After a gap of 11/2 years, last month I visited India for business reasons, covering four different cities (Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai) over a period of 10 days. The following is a collection of perspectives that touched me as I went through the journey.
India remains unique from many perspectives. Historical values and modern outlook continue to exist side by side like a worn-out dhoti and an Armani suit. The incessant cacophony of blaring horns, screeching brakes and screaming vendors plying their wares in busy streets was simply out of this world.
As a visitor you always go away with a sense of bewilderment as to how there can be so much innovation in the midst of so much chaotic madness.
Take for example the way I had to communicate with my drivers. Lack of parking spaces in India forced them to pick me up from any location once I give them a "missed call".
I just had to call the driver by dialing his mobile number, let it ring for a moment and then cut it off. The driver recognises my number from his "missed call" list and understands that I am ready to be picked up from where he dropped me last. He does not have to pay for the call nor do I. A cost effective innovative solution to address the infrastructure bottleneck.
I got so hooked to this "missed call" syndrome that I "missed called" my family in Singapore!
Talking about infrastructure, I was impressed with the airports in all the cities that I visited. They are new, well maintained and efficient. It took me less than 30 minutes to clear immigration when I flew in from Singapore, pick up my bags and walk out of the airport.
Time management was crucial for me during this trip and I was even more impressed with the punctuality of one domestic airline operator, which helped me to fly from one city to another. If only the traffic conditions on the roads had improved, I could have attended all my meetings on time!
I had a chance to travel outside the city limits and saw farmers harvesting their produce, piling them up in great heaps, probably waiting for the middleman to come and buy them. The vast expanse of agricultural land reminded me that this is the heart of rural India where millions eke out a living. The weather-beaten faces of the farmers and their womenfolk reminded me of a community that works so much for so little. I hope they will see a brighter future soon.
I noted another interesting trend. Many of the service staff working in hotels or restaurants were migrants from the north-eastern Indian states in search of jobs and a better living. There were also some from Nepal. They are well trained, courteous and eager to serve with a smile.
India is embracing equality of opportunities for its people from less developed states and also for people from neighbouring countries. I could feel the unity in diversity.
The wide variety of food was another point that did not escape me. From pratas to slow-oven-cooked dishes, from Italian to Chinese specialities, the food choices are varied and I couldn't control myself. Neither my doctor nor my wife were happy as I stepped on the weighing scale after my trip.
Last, but not least, the effect of Modinomics was visible everywhere. People on the street are in general proud of their new leader and are excitedly talking about measures introduced to bring in discipline and inculcate better civic behaviour.
Business houses are once again humming and are getting ready to expand their operations to play a significant role in charting India's next phase of economic growth. Last month, the Reserve Bank of India pegged the Indian economy to grow 5.5 per cent during 2014-15 (April to March) and accelerate to 6.3 per cent in 2015-16.
Recently Mr Modi confirmed: "No red tape, only red carpet, is my policy to investors." He invited global investors to use India as a manufacturing base.
In one of his recent speeches, he said: "Come make in India. Sell the product anywhere in the world but make in India."
As the late night flight took off from Mumbai at the end of the 10th day, looking at the fading city lights behind the glazed windows, (with due respect to Robert Frost) I still remember my last thoughts:
"The roads are lovely, dark and deep
India has promises to keep
But miles to go before it leaps, miles to go…."
Abhijit Ghosh is India Desk Leader at PwC Singapore.
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