In the town of Champhai in Mizoram, I met Remtei, a 34-year-old woman who runs a carpet and cosmetics store. Step inside and on the left, you see rolls and rolls of carpets – plastic floor covers, really. On the right, shelves crammed with hair colours, fairness creams, deos, hair oils and more. These come from a staggering array of places – Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, China and Japan.
The store was originally run by Remtei’s parents who used to sell sofas and almirahs but switched to cosmetics soon after Mizoram's cable channels began to dub Korean soaps and films into Mizo. Ever since, this state – like other parts of the North-East – has been under the spell of Korean pop culture. It shows in the way people dress and style their hair, and in one of the most unifying values of modern India – the urge to be fairer.
This has opened up a market for Chinese fairness products –Jiaoli, Qian Li and Jiaobi. Compared to Indian products, the Chinese creams show quick results, claimed Remtei.
Speaking of youngsters, she said, “If the idea is to be more like the Koreans, then why would they buy Indian creams?”
This made a hair colour I saw in the shop kind of puzzling.
Fruit Colours. Featuring Aishwarya Rai. I dragged down the pack from the shelf wondering which part of the country it had come from. And then realised the script was Chinese.
Is Aishwarya Rai's so well known in China that sales tick heavenwards when her photo is used? Or is this a ploy to attract Indian buyers? In which case, why is the script in Chinese?