Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Global Governance, Headlines

CULTURE-INDIA: Globalised Ice Cream Please, Big Scoop

Sanjay Suri

NEW DELHI, Jan 26 2010 (IPS) - “Passport Please.” That’s what everyone thought they’d ask if you queued up at that exclusive new ice cream shop in one of those smart new malls of fashionable south Delhi.

As it turned out, they did not. But the sign put up at the new Haagen Dazs ice cream shop at the Select City mall had done enough to set off those scenarios.

“Partied at the French Riviera? Welcome”, said the banner put up at the store. “Exclusive preview for international travellers”, it added. And in case of doubt: “Access restricted only to holders of international passports.”

Citizen journalism spotted the poster, and reported. A blogger published a picture of the sign. Before Haagen Dazs figured out what they’d got themselves into, the picture was multiplied across blogs, and picked up by the media.

The outcry led to an immediate apology – and a somewhat unconvincing explanation. A company manager said “it was a wrong choice of words, and we regret the error.”

Clearly, Haagen Dazs, which plans to open about 40 new shops across the country over the next few years, is targeting Indians – not just foreigners in India. But these were not just some ill-advised words about an ice cream shop – they might in fact have put their finger on something regarding urban India’s embrace of globalisation and the West.

The Haagen Dazs store is in good company, even if it put up the wrong sign for a while. The India that is middle class and upwardly mobile – and given the country’s 1.1 billion population and advancing prosperity, that is a large and growing fraction – is increasingly brand conscious.

The Select City mall packs store after store around Haagen Dazs. The local market is giving way to the suburban mall, and shops have become ‘outlets’, or even just the ‘shoppe’. Globalisation has come to mean access to the specific brands they stock and sell, and development now means the ability to afford them.

A new shopping centre near the fashionable Vasant Vihar neighbourhood boasts every branded store worth the overpriced name. A fairly ordinary pair of shoes would mean a month’s wages for one of the guards outside, of whom there are plenty – as a local product they come cheap.

Smart new housing developments in Delhi, or in the now upmarket Gurgaon rapidly looking to rival the capital as a twin city, have names like Beverly Park and The Belaire. Learn to speak these names with ease if you’ve arrived.

School after new school to educate the growing middle class now refer to themselves as “international”: Amity International School, Delhi Public School International, Ganga International School, Sadhu Vaswani International Girls School, VSPK International School, MBS International School, Shri Sai International School, Mayo International School, Mount Abu International School, Mahavira International School, Ryan International School and even a Toddlers International School. The list, of course, is a good deal longer.

And local produce wants an international stamp. “India thinks it does not sell unless it comes through the international market,” veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, also a former ambassador and MP, tells IPS. “Everything, even films, books…it’s when foreigners praise something that it becomes acceptable in India.”

If there is success to show – and what is success without the show – the kitchen has been replaced by ‘kitchen solutions’ that look like a picture from a Western magazine.

Not least, and most inevitably, there is the foreign car, even if Indian-made models from local manufacturers Tata and Mahindra might be the more sensible choice. To be globalised is to make enough money to buy what someone with money in the West might buy – especially if that someone is a relative abroad.

And yet, there are pointers seemingly to the contrary: many young people in India have none of that awe of Western ways. Signs of a growing pride in things Indian are everywhere: the software success, the first to find water on the moon, the many Indians among Nobel winners, the new imprints on Hollywood…the very rage over the misplaced invitation earlier to the Haagen Dazs store.

“But an obsession with foreign approval underlies even such pride,” says Nayar. “And what someone might claim to be pure national pride is really only chauvinism and jingoism.”

And as the West gets familiar with the colours and costumes of Bollywood, cinema itself is moving towards the West, to feature the Indian who left India, and locations abroad. For those with the means, the mind has moved West.

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