Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Maybe 2012 ended badly, but that’s no reason not to welcome 2013 with joy….

A lot of New Year’s eve parties were canceled all over the country in the wake of the brutal Delhi rape-and-murder incident. TV screens over the past two weeks have been filled with shocked and tearful faces, alternately praying for the victim while she was alive and demanding death for the perpetrators of the crime. The social media has been on overdrive as well. We are all angry. This is definitely not the way 2012 should have ended. And yet, as we welcome 2013 in, we have to do so in a joyous and spirited way. For no matter what, life teaches us to live on. Never to forget the past, but never to let it bog us down.

A little joke which a friend sent me when the girl was still alive should help in this process: “If the government decided to send the rape victim to Singapore for better treatment, then its time now that the government sends the criminals to Saudi Arabia for better justice!!”.

Let’s look at the positives. First, hopefully we will now have more social awareness, better policing, stricter laws and better conviction rates for rapes. Second, this was perhaps the first revolution we’ve seen in the country for a social cause – the demand for women’s rights and their protection. In our race to become financially better off, we have got left behind socially. Hopefully, there will be more social movements, with the accusatory fingers pointing as much inwards towards society as outwards towards the authorities. This is the beauty about democracy. The gap between social and economic performance never becomes so wide as to lead to an explosion one day.

I want to talk about another change in the socio-economic climate that I personally experienced on New Year’s day. It brings out the kind of transformation that is taking place in the country, as old-generation activities are replaced with new ones.

I am talking of my first experience with an online groceries store (www.bigbasket.com).The experience was delightful to say the least. Sitting in the comforts of my home, I was able to navigate easily and choose vegetables, unpackaged cereals, branded products, and literally, hundreds of other items. There were several offers available and I availed of a few, saving about 10% on standard price on average. The payment was “cash on delivery”, so there were no worries about being gypped. My worry however was about the quality of the goods, especially the veggies; and hence I kept my order size small. The website asked for delivery time slots the next day, which was nice since so often, we are not available all day long at home. Assistance was sought on a map so that the delivery could be effected on time.

The delivery next day was exactly in the time slot I had ticked. What was remarkable was the way the goods were delivered. They were brought home inside large plastic crates (which had space for more) shipped-in on a slick noiseless pushcart (not carried on the head!). The veggies were neatly placed in plastic trays and shrink-wrapped. The goods were delivered right into the kitchen and the payment accepted without any fuss. The delivery boy then fished out his mobile phone, logged onto some service app, asked me to enter the 4-digit code I had received earlier by sms, and made me fill up an immediate service tracker. Before leaving, he did a little sales spiel as well….hoping to see me again soon!

What was remarkable about the whole experience was the delivery boy. He was no illiterate, dirty veggie-shop or kirana shop “helping hand”. This man was a clean, well dressed professional out to capture the world. He said “Hello” when he saw me and also gave a smile. He held his head high, spoke decently, and even asked me a few questions about neighboring places, anxious that his next delivery should not get delayed. I am sure he would have traveled in a decent delivery vehicle, helped by other decent folks.

This is what e-commerce is doing to the neighborhood grocery shop. It is raising the bar. But will the grocery shop shut down as many bafoons in the country are alleging (in the case of foreign retailers)? No way. The local grocery shop will always remain. The e-commerce guys will take over a slice of the consumer pie. In doing so, it will challenge the grocery shops to become better. Over a period of time, the entire food market will be impacted.

The sea change in the social status of the delivery boy is what delights me. In the absence of this opportunity, he would have ended up working in a veggie shop (in a manner of speaking), just like his ancestors did. He would have continued to reel under the onslaught of the ugly caste hierarchy of the old world. But the new technology, aided by the growth of digital, has brought about a very tangible upward movement in his social stature.

So for those who said that India will become a land of salesboys and salesgirls, should foreign retailers be allowed in, my answer is that it would be a proud day, if and when that happenened. I would rather be that than a country full of illiterate and dirty helping hands. Arun Jaitley may not agree, but the battalion of young people emerging out of our colleges would rather work in foreign retails stores and e-commerce companies than in the kirana shops that he roots for.

To feel miserable after what happened in Delhi, and continues to happen daily all over India, is natural. But to be able to lift oneself out of the gloom, and feel a fresh burst of energy and determination to make the required changes is the key to successful life. Reading depressing news every morning doesn’t help. Giving the positives a chance does. Hopefully this young delivery boy will also be socially a little more progressive. Working with decent people, his outlook towards women will be more healthy. Hopefully also, society’s attitude towards him will improve. He will be treated like a professional and identified as one; not described in some caste-religion language.

The real truth is that we have to move on. We can’t let any ghastly incident pin us down. Newspapers and TV channels are still filled with stories of misery. Misery never helps. It only weakens our belief in ourselves and in the future. It’s important to balance the negatives with the positives. That alone will propel us forward….So while we will never forget the Delhi girl; we will push forward towards a better India with hope. And welcome 2013 with enthusiasm.

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