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The HMT was a watch that you earned. Anant Rangaswami tells you about the iconic stature of the HMT watch and the story of its eventual decline

Hegal  Mela Towel or HMT. That’s what, for ages, the Gowda community in Karnataka has been referred to, by other castes, thanks to the fact that this community, largely being employed in farming, tossed a towel on (mela in Kannada) the hegal (shoulder in Kannada) as they were constantly in the sun and perspiration was a natural fallout.

When a brand enters popular culture, it is a sign of the dominance of the brand in that category. That’s what it was when HMT, in reference to the Gowda community, did for the watch brand HMT.

HMT grew at the time that Indira Gandhi promised the country roti, kapda and makaan, so you can imagine how low watches were in the priority list for Indians.

A watch was a luxury, a discretionary spend.

So it was that an HMT watch had to be earned or had to mark a milestone. The SSC topper was presented one, as was the girl who cleared the IAS exam or the young men who cleared the IIT or CA entrance exams. Others who 'earned' an HMT watch included the bridegroom or the super achiever who was the first in the family to go abroad.

Everyone wanted an HMT; few had one. It was an icon. And this is where the fairytale ends. HMT watches were born in the license raj, an era when the government decided what could be produced and how many. So HMT, the icon, rubbed shoulders with other icons of the shortage economy like the Hindustan Ambassador, the Premier Padmini, the Bajaj scooter or the Yezdi motorcycle.

The 'icons' died, one by one, once the license raj ended. In HMT's case, this was when Titan entered the marketplace; the iconic brand, like my grandfather's clock in the children's song, stopped, short, never to go again.

Written by Anant Rangaswami, editor, Storyboard on CNBC-TV 18.

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