...and my exploring of enchanting India, in a nutshell ---Clara Puskas
After years of travelling to many amazing places in the world, and only dreaming of visiting India one day, finally I made it in May, 2014.
I was invited to give a presentation on sustainable kitchen design at the India Kitchen Congress 2014. Deepak Gupta, -the head organizer of IKC and Editor of Bracecorp Publications- and I have been in contact for over a year, due to his interest in advancing sustainability in the Indian Kitchen Industry.
After many skype meetings, and providing interview and articles on sustainable kitchen designs, when Deepak invited me to speak at the India Kitchen Congress, I had mixed feelings.
Firstly, I never entertained the idea of travelling alone to India, and when the work related invitation arrived, -my family and friends were not available to accompany me- I will be honest, I was a little hesitant. It was a great opportunity to see how the people in India would react to my interactive style of presenting on the topic of Sustainable Kitchen Design, especially because India is booming.
My mixed feelings were result of my strong desire to spread the knowledge on sustainability, with the added beauty to travel to a country I had on my 'List of places to visit before I die' , and the overwhelmingly cautious friendly advises suddenly I was buried in.
I desperately started reading up on travel experiences my friends kept on forwarding to me, and I also researched on my own. But the turning point was when I asked Deepak on safety. He acknowledged some difficulties but assured me of providing safe conditions, and also recommended that I contact the consulate for independent advise. Deepak's quiet gentlemen style put all my concerns at ease.
And with that, I decided to be open to my journey ahead, and welcomed what was awaiting for me, me personally. The thought of exploring this enchanting country, the cradle of an ancient civilization with such beautifully deep history, and now a growing economic giant, -- was absolutely trilling.
After almost twenty-three hours of travelling, and dealing with the time difference of nine and a half hours between Canada and India, I arrived to Bangalore at 3 am.
Dead-tired, a taxi was waiting for me at the airport...and my Indian journey has began.
Hardly being able to keep my eyes open, what I first registered was that the driver set font of me on the right side, and I was thinking I am so tired, why is he sitting there instead of the driver seat on the left? And...we started moving.
Regardless of the early morning hour, traffic was quite awake, and I quickly felt like sitting in a race-car.
My driver was speeding ( or at least we would call it that here in Canada) and we were squeezing between cars and trucks left and right, that I honestly thought there was no room for, and we were taking every chance to pass everyone who dare to be front of us, or beside us, while my driver was passionately honking every chance he got.
I was desperately looking for seat belt at the back, but found nothing. So I was grabbing onto the seat front of me and pushed the floor so hard my knees started shaking after a few minutes. I was thinking we will surely going to get into an accident, and how 'lucky' I am to take out a good medical insurance for my trip, and I just hoped to stay alive so I can use it.
After 25 minutes of race, we finally arrived to the hotel...needless to say, I was no longer sleepy, but extremely thankful to be in one piece.
The Hotel, Lalit Ashok Bangalore, was expecting me, and I had a very quick, smooth transfer to my lovely room with an amazing view, that I was very impressed with.
I slept maybe four hours, and after breakfast I was discovering the beautiful hotel. As I was asking the front desk if they knew where the Kitchen Congress is located, I was greeted by the managers of Bracecorp Publications.
The India Kitchen Congress was held right in The Lalit Ashok Hotel's giant conference center, and just like any of the western shows, it had very nicely organized booths, and its people friendly greeting visitors, and chatting in perfect English about future business opportunities.
We walked through the show, and I was pretty much introduced to everyone.
What surprised me was the warm welcoming I received, everyone was expecting me, and knew me through my articles. I was impressed by the quality products I saw, people were extremely knowledgeable, excited and proud of their product, it was truly a very professional environment.
I was asked to participate in some interviews, and I must say the the long travelling, no sleeping, and ten hours time difference caught up with me, resulting in difficulty focusing, speaking, and I wish, I would have allow more transition time for myself.
Prior to my trip, I read up on India, and I learned that since the 1990s globalization of India, neo-liberal economic reforms of the government led to a steady flow of investments, and provided competitive advantages to attract major multinational corporations. Therefore seeing big brands like Blum, Hettich, Hafele, Faber, just to mention a few, did not surprise me.
Indian manufacturing utilize all the latest German and Italian technologies to achieve top quality product that matches to any international standards. Indian firms are increasingly global.
As to doing business in India, I really liked an article I read in the Economist about how LG started manufacturing in India in the late 1990s. To succeed, it has kept its prices ultra-low and adapted its products to Indian tastes. Since many Indians are vegetarian, it offers a fridge with less freezer space and more drawers for vegetables. Since Indian people like their televisions loud, LG provides powerful speakers. The firm also sells voice-activated washing machines for middle-class families with illiterate mades. Its products are designed to cope with fluctuating power, and its packaging is extra though to cope with India's rough roads.
During the two day show and kitchen congress, there were plenty of quality presentations and panel discussions on the India Kitchen Business.
What I found very different at the India Kitchen Congress from the shows I attended in Canada, the States or Europe, was the passion each subject received.
The audience was engaged, there were many questions, and the sometimes different opinions could freely flow without fear of offending each others, and this actually allowed a deeper attack of an issue with the chance of consideration from many angles and a progressive outcome.
I also liked that the Congress was attended by not mainly kitchen/bath manufacturers, distributors, retailers-designers-specialist, but also by interior designers and architects as well. I had the opportunity to meet wonderful professionals, and chat about their strong focus on sustainable design, plus hear their presentations from a designer-, architect's perspective.
Throughout the many quality presentations and discussions, it was clear, the Indian kitchens become a central interest and big investment in today's household.
Modular kitchen business is booming in India. Modular kitchens with numerous global and local bands creating a 300 million dollar franchising segment opportunity. The modular kitchen industry is steadily growing every year in excess of 25 per cent- according to Sbodh Metha, Assistant Vice President of Godrey. India has the larges number of people who have not yet bought many electronic goods, but sales are increasing rapidly every year.
Indian style kitchens are sensitive to the typical Indian cooking conditions which includes a lot of water and oil. Most popular layout is the 'L-Shape', blue and green colors are dominating, baskets, built-in appliances are the most researched followed by cutlery trays and chimney hoods. While the majority of Indian shoppers demand goods that are cheap rather than fancy, servants are an established tier of Indian society. Affluent families have long enjoyed having live-in staff.
It is clear that modular kitchen as a product offers the biggest advantage of standardization in India. I also understood shortage of skills on all levels is holding back businesses. India is a country of opportunities, a nation on the move.
The rich collaboration resulted in a high quality brainstorming, and a more rounded understanding of the commonly shared future-vision all attending professionals were hoping to move towards together.
I was also introduced to some of the pioneers and solid rocks of the India Kitchen Industry, for example, Snehal Vasani, and Ramu Ramakrishnan. I loved the appreciation they were receiving by the congress, but I respected tremendously how forward thinking these veterans, well established industry experts were. Their message was advancement, and motivation to keep on moving forward. This beautiful relationship between future discovery being able to lean on experience, is an absolute guaranteed tool to success.
The presentations and panel discussions were divided by small tea and coffee breaks, and I really enjoyed discovering different types of teas, and never had the coffee taste the same. This time was also a great opportunity to mingle and meet each others.
During my introduction to my presentation, I mentioned how rich I consider the Indian architecture, history, culture to be, and quickly asked my audience to embrace it, protect it, and use it in their designs. What I was not expecting the emotional response of applause in return, and I was brushed by warm feeling of connection.
Well, everyone who does presentation have the nightmare of hick ups like power failure. For this same fear, I carry my laptop with me, but I ended up using the conference provided computer as I saw no problems for the presenters before me.
Approximately two-third into my two hour presentation, a message of 'low battery power' replaced my slide. Oh, the boo-boo has struck, I thought. I had technicians quickly surrounding me, but the computer and therefore the two big screens totally went black. But the worse was that they didn't know why there was no power, because it was plugged in. I offered to bring up my laptop that was fully charged, but the technicians wanted to try out another plug-in option. At this point, I looked at my audience, and I was surprised to see how patiently they were just sitting and waiting.
In a western setting, this situation would be a perfect excuse to check i-phone messages, or even leave the room.
The problem was quickly fixed, and I continued where I left off, being absolutely amazed by the patience in the room.
I had a few short quiz periodically throughout my presentation for my audience, and the last quiz I asked if we should skip due to the time-loss during the black-out, but I was told they wanted to do it, and ...I never been happier to 'quiz' a group!
During my presentation the group was interactive with me, and with fellow attendies, passionately voicing opinions, often even disagreeing with each others...seriously an amazing and progressive group!
The Gala Evening Celebration was an experience on its own.
The food for one, my goal was to try a little bit of everything, but of course I could not. Spices...yes, hot dishes of all colors and more spices. There were too many options, but also some were just too spicy for my taste buds. I also learned the etiquette of eating properly with my fingers.
What I most enjoyed was the celebration of winners, and watching the colorful, mesmerizingly beautiful sarees the ladies wore.
The feeling of cultural and spiritual wealth was dominating not only this event, but my entire trip.
In Bangalore, I toured with Mary Maskemos, a wonderful speaker on the art of selling kitchens, all the way from Australia.
We enjoyed touring Bangalore on a rickshaw (she called 'tu-tu') . We visited many shops including jewlery and silk boutiques. We toured beautiful temples and enjoyed our ride on the noisy and busy streets of Bangalore.
India is a vibrant place of architectural contrasts, mystery and rich history, with the luxurious comfort of hotels like LaLit in Bangalore and The Claridges in New Delhi.
In the capital city, Delhi, I traveled by myself. Delhi has the rich history of several dynasties and this evident through its breath taking architecture. I toured in an airconditioned taxi, as Delhi was very hot between 38-42 celcius. The hotel provided bottled water and my driver was a superb tour-guide. I had the opportunity to visit Jam Masjid, Safdarjung's Tomb, Raj Ghat, Red Fort, India Gate, Lami Naryan Temple and some of the local markets where goats and hanging colorful silk materials and cotton pillow covers, sandals, and turkoise jewlery were in beautiful harmony. I never had any negative experience. If anything, people were extra nice and friendly, I was often asked to be part of family pictures. As a final stop, I also visited the main office of Bracecorp Publications. Arriving there felt like visiting old friends, and I was happy to meet the rest of the staff supporting Deepak's business. I received a beautiful silk scarf present, and it wasn't easy to say goodbye. Deepak arranged absolute comfort during my stay in India, and with that tremendously contributed to my amazing time. I certainly hope to keep in touch and stay friends with everyone I had the wonderful opportunity to meet! --Thank you Bracecorp Publications!
I loved every second in India, and I am glad I made the most of my moments as they happened, giving me amazing memories.
I cherish the enchanting temple ceremonies, the blaring hornes, screeching brakes, musicians and screaming vendors, even the crazy traffic, and the cities that never sleep. I found the overcrowded cities charming, and amazed by how there can be so much orderliness out of so much chaotic madness. India is an exotic destination, one of the riches and most diverse cultures--and now it is part of my heart for ever, and become one of the greatest adventure of my life.