A celebration of consumerism

TONGUE IN CHEEK

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Madhusudhana Rao S

If consumer is the king, the Indian buyer has become an emperor! So it seems if we go by the advertisements that flash on the computer screen and the number of full page display ads newspapers are getting these days. One English paper I read has more ads than news during so-called festive days.

The festive season which is a ‘sale’ season for online and offline businesses begins just before Dasara. It goes on at least for three months until the middle of January. The nine-day Navratri is followed by the Festival of Lights, then Christmas, New Year and ends with Sankranti. Almost all these events are celebrated by Indians in various parts of the country and the world. In fact, Diwali has become universal, thanks to Indian Diaspora and the entrepreneurship of some communities who have migrated to almost every corner of the globe and introduced their culture and traditions to local people.

A spin-off of these traditional festivities is exchange of gifts, buying gadgets, clothes, vehicles and home and kitchen products and even new houses. So, every festival provides an opportunity –and an excuse for shopaholics – for everybody to go on a shopping spree. The most appetizing part of the festive season or ‘sale’ season is discounts and special offers, coupled or bundled with other items, which can be bought on easy monthly installments through credit cards.

The offers and prices are so enticing that you feel like replacing everything in the house! If you have an inclination to do that, there are exchange offers, of course. Instead of giving away to somebody or dumping the unwanted stuff in the bin, you will get the satisfaction of not cluttering the house with the unused and getting rid of the items for a small consideration. 

If you are unable to do it because of attachment that grows over the years and the unrealistic bonding you establish with all the materialistic things around you, there is a danger of your house turning into a warehouse. Beware, then, before being pulled into buying something new or upgrading your visual pleasure with a big TV or increasing the comfort level with a plush sofa set that promises to sink all your worries.

You will be spoilt for choice after flipping through newspaper pages. Festive offers, from shopping malls to big retail chains and e-commerce giants drive you crazy. Competition is healthy, of course, but cut-throat competition is suicidal. But that is what the consumer is cashing in on. Wait for the best bargain and grab it is the bottom line before zeroing in on a purchase. In a way, the consumer has never had it so good. The beneficiary is the buyer who faces a dilemma his parents had never faced two or three decades ago.

Owning a colour TV or a fridge or a scooter was a luxury and a distant dream for them. Only an annual bonus and savings or a bank loan could fulfill the wish of married people. Others used to include the items in the wish-list to be presented to prospective bride’s father before entering a ‘happy’ married life.

Now, anything and everything is on tap; just a click away. Siblings or children living abroad could order them online from abroad. Wish … lo and behold, it’s delivered at doorstep. In fact, we are in the midst of a sea of consumerism, confused and overwhelmed by the product range.

Is it a sign of economic development or is it our craze for latest gadgets and gizmos, often dumped in the country by multinationals or China since they can’t sell them in the West? Or, is it simply loads of money that is in the pockets of people which make them splurge on anything they fancy? Difficult to say, but mostly it is the availability of money and goods in open market that is fuelling consumerism in an unprecedented way.

But that’s no reflection on other parameters of our living standards like health, nutrition, education, infant mortality rate, clean air and water, infrastructure, among many other  indices. We are on par with some of the least developed countries if we go through the annual reports of global agencies.

Consumerism may be fallout of economic liberalization but we need to get our priorities right and put them in proper perspective. If villagers have to travel to towns and cities for medical treatment and can’t get potable water but electronic appliances and apparel home-delivered, the situation calls for introspection.

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