why? Because they are Brahmins and he’s defiling the family’s image by pursuing a lower caste job.  I really appreciate this courageous spirit of today’s young generation not caring about what people say. After the research I went to his house and found the family living condition was quite comfortable with the money he brings in. He showed me his barber kit. His parents were despondent, wondering how they will marry him off to a Brahmin girl because his entrepreneurship is not acceptable in their community.

My own barrier was not so different. When Mr Jacques Gourdon, owner of the lithography printshop near Paris, very kindly offered me a sweeping job in 1974, I was totally shocked. It was unimaginable. I was from a Bengali bodhiya family. We were extremely poor in India, lived in a refugee colony. But how could I be a sweeper? I’d just arrived in France, knew no French, was penniless and without any job prospect. My growling stomach quickly won over my cultural blocks. I de-conditioned my Indian caste conscious baggage, and graciously accepted the job.

But more mental torture awaited me. My job entailed taking six big dustbins full of used ink cleaning cloth and papers out from my printshop to the road at the end of each working day. That immediately traumatized me. “What if someone saw me?” That this instant fear was ridiculous did not occur to me then. Just imagine the kind of complex I was carrying in my head. Nobody knew me in France then, which Indian would see me or even wonder who I was? How can any acquaintance or neighbor from my Indian village ever know I was here that I had to be careful of, “What will they say?” But psychologically I was very disturbed. Lots of cars and buses ply on the main road, so every time I went outside the door with my dustbins, I used to hide my face to not be recognized as a sweeper in society

After some time, I discovered this anguish to be totally absurd when I found Mr Gourdon was respectfully presenting me to other artists who came to the printshop as a painter from Calcutta. He’d even promote my paintings so I could make some extra money. The artists who’d come to the printshop to make their lithographs never looked down at my sweeping work like we tend to do in India. That broke my whole misconception of what other people will think. I started to boldly say then that my occupation was a sweeper while I was a painter. My morale was boosted when fellow students at my Parisian art college appreciated that I worked hard to support my education and livelihood while undermining themselves that they were studying with their father’s money. So I learnt that worrying about what others will say is the most indecent social education system in our country because it puts you in a cage you cannot break free from.

Just imagine, a cobbler in our country is considered the lowest caste “mochi.” I remember even in my poverty-stricken childhood, my grandmother never allowed me to touch the cobbler when he came to repair a broken sandal. After he left, the place he occupied was cleaned with water. Does it mean our cobbler has no chance of becoming a Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo, the celebrated shoe designers whose hand everyone wants to shake?

“Hats off to you! You don’t care what others will say,” is what people in India often tell me about the bright, holiday colours I wear to work to meet top global corporate managers. Actually I started wearing such colours in France to differentiate myself from the high-flying CEOs I had to mingle with, and didn’t really pay heed to this habit. Until I recently met Nandita and discovered the gravity of the words, “What will people say?”

The enveloping torment that society puts on people of a different caste and creed does not allow us to blossom to our full potential. I hope India’s young generation will ignore such persecution of “What will others say?” and make their careers without boundary, achieve their love life without other’s interference and create their livelihood in every domain with dignity.

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Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

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Posted on 23-11-2014
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Born with innocence, strong socialization moulds human beings to certain cultures. The need to not deviate from societal norms can ruin many a cross-cultural love relationship.

The amazing number of sincere responses to my column on digital technology adding salt to love wounds tells me the problem is dire.  Firstly, thank you my readers for connecting to my writing and permitting me to use your personal experiences. You are proving that it’s not just traditional caste, different states, languages, food habits or innocent Facebook appearances that put spokes into intimate marriage bonding. Look at the numerous weird reasons you have revealed to me of how love marriages can be blocked, snuffing happiness out.

Tech-savvy astrologer: A civil servant’s son and daughter of a family of engineers have been unable to marry for 3 years because of an astrologer’s negativity. These erudite families are evading decision-making responsibility by consulting an astrologer to determine marriage compatibility. It seems disbelieving or contradicting the astrologer is not an option because he uses the latest gadgets and apps to predict situations. Nor is it possible to bribe him, as is a common occurrence in such circumstances, because he’s a family member. The point I’m making here considers far-reaching consequences. Entrepreneurship is already lacking amongst our educated classes, by believing in such filters for children’s happiness we immobilize everyone. Instead of taking confident steps in life we make ourselves dependent on soothsayers, others who flex power muscles, or untoward beliefs in planetary movements we cannot control.

Antibiotic for digital woes: Having astronomical problems for marriage doesn’t mean there’s no solution if you visit the right godman. Watch out digital technology! Meet your match in a Baba who claims to remove “the negative impact that Internet has on young boys and girls.” In Mumbai’s suburban railway service which 7.5 million commuters use to come to work every day, this Baba advertises a cure for any digital technology problem people have. I’m sure many get convinced with such an antibiotic because a Baba plays a magical role in India.

Religious ricochet: An MNC executive said she’s had two different affairs at different times with non-Muslims who later confided they did not propose to her because their families were opposed to inter-religion unions. In her Muslim family, marrying outside the sect is considered a crime where all ties between the family and couple are severed. Her uncle arranged his daughter’s marriage to a Bora Muslim, so his extended family of Sunni Muslims ostracised them. When his other daughter fell in love with a Christian, her uncle insisted he convert to Islam. Even then his extended family boycotted him, stopped him from coming for prayers and will possibly disallow his burial in the community burial ground later. When another niece of this executive confided she had a Punjabi Hindu boyfriend, she excitedly offered to help them marry, but the niece declared, “I don’t plan to marry him. I will just go around with him until I can, and then get married to the guy my mother finds.”

Clan clash: That two 24-year-olds chose to marry is a big ego-punch for the girl’s parents and brother who consider it their birthright to choose her life-partner. Belonging to the same 96 Kuli Maratha clans with different surnames, they’ve known each other since childhood and are waiting 8 years for permission to marry.  He’s a responsible multinational company manager. Her parents threatened to make his life hell unless she stopped talking to him. He’s desperately looking for advice for his next move. Forget everything to get peace or defy her parents with a registered marriage?

Bold steps win: The powerful testimony of another reader who wrote about his 46 years of happy inter-caste, interstate love marriage is a great lesson for our horrible, human-made rituals. “Dear Shombit, It was a great pleasure reading your column in Indian Express. You took me personally back to late sixties. I’m Maharashtrian CKP; my wife a Gujarati Baniya, a shade lower in Hindu caste system. We met at GS Medical College, Mumbai. Fell in love. Decided to marry and then faced more or less the same obstacles as your friend’s brother… except for FaceBook. We are in active medical practice, I’m a very senior (78 years) Gynaecologist and my wife, younger by nearly 5 years, a well-known ENT surgeon. We went to UK to get our Fellowships from respective Royal Colleges of Surgeons. Our marriage has wonderfully lasted for such a happy and prosperous long time only because we had to fight extremely hard against the firmly entrenched social norms like caste, community and silly inhibitions of the feelings of near relatives in match-making. Please tell your friend’s brother to go ahead with his plan to marry his beloved and face the world boldly for what they are doing should be strictly their own business. We both wholeheartedly wish them the best, Dr. Arvind Pradhan, Dombivali.”

Hijacked! A reader from UP who’s had a love marriage with a Bengali, narrated how parents try to own proprietorship over their treasured boys. She said when her 80-year-old father-in-law meets his brothers, they invariably talk of how their sons were “hijacked” into love marriages. After 15 years of marriage into this joint family where she affectionately nurtures her in-laws, her only choice is to express amusement at the hijacking metaphor.

Meddling with human emotion, our most valuable intangible asset, can be quite disconcerting. To not hurt parents, young adults illogically conform: “If I fall in love, I will fall in love with a person of my religion, caste and creed.” Virtual matrimony sites help find dates and spouses, but opposition to love marriages continues in many families. Astrologers provide scientific backup to stop the happiness of people in love, anti-Internet Babas veer us away from opening the windows of the mind, the evils of child marriage or forced social marriage continue. Do nosey relatives and co-conspirators create stodgy social dogma for couples to lead a life without emotion?

Download a FREE PDF copy of the article.

Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express


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Posted on 16-11-2014
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Stressful is his joint family life due to his brother’s love affair. My soft-hearted friend was trying his best to iron out the social wrinkles leading to his brother’s marriage, but impediments are many.

The deep-in-love protagonist couple both work in a foreign company in the IT services industry. The barriers to tying the knot? They are from two different Indian states so speak different languages; he is an upper caste Brahmin, she of a lower caste whereas both follow Hindu traditions. Even being of Indian origin, I have never understood this man-made caste hierarchy. The Hindu way of life is so humane, without any dogma or any system to convert people like other religions have, yet caste puts a disgraceful black spot on it. To me it seems a critical, chronic problem in today’s day and age. When the country is growing and trying to dominate the world stage, internally we are continuing to trample on one another for social supremacy without any basis.

My friend is the elder brother; he had himself followed the arranged marriage system. His parents first found compatibility with his in-laws’ family. That means they were all Brahmins, of similar social status and Indian state so speaking the same language and eating the same kind of food. His parents chose the girl to be his bride; he met her, there was instant good chemistry between them, she is an executive in a company and they are very happily married. The arranged marriage has a few changed rules now. Before the economic reforms, a housewife was preferred, but today a working woman has a better position in a joint family. In another instance, the parents of another friend of mine from Jodhpur met 43 families during 18 months to select his bride. He married with 44th one.

Now the brother’s inter-caste, inter-state love marriage was looking catastrophic, but my friend has stepped in to make his brother happy. When he discussed with me I appreciated his elder brotherly support to enable this marriage. His wife too is wholeheartedly taking the young couple’s side to make this marriage happen. This is the new, open-minded generation. My friend and his wife met his brother and girlfriend to assure them they have support. He is trying hard to convince all extended family members to accept this marriage. Their mother is the most difficult cookie, being highly influenced by her own brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. This kind of social misbehaviour puts my friend off. His brother is frustrated because he does not want to hurt anyone or break away from his joint family to start a nuclear home. Finally, my friend and his wife managed to convince the mother; things settled down with the mother preparing for her younger son’s marriage.

Isn’t it ironic that we proudly say India is a secular democracy, we are Indians first, there’s unity in our diversity. But in practical life our true colours show. Two young working adults in love from adjacent states can face such distress and indecent, socially created rules inspite of being Hindus with no religious dogma. Both are working in responsible jobs dealing with global clients and both have similar working environment, personal friends and social circles.

For a few months I heard nothing and have been waiting for an invitation card, when suddenly a big problem erupted because of FaceBook.

His mother’s family opposed to this marriage now got evidence that the girl “drinks alcohol” which is among the worst “crimes” imaginable in traditional Brahmin families. They saw a picture of hers in FaceBook visiting UB City. The bride-to-be’s friend had posted their group picture in her Facebook page having dinner with her colleagues. Bangalore’s UB City is among India’s most sophisticated shopping malls housing luxury products retails like Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Armani, Rolex, Paul Smith among others, and a posh terrace of world cuisine restaurants. This opulent mall belongs to United Breweries, the beer and liquor company, and hence the conjecture that the girl was partying here with liquor. The problem is that traditional family folk associate such a premium place first with drinking alcohol. In actual fact, she’s a teetotaller!

My friend’s mother is very emotional, gullible and traditional. She was shown this picture of the innocent girl celebrating a colleague’s promotion.  The family of my friend’s mother who’d become unhappy since this girl was about to be accepted into the family, obviously kept tabs on her activities. This Facebook picture eating in a restaurant was the perfect ammunition to discredit the girl and say to the mother-in-law to be, “I told you so!” The mother was so disturbed she would just cry continuously.

Each time my friend repairs the situation with his mother, somebody or the other tries to break the marriage: lower caste, speaking a different language, belonging to a different state, then FaceBook added salt to that by raising the googly of alcohol. I’ve never understood what they can gain from bringing unhappiness. The young couple aged 29 and 28 years is getting frustrated. He is considering accepting a foreign assignment to get away from it all, she is under pressure from her family because according to Indian family tradition she has crossed the marriageable age.

If you look at today’s armchair virtual screen revolution, it is without a clear purpose and objective. Boasting of thousands of friends on a social networking site like FaceBook amounts to useless virtual masturbation where even physical pleasure is missing. Uploading personal pictures on FaceBook of enjoying yourself with friends or on holiday serves to upload human privacy. In India Facebook seems to have become an instrument of espionage for the older generation, particularly in marriage areas. When somebody says “I have 10,000 Facebook friends,” I’ve never understood what it means. It this the fiber of social distress? I have suggested a creative idea to my friend which I cannot disclose now. I promise you my readers, once marriage happens I’ll let you know.

Download a FREE PDF copy of the article.

Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

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Posted on 22-09-2013
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Indian higher education develops excellent analytical capability in students, making them logical and effective in passing the different rounds of competitive tests, discussion groups and interviews to bag a great job. In your youth, at home, school and college, the values inculcated in you were to be obedient, respect elders, love and share everything with the family, live harmoniously with neighbours, conscientiously learn what’s taught and reproduce that in examinations to succeed with flying colours.

After confidently clearing all tests, you join the working world. Only to realize that analytics alone gives no results. You are expected to ideate out-of-the-box; are admired for tactical new angles you can bring to kill competitors. Your efficacy is measured in how you ruthlessly, aggressively thrash competition entering your market territory. You also have to beat colleagues in performance to become a leader. You discover that an amorphous entity outside the enterprise, that’s under no one’s control, is what business is entirely dependent on. That’s the customer, whose insights you have to use in drawing up the company’s strategy. Suddenly at work, it’s the “bad student” antics that are treasured, like marketplace fighting, challenging set norms, finding solutions purely through one’s own wits. Many “good student” managers cannot take this total turnaround in mindset and practice. If you’re one of them, you’ll intellectualize your job, engage in heavy analytics. Meanwhile, behind your back, the competition is nibbling away into the market share of your company’s products.

This capitalistic world is akin to Africa’s savanna grassland-cum-forest, home to animals like lions, hippos, wild dogs and hyenas, crocodiles, wild elephants, snakes, among many others. Their attack can chop you, crush you or chomp you up. Survival of the fittest is the name of the game, exactly the way it’s among competitors in the capitalistic marketplace. Here it’s like traversing the savanna where analytics becomes a deadlock impeding a market win. Without becoming a warrior who’s watching every market movement, you’ll be eaten up in this savanna jungle. Conversely, the communist economic culture is like the frozen North Pole. Everything’s very cold and decided by the state; you need nothing more than to protect yourself with heat. Competition barely exists here, so you can happily create heated analytics as the North Pole freezes all other action.

In the savanna, what role does art play to change your total perspective of work and life? Even in today’s Internet era that’s proliferated with pornography, a bold 19th-century extreme close-up painting of the female vulva called “Origin of the World” still has the power to scandalize the world. “L’Origine du Monde” came to Paris’ Musée d’Orsay in1995, after being in private hands for over a century. The museum mounted it behind glass and gave it special security in case it drove offended visitors to become violent. Its creator, Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet, pioneered the Realist movement in French painting. He vociferously guarded his freedom: “When I am dead let this be said of me: He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty." But Courbet was unable to exhibit this painting because he could have been sent to prison on charges of “affronting public and religious morals.”

The popular Paris Match magazine recently published an article that stirred up a storm. Had Courbet painted his muse in entirety, but severed the top half to avoid public dishonor for her? It’s now revealed she was Irishwoman Joanna Hiffernan, mistress and model of American artist James McNeil Whistler, and that the two artists fell out over her. In 2010 an amateur French art-collector found with an antique dealer what he reckoned to be the top half of L’Origine. He bargained, bought the painting for £1,200 and subjected it to various scientific tests. Earlier this year, the expert on Courbet, Jean Jacques Fernier, confirmed it to be part of the same canvas, authenticating it as L’Origine’s top half. But a controversy still reigns, not everyone is convinced. This new-found top half is now supposedly worth £35 million.

Take another masterpiece, the 500-year-old Renaissance painting Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s still steeped in mystery as nobody has discovered who the woman with the alluring smile was. But what’s new is that the National Committee for Cultural Heritage in Italy has found that by magnifying high resolution images of Mona Lisa’s eyes, letters and numbers can be seen. A microscope is required as the human eye cannot view them. Silvano Vinceti, President of the Committee said, “Da Vinci put a special emphasis on the Mona Lisa. We know …in the last years of his life he took the painting with him everywhere …in a secure case. We also know that Da Vinci was very esoteric and used symbols in his work to give out messages.” In the right eye’s black pupil, Leonardo da Vinci wrote LV, possibly his signature. In the left eye are unidentifiable symbols.  This world’s most famous painting was featured in Dan Brown’s bestseller book The Da Vinci Code, which became a film starring Tom Hanks. Brown had suggested that secret messages are hidden in Mona Lisa, a painting Da Vinci started in 1503 and completed just before his 1519 death in France. Mona Lisa was once stolen, twice vandalized; even a tea mug was thrown on it by a Russian woman who was refused French citizenship. That’s how closely the world identifies Mona Lisa as the reference of France today.

So my sub-25 Zapper friends, analytics can definitely land you a boring career where you make good money, but your imagination will be stifled. By bringing creativity into this traditional work, you will keep your mind and business vibrant. Those of you who want a creative arts career, learning from these masters will help you ideate differently. Because they have shown how art can impact and change society, even 5 centuries after they have gone.

To download above article in PDF Analytical deadlock

Financial Express link:

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Posted on 24-07-2011
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

On the first mobile phone ring she disappointed someone matter-of-factly, “I’m travelling on work, I can’t meet you.” Luckily she didn’t rebuff me, I could extract Anamika’s social and individual living style. Let me narrate the story of this 26-year-old Indian Zapper’s (below 30 years) game plan with callers lined up by her mother.

She hails from a small town. Her mother wanted her to marry after school but she managed to negotiate a college education. Conscious of Anamika’s grooming and health, her mother would nourish her hair with oil once a week. When Anamika discovered shampoo, she’d sometimes stop by a friend’s house before a college function, wash and condition her hair to be bouncy so it wouldn’t glisten limply on her head. She enjoyed the attention she got, especially after her friends introduced her to the simple eye-liner and she notch up a space among those recognized as beautiful girls at college. On returning home she had justify her dry hair to her mother, and be subjected to increased frequency of hair oil massage. Of course she kept her eye make-up experiment a secret by washing her eyes to avoid explanations.

Anamika aborted marriage preparations once again after graduation by explaining that higher education would fetch a better earning husband. She cited how her college senior wooed a man earning Rs 80.000 per month. This ploy worked. Her mother allowed Anamika to leave home for higher education in a metro. Here her plight initially was incessant phone calls from home. She ran out of excuses of why she couldn’t talk once every waking hour. She’d say she was attending classes, the signal was weak, she couldn’t hear, she was studying in the library, in the kitchen cooking or travelling back to her PG accommodation. Every 15 days her mother would download her apprehensions about how Anamika’s life will go for a toss if she can’t find her a good husband. This constant grating about marriage became a nightmare. Anamika would literally shudder when imagining she’s going through pregnancy, having three babies in three years, becoming a plump housewife.

Then Anamika fell in love. She and her boyfriend shacked up in an apartment guest house room that directly opened into the building’s corridor. Their male classmates occupied the 2 other rooms here. Suddenly her mother announced she was coming to see her in the big city. Anamika immediately got into drama mode. She made her boyfriend shift out with one of the classmates, carefully extricated all traces of his belongings from her room. She trained him to keep a distance from her while being very considerate and understanding. She coached her other classmates to behave the way her mother would approve.

On her arrival, Anamika’s mother was totally taken in by the separate rooms and convinced of her total safety when she was shown how her room could be locked from the special corridor. She very carefully watched the boyfriend’s caring behavior, his concern for her daughter’s welfare, but could not gauge whether they had any physical relationship. She also discovered that this boy was from a wealthy family. Her mother finally left for home happy that her daughter was still under her control, and that a suitable match for Anamika had come into the horizon.

For Anamika, another pressure mounted thereafter. She and this suitable boy should consider marriage right away. But both of them had decided to enjoy their bachelor life while living together, and avoid the responsibilities of marriage. After higher education they started on career building. Anamika’s mother became desperate. As Anamika was not marrying the boy she had approved, she started Plan B, which was looking at other potential husbands for Anamika.

What to do now? Anamika applied emotional logic. She argued that she’d gain confidence and become economically independent by working a few more years. Surely her upwardly progressing career was important as her salary was more than many of the potential boys her mother was looking at? If by chance her marriage breaks, as is so prevalent in society these days, at least she could fall back on a job? Anamika figured she had anaesthetized her mother to slightly push marriage into a back burner.

But silently and persistently her mother’s Plan B was gaining momentum. Working in different companies, Anamika and her boyfriend changed the city and continued living together. Her mother came to visit her here too, and they repeated the theatrics of her single living. This time Anamika had to hide her sexy party dresses too. Her mother was happy she retained her relationship with this boy as his protective nature was reassuring safety in a strange city. But its unclear whether she actually believed they had no physical relationship inspite of living under the same roof in different rooms. She always pretended she totally believes what Anamika says.

As Anamika and I were talking, the phone rang again. “I’m very busy at work now,” she thwarted another caller. She revealed she’d been arm-twisted into participating in Plan B which had progressed to a full blown family drama. She had no qualms about playing this game just to avoid marriage. She receives several calls from potential bridegrooms and fobs them all off. She’s told her boyfriend and he doesn’t care about it either.

The latest showdown with her mother was a tattoo Anamika got inscribed in an inner part of her body. Her mother became ferocious on seeing it. But Anamika pleaded not guilty. She said she was imitating her grandmother’s tattoo culture, but instead of the arm, at least she’d hidden it inside. That silenced her mother.

This is the way today’s young Zappers are driving their lives. They adjust with their Compromise (30-45 years) and Retro (45+ years) generation parents. The social mist is very different in today’s world. Let’s not be mere spectators but participate as actors to understand digitally enmeshed youth frolicking in society.

To download above article in PDF Story of a Zapper woman

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Posted on 11-07-2010
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Last December I’d written about how India’s 3 generations: the Retro (above 45 years of age) and Compromise (between 30 and 45 years) generations seem to have connived with this country’s peculiar socio-eco-political circumstances to create the Zap86, a generation widely divergent from them. These below-30 youngsters, particularly those born in 1986 who were 5-year-olds in 1991 when India’s economic reforms were introduced, have only known their parents’ open pockets. The economy had started booming then, foreign companies came seeking Indian talent to solve problems like Y2K, new jobs opened up, salaries saw an upturn, and foreign goods became freely available giving everyone ample purchase choice. People started to spend on unfulfilled urges, from having hitherto lived in the closed economy. More importantly, they indulged their children, whose whims and fancies continue to influence all buying decisions made in every home.

From my different work travels around the world, I’ve come to realize of late that the Zap, Compromise (they try to adjust with both sides) and Retro generations are not an exclusive India phenomenon; they exist everywhere, albeit with different parameters. My classification of the 19th century being the mechanical era, electronic technology ruling the 20th century, and 21st century being the digital age is doubly endorsed from watching how the Zap generation operates. Like zapping TV channels, Zappers are most comfortable with change, change and rapid change in every aspect of life. Their text messaging is phonetic, and giving vowels a miss is accepted script today. The above 30s may find it jarring, yet their mentality is to co-opt Zapper trends because clearly, discrete numerical form is ruling this digital century that’s become totally Zap driven.

The establishment and its doctrines do not work anymore today. Take the world of high fashion. Chanel, the French haute couture design house the Coco Chanel founded in 1909 had maintained an elegant, prim and classical tradition upto the 1990s. Chanel’s classic, rectangular shaped perfume container was so coveted that it was impossible to think it could be disturbed. But even Chanel had to bow to the Zap generation. Their recent perfume called Chance broke Chanel’s classicism by having a round bottle with a half naked, funky young girl gracefully showing her beautiful legs. To make the brand contemporary, Chanel radically changed its dresses too. Chanel now stitches jeans for Zap girls to look rowdy and sexy. Levis Strauss had popularized the cowboy logo for the jeans back pocket to sport, now Chanel’s “CC” logo also adorns back pocket of jeans. From archetypical French haute couture to jeans is indeed a daring step. By doing that Chanel has not reduced its brand value, rather it’s been extended to the youth.

Another fashion example is reputed French designer Christian Dior who started in 1946. His legacy was carried forward by Italian designer Gianfranco Ferré in Paris in 1989. After Bernard Arnault, Chairman of the luxury conglomerate LVMH acquired Dior, he found Ferre to be too straight laced. So in 1996 he appointed John Galliano, the most eccentric English fashion designer, for Christian Dior. Galliano had demonstrated the ability to redefine existing subcultures to create fashion garments for the younger, funkier set. "My role is to seduce," he confessed, saying that theatre and femininity inspired him in his creations. He recreated some of Dior’s period clothing for Madonna to wear in the film Evita.

Galliano’s fashion radically shifted Dior’s old classicism. The perfume Miss Dior has been a French classic. From such a gentle perfume, Dior went on to create the provocative Poison, a new departure in perfume. Christian Dior used to be dressed in very classy suits when in the fashion ramp with models, but Galliano came to his first Dior fashion showing a great deal of skin, you could openly see his body and leg in a provocative carnival dress. By doing this, the Dior brand has not lost its value in the world, but has instead connected to the Zap generation, and contemporarized its image for the continuity of the brand.

Critics did question whether Galliano’s maverick reputation would appeal to Dior’s established clientele. The designer shook up the haute couture world, infused energy into an industry that was showing signs of losing sales and customers. In his 1997spring/summer collection, Galliano spun classic Dior themes around exotic African Masai tribal forms to fashion silk evening dresses. He used colorful choker bead necklaces that injected a young image. But the Dior name remained glamorous and refined. Galliano’s collections, complete with historic personalities and forces, have always enchanted or shocked audiences and been of commercial success. These two examples among many show how connecting to Zappers is taken so seriously.

But in India, there’s still a huge distance between industries and their attempt to appeal to the Zap generation. Most connect their products and services to Compromise or Retro generation buyers. They are not sensitive to the fact that the Zap generation has, and will continue to have, a significant influence on their elders. Without this realization and connect to Zappers, Indian brands will become old fashioned and the whole country will be swamped with foreign brands. Developed countries have the capability to co-opt the trend in advance to drive the world. But the Compromise and Retro generations running business in India, either choose to neglect or do not notice the attitude and behavioural aspects of the Zap generation. Inspite of their children or grandchildren being Zappers, the Retro generation is highly disconnected from them. But the Zap pressure, their way of living and exposure, is so high that neither the Retro nor the Compromise can ignore it.

Working in the West through almost four decades from 1970s onwards, I among others have meticulously used disruption as a weapon in strategizing for brands, industrial products, retails or in corporate structure design. Industries there welcome the “fresh” perspective as a point of differentiation, because these disruptive strategies help their cash registers to ring. In India almost two decades have passed since liberalization that brought in gigantic changes to the marketplace. Indian industrial houses first refused to believe that Indian consumers would ever discard their savings mentality. Now that the market has become vibrant, they are in a paralytic situation, wondering how to get back the consumers they lost to foreign brands. But I still don’t see any attempt to apply the disruptive attitude to retain market share that’s escaping to new foreign players. If Indian brands don’t think about using disruption for profitability and sustainability in the face of incoming foreign brands, they may grow in volume but the bottomline will be ruined.

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Posted on 27-06-2010
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Nobody seems to appreciate history as a valuable asset in India. Working for a for-profit educational institution, I’d recently interacted with primary to high school children and their teachers, and to my horror discovered that history was the “boringest of all subjects.” Children consider it monotonous and teachers say they are exasperated as students do not connect to past events.

What is the study of the human past? The Greeks call it historia meaning inquiry or knowledge acquired by investigation, in Latin its ēvidēns, in Italian vista, in English wisdom. The West follows a strict grid for documentation that has become the monument of history. In my experience at seminars, workshops or forums in the West, to make any point about the present and future, there has to be a connect with history to establish the benchmark. Only then do people connect to the future.

In India, history has been relegated to the neglected, forgotten past, as though it’s devoid of value in education or professional areas. Even senior management seems uncomfortable when I include it in my coaching sessions, suspecting it may be “non-actionable.” If I show black & white pictures as authentic historical testimony, they ask for color pictures to “make it exciting.” It’s difficult to explain that being true to history, when only black & white gravure existed as in this case, is important.

We need disciplined documentation to ensure the wheel is not re-invented. Has India mined and stored our rich ancient heritage of habits and practices from different centuries as a repertoire for anyone to dip into? The West follows a strict grid for documentation. People still play Handel’s 17th century or Mozart’s 18th century music compositions using modern instruments, sound and interpretation as the written notation is unchallenged in posterity. In Indian music’s guru-shisya tradition the finer points or melody may get altered or fade out with multiple non-grid interpretation, depending on how the disciple captures it.

Historical data, facts and figures in human or natural evolution, socio-cultural, technical or entertainment areas define how society’s emulsion in every epoch generates incredible invention. I’ve heard stories here of people thinking they’ve invented, but when the patent or IP recognition was refused, discovering that invention had happened earlier. Aside from preventing waste of time and energy, searching a subject in the global field can be very inspiring. Let’s look at a few examples of how and why certain inventions took place and became a part of our daily lives.

The early, mid-1860s history of The Nestlé Company was Henri Nestlé’s search for a healthy, economical alternative to breastfeeding for mothers who could not feed their infants at the breast. This trained Swiss pharmacist’s first customer was a premature infant whom physicians had given up for lost as he could not tolerate his mother’s milk or conventional substitutes. After Nestlé’s new formula saved the child’s life, people quickly recognized the new product’s value. Nestle’s ultimate goal was to help combat the problem of infant mortality due to malnutrition. Their focus today is on responsible nutrition and promoting health and wellness.

As a youngster Louis Pasteur showed no special ability, but in high school became interested in science. He had five children, three of whom died of typhoid fever. This was a cause that motivated him to develop the germ theory of disease to save people from diseases. Eventually Pasteur solved scientific mysteries such as generation of ailments like rabies, anthrax and chicken cholera, and contributed to the world’s first and most significant vaccines. He died a national hero in 1895, and his remains are in the Pasteur Institute, Paris.

“Research fuels technology and superior technology leads to superior performance,” is the philosophy of Amar Bose, founder of Bose speakers. As an MIT graduate student in 1956, Bose bought a high end stereo system but was disappointed when it failed to meet his expectations. He later began extensive research to fix the fundamental weakness plaguing high-end audio systems. Today, the Bose brand that stands for “Better Sound through Research” has become the most respected name in sound, from the Olympic Games to the Sistine Chapel, from NASA space shuttles to the Japan National Theatre.

The Internet was designed 1973, and up and running by 1983. Developed by Vinton Cerf and others, this international network of computers delivers information "packets" such as e-mail from one "address" to another. Tim Berners-Lee became a part of the Internet’s complex history of innovation by inventing the World Wide Web in 1989-91. With mathematicians as parents who worked on the first commercial computer, Berners-Lee used the Internet to provide universal access to a comprehensive collection of information in word, sound and image, each discretely identified by UDIs (universal document identifier, also known as URLs) and interconnected by hypertext links. Berners-Lee made it really easy for people with Internet access to contribute and collect information when he gave specifications for HyperText Markup Language (HTML, the code in which websites are written), HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP, the code by which sites are moved in and out of the web) and URLs. He continues to promote the web as an open, accessible, interactive and universal community, and his book Weaving the Web is about his creation’s past, present and future vision.

American Caucasian history is recent compared to Europe, but they have meticulously preserved it to cultivate the US cultural aspect. Take the film industry. Aside from the entertainment value of cinema and television, you can experience how films are made at the entertainment park of Universal Studios in Hollywood. The real atmosphere is re-created here, from cinematography to acting and editing. You can enjoy how different scenes of the film Psycho were shot, and feel that you are directing the film along with Alfred Hitchcock. This is an outstanding way of bringing back a sense of history by making people experience it.

I’d love to hear from you, dear reader, about how we in India can bring living substance into history, and drive the grid of knowledge to help future generations benefit from history to invite India to invention.

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Posted on 13-12-2009
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article 

Since 2001 I’ve started writing a white paper, among others, on India’s ZAP86 generation. The trend they could be setting is becoming more obvious as time goes by.

What’s a trend? Mirroring society’s uncommon micro movements, often rebellious, and boiling their effects into a sociological frame creates the trend that lasts in society’s collective consciousness. Unlike steady social evolution before World War II, perhaps the horrible effect of this first atomic war gave rise to several rebellious factors in the West. From American Baby Boomers to Elvis-the-Pelvis, BeatleMania, Hippies, Punks, Skinheads, among others, all drew powerful, defiant trends on society’s canvas, engraving their outstanding impact for all time. Such trends have influenced literature, music, science, philosophy, invention and art, embedding their differentiation to become references of history, not the past.

The rebellious 1970s Punk movement changed the trend of hair grooming. Because civilized human society could never think of sporting multi-coloured hair, the non-conformist Punks revolted with vibrant colours on hair that stood up with boiled sugar syrup, which when cold, kept the hair shiny and upright.

This creative Punk achievement, with no scientific lab, was ingeniously taken forward by L’Oreal. With masterpiece R&D and marketing, L’Oreal created hair colour as fashion that replaced hair dye, and unisex hair gel, where earlier lacquer was used, and only by women. Skilfully translating trend into business L’Oreal took this Punk product invention to market as an art form. They connected it to Piet Mondrian’s authentic Neo Plasticism value, the new painting style of flat, bright colours this famous modern painter created in 1930. Branding in L’Oreal’s StudioLine gel and hair colour reflected Mondrian’s art. Today, even formal office wear accepts streaking hair colour, and applying gel is a style statement.

3rd BC to 21st century: To enter India’s ZAP86 generation, let’s take a snap historical perspective. There was high rise in culture and trade from 3rd century BC upto 15th century AD. The new influence of Muslim culture from 16th to 18th century saw integration and further economic boost. British colonialism from 1757 to 1947 made Indians subordinate, but created one India. Freedom turned to instability in the protected 1947 to 1991economy, and led to the downfall of moral fibre with growth of corruption and negligible public benefits or upliftment of the downtrodden as expected in Independent India. Sudden technical change took place with economic reforms introduced in 1991. The WTO ratification and TRIPS compliance in the 21st century led to a new departure. Investment came from American and European multinational companies, and corporate India very innovatively took the opportunity to translate that to phenomenal GDP growth from 3.9% in 2003 to 9.4% in 2007.

ZAP 86: When our liberalized economy started in 1991, a new generation could be identified in those born after 1986. Five-year-olds by 1991, these children were old enough to consciously influence purchase decisions and only saw their parents’ open pocket when the economy was booming. They have no idea about India’s savings mentality, of the scarcity of choice in a protected economy. I call them ZAP86, they flit from subject to subject, the way they zap TV channels. They are totally cut off from the Retro generation born before 1968 or the Compromise generation born after 1968.

The Retro generation has characteristics of saving, sacrificing, routine, more security in a government job, and suppressing thoughts of sex. The Compromise generation is Westernised with Indian values, good listeners and learners, has an unbalanced lifestyle, is investment oriented, and dominated by their ZAP86 children’s demands. ZAP86 has global thought and knowledge, speed of technology, sexual liberation, flirtation with jobs, code language and no role models. They influence all purchase decisions in every home. Their flexibility is visible in the tremendous success of call centres in India. A 22-year-old speaks Tamil at home, “Hinglish” with cosmopolitan Indian friends, and in the BPO, her entire physiology and expression change as she chats in an effortless American accent about the basketball game in Cincinnati before commencing business.

A recent research with about 100 metro girls and boys, we showed a Dolce & Gabbana advertisement where a girl was willingly portraying her sexual desire towards a man, while three other men looked on. Of the ZAP86 girls, 60% had no problem fantasizing about participating here, but in real life they preferred the absence of the watching men. All ZAP86 boys wanted to be in there, and thought the scene had nothing wrong. But Compromise and Retro generations viewed the picture as vulgarism, violation or raping.

The billion people trend? As trends change people’s mindset on socio-cultural aspects and give rise to business, India can take the opportunity of generating a trend. ZAP86 is a generation today that can become tomorrow’s trendsetter. There is a way to cultivate trends. It’s a multi profession engagement in society with activities to grow the trend. Graffiti, for example, continues to spread as an art form from Ancient Greek and Roman Empire times to today in spite of prohibition against defiling public wall space. Even established governments give credence to rebellious wall messages, as did the French cultural minister Jack Lang who nominated graffiti as real art to be put in museums. Americans have supposedly declared the New York metro graffiti to be a form of art. Contemporary music, culture and entertainment have had origins in street art, but not graffiti of political banners. Graffiti is not political messages but reflects a wayward, rebellious creative character.

India’s ancient architecture and culture, multi-community celebrations, fashion’s profusion of mix-&-match colours are treasures not yet exploited as trends to bequeath the world with. Instead Western trends have covered us, without people being a part of that trend’s genesis.

India’s new departure after economic liberalization, WTO and ZAP 86 has created several social breaks. But current brands and products are driven by, and targeted to, Compromise and Retro generations. Foreign companies like Sony, Apple or Samsung try to connect to ZAP86 by importing Western trends, increasing their zapping mentality. Harnessing the aspirations of ZAP86 can derive Indian trends. The scope for industry to fill this gap ranges from automobile to two-wheelers, beauty products, fashion, food, music, literature, art and advertising, all of which can identify, portray and define Indian trends emanating from ZAP86.

Retro and Compromise generations have connived with India’s socio-eco-political circumstances to create ZAP86 who’re poles apart from them. Today’s 12-year-olds are tech born, 7-year-olds teach their parents how to Google. This future of the country needs fostering at both the workplace and society to unearth the radical new. Won’t you give them space to craft the billion people’s trends for the world to emulate tomorrow?

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