50% off, only for I-Day. Is this what we fought the British for?

I hope you, dear reader, are limbering up right after you read the papers today. Once you’ve warmed up, you should be practising short, quick sprints. And then doing some elbow flexing exercises. It’s August 14 and if you are like the rest of urban India, you are going to have to be in shape tomorrow. The Independence Day sales are on and if ever there is any activity that actually follows the ‘only the fittest shall survive’ maxim, it will be shopping at your local department store tomorrow.

It is a bit baffling but not entirely ironic that we now celebrate the day the country was freed from imperial British rule by bargain shopping everything from Teflon-coated dosa pans to 60-inch TV sets. When started in 2006 by Kishore Biyani, the Big Bazaar ‘freedom to shop’ deal was a game changer. The line outside the flagship store in Phoenix mills compound in Mumbai stretched kilometres and the store even had to pull its shutters down for a few hours to keep hysterical shoppers at bay. Stories of successful bargain hunting in that sale were told for months after and so the next year the sale became even bigger — bigger discounts, bigger crowds. And even bigger the year after. So successful have these sales become that other retailers have also cottoned on to Indians’ patriotism towards a good deal — including online retailers.

Industry data shows hypermarkets, which see 1,500-3,000 customers a day usually, see up to 6,000 on sale days. And on an average people spend between ₹1,500 and ₹4,000 (against ₹600 to ₹1,000 on regular days). Individual stores could clock sales up to ₹3 crore on a single day. While all of this is good news for retailers, it demonstrates a sort of value greed of customers. Wasn’t it so much better when shopping meant spending a day wandering around in stores? Does anyone really derive any pleasure from visiting malls which become mini battle zones for half-price kurtis and double-size cola? Although I am the last person to wear my patriotism on my sleeve, really, isn’t it time we asked ourselves if this is what we attained Independence for? To be trod on, elbowed and fisted while pushing a shopping cart with one hand and fighting murderous hordes with the other? If I had to guess, I would say Gandhi would have totally not approved of this.

Deputy Editor

(This article was published on August 13, 2014)
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