Back in the 1960s, we had a lot of stuff from USA — not expensive dollar priced things but items of daily use like plastic items used in the kitchen, nail cutters and the like. We were all agog at being able to use stuff from the US. Strangely though, the objects were very flimsy and broke easily making us wonder if even the Americans made substandard stuff! Till one day we found the fine print on the ‘phoren maal’ — it read: ‘Ulhasnagar Sindhi Association’ (USA) 😀 Some enterprising businessmen of the said suburb of Mumbai had come together to create a tag that would get them business and the consumers the satisfaction of being able to buy ‘imported’ stuff for their daily use, all at an affordable price!
Our craze for imported items might have only reduced slightly. I still remember the Burma Bazaar in Chennai, where you could buy electronic goods that were highly priced in the Indian open market, at cheap rates — never mind the fact that the said items would not last long or if it did, would not find a spare part when it conked off. Once you left the shop with the said item, the shopkeeper would not recognise either you or his own merchandise.
Today though, these markets selling grey goods have lost their sheen, thanks to the China Bazaar items that are flooding the markets. The variety of the goods is mind-boggling. I used to buy pet jars to store provisions and stuff in the kitchen and one day when I went shopping for them, I found some unbranded ones, neatly packed in threes and priced at less than half of the regular brand I bought. Not one to miss a bargain, I picked up a couple of the packs, wondering how they could be so cheap. Mind you, those were the days when Chinese items were still not sold openly as they are now, since they were reputed to be of poor quality. The shopkeeper simply said that they were ‘local’ made!
When I opened the jars at home, I saw some writing in Chinese on the insides of the lids! The jars were not so sturdy as the PET jars of Indian companies and lost their shape and shine in a few months and had to be given away to the maid. Since then I have become wiser and ask the shopkeepers if they are made in China and they sheepishly nod their heads. Needless to say, I steer clear of them!
These low-priced items have created a market of their own and people ask for Chinese items when they can’t afford the same from the branded Indian market. They probably trust a Chinese product of dubious quality to buying a similar unbranded local product. Needless to say, these items don’t last the month out and cost much more due to the repeat purchases one has to make. One product in question is the CFL bulb, which costs Rs. 30 when it is of Chinese or ‘local’ make but costs five times more when you buy the branded one.
So the equation works in reverse today: Many small Indian manufacturers — who would never be able to compete in the open market with branded items — are dumping their ware as Chinese and getting away with it! Reminds me of the Made in USA items of my childhood!
Since most Chinese items don’t carry a brand name or if they do, do not say where they are made, it is easy for these small Indian manufacturers to get away. One tends to believe this claim since we can get everything from pooja lamps to images of gods which are ostensibly made in China! These low priced items typically carry no manufacturer’s details but sometimes have instructions weirdly worded that are supposedly literally translated from Chinese!
Far from being items of snob value for being ‘imported’ like their Western counterparts of yore, the Chinese products are considered infra-dig by the knowledgeable Indians. They would rather own a tube light made by say, Anchor or Bajaj than go for a cheap nameless one. And this is a great morale booster for us Indians who hasten to say that such-and-such product is of Indian make, lest someone thought it was Chinese!
But wait! It is not just the low cost and flimsy stuff that the Chinese are making. It would appear that almost every big manufacturer worth his salt has shifted his base to the land of the pandas! , for being ‘imported’,But when I looked at the back of the pack, I found the legend ‘Made in China’ winking at me! Why dolls, even such electronic items like DVD players, iPods, mobile phones and such are all coming out of China, with well known Western brand names. So today, willy-nilly we all end up using some Chinese made product in our daily lives.
Is this a silent economic take over or what?