Monday Musings 224 Reporting from Cawnpore
The world outside the metro is an education. Every time I travel to the smaller towns of India I tend to notice the many India that jostle for space, on the face of it competing and soon settling down at peace with each other. We know for sure instances where the many India’s are not at peace with each other and are at violent loggerheads for space – like the khaps and their convoluted logic of honour amidst rural prosperity, not more than a 100 kms from the borders of the nations capital. However there are also examples where an understanding of sorts has been achieved. I witnessed two such examples during my recent trip to Kanpur. I like the sound of its erstwhile name Cawnpore, which incidentally is still what is written on its British era Kotwali, a majestic imperial architecture. Why don't they build stuff like that anymore?
I was attending a meeting where the prosperous and progressive Small and Medium Enterpirse owners of the town had come together for an industry conference, to discuss key issues of their business. Quite obviously most of these belonged to old, established and illustrious families of the city. Most were old and middle aged and commanded respected from the fellow participants, flowing not only from the net worth they represented but perhaps because of conduct that may have lasted for more than a generation.
A man in the fifties who was a dignitary on the dias came out and touched the feet of an elderly member in the audience seeking blessings. Before I could get over it another young man in his thirties at the most came over and touched everyones feet. I was only consuming the sight and trying to come to terms with it is when another man in his fifties brought his rather young son in his early twenties to meet the seniors. What an amazing sight – the boy went about touching everyones feet in the circle – almost a rite of passage of sorts. He was getting lesson i guess. Mind you this was happening in the middle of a trade conference just outside the auditorium. I could not help but wonder if my management education ever taught me anything even remotely to deal with this milieu. I am sure each one in the room knew his pennies and paisa’s as well as anyone else in any other city of India. The big question I also wondered if we the city slickers were in any way prepared to deal with them?
Earlier in the day someone in his thirties and working as a professional for many years now was describing the rituals at his home, relationship with his father and his children. He was young, modern, educated, sophisticated in every sense of the word. He described how even today he is woken up by his father at 5am, a relaxation of an hour from the earlier deadline of 4 am in the morning. He talked about how even today he so enjoys pressing his father’s feet and legs, and he considers that his doing it actually the best ‘role modeling’ he could do for his children. He was at least a decade younger to me but at least a decade wiser than me. I was so blown away by his childlike enthusiasm, simplicity and rootedness. He believed in what he said and even if some of it sounded so anachronistic in this time and age for the city slicker in me, I wanted to ape him. A case of reverse role modeling.
On the highway from Lucknow to Kanpur there was a stretch where old village women were selling fresh guavas. Great joy in munching into the succulent flesh of the countryside guava.Big joy in small munches.
I met three retailers – two known from the past and one in whose shop I just walked into, who showed me how the winds of trade were changing. The first one owned a 60 year old family shop which sold more than 20,000 SKUs in kitchen items, accessories and electronic items. He told me that e-tailing was gradually eating into the business and confirmed it even when I expressed dismay that it was not possible in Kanpur. The second one was the owner of a chain of beauty Salon’s – a first generation self made business person. She taught me the magic of customer insight. She said that the third week of March is every year a lean season for her because during this week most housewives, which incidentally made up much of her clientele were busy in their children's exams and would not venture out. This was also not a season where Christians, Hindus or Muslims usually have weddings. Finally she told me that she keeps track of the Shubh Muhurts probably more than anyone else – because it means ache din for her. I walked into a leather shop whose owner gave me a tutorial on leather, its type and speciality – he definitely knew his sheep from his calves and goats!!