She died. She was raped, tortured and killed by six men. Correction. She was raped, tortured and killed by a billion people. Men, women and children. All guilty. The father who moaned the birth of a daughter. The doctor who could have aborted her for a fee. The mother who saved the best piece of delicacy for her son. The teacher who ridiculed her saying that maths is not a subject for females. The locality boys who hooted at her forcing her parents to put a stop to her playing outside after school. The neighbour who touched her on the pretext of helping her with her studies. The lecherous co-passengers. The biased boss. The indifferent principal. The prospective groom who asked for dowry. The politician who questioned her need to be out at night. The policemen who stood as silent spectators everytime she was harassed. Because our society has not quite figured out what to do with its women. Haaving already decided women as a race are infinitely inferior to men and relegating them firmly to the dark quarters, they fumble with the irrepressible female who still want to speak, to be heard, to be seen and to go ahead. They tug at her dupatta, they slander her, malign her, burn her, kill her, rape her. Yet another of the rise and brave the curfew and the diktats to come out and assert herself. The divine feminine. Who is worshipped by arrogant purohits inside gold-plated temples. And who lies dying outside on the temple steps. Pleading, crying, screaming. While the country mocks. Or sheds a futile tear and moves on. There are far more pressing issues after all. Women anyway are not supposed to venture out unescorted, after dark. Or dress or walk or talk according to her will. What freewill? It is the freewill of these dented and painted women which has maligned the tradition of the glorious country. Bring back those golden days when a widow was burnt on the pyre of her husband. Or asked to walk on fire. Or tonsured. Because a debauched society cannot control its carnal desires, young widows have to be shorn of all colours and relegated to the dark alleys of our holy towns. Because we worship a husband who could not protect his wife, and ordered her to walk on fire to prove her chastity. What holy land condemns a fourteen year old girl to suicide while her tormentor, an IPS officer flaunts his many awards of bravery? How do we bask in the glory of a culture where the victim is stigmatized while the accused often walk free, claiming the protection of the nation’s leaders. What inheritance are we leaving for our daughters and sons where a half of the nation’s population cannot live without fear? Or stand with a basic dignity on the soil we ironically call our motherland.
Kolaghat is a sleepy little town in Midnapore, not the most happening of district in West Bengal. Kolaghat assumes strategic importance as it falls on the way to Digha, Bengal’s slightly unsure answer to Goa. So the eager Bengali babu, his family in tow crosses Kolaghat, stops here to refuel and eat and then happily fed moves on to the ‘lably
beaches’. So, no wonder a number of eateries have mushroomed in this town. As you drive by this place, you are greeted by eager proprietors standing outside their hotels ushering you in. Except for this one dhaba where you have a smartly dressed Santa doing the honours. Which signaled the place was different.
The courtyard presented a sharp contrast to that of neighbouring resturaunts. There was a range of upmarket cars making it obvious this was the drive in of choice. Most of them were enroute destinations such as Digha. But a sizeable chunk constituted of people who had driven 100 km from the city for a lunch at this not so swanky dhaba. What kind of mindshare do you have to garner to attract that kind of a clientele? What strong associations would you have to build? In a road full of me-too hotels and located far from any big city how do you do brisk business while your investment in marketing or brand-building as we know it is close to zero. Or maybe there’s wisdom in branding as we don’t know it. Through an emphasis on the basics. The product for example. Good earthy Punjabi fare adapted to suit the taste of the not so fiery Bong crowd. Great customer service meted out by the merry band of waiters who have big smiles and friendly advice on food to offer. Some smart tweakings and a desire to walk the extra mile. You want to pack a lassi-no problem- they produce a plastic bottle to carry. The core of branding is the product. Marketeers often lose sight of the fact amidst all the fluff surrounding the product. Then there is the price and place. Smart pricing. Not too high to put the food out of reach of the average traveler. But pricy enough to announce the food is a notch enough that served by other hotels on the road. Price, mind you sends out a strong signal on the brand image. The place which obviously is the hotel itself is not a patch on its swanky upmarket cousins. But with a clever use of space it made itself stand out. And finally the promotions. How do small businesses in the middle of nowhere promote themselves. They rely a lot on reflective promotion – that is the proof of the pudding is in the eating concept. So word of mouth works big. Which is why the other 3P’s of service marketing – physical evidence, process and people have to be immaculate or consistent with the image you are trying to project. A lot of promotion is also driven by the brand symbols you use. The name for example. Sher-e-Punjab is a common name in the world of Punjabi dhabas but in a highway full of hotels with nodescript names it stands out. And ofcourse when someone tells you about this fantastic dhaba, the name helps conjure images of fiery chicken tikka and rich creamy lassi. Then there are the stories. Of how a famous Bengali actor dropped in here and liked the food so much that he offered to hire the cook for a princely sum. These stories, some real, some embellished constitute the brand’s folklore which acts as a nifty promotional tool. Every brand should have a set of stories, a story which the customers use to build a distinctive impression of the brand.
An important aspect of branding is how you use or extend it as you grow your business. There was evidence of smart brand extension at work here. The Sher-e-Punjab paan shop for example. Or the packaged food counter. And the small inn that had sprung up in case you get late when you drop in here. All building up an ecosystem for the weary traveler. And leveraging the goodwill associated with the brand very well. Goodwill built on dint of consistency, emphasis on the product, a little bit of novelty and the willingness to offer that little extra. These constitute the usp of marketing for the thousands of small businesses where marketing is not a distinct function. Instead it is a part of the daily routine.