Kerala: God’s own country is also a state which is obsessed with Gold…any occasion in the family sends its members on a shopping spree to patronize at least one among the hundreds of gold and jewelry stores that embellish the state- from the birth of a child, to a birthday, an engagement and the biggest occasion of course for adorning this glittering metal is a wedding reception.
Over the years, people in Kerala have either preferred to invest in land, a house or simply gold. At one point in time, every Keralite (with reference to the locals) from the Middle East used to bring with him gold jewelry on his/her return to Kerala. The increased wealth of the middle class and the perceived safety of this investment have made purchasing gold jewelry a safe investment besides increasing your status in society.
With the competition growing, a visit to the jeweler is an improved customer experience. Smart salesmen who are very good at convincing the customer to invest in expensive jewelry are now seen in all leading stores. On arrival at the store, you are asked if you would like something to drink and then made comfortable… I must admire the patience of these salesmen, which is especially remarkable if you have a lady intending to purchase a necklace or a bracelet. Men most often than not know exactly what they want and the deal is struck quickly. But for a lady, it is an opportunity to try various necklaces of different sizes and designs… probably it is an opportunity of a lifetime for her to wear such expensive jewelry, so why waste it! Pity the salesman who in anticipation of earning a high incentive on a possible sale goes on showering her with more necklaces, bangles et al. Unfortunately more often than not, it only culminates with one of the relatively cheaper ones being selected, much to the salesman’s despair. But he never loses hope…
A visit to the jewelers especially for an occasion like marriage is a family affair… a car load or maybe two, will embark on their journey from far off places to visit the famous jewelers in the city who have invested large amounts on marketing their exclusive jewelry showrooms by inviting many a Bollywood star for their inaugurations to increase their market value and promote their brand.
The poor bride-to-be is dwarfed or hidden amongst the crowd when the decisions are being made on what to buy for her. Even the poorest families would save up for this occasion and buy gold for their daughters since it is treated as dowry, a system that unfortunately still exists amongst communities in Kerala. Of course the amount of gold that glitters depends in the amount of wealth and status the families enjoy. In Kerala, a bride is virtually buried under bangles, necklaces, jewelry and a heavy embroidered sari (traditional Indian dress) sometimes having pure gold threads interwoven on its borders! To add to her woes, she even has to wear a golden belt around her waist. But most often than not, her happiness of getting married overtakes all the embellishments that weigh her down! I am sure at the end of the day she would need a massage to recover from it all. Maybe they ought to start that service too- ‘the wedding-after massage!’
The manager at the jewelry shop smiles in satisfaction as he sees his customer purchase gold in lakhs and at the end of it, will offer them a memento as a token of his appreciation for purchasing jewelry from their shop. The gold market in Kerala is estimated at nearly 20 crores and the branded gold stores do a business of at least 1-5 crores a day. The recession never seemed to hit Kerala especially if you had happened to set foot into any of the gold stores in the state. Many gold dealers from other states like Chennai, Gujarat, Rajasthan, etc. have entered into Kerala because of the thriving gold industry. A showroom space of at least 2000 square feet employs 20-25 people and the economy thrives due to increased employment from the industry besides the return on investment. Thrissur is the main jewelry manufacturing town that employs thousands of local craftsmen and goldsmiths. The quality of gold in Kerala and the intricate designs offered make shopping for gold in Kerala an interesting experience and also a lucrative business. One can get some good offers during the annual Kerala Shopping festival. The designs range from traditional to modern and gold and jewelry designing is much sought after as a career.
I have always noticed two places in Kerala which were always overcrowded regardless of time, season, market or weather conditions. The first is the unusually long line of local men who would queue up outside the government liquor stores to get their daily quota of alcohol. It is one of the few places where a Malayali (a local) regardless of the social strata he belongs to, waits patiently and with much controlled discipline for his bottle of (high) spirits! The other is of course at the gold and jewelry stores all across the state.
No wonder Kerala boasts of an excessively high consumption of both!