Economic disruptions produce a great, unkind anxiety about the future. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the beating heart of Indian commerce and industry: Mumbai.
This city has weathered many storms. But it is in times of uncertainty that its staunchest supporters squint questioningly at the ticker outside the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Yet, miraculously unfailing, as if daring the world, the market rises above its own doubts. Businesses begin investing, investors eye stocks, professionals jump jobs and a country sits before the TV to watch a homegrown sporting spectacle being played elsewhere even as a new government takes shape.There are many explanations for this. But one underlying fact constantly reassures us that we are better poised to overcome our travails and emerge as the global force we always hoped to be. The oft-analysed demographic dividend — a 250-million-strong coalition of young Indians between 15 and 25 years of age that forms the nation’s first non-socialist generation of conspicuous consumers — is a consumer and talent pool with intellectual stamina and an eye for value. It is also the vanguard for a tectonic shift in consumption, driven by the aspiration for a better expression of progress through the brands and products it purchases.
But what is it about us, apart from the sheer numbers, that makes us the centre of attention for marketers and investors? Mumbai answers that question eloquently. It teems with a sense of purpose. Its denizens defy the odds and battle the most bearish sentiments to build a brighter, better day together. Mumbai is both mentor and marketplace, an obstacle course that forces the next generation of entrepreneurs to test its ambition and ability.
It takes a constellation of factors coming together to make success possible. Though the most common is thought to be the rise of God-given talent, experts point out that every story of achievement depends more on the environment and factors of chance.
This is better explained by sociologist Annette Lareau’s theory of ‘concerted cultivation’. Lareau identified that practical and social intelligence in children was a byproduct of parents participating in every opportunity to foster a child’s opinions and skills. Nowhere is this truer than in middle-class India. The average Mumbai child is groomed for hard work and an intense schedule of hobbies and skills. They are taught to demand more from themselves and others, to bargain for what they want most, to make the most of what is available. This creates a feeling of having earned what they deserve.
Parents thus create an ethos that endorses the desire for a better life. That is what it takes to get ahead in a city where thousands vie for a precious college seat. Where jostling for a train seat gives you the practice needed to negotiate for the impossible and arms you with life skills IIM-Ahmedabad can’t instill.
Mumbai is in a state of perpetual motion to ensure that it is the right place at the right time. Mumbai begins but never ends. A brighter tomorrow is always around the corner — if you are willing to believe in it.