Monday, January 23, 2006

The Elephant or the Tiger

Nearly every business magazine I read these days is reporting on the world's two economic wunderkind: China and India, where growth of 10% and 7% respectively occurred last year and the growing goes on.

Public relations campaigns that are as effective and continuous as these two -- generally are achievement-based and fact-filled. But when you read this stuff once over, you wonder if it really looks as good as it sounds.

Well I just got a birdseye view of India during a three-week trip there, and my key finding is that the contrasts are overwhelming. From laneless, congested traffic to cows and an occasional elephant in the streets, Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is a third-world city where our guide admitted that many of the buildings haven't been cleaned or remodeled since they were built over a hundred years ago. But business is bustling within them, and many see Mumbai as the growth center of the country.

I visited the headquarters of a significant outsourcing company which recently retained Makovsky + Company, and saw the headquarters where over 900 people worked. While their data and phone communications no doubt traveled to the other side of the earth at lightening speed, it took our driver 2 and half hours to return us to our hotel –- a trip that in another city that had 4-lane highways rather than 2-lane highways and an underground transportation system might have taken less than half that time.

As we drove we observed miles of streets lined with the longest stretch of shanties I have ever seen, people living in "homes" of cardboard and cloth construction. 18 million people live in Mumbai. Contrast that with the total New York City population of 8 million –- which we regard as crowded.

Roads, electricity (many in the villages do not have it), education (1/3 of the population and 50% of the women are illiterate), and other infrastructure challenges plague India. As we drove through village after village, we observed men sitting in groups chatting and smoking, while women were at work in the fields as well as in construction jobs.

New Delhi, a planned city, in contrast to Mumbai, has many spectacular boulevards, a beautifully landscaped park, an inspiring memorial dedicated to Gandhi, impressive government buildings, and a growing business community. But as you drive through the heart of downtown, young girls holding babies push against your car windows begging for money.

The India we saw had among the most spectacular ancient palaces, forts and temples. The crown jewel is the Taj Mahal, in my opinion the greatest man-made sight in the world. Pictures do not do it justice. It took 23 years during the early 1600s to build this brilliant piece of art, memorializing a Maharajah's wife who died at age 39. It alone is worth the trip to India.

India's democratic process, felt by some to be a bureaucratic roadblock, does encourage economic investment and hopefully encourages collaboration between American and Indian universities, businesses and regional governments. The elephant, while you occasionally still see them plodding on some streets and roads, is India's symbol of prosperity. As other Asian nations have done, should India also tap the tiger?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's Gandhi, Mr Makovsky, and not Ghandi. 'Ghandi' in hindi, India's national language, means dirty. Hope you will change that in the blog.

Found your comments on my country interesting though they arent remarkably different from what Ive heard from other visitors from developed countries. I hope as you visit India more, you can really appreciate the potent combination of warmth and intelligence that is truly India. And that overshadows any number of cows on the streets.

- A PR professional from India.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 11:53:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Makovsky said...

Please accept my apology for the misspelling. I have corrected it on the blog.

I felt the warmth, intelligence and beauty of the Indian people, and am sorry that did not come across in my post. I am eager to return.

It is admirable that the democratic process is working effectively, albeit slowly, but that is preferred to a dictatorial government. I only wish India well.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 12:10:00 PM  

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