After I tell someone I got to see India this summer, they ask me, “What was your favorite part? What do you miss most about India?” And, honestly, I really don’t have an answer. Because what I miss most about India, is India. My favorite part of India, was India. Cheesy as it may (and does) sound, the most fun I had was soaking it all up. Listening to Madan talk about the history behind why the Amber Fort was built, while looking out the window and watching cattle and pedestrians alike pass by our obtrusive van is where I learned the most about India. I am a visual learner and struggle with the unknown, which India completely was, but being there, it all made sense. Because it was so hard to see it from America, sitting in my air-conditioned room (which I thought was warm), I could not fathom how I was going to feel in the humid and moist India with people teeming around me.
What is so great about India that they could call it “Incredible India” in the campaign? The diversity. The presence of so many cultures in one. The incredible amount of people, and the incredible amount of tolerance and respect they show for each other, as they rub shoulders on the street, as they pull up in rickshaws next to bicycles. It’s everything about India because there is so much to see about India. Not only do they have such incredible landscapes and natural beauty that we are not as blessed with here, but the experience that we had as Americans was incredible because of the incredible Indian people. Our experience would not have been the same had it not been for their incredible warmth and welcoming spirit towards us, and their tolerance of our lack of knowledge of their culture and language.
It is the people of India I will perhaps remember the most from my experience in India, for they have taught me humility, respect, tolerance, and utilization.


This metaphor of using the way people travel as indicative and descriptive of their lifestyle, values, and beliefs. Because it is true, at least of myself. I am a horrible packer – not in the sense that my bag is thrown together. But in the sense of it takes me days. Because I think about it for days. Then get it done in a few hours. But a lot of thought goes into it, no matter how random the items within the suitcase look. And I’ve heard this is how perfectionists cope with the fear of not being perfect – by procrastinating and leaving it until it ultimately has to be done. But, I generally follow a routine-ish when I actually do the packing, and my airport behavior is definitely a routine.
But an integral part of this routine is the anxiety and rushedness I exhibit starting an hour before I have to leave for the airport. No matter how many hours I overestimate for me to get ready to leave, I still am running around my house like a madwoman grabbing things last minute and throwing them into my carry-ons and checked bags. Because I am a nervous person and like to over-prepare. Perhaps it reflects my lack of trust. Even though I plan out how I pack down to how many pairs of sock I bring, I don’t even trust myself to have packed enough, so I scramble at the last minute and throw things in the top of my suitcase. Because otherwise, I will worry the entire flight and I will be uncomfortable if I’m under-prepared. Classmates and Dr. Alvey alike were fascinated with the amount of bags I lugged around the various airports, buses, and vans we piled into, but without those bags I would have been uncomfortable. I would have been uncomfortable without my Kleenex, hand sanitizer, face wipes, chapstick, water bottle, chewing gum. The way I travel reflects my high maintenance personality.

In Ethnography for Marketers, Hy Mariampolski describes the tools ethnographers need to truly understand cultures and people they are studying. One such cultural tool is physical space. In India, there is no sense of personal space. Physical space is consumed as a collective, maximizing the space until there is no more. And this indeed reflects upon the culture and society as a whole. The way that Indians drive is a visual representation of their cultural value of “paisa vasool” and repurposing. Nothing goes unused in Indian society and maximum utilization is the only way of living. Thus, rickshaws and bicycles alike pack the road, paying no mind to those thickly painted white lines on the pavement. Fresh off the plane, we found ourselves grabbing our seat belts and holding on for dear life when we saw cars, bikes, people right against our bus windows. But that was because we were looking at Indian traffic in comparison to American traffic, where space is given to each individual vehicle. If a car violates the restrictions of the lane in America, we react. They are either not capable of driving a car (intoxicated, a learning driver, distracted) or just a bad driver who we would like to not be on the road.
But back to India. The jam-packed roads reflect their utilizing lifestyles, and also the fluidity of Indian culture. The physical presence of past empires, rulers, and people shows that in India, there is no one right answer, there is no one right way of doing anything. Besides repurposing. That is something that is not flexible. But outside of that, Indian culture is fluid and flexible. The tolerance of the Indian people is yet another thing that truly impressed me and set my own expectations much higher of people. They see diversity, they accept diversity, and they respect diversity – something that many Americans truly struggle with. But it’s easy to see how the Indians do it – their entire culture is flexible and thus makes an environment where tolerance is the norm, not the ideal. And it’s very obvious how much they gain in being so flexible, so fluid, so accepting of everything and everyone, because together, more people can achieve so much more. But this environment of tolerance and respect much be established before Americans could even dream of this collective culture.

Being an ethics groupie, the idea of targeting bottom of the pyramid consumers clearly causes me moral anxiety. And when Rama Bijapurkar labeled these four hundred million Indians as the biggest opportunity awaiting brands in India, in We Are Like That Only, I was definitely taken aback. Logically, how could these poor people represent an opportunity for businesses? Indian rope trick of numbers or not, that’s still very, very poor consumers. But the opportunity is there because Indians are restless. Especially evident in the Indian youth, as Atul informed us at orientation, Indians have moved from a need to be satisfied with the present to a need to do all they can in the present to make a better future. And this is why these 400 million bottom of the pyramid consumers in India represent such a vast opportunity for businesses.
But with this big opportunity comes responsibility. Marketers cannot and must not create needs for these vulnerable consumers who have limited experience with sophisticated marketing language, whom barely have the financial resources to pay for basic human needs like food, shelter, and water. But who regulates that? In the U.S. we have all sorts of self-governing organizations as well as the FTC monitoring ads, but in India, are marketing efforts equally governed?
The idea of all these people rising above the poverty line also blows my mind. Is that possible? Economically speaking, is it possible for all these people to rise that far? How far will they go? Does that take away from other’s salaries? I am not informed enough when it comes to the economic logistics of the feasibility of all poor people in any country to be able to get to that top 1% uber-wealthy rich. When I see people here in the U.S. who are doing “dirty jobs” that no one else wants to do, I wonder how we are going to maintain those types of services. For example, if our politicians work together to improve the public education system enough to provide quality education to all American kids, then why would any of these graduates go all the way through the school system, and apply to be a night-shift janitor? With no intention of offending my fellow citizens who do these undesirable jobs, I just wonder if the incomes of these jobs will have to increase or if technology will somehow provide us with solutions or if we will be without these jobs? And then what? Will our economy suddenly fall to pieces if the very bottom falls out when our population is too educated to perform the simplest jobs?

I remember the joy of using a portable phone and whisking it into a room of the house where (at least I thought) my family couldn’t hear me. I am a very private person, and so relished the idea of private conversations with my friends, especially during the awkward years. So, the idea of reading my postcards aloud to my family and sharing them as a collective conversation, at first, comes off as something I would not be a fan of. Yet, some of my dearest memories are those shared around a campfire with my extended family, sharing stories from their childhood. So, the sadness that Santosh Desai communicates when he describes how the technological innovation of the mobile phone has also brought social repercussions by fragmenting the social communication infrastructure in India. The interesting part is that even though the mobile phone increases the ability of people to communicate exponentially and on the go, Indians are now communicating less. The cell phone individualizes communication, and as Desai seems to be implying, makes it perhaps less meaningless. By making communication a community activity, sharing an individual’s communication with the group thereby increases the meaning that communication has. In addition, it creates meaning in the sharing with the family and friends, thereby creating an experience of sharing, bringing the family that much closer together. By not sharing, therefore, the individual seems to be moving apart from the family.
This downfall of technological innovation, of the cell phone allowing more communication but inadvertently making communication less meaningful, shows how innovation comes with responsibility. Now that individuals can communicate with everyone much more often than before the cell phone, they should. But they are not. When family members live far away from each other, they do not make regular phone calls to each other, but they miss the times they had with the whole family. Perhaps we enjoy communication in groups, not individual to individual. Besides relating secrets, the rise of (personal, not business) conference calls, group Skype dates, chat rooms shows how despite innovations that allow privatized communication, people crave group communication.

As an American, and therefore European descendant, this quote from Amitabh Kant’s Branding India clearly knocked me off my rocker: “India and China have the natural resources that European consumers want and do not have…Europeans can no longer rule with guns,”. But as I crawled back up to my perch, I opened my mind ever so slightly, cracked it open for a hint of light to come in, and see that it is true. Kinda.
True in the sense that naturally, India is diverse and therefore has more to see and do. Comparing countries is what we have been taught not to do, so I shall not compare and deem one more naturally beautiful than the other. But I will say that this concept is why I have been so intrigued by foreign tourists in the United States. Besides our obvious awesomeness, naturally we have much less to offer to foreigners coming from luscious landscapes of Saudi Arabia or camel rides through the desert in Egypt. Obviously foreign lands are luxurious to us because they are different, and vice versa, but for me, I just don’t get it. After seeing California, I can say with confidence that Dallas, only because it’s my hometown, is nothing but homes, schools, and malls. We don’t have a lot of culture that people can walk around and admire. And that’s how I interpreted this.
What I loved about India was the presence of so many cultures in one. Just looking at our itinerary of cultural tours of mosques, forts, palaces, temples would show how eclectic the mix of architecture is, the remnants of so many diverse rulers and empires in India throughout the course of its history. What was so amazing from an American’s perspective is that all that architecture remains. Coming from a country where new is relished, homes are renovated and rebuilt after mere decades, makes these centuries-old artifacts of past rulers that much more interesting. It is so noble and intriguing that rulers left remnants of those who had been there before them, and perhaps is what encourages the culture of India to be so fluid and flexible to diversity.

People everywhere. Jammed into every little crevice possible. Right next to each other, no matter their race, religion, economic class. Before I got to see India, I thought, “Yeah, so what a lot of people, I get it.” But the Indian rope trick of numbers, as described by Rama Bijapurkar in We Are Like That Only really hit me while I was there. Coming into contact with hundreds of people every day, literally physical contact, makes it really hit you. To see the power of numbers right before you is overwhelming. Not only from a social perspective of seeing people walk along the highways in thousands compared to Americans who drive everywhere, but seeing millions of people everywhere you go, is a very overwhelming sensation. As a marketer, you suddenly find yourself practically drooling thinking about how many potential customers one billion people represent. To see millions of people teeming around our conspicuous tourist bus, you can’t even do the math in your head of how many products that translates into, how many sales, how many customers. So, then, you get it. You get why everyone in marketing, advertising, business is talking about India.
The smallest percentage of the market can represent a huge success for product sales. And the slightest change in consumer behavior by a fraction of the population, can make huge changes in the market. The power of numbers is perhaps more powerful when realizing how flexible and flowing the culture of India is. You could wake up tomorrow and find a new need for a product because a target market has ever so slightly changed.
The hard part is translating that back to people here in the U.S. who haven’t seen it for themselves because that kind of experience is incomparable. We Americans have no point of comparison because it is a completely different world, a completely different culture. When you describe what you saw, people tend to think it sounds less developed, less sophisticated, and start to question why businesses are creating plans to enter the Indian marketplace. Which circles right back to the need for people to see foreign countries free of comparison because every country is different, and no one country is better than the other.