Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Made in India, but quite badly

BigGeek and Chip went to the Indian Grocery Store on Saturday and brought back a jar of Horlicks, some frozen parathas, a packet of cumin seeds, and a small jar of asafetida. All much needed items and all very, very user unfriendly. Take the jar of asafetida, for instance. It has one of those covers that you twist to reveal a small opening from which the asafetida can be dispensed. Sounds great in theory. But the little opening has to be either carved out with a knife or you need to poke a jagged hole in the marked space. Every time I run out of asafetida I groan. Because it takes me more than five minutes to get the jar to work, not to mention the hazard of trying to poke a hole through sturdy plastic using a sharp knife with a toddler playing around. What could be a better design? Precut the hole and cover the jar with foil which can be peeled away. Is that so hard to come up with?

Speaking of peel away foil covers, the Horlicks jar has it – very thoughtful indeed - but I still have to use a knife. Because the foil has no tab with which to grip and peel. So I run the knife along the edge and cut away the foil instead of peeling. Is it so hard to put a tiny tab with which to peel?

The jar of tamarind paste is the worst. It simply has sealed plastic on top and then a screw-top lid that fits badly. I have to cut away along the edges of the very sturdy plastic and discard the disc. Very messy and very hard. Is it so dificult to pack it into a squeeze type bottle?

And take the packets of Maggi noodles which don’t have directions on them (how much water am I supposed to boil, you idiots) Or the bottle of Kewra essence which refuses to open no matter how much you twist it and once opened, takes the bottom plastic ring with the screw-on cap. I could go and on. Why doesn’t the Indian consumer demand better usability?

My sister-in-law sent a cute piggy bank for Chip a few months ago. It was spring loaded and died within hours of using it. It wasn’t cheap for a plastic trinket. It was about Rs.200 and I have many spring loaded dollar store toys that have outlived the piggy bank. Does nobody care? Is it that we don’t mind wasting time and energy on things like opening jars? Why doesn’t anybody give a thought on how things are actually used?

Is it because Indians have maids and cooks that do most of the housework? The people who buy don’t actually use it. Do people really have that many maids and cooks that they never have to open a jar of Horlicks to give to their children? Or use the toaster or the mop (oh no, not the mop, everybody has a maid who uses the poccha. Let her break her back bending down. Why spend good money on a mop even when you can afford it?) And the small things like the jars of asafetida? I am sure the cooks and maids buy asafetida for their own households too. I just can’t understand the mindset. Are we really so blasé? It’s depressing.

Take the instance of the Wal-Mart near our house. It was the store I went to buy Chip’s diapers, wipes, formula, blankets because the prices were always low. Over the years the number of Indian employees grew and I was pleasantly surprised. But store began to look shoddy. Inventory was piled on the floor underfoot, often trampled; the shop assistants barely knew where I could find things I was looking for. They dug noses (really). The checkout people were surly to all non-Indian customers, never bothered to greet and thank people for their business. In the end, it got so distressing that I stopped going to the store. Until a few months ago when I had to buy some jersey shorts for Chip. The atmosphere had changed. The store was clean; I was asked if I was found every thing I wanted. The checkout people were pleasant and there was not one Indian employee to be found. The we-are-ok-with-substandard-everthing Indian attitude had spread to our local Wal-Mart too.

What will make us change? More competition that will force us to think better? Or is a more fundamental change required? A realization that our time and energies could be used in a more useful fashion rather than waste them trying to open jars. Or is it a question of value? Or the lack of? Or are we simply not proud of our work? Or perhaps we are still living in the feudal times when businesses thought they were doing you a favor selling goods to you. I haven’t found an answer to why we fail to demand better products and why we fail to create them. Indians are great bargain hunters. I don’t know how we fail to see that badly designed products are not bargains at all.


Kodi's Mom said...

agree with you on opening desi made jars. I have wondered if it is a test - if you get past this, you are qualified to cook with it! :) I think the reason is the best quality stuff gets exported for non-indian customers. (not food, but in general) and all the cheapies and seconds get sold in regular stores. I'm sure that's changing too now...with the high end supermarkets.

abt Wal-mart's horrible customer experience, I doubt it has to do with Indian employees...my local one is the same way and very few desis there. it is a pain to get in and out, I have slowly moved my shopping to target.

Anonymous said...

Is that how you are? You are educated woman of Indian origin. Is that how you think all your friends and family from India are?
Why do you have to think that its is so beacause it is from India. Why don't you buy all the things that you mentioned from Asian Store or a World Market.?
Don't shop at Walmart if it filthy? Are all Indian houses/shops filthy?

DotMom said...

kodi's mom: good line abt testing you :) about Walmart - the best one I have been to was on in Hawaii.

anonymous: yes, I do. It is true as a collective psyche. My mother doesn't mind badly designed jars as much as I do. My father shares the same views as me. The reason I don't buy stuff from Asian Stores/World Market is simply because a lot of things are unavailable there. The point of the post was not about shopping choices. It was about apathy concerning the quality of Indian packaging and design and general sense of quality. Why do you think the ISO9000 certification is so big in India? Because most Indian products fail to meet certain standards of quality. Nobody has heard of it here[US].

Most Indian stores that I have been to are quite disorganized. The one where we shop is not, but the prices are higher which I am willing to pay in exchange of shopping ease. I would not know if all or most Indian homes are filthy.

Gauri said...

Yes - I do so agree with you about the apathy factor. It is deplorable, honestly.
And what K's mom has said is true - most of the first line stuff gets exported to markets like Dubai and such. Even out here in HK, we have very few Indian stores and they do take advantage of the monopoly (well almost) that they have and resort to getting shoddy stuff from India (I guess at much lower prices) and then selling them out here at prices that tantamount to daylight robbery.

But yes, the "chalega" or "Who cares" attitude does need to change.

Usha said...

I agree with you on the pain of opening jars and asafoetida dubbas. Even jam jars - many times I have to poke a hole on the lid before I can unscrew the lock type cap. I do long for the user friendly packaging that you find elsewhere. I remember on my recent trip to the US I found something tough to open and then I knew I was doing it the wrong way because nothing is made so difficult for usage there. And sure enough I was trying to pull it from the wrong place.
I think it is because it is still a seller's market here.

DotMom said...

usha: that's what I told my mom on her first trip to the US.. if it takes you more than 5 minutes to get anything to work you are doing it the wrong way :)

Something to Say said...

i agree dotmom - hubby hates going to Wal-mart for exactly the same reasons - but u really can beat their prices. And seriously what is with Indian jars?