There are very high levels of diversity in India in almost all spheres of our lives. And the same is true for our cities. So much so that it is difficult to identify commonalities and patterns such that we can easily categorize and fit cities in.
For the researcher interested in neatly categorizing different cities in different groups, this poses a problem, as the only categorization that will work is related to size. For the manager interested in a common approach for her marketing efforts across cities, this poses an even larger problem. It will be difficult to imagine a common strategy for Mumbai and Surat – both among the 10 largest markets in India and only a few hundred kilometers away. This diversity exists not only between cities, but also within cities.
Whichever way we see it, India is a heterogeneous country with cities that are also heterogeneous. An appreciation of this heterogeneity needs to be built-in as an integral part of our understanding of cities.
Another aspect of Indian cities needs to be appreciated. No one single city dominates any large sphere – true Mumbai dominates the financial sector, Delhi the political ‘sector’, but there is little else. Almost as many movies are made out of Chennai as in Mumbai, the automobile sector is spread around Pune, Delhi, Chennai and many other cities. And though many of the large IT companies are headquartered in Bangalore, cities such as Pune, Hyderabad are rapidly catching up, not to mention the high levels of IT activity in Mumbai and Delhi regions. Whether it is an economic activity, or any other aspect of life, India is fortunate to have a large number of diverse and dynamic cities.
Delhi and Mumbai do not dominate India as much as, say, Mexico City dominates Mexico, or Sao Paolo dominates Brazil. The top 100 largest cities only account for roughly 50 to 60 percent of the overall market. So as long as we are thinking of the Indian middle class, or those at the bottom of the pyramid, there is a large chunk spread much more finely in the rest of the 5000 odd cities in India. These masses may not necessarily be from the top educational institutes of India, most may not be English speaking – but many of the highly educated and high income earners are not necessarily only in the top 100 cities.
But the glass is half full. These top 100 cities do contain the largest chunk of the Indian urban population and market. For those interested in covering the bulk of India’s urban population and market, concentrating on these 100 cities can yield rapid results provided enough flexibility exists in their strategies to account for the heterogeneity.