As I’ve previously written, a large factor in my decision to come to India was the hope for valuable “growth market” experience. In essence, I was banking on India’s sustained status as a fast-moving and fast-developing global economic superpower. So, I was blindsided when – mere weeks into my Indian experience – economists and policy analysts around the world began to castigate the country as the “fallen angel” of the BRICS markets – and a dubious locale to conduct business.
Goldman Sachs economist and “father of the BRICS” Jim O’Neill noted in early August, as the rest of the world was focusing on the London Olympic Games -- “The country’s huge power blackouts highlight once more the scale of their challenges, and at the same time, ongoing economic indicators lead more to scale back cyclical GDP forecasts. In addition, they are the one BRIC nation that doesn’t appear to be here on mass in London. What is the matter with you guys?”
Reading O’Neill’s words, I had to question myself: Had I made the right decision to leave the relatively stable U.S. markets for the Indian economic firecracker?
I thought about my own acclimation to Indian infrastructure – both physical and bureaucratic. The most painful day of my four-months here so far was in my second week, when a colleague and I waited five hours in the Foreigner Regional Registration Office to obtain temporary residency status. The wait was exacerbated by the fact that a surprising amount of the bureaucratic work was done manually – with actual paper. I had to place my signature on numerous arbitrary forms during the waiting period, and watched office workers thumb through reams upon reams of documents and manuals looking for form numbers or protocol guidelines. I was reminded slightly of the United States Department of Motor Vehicles – a government office also famous for interminably long waits and endless paperwork.
That day happened to coincide with my first – and most severe – bout of food poisoning. Word to the wise, a poorly air-conditioned government office in the middle of Mumbai monsoon season is literally the worst place to get nauseous.
I did not experience the infamous July power blackout – which mainly affected Northern India and was the largest in history – but I and my roommates have had challenges with other public services. Trains here are famously over-crowded – at rush hour, full-on shoving matches are common to garner a spot in a rusty rail-car packed to the brim. Most native Mumbaikers I have befriended choose not to ride the trains, opting instead for their own auto-rickshaw, taxi or personal car. But for those on a tight budget, trains are the quickest, most economical choice – even if they are not the most comfortable. I have ridden on trains numerous times, and frankly have gotten accustomed to the jostling nature of a train ride. However, many of my roommates who have been here longer collect horror stories of trains breaking down, people riding on top of the cars, or scheduled trains not showing up at all.
Regardless of the accusations of overwrought bureaucratic processes or uncomfortable public transportation, I was still surprised – and saddened – to witness this perception of India as a “difficult” place to grow and start careers/businesses. I have thoroughly enjoyed my work here, and have met many other expatriates who are thriving amidst the challenges. One of my roommate’s frequent dinner companions is a former American military-man in his early 30’s who moved here to start his own cyber-security company – and business is booming. I have also become acquainted with numerous Europeans who work for well-respected corporate brands, like Amazon and Coca-Cola, and have been stationed in Mumbai to help lead their company’s expansion into the exciting Asian marketplace.
Essentially, India may hold unique challenges, but I disagree with its characterization as a “fallen angel.” As I have stated before, so many Indian citizens I have met are acutely aware of their country’s growing pains, and the prevailing attitude seems to be always ‘upwards and onwards.’ O’Neill’s comments may not paint the country in the best light, but I think the point may still be one of optimism: India is the world’s largest democracy, and if it can fill the shoes of an economic super-power, the world as a whole will benefit.