18 June 2015 14:55:26 IST

Discover India at your B-school

It’s important to open yourself to new people and experiences, this will hold you in good stead if you want a career in marketing

I was born in Madras, as the city with balmy weather was known back then. My parents were from Mylapore, I went to school in Egmore and my class was full of Shankars, Srinivasans and Sampaths, even if you threw in a Vijay Amritharaj who spoke in Tamil occasionally. We were bang in the middle of an “anti-Hindi agitation”, spoke to one another in Tamil or English and knew more about American history than our own cultural heritage or diversity. Thanks to the way our syllabus was designed, this limited view of India and Indians got a jolt when I went to Ahmedabad for a job as a bank officer. Imagine my plight when I had to pass cheques written in Gujarati, including numbers!

Cut to the present

Why this lengthy preamble? Today, as students in a management school, you are surrounded by diversity, unlike my own childhood. You have students from Ambasamudram, on the one hand, and Arunachal Pradesh, on the other. It is almost akin to the Tower of Babel; people speak a range of Indian languages and rarely, if ever, in English, at least to each other. What this means is that, instead of insulating yourself with similar kind of people, or those who speak only in your own language, open yourself up: meet new people, explore new cultures and understand different customs.

And why do I say this? Because it will stand you in good stead when you move on to your jobs or a career in marketing that some of you will hopefully get into. Who knows, you may have your own version of ‘Two States', going forward. Don’t get me wrong, this is not what I am advocating as the primary objective of your MBA.

Every State has its own nuance

When I was young, Madras was obsessed with Horlicks. The brand had around 80 per cent market share in that health-conscious State. Only if you grew up there did you realise how important the brand was to an average Tamilian’s life. Children drank it religiously in the morning. Guests were fondly offered it, whatever time of day they visited. Sick people were offered copious amounts of it to help them convalesce. Any South Indian kitchen had a display comprising Horlicks bottles that stocked sugar, salt and what have you.

In fact, life was often described as one big Horlicks bottle, so much did our lives revolve around it. While this was common knowledge amongst Tamilians, this wasn’t known to people from other parts of India. Try to find out about different regions and their unique features. Then you will be a true Indian and not only a Tamilian or a Bengali.

What of the future?

Today, people seem to have a very limited idea about the rest of India. Whilst this per se is not such a big problem it certainly manifests itself in a very poor understanding of India’s diversity and the difference in languages and customs that result in poor marketing strategy and even worse execution. I sincerely hope that you, in the future, will be smarter and better informed about India when you do market goods and services.

For example, you will never release an ad in Hindi in Chennai as it is currently being done. So what must you do? The key is observation. Very often, we listen without hearing. We see without observing. The moment you start seeing your classmates as future consumers then your entire perspective will change. Try to make friends with people from different States consciously. Try to know what language they speak and not merely learn the cuss words in that language. Try to understand one unique feature about each race or one nuance. Let me give you an example. Bengalis seem to prefer Arrowroot biscuits. Maharastrians seem to dip the biscuit into their cups of tea while Tamilians prefer to drink their filter coffee from steel tumblers and a unique vessel called the dabara .

Tip of the iceberg

The few examples I have shared with you are merely to fuel your curiosity. The starting point is a change in attitude towards education. Don’t treat your MBA as a mere 3+2 or a 5+2 after engineering. It can be the beginning of a whole new world. But you need to open your eyes. To your future and to those around you. Believe me, your life will transform and you will carry your transformation to the place of work.

Welcome to the future!

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