Thursday, July 03, 2008

Lipstick season in America

A cartoon in the USA Today shows the proverbial refrigerator salesman in Eskimoland with the caption " I like to look at the brighter side of things, thank God I don't sell SUVs".
With gasoline at $ 4+ per gallon there is smell of coffee in the US air. But it’s not Ms Rice alone who’s mad at the emerging economies like China and India consuming more food and oil, pushing the world (read America) towards an energy and food crisis, she has many supporters among the Indian Diaspora as well.

Mr Basu of Bethesda MD is angry, his young ‘shala’ (b-I-l) in Calcutta drives to work everyday and does not use ‘public transport’ (which in Calcutta would mean sardine packed buses at 40° C and 90 % humidity). “Desher lok-era koshto korte bhuley-gecche, mairi ” – he fumes, recalling the hard times his generation had to go through, at his b-I-l’s age, when they first came to American in the early 70s. His compatriots nod in sombre agreement. It doesn’t occur to him that applying a PPP factor (and, no Mortgages to pay) his software engineer shala’s "mainey" might compare quite favourably to his own dollar denominated paycheck. So, why grudge the young chap a little showing-off by driving his dinky Alto to work.

An engineer from Shibpur, Basu-da used to work for a construction company that built nuclear power plants. So given his ‘alternate’ energy background, he was simply appalled that, millions of Indians even till this day cook in open hearth chullahs – unmindful of carbon emissions. They could surely look at solar energy if not nuclear power he asserted (I guess he meant sun-baked chapattis!!). And, it’s absolutely no excuse that the US refuses to sign the Kyoto protocol – because the situation of the 2 countries are not comparable at all. He couldn’t be more right.

Mrs. Basu, on the other hand, was not too unhappy. She was looking forward to her saree shopping at the Bongo Sammelan in Toronto this 4th of July Independence Day weekend. Last year at Detroit, the cheeky salesman from Calcutta had told her - he had to mark up the prices of his saris due to the falling value of the dollar. Now with the Rupee having slid back to Rs 44 – it serves him right – and she can’t wait to give it back to him.

The last word has to come, as always, from our Kutchi “oracle” of Boston. He is convinced that, with Inflation having touched 11% and petrol at Rs 56 – it’s now India’s time for reckoning. You can’t counter his dooms-day prediction - no matter how hard you try to argue that, a country that has lived in penury for 50 years is more resilient to an economic downturn than those who make a virtue of over-consumption in every sphere. Or that, it’d be less difficult for a guy who has commuted all his life in crammed buses and crowded trains to put his car back into the garage and switch to his old life-style or, for that matter, switch-off his air-conditioners when power becomes too expensive or if there is a load-shedding than those who can’t f*rt without electricity.

So is it surprising that the latest Pew Survey shows that Indians love America but don’t like Americans as much ? We probably need to send our Comrades or the fiery Didi ( Mamata Banerjee ) from Kolkata to tell them that, the world's food and energy crisis can be solved in a jiffy - if the Americans wasted a little less food and conserved some gas and power – or simply, their restaurants cut the size of the helpings (which would also bring down the cost of national health-care).

But you hear some real gems over the radio. For example, ‘Wedding sagas’ are making a comeback in Hollywood (there are 4 releases scheduled this summer). People love to watch a wedding (even more than “RomComs”) when they are feeling low - becauses “marriages symbolize the ultimate victory of hope over experience”.

And, Gyms are trying to check falling membership not just by cutting rates but also with an ingenious sales spiel: “exercising helps you de-stress when the chips are down”.

Of all the ones I heard, my favourite is this theory about the correlation between the rising sales of lipsticks and recession. It seems when times are bad – women visit malls just for a ‘feel -good’ experience but not being able to splurge on expensive cosmetics as before - walk out buying just a lipstick instead (click here to read) . And, this is pure empirical research – there’s nothing Freudian about it.