Saturday, August 31, 2002
M A I N   F E A T U R E

by Nagina Singh

"I AM not satisfied with my lifestyle, and my living," groans Rahul, who is pursuing his post graduation in psychology.


"Well, I am already 23 and I don’t have a luxury car, a hi-fi music system and, worse, I don’t even possess the latest sunglasses!"

A reality check: there are many Rahuls around us who feel miserable as all that is on the store shelf is not on their selves! They are not ‘with it’.

Imagine this: the only reason a young gentleman with little facial hair is famous is because of the car he owns. He is even covered by the media. Other attributes, like curricular and co-curricular activities, are of no consequence. It is another matter that the young man’s dad bought him the car and put him in Page 3 columns of city newspapers. The ‘great’ effort the young man had to make was to pose with the car and get instant celebrity status.


"I had participated in a debate and won the first prize but no mention was made of my achievement. However, an industrialist’s son was all over the newspapers because it was felt that the readers would be curious to learn all about his favourite perfume. You know how frustrating all this can be," remarks Umang Sethi, a student of B.Com part II in GCM, Chandigarh.

Brand maketh a man (or a woman) seems to be the credo that makes the young tick. From head to foot, from the bathroom to the bedroom and the kitchen and from the drive to the grub, everything is connected to a branded product. Anything that is non-branded is infra dig and that which is ‘limited edition’ is ultra dig. The more of the latter, the greater is a person’s claim to fame and a better-than-thou existence. There is perhaps no room for reason or argument in the clamour for branded products that surrounds the existence of an ordinary mortal. And this leaves the man on the street bewildered. The one, who probably wrote a few poems and won a few awards but isn’t all that well branded. He is, at the very best, an object of sympathy, if not curiosity. Does one who does not own a black Lancer exist at all?

‘Catch them young’ is the byword for any self-respecting branded product. Through television and print advertisement and through word of mouth, the sterling qualities of a person are defined by the brands flaunted by him. It seems as if it were his net worth in more ways than one.

The brands have got us badly. Blame it on the West. Blame it on liberalisation. Blame it on the ozone layer, if you will, but there is no disputing that this phenomenon is as much a sign of the times as Pizza Hut or Mont Blanc. Look at us. To be a wannabe wasn’t exactly our long-term aim. A nation accustomed and traditionally inclined towards spiritual redemption could hardly be expected to lower its sights to only materialistic objectives.

Swantika Gupta, a member of the Rotaract Club, avers: "The Bhagavadgita wisely says, ‘Know thyself.’ It asks you to realise your strengths and weaknesses and the ways in which you can highlight the former and overcome the latter. But, nowadays, the mission of life for most of us is to own all kinds of objects, and our strengths get defined by these parameters."

The renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow listed the hierarchy of needs as physiological, social and those pertaining to security, self-esteem and self-actualisation. Ironically, self-actualisation has come to stand for actualisation of material needs. They have become the beacons of our life. In a manner of speaking, the heavens can wait while we add one more wing to our family homestead, exchange that old, haggard television for a swanky hi-fi set and purr through our lives on that well-sprung chassis of a Mercedes-Benz. Updating the knowledge we possess or self-actualisation takes the backseat.

When the floodgates of liberalisation were opened, we were swamped with all kinds of fancy chocolates, lingerie, cars, perfumes, liquor and clothes. An unending barrage of stimuli assail our ears, eyes and noses. There is more to this phenomenon than merely the need to satisfy our hedonistic urges. Suman Gupta, a lecturer in GCG, Chandigarh, says: "You might adorn yourself with the best but there is something titled grey matter which cannot be camouflaged by any branded stuff. Your intelligence is going to unveil itself in some form or the other, so you rather have your mind polished first and then your body."

The canvas, however, is larger. For lurking bashfully in the background, thrown into the shade by the gyrations of the market forces is a genuine urge to achieve, to self-actualise, to use work as an instrument of self-expression, to write our life script. One has to concentrate not merely on material gains, but also to lubricate the faculties of our mind, especially in the youthful years. Randeep Kaur, MA I student, Panjab University, declares, "I believe that if you have it then you must flaunt it. How many of us are actually studying to become scholars? We are studying so that we can own the luxuries of today. When I see a swanky car on the campus, I say to myself, ‘Great! What more does a guy want?’"

A student of Arts College, who recently put up her exhibition, is, on the other hand, of the view, "It is the man behind the wheel who matters. I mean I would not want to see an untamed youth driving a Rolls Royce with the latest Punjabi pop playing on full volume. A been-there-done-that man would probably look better."

If a person who has worked hard to establish a name for himself in his profession wants to maintain a good lifestyle then that would probably be justified. But to have somebody speeding in his father’s new car in order to create a stir should evoke the reaction: "Apne baap ka kamaya paisa uraa raha hai."

Gurminder Singh, a retired professor of psychology, dwelling on the role of parents says, " A balance has to be struck. Who says that the child has to be brought up in an overwhelming fashion? I would rather have my daughter studying in an Ivy League University than buy her a car. You have to prioritise, and teach your children the same."

In every area of life there are winners and losers. But what makes the difference is the belief in yourself and what you do. Brands, like any drug, are not completely bad if used in the right amount, at the right time and for the right thing. Noor, a class XII student from one of the better schools of the city, says, "We have the children of very well- to- do families coming to our school, but once we are inside the gates of the school, we are all equal. I like to wear good watches but I know that I have to work hard to possess them. And I would feel prouder of my possession if I earn it for myself. My parents will provide me with the best education and then the rest of the efforts will be mine."

What it all boils down to is the freedom to define one’s own domain as one chooses, to have one’s own priorities in life and to set ones own goals. Like Dr V Nand, a psychiatrist from V.A. Hospital, Chicago, says, "Plant your own garden and decorate you own soul, and do not wait for anyone to bring you flowers. This is something the younger generation the world over needs to understand. Their insecurities are replaced by these brands, so they try to build their own cocoon and feel secure by the warmth of these objects, not realising that they would not last too long. Ultimately, it is all that is inside that mind which will reign. And I feel the youth in India is suffering more as this country is still very vulnerable to anything coming from the West. The youth will sport anything blindly as long as it has a tag stating ‘made anywhere except India.’"

Dr. Nand also believes in the intelligence quotient reigning above the style quotient. So, widen your horizons, spread your wings, and the rest will follow. "Don’t let brands adorn you. Make yourself a brand by which people will identify you," he counsels the youngsters.