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The iPhone 5 in India: Because ’tis the season to be giving

On November 13th, India will celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, which marks the return of the Hindu God, Lord Rama, after his 14 years in exile and his victory over the demon-king Ravana. It’s a time of celebration and house-cleaning, ringing out the old and ringing in the new. To Hindu businessmen, it’s a milestone in their accounting; the new accounting “year” begins with Diwali. By the previous night, Hindu traders traditionally square accounts.

The day sees lavish feasts – and the exchange of gifts, which, over the years, have become opportunities in one-upmanship. So if one family showered guests with traditional Indian sweets, another doled out Toblerone bars and yet another Lindt chocolates. For corporate India, Diwali was an excuse to keep stakeholders – especially those in positions of power in government departments that one needed the blessings of – happy, going beyond the traditional sweets and chocolates. So we saw watches, toasters, TVs, silver utensils and even 10 gm ingots of gold becoming the new “tradition”.

This year, thanks to popular demand (and the high prices of gold, one surmises), we see the entrance of two new “gifts” in the mix – iPads and smartphones.

I’m putting my money on the iPhone 5 as the most popular Diwali dole-out. The timing is fantastic. The phone launched last Friday  – but not in India for some time yet. But how has the official availability of any Apple product ever been a factor in the demand for the iPad and iPhone in India? We boast a thriving “grey” market, which smuggles in the stuff faster than you can buy them standing in a queue in New York. 

Sellers on eBay, the e-commerce site, are offering the iPhone 5 at exorbitant prices, starting at Rs 74,000 (US$ 1363) and going up to Rs 88,000 (US$1619), to those who cannot wait to flaunt the smartphone. In their listing on the portal, sellers indicate they have just a couple of units available for order and these will be delivered after payment. 

If one owns an iPhone 5 by Diwali, it’ll be the ultimate status symbol. The timing of the launch is such that it gives the generous “gifters” a little over a month to get their hands on the phones they need through their trusted neighbourhood smuggler – or even through eBay and other e-commerce sites.

Come to India over Diwali. I’ll give you long odds that you’ll see more iPhone 5′s in Mumbai than you would see in New York or London. Because the iPhone 5 will be conveniently available over Diwali, and that’s the season for giving. And receiving.