Friday, 14 January, 2011

A little imagination, please

The blurb for the article The coffee king of modern India by Amy Kazmin in the Financial Times on 11 January said, “V.G. Siddhartha's Café Coffee Day has caught the mood of the country where changing social rules and rapid economic growth are new opportunities for social mobility.

Inside, the article expanded, “With its slightly suggestive slogan, ‘a lot can happen over coffee,’ the chain has captured the zeitgeist of young, modern India, where conservative social rules are gradually eroding and rapid economic growth is creating new opportunities for social mobility. The cafés are a place where backpack-carrying students, laptop-toting young professionals, amorous couples and affluent sari-clad women all come to conduct meetings, keep romantic assignations or hang out with friends. ‘It’s a comfort zone,’ says Latika Arora, a 21-year-old MBA student and a regular Café Coffee Day patron.”

I have often wondered which cuckoo-land journalists come from. When in living memory were teashops and coffee houses not hangouts for India’s poor and middleclass? Pick up any novel or old movie, and you’ll find the young men, and sometimes, young women, socialising in these places. Alternatively, they and their elders are getting drunk in taverns and bars.

Go to any village, town or city, and you’ll find the picture unchanged. So what does the erosion of conservative social rules have to do with Café Coffee Day’s success?

Anyway, why pick on poor Amy. Starbucks sold the ‘third place’ baloney and we bought it in droves. Yet, these retailers essentially make money by renting space, with the beverage, usually undrinkable, being the billing contrivance. Their business model is identical to the one many cafes and taverns have used for centuries. By now, the story should have been dead: It’s surprising it isn’t.

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