Friday, August 14, 2009

Ethnographic design research in West Bengal

We finished our ethnographic design research with West Bengal. The preparation was very chaotic; we were having great difficulties to find people to interview. At last our friend Sunil Barik from Delhi introduced us to a wonderful couple from Kolkata who helped us very much.

Alike Tamil Nadu, West Bengal has a kind of self-sufficient social life where people enjoy local and regional relationship without the need for extending their relationship to other states or countries. Among the people we interviewed we found that they had less of interaction with other states or cultures. Nevertheless, Bengali’s are warm and welcoming people.

Arjun and Shankhamita, are youth entrepreneurs in Kolkata. They helped us in reaching people for our study, occasionally translating interviews in Bengali language. Arjun’s family lives at the centre of Kolkata. Their house is very pleasant and reflects the cultural richness of the family.

We have now taken more than 100 interviews in North India. Most of the time my wife, Melina conducted the interview in either English or Hindi for around 45 minutes. The quickest interview we took was for 22 minutes and the longest was more than 3 hours, but both interviews were rich and insightful. Time is not a factor.

During the interview I took down notes, recorded the conversation and took number of environment pictures. In villages, people use slangs what makes the communication difficult. In these cases, we took the services of local interpreters who participated to the discussion and corrected any miss-interpretations. For conducting the interview we had a large set of questions structured in such a way that we could get the key information at different levels of interview. This protocol is the fruit of extensive research and testing we did at the initial stage of our initiative.

Arjun is a kind of person who can appreciate anyone’s personality and views without judgment. He is a good human being and knows a huge diversity of people he meets across his business activity. We asked him to introduce us to various people from high to low level background, so that we could get a true picture of the Bengali population. Arjun is an excellent orator; realist by nature. I like very much the way he depicts his culture with coldness and admiration.

Bengal has been deeply influenced by the communist culture. Many people give importance to the government and do not like when you present your initiatives as “private”. That makes our research difficult since it is important for us to understand the aspirations of those people and how they want things to evolute. After they understand the social benefits of our project they were willing to speak.

We found Bollywood pictures very efficient to understand how people project themselves in future. What are their social aspirations and dreams? Sometimes people’s choices totally contradicted what they said in response to our interview questions and provided clues to understand the choc points.

Thanks to McDonalds for allowing us to interview 2 of their busy staff members. Awful things have been written about this company’s work culture; on the other hand we found their work culture as a positive impact on their staff’s willingness. Farah told us how her job has made her more confident in life. She has higher expectations towards the future and plans for a better life. In Kolkata also the corporate culture has an impact on people’s life.

It is difficult to finish an interview without a group picture. Children were inquisitive to know what we were doing around but it is always a pleasure to share our experience with them. Bengal would remain one of the best places we have seen in India.

We had the great pleasure to take the interview of Mr. S. K. Das who has been the MD, CEO of several group of companies in India. Mr. Das has passion for progress and prosperity for our country. He is an ardent writer. Quite of his writings, short stories, poems, articles on management have been published in leading journals and newspapers. He has also received awards in Delhi in 1991 and 1996 for excellence in Industrial Management. After retirement in 2002, he is associated with several groups as Chairman / Vice Chairman of Board of Directors. At the age of 73, he is still active and continues to advice industrialist and political leaders like Mr. Ratan Tata, Dr. Debesh Das. He also has the privilege of correspondence with Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. Besides his career as a businessman, he has also helped more than 400 people in getting employment and means of subsistence through his association.

Sumit has a double Masters in History from a reputed university. He could work for some university or a multinational in Kolkata but he prefers to concentrate on what is really important for him. Sumit gives tuition of Indian history and spirituality. He takes only students who are really passionate about the subject and can appreciate the transcendental value of his teaching. Sumit told us how to re-interpret Indian classical history in the modern world. What lessons we have taken from Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his disciples. He also paints and sculpts images of gods and deities according to the tradition of his gurus.

We would like to thank the below mentioned people who have enormously helped us in realising our research in North India:
Amit - Hyderabad
Arjun and Shankhamita - Kolkata
Arun and Maggie - Mumbai
Ashish and Monu - Jaipur
Saurabh’s family - Siyana
Sonam’s parents – Pune
Sunil - Bangalore
Sunil - Delhi

We meet hundreds of wonderful people from various backgrounds and culture. It is materially difficult to keep in touch with everyone but you stay in our hearts forever.
You all are most welcome to Bangalore!

If you would like to be informed about the publication of the North India Consumer Trends Report, drop us a line in this Kovent’s contact form

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