Friday, January 06, 2006

If it ai'nt gold (and/or platinum and/or diamond)...

it ai'nt jewellery, or so lots of women (and many men too) in Kerala think.
Only the upper class in Kerala can afford platinum and diamond, so for the middle class, it is still gold. Women in Kerala wear far more gold (and we are proud to let everyone else know that only 22K would do) on a daily basis than anywhere else in India. And don't even get me started on the topic of gold consumption during weddings, especially Kerala Muslim weddings, of which I happen to know a little more.Family status is measured by the amount of gold the bride wears. Also, we Keralites happily look down upon North Indian brides who wear glass bangles at their weddings.

To get a sense of this craze, if you are travelling from Thiruvananthapuram to Kochi by road, going by the hoardings on the roadside, you will be forgiven for thinking that the only things middle class Keralites (of every kind, cutting across caste, religion and region) consume is 22K gold and Kanchipuram sarees. Before I am mistaken for some kind of ascetic (ha, ha), let me emphasis that what I am protesting here is:

a) the craze for an expensive item that people cannot in reality afford (I know so many people who take out huge loans to pander to the gold mania) and attendant with this is the disdain for any other kind (including for instance, silver) of metal and God forbid if anything else (glass, beads, wood) is worn during a wedding.

b)keeping up with the Menons, Ousephs and Mohammedkuttys esp. re: gold consumption. This has reached incredible levels. Women change jewellery once in few months for the latest designs.Why? because ellavarum (=everyone) is exchanging their gold jewellery. Just in case you don't know, exchanging gold jewellery is an extremely expensive proposition and invariably the customer looses a lot of money in the process. The only people who benefit are the gold jewellery owners and the middlemen. I read a disturbing report about middle men under cutting the craftspersons, the people with the skill to convert gold into jewellery.

My Atha (=father) has always argued that the widely held perception that gold is sound investment reflects a conservative mentality towards financial investments. Frankly, I don't know much about these things, but it was interesting to see some one else voice the same opinion, albeit from the perspective of economic growth.

"It's fair to say India's economic growth would be higher if the money tied up in gold was invested more productively," says Diana Farrell, director of the McKinsey Global Institute in San Francisco." (see article here)

I am more interested in the social implications of the craze for gold, especially when the price has reached record-high levels. What does it mean for middle class, gold crazy Keralites?

1 comment:

Shahnazzz said...

It may have something to do with the matriarchal inheritance systems. Gold, but its nature, is something women have more control over than say, land. Unfortunately, it is now held against women since the bride who brings in less gold will face severe repercussions.