Sunday, January 31, 2010

Observations on Globalization in India: 2010

On a recent flight from Delhi to New York, I was reading up on the World 2010 supplement in Financial Times, highlighting some areas of focus from the Davos World Economic Forum. The article ‘Consumer Spending starts slow shift East’ caught my attention for a couple of reasons:
• It had a picture of a typical new Mall in Anytown India
• Highlighted the gradual move of consumerism to Asia, specifically highlighting China

Reading the article, I began reflecting on the few weeks I spent in Delhi and Bangalore during this trip that included a bit of travel around Tamil Nadu. My two cents on Globalization in India, from the ground up:
• Youth, especially non-tech graduates are torn between opportunities in globalization (read jobs in BPOs and Call Centers) vs. steady 9-to-5 jobs with regular paychecks. A nephew of mine, a recent graduate in mass communications was sitting on the fence when it came to tech-writing and opportunities at call centers. His reason for rejecting offers from call-centers? He would have to work irregular hours, impacting his social life and work-life-balance. Talk of assertive youth!
• Domestic IT opportunities are burgeoning. Many of the large software service players including TCS, Infosys (my employer), Wipro, IBM, Accenture and others are bidding for large computerization, digitization and automation projects in India, especially eying the large government bids that are in the pipeline. Bottomline for IT professionals: reverse-brain-drain of right talent from the west. The ‘Return to India’ move is no longer just a fad. Many friends and colleagues who have put in time in the west and have got US, British or other western Naturalization/Citizenship along with some $$ savings are moving ‘back home.’ They are doing this without much hoopla. Many are able to effortlessly blend into the local workforce and take the ‘traffic, pollution, overpopulation’ cribs with a smile.
• Globalization has not really hit the ‘Aam Admi’ (common man) in any significant way. Small towns in India still depend on the traditional brick-and-mortar economy with a sprinkling of cyber-cafes
• Retail chains are may be the ‘face’ of emerging Indian consumerism, but they haven’t pushed the small retailers out by any measure (at least not yet in 2010). The Big Bazaars, Spencer's, Reliance Fresh et al have built outlets all over metros. Some of the middle-class/tech-class folks do prefer shopping there for convenience. However, here is the reality: if Reliance Fresh sells apples at Rupees 90/kilo, right outside the retail outlet, one can probably find vendors in pushcarts selling apples at Rs 40-50/kilo. One can argue that the ‘grade’ of apple sold at Reliance or Spencer's is probably higher than that of the thelawala, but my mother and cousin care more about the 40-50 rupees saved!
• Malls and multiplexes are mushrooming in metros. Ture. A visit to any large mall in any metro in India will evoke the same experience as a mall in London, New Jersey or Ohio. And yes, the global chains - Nike, Rebok, Samsonite etc – jostle for eyeballs and foot-traffic with a few local retailers who have a presence in the malls. Now, about making money? Well, the average mall-consumer in the US or UK is probably the Gen-X or Gen-Y twenty-something who goes to the malls to spend money, if not doing so online. The average Desi consumer, on the other hand goes to malls with his girlfriend or her fiancĂ©e to window-shop, experience a ‘western’ atmosphere in the mall. S/he ends up spending a few rupees at the food-court and after a busy weekend window-shopping, watches 3 Idiots at the mall multiplex. As far as the 1-lakh-rupee Mont Blanc at the mall goes: the window-shoppers gawk and use cellphone cameras to take snaps as a keepsake.

All brings to mind a few questions:
• What does globalization mean to the Aam Admi in India? Is the digital-divide creating a wider gap between have’s and have-not’s?
• What does the media mean by Indian Consumerism coming of age?
• Are Malls, Multiplexes and Indian retail chains making big bucks, just on eyeballs, window shoppers and foot traffic . . . or is it a replay of the dot-com-burst?
• Closer to my area of expertise: is the brain-drain of tech workers going to get arrested thanks to domestic demand in India?

Links of interest:
Review of Malls in Bangalore
Dear Mumbai Malls
The Fall of the Indian Retail Mall
Powercut in Chennai Malls
Expensive malls, cheap products?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti Musings: Man is small in front of Nature

The recent calamity in Haiti and the aftermath makes one wonder about the best and worst of mankind that shows up at times of crisis. The good part is that most of the energy in emergency management, especially from western governments was galvanized to support victims in Haiti. However, the lawlessness boiling over seems to be bringing out the ugly side of some humans who look to benefit from a crisis.

The crisis also makes one wonder about other past ‘acts of god’and how societies and governments in the east and west respond to them:

* Tsunami in South Asia
* Hurricane Katrina devastating
* Cyclones in Bangladesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa
* Floods in Gangetic plains
* Famines and drought due to monsoon failures

Bottomline: Even in a flattening world, with all the technology and global communication at our disposal, man is pretty small in front of the fury of nature.

The techie in me is intrigued by the ‘Tweeting’ fad. Obama’s first ever tweet happens to be on Haiti quake. Wonder if Obama’s administration seems to be going back to a tested strategy to revive Brand Obama using the internet. They were already quite hi-tech in using technology to reach out to Grassroots of Anytown America, bringing out the best of Obama during his presidential campaign a couple of years ago too!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Savita Bhabi, Google, China and India: impact on Net Neutrality

Media and Digerati are abuzz about Google’s spat with Chinese authority over web censorship and Google’s threat to pull out of China. Reuters reports “The press is abuzz this morning over the news that Google (GOOG) could pull out of China over a hacking attempt. The Wall Street Journal explains that the large-scale cyber attack “has been under way for weeks.” The paper continues, “Google said it suffered a ‘highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China’ in mid-December, which it said resulted in ‘the theft of intellectual property.’

While this is happening, the media and bloggers in India are also abuzz on censorship in their backyard: banning online cartoon series, Savita Bhabhi, depicting a sexy sari-clad “porn star” by the Indian Government. The series is now hosted from overseas online on
Mitra Kalita’s Wall Street Journal article “Savita Bhabhi: A (Sex) Symbol of Free Speech?” illustrates the subtleties in the censorship by China and the random censorship practiced in India.

While google’s threat to withdraw from China may just be posturing, it certainly brings to mind Net Neutrality. The technologist in me has begun musing about Net Neutrality this for a while.

The principle says that that if a given user pays for a certain level of Internet access, and another user pays for a given level of access, that the two users should be able to connect to each other at the subscribed level of access.
There is no direct correlation between censorship and Net Neutrality. However, if the net is not neutral, it will preclude censorship in many forms:

* It will be easier for governments and others to target individual ISPs and Net Service providers, block content or degrade network performance
* Corporations and organizations are increasingly using open internet backbone for corporate needs including data and voice communication requirements. In a scenario of non-net-neutrality, if a company, say XYZ Corp uses a certain service provider and that ISP or service provider is targeted by censors in a country where XYC Corp operates, their communication backbone would suffer, leading to business disruption. This disruption would not have anything to do with what XYC Corp did but more because they contracted with a certain Internet Service provider!

Proponents and opponents of Net Neutrality, and corporate users should closely observe the Net censorship by governments, especially in China and India, emerging global economies.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Global travel and weather

The recent snowstorm had the anticipated fallout: disruption in travel and flights. Residents of northern hemisphere, especially northern United States and Canada take a few snowstorms during winters as a given but I guess London is not as prepared. NYT summarized it thus “London, a city known for its low tolerance for snow, was buffeted by an unusually thick snowfall on Wednesday, the heaviest in more than 20 years.

While inclement weather disrupting travel is a way of life, it can have a ripple effect on air travel, thanks in part to the practice of overbooking by airlines. What’s overbooking? Check out the interesting article (10th June 2008 - "Sorry Miss - Your Flight is Overbooked") A few months ago, I was traveling from Chicago to Houston on a Saturday and the flight had been overbooked. When the ground crew called for volunteers, I went ahead to the counter: the offer was sweet: a travel voucher for $400 and rerouting to a flight that would arrive 3 hours later and a few food-vouchers.

However, such an offer may not be ‘sweet’ for those who have a prior appointment or would be traveling with the family. For example, a friend of mine traveling from London to Bangalore three days after this week’s snowstorm was at a similar receiving end. He was traveling with his wife and one-year-old baby. The friend and his family were forcibly offloaded and rebooked on a flight three days hence. The reason given was that British Airways was recouping with the backlog due to delay and cancellation of dozens of flights a few days ago. For my friend, the compensation and offer for rebooking was a bummer since the vacation plan with his family was in disarray.

With the global economic outlook thawing, the airlines are looking for a rebound in international travel. I guess overbooking, rebooking and being bumped off flights is going to continue to be a reality.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Indian student killed in Australia: Random violence or racist?

Death is tragic in any form, more so if it is violent, and all the more tragic if lost due to senseless violence. One such case is that of the recent killing of Nitin Garg, a 21-year-old student from india who was klled in Australia, apparently becoming “the first fatality of New Year in a spate of attacks on the Indian community members continuing from the past year.” (Hindustan Times).

While there is the usual political posturing* over this death, and authorities will conduct their investigations and Nitin’s body will be flown halfway across the world for final rites, we are left with more questions than answers:

* Are young students from South Aisa who migrate west suciptable to racism and attacks?
* Are these stray incidents or forming a pattern?
* Do western universities that attract foreign students, who pay big $$$s, have a responsibity to lobby local governments and authorities to provide save environment for their foreign guests?

Nitin Garg, RIP!!

* The stabbing of the Indian student is brutal and I hope the Australian government will take necessary action and not force India to look to other ways," Krishna told reporters in Bangalore. . . The latest attack comes barely two months after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited India and assured that "full force of law" would be used to protect Indian students in that country.

Other blog reactions
on the murder of Nitin Garg overland literary journal
True Blue Aussie: Racist immigrants blamed for fatal stabbing
Indian youth Nitin garg fatally stabbed
Views on Indians in Australia