Continuing my India trip observations, the next set of observations relates to lifestyle and consumer characteristics I noticed. Parameters surrounding my observations are documented in this initial posting
Various tidbits related to the changing lifestyle that I noticed in the cities I visited.
Consumer Products and Technology
- Consumer technology advances are quite evident. For example, Tivo like home devices are being advertised more regularly and visible on busy roadway billboards and television ads.
- Satellite and cable television have been a staple for many years, but the number of channels, and western channels, continues to increase.
- This time I noticed some more mainstream American shows available on the Indian channels. Programs like House, Friends, Seinfeld, Brothers & Sisters, Sex in the City, Boston Legal and some British shows. A better sampling of programs than what I noticed in Mumbai last trip, which was highlighted by the Jerry Springer show. Thankfully, didn’t see that show flipping through the channels-don’t need the worst of American television exported around the world, although WWE wrestling was available in prime time.
- While it seems that most all economic classes have access to television, television commercials are clearly targeted to the middle/upper middle class and portray idealized middle class life.
- Cell phones are ubiquitous. One aspect that seemed different was the use of ring tones seem to be more prevalent than in the US. Much more of a personalization factor than in the US.
- Broadband offers in a large city like Hyderabad are very common. One for a leading telephone company was advertising for 500 rupees a month landline plus broadband ($10 per month) (clearly an introductory offer– ongoing pricing would be more expensive). My in-laws flat had very reliable and speedy broadband that was at the very hi-end of broadband choices in India which I would say was comparable to the broadband speed I have at home in the Bay Area.
- When I was trying to connect to the wireless network in the flat, I noticed an available free wireless network called Free Wi-Fi. Not sure if that network was being managed by the city of Hyderabad but if so, a pretty accelerated timeline for municipal broadband.
- Life in India for middle class in India still seems more flexible than in the US. We were able to throw a party at a restaurant and get 50 relatives to attend on one day’s notice. In the US, I doubt we could have pulled that off. While work life and lifestyle may becoming more western in many ways, I think there are still many parts of Indian culture that haven’t changed much such as a greater emphasis on social aspects of life.
- India has always been known for its religious diversity and tolerance (with some notable exceptions during its history). Every morning around 4:30 AM- 5 AM near my in-laws’ flat, the call for morning prayer from the muezzin for muslims could be heard for blocks and blocks. In the US, there is acceptance of other religions as well, but I’m not sure the neighbors of mosques in the US would be as tolerant. However, with continued tensions and terrorist attacks throughout India, the level of tolerance is declining.
- The emergence of western style housing complexes that primarily house hi-tech industry families and couples has also led to a commuting culture as well. With rising housing prices over the last several years, complexes further away from Hi-tech city are more affordable. With the influx of automobiles, many more residents of a large city like Hyderabad are commuting longer distances, often by automobile. Given the roads weren’t designed for the amount of cars on the roads today, traffic can be brutal. Also in Hyderabad, a public inter-city transportation train system isn’t widely available like it is in other large cities in India. The commuting culture and the increased frustration of commuting in India should continue to help spur investment in more roads and better inter-city public train transportation.
- I noticed billboards advertising alcohol and spirits which I do not recall in previous trips– an additional sign of the westernization of India.
- With all of the traffic on the roads, one thing I feared was the reaction of people to traffic accidents; accidents between cars and other cars, cars and motorcycles, cars and pedestrians, even cars with animals. I was hoping that there wouldn’t be any real road rage. During my trip, I saw the aftermath of three accidents, although with the chaos of the roadways, I expected to see more. The most notable scene involved an accident between a motorcycle and a small automobile, with the driver of the motorcycle being a young man and the passenger or driver of the automobile being an older gentleman. I didn’t actually see the accident but did see the ensuing argument. The older man was likely in his sixties and the younger man from the motorcycle was probably in his twenties. But in typical Indian style hierarchy (class and age), the older man was yelling at the younger man and was trying to hit him, basically slapping at him. Also, a crowd of people (pedestrians, other motorcyclists) gathered around the motorcyclist to support him and the potential for a mob situation looked possible. Our car continued on so I didn’t see the actual end of the episode, but I think this may be common-an accident where passersby quickly gather and shouting and maybe some mild physical violence occurs, hopefully avoiding real wide-scale mob scenes which you sometimes read about.
- I witnessed one scene at the Hyderabad Airport which I think is also one hierarchical aspect of Indian society. A man from our domestic flight from Chennai to Hyderabad was retrieving his luggage from the baggage claim. Upon securing his bags, he noticed one of his bags had some substance on the outside of it. I’m not sure what it was-it may have been some liquid, or some slimy substance, or even animal excrement- I wasn’t close enough to see exactly. The man summoned over an airport worker and proceeded to loudly berate him. Often in Indian society, the hierarchy expectations create similar scenes between perceived class differences– a service worker being clearly in a different class than a business air traveler.
- One general theme in India is everything is louder, it always has been- the streets are louder, the vendors are louder, the police is louder, the early mornings are louder; just a routine wonderful fact of life. With the large population and greater emphasis on family and social aspects of life, I would also suspect that loneliness isn’t as prevalent as in the west.
- The chaos of the roadways in India is always one of the most memorable aspects remembered by visitors to India. After enough times on the roads, the chaos becomes more understandable and aspects of it clearly are organized.
- For example, Indian motorists are very good at making a 2 lane road, with each lane heading in opposite directions, an organized 3 lane road and sometimes 4 lane road. Auto rickshaws and motorcycles typically drive on the edge of the lanes leaving the middle section of the two lanes as a passing lane or lanes. It appears every type of vehicle , in this order of hierarchy- trucks, buses, (maybe trucks and buses are reversed) automobiles, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, (motorcycles and auto rickshaws may be reversed as well) bicyclists, pedestrians, have a role that they understand.
- The honking in India is legendary but essential-honking designates time for passing, check your blind spot, move to the edge of the lane, reinforcement of each type of vehicle’s role in the hierarchy of the road.
- As a westerner, the two most challenging times for me as a passenger on the road are these two situations:
- Driving during the early evening hours or on a Sunday afternoon during heavy pedestrian activity. For example on a Sunday afternoon, certain residential area roads are heavily populated with residents walking to markets. The pedestrians take up most of the road during these times, but cars will continue to weave in and out of the mass of people-those times are when just have to swallow your instincts and trust the hopefully skilled drivers.
- Driving from the big city to smaller cities through villages, the roads become narrower and also much more populated with pedestrians while the number of vehicles (and income) becomes less. Additionally, in these areas you will start to see occasionally animals along with people on the road-in some cases you will see farmers transporting their goats or cows on the same roads that the buses, trucks, and automobiles are using. Again, the drivers alertness is heightened and everything seems to work but a westerner like myself at first feels uncomfortable. I did however see the aftermath of an accident between an automobile and a buffalo. Pedestrians in India, of course, are fearless-men, women, and children.
- In terms of safety, I did notice that most drivers wore seat belts, which was a surprise to me. However, most passengers in the front and back seats did not wear seat belts, and the vehicle I was in didn’t even have seat belts in the back. There are signs on the road that emphasize that wearing seat belts is the law. For motorcycle drivers, most drivers wear helmets and likewise, signs do emphasize that wearing helmets is the law. But again, passengers on motorcycles did not typically wear helmets and you will often see two or three people on a motorcycle. One interesting aspect of motorcycle driving is it seemed that the responsibility of signaling a left or right turn often fell to the passenger rather than the driver.
- With the additional influx and variety of vehicles, I think more traffic protocols will naturally emerge. Right of way at intersections, designated cross walk areas for pedestrians, enforced lane markers I believe will all become more accepted and naturally evolve over the coming years.
- The street labeling and numbering system hasn’t fully evolved. Many locations still have an address that includes “near library or near hospital”, not an exact number and street location. With the number of vehicles on the road increasing, it still seems more difficult to find locations than needed adding to the traffic.
- Domestic air travel in India continues to prove to be very efficient and comfortable. Traveling on Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines between Hyderabad and Kochi was very smooth; plus they had in-flight meals even on 1-2 hour flights. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with logistics when my connecting flight in Chennai to Hyderabad arrived late, yet while on the tarmac, they arranged for me to go directly to the awaiting flight elsewhere on the tarmac. Domestic travel in India is much more hassle free than traveling in the United States.
- The new international airport in Hyderabad is very modern, comparable to airports around the world. Significantly nicer than the previous Hyderabad airport and airport conditions that I remember in New Delhi and Mumbai during previous stops there.
- One very interesting consumer safety tidbit I noticed was on a can of Diet Coke, a clearly visible warning is listed that Diet Coke may be harmful to children. This warning wasn’t listed on Pepsi, Thums up, or regular Coke, nor have I seen this warning on Diet Coke in other countries. It must be related to the sugar substitute used; I wonder if the government pushed for that warning or if Coca-Cola placed that warning themselves fearing for some sort of government or lawsuit action from Indian consumers.
- In terms of the media, the story of the day while I was there was the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks and the looming threat of war between India and Pakistan. I found the media, specifically the 24 hour news channels, to be a bit sensational in how they presented the stories. Their use of music to dramatize the stories was overdramatic. However, the programs offering opinions and feelings of residents after the attacks were quite good. The raw emotion of many Indians is quite evident and you get a sense that Indians are simply tired of these types of attacks which have happened too often over the past couple of years and are frustrated with the government and police forces ability to respond to these types of attacks. Also, there is a sense that Pakistan’s government is becoming powerless to handle these terrorist groups but nonetheless, has to be held accountable. Greater international pressure towards Pakistan from the US and British governments are clearly desired from the Indian media.
- During my stay in India, a test series between India and England was ongoing. While I didn’t see the series in person, I did see much of it on television. Much like the baseball World Series after the 9/11 attacks in the US, cricket helped serve as a unifying force for the country after the Mumbai attacks. This clearly was the hope when it was decided to continue with the test matches.
- In some of the 2008 year in review recaps, India is clearly proud of its national success in the Beijing Olympics, a gold medal and two bronze medals. While prospects for the cricket team are quite promising, India seems to have renewed hope in other success; and build off the success in cricket, chess, and even recently in golf and tennis.
Here are links to the other observations from my India trip: