Stanley Pignal, the new Mumbai-based South Asia correspondent for The Economist, tweeted:
Having landed two hours ago, I’m upgrading myself from “India novice” to “India watcher”. Tomorrow “expert”, next week “veteran”
With that in mind as also applying to me, here are some initial thoughts:
People in India drive on the wrong side of the road and I’m not talking about the fact that they drive on the left.
It’s easier to find a good Indian restaurant in Fairfax than in Bandra.
The quality of the intellectual class relative to GDP per capita is the highest of any country I know.
The quality of the intellectual class at the top is as high as Singapore but in Singapore the intellectual class runs the government.
You can take a 1-hour UBER ride for a $5, A taxi is even cheaper. A 10-minute auto-rickshaw drive is 50 cents.
Google FI worked right off the airplane. If you are coming to India for a week or two it’s great. Oddly, however, all of the Indian apps for food delivery, calling the Indian equivalent of UBER or paying with digital cash only accept an Indian telephone number so I am going to have to get a SIM card. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, getting a Sim card is a bureaucratic hassle although apparently it’s scheduled to get better.
English is fine for getting around. The surprise is the number of Indians who don’t speak English and yet have to operate in a world in which advertising, signage, operating instructions, and so forth are in English.
Inequality as measured by a standard Gini index is actually lower in India than in the United States. As measured by what you can see, however, inequality is very high. It’s easy to step out of a Louis-Vuitton boutique and over a child sleeping in the street. Doesn’t appear to be causing a revolution, however.
Crime is low. Much lower than in the United States.
Pollution is high, much higher than in the United States, and at levels that do not seem optimal even give low GDP per capita.
In the developed world you go outside for fresh air. In India you go inside for fresh air. (Many homes and businesses have air purifiers with hepa air filters. I bought two.)
PM Modi wants to bring Elon Musk’s hyperloop technology to India. Delhi to Mumbai in an hour. Mumbai to downtown Mumbai in an hour and a half…on a good day. Start simple!
Retail, one of the largest sectors in many economies including India, is very inefficient. You have to go to a dozen small stores in different parts of town to get half of what you need. I was surprised to see a Walmart in Mumbai on Google maps. Great! I took an Uber. It was fake.
Parts of Mumbai are reminiscent of Havana–elegant buildings put up in earlier times including some art-deco buildings, that are now falling apart and even abandoned due to rent control and poor land use policy. At the same time, Mumbai looks like Miami with much new construction interwoven with the older decay. Capitalist shoots pushing out of socialist pavement.