The mindset of India as a nation is changing. The emerging Indian mindset is finding its roots in the Kshatriya values of the traditional warrior class as against the Brahminical values of the priestly knowledge class that has been the biggest influe ncer of the Indian mindset so far. The new India has found a leaf within its cultural roots in the Kshatriya way of life which is putting an accent on the extrinsic values of action, success, winning, glory and heroism as against the Brahminical values of knowledge, adjustment, simplicity and restraint.
The India of today is seeking a ‘Karmic transformation’. Traditionally Indians have taken refuge in the idea of Karma and its interpretation that our life is governed by our fate hence not much can be done to change what’s writ. The new India is seeking to transform its Karma. The emerging belief is that Karma is shaped by your actions and it’s possible therefore to transform your being; to achieve a life that you desire rather than live the one that’s destined. This desire and belief of being able to change one’s destiny is the driving idea or the core value of the changing Indian mindset.
This larger cultural change is visible in the changing cultural codes. For instance, Indians today are no more content to sit back and wait for opportunity to strike. On the contrary they are going out and knocking on the doors of opportunity. Take, for example, a city like Bangalore, which is facing a genuine scarcity of chauffeurs. In general, the Southern states in India are more conversant with English as a language than, say, the Northern states. As such, most of the people who worked as chauffeurs in a city like Bangalore had some fluency in English as a language. And the boom in the services sector has meant that anyone who could speak some English and is open to working hard and get trained is sought after by the BPO industry. Many chauffeurs in Bangalore have joined the BPO industry at salaries four to five times higher than what they probably earned driving someone else’s car. Across strata and town class, Indians today are ‘activating their destinies’.
About a year ago, for the first time on national television, 60 million households (those with cable & satellite connections) in India collectively got exposed to a term called ‘X Factor’. ‘X Factor’ or more specifically the lack of it, was what the judges of the TV reality show Indian Idol used to decimate the chances of many talented singers, some with over 12 years of training in classical music. For the first time the Indian middle-class realised the importance of looking good, dancing well and being stage-friendly. They realised that 12 years of training in classical singing may not be enough to win a talent competition, but being able to perform like a rock star might be. For a Brahminical India, which valued talent over flair, substance over style and academics over personality, realising the importance of the so-called ‘X Factor’ marks a never-before shift in the mindset. The concept of ‘X Factor’ in many ways defines the code of ‘currency to extrinsic values’ that the new India is learning is a critical instrument to success.
Indians today are realising the criticality of pushing to the limits and closing the last lap, of not letting it go before the ‘finish’ line. There is a new sensibility emerging, which is recognising the criticality of the last lap.
The result is that while India has always done well in things cerebral such as chess championships and mathematics Olympiads, we are now beginning to get medals in intense sports such as tennis and athletics. In the year that went by, the entire world witnessed the dramatic takeover of the French steel company Arcelor by Mittal Steel, a company owned by an Indian though not operating out of India. The sheer perseverance with which Lakshmi Niwas Mittal approached the deal, making offers, aggressive counter offers, parlaying with the involved governments and stakeholders was a spectacle in the art of ‘last mile closure’.
The biggest fear in today’s Indian youth is being ordinary. Their desire is to be extraordinary in everything they do. Bunty Aur Babli that has been a blockbuster success across India has at the heart of its story, the desire of a young boy and a young girl from small town India to escape Fursatganj, symbolic of a small-thinking town, and make it big in the city of big dreams - Mumbai. The most defining moment of the movie is when the film’s protagonist refuses to go for a government clerk job interview, which his father has set up through reference. His refrain to his father is that the job that you have set up for me has neither recognition nor fun nor fame - the three critical parameters that the Indian youth uses to evaluate anything including a career. As the film sequence goes on to highlight – a set of values exactly opposite to the values of hard work, respect and honesty that his father lived by, spending more than two decades in the government job of a ticket collector for the Indian Railways. The safe-playing Indians who made efforts to blend in and be part of the social whole are today universally seeking opportunities that will make them stand out; bring them extraordinariness!
Evidently so, the newer mindset is rooted more in ‘action’ than the ‘knowledge’ orientation of the traditional Indian mindset. This change in the mindset of the new India is becoming the cultural engine of the Indian economic charge. Individual entropies of the young people are adding up to provide a larger momentum to the country on the whole. Considering that more than 500 million Indians are below the age of 21 years and its median age of 25 is even lower than that of China (33) that should make for quite a force.
(The writer is Vice President - Strategic Planning, Bates 141. This paper was presented by him at the Esomar Asia Pacific Conference 2007 at Kuala Lumpur and won the award in the Market Research and Insights category of the WPP Atticus Awards.)