I am back from Mumbai, where I spent an interesting few days over last couple of weeks. My work happened to be in the same neighbourhood where my brother lived, in Powai, and which I visited several times since April 2008. This time, visiting after a gap of a few months, I noticed several new restaurants, including one by Sanjeev Kapoor, the celebrity chef, which has come up near Mainland China in Powai, a chain restaurant which has already made its name for great quality food. On the other side of the road, there were another very expensive Kebab outlet. I stopped by at the Crossword outlet which I used to frequent, but noticed that they have also opened another extension outlet only a few yards away, near the Rohtas Hotel, where we enjoyed an expensive, yet delicious and enjoyable, buffet lunch. However, all the while we were driving in and around this locality, the talk centered around Recession. It was a touch ironic that we talked about job losses and the slowdown in recruitment business in a setting which showed little signs of distress or slowdown.
However, there is no denying that the slow down is for real. Back in Croydon, I know a number of shops on our High Street are closing down. In fact, the Christmas shopping this year has become very much deal-centric: There are many deep discount deals and attractive prices than the last year. This is a touch worrying, because last year, this time, we were officially in recession. This year, with France, Germany and European economies starting to post GDP growth, we are hoping to be out of recession soon, if not already. It just seems that the message itself is no comfort to the High Street shop-owners. They are facing a make-or-break Christmas and there is an openly acknowledged nervousness about it. For many, if this Christmas fails, there will be no waiting for the end of recession.
When speaking to Indian Executives, I did bring this up as an example of the shift in the global economy. It is still growth and confidence in India, while one experiences the slow death of degeneration in Europe. The business confidence is high in India and what I was mentioning is part of conventional wisdom: So, I was well received. The vibrancy of Mumbai was all but apparent. The infectious optimism caught up with my Irish colleagues too and soon, we were talking about various new opportunities that we should be pursuing. After a long time, we were talking about three to five year plans, not just day-to-day survival. For once, the talk about India becoming a superpower by saving money did not dominate discussions. It actually had a subtle, different, tone: The markets are shifting and suddenly, buying in England and selling in India is becoming good business.
Indeed, this was not just India. I went on to Manila to meet a group of investors based in Malaysia, who are now expanding their business. The optimism about the future was plain to see. There are new projects, large projects, on the table for discussion. Excited investment bankers, a rare thing nowadays in Europe, are on the table. So are businessmen wanting to do the deal and move forward. Koreans are back, I was told, and all the various outlets in Manila which solely serviced Korean clientele are cleaning up their shop-windows again. 2009 seems like a bad dream, and people are waiting to bury this with Christmas soon. They can't wait to get to 2010.
Then, there was this odd call from South Asia as I returned home. A very respectable education brand is up for sale, as the investors in the business lost money in other related ventures and are wanting to make up through selling equity in the core business. Despite the distress call, the asking price is still huge - a clear statement of confidence in the attractiveness of the ongoing business, buoyed by the demographic dividend most of the South Asian nations now enjoy. The sale offer is quite unthinkable in its content - this is one of the best known and most successful brands in the country - but, yes, economic cycles have made this possible. But, the person on the other end of the line as confident as ever, he does not mind putting up his own money if a suitable overseas partner can be found, because he thinks it is a huge opportunity. I was less than optimistic - I was thinking about the quantum of money that will be required to buy into the business - but only till this morning, when I spoke to one of my Investment Banker friends who knew the country. His Middle Eastern clients may indeed like it, he said: They are looking for such assets to invest in as they diversify their portfolios post-recession.
But, for all the optimism in the air, I had a few sobering experiences too. There are many faces, too many faces. The Spanish shopkeeper in London who is thinking of taking up a job; the Irish newsagent who went bankrupt one evening and took his life the next; Cheryl in Baguio who is waiting for an opportunity for, what seems to be, a real long time; the Indian middle managers who are struggling to come in terms with salary freezes and disappearance of good times; My friend in Kolkata who sees no future in the city and waiting to liquidate his business. It is not an unmitigated disaster: there are people who were nudged out of their cushy jobs by this recession, and suddenly, they found what they always wanted to do in life, and thriving now. But, they are lucky and rare: more people seems to be giving up, sinking deep in despair, in alcohol and in wayward life, or in meaningless anger about all things present.
However, inside all of it, all the good things and the bad things, people who are happy and who are despondent, I saw one thing which is not going to happen: A return to business as usual. The people who failed believe that it would soon be over; the people who are failing are trying to hang on by the skin of their teeth. People who are doing well or expect to do well expect the slowness of the economy to be over soon and a return to normalcy. This is what we are trained to expect: Just that it does not seem to be possible any more.
The life after recession, it seems to me, will be a different beast, from whatever we have known before. For all the confidence in South Asia, it will not be an easy straight line return to prosperity. The recovery will be nuanced, painful and long drawn. But, if we get the wrong message, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Our history shows that these are periods where creative minds reign supreme and new possibilities are created. All the great, innovative companies today came out of difficult times. So, I am full of optimism and full of foreboding at the same time. I know the path ahead of us is getting clearer, but just that it will still need us to be brave, patient and creative.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.