I visited Singapore June 13-16 for CommunicAsia. It was almost two years since my previous visit. The decision to visit was made easier by the incredibly cheap airfares round-trip to Singapore from Mumbai on Jet Airways was available for Rs 14,000 plus taxes. (Ironically, my Mumbai-Chennai round-trips are now more expensive!)
Along with my colleague (Veer), I stayed at New Park Hotel in Little India. Most other hotels I checked were full. (Presumably I wasnt the only one making use of the cheap airfares, though I guess it was probably more the CommunicAsia crowd.) On all my previous Singapore trips, a must-visit destination was Mustafa Centre for shopping.
This time around, as I made the trip to the Singapores Shopping Mecca, I could not help feeling that the excitement of shopping there was missing almost everything (including my favourite Kellogs cereals) were now available in India. Over the past couple years, Indian retail has been slowly coming of age as malls have proliferated and with them have come the availability of the international brands. In fact, as Veer remarked, even the ads in Singapore seemed very similar to the ones in India!
Among the Indian friends I met, one common point of discussion was the possibility of returning to India. As one of them put it, Singapore is now stuck between China and India China has taken the manufacturing, and India is now taking the services. For most of them, making India home once again was a possibility that was no longer an impossibility. Todays India at least in pockets offers very good quality of life and very competitive salaries. Work being done in Indian companies is also moving up the value chain. And all said and done, home is home. Yes, many challenges remain. But now, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
There is also a sense I got from the people I spoke to of wanting to participate in what is being seen as Indias transformation. The next 3-5 years are ones where there is an expectation of a revolution perhaps like China of a decade ago. There is a keenness of wanting to participate in it be an agent of change.
And so, as I walked the aisles of the expo and attended the sessions of CommunicAsia, I could not but feel a sense of dj vu. In 1996, I was sitting at Internet World in Singapore and wondering how the Internet could help change the lives of NRIs (Non-Resident Indians). Now, with cellphones proliferating to more than 50,000 new users a day in India, I started to wonder how these new technologies could change the lives of MRIs (Mobile Resident Indians).
Tomorrow: Singapore (continued)