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Brand New Year

It was in the ancient times[700 BC] that the Romans  first dedicated New Year’s Day to Janus , the mythological God of gates, doors and beginnings. Legend has it that he has two faces, one looking forward and one backward, and the first month of the year, January is named after him. This tradition of celebrating New Year on January 1 then faded away and it was only in 1751 that New Year began on January first, once again.

With the expansion of Western culture and the Gregorian calender being adopted by many countries, the celebration of New Year’s day on January 1 has become pretty universal. This is so even in countries [such as India, China etc.] with their own New Year’s celebrations on other days. For example, the Chinese New Year [also called lunar new year] occurs about 4 to 8 weeks before spring [Lichun] and the exact date is anywhere between 21st January and 21st February. It is the most important Chinese celebration of the year.

In India it is celebrated in various regions, mostly between March and April; Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, Ugadi in Andhra, Cheti Chand among Sindhis, Varusha Piruppay in Tamil Nadu and Baisakhi in Punjab, etc. For the Jewish it is Rosh Hashanah [Hebrew for Head of the year], when apple slices are dipped in honey and eaten with blessings recited for a sweet new year. The Zoroastrian New Year coincides with the Iranian new year of Nowruz (or Navroze) and is celebrated by Parsis and Persians throughout the world.

New Year celebrations often vary from country to country and reflect ancient traditions within their cultures. In Scotland, the New Year is called Hogmanay. Here one can find barrels of tar set on fire and rolled down streets of villages. This odd but significant ritual symbolizes that the old year is burned up and the New Year is going to begin. In Japan, late in the evening of December 31st, people would eat a bowl of buckwheat noodles called Toshikoshisoba [year-crossing noodles] and listen for Buddhist temple bells to ring 108 times at midnight to purify the 108 sins that plague every human being. Homes are often decorated with pine or bamboo, both considered to be symbols of long life. In Spain people eat 12 grapes at midnight: one for every time the clock chimes twelve. In many parts of the USA, black eyed peas are eaten for good luck in  the coming year. The Dutch eat Donuts to bring in good fortune and ancient Persians gave eggs as New Year gifts symbolizing productivity. In other parts of the world the humble cabbage is eaten for prosperity.

In Venezuela, Bolivia, Mexico and Argentina, do not be surprised to see people carrying an empty suitcase around the house or even down the block at midnight on New Year’s eve. They do this to ensure that they travel great distances in the coming year. In China they burn crackers at midnight to scare away the evil spirits and even seal the doors and windows of their houses with paper to keep the demons out.

The tradition of making new year resolutions may seem like a modern one; the promise to lose weight, to go easy on the alcohol etc, but the truth is that this ritual is as ancient as the Babylonians. In those times the most popular resolution during the new year was to return borrowed farm equipment!

Bill Vaughn once wrote that on New Year’s eve, an optimist stays up until midnight to greet the new year, while the pessimist does the same, but only to make sure that the old year has left. And so, whichever way we chose to do it, the time has come to bid goodbye to the fables and foibles of the year gone by, and to welcome the New Year 2013 with open arms, black eyed peas or a suitcase, whatever one fancies. After all it is going to be a Happy New Year.

  • Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy

January 1, 2013 at 7:29 am Leave a comment


It’s been a somber end to the year here in India, and I felt that the poem below aptly wraps up the reality of the year gone by – all the joys and sorrows, highs and lows, that keep the carousel of life spinning.

The Year

What can be said in New Year rhymes,

That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,

We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,

We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,

We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,

We wreathe our prides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,

And that’s the burden of a year.

— Ella Wheeler Wilcox


But let me also heed the slogan I read on the board outside a church in Bandra, ‘Never let a bleak past cloud a future happy new year’ ;

And in that spirit, express my hope that 2013 will be better and happier than 2012, and will bring all our readers success, prosperity and joy.

  •  Zenobia

December 31, 2012 at 11:38 am Leave a comment

Pyramid, kite or door – Comparing age profiles of countries

Last week we ran a post from the blog ‘Brick and Rope’ on the greying of Japan. The transition of Japan’s demographic profile from a pyramid to a kite was so stark that it made me curious about population pyramids for other countries. This post has the data for India, China and France, and by next week we’ll try and look up some interesting information on questions arising from these.

india's population pyramid 2
The Population Projection Report 2006 (for entire report, click here) by the Technical Group on population projections commissioned by the National Commission on Population includes these tables. This link shows how India’s population pyramid is expected to become squatter in shape by 2050. In fact, it pictorially shows the changes 1995 on.

China's population pyramidThis report shows how the population pyramid of China is changing with time. If you want to have some fun with this, check this link – it has an interesting animation which shows how the age composition of China’s population will change over time (from 1950 to 2050).









An interesting comparison of the demographic profiles of India and China here in this interview with a senior advisor to the National Bureau of Asian Research, relevant excerpt below :

How does this profile compare with other major states in the Asia-Pacific region, especially China, which is still the most populated country in the world?

China is clearly the obvious comparator to India, with a current population of over 1.3 billion. No other countries are even close in scale to these two.

India is on track to become the world’s most populous country in the not-so-distant future, however. Both Census and UNPD projections anticipate that India’s population will exceed China’s by 2025, and the UNPD’s projections imply that the crossover may occur even sooner than that—possibly within a decade.

By 2030, current projections envision that China will have entered into a long-term depopulation. That impending depopulation is by now virtually unavoidable and has already been “baked in the cake,” so to speak. The county’s fertility trends sank below the replacement level two decades ago and are currently estimated to be 30% below replacement.

China’s working-age population is on track to peak around 2015 and will have been shrinking for a decade and a half by 2030. By contrast, India’s steadily growing working-age population will be the world’s largest well before 2030.

China will be aging very rapidly over the decades immediately ahead. By 2030, the population’s median age will likely be about 43 years, up eight years from today, and the 65 years and older share will be approaching 17%, twice as much as today. Accordingly, China will face the burdens that come with an aging population. By 2030 it will be a decidedly “grayer” society than America today—on an income level far below current OECD norms, even assuming rapid material progress.

China’s coming population profile will also be characterized by major changes in family structure. Due to the prevalence of female feticide today, China now has a biologically abnormal “excess” of little boys, which portends a potentially monumental “marriage squeeze” in the decades ahead. While China currently has a universal marriage norm, in less than a generation a fifth or more of men in their late 30s or early 40s may be essentially unmarriageable. This is a demographic wildcard for China’s future and may presage unpredictable social strains or political pressures. While India also has abnormally high ratios of little boys in some regions, its gender ratio is far less extreme than China’s and is unlikely to have similar ramifications on marriage prospects.

Thus far, India’s prospective population profile may sound more favorable than China’s, at least regarding implications for economic development. However, China will retain a number of demographic advantages bearing directly on economic potential. Today, China is substantially more urbanized than India. The UNPD estimates 48% of the country is urban today, as against 30% for India, and it projects that this gap will actually widen over the next two decades. For another, China’s overall public health conditions are substantially better. Life expectancy in China is about eight years higher than it is in India and is projected to remain significantly higher through 2030.

Perhaps most importantly, China has a dramatic edge over India on mass educational attainment. As of today, almost everyone in China’s working-age population is at least literate. By contrast, roughly a third of India’s working-age manpower has never been to school. India is about half a century behind China in eliminating illiteracy. Even posting steady educational progress, India will still lag far behind China in attainment levels twenty years from now.

Another interesting comparison is between the projected population profile of India, China and a western nation, let’s pick France. This link shows the French population pyramid going on a diet and shrinking between 1990 and 2050. This report has graphs that show the way the world population’s age composition will change over time; no surprises once you’ve seen the graphs for India, China and France, but worth looking at an aggregate picture anyway. 

world popn pyramid

world popn pyramid 2




  • Zenobia Driver

December 6, 2012 at 9:02 am 2 comments

The Great Indian Khana Khazana

Food. One of India’s greatest passions. ‘Aaj Khane me kya bana hai?[what’s on for food today?]is the most important question asked in every household, almost every day. No surprise then ,that it is also the sunshine industry of India. Estimated at over US 100 Bn dollars, it is almost 2/3rds of the total Indian retail market. The food and grocery segment is growing at an incredibly fast pace too.

The history of Indian food is as diverse as this country itself. Apart from the geographical and cultural specialities,like idli-sambhar in the south, macher jhol in the east, makki ki roti sarson ka saag in the north and sol kadhi, masale bhaat in the west, there is also the influence of the Portugese[pork vindaloo], the Moghuls [dum pukhtetc.] and not to forget our very own invention of Indian Chinese cuisine[gobi manchurian!].

Much later, in independent India, multinational brands such as Nestle,Unilever etc have been forced to recognize and acknowledge the Indian palate in order to get wider acceptance for their offerings. Right from the ‘Meri masala Maggi dumdaar noodles’ to the ‘Masala Penne Pasta'[made from suji], their Nestle’s ‘Taste bhi Health Bhi’ offerings have had to bend to the Indian tastes.Their health platform has taken into account the Indian’s healthy respect for atta and sooji vs maida.

Giants like Pepsico have recently introduced Homestyle Masala and Lemony Veggie flavoured Quaker oats alongside recipes for oats upma and poha in order to cater to the Indian penchant for mom style breakfast. Unilever has introduced Knorr ready to cook Hyderabadi Biryani, Chana masala etc.  to bolster the Knorr brand’s traditional offering of soups. Nestle’s Maggi has enhanced its soup range with Maggi Souper roni[which has suji,vegetables and macaroni]to cater to the old Indian habit of a bit of this and a bit of that. Its traditional  sauce range now also includes the Maggi imli sauce[a home style tamarind sauce] available in a Pichkoo[local lingo for a squeeze pack].

Our very own home grown Indian companies realised the scope for growth in this arena long ago. ITC has taken its legendary Dal Bhukara and Biryani to the customer in the ready to eat market through its Kitchens of India brand. Its Ashirvaad branded rava idli mix etc are following the lead of MTR’s[Mavalli Tiffin Room] multifaceted offerings in the ready to cook range. In fact MTR’s traditional fare which included tomato rasam powder and Puliyogare [tamarind rice] mix, has seen a healthy facelift with the additions of Ragi Rava idli/Ragi dosa/Oats idli/ Multigrain dosa offerings. Britannia has entered the healthy eating market with its breakfast range of poha and upma available in broken wheat[dhalia] and tomato spinach.

These examples are just a snapshot of the big picture. No downturn for this industry then; the Indian continues to feast in both good and bad times. And, the great Indian taste buds are ready for the’ branded home style offerings’. If it has to be international cuisine, it better be an Indianised version[remember how the good ol’ Big Mac had to do a chikken Mc tikka to woo the Indian consumer]. And so, while India is waking up to the global phenomenon of Eating Healthy – it better be’ Taste bhi, Health bhi’,  and in that order, necessarily.


Sita Lakshmi

November 21, 2012 at 6:59 am Leave a comment

The Shopping Experience – Mid-segment cars

Sometime last year, we ran a series of posts on the shopping experience for jewelry, electronics, skincare and cosmetics, high street apparel and other premium goods.

Adding to that series is this post on the experience of shopping for mid-segment cars. A few months ago, my husband and I were in the market for a mid-segment car, more specifically a sedan, with automatic transmission, ample legroom in the rear and boot space. Our consideration set consisted of Honda, Volkswagen, Skoda, Nissan, Toyota and Ford. We are both car enthusiasts and had done our research prior to visiting these dealerships for further information on the cars and test drives; not only this, through our conversations with the sales persons we’d made it amply clear that we knew about what we were looking for in the car and that we already knew a fair bit about the cars themselves.

Given below is a summary of our experience at various dealerships :

Impressive: None

Satisfactory: Honda

  • Knowledgeable staff, understood what we were looking for and told us exactly about that, weren’t gimmicky or trying to sell us anything we did not care for in our car.
  • Not only was the sales person prompt in attending to us, but when we needed assistance or needed questions answered by the accessories or finance person at the store, they were quite prompt in showing us seat cover options, color options, or different EMI plans, etc.
  • Ample waiting space and engaging reading material at the showroom.
  • While the first interaction was impressive, the same cannot be said for the follow-up conversations, where we had to end up waiting for longer, cars weren’t ready for test driving, the formalities for the test drive took longer than expected. Finally when we decided to go ahead with the car, the payment formalities took too long, the car registration personnel were not professional, in the meantime the prices got revised and there was no communication for the same and eventually they did not even deliver in the stipulated time period.


Not-so-good: a few examples of what we didn’t like at other dealerships

  • Despite prior appointments with a specific sales person, the person was either out for another meeting or was on leave on that day.
  • Some sales persons did not know their cars at all. For simple questions, they needed to refer to the brochure or call their manager to answer our queries. Similarly their accessories and finance teams weren’t prompt with answering our questions either.
  • Despite taking prior appointments, the test drive cars were either out for another test drive or were still being prepped for the test drive.
  • Did not have ample seating space in the showrooms, so we were kept standing and waiting to be assisted.
  • Did not understand us, their customer, at all. In some cases, they did not really talk about the features of the car, instead demonstrated things like how to take the driver seat back and forth, how to turn on the AC and audio system, etc. Now if they understood us, they’d have also understood that we weren’t first time car owners and did not need to be shown such obvious things. In the bargain, they did not focus on the more important or uncommon aspects like fuel economy or sports gear or valet lock feature or parking sensors, etc.
  • One of the companies called us up with a new deal everyday!
  • Called up everyday to find out if we’d reached a decision despite making it amply clear that we’d get back to them the following week (‘cause we still had other cars to check out). Sometimes we got multiple calls in a day from different car/ accessories sales staff to ask the same questions.

Our verdict: Overall, a C. Major scope for improvement. While speaking to a lot of the sales representatives also realized that the attrition rate in the industry seems quite high; as only 1 out of the 6 sales people we interacted with had been with their company for over a year, rest had been employed with the firm for only  4-6 months.

  • Roshni Jhaveri

[Disclaimer: This post deals mainly with one aspect of the shopping experience – interactions with the sales staff. Also, the list of outlets visited for the purpose of observation is not exhaustive.]

October 25, 2012 at 9:09 am 7 comments

Male grooming – Influenced by Bollywood

Even though metrosexuality has been popular for over a decade the world over, it is only recently that men in India have taken to it in hordes. This might be because it is only recently that Bollywood male actors have embraced this phenomenon and started to shave their chest, flaunt wash-board abs and style (or over-style) their hair.

The majority of men aged 18-35 in India look to Bollywood film stars for styling and grooming trends – at times even subconsciously. It is astonishing how much influence films have on men in India. Films like ‘Bobby’ which made every young man in India start wearing bell-bottoms, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ which made men grow soul-patches and drive down to Goa every chance they got, or more recently ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ which has made every young man in India itch to make a trip to Spain with their guy friends.

Like you pointed out, companies realize this and have started to have young film stars endorse their beauty products. Alternative sub-cultures like emo, grunge and goth have also been around for over a decade but have started to come into mainstream India through films – like Prateik Babbar’s small yet memorable role in ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’. I am sure that the focus of the youth will slowly move towards these sub-cultures and away from metrosexuality, more so as movies start embracing them.



[Editor’s Note : If you do not recognise the alternative sub-cultures mentioned by RJ, fear not, the descriptions below will help.

Emo :

Emo is a style of rock music characterized by melodic musicianship and expressive, often confessional lyrics. It originated in the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement of Washington, D.C., where it was known as “emotional hardcore” or “emocore” and pioneered by bands such as ‘Rites of Spring’ and ‘Embrace’.

Today emo is commonly tied to both music and fashion as well as the emo subculture. Usually among teens, the term “emo” is stereotyped with wearing slim-fit jeans, sometimes in bright colors, and tight T-shirts (usually short-sleeved) which often bear the names of emo bands. Studded belts and black wristbands are common accessories in emo fashion. Some males also wear thick, black horn-rimmed glasses.

The emo fashion is also recognized for its hairstyles. Popular looks include long side-swept bangs, sometimes covering one or both eyes. Also popular is hair that is straightened and dyed black. Bright colors, such as blue, pink, red, or bleached blond, are also typical as highlights in emo hairstyles. Short, choppy layers of hair are also common. In the early 2000s, emo fashion was associated with a clean cut look, but as the style spread to younger teenagers, the style has become darker, with long bangs and emphasis on the color black replacing sweater vests.

Emo has been associated with a stereotype that includes being particularly emotional, sensitive, shy, introverted, or angst-ridden. It has also been associated with depression, self-injury, and suicide.

(Source – Wikipedia )


Goth :

Gothic fashion is a clothing style worn by members of the Goth subculture; a dark, sometimes morbid, eroticized fashion and style of dress. Typical Gothic fashion includes dyed black hair, black lips and black clothes. Both male and female goths wear dark eyeliner and dark fingernails. Styles are often borrowed from the Punks, Victorians, and Elizabethans. BDSM imagery and paraphernalia are also common.

The style initially emerged alongside the early 1980s Gothic rock scene.

Researcher Maxim W. Furek noted, “Goth is a revolt against the slick fashions of the 1970’s disco era and a protest against the colorful pastels and extravagance of the 1980’s. Black hair, dark clothing and pale complexions provide the basic look of the Goth Dresser. One can paradoxically argue that the Goth look is one of deliberate overstatement as just a casual look at the heavy emphasis on dark flowing capes, ruffled cuffs, pale makeup and dyed hair demonstrate a modern-day version of late Victorian excess.”

(Source – Wikipedia)


Grunge :

Grunge (sometimes referred to as the Seattle sound) is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged as a fusion of  punk, alternative, and heavy metal during the mid-1980s in the American state of Wahington, particularly in the Seattle area. Inspired by hardcore punk, metal, and indie rock, grunge is generally characterized by heavily distorted electric guitars, contrasting song dynamics, and apathetic or angst-filled lyrics. The grunge aesthetic is stripped-down compared to other forms of rock music, and many grunge musicians were noted for their unkempt appearances and rejection of theatrics.

Grunge concerts were known for being straightforward, high-energy performances. Grunge bands rejected the complex and high budget presentations of many musical genres, including the use of complex light arrays, pyrotechnics, and other visual effects unrelated to playing the music. Stage acting was generally avoided. Instead the bands presented themselves as no different from minor local bands. Jack Endino said in the 1996 documentary Hype! that Seattle bands were inconsistent live performers, since their primary objective was not to be entertainers, but simply to “rock out”.

Clothing commonly worn by grunge musicians in Washington consisted of thrift store items and the typical outdoor clothing (most notably flannel shirts) of the region, as well as a generally unkempt appearance. The style did not evolve out of a conscious attempt to create an appealing fashion; music journalist Charles R. Cross said, “[Nirvana frontman] Kurt Cobain was just too lazy to shampoo,” and Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman said, “This [clothing] is cheap, it’s durable, and it’s kind of timeless. It also runs against the grain of the whole flashy aesthetic that existed in the 80s.”

 (Source – Wikipedia )

End of Editor’s note]

April 4, 2012 at 8:45 am 4 comments

Masterchef – reflection of reality


I am an ardent fan of the show Masterchef Australia and was most upset when the last season ended. I had been seeing promos of the India and US series of Masterchef which were slotted to start right after the Australia series ended. Although these promos didn’t look as promising as the Australia one – I couldn’t keep myself from watching a few episodes … and I soon realized that each of these shows was a reflection of the social, cultural and economic environments prevalent in each of these countries.

The original version was the British Masterchef. When Masterchef Australia was first launched it was criticized as a huge departure from the original British version due to the change in format and “making it over- the-top by adding more drama and storytelling and a sense of theatre.” If this is what the critics thought of the Australia one, wait till they see the India and USA versions !


Masterchef Australia:

Since the first version of the show to be aired in India was the Australia series – for me that show is the benchmark. Perhaps I have been over-exposed to the zoom-in-zoom-out dha dha dha dhan music of the Indian soaps and reality shows and due to that I found Masterchef Australia to be a refreshing, non- spiteful and constructive competitive show.

The show is a reflection of the cultural diversity in Australia – this is mirrored not only in the ethnic diversity of the participants but also in their cooking styles as well as the challenges and ingredients presented to the contestants. During the course of the show, we saw them using curry powder and preparing “naan-bread”, cooking Greek-Cypriotic dishes, recreating the classic French Duck à l’orange and competing in Spanish-themed invention tests and a Korea-inspired mystery box challenge.

They were also exposed to a much more diverse pantry – and the contestants were well aware of these exotic ingredients and how to use them. The fact that they were aware of such exquisite, exotic and expensive ingredients and had some experience of either having tried them at a restaurant or used them in a recipe at home also echoed their relatively higher standard of living and economic stature.

No doubt that there is drama in the show – but it is all focused around cooking disasters or running low on time or cutting fingers at critical moments or forgetting an ingredient and at most about missing their families and how they need them for inspiration to cook and perform better. But all contestants live cordially, like-a-family and there’s a real bond that comes across. They help each other through tough times, through recipes, sharing ingredients. This is perhaps a reflection of the general social environment of the country – cordial, helpful, friendly and not fiercely competitive.


Masterchef India:

The first thing that jumps out is the differences in the economic and social backgrounds of participants in the Indian series vis-à-vis the Australian. There are challenges each week where the winner takes home Rs.1 lakh – and most often they plan to use this prize money to pay off a loan, to pay for education of their children, to buy a house, for medical needs, etc. In contrast, the prize money won in Australia was always spoken of to be used in pursuit of their culinary dreams – start their café, go to culinary school, etc. It seemed like the primary objective in India was to take home the moolah; making a career in the culinary world seemed secondary.

The contestants’ exposure to various kitchen apparatus and ingredients was also much lower. For one of the challenges, the contestants were taken to Hong Kong and exposed to south-east Asian produce and they each had to be walked through what these were, what it would taste like, what it would add to a recipe in terms of flavor and texture and how it could be cooked. These same ingredients seemed very basic and common in the Australian or USA version, but not so in the Indian one. Similarly they were each given a different cooking apparatus or tools but each one needed to be explained and demonstrated.

Although, compared to the first season the drama was a lot more toned down this time, yet if you compare it to the Australian version, it was overly dramatic. The emotional ranting was almost nauseating. This one episode particularly stood out where not only the contestants got emotional but also the judges touched the feet of the eliminated contestant! Here’s the link if you want to view it. 


Masterchef USA:

The first thing one notices is the excessive and casual use of profanity on the show. Every other sentence has a “beep” in it! Not only amongst contestants but also the judges! It seemed totally reflective of language used during social interactions by a significant (or a certain) section of the population, the kind of drama and language used in other shows, the acceptability of such loose use of obscenities on television. Just watch the first 60 seconds of this clip – there are 4 beeps and 4 other beep-worthy words – all in just one minute !

Also, the competition amongst contestants was fierce. No one was friends with each other, no one helped each other, there was a constant blame game of copying ideas, menus, recipes, etc. Team challenges were highly tense and frosty. There were glacial looks exchanged, people didn’t communicate, some people didn’t speak to each another and no one even claimed responsibility for their faults, they always blamed each other for their failures. The current economic environment, the lack of job security, cut-throat competition in the society was all reflected here.

There was a sort-of lack of respect for the judges even ! In the Indian and Australian version, the judges were looked upon for guidance, advice, mentoring, counseling, etc., whereas in the US version the judges were addressed and treated very casually and callously by the participants and there didn’t seem to be a mentor-mentee or expert-amateur kind of relationship.


Such stark differences in the three shows, in their participants, in the judges, in the formats – and these all seem reflective of their primary audiences and their attitudes and preferences.

Having said all this, it also leads me to wonder what thoughts run through foreigners’ minds about us as a society when they watch saas-bahu weepies on TV. Or ‘Dabangg’ !


Roshni Jhaveri

March 1, 2012 at 7:00 am 3 comments

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