Aam Aadmi Party

The online battle for 2014 has been joined by another active participant. Got this email from Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi party, presumably part of a big outreach to the business community.  I like his dedication to the cause of cleansing up what is obviously a creaky system and I certainly admire his personal integrity. What I am troubled by is the sense one gets of a backward-looking socialism in his economic thinking; I believe that is absolutely not the right choice for India.

Dear Hari Nair:

Today, I am writing to a select set of business leaders to seek your support for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

We are living in a time when corruption is uncontrolled, the rupee is in a free fall, and our natural resources are being plundered. Our political system has deteriorated to such a point that we have criminals routinely contesting and winning elections. This all round slide should deeply concerns every citizen of this country especially those in business. After all, public corruption not only undermines the rule of law, it erodes social trust and the integrity of institutions so necessary for a thriving business culture.

I am sure you agree that unless we put an end to it immediately our country’s future could be jeopardized forever. Surely, we can’t let this happen. But we need to act and act NOW!

AAP is committed to ensuring greater transparency, delivering good governance, implementing strong laws to root out corruption and restoring trust in the political system. We will end the practice of crony capitalism and create an environment that encourages and facilitates businesses to start and thrive. We will strive to create a level playing field and unleash the spirit of entrepreneurship that is naturally ingrained in our people. In short, we will provide the political leadership that envisions and creates an India that does justice to the hopes and aspirations of young Indians.

Hari Nair, I firmly believe that we can resurrect the India story on the global stage. To do this and much more, AAP needs your support. Your support could be decisive for the country.

You can support AAP by donating for our cause, voting for our candidates and passing our message to your friends and co-workers.
 

Regards,

Arvind
@arvindkejriwal
https://www.facebook.com/AAPkaArvind
http://www.aamaadmiparty.org

Listening to the user

Given this is the longest running topic on the internet, I will keep my  two cents very short. Every time I set up a calendar slot or an alarm on an Apple product, I find it just that bit easier – for the simple reason that Apple offers me only multiples of 5 (for setting minutes) which makes the whole thing much faster. So I can set up an alert for 9.15am or 9.20 am but nor for 9.17 am or 9.21 am. Think about this – how many of us really need to have alarms set up for 9.17 or 9.21?

Having said that, I have also realised how difficult it is to truly listen to users & ignore conventional wisdom – which seems to always be on the side of more bells & whistles.

Dhingana, Bombay Royale and Indira Gandhi

 

As I listened to a medley of popular 70s hindi music over the last couple of weeks on Dhingana, the online music app I have recently discovered, a thought struck me. Seventies hindi music seems to have had a huge amount of western influence. Much more than the hindi film music of now and certainly more than that of the 60s, 50s or before. And a couple of days ago, this thought was reinforced by an interview on BBC. They were doing a special on the Glastonbury music festival and were  interviewing the Aussie band “Bombay Royale”. The Bombay Royale, in case you have not come across them, is a bunch of white aussies and 2 people of Indian origin who have teamed up together, they say, to produce the ‘epic’ sound of 70s bollywood music. And in the interview, one of their leaders – The Skipper – mentioned that he particularly liked the fact that 70s Indian film music had a very international feel to it. 

All of which, on a bit of reflection, starts to sound strange. In the 6 decades of India’s independence, there was no decade more decidedly inward-looking and clearly not international as the 1970s. Remember this was the decade when Indira Gandhi had nationalised everything leading to no need for any foreigner to be in India for business, had proclaimed the emergency which did not leave too many of leaders outside jail for them to go abroad and and had a perversely socialist streak which led to ordinary Indians being allowed a princely sum of $8 dollars for the entire trip for every person going abroad. On the whole most of us sat at home and looked longingly at our lucky cousins who went away to Africa. And to add insult to injury, Richard Nixon (or was it his sidekick Kissinger?) called India, “the largest unimportant country in the world”.

So this was the 70s in which suddenly our film music was all international. How did this happen?

Bicycle Travel

Got this Youtube link from my old colleague, good friend & mega bike-enthusiast Mohit. And since I wholeheartedly approve of the notion of slow travel in its ability to suck out every bit of juice of the world around us, here it is for all you. A reminder that Fast is sometimes the enemy of the Great – especially in travel (actually also in Food, but that is another story).

The population conundrum

Mauritius is a country in the Indian Ocean with a population of 1.2 million people. India (the country from which, incidentally, the Indian Ocean gets its very name) has 1.2 billion people – which is exactly 1000 times the population of Mauritius.

This fact struck me as we were driving across Mauritius last month. As we drove past the softly rolling country, I got to see huge expanse of land on both sides of the road with very little sign of human habitation – totally unlike what one sees in India. Clearly this was a country with a small population.

Till I thought a bit more about it and decided to dig further and examine this whole population issue from the density perspective. Population density of a country is the number of people living in a square kilometre and should normally reflect how congested living conditions are likely to be in that country. Here is what I found:

India has a population density of 382 & Mauritius has a population density of 631. Which means that Mauritius has double the number of people of India living in one square kilometre. So, why is it that India feels so crowded and Mauritius so open?

The answer – India’s overcrowded & over populated cities. India is not as crowded a country as seems to us urban folk. Those of us who have spent time travelling in the rural interiors of India (especially in the North) have encountered large tracts of land with very little signs of human habitation. The problem of crowding seems to a uniquely urban phenomenon. So I looked up some more numbers.

Here is the population density of some of India’s top cities:

Delhi – 9340

Mumbai – 21,261

Bangalore – 4378

The problem, though lesser, continues into some of the smaller cities as well:

Ahmedabad – 890

Kanpur – 1449

Coimbatore – 748

So clearly, we need to quickly figure out how to make Indian cities less congested & so more livable.

Incidentally, the world average for population density is just 45.3 people per square kilometre of land area. A good target to try to get to.

MOMA/Iwent

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Last month while in Manhattan I visited the Museum of Modern Art for a few hours. And was captivated by an initiative they have right at the lobby.

Here is what they do. All visitors to MOMA can pick up a piece of paper and write/doodle/whatever they want to on it, ideally about how their MOMA experience went. Then they can scan it in a easy-to-use scanner and up their masterpiece goes on to the MOMA website inside the ‘iwent’ section (incidentally it also gets projected on to a wall in the lobby). You can go later to the MOMA website and ‘claim’ and share your scan using the unique id that each piece of paper has. Essentially, this is a really creative and cool method of giving user feedback, a whole lot more fun that just writing a Review. Exactly mirrors our thoughts on how HolidayIQ’s hiq! should feel. Loved it.

Read more about this here: http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2011/12/07/i-went-to-moma-and-it-s-back/ & here: http://www.moma.org/iwent/

Coke Studio Pakistan

Last weekend I seriously overdosed on Coke Studio Pakistan on Youtube and have not been able to purge it from my system since. Looks like this weekend is set to be a repeat.

As many have pointed out before, Coke Studio Pakistan is better than its Indian avatar. I had never heard of Rohail Hyatt – the producer of CS Pakistan – before ; but the guy shows sheer genius. I have forever been wary of fusion music (as also fusion food) given the difficulty of creating something truly seamless by merging massively disparate cultural contexts. But this man has absolutely done it. Read an excellent interview with him here.

And as another weekend creeps up, I am completely lost between the smoky voice, the aquiline profile and haunting melody of Meesha Shafi crooning Chori Chori..

Online music is here

This is one of the better things to happen for Travellers. As I wait for another delayed flight at Bangalore airport the magic of online music hits me. Switching between Saavn (the online Indian music service funded by Tiger) and TuneIn Radio (a worldwide selection of internet radio stations) I am definitely spoilt for choice.

India’s inbound tourism – in search of a ‘new’ paradigm

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Seeking in India

India has always sold itself well to ‘seekers’, never really to ‘indulgers’. And in this lies our inability (not withstanding the regular self congratulatory blurbs emanating from our tourism ministry) to jump-start our inbound tourism.

‘Indulgers’ look for experience and that means they are looking to do something now – the Today matters to them. ‘Seekers’ on the other hand are looking for answers and are very likely to look for them in the past. And practically no country on earth has so much mind-share of Seekers as India.

The real question I guess is – can India be relevant to both?

New York city after a year

I was here at the Mandarin Oriental in NYC exactly a year ago for the last Tiger conference. The last time I was a newbie to the conference, Tiger having just invested. This year, one is a bit of a veteran since there were so many new investee companies.

Sitting at tables or standing with coffee, making boc phet on all matters big and small with a group of almost 200 other founders of internet businesses across the world, I am struck for the first time by this whole new brotherhood. Almost everyone here is from the non-western world and absolutely everyone is a product of the 30 year reign of prosperity in the developing world let loose by the Thatcher+ Reagan regime in western countries. The world view among these 200 people is surprisingly uniform and upbeat, a far cry from the relatively pessimistic view from Larry Lindsay, the ex economic advisor to the previous POTUS, George W.

There is simply no doubt that the internet and mobile are together making fairly significant changes to just about everything human beings do and I am definitely happy to be part of this. Of course, the fact that I do something that is of real interest to my two sons is the real payoff. How many dads can say that :). Certainly keeps me young.

Jakarta vignettes

As the Garuda Indonesia flight takes off from Singapore, all I can make out of the announcement by the pretty little stewardess is a single word loudly repeated thrice  – evacuate, evacuate, evacuate. My strong instinct to dive under the seat is tempered by the realisation that none of the other passengers  have twitched even the smallest muscle. Apparently catastrophe is not imminent. Actually the Garuda fight between Singapore and Jakarta isn’t bad at all. In addition to having lovely stewardesses, Garuda served a rice meal on the flight that had a very interesting dish of dried anchovies and peanuts. The last time I had small dried anchovies in food was when I was around 12 or 13 years – so it was with pleasure that I found that the decidedly acquired taste had not deserted me after all these years.

The first impression of Jakarta to an Indian eye brought up on classical Indian languages is the preponderance of Sanskrit. As you swing out into the highway from the airport you see big signboards that proclaim Soewarna Technology city. It is soon followed by Jalapuspa hotel and Sampoorna Square. Markers of an ancient connect with Hinduism are abundant everywhere; I start to dimly understand how westerners feel as they travel the world finding markers of their culture dominate the landscape in most countries.

Driving in Jakarta is educative.  Getting tired of the legendary traffic jams of the city, the good men running the government there came up with what sounded like an eminently reasonable solution. They mandated that cars have to have a minimum of 3 passengers to be allowed to traverse some of the main city thoroughfares during peak hours. The obvious idea was that single or double passengers should not take cars but use public transport so that cars do not take up too much of scarce road space. Unfortunately Indonesians are as adept at Jugaad as Indians and the impact of this rule has been to actually increase the number of people using roads. Since all cars now need to have 3 or more people, there are men hanging around intersections who rent themselves out as a additional passengers for a fee to motorists with lesser number in the car. So a large number of unemployed youth who otherwise would not be using roads or footpaths are all over the place now. Another strike for the law of unintended consequences.

You can’t escape SRK in Indonesia either. Shah Rukh Khan is repeatedly mentioned as the one Indian that everyone, especially the women seem to know about. Most of the time, the only Indian. Along with Korean superstars, SRK is up there in the not-too-hip celebrity scene in Indonesia. All the young hipper-than-hip hipsters are rooting for Justin Bieber. East Asia is definitely the latest theatre of war for pop culture supremacy and it is a three-cornered fight between Hollywood, Bollywood and the Koreans. It will be interesting to see where it ends up.

I return to Jakarta in another fortnight- cannot wait to see what I will uncover next..

Seafood Paradise at Changi airport

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The check-in area is not a natural place to have food in the airport; so much better to go past immigration and security. But fate willed otherwise since the check-in was delayed for some reason. Demolished another crab, presumably from somewhere in the south china sea. Fate.

Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung

Yup, I know that is a mouthful. And to top it, we had to wait for more than 20 mins to get a table for 2. But boy, was it worth it!

The first time I had Xia Long Bao was on the last day of a trip to Hong Kong a few years ago. And the taste lingers. Xia Long Bao are steamed dumplings that have warm broth inside along with the more usual shrimp/meat mixture. The sheer mix of flavours and textures that this gives your mouth is crazy. I love it.

Din Tai Fung is the Taiwanese mecca of Xia Long Bao. And since they make it so well, they have now spread everywhere in Asia including to Singapore. On Saturday I went to their outlet at the Paragon Mall in Orchard.

Thanks to Martin for suggesting this place and accompanying me for an awesome meal.

For a useful lesson on how to eat Xia Long Bao, click on the above photo.

A New Delhi Reprise

Getting off the plane, I could not find the baggage conveyor belt. And eventually when I did, there were no baggage trolleys. As I drove in to town, the talking heads were discussing the latest gang-rape, this time of a 30 year old BPO employee in the Dhaula Kuan area. Delhi it seemed was playing true to character.  William Dalrymple in his ‘City of Djinns’ explains how Delhi has been around almost forever, rising and falling with each successive ‘civilization’. I am sure the current avatar is unlikely to be one of its glories.

But it turned out to be a glorious day. One of those bright but crisply cold pre-winter days that along with its quick Spring makes Delhi enchanting for a short while every year. To relive great memories, I went to Nehru Park in Chanakyapuri and wandered all around it with a friend. Shubha Mudgal was playing live & open air in Nehru Park in the evening courtesy Spic Macay, but unfortunately could not catch it.  A real surprise was the tolerance towards canoodling couples. The last time I wandered Delhi’s parks, I recollect cops and similar irritating fauna harassing lovers that inevitably dot parks. Now I saw they were being left alone and wondered what has led to this change. Not being able to put my finger on it, I decided to to attribute to the person to whom all good things in Delhi are usually attributed to :  the Chief Minister, Shelia Dikshit. As we walked on the Vinay Marg side of Neru Park, I also saw the army ground over which, as a teenager, I had seen a small red aircraft do crazily daring maneuvers, while we played cricket below. It was only when news came that Sanjay Gandhi had crash landed & died that  I realised that the little red plane had been piloted by Indira Gandhi’s younger son and heir apparent. Those innocent times having passed, I saw that the army had put up a fence around the ground and I guess kids don’t play there anymore.

And on to Khan Market. Now, Khan Market is not the most natural location to obtain enlightenment, but I came close. At the bookshop there one cold evening I stumbled upon another book that fulfilled the two criteria I always look for in a book – a bright cover and many pages (yup, I know you should never judge a book by its face or by its size, but I do – which of course Outs me on other aspects too I guess). The fat book by Wendy Doniger titled ‘The Hindus – an alternative history‘ seemed too interesting to pass up and so I ended up buying it along with Kakori Kebabs from one of the bylanes; both holding the prospect of a wonderful though solitary evening ahead.

Luxury Hotels

I first stayed in a luxury hotel at the age of 27 and a fine thing it was. The soft beds & fluffy pillows, the scraping & aahing of so many, the big cheque at the end – I knew I was somebody. But unfortunately most of that wonder has now been taken away from me. I still love 5 star hotels. But not for their ability to reinforce my self-esteem but for their capability to deliver extreme physical comfort.

In this, the unkind God we live under has been having a bit of a laugh at my expense. Comfort now is less of huge, plump, soft mattresses and more of the anemically firm; less of the fluffy pillow and more of a tiny cotton one. Of course, a bathtub with running hot & cold water and a case full of assorted unguents can never wither. Nor will a Room Service that can deliver a truly crispy masala dosa at any time of the day or night.

The luxury hotels of the Taj group deliver the most physical comfort in India and that I like. While they can scrape and bow like the best of them, they leave you alone if you are of such a mind. I am & so we get along fine.

 

 

Caricom Visa

“What is this visa – I have never seen it before” – it was this chance remark from the Visa officer at the American Embassy that made me realise that the Caricom visa that I had got for attending the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007 was pretty unique.

Wikipedia tells me that this was a special visa issued jointly by a number of Caribbean countries which was valid only for the period around the cricket world cup. So, it is a visa not likely found on many Passports. Made me feel nice – not sure why though.

The India Government Company Limited

A few months ago, the United States Supreme Court held that Corporations have the same right as human beings in America, albeit in the narrow context of the right to give political donations. Does look to me like the thin edge of the wedge.

If this trend were to catch on in other ‘liberal democracies’ (parantheses to emphasise that I am applying this idea to India, ridiculous as it might seem at times), we might soon have companies running for public office. And then soon after, Infosys running Karnataka, HDFC Maharashtra and Reliance or CII pretty much everything else. Come to think of it, Nandan Nilekani implementing a major public policy mandate in India is obviously an acceptance of the superior efficiency that can be brought to bear on Governanance by a top-notch private sector manager. From that point, jumping to total governance by a corporation by might not be as outlandish as it seems now.

Flash News, circa 2026 : The India Government Company Ltd jointly set up by India’s 50 leading businessmen has just announced its IPO in 18 stock exchanges across the world, including the one recently launched on the moon.