Wednesday, January 10, 2007

And the times they are a-changing

This line by Bob Dylan fits quite well to India in 21st century. India has since long back attracted the world's attention for its wealth. Since then a lot of water has passed down the Ganges and the Thames. And in this era, foreigners and Indians alike are flocking to India again. But this time they are creating wealth by utilizing local and international talent.

In my recent trip to India, this was quite evident. I had visited Bombay in March 2006. In that trip, I had taken the role of a sponge and just absorbed the changing faces of India. I was simply amazed by the speed of development and infrastructure work taking place. I was also surprised by the increasing buying power of Indian consumer. This had to some extent scared me a bit as growing up in a different India; I had not seen this spending attitude before.

In this trip, I was more vigilant and critical. I went through local newspapers and tried to figure out the new business deals and M & A activities. I asked some questions regarding the real estate prices. I observed the widening gap between the 'haves and the have nots'. I tried to understand the growing influx of FDI. I travelled by road on new expressway and actually saw the roadworks. I travelled by a crowded local train and found out that I still love the Bombay life.

This trip has bolstered my earlier observations that India is indeed changing. The recent success of Indian economy in general and IT industry in particular is not merely a flash in the pan. But a new sun is rising over this ancient land. Every MNC has to have an office in India these days. It is not only true in the case of software or BPO. It will also apply to legal, manufacturing, R & D and education. Also people need to understand that this is not only cost-cutting, but getting talented people at reduced cost and most importantly, running your company 24/7/365. So in future India will not only attract back office work, but also advanced R & D. This is already happening to some extent. The hurdle is neither talent nor attitude, it is money. And the capacity to run multi-billion dollars projects simultaneously and successfully.

Today's Indian youth is booming with confidence and a positive attitude. They have best of both worlds, they have western materliasm and Indian spiritualism in one go. So you can wear Pepe or Levis, enjoy your movies in multiplexes, shop in the malls and still have all the festivals and good family life. Thus they have the option to believe Indian, think American and live European.

Of course, having said this, I do have some thoughts. I am not going to paint all the rosy picture, neither will I say that everything is hunky-dory. The new culture has created some problems and as Indians we need to figure out how to solve them before they grow out of control. First and foremost, India needs a national ID card and some kind of a social security number. Even for small things you have to fill so many forms that you lose the joy of getting the service. There is PAN, there is ration card, then there is new MIN also there is a DMAT account. Can we make life simpler please? Has anyone thought how difficult it will be to manage all these things in future for a billion people?

Also, I strongly believe that India needs public surveillance cameras at places like all train stations, traffic signals. I hope that this will deter the road-romeos and public-spitters to some extent. Smoking and chewing tobacco in public places should be banned. However the major problem is the huge and widening gap between the rich and poor. I am sorry to say that Bombay is becoming out of reach for middle-class people. The real estate prices have literally reached the sky in the metros. Daily commute has become an ordeal for many people as the population and traffic is growing. All these problems are not unsolvable yet, but to solve them needs resolve and patience. Solutions do not fall from the sky they have to be grown ground-up.

We were taught in school that our first Prime Minister Pandit Neharu used to have a poem by Robert Frost on his desk,
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep”.

As a nation we all should have this in our heart for a better tomorrow.



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