Tuesday, December 16th, 2008...1:08 am

Exploring India

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Next week I’m off to India for a few weeks. The primary reason for the trip is to attend the wedding of my colleague and friend Param and his soon to be wife Rohini in New Delhi. From what I have been told, and what the invitation/booklet informs me, a traditional sikh wedding is quite the lavish affair. The celebration takes place from December 28th through January 3rd with over one thousand guests attending the celebration. As Param explains, back in the day the villages of the bride and groom would come together and chill. I guess it worked out so well that nobody ever saw the need to change anything. Festivities include the Youngster’s Party, Mujra Night, a New Year’s Eve Celebration, Mehendi, Punjabi Night, Bharet and Anand Karaj. Many of these parties are at a venue called Exotica. According to the invitation food and booze will be ample and free, conversation will be funny and dirty, and Ice is available upon request!

Other than that I have no clue what will happen. I keep on trying to get details from Param but all he says is that I should email him my flight info and that it’s all set. I wonder if this is what he’s telling the other thousand guests. I bought my flight awhile ago and I’m travelling alone. I think there’s a good chance i get off the plane after 20 hours of travelling and have absolutely no clue what to do and where to go. My co-worker Matt who has attended a previous wedding in India and takes his honary Indian status quite seriously informed me that there are thousands of homeless people who live in the Delhi airport parking lot. So at least I won’t be crashing on the street (do they even have streets?) alone.

While the wedding will no doubt be an experience of a lifetime, I’m just as intrigued and interested to experience India itself. I’ve been thinking a lot about how globally connected our world has become (reading Thomas Friedman’s book helps). In my last blog post I wrote about Kiva.org, a website where you can lend money to third-world entrepreneurs. I made a loan to a women in Togo. It was exciting to connect with someone that I never thought I would be able to connect with. But I also know that I’m going to look back at that international loan and laugh about how excited I was over such a rudimentary business deal.

Thanks to improvements in technology (think wikipedia/facebook/Skype), everyone in the world will soon be connected with each other. Once that happens people from all over the world will start to do business with each other. Once that happens, and the resources of the world are within reach of everyone, the opportunities are infinite. Right now most college students that go abroad do so to enjoy a different culture. In the future, students will go abroad because it will be a necessity to be successful in business.

Let’s now think about India. It’s a democratic nation that values education and is very familiar with the English language. India has 1.2 Billion people (4x times the size of the US). As someone told me today, you can be one in a million in India and there are still more than one thousand people just like you! While many of those people are in rural areas, just as many of them are modernizing and at an incredible fast rate. My guess is that there are many Indians who grew up in huts with no plumbing or electricity but who are now on the other end of the phone when your laptop acts up! It’s taken them less than a generation to make the technological advances it took America two centuries to progress. Imagine they continue that rate of progress in the next generation. Each month 8 million new people in India acquire a cell phone. They’ve become connected. They hurdled right over the “landline” and are downloading Bollywood ringtones.

Like most third world nations, India is drastically split between a wealthy class and the poor. But the poor are becoming educated and that means they aren’t going to be poor for long. Every time I speak to a customer service technician in India we get into a conversation about American movies or sports. If I’m an enterprising business man, I’m not only interested in hiring this cheap labor but I’m also looking at this new educated class as an amazing new market to serve with my existing products.

Before I get too carried away though India has it’s issues and obstacles. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai and the escalating conflict with Pakistan reinforce the fragileness of India’s leap into a modern society. Government is weak, corruption is rampant and efficiency doesn’t seem to always be a priority. Like the rest of the world, their stock market has collapsed.

I keep on trying to get the western perspective on India from an American guy in the office who has been spending lots of time there for business in the last few years. He tries to explain the chaotic energy, the lack of common sense, the frustrating and sometimes impenetrable culture barriers and the phenomenon of taxi cab drivers use of their horn. The conversation always ends in the same way – he tells me “you just got to be there”.

I think he is right. I can blog until my fingers cramp up but until I feel it, see it and experience it I don’t think I’ll be able to understand what is happening in the world. It sure seems like the stuff that’s really worth paying attention to is happening there and not here. I want to understand this world and I think in a few weeks I’ll be able to understand much more than I can today.

So help me out. If you know anybody in India worth meeting please put us in touch. I’m interested in anything and everything and have a few free days between wedding celebrations to meet up and also a few more days after the wedding ends. I want my tourist attraction to be the people, business and society that is developing in India. I want to come back to the US a smarter, more forward thinking, more global thinking person.

  • Sushant Mishra

    Hello Mr. Latvik,
    India is more than a third world country and I believe it is one of the fastest growing, as you yourself realize. There is more to India than only outsourcing guys who talk to you and the people that live on the airport (I won’t know of them atleast)…
    Indians are among the richest in the world and run some of the most efficient and suave companies of the world. The problem with India is not planning but rather implementation as we are quite considerate and kind. You certainly take that as our government being weak but well we can’t help it as our culture has been about tolerance and forgiveness.
    India is a land of contrasts and you would certainly be pleasantly surprised when you visit the place….
    I certainly guarantee you a thrilling experience…
    All the best on your trip.