my job requires me to travel around a bit, including overseas. now before you start saying 'wow' wistfully, let me assure you that this is not exactly the kind of travel that you would be enamored about.
i travel to a lot of third-world countries (the politically correct term is 'emerging economies'). these include places like sri lanka, thailand, philippines, indonesia, etc. i don't know about you, but my image about these places was very different from reality. i assumed that these places are worse off than india in terms of infrastructure, amenities, living conditions, standard of living, etc because of the fact that they are much smaller than india. but i was quickly disabused of these notions.
one of the first things you notice in any of these countries is the airport in these countries. and i completely agree with the phrase that 'first impressions count'. the airports at singapore and hong kong are, not surprisingly, very, very impressive. but what is definitely surprising is the fact all the other countries i mentioned above, no matter how small, have far more impressive airports and facilities than the key indian airports at mumbai and delhi.
right from the moment you step out of the aircraft you become painfully aware of the differences. right from signages, to baggage handling, to help & information, to transportation services, to staff, etc.
but stepping out of an aircraft in mumbai or delhi for an indian is such a depressing experience.
let me take the example the airport in my home city, mumbai. to be fair, i must mention here that the customs and immigration facilities in the mumbai airport have improved phenomenally. its far more efficient and speedier than it was a couple of years ago.
but once you step out of customs you feel like you have landed up in some jungle. there's absolute chaos all around. and the worst of the lot are the touts who are trying to catch hold of unsuspecting people and make a quick buck by offering you taxis, hotels and whatever else they can push at you. and the police obviously are nowhere in sight. there's no clear planned demarcation and signages for visitor areas, car drop and pick-ups, public transportation, etc.
and even if you do manage to extricate yourself from the crowds milling around the exit gates and reach the taxi/auto stand you still have to deal with the unique specimen of the indian taxi/auto driver who will measure your worth based on your luggage and the distance you want to travel. and they would always assume that it is their god-given birthright to charge you a fat premium because you happened to have just returned from a trip overseas! and, of course, the assigned policeman is very considerate and is studiously involved in something far more interesting at a safe distance so that your negotiations with the driver are not disturbed!
and once you manage to arrive at some understanding with the immovable mountain and sit in whichever mode of transport you chose, you then get to see the first sights of the great city of mumbai. and that's when you realise that the depression you experienced at the airport was nowhere as bad as what you are felling now as your vehicle navigates through chaotic traffic, slums, beggars, children defecating along the roads, foul-smelling gutters, etc.
now what does all this have to do with investors i mentioned in the title, you ask? well i always wonder what my reaction would be if i were a foreign investor visiting india for the first time to evaluate the investment climate and opportunities here? i shudder to think of the first impression created in such an investor's mind based on the experience of the airport and the ride from the airport to the hotel. i am surprised that most of them do not want to turn and head back home.
it speaks volumes about the companies, the people and the markets in india that the investors continue to flock and pump money into our country inspite of all the drawbacks. but there's so much more to do. and so much of it depends on the will of the government and the attitudes of people.
some of you might say that the focus of our government should not be in improving infrastructure in metros and cities to make india an attractive destination for foreign investments but in removing poverty in the villages. the money that flows in as investments into the country could also flow into the villages, but for that we need a government which works honestly to make this happen!
but all said and done, i still feel restless when i am away from india for some time and its a strange mix of gladness and pride and comfort i feel when i finally land in india. and i realise that i would rather be here than any other place in the world! i look around and i see the energy, the enthusiasm, the confidence, the buzz, and most importantly i see the hope of a new and better tomorrow in the eyes of people!
do you also see what i see?