POV co-authored by Ashwini Sirsikar – Country Service Line Leader, Ipsos UU, India and Geetika Singh – Executive Director (Mumbai), Ipsos UU, India
Frugality and Adjustment
Indians traditionally had a savings mindset and were brought to believe that ‘you buy what you need’, ‘you spend much less than what you earn’ and you maximize the value of everything that you buy! There-use/ recycle mantra has always been followed by Indian families not from an environment consciousness perspective but from the perspective of getting the maximum value from every item that is bought. We still see several affluent families reusing disposable plastic containers. Packaged drinking water bottles are almost never thrown away. Wrapping paper is carefully stored to be reused, old clothes are either passed on, used as dusters or exchanged for utensils and other kitchen items. The Indian woman’s kitchen is a veritable treasure trove of items which have lived far beyond the utility imagined by the manufacturer.
Another variation of this is the `adjustment’ mentality that we have been culturally brought up to live with. Right from the time we are kids we get to hear the phrase `thoda adjust kar lo’, whether it’s for hand me downs, to even seating in metros, where we manage to find space, where none exists!
However, we see a slight but gradual shift in this attitude over the last few years. Young India believes in living for today. We have slowly moved from being a thrifty society to becoming a society which openly embraces new brands, luxury items, new services which offer convenience. Codes of indulgence are no longer frowned upon. This has been ably supported by the opening-up of the economy; with credit cards, EMI options becoming more accessible.
There is an established upgrader mentality now; we see people replacing their durables, mobile phones and other electronic goods, even when they are in fully functional form. This is different from earlier when `old-was-considered-to-be-gold’ and the idea was to maximize the return on every spend.
From `adjusting’ and subverting our needs and desires, we are now getting products to adjust to us.
However, the story is not so simple. Marketers’ belief that `low price’and `upgrade’ as a benefit would be enough to attract consumers, has not yielded the dividends! Nano; an entry level car, which was launched at half the price of the other cars available in the market, did not turn into the sensation marketers had anticipated it to become, as it went against the status codes that a car brings. When consumers want to buy a car, they do not want to announce to all that they have gone in for the cheapest, as they can’t afford better.
The Indian consumer is complicated; not all high end and `foreign’ brands are doing well. Consumers carefully evaluate the value that they are getting from each purchase. Getting a “good deal” still drives the generation that is between the millennials and the traditional super rich.And hence the cultural trait of frugality and adjustment is still going strong for some key cohorts.
Does Atithi really Devo Bhava in today’s times?
One of the key cultural traits common across all communities and geographies in India is – Atithi Devo Bhava – which means ‘Guest is equivalent to God’! And this reflects in the behavior and beliefs of Indians in their various aspects of life. Be it in the way they treat a guest or the way they treat certain ‘important relations’, they often believe in putting their best foot forward for them.
Some homes mark this ‘arrival’ as a daily ritual especially in some Southern parts of the country, wherein the lady of the house often decorates the entrance with a traditional Rangoli along with (hand-made) footprints of goddess, as though tracing her path leading inside the house. This is seen as a form of blessing for the family!
Interestingly, ‘a newly born child’ OR a ‘forever attention -fetching’ son-in-law is often equated to ‘special guests’ – that is the level of importance associated with the latter!
FOOD is another important aspect where the belief, Atithi Devo Bhava, gets reflected. Most of us have grown up with a habit of ‘extra’ quantity of meals being prepared by the lady of the house, ‘just in case a guest arrived’! The key belief being ‘How can a guest go hungry?’, it would almost equate to keeping the gods hungry! Hence most households, especially in the northern part of the country feed (read as overfeed) the guests with all the delicacies, with guests consuming as though it was their right!
The concept of Atithi Devo Bhava is core to Indian Hospitality and is successfully adopted by several hotels, state tourism and even our national carrier, Air India, to welcome the guests, it was particularly adopted by Indian Tourism Board to build awareness and evoke responsibility amongst our citizens to save our nation’s Image in the eyes of foreigners AND to protect our monuments from the vandals. Idea was to communicate that our country is welcoming and caring!
Important to note, that the society is now undergoing a transition and the meaning of this Atithi Devo Bhava, too is undergoing a change!
While a metro residence demands for privacy and advance security systems, it is hard for the smaller towns to accept such a change which is almost equated to humiliation, read it as humiliation of the gods! They find ‘frisking’ and ‘checking’ as extremely insulting.
In today’s time it is considered fine to order food via delivery services and then even ‘go dutch’!
Relatives and friends, who were once looked forward to, spending time with during the summer vacations, festivals and celebrations, are now often met only on WhatsApp and video calls. Catching up with friends is moving to out-of-home locations such as café and restaurants and even country! 6
In fact, Bollywood has given several comedy movies which highlight the nuisance of a guest (Atithi, tum kabjaoge – Guest, when will you go away!) to highlight the sentiment that exists at the other end among the time pressed Indians
However, an important practice which helps today’s generation to keep up with the tradition of extending the ‘special treatment’ to the Atithi, aka guest is sharing the Wi-Fi password of the home broadband!