A look at how gods and goddesses play a pivotal role in deciding trends in the Indian marketplace
This book provides a trivia-heavy look at the pervasiveness of religion in India, from the point of view of the fast-moving urban Indian. Even though breezy, the book is valuable, especially for young readers.
As a compilation of case studies and reference for marketing professionals, the book delivers a useful compendium of instances. At the end of one such anecdote, author Ambi Parameswaran declares, “The real lesson from this story is that while Indian consumers may be hidebound in their religious views, they are willing to suspend these beliefs when it comes to getting a good bargain.”
Parameswaran discusses how the Indian consumer repeatedly makes his choices based on long-held religious biases and ideas. He contextualises this with the launch of the first Ramayana serial on Doordarshan and the concurrent drift away from Nehruvian socialism. He shows how these old ideas direct Indians’ consumption of products in relation to marriages, travel, media and entertainment, music, and food.
The book is heavy on tidbits of information like the classifications of matter in the Vedas and the Upanishads, the pillars of Islam, the percentage of Muslim women who wear a burqa, gospel music from Aretha Franklin, and the fact that MTV Coke Studio originated in Brazil. For most younger readers, this is not a bad thing. From planetary positions to mythology to why non-vegetarian food in Chennai used to be available only in ‘military’ hotels. For those who know, it reads like a revision and, for the uninitiated, it tells them what they should know.
Parameswaran’s vast experience is never in doubt, when you read through the sheer range of topics he uses to make his points. Gems like the story of how astrology nearly held up the declaration of India’ s Independence, and how it was eventually resolved by KM Panikkar, are peppered throughout the book.
Parameswaran has done a better job with the book than Penguin though; the cover is so hideous that you would skip the book if you walked past it on a bookshelf. Ironically, Parameswaran is an ace marketer himself.
The book’s jacket is much like an advertising pitch, the pitch exceeding the end product, as usual. It poses heavy questions at the outset, like what can “Harvard Business School learn from the Kumbh Mela?” and “Are Indians becoming more religious and more consumption driven at the same time?” Eventually, it delivers a confabulated take on modern India. For younger readers, the book is a repository of information on the cultural life of an older generation.
A special mention of a chapter on Muslims in India is a must. It is one of the book’s best written chapters. He also delivers some masterful myth-busters for the stereotyping glasses many of us carry around. Like the notion that Islam and women’s rights are antithetical to each other. Parameswaran shows us how Islam is the only major religion where women are explicitly supposed to be equal to men. What it has become today, is another matter altogether. One of Parameswaran’s preoccupations throughout the book seems to be the explosion in religiosity in modern India and the pervasive consumerism.
This cannot be understood without a deeper understanding of both, but that could have deviated from the focus of the book. Still, one may find an aching need to get a sense of the depth of these and other matters. Nevertheless, the end of the book, which contains “Religion: an essential vocabulary” is a brilliant list of ideas that shape, and have created, the modern Indian ethos in Parameswaran’s own experience. The book suffers from not exploring how ideas in the religious lives of people interact with their buying decisions. The causes, the unconscious drives behind our religiosity, are left unattended. To some, the book may seem to drag on longer than it should, in the absence of anything other than the idea that is already expressed in the first half—that religion drives buying and, in turn, must drive marketing.