Consumer of the future 1: Life couple of generations ago

Recently a colleague had invited my wife and I for a brunch. He has two kids. One is eight and the other is two. I asked him on what I could buy for his kid. He refused, but I insisted. Then he said that there is a brand called “Top Model” which his eight year old kid and her friends in the class are crazy about. He said, any item will work as long as it’s “Top Model”. My wife went to Galeria Kaufhof in Heidelberg in the kid’s section. She was shocked at the assortment of goodies this brand had for the kids. All were glitzy and overpriced! She bought a slam book which had picture of three girls in early teens on it. Until I was 15 years old, I had no clue what a slam book was and now the current generation seems to be knowing “urban dictionary” terminologies already from birth. On one side you have the parent’s wallet getting a dent and the other side I had a shock on what these three girls, the picture was conveying: body fit clothes, puffed up lips, rosy cheeks, elaborately made up hair, slim figure, big bust etc… I was discussing this with a friend. He had a totally valid third shock over the brand “Top Model” itself. He exclaimed “How the hell does a eight year old has a grasp of branding?” The 90’s kids group I was, I can’t point to a single point of time, when I understood or started demanding a product based on a brand, but certainly not this young! Brand insistence came much later in the market. This discussion was the baseline which got me into this topic: an analysis on the consumer of future.

I would like to capture the life times of my Grandmother and my mother in the first part, for the readers, especially if there is a new-gen accidentally reading my blog. This is to give them a reference point on how the market they are living in today in 2018 evolved.

The setup is an Indian neighbourhood from 1950’s to about 1990’s, after which the digital life slowly but exponentially changed the dynamics to what we have today in 2018. I belong to this generation, which I would like to call as the “Transition” generation. My wife, my friends and I have lived in an Analog time, where getting what we want, even a simple thing like watching a TV, was a process. The antenna might not work or the wind might have turned the Antenna to a different direction. One person, usually I, had to climb the roof and shout to mom below saying “Okva?” (“Is it ok?” as in “do you receive the signal?”). This “Okva” question and she replying back “Illa! (No!) can go on for 15 minutes, until finally the right position of the Antenna makes the channel work. Mom will then shout back “Sari, keela va” (Good, come down now!). Once down, the process is not over yet as few more adjustments have to made to make the picture clearer. I have to plug out the cable from the TV socket. Unscrew and unwind the copper wire. I might even have to cut the cable further and take in fresh copper wire for the connection. Screw it to the pin and plug it in. The same life in today’s digital time is where I can talk to an empty room and the TV switches on automatically: I meant “Alexa! Can you switch on the TV?”

Applying this enjoyable struggle to the generation of my mom or grandma, their life would be as described in the following paragraphs. This is not an exact depiction, but it will give you a basic idea. Until 1990’s the living was usually in a joint family setup. The concept of a person was always addressed in a collective sense i.e. in the context of a family. There was a strict division of roles between men and women. The ladies of the house have to wake up first. Each lady will have their own duty. The first one goes to the house entrance and cleans the part of the road in front of the house. It’s swept with a broom and wet washed with water and cow dung. She makes an art called “Kolam” with colourful powders. The point of this activity is to indicate a guest coming to the home that the inmates are ready to receive them. The second lady goes to the cowshed and milks a litre in an aluminium can. She then has to pat the cows and feed them with hay. She addresses the cows with their names, as they are also considered as part of the family too. In houses where Egg-vegetarian food is eaten, eggs would be collected from the chicken too. My household had 5 ladies and my grandma’s household had more than ten. The rest of the ladies would begin setting the kitchen. Two people would collect the fuel for the stove from the backyard where the men of the house would have stacked up the dried coconut tree rests. Once collected, they pile them up to a foot high, pour a bit of fuel on it and light it up. By this time, the rest of the team would have gotten their ingredients ready. At 6AM the vegetable seller would visit every home with a push cart and bring fresh stuff from the farmers. The ladies wait in front of the homes for him to arrive. They argue with the seller to make the best picks and buy the stuff for the day’s cooking. Over time, the seller understanding the needs would have already pre-sorted them on a bamboo basket. It will just be simple exchange of money and basket. Sometimes, if the ladies wouldn’t make it on time, he would even take the effort to knock on the door, deliver and offers to take money later too. Same applies to the milkman who delivers milk to houses who don’t have their own cows.

All the ingredients, the freshest they could get, would be piled up on a mat for the morning meal. Each of them would be cut or ground or sliced or chopped as per the need. The head cook is usually the eldest or one of the ladies who has gained reputation in the family for her taste. In my grandma’s case, it was her youngest sister. The stove made from burning the coconut rest in a clay frame gets very hot and very fast. There is just one big flame and once the bowl is placed on the clay frame, it gets cooked in seconds or few minutes. Therefore, everything is pre-mixed in the bowl already, such that the heat simply finishes the cooking. There was hardly any step by step processing. By 7.30 AM, the meal is ready and served on banana leaves. The men of the house and the children would line up and sit on a bamboo mat unrolled on the floor in the common room. The men would have gotten up my 06:00 AM, done a bit of exercise by lifting heavy wooden logs, read the newspaper which also gets thrown into the house by a paper boy, then have finished taking bath by the side of the well by pulleying up the water, dress up the clothes ironed by the ladies the previous day and finally they are ready to eat and leave out for the day.

The kitchen ladies are dedicated to their job. They would have to repeat their job in cycles for the other two meals and one snack time too. They would take bath after the men are gone to work. Ladies from other houses visit each other after 10AM and they exchange gossips over board games. The working class, majority being men, usually work in government, school or agriculture. There were hardly private establishments. There were landowners, workers, clerks, teachers, journalists and shop owners employing a handful. Educated jobs like doctors, engineers, lawyers and professors were few and were highly respected. Their work will span till 19:00 PM, but with ample breaks for them to visit home for meal time and even may be take a short afternoon nap. In the evening, the men would visit each other in bakeries and discuss daily politics of the state on tea benches. Depending on the profession, some men meet at bakeries in the morning to read the newspapers together with other men too.

Children had to wear uniform for the school. Like then, it’s still a rule in most Indian schools to have identical looks for the children to avoid discrimination by looks. They pack their books and notebooks in the school bag the previous day before they go to sleep. When they wake the next morning, they would be herded up by the women, given bath and prepared for the school and be given with their school bag and a lunch bag. Depending on the school’s facilities, they might have benches to sit or the students would simply sit on the floor. The teacher reads out aloud and writes notes on a blackboard for children to copy to their notebooks. In 8 hours of school, they would be let to play on the ground for an hour with the other children. Cricket, hide and seek, football, badminton, throw ball and other games needing bodily effort for outdoor sports or chess and carom for indoors. For outdoor sports, for a longer period of time, the children would play barefoot on sand.

What did this life mean to them financially?

As many people lived under one big roof, either the house would usually be an asset which was passed down the generations or the many men of the family would split their costs in renting a big house. All the men handed over their monthly earnings to the eldest person in the family, which was usually a woman. She would then use the money for all common expenses which includes food and clothing too. For clothes, the women went to the textile market and bought one long piece of fabric in few colours. One or two of the women would also be skilled in tailoring. They would stitch clothes for all the persons in the family once a year. For furnitures, the flooring of the house was prepared in a way for easy use i.e. the floor would remain cold during hot weather. With just simple bamboo weaved mats put in use, the necessity of furniture was bare-minimal. They would be built mostly for elderly people as they wouldn’t be able to sit on the floor. Many a time it’s also built for the head of the family, in a way of symbolizing respect to their authority. Rich families usually bought wood in bulk and brought carpenters to home. The workers would stay in the home for many days and built as per requirement. The furnitures would turn out to be of such a good quality that they would last for a lifetime. Televisions came into homes only by 1970s. Till then one person in a street would have a TV and programs would be telecasted once a week – Doordarshan. The whole street would assemble at this house. By 1980’s and 1990’s there would be a TV for one joint family. Before that entertainment was usually group games, board games, newspapers or outdoor playing. With many men earning for one household, the only biggest part of the budget was just ingredients for the meals. Schools and transportation were government subsidized and were cheap. The concept of food as preventive medicine ensured healthy diets and thereby less need for medicines. Services like ironing, tailoring, cooking, preparing ingredients and even simple medicines were all made inhouse. Also such activities needed just a onetime investment in the gadgets and hardly any replacement. They were all of the mechanical type. Electrical gadgets came in much later. The knowledge of one household, especially the woman was humongous. The man was street smart and the woman was house smart! Any service which needed an external person would soon enough be learnt internally to cut down those additional costs. My grandma learnt to read Astrology to save costs for an astrologer! With major expenses going for food, this setup made it possible to allocate the second significant part of the budget to savings! Rest of the expenses were cut down to minimum by learning and having the costs inhouse. Only costs for the material remained. Machines were mechanical and labour was all inhouse. All those savings either moved as inheritance or ironically would be used as dowry for the woman in the house when getting her married off. This also meant that the son in the household had higher value as he brought dowry into the home. Considering what the women in household are capable of, the expectation on the skills of new daughter-in-law entering the household was significantly high!

To be Continued … 2. The Classic Markets A to E: my generation

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