Barkha Dutt explains in this piece how the phrase “Looking like a wow” came to rule India, why the rise of this phrase captures much of the change that is taking place in India. The phrase itself comes from an unlikely source: “At its heart, this is a story of how technology and social media — otherwise an unequal, hostile, often unsafe space for women — enabled the entrepreneurial passions of a self-made Indian woman.
This is the story of Jasmeen Kaur.
The woman who started the phrase owns and manages a small Delhi store that sells shiny, pearly kurta sets; velvety pant-suits; and shimmering silky fabrics. Married at the young age of 21, Kaur — now in her late forties — began her professional journey with two sewing machines in her living room, and a “Masterji” who sat cross-legged on the floor helping her stitch.
Today, with 1 million followers on Instagram, Kaur is a much sought-after celebrity.
Her fashion line is neither local and artisanal nor high-end and subtle. Instead, the clothes — like the woman who designs them — are in-your-face and unapologetic. They are cut from mass-produced, China-made machine fabrics. They might be considered garish and gauche for some sensibilities.
But that’s precisely why Kaur’s story is so powerful.
She ticks none of the conventional boxes. In many ways, Kaur has used Instagram to turn the idea of who can be an online “influencer” on its head. She’s not posh, manicured, or glamorous. Nor is she edgy, grungy, or satirical. She is entirely unselfconscious and authentic. And her success is a pushback against classist and elitist notions of what is tasteful, high-brow, and trendy.”
After this build-up, Ms Dutt tells us of the moment when Jasmeen Kaur came up with those four magical words which have swept across India like wildfire and caught the imagination of everybody from Mukesh Ambani to Cabinet ministers: “Kaur models her new arrivals every afternoon on Instagram and Facebook. She has the storyteller’s gift for vivid description, especially in how she presents the color palette:
“Laddoo peela” (yellow like a laddoo, an Indian sweet); “kaleji red” (deep red like liver or mutton); “ghiya green” (green like gourd); and so on. She jokes that her love for “laddoo peela” was a bad omen for India during the cricket World Cup (The Australians took the Cup; their gear is bright yellow).
It was during one such live sales pitch that Kaur spontaneously described the clothes she was modeling as “so beautiful, so elegant, just looking like a wow.” She was unaware that her life was about to transform almost immediately.”
Ms Dutt’s story then goes on to describe how the internet and social media have liberated Indian women to reach out to each other and relate to each other in a manner that was not possible until Jio made broadband cheap & ubiquitous.
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