Thursday, February 18, 2010

My mother and the changing world

My mother, who passed away at the age of 84 on this day eight years ago, grew up in colonial India. Though not quite a freedom fighter, she was proud of the single night she had spent in jail for participating with fellow students in a protest against the British. She and my father were well-read and highly engaged with the world around them (at some point they were also highly engaged to each other... sorry, couldn't resist!).

Many years later, in the 1980's and 90's, she marvelled about the way the world had changed. She could hardly believe that Britain, in her childhood the world's most important country, had moved off to a corner of the global stage while the USA and the Soviet Union had taken over as world leaders. Then the Soviet Union fell, and so did the Berlin wall, and she was again amazed that these formerly unimaginable events could take place.

Another comment that stuck in my mind was her comment about the quality of Japanese goods. My father was a maniac for electronics (and modernity in general) and went to great trouble and expense to buy a Sony tape recorder in the early 1960's. On that occasion my mother recalled that, in her youth, "Made in Japan" had been a synonym for shoddy, cheap stuff, but now Japan had emerged as a key player in advanced technology.

Today, had she been around, she might have been amazed at the growing optimism that India is emerging from its backwardness and poverty and that "Made in India" may not forever have a negative connotation. I hope that this change continues in the right direction and that wherever she is, she is not only surprised but also happy about it.


Amitabha said...

"Made in India" is difficult to find these days -- most such labels have been replaced by "Made in China", which is again a synonym for shoddy and shady manufacturing practices.

Sunil Mukhi said...


My nephew Karun, who knows these things, informs me that the Hyundai I20, a premium hatchback in its class, is made in India and exported to 120 countries. He also tells me it's made ONLY in India and nowhere else, and that a large fraction (he estimates 85%) of its parts are Indian made. The Fiat Linea is also made in India and exported to Europe.

As for "Made in China", you may be ignoring the sheer range of qualities (and prices) of goods made in China. While cheap shoddy laptops are indeed made there, so are top-of-the-line laptops. The town of Longhua, China, is known as iPod city for obvious reasons, and Macs are also made in China. You can criticise iPods and Macs for a lot of things but they aren't shoddy or shady.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Nice post (sorry for belated reply - visiting after a break). I think the biggest changes in the world have not been in politics or who manufactures what, but in communications, and the internet in particular. Your mother lived to see it, but did she see it invade regular life in India the way it has now?

A lot of things -- textiles, leather products etc -- have been made in India and exported heavily to the west for about 15 years now, but mostly re-branded for their major stores: very few Indian brands have made it. Your friend is correct about the i20, but not, as far as I know, about the Fiat Linea -- it is not even sold in Europe. (The Fiat Punto is, but it's not the India-made one.) Renault-Nissan (Chennai-based, like Hyundai) export most of their production, I helieve. There's also the Nokia factory in Chennai, but Nokia has fallen from grace a bit in recent years...

Still, abroad, the Hyundai i20 and Nissan Micra aren't particularly upmarket cars. At the high end, one can point to Jaguar-Land Rover, which manufactures in the UK but is owned by Tata Motors...