After a missed connection in Paris, being redirected to Singapore, and losing our luggage, we made it to Mumbai…woo! Although adversity came our way, I feel like the group really connected through this. Not knowing many of the people before this trip, and having minimal class time to get to know each other, the 25 hours of flight time became a bonding experience. Nevertheless, I was ready to see the city of Bombay.
First, we went to the Reserve Bank of India. Being a little underdressed (because many didn’t pack our business clothing on our carryon suitcases) we walked into to a room of eight very, high-up people. It was a little intimidating for our first meeting, but I was interested to hear what they had to say. Although some were excited to hear about the differences in monetary policy and regulations, I was excited to hear about their opinions on demonetization.
Demonetization came as a shock to many Indians last November when the India’s Prime Minister said approximately 86% of India’s currency needed to be removed from circulation. The goal of this policy was to take out black money out of the market. Although there were many short term negative effects of this policy, they chose to focus on the positive. They continually talked about the long-term effects of the policy we were unable to see yet. Additionally, they praised the increase in digitization, but they did not mention much the long lines at the banks for changing money, the need to deposit cash into their bank account which many had to create for the first time, and the businesses that were not able to resume because of lack of usable money from their customers. Overall, the meeting was fascinating, but I knew they gave us only one side of the policy. I would need to learn about the other sides of this controversial issue throughout the rest of my trip.
After the Reserve Bank of India, we went to the National Stock Exchange of India. Honestly, investments are not my cup of tea, and after the exhaustion from our 3 days of flying, I was a little uninterested. However, the people we met had some curious things to say.
At night, there was a mixer scheduled with some local university students. I was incredibly eager for this event, though unsure of how social they would be. But my worries were put to rest very quickly at the start of dinner. Beginning with a more formal conversation, we moved to talking about similar interests in TV shows, traveling, and our social lives. We found common interests of what we watched growing up (Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) to how we felt about the ending of How I Met Your Mother. After dinner, we engaged in a social activity where we were broken up into small groups of both Indian and American students. We had to create a funny skit using an object that was in the room. My group created a dance based on a popular, Bollywood song involving glasses.
The end of the event was full of pictures and exchanging What’sApp and snapchats. A large group of our American students ended up meeting up with a large group of the Indian students the next night. Overall, this event showed me how little of differences there was between me and students who studied halfway across the world. It was an encouraging (and exhausting day), but was very excited for what was ahead!
Day two in India consisted of visiting Dharavi, Prana Studios, and a dinner with creators of a local Indian Magazine, MoneyLife. Dharavi was an excellent visit as it was a complete opposite take on what most people are used to. Dharavi as one of the world’s largest slum with a very dense population of over 1 Million people still is thriving and has a unique community of its own. The residents are happy to be in their area even with limited access to necessities such as cleaner water, toilets, and more. Dharavi has their own business and methods to bring in revenue. Residents in Dharavi slums are working every day very hard within their own niche. Economically, this helps not only the residents but India as a country too. Their contribution takes places in role such as social responsibility and GDP growth. Some residents may be responsible for cleaning up much of the plastic waste onto the streets. In my time in Mumbai I was surprised to see that there was minimal plastic waste. Upon my visit, I was able to experience how the residents collect all the waste, clean it, recycle it, and then make parts such as AC units, car parts, etc.
Prana Studios was interesting in the idea that it was responsible for the movie industry within India. The multi-million-dollar movie industry in India is huge, especially Bollywood within India. This helps the country’s economy as many movie-goers spend their hard-earned money on a lavish lifestyle for some. The studio creates entertainment mediums to the communities in forms of amusement parks, movies, tv shows, advertisements, and more.
Lastly, the dinner with the creators of MoneyLife, was interesting to hear about an outsider’s perspective on the local government, its policies, and the impacts on the country. One huge topic was about the role the government plays and how it restricts the economic growth. The editors discussed how they believe India has the potential to bring in double digit growth numbers if the government was not so heavily involved or did not intervene. It was interesting to hear contradicting thoughts on how the demonetization has impacted India, and its citizens. It will be fun to look forward in five years from now and see what kind of progress India has come through.
India was an excellent experience culturally, academically, and socially. It was a opportunity to see the many different roles the government plays on the country in the ways it impacts the citizens and the economy. It was also unique to see how different areas within India are culturally diverse in food, culture, languages, and culture. Finally India is a great country that is developing which may soon be a force that can compete with the other big countries in areas it already is not leading in today.
With another early call time, our group boarded the bus and headed off with early morning chatter introducing our next adventure. Our first stop brought us to a tall, white, banal exterior building located in the western part of Mumbai. A quick elevator ride brought us to an opposing interior: red walls, pop art decor, and an open office design. This visit was the most interesting to me as we delved straight into the characteristics and attitudes of the evolving Indian market. Our speakers addressed, and dismissed, the common Indian stereotypes ("curry nation," snake charmers, etc) and highlighted the trends appearing in Indian culture. Our speaker described India's diversity as, "Many Indias within one India," and not only did I find the succinct phrase to responsibly encompass India's population of 1.3 billion, but I also felt like it captured the underlying themes of what I was learning everyday (when people ask me what India is like, I often repeat the same phrase.)
Our speakers highlighted the issues this demographic divide can bring to both advertising, and communication to India's diverse 1.3 billion. Of India's 1.3, only 10% of those individuals have spending money. To put that in perspective, roughly 130 million Indians have spending money, or equivalently, roughly 40% of the United State's population. Not only is that a huge market, but the weight of the other 90%, 1,170,000,000 people, immediately sparked my innate curiosity (Who are these people? What problems were preventing economic benefits from reaching them?) This lecture gaged my understanding on Indian culture as a rising opportunity and a simultaneous cultural quagmire. This lecture series concluded with several advertisements that had run with social messages commenting on topics from women's place in society to positively highlighting the differently-abled, and all included a melodramatic tone enforced with bombastic musical compositions and emotion-inducing camera angles. This lecture offered us a view into Indian culture that connected our personal experiences with the Indian culture we had haphazardly presupposed as different. After the presentation, we all had questions.
After our meeting, we were quickly back in the bus. Typical to Mumbai, traffic caused delays, and we were rushed into our next meeting: Bollywood actress, Konkona Sen Sharma. Most prominently known for her roles in movies such as Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Page 3, Omkara, and recently Lipstick Under my Burkha, her talents have traversed both in front of the camera and behind it. Standing a tall 5 feet, we met her in the central, northern part of Mumbai in a conference room coterminous with a very nice Marriott hotel. Although we were a little late, and partly flustered, she was gracious in answering our questions. She spoke of her time in India's movie industry and her experience working both globally and in India. She acknowledged both the hardships of being a woman in the film industry while noting her own privilege she had been granted. We were only able to meet with her for a short time as she had to leave, but I very distinctly remember how well she carried herself. The calmness of her voice in cohabitation with her careful pick of diction reinforced her collected air that left an impression.
Again, we were back on the bus. As we passed by the crowded streets and intertwined our way through traffic, I thought of the banal exterior of the advertising agency and my dual surprise with its modern interior; I thought of our composed speaker inside the grandness of that hotel; I thought of our day through the Mumbai's biggest slum, and their furtive economy. Truly, Indias within India encompasses more diversity than I had already seen, yet the juxtaposition of the city had never stopped enthralling me.
After a successful trip to Mumbai in the books, the group was headed to Bangalore. All of the people we spoke to in Mumbai claimed that there was massive contrast between different regions in India ("many India's inside one India.") The concept was difficult to understand without experiencing it first hand, yet luckily, the program offered the opportunity to visit many regions all throughout India, each with their own unique flavor.
Upon arriving in Bangalore, the contrast to Mumbai was visually evident. In Mumbai, there was nearly no grass or green space whatsoever. Bangalore had vast flower beds, gardens, and unique trees which was not seen at all in Mumbai. A cultural difference between the two cities was that Bangalore is a land of immigrants due to the IT boom in recent years. Because of this "melting pot," Bangalore had the feel of a city in America because it had a Western feel with many diverse cultures and experiences among its citizens. Mumbai is more densely populated and impoverished (with a few notable exceptions) than an American city.
After some minor hotel problems were solved (to be expected on a maiden trip to a foreign land), we took a tour of the famous landmarks throughout Bangalore. The tour included: the big bull temple and Tipu sultan's summer palace. What was evident in the tour was the religious and spiritual history of Bangalore (something I felt was void in Mumbai). Something that stuck out to me was the fact that Tipu's palace (a well-known Islamic leader) placed his residence right next to a beautiful Hindu temple. The visual coexistence of the two religions sharply contradicted the media stories that often peg Muslims and Hindus at odds with each other. This spiritual city, even though I'm not Hindu or Muslim, made an excellent first impression on me. In the religious sense, Bangalore differed from an American city, which was a difference I quickly began to appreciate.
I sent one of my high school friends, born in Bangalore, a picture of the bull temple. It turns out that not only is his grandparents’ house on Big Bull Temple road, he knew the priest in the picture that was standing next to the bull statue. The world sure is a small place after all!
Remembering the cultural and religious aspects of the city made the business side the following day even more impressive. Bangalore is a truly complete city that is full of a booming economy and a healthy emphasis on culture.
Our Friday in India was a very interesting day with many new learning experiences. In the morning, we visited Infosys, a large IT company set in what felt like the heart of Bangalore. Driving there, I saw what much of what I noticed in Mumbai, many impoverished people, unfinished buildings, and countless cats. Once the gates to Infosys were opened though, it was like we were in a whole other world. I was suddenly surrounded by a high-tech campus filled with trees and excited, young talent. I was shocked at how well they could hide the buildings and people on their campus from right outside their walls. I think what shocked me most was when we drove by on the highway as we were leaving. I could see the big, shiny buildings of Infosys as well as the other side of the wall, where people were living in small, dirty huts. This divide between higher and lower-class people seemed to be a recurring theme in this trip. As quick as we could visit a company that is shaping the future of India, we could leave and see the incredible number of Indians living in poverty. As soon as we finished our complementary buffet lunch, we saw people selling fruit in the streets for a living. Seeing these things made me very curious about what the middle class looks like in India. Are there suburbs? Does anybody have a back yard? I was intrigued by this massive population that seemed to be struggling. Learning from the people who spoke at Infosys also showed me many of the reasons that they are excelling and why India seems to be a factory of highly performing IT companies. One concept spoken about was their “zero distance” strategy, attempting to eliminate the “distance” between themselves and their customers through quality service from their locations around the world at all times. Another concept we heard about was their attempt to always be innovating their solutions. When they are working on a project for a customer, they do not just want to offer what the customer expects, they want all their employees to innovate their products to do more than what their customer could want. I believe that the combination of these forward thinking strategies and the attraction of young talent in an amazing workspace contributes greatly to their success. After Infosys, we travelled to Ideawok, where we heard many experiences and tips in entrepreneurship. This meeting interested me as I am passionate about entrepreneurship and I learned a lot. The founder also elaborated on the angel investing part of his job. This involved helping small businesses start up with capital which must be a good business to be in with so much constant innovation in India. That meeting taught me how to look at the problem I want to solve in a way that the solution I create separated myself from the competition. At the end of the day I went shopping in a commercial district near our hotel. The amount of people there was amazing; I was constantly squeezing between people, dodging motorcycles, and checking my pockets. I loved the business and beauty of this place, full of people just trying to make a living. The thing that got me was the stares; the constant presence of many people watching me with intrigue. I have never felt as much of a foreigner as I did there. This was an amazing experience though, because I got to live in the busy culture of India for a few hours. Just to add to this feeling of being a part of India, I got to try on a Kurta at the end of the night. I will always remember this day.
Today we checked out of our hotel, the Lemon Tree Premier, in Bengaluru because we flew to New Delhi after our single company visit. We visited BiOZEEN, a company that is involved in the process of engineering vaccines. I found this to be a unique visit because of the association with the pharmaceutical industry; this is an industry I do not have much experience in nor have I learned much about. The coolest aspect of this meeting is that the CEO of BiOZEEN conducted the presentation on a SATURDAY! Meting the CEO of a successful company is awesome as it is, but I especially enjoyed it because I felt it gave a holistic review of the company.
Vaccines are not created by one single company or process. BiOZEEN plays a role in creating the final product. They have customized and efficient equipment that has allowed them to create a cost-efficient product, which cannot be done in the United States. This is important to note because the goal of this program is to learn about doing business in India which is different than the U.S.
Another awesome part of the BiOZEEN visit was that we were able to view the facilities. To be candid, I did not understand most of the terminology since it was engineering and science related-- regardless, it was super neat!
Afterwards, we ate lunch and were able to finish up some final questions. We then headed to the bus to depart to the airport. The traveling logistics went as planned (yay!) and we arrived in New Delhi. As we were flying in, I could see the smog over the city. The smog had improved significantly when we arrived, but it was crazy to think the issues it was causing the city. It made me thankful for something as simple as fresh air back home.
Concluding our India program was the visit to the ancient city of Agra. Taking the 8:30 AM train to the city, the group got to see more of rural India outside of our windows, something we hadn’t seen in our urban-focused program. We arrived in Agra and headed straight to the most recognized landmark in the country, the Taj Mahal. As with big tourist attractions the US, there were masses of people trying to get in to see the monument. After waiting in line and getting through security, we meet our guide and began our tour. My first sight of the Taj completely blew me away, not only because of the building itself, but the beautiful gardens that surrounded it. We got the chance to go inside the Taj and learned more about its construction and purpose while walking around. We also got plenty of time to take pictures and discovered a curious phenomenon while doing so. Many of our group members were asked by strangers if we would be in a picture with them. This solidified the fact that Americans are a foreign curiosity in this part of the world and just how far away from home we were.
After the Taj, the group got the chance to see another aspect of the tourism industry in the local artisan shops. Here they made stone inlays and marble cravings such as those on the Taj Mahal. After these brief visits, we got lunch before preceding to our final stop of the day, the Agra Fort. The fort is home to many Mughal palaces and part of it is still used as an active Indian military fort. While the Taj Mahal was crowded, the Agra Fort was more relaxed and had less people visiting it. The fort was huge, having several large palace complexes made from Redstone, marble, and other valuable stones. Like the Taj, these palaces incorporated a variety of architecture styles, including Persian, Muslim, and Indian styles. It was a good physical representation of what we had been told throughout the program; that there are variety of cultures within the India, largely living in peace with each other. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to explore the entire fort because we had catch our train back the New Delhi. I thought the visit was a good bookend to our program. We were able to see one of the wonders of the world while also indirectly learning more about the tourism industry in India. We arrived back in New Delhi, where we picked up our luggage at the hotel and prepared ourselves for yet another long day of
flying. In closing, I believe everyone on the program learned a lot through our visits in India and that we are ready to share our insights with our family, friends, and colleagues upon returning the US.
This December, the KU Fund granted 5 students the opportunity to travel to India. Here, we'll talk about our adventures - wish us luck!