Last summer, during a visit to India, I was astounded by the “Starbuckization” of the country I thought I knew intimately. Having spent more than three decades of my early life there, I had witnessed the country’s gradual economic metamorphosis in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Among some of the welcome changes those decades heralded was the arrival of cable television. Cable television meant goodbye to state-run propaganda. The world had finally opened to us and Indian audiences had a glut of offerings to choose from including popular U.S. television sitcoms and shows.
At this point, people’s connection with their culture remained strong because while it was one thing to watch a Hollywood heart-throb saunter in acid-washed jeans, it was next quite impossible to emulate him because branded threads weren’t available or affordable to middle-class families.
Fast forward circa 2000.
India begins to shed its century-old hand-spun ideology in exchange for North America’s glitzy ethos. Multiplexes and malls begin to crop-up like mushrooms after monsoons. Today, the entire country appears to be caught up in a frenzy to own, wear or sample the western way-of-life.
Mom and pop run restaurants that once served sumptuous and affordable street food have been nudged over by KFC, McDonald’s, Subway and Pizza Hut. Merchants that stocked yards of handcrafted sarees and salwars have ditched them for “imported” jeans and tops.
Now, contrast this to the emerging scenes unfolding in the leafy suburbia of Brampton and Mississauga, Ont., literally seven seas away. The dichotomy is startling.
South Asians are the largest racialized group in the province. There are some 684,070 desis that call the GTA home. The political, economic and cultural make-up of cities like Brampton is largely immigrant driven. Cruising through some neighbourhood here is like being transported through bustling bazaars of New Delhi. Even the plaza names are a replica – Janpath, Jaipur, Karol Baugh. Get my drift?
Your travels through these cities will take you through boulevards housing sprawling temples with packed parking lots. You olfactory senses will awaken and lead you towards the tantalizing smell of tandoori chicken and samosas. Your eyes will travel, feast and come to rest on individual-owned ethnic designer wear stores sporting stunning mannequins decked in rich silks, chiffon and brocades. The exquisite jewelry accented by elaborate head and hair accessories will leave you gawking.
While the Indian culture appears to be eroding in India, it’s alive and thriving here in burbs of Toronto. Not just as evidenced in the burgeoning small and specialized business sector, but in the mindset of the families who have become keepers of customs and traditions.
So, what has been the most telling change in your perception of India? Do share.