Blog Break

For the past four years, I have been blogging daily. Somewhere, the ideas are becoming repetitive. So, I decided it is time to take a break. I will continue to write occasionally.

Blogging has been something I have been doing for the past 12+ years. Perhaps, it is also time to think of a different format. Let’s see. Will think during this break!

Thanks very much for your support, and I hope to be back soon.

Blog Past: India’s Tourism Opportunity

I wrote this a year ago:

Having travelled to both Bali and Binsar in July, I am convinced that there is a much untapped tourism opportunity within India.

India gets about 18 million foreign tourists each year, according to Wikipedia. China gets three times as many. With better infrastructure and promotion, India’s numbers can easily match that of China.

For example, it is easier for me to get to Bali in Indonesia than to get to Binsar in Uttarakhand. This needs to change. We need to upgrade domestic infrastructure – better roads, more airports, faster trains. This needs to be combined with a bigger promotional push. More than half the people I mention Binsar toi haven’t heard about it – and neither had I till a couple months ago. India has many places of great natural beauty – which feature among some of best known secrets!

Tourism as a services industry can be thus not just a big forex generator but also a big employer, as Arun  Maira wrote in the ET recently.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • No country for the young: by Manish Sabharwal in Indian Express. “India’s young care most about jobs. And a narrative that places job creation at the heart of policy synthesises the most important issues: roads, power, labour laws, land reform, education, skills and deregulation.”
  • Economic slogan for 2014: by Gautam Chikermane in Hindustan Times.  “Sooner rather than later, the vulnerable sections have to become partners in the economic development of India. And that can happen only if the political establishment articulates this idea — Mera Bharat, Ameer Bharat.”
  • It’s about Freedom, not just Freedom of Speech: by Atanu Dey. “When the Government is afraid of people, the people are most likely winning the war. Indians still have a chance at real freedom, something that has eluded them for so long.”
  • TIME magazine’s latest “The Wireless Issue“: “There’s a smart-phone gait: the slow sidewalk weave that comes from being lost in conversation rather than looking where you’re going. Thumbs are stronger, attention shorter, temptation everywhere: we can always be, mentally, digitally, someplace other than where we are.”
  • Comscore Jun-Jul 2012 Data: on the Indian Internet

A Passion for Punctuality

Just as the Rajdhani pulled out of the station, it came to a halt almost immediately. Apparently, someone had pulled a chain. There was much activity, and as one of the other engine drivers explained to me, this one is a very special train. It cannot be even a minute late – its performance is monitored centrally in Delhi. I had experienced the on-time arrival the previous day.

What struck me was the passion and pride with which he spoke. That point – “It cannot even be a minute late” – stayed with me. And I brought it up in our company sales review the next day — that the focus has to be on achieving our full targets, and not be satisfied with being short by a few lakhs. Seeing the passion in the railway staff brought home the point that much is possible if we have the right mindset — even in a government job.

And on that hinges the future of India. How can we transform ourselves into a modern, developed nation in a generation?

Seeing Rajdhani Express

Abhishek likes trains, so during one of our recent bus-train rides, we decided to go to Mumbai Central station and watch the Rajdhani Express arrive from Delhi. It came in right on schedule at 8:35 am, after a 16-hour journey from Delhi, at an average speed of 86 kms/hour. Abhishek was thrilled – and so was I. Something about trains, especially the long-distance ones, delights the heart!

The next day, we decided to watch the train leave the station. We arrived at 4:30 pm for the scheduled 4:40 pm departure. We walked the length of the train to the engine. There, one of the engine drivers invited Abhishek in and showed him some of the controls. It was an amazing experience for Abhishek. What struck me was the friendliness of the railway staff. Seeing Abhishek’s interest, one of the other engine drivers (who was not on the Rajdhani) showed Abhishek more details in a stationary engine across the platform, and even switched in on and showed what happens inside.

For Abhishek (and me), it was an experience to savour. It was the first time I had been in an engine, and reminded me of the time around 14 years ago, when I had sat in a Cathay Pacific cockpit when it was about to land in Hong Kong.

An Empty Terminal

I had recently gone to pick someone up at Mumbai Airport’s Terminal 1A – the one that serves Air India and Kingfisher. It was like a ghost terminal — a complete contrast to what used to be once upon a time. It was almost like going back in time 15-20 years when there was just a single airline serving the country. The display had only Air India flights with the occasional Kingfisher one.

Both airlines have gone through difficult times of their own making. With Kingfisher, one is not sure which flights will go, and with Air India, there seems a general reluctance to now fly it even though flights seem to be operating as per schedule. So, the terminal is there, but the passengers are missing. A huge infrastructure lies in semi-waste, even as the other terminal is jam-packed with flyers.

Perhaps, the airport authorities should consider shifting Jet or Indigo to terminal 1A so ease the load on 1D. In the morning, the security check queues are extraordinarily long in 1D, and with 1A largely empty, perhaps some changes are in order given the new realities.

Yet Another SMS Ban

Banning bulk SMS seems to have become the natural reaction to any law-and-order issue. The government did it around the time of the Ayodhya verdict and did it again last week. Leave aside the fact that the fear spread was because of P2P SMS, rather than A2P SMS. The government had to be seen doing something, and so hitting a soft target like bulk SMS came easy.

What is lost out in this is how critical SMS has begun for so many establishments. SMS has become part of many business processes. A ban like this hurts everyone. And there is no way to protest. It hurts businesses like mine even more since we have to go two weeks without revenue and sustain overheads of a 150-person team for the SMS business. This sort of government interference is just not done. And I don’t think it is going to stop here.

The more I think about it, the more I can understand why the perception is that business in India is hard – not just setting up, but also ongoing operations. Over the past two years, the government and TRAI have constantly been interfering in the SMS business with regulation and arbitrary orders. This is not what creates  a healthy environment for entrepreneurship and enterprise.

Finally, Some Rain in Mumbai

This year has been disappointing for most of India on the rain front. Its been the same in Mumbai. The delight of sitting on a Sunday and watching the rains come down heavy and hard through the window has been almost lost this year. Until yesterday for some part of the day. It suddenly felt like monsoon season rather than an extension of summer.

I hope it rains some more. India needs it. But we should also be doing better with the rain water that we get. Much of it just flows away. Water is part of the triad of FEW – Food and Energy making up the other two components. FEW problems are what the world has to gear up for. And perhaps, none more so than Water.

This year, potholes in Mumbai seem to also be fewer. Either because of the lesser rainfall or maybe we have genuinely figured out how to do better roads. I think its probably the former!

Blog Past: A Book as a Context to Think

I write this a year ago:

I have experienced this so many times. A book that I am reading helps me think through a conundrum I have been contemplating and creates the space for coming up with interesting ideas and solutions. The book doesn’t even have to be directly linked to the topic – what it does is forces deep thought, and then the associations in the mind create something that wasn’t there before.

That is one of the reasons I love to read. Just the act of sitting for an extended period of undisturbed time with a book is guaranteed to push the mind in many different directions – some intended by the author, some unintended by the reader!

I don’t necessarily read every book immediately after I buy it. I let it stay around, and then some day, I will pick it up – and the book opens up its treasure chest of ideas. It is a wonderful feeling.

Weekend Reading

This week’s links:

  • 5 reasons why web publishing is changing (again): by Richard MacManus: “From Pinterest at the beginning of this year to the launch this week of a new product from two Twitter founders, Medium, 2012 has been a year where the norms of publishing are being challenged.”
  • E-commerce startups: by Chris Dixon. “What most people agree on is that e-commerce as a whole will continue to grow rapidly and eat into offline commerce. In the steady state, offline commerce will serve only two purposes: immediacy (stuff you need right away), and experiences (showroom, fun venues). All other commerce will happen online.”
  • Over-the-top  phone services: from The Economist. ” Mr Sharma points to dozens, from health-care apps to billing services. Operators, he says, will have to strive to provide these—competing not only with each other and with start-ups but also with the giants of the internet. Those that cannot will be reduced to mere utilities, with much thinner margins.”
  • Ideas 2012: from The Atlantic
  • Financial Times 2002 Best Business Books Longlist