Published in Times of India ‘Consumer Edge’ Delving Deeper on 17 December 2006
Privacy is a luxury in India. You are never alone. Crowds every where. At home. At work. In trains. You are expected to share everything. Your room. Your car. Your toilet. We can blame the population. Our obsession with marriage and children. Our economics. But the fact remains we simply cannot afford privacy. Until now, that is. Now we can buy a cell phone and have a space that is ours and ours alone. We can carry our contacts, our messages, our ring tones with us wherever we go, like turtles, and share it with no one. That is what the mobile revolution is all about. Privacy. Space. It is the first thing the youth yearns to buy. No wonder Reliance says, kar lo duniya muthi mein. But culturally speaking, Indians frown upon privacy. Solitude is for the hermit. The rest have to engage with the world, with family, with friends, with neighbors. If you don’t step out, the world will step in. Interfere in everything you do. Perfect strangers will walk up to you and ask you if you are married. If you say yes, they will ask, where is she? Do you have children? How many? Where do they study? If you say no, they will ask you, why.You are not allowed to be single in India. It means disengagement. Isolation. Traditionally, a single man is either a brahmachari, a student preparing for life, or a sanyasi, a hermit. Everybody else is married. Both the student and the hermit are expected to live stark and simple lives. Only after marriage does one have the moral right to enjoy material things: artha and kama, pleasure, power and prosperity. Because marriage implies children, family, the next generation, continuity. And you need material things to provide for them. But Indian society is changing. Increasingly more and more men and women don’t want to get married. And if married, don’t want to have children. These are not students and hermits. Their lives are anything but stark and simple. They are single but they want to enjoy all things material. They don’t have children but they still want wealth, property and power. And this discomforts the traditional mindset. Some will say this new trend is the influence of the West. The concept of individualism after all has roots in Greek mythology. Hercules, Jason, Ulysses, were ‘heroes’ because they triumphed on his own, all alone, against all odds, despite the opposition of the gods. One rarely finds images of Greek heroes and Greek gods with their wives. But think of an Indian god without a wife. And all you can come up with is a Hanuman or Ayyappa, both of whom are celibate yogis. Everyone else has a wife. Even the ascetic Shiva, who is forced into marriage by the Goddess. Culturally speaking, marriage is about connecting with the world. Mobile phones are also connecting with the world. But while traditional mobile phone/service advertising focuses on connecting the individual to the community, Tata Indicom seems to be taking an altogether different approach. It is being sold by a couple. Not a very sophisticated couple. But one which aspires to be sophisticated. Aspires to speak in English. And what a couple. A star couple. Ajay Devgan and Kajol. Both Bollywood successes in their own right. And what a wife. She quietly slips away from the limelight after marriage, enjoying her husband’s success, appearing in public years later but only as Manorama darling, her husband’s very traditional wife. She is fair and intelligent. Her husband a dark village bumpkin. But she loves him, adores him. She walks behind him and covers her face with a ghungat but comes out fiercely to his rescue and fights tooth and nail for him. She is his strength, his shakti. She is his Lakshmi, the harbinger of his wealth and fortune. Together, they make up dampatya, a couple, a team working for family, children, material success, wealth, power, prosperity. Tarakki. Tata Indicom makes mobile phones not just a tool to connect with the world but also to profit from it. Why do you get the mobile phone? For the same reason you get a wife. Tarakki karne ke liye. Without a wife next to him, says the Uttar Ramayana, Rama cannot perform the Ashwamedha yagna that will make him ruler of the world. Even today only married couples are allowed to perform Satya Narayana pooja. Without a wife a man is considered to be incomplete. She is his ardhangini – the other half of his body. When a Hindu bride walks into the house she is asked to kick in a pot of rice or she is asked to leave impressions of her feet at the threshold. Without her, a man cannot have children. Without children, what right does he have to worldly wealth, ask the scriptures. The wife is thus the gateway to all things material. Implicit in the wife, especially a beautiful, loving, intelligent and capable wife, is the idea of tarakki. Success is important. It is about validation of one’s existence. It is about self-actualization. It is what the scriptures call purusha-artha. Success may be spiritual or material. For material success you must have a wife, says tradition. And a mobile phone, says Tata Indicom.