Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hennes & Mauritz plans to spend 130 M to open chain of stores in India

Hennes & Mauritz, a Swedish multinational retail-clothing company,  plans to spend around 100 million euros ($130 million) to open a chain of 50 stores in India. The company’s interest in India’s potential market is fueled by India’s growing population and rising incomes.

 A sizeable section of the population in Asia's third-largest economy now has the spending power to catch up with fast-changing fashions.

The plan to enter the Indian market is a part of the company’s larger expansion plans. Fredrik Olsson, head of expansion at the world's second-biggest fashion retailer, said in an interview that the Swedish group would continue a rapid rollout of stores across the world as it aims to stand up to larger rival Inditex.

H&M has been able to hold its own even in a faltering global economy by focusing on bringing catwalk styles to the mass market at a fraction of the price.

H&M has around 2,800 stores in 49 countries and about 80 per cent of sales come from Europe.

According to Olsson, H&M had made an investment application to the Indian government, adding the figures were just an estimate. He did not give a time-frame for the opening of a first store in the country.

Speaking to Reuters at H&M's headquarters in downtown Stockholm's shopping district, he said, "It is a very interesting market with a huge population and a growing middle class."

Lately  H&M has been adding other brands to its core H&M chain, such as & Other Stories, to broaden its customer base.

H&M would start selling with the core H&M brand in India and has applied to sell nine different product categories.

Many  international retailers, including Swedish budget furniture chain IKEA, are eager to expand into India after its government moved last year to allow foreign firms to set up wholly-owned subsidiaries in the country.

Indian retail consultancy Technopak estimates that the textile and clothing market in the country would more than double to $141 billion by 2021, from $58 billion in 2012.

IKEA waiting for the green signal to tap the Indian market

Will India finally have the world famous Swedish retail IKEA stores?

Tomorrow, the IKEA's Rs 10,500-crore proposal to set up single brand retail stores in the country is on the agenda of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).

The brand has been interested in the Indian market since the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) cleared the investment plan of the firm to open single-brand retail stores in the country, earlier this year.

FIPB can only clear foreign investment proposals worth up to Rs 1,200 crore. Since IKEA's planned investment is higher than this, the proposal needs to be  cleared by the Cabinet.

The Rs 10,500-crore proposal of the Swedish company includes stores and cafeterias. IKEA had applied to invest the amount for setting up 10 furnishing and homeware stores as well as allied infrastructure over 10 a period of years in India. 15 more stores will be subsequently opened.

IKEA has been sourcing many products from India for the past 25 years. This  would be the largest investment in the single-brand retailing ever since the government has allowed foreign investment in this sector.

Earlier this month, President Pranab Mukherjee, speaking on the occasion of Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said,“Today India is the third largest economy in the world in purchasing power parity terms."

A PwC report states that the spending power of Indian consumers is projected to be more than $1 trillion by 2021, driven by rising prosperity of emerging middle class people, whose population is expected to grow to 570 million by the time.

Swedish multinational retail-clothing company Hennes & Mauritz has also submitted a proposal to spend around 100 million euros ($130 million) to open a chain of 50 stores in India. The company’s interest in India’s potential market  is fueled by India’s growing population and rising incomes.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

From TRYING to be a 'good' girl, to raising one

Gender bias starts at home. Why do we blame society for treating women as second class citizens, when really, the way we treat a daughter and the way we treat a son is glaringly different? By saying this, I know I will be chastised by mothers who will say that they are just being protective for their daughter's sake. Sure they are. In these horrible times if my daughter were old enough to go out on her own, I'd keep tabs on her whereabouts and safety - perhaps every hour, until she gets annoyed and maybe hangs up on me. Then I'd go snoop around and watch her from a distance to know she is safe. I'd be ready to unleash my wrath on any unfortunate creature that posed a threat to her well being. If you talk about paranoia, I am the queen of paranoids. Yet I feel that when it comes to bringing up a girl child, atleast Indian parents blur the lines between 'acting out of concern' and bringing up a daughter the way girls 'should be brought up'.

We love our daughters as much as our sons. Perhaps a little more. But there is an invisible rule book that we go by..an instruction manual put together by past generations to tell you how to bring up a girl child and how a girl belonging to a 'decent' family should behave. In the volatile teenage years, girls will insist that such an invisible code of conduct exists and you will spend years denying its existence. Sometimes when you can no longer deny that she has clearly figured out her brother has a whole lot of privileges that she dosent, you will invariably hide behind the "its all for your own good, for your own safety" line.

I had a 7 pm deadline when I was growing up. Once, for reaching home at around 7.30 pm, I was greeted by the intimidating sight of my mother and brother sitting facing the front door to start the verbal bashing I deserved for being out with friends enjoying street food. The damned vendor who only opened his shop at 7 pm. Of course I knew I'd be in a little trouble but I decided to take the chance because damn, that guy's stuff was GOOD!

The way my mother glared at me, you'd think I was a 17 year old careless teenager sneaking into the house at 2 am, smelling like pot, dressed in a micro-mini and an itsy bitsy tank top that screamed 'cleavage", (of which I had none at the time, believe me!), occasionally flashing my G string - which, till date, I dont understand the point of. 

Nope. I was a 13 year old awkward, timid girl dressed in a full-sleeved, LOOSE, fully buttoned top and a skirt that would rather taste the earth than expose my ankles. Whatever little skin was exposed below my ankles were covered by shoes that you'd see nuns wear. I used to wear glasses that covered half my face and there was nothing my entire image that would merit a second look. 

First thought - Uh oh..i SHOULD'NT have been greedy. I'm in trouble now.

Second thought - They're going to do this together as a team..Did she finish cooking dinner early just to catch me walking in after my deadline?

Third thought - Ok, what's my attitude going to be, "sorry puppy dog look" or "Yeah yeah just yell at me like you always do and lets all get on with our lives quickly"?

Before I gathered my thoughts, she shot the first arrow - "Do you know what time it is?"

Of course I did. I was a whole 29 minutes late. At that age, figuring out which question is a rhetorical one and which one she actually wanted an answer to was the golden key to choose whether I wanted a small but painful lecture or a full length sermon with history added from my past "misdeeds". Unfortunately, I always got it wrong and answered the rhetorical questions at the wrong time. It always extended my misery.

I stood planted in the spot with my head hung down in shame for not obeying such a simple rule. She weaved into her narrative a few past instances of how I had caused her utter misery, how I dont help around the house at all, how she behaved when she was my age, how stubborn, hopeless, difficult and ungrateful I am etc etc. After a while it was all the same old lecture really, so I'd patiently wait for it to end. Sometimes it would end with a warning, sometimes with an angry "GO!" like you'd say to a misbehaving pet dog.

This sermon lasted around an hour and fifteen minutes. Moral of the sermon was that an ungrateful creature who ate paani puri with friends while my mother slogged alone in the hot kitchen to make dinner for us.

A few days later when I could no longer shut the inner voice that always landed me into trouble with her, I asked her, why does my brother not have a deadline? Not that he ever stayed out late. But why? Her answer disgusted me. She said, "Because he cant get pregnant.".

Of all my classmates, there were only TWO guys that I interacted with. That too, only to exchange notes or reference for homework. They were only interested in me because I was the first ranker. The one whose notebooks were complete, neat and reliable. To the rest of the class, apart from my girl pals, I was the snooty gulf-return student who thought too highly of herself to even look their way. They felt like I treated them as lowly creatures. I came to know that from friends. Reality was that I was lost when after attending an all-girls school for years, suddenly I had to adjust to moving back to India and becomeing a part of the co-ed system. Back in Sharjah I'd hear how a tenth grader Head-girl got expelled for sneaking into the boys section to meet a boy student of the same school. And now here I was, still recovering from the shock of having to sit next to a BOY in the classroom, dressed in half pants. What was normal for kids here was a big culture shock to my senses.

So when I was told that I had a deadline because I could get pregnant - to me it was the most insensitive reply put across in the crudest manner. It reeked of her lack of trust in me and exposed how little she knew me. I'm not talking about morals here. I am talking about the fact that she didnt know I was struggling hard to adjust to even just being around guys of my age. She didnt know how awkward I was around guys and how I behaved like an alien around them.

Parents do their best to ensure that daughters get the best possible upbringing while being as protected as they can from the 'predators' circling them all the time. We want to be extra careful and would rather be safe than sorry. Someday I hope we can embed GPS chips into our babies in a procedure that is as routine as getting them vaccinated. just so that we can rest assured that they are safe, no matter where they are. In case they are in trouble, we would know exactly where to fly to, to swoop in on the bad guys and beat the daylight out of them and bring our child back home safely.

But in our attempt to shield them, do we knowingly or unknowingly tell them what they can and cant do, just because they are girls? Dont we use 'concern' as an excuse to mould our baby girls into the socially acceptable form? In all the lectures I was subjected to, alongwith being chided for being disobedient or plain foolish, I was always given ideas of how 'good' girls should behave. 'Good girls' helped out with housework, did well at school, didnt ask questions, dressed to appeal to others' idea of decency and did not question anyone's authority within or outside the family.

'Good' girls couldnt get too pally with guys. I was sure I was doing ok if I managed to treat them just like I treated my girl friends, but thats not how 'good' girls were supposed to behave. Being friendly with boys would give me a bad name. Without ever being told to avoid letting any boy classmate coming home to pick up notes or books, I already told my two geeky guy friends that they were not welcome at home. In college when a huge mixed group of classmates -  nearly 30 of them, planned to watch a movie while their parents thought they were studying hard, I came home and asked my mother if it was ok for me to go. I was older, hopefully more sensible. I was telling her where I would be and was sure to be home by 5 pm. Surely she would allow me to go? Nope. I was given the reason at the age of 13. Dare I ask again.

Being a mother to a baby girl makes me doubly sensitive to the horrible crimes being committed against women more boldly, more frequently and more intensely nowadays. I already worry about how I ensure her well being and safety as she grows older. Its likely that I will improvise my mother's sermons and belt them out to her when she walks in past her deadline some day in the distant future. But I hope to do so without stripping her of the traits that would make her a unique individual just to get her to conform to society's idea of what a girl brought up in a 'decent' family should be like. I hope I will be able put across my concerns as concerns NOT evidence of my lack of trust in her, so that she gets a chance to put my mind at ease with an assurance that she would never do anything to break my trust. 

I hope I will be able to always clearly define which of my actions are out of concern and which are out of  the wish to mould my girl into an individual who will take their skewed ideas of morality into the next generation.

I hope I can burn that invisible book of rules, that instruction manual on 'the right way to bring up a daughter'.   If nothing, I hope I can modify the same set of rules to apply to raising a son too. So that I am not raising a son or a daughter, just a child. A child whose clear conscience will be enough to guide her/him throughout life.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Finding the strength to 'pull on'

Recently a Facebook friend confided in me that she has been putting up with domestic violence for a while now. She has been married for around 6 years and has a 3 year old child. Although she is qualified enough to get a job and fend for herself, she understandably feels lost when it comes to thinking about getting a job after being forced to give up her career soon after marriage because the in-laws saw it as a disgrace to their affluent selves to let their daughter in law go to work.

Marriage is such a gamble. You never really know what you are getting into, because some people change drastically after marriage when a relationship demands more than showing up on time for dates or looking good for each other. Love makes perfectly logical people complete idiots. It makes an educated, capable woman set aside her career goals and her financial independence. Blame it on love, which makes her believe that her needs will be taken care of, forever. Blame it on blind trust, that to her, a child that they bring into their ‘world of love’ is a welcome addition in their lives.She may never understand that to her husband, their child is another ‘responsibility’. Another weight on his already burdened shoulders.

My mother is the strongest woman I know. I may never really understand the pain, the heartburn involved in bringing up her children singlehandedly because her husband never did enough to provide for his wife and  family.  Some day I will get around to writing a lot more about her, to capture a few fleeting moments of glory for her and the way she brought us up against all odds. Far too many women like her live and die without being adequately appreciated.

She has told me several things about a time when we were living in Sharjah and my father had no steady job. We kids grew up seeing our parents bicker all the time. I never agree with people who say that the world gives money far more importance than it deserves. Because I know the true power of money and have seen how the lack of it can wreck a person’s home, family and spirit.

My mother used to work as a secretary at a law firm. Her salary wasn’t enough to feed and educate the four of us, pay the rent AND pay off the debts that my dad constantly piled up. I wish I could understand his thought process but from the face of it, he probably believed that taking loans from every friend and colleague to manage expenses at home and take more loans to pay off old ones was still a way of ‘providing’ for his family.

She had cut off the wires to the calling bell because everytime the bell rang, her heart would pound with fear of having to face angry people asking where her husband is and when he would return their money. We kids would find a corner to sit quietly in and watch from behind the furniture while she stood at the door, unable to answer for her husband’s actions.

On many nights when she felt there was no hope for us she started plotting a way of escaping that life – killing all of us when we were asleep and then, herself. She didn’t want to leave her kids to the mercy of an irresponsible father. She knew he wouldn’t be able to deal with the responsibility alone. So she began planning how it should be done.

She though the best way would be to set the house on fire so none of us would escape. She would douse the bed and then the whole house in enough petrol to ensure nothing was spared and then set the bed on fire while we kids were asleep.

She told me it was impossible to get enough petrol to do it without arousing suspicion. So she would have to buy and stock small quantities of petrol until she had enough. The best way for her to do this was to buy small amounts of petrol from the petrol pumps on the way home from work. She took a taxi home everyday, so she planned to stop far away from a petrol pump each day and walk towards it with a container that would hold a decent quantity of petrol. She would wear her specs to look like a serious, professional woman and tell the attendent that her car ran out of fuel on her way home so she needed just enough to fill the tank to get her home. She’d make it sound like the car is parked a little away from the petrol pump so that nobody would suspect she is making it all up.

She told me she spent many sleepless nights planning to do this. I do not remember what reason she told me for not going through with her well thought out plan. I think it was because she managed to land a better paying job that would ease the noose around our necks just a little…just enough to manage a little better.
My mother was a meek, frail, undergraduate who couldn’t speak English. She thought she could give up the struggle of being a working woman and just look after her husband and kids. Life mocked her simple plan and threw unbelievable challenges her way. She went on to work for a renowned Lebanese lawyer, handling all the office work including legal documents better than a management graduate would.

 When I ask her in awe, how she managed to do it, she smiles and says she just did. She sometimes says that  when God gives us burdens, he also gives us the strength to bear them. However she may have done it, at the end, what matters is that she did. And  if she could, every woman should TRY.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The making of....me

I must have been four and a half years old then. Although my mother says its impossible to have a clear memory of things that happened at that tender age, I strongly disagree. Because I know how clearly I can see that incident in my mind. It still gives me goosebumps.

My brother, who is five years elder to me, wasn’t very fond of me as far as I can remember. That particular day he took sibling hatred to a new level. I have a deep scar at the back of my left hand as a reminder of his hatred. The scar his hatred inflicted on my heart as a child, not even five years of age, never really healed. Why else, would I be writing this now?

Our parents were away at work and our elder brother and sister were at school. The four of us, aged between four and a half to around seventeen, were left to ourselves until our parents reached home at night. My mother worked very hard to make ends meet , shouldering responsibilities that my father should have done but couldn’t be bothered to.

The day of the incident, we were ‘playing’, if you can call it that. I am yet to find a word that adequately describes a situation where everyday after waking up, I’d be in constant fear of when my brother will start picking on me for no particular reason. Some mornings I'd pretend to be asleep till I could no longer lie in bed doing nothing. I’d be constantly afraid of what I may do or say to trigger his hatred filled cruelty. Each day it was something new..I have varied memories of ways in which he expressed his hate..from throwing stones at me as I walked in front of him, to telling me he spit in the water he brought for me to drink, to yelling at me at the top of his voice until I would shiver and cry uncontrollably and cling to him hard instead of running away from him. Because he was the only living thing in that terrifying, big house – too big for a child to be alone in.

I keep digressing as memories flood in. Back to the day of the incident, he lit a candle and we were burning things like paper and other stuff. Him, because it was somehow fascinating to him and me, because I had no choice but to join in to be ‘on his side’ so that he wouldn’t turn his attention to making me the subject of his amusement.

He picked up a small blue plastic car and began burning it. It melted and as I was watching drops of molten blue plastic pull away from the illl fated toy, he held my hand under the bubbling, melting plastic and before I knew it, a big blob of molten plastic fell on my hand.  Its all in slow motion then on, as most painful memories are. I don’t remember whether I screamed for my life or ran crying. I cant really remember my reaction or his, in the moments that followed. All I remember is seeing that huge drop of molten plastic embed itself in my hand, burning through my tender skin and flesh, turning a darker shade of blue than the toy car originally was. The drop solidified almost instantly and was just stuck there in my hand, lifeless. As if it had always been an odd extension protruding from the back of my hand.

I remember one thing clearly - he wasn’t scared after what he had done. If there was any fear or remorse he did a good job of concealing it because  all he said as I cried in pain at the horrific sight of plastic burning deeper into my flesh was that I should let him remove it. I remember yelling, “No, I will show this to mummy today”. I remember saying that because for me it was a daring act of defiance. Everyday he’d threaten me that if I mentioned any acts of his cruel behavior towards me to our mother, he would beat me up even more the next day because surely our mother would go to work and we would be alone again.

Every day at the dinner table as we ate I’d think of telling our mother everything he had done that day to make me cry and he, almost as if telepathically reading my thoughts, would catch that quick nervous look I had on my face a few minutes before I mustered the courage to announce at the table how cruel he had been to me all through the day and as far as I could remember. As my eyes met his, his stern message was conveyed to me with a quiet but powerful force that made me sink back into my chair. My carefully gathered thoughts that had nearly become words and finally become strong enough to leave my lips any minute returned to my heart, taunting me that I would NEVER have the courage to speak up. Mission accomplished, my brother’s stern look would disappear as if it were never there and in its place would be a triumphant grin. A content look of satisfaction that he was safe because I was too much of a coward to rat him out.

I’d finish my meal quietly, unlike any child of that age you may have seen. This always went  unnoticed because in my family dinnertime was far from those happy mealtimes we see in movies where family members love each other and cant hear enough about how each person’s day went. Dinner times were the only times that our family sat together. Yet for us, it was a matter of getting it quickly done and dusted so that we could sleep. Our mother would serve us, quickly and quietly. There was no question of fussing about whatever dish was served.

I realize now how tiring it must have been for my mother, to cook dinner for six within an hour or so of reaching home from work. I don’t remember her ever sitting down to relax for five minutes after returning from work. I guess with four hungry children around, any mother would forget her own comfort and jump right into cooking and serving dinner.  Even as kids, we all knew better than to hassle her with our petty issues.

That day though, I felt it was very important for me to be the center of my mother’s universe atleast while I told her how I have been suffering. I wanted her undivided attention and hoped that she would resolve the matter for me, once and for all.

 After the molten plastic drop solidified on my flesh I ran and hid under our huge dining table and refused to come out from there for my brother to pull it out of my flesh. Whether he wanted to destroy evidence or get sadistic pleasure from watching me suffer the pain of having my flesh torn away with the plastic, I don’t really know. But I swore I’d show it to mummy and hoped he would get  a sound spanking  that day.

I don’t know how many hours I sat there or how I managed to wait until my mother was home. I don’t remember where our elder brother and sister were after they returned from school. Did I show them what had happened? Did they try to help me? I cant remember any of that. What I do remember is choosing a safe moment to come out of hiding to run to mummy in the kitchen. I remember dodging my brother as he pounced on me to have me reconsider whether I really wanted to complain to mummy and face him the next day.

I remember crying my eyes out as I stood there looking up at mummy, holding up my hand for her to see what her son had done to me. I remember being in her way as she rushed from the kitchen table to the stove, with some ingredients in hand that needed to be quickly added to whatever she was cooking. I remember saying, see what he did to me today and just as I came in her way, she yelled at me without looking at my outstretched hand,” Go and sit in the hall room, out of my way..”. I don’t remember whether she told me to ‘sit in the hall room’ or ‘go and play elsewhere’ ..but I remember it stung like a slap. It felt like the confirmation of what my brother told me everyday without fail..”she loves me more than you..she dosent love you..she hates you..she never wanted you..we were happy before you were born... You were a mistake..I am their pet..”.

He had probably been watching from outside the kitchen because just as I stepped outside, he did a little victory dance and confirmed for me, “I told you, she wont care”.

The only consolation was that he went easy on me the next day. I wasn’t the same inside. Something had changed. I was still a coward. I still hugged him when he yelled at the top of his voice to scare me. I still cried sitting by his side when he pretended to be dead. But I never thought about complaining to my mother again.

Maybe this incident and a series of others made me the way I am now..Today I despise any show of helplessness or submissiveness in women. Maybe because it reminds me of the coward I was. Even as a child I hated myself for being unable to gather the courage to fight back or speak up. The anger, even disgust that I feel for women who quietly tolerate injustice or being ill treated is actually the disgust I feel for myself, for the way I was. Even though I was a child, I am still unforgiving about how meek and scared I was and how easy it was to put me down.

Maybe these memories make me react just a little more strongly than most women would, to hear about instances of women being ill treated.

I spent a good part of my teenage years trying to convince my mother that all these incidents werent merely instances of sibling rivalry. She spent all those years trying to convince me that I am super sensitive.. that her son only behaved like any child of that age would behave. She kept telling me that all brothers and sisters fight and I kept telling her that not all brothers would suffocate their seven year old sister with a pillow, hoping she would die so he could be the family favorite again.

Years ago we stopped talking about it because my mother and I feel like we are talking to a wall when this ugly topic rears its head occasionally.

Today my brother and I have our own families. We politely interact as much as is necessary.  Though I can say for sure that I don’t hate him, I still search for an answer when I ask myself whether I truly love him as much as any other sister would love her brother despite all the childish wars that form an essential part of growing up.

I remember something that I said to him ages ago in a rare moment we were talking about the past, “You could have been my best friend, the first person I’d turn to for help when someone at school bullied me. You could have protected me. Instead, YOU were my greatest fear. And you continued to scare me knowing that I had nobody to turn to.”

Today, some seventeen odd years later, as I look at the scar at the back of my left hand, those words still hold true.  That scar dosent look as horrible as I thought it would. The one on my psyche probably does.