Ask ten random individuals to share their ideas about India and there is a pretty high chance that a lot of them will mention the cows on the streets. It doesn’t take you long to notice the first cows on the streets, soon after you’ve arrived in India. Despite the huge upward shift to the modern world, which is happening in front of you on a daily basis, some things will never change and cows on the streets is are of them; they’ve lived on the streets for many years and they will continue to do so. A huge number of developments definitely bring me – a temporary citizen of India – a lot of comforts and joy. However, India could also slowly be losing its charm.
My first trip to India as a little kid
During my first trip to India things were still very unique. I was very young and came here with one of my parents to visit an ashram. The available soft drinks were limited; choosing was very simple: Miranda, Thumbs Up and Limca were the only options back then. The Indian economy was still an unexplored terrain for foreign brands. Mainly because of the protective and traditional Indian views on economic reforms . It was also long before the internet was launched and way before countries started to be overrun by tourists holding a Lonely Planet in their hands. This was followed by followed by tourists with smartphones looking for the most popular Tripadvisor-coffeeshop in town. Back then, we needed to find out things out on our own, which made travelling a lot more adventurous. At that time, I visited Pune and Mumbai, but we also went to Goa. The train ride between Pune and Margao, the main railway station in Goa, left a huge impression on me. We stopped somewhere in the mountains and it didn’t take long until a huge brigade of people entered the train, trying to sell us cold bottles of drinks. Colva Beach, a town in the mist of a long stretch of a sandy beach, was still a sleepy fisherman’s village and we were the only foreigners in the area. Having been here at a very young age definitely brought me something special: it fuelled my love for this immense and impressive country.
The European Union changed the centre of cities
Being brought up in the Netherlands in the 70’s and 80’s was something special. I still love the songs of the 80’s, I don’t mind admitting that George Michael is in some of my playlists. Travelling at that time was adventurous, one needed to stop at the borders to stamp their passport. I feel lucky to still have a few memories of this old-fashioned period.
The EU has changed a lot of things in Europe, and it has been done gradually. Borders became more open and they’ve rolled-out the Euro, the currency that was introduced in 1999. The Union expanded, with a large number of new countries. Recently Croatia has also become a part of the European Union. Looking back at the hassle to cross borders and exchange money, I feel positive about all the changes. It brought me – a citizen of the Netherlands – a lot of advantages. We have one strong currency now, the Euro. Exchanging money while visiting other European countries definitely had its charm, but having only one currency has some advantages. There are however also a couple of disadvantages.
One of the negative effects of the EU is definitely the radical change of European cities. The EU made it much more easy to open up retail chains in other countries, which resulted in a lot of city centres with a very similar set of shops. Now in 2018, almost every main shopping street of a major city in Europe has a set of well-known shops like Zara & H&M and they’ve forced the independent local shops to move to the outskirts. Famous streets in Europe – La Rambla in Barcelona, Champs Élisées in Paris – have slowly been transformed into shopping malls full of European and American top brands.
Opening up the economy is positive for business, however disrupting small businesses
India started liberating the economy in 1991, by slowly allowing foreign businesses to set foot in India. Coca Cola and Pepsi were some of the brands that started their Indian journey very early. They’ve slowly pushed away the competitors or even taken over some of the challenger brands like Thumbs Up. A lot of businesses followed the popular soda manufacturers, opening businesses in India. Now in 2018, you can definitely see the effects of this. The new financial district in Mumbai has a lot of flashy buildings occupied by foreign companies. They are here to fuel foreign businesses or profit from the Indian growing economy. The changes in the business to business market are also huge. A lot of industrial conglomerates are now being operated by foreign companies. Furthermore: a lot of Indian companies are open to embracing the western-like ideas, often promoting their solutions as technical innovations based on ‘German Technology’. However, the best place to see this drastic effect of the new economy is to go out and just walk around any Indian city. Decades ago streets were mainly used by autorickshaws, bicycles and a rare car or two-wheeler. Buying and owning a car was only possible if one had money. Selecting a car was very easy, as there were only a couple of options: Ambassador, Premier or Tata. In 2018, one could observe a huge number of two wheelers on the streets. Furthermore: some people in the Indian middle class can now afford to buy themselves a car, and you can see a lot of foreign brands on the Indian streets.
Also the food industry has also been disrupted. One of the largest Dutch companies in India is Hindustan-Unilever. They supply almost every small or large supermarket on the continent, offering customers brands like Vaseline, Pond’s, Lux, Dove, Knorr, Axe and many more. The expansion with help of foreign countries will not stop. A lot of companies are very eager and hungry to enter the Indian market. The supermarkets in India are still being operated by local companies, but I’m pretty sure that the strategists of companies like Carrefour (France) or Tesco (UK) keep a close eye on the possibilities of entering this market. Recently Ikea India has opened its doors in Hyderabad.
Globalism in the economy will ruin the small shops, some charm will be lost
I want to understand every aspect of this country better. Very often, I will bring up a topic to discuss with my Indian friends. Also knowing and realising a lot of tough elements in the country, I still love it here. I’m a great fan of India, which could end up in only looking at things through a very positive lens. The bureaucracy, the ineffective processes – multiple checks at the airport, stamping of supermarket bills – and bribery in almost every layer of society could make living here challenging but it also brings in some charm. However, with a continued flourishing economy, some of this charm could be destroyed if the country is overrun by more fortune hunters.