Commerce from the digital equivalent of a Bharat Calendar
But what do they mean when they say let’s meet in ‘first half’, or ‘second half’?” my colleague Tom is fond of exclaiming. Despite having spent the better part of a decade on the subcontinent, he still hasn’t fully grasped that most Bharat of all concepts. What we affectionately refer to as Indian standard time.
Devdutt Pattanaik has a wonderful explanation for our elastic view of time. In Abrahamic traditions, the river Styx separates the land of the living from the land of the dead. And you only cross that river once leading either to Elysium (the heavenly home of heroes) or Erebus (the Greek underworld), where you spent the rest of eternity. This leads to a linear and definitive view of a life where achievement drives every action. Hence every moment in one’s life must be lived with purpose to maximize the probability of Elysium.
A calendar and the very punctual view of time is a function of this. Meeting times are sacrosanct, and any delay is viewed as a waste of our time.
However, anyone who has had a “Sharada calendar” or a “Kalnirnay” or another regional equivalent of a Hindu calendar in their home will know that, in Bharat, a calendar serves a very different purpose than the western equivalent. You see, we have our own river that separates the land of the living from Naraka. Referred to in the Garuda Purana as the Vaitarani, it is a river we constantly traverse to-and-fro as we seek moksha. For in our culture, nothing is permanent. Not even death.
These cultural constructs have profound implications on how we view time.
In the West, a calendar is used to block time for meetings and ensure our work runs on time. In Bharat, the concept is flipped on its head. Here, it is the right time that determines what work can or cannot be done.
It goes without saying then that as millions of Indians come online, the right digital equivalent of a Bharat calendar is an essential tool that needs to be built. There are Hindu calendar apps of course, but they are simply digital copies of the Kalnirnays of the world.
For the layperson it is unintelligible as it is riddled with Sanskrit jargon. Reading and interpreting them is often the task of the astrologer or your grandmother. But the power of software has always been to disintermediate the acquisition of knowledge. So why shouldn’t this apply to our traditions and beliefs?
What if we applied the principles of UX design to the Hindu calendar?
Most of Bharat wants to find an auspicious day for an occasion. A well-built Bharat-first calendar app would present you with a regular calendar and call out each use case on the corresponding “shubh” day. Next auspicious day to buy gold? Why that’s tomorrow, 18 April (Akshaya Tritiya). Next best wedding date? 20 April (though probably best to set something a couple of months out). Best day to start a real estate project? And on and on.
The beauty of this is that each date and time corresponds to a very specific purchase intent. And if anyone chooses that day for a particular function, then the magic of affiliate marketing kicks in.
Moving into a house on the 30th? Then the app would inform you of not just all the puranic goodness of doing so on that given day, but also link to a vastu-compliant moving service, along with a puja package with all the right accoutrements you would need to conduct a “gana homa”—a ritual in the name of Lord Ganesha often conducted when moving into a new space.
Buying a car? Then do it before 24 May as June and July don’t have auspicious dates for car delivery. This could again be linked to car dealerships along with a form for financing the purchase.
Planning a wedding? Why don’t you enter the exact birth date and time of both the bride and groom in the app, and it’ll recommend a customized “muhurtham” (auspicious date and time), and a good wedding hall, that is in line with both kundalis. This automated kundali-generating feature could also be licensed as an API to all matrimony sites and apps. Facilitating each of these transactions would yield a nice sales commission to the maker of the app.
Commerce in Bharat like most other things, is rarely purely transactional. It is often associated with our aspirations, rituals, and emotions. Any product that is built to facilitate commerce for us must therefore take these softer aspects into account. In the western world view we often speak of the time value of money. But the right Bharat calendar app might just be able to unlock the “money value of a given time”.
Sahil Kini is a principal with Aspada Investment Advisors. The Bharat Rough Book is a column on building businesses for the middle of India’s income pyramid. His Twitter handle is @sahilkini