Thursday, January 04, 2007

India Redux in Geneva

I've been so delinquent lately in maintaining The Curious Stall that I am resorting to re-posting some of the entries that appeared in the India Zavelogue, the travelogue where I blogged during the six months my family and I lived and traveled in India. I think the entries that I'm plagiarizing from myself are very much in the spirit of the types of things I've been writing about here at The Curious Stall. So read on, and if you're interested in more of the personal account of the experience we had in India, follow the links to the India Zavelogue where there are well over 100 entries.

The first entry I'm borrowing from the Zavelogue comes from an experience we had in Geneva, Switzerland, the first place we stopped after leaving India. Enjoy...

There's a department store in Geneva called Globus (warning: French and German only). As far as we can tell, the store's gimmick is that its displays and decorations reflect a different city or region of the world every month or so. We walked into Globus and for a second thought we were back in India. "Mumbai/Bombay" was the theme for May and June, 2006.

Globus in Lausanne, Switzerland (photo from Globus website)
OK, that's not true at all. We didn't mistake Globus for India for a second. In fact, what was surprising to us was the way that "India" had been branded. The idea of India--its cultural uniqueness--was what was being sold at Globus. But it was, of course, a completely sanitized version of India. One section of the store had an autorickshaw on display. It looked like an authentic rickshaw, probably shipped from India (or more likely, from the Piaggio factory in Italy where, except for Bajaj rickshaws, India's rickshaws are made). The rickshaw had some actual dirt on it, but was for the most part stripped of the filth typically covering an Indian rickshaw (except for Mohammed, our driver in Ahmedabad, who kept his rickshaw very clean).

In other parts of the store tiffins, the little circular "lunch boxes" that Indians use, were used in displays. Water jugs, turbans, ceramic cups and other little touches were also used to give an "Indian" feel. But make no mistake, there was nothing Indian feeling about Globus. Elements of Indian culture and society had been co-opted by the Globus design team to sell consumers high-end products, many of which one would have great difficulty finding in India. For example, by purchasing a simple-looking pair of leather sandals, for around 100 euros, one can imbibe the spirit of India without actually being there.

It was hard to imagine what the average (i.e., poor) Indian would think entering Globus in all its branded India glory. My guess is that a dweller of Dharavi, India's and Asia's largest slum, would have walked into the very same Globus we visited and said, "Hmm, my life is for sale here. Why would people want to buy my life?" Yes, indeed, why would a wealthy European want to buy the trappings of Indian culture?

I'll write more about Globus, and more specifically the commodification of Indianness, in the next entry.


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1 comment:

Sunit said...

Hi, It was good to know that Indian Culture and Way of Life have been used as theme in a store to sell there merchandise. I wud like to inform people who wud read the article that India has a Leading Fashion Label called Globus and has stores across India in the same name. The Indian Fashion Brand has no relation with the store in Geneva. Vinaychandra (vinaychandrasr@hotmail.com)