| A Date With Delhi
September 15, 2005
When I received this consulting assignment one of the things
that intrigued me most was that it would return me to Delhi,
where I had been based for two and a half months in 1995/6.
Since then India has come to the forefront and is in the
center of the target when it comes to outsourcing. India is
attracting American companies who are placing call centers
there, having resourceful Indians do their software development
[somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the worlds software
engineers are of Indian origin] while other companies are
beginning to forge serious manufacturing relationships on
Ten years ago India played second fiddle to China when it
came to the worlds consciousness regarding emerging
economies. Now they are neck and neck. China excels at manufacturing;
India wins the code writing prize. Plus, India has the basics
China lacks in a judicial system, a functioning democracy
and an English tradition rooted in the Raj.
In the ten years I have been absent from Delhi, the city
has changed. The airport has been buffed up and more closely
resembles a functioning enterprise with some sense of purpose
as opposed to the almost overwhelming chaos I encountered
ten years ago. Then I encountered a city wrapped in a middle
of the night orange glow, streets inhabited by curbside tent
dwellers burning tires for warmth, in a dusky smoke that never
released its grip on the city. Like Los Angeles in the
70s, you could reach out and touch the air.
Now the air is cleaner and fewer people live curbside in
tents; the massive number of beggars is still considerable
but less omnipresent as my friend Kiran said, there are now
more options on ways to make a living. Kiran is head of NASSCOM,
the national association of software developers, which makes
him a very big deal in India -- and the world.
Indians are good at software. For some reason their minds
grok the workings of 1s and 0s, making
those two digits sing. It comes, said another acquaintance,
of having for years to create work-arounds due to a dearth
of resources. Necessity, of course, being the mother of inventiveness.
In 1995 I visited the head of Pepsi India in an office that
would have shamed a 1930s American executive and that
was about as good as it got in Delhi then. Today Pepsi is
headquartered in building that looks more Dallas than Delhi.
Not unlike Poland, India has an emerging, vibrant young [half
the country is under 25] professional group who were born
under the socialist constraints of the later Nehru/Gandhi
era and who have come into adulthood under the economic reforms
that began to rock the country in the 1990s.
They drive chic new cars [or rather are driven in chic new
cars; everyone seems to have a driver]. They live in the chic
new areas of Delhi and both husband and wife work important
jobs and are not sure about having children or how many they
will have if they do. An affluent single woman I know is thinking
of adopting a child a thought that would have been absolutely
shocking in India ten years ago but is gaining social acceptance
in middle class urban areas.
A businessman I know there is looking to a hire a V.P. for
his company; his secret hope is that he can attract an Indian
who has been living abroad but who now wants to come home.
Those are increasing in number.
The Indian Diaspora of a particular age are turning their
eyes back to the homeland and are returning for they see the
kinds of opportunities they never expected their homeland
to give them.
Ten years ago in Madras my friend William asked me my overall
reaction to my time in India . I told him I thought India
would be one of the great powers of the late 21st century,
based on its brain power.
I think my prediction was right.
Currently the U.S. is turning out about 60,000 engineers
a year. Due to immigration restrictions resulting from 9/11,
we are no longer always the country of choice for study by
the best and the brightest of the world.
Between them, China and India will shortly turn out between
500,000 and 600,000 engineers a year. America will be overwhelmed
by these numbers. For us to remain a world power, much less
a pre-eminent world power will require an enormous degree
of resourcefulness, flexibility and focused policy.