Welcome to India, IKEA. Meatballs Aren’t Going to Be Your Biggest Problem


Welcome to India, IKEA. Meatballs Aren’t Going to Be Your Biggest Problem

Illustration: Ahmed Sikandar

Welcome to India, IKEA. You now join a long list of stores that were once brag-worthy because of your “imported tag”. People who travelled abroad boasted about your furniture, while most of us wondered what the fuss was all about. But now that you’ve come to India, your brand value will drop. Just like Zara. It was the go-to darzi for those with disposable income, until everyone who travelled to Europe aka Ameeron ka Lavasa, realised that Zara is now available in India and dropped it like a hot potato.

You see, the thing that happens when a brand sets up shop in India is that it is robbed of its phoren-ness and no longer justifies the 200 percent premium. You have no idea about our obsession with everything firang.

Most big brands which make a foray into India, begin to make modifications to their products to ensure that they are more in line with our culture at a time when us Indians struggle to identify it. Fast food giants Burger King and McDonald’s dropped their ubiquitous beef burgers in order to appease the children of gaumata, and now you, IKEA, have to keep your famed meatballs off the menu. Not that meatballs are your main line of business, but its better to deal with hangry Indians than angry ones.

But to most of us in India, DIY translates to telling your carpenter, “Do It Yaar”.

Let me also warn you that India is going to be no cakewalk. Selling DIY furniture in a land when memsahib calls carpenter ji to fix a screw is as tough as convincing us to stand in queue or follow traffic rules. 

Carpenter ji is an important fixture in the Indian furniture landscape. You know that pretty pastel stool with square seats and the cute little antique chest of drawers you place coffee-table books on? Carpenter ji has already torn off that picture from your catalogue, added his own desi twist to it, and made it for memsahib for a paltry 5000 bucks. This is no big task for us. We are the pioneers of making replicas. We have tailors who’ll copy anything from Anushka Sharma’s pink Sabyasachi lehenga to Piggy Chops’ two-piece gingham ALC ensemble that she wore in Mumbai, while remembering all along to keep the neckline thoda upar. You will find wax statues à la Madame Tussauds spread across Maharashtra. And now you will come across shoppers who will enter your store for a quick recce, click pictures of your furniture, and show it to carpenter ji.

I get that IKEA’s key proposition is smart, minimalist furniture that you can assemble all by yourself, like a functional puzzle for grown ups. But to most of us in India, DIY translates to telling your carpenter, “Do It Yaar”.  Anyway, why should we get into this DIY business? Why should we lift a finger doing simple tasks when we can pay someone else to do for us in less than what we spend on aloo bhujia per month? (If you don’t already know what aloo bhujia is I don’t even know what you’re doing here.)

The fact is that we’ve gone soft, from being a nation of resourceful jugaadus who could put together homes from a couple of bamboos and some tarpaulin and use washing machines to make lassi, to a nation codependent to a crippling extent, where housemaids have the power to hold the economy ransom should they choose to unite and ever go on a nationwide strike.

Now you may have covered your base by hooking up with UrbanClap (not an area-specific STD) to provide skilled personnel that read the instruction manual and put the furniture together, but we don’t have kind of patience either. See we don’t care about how cute  your furniture is or that you will help us set it up. We want to know the answer to only one question: Big Bazaar se sasta aur kahan?

As far as I can see, you have a tough task ahead of you. You may offer a Norland TV Unit in Dark Walnut but do you have sofa-cum-beds? We need something big and sturdy that will accomodate mummy, papa, chacha, chachi when they come to visit. You know we have a big family problem. Plus, with gradually shrinking carpet areas, we need sofas that pull out, because we don’t.

Also stock up on folding dining tables that magically transform from two to four to six seaters for kitty parties. Please don’t sell unsanskari furniture like bar stools and alcohol cabinets but make sure you have puja ghar for every religion. Remember we Indians don’t need a reason to praywe pray when we are happy, we pray when we are sad, and we pray when we want to simply complain. We’re Team Mandir Har Ghar Mein Banayenge.

The best way to go about doing business here is to adopt a “When in Rome…” approach. Sure you’ve got your Scandinavian philosophies, Hygge, and what not, but here we practice the ancient art of jugaad. So rather than get your parts made in China, get them made by the carpenter ji. This way when anti-China sentiments are fired up, you can reap the windfall rather than have us up in arms saying, “IKEA tune yeh kya kiya.”