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February 07, 2005



Chris, sounds like there's a huge unexploited market in India for guardless parking structures.


Wonderful, wonderful post!

I have quite a few thoughts rushing in my mind about this post, but here is the single reason behind all these problems:

Lack of education. Yes, once you make people capable of reading/writing (so that they know their rights), India will be a much better place.


Rags Gupta

It's more complicated than simply providing education, which I agree is vital. The caste system and the broader themes of Hinduism, entrenched over, oh a few millennia, is something to be reckoned with, and is behind much of the cultural inertia. Hinduism and the caste system provide people with a sense of 'place' for better and for worse. On the one hand, it is much easier to come to grips with one's lot in life. OTOH, it can lead to a kind of fatalistic acceptance and resignation.


In Hinduism always the solution lies within and introspection is the key. To an outsider it may give the appearance of acceptance and resignation but it only strengthens the resolve and ensures a better solution

Ben Hyde

Great post. There is something fascinating at the intersection of the poor (who are on the long tail of the income/wealth power law curve) and the hyper-dense cities which are on in the elite of the population center power-law curves. Cities are the real hubs. It is painful to observe it when the income inequality is so severe though.

Always reminds me of Orwell. http://xrl.us/e2xy "... the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more ..."

Dilip D'Souza

Chris, actually I do think that is our key competitive advantage now (and also what makes middle- and upper-class lives in India so much more comfortable than in the West).

But I'm not sure it can remain that way for much longer. One of the big things changing in India is (or are) aspirations. It's causing its upheavals, sure. But I actually look forward to when we in Bombay won't look outside our restaurant window, as you did, and see that line of taxis waiting. That's still some time away, but I believe it is coming.

It's odd: when that time comes, I think this will be a much fairer, much more just country -- but also in many ways a far less interesting one, especially for a writer. So be it.


first, the value of individual is not diminished, its enlarged. u need to be an indian to understand dat.

true, the economic difference btw the rich and poor is huge.
democracy has established itself and india stands as an epitome for democracy with all its + and - .

To say bombay is idle is a joke. It means u didnt get to know it properly. A view from d window of a restaurant is far from what bombay actually is.What u need to know is how many aspirants find bombay der home to meet der dreams. U need to know d true spirit of Bombay, to go on ....

As for cheap labour, its bcos of d population we have. literacy rate is increasing rapidly. so i understand the hue and cry of local ppl who loose der job to outsourcing.

As for culture, its not that we dun wanna carry it with us wherver we go, its like we r proud of it to have it.

sorry for writing so long

Mahesh Shantaram

Chris, that's a beautiful analysis of labour utilization in India. I understand your point perfectly, and I know why Nandish hasn't quite got it.

Just one correction: the tide of empty cabs that you saw from your restaurant were Fiats, not Ambassadors. In any other city, such as Delhi or Chennai, they'd be Ambys, but in Bombay, 99% of them are Fiats.


Interesting observations. I don't think culture would be as limiting as you seem to think. The India today is very different from the India of the 1980's that I grew up in, and it is even more different than the India my parents grew up and made their careers in. It is far less traditional than it used to be (at least in the bigger cities). As an example, 30 years ago women were not commonly to be found working and having careers, while today this is increasingly common (at least in urban india) and, in many cases, even expected of them. This is a slow, and major break with existing tradition. India is in transition, and facing major cultural changes, which become quite clearly manifest over a period of a decade or more.


It is interesting the way that industrialization brings young women into the cash economy and makes everyone worry about sex.

Remember the Lowell factory girls with the tedious mill work and sobering sermons?

What about the high middle ages and flax culture, with women assigned the spinning and men the weaving. If a woman didn't get married, then she remained a spinster.

Sometimes the sexual anxiety ran deeper. Consider the tale of Rumpelstiltskin in which a young lady is reputed able to spin straw into gold. In other words, she gets paid in gold for spinning retted flax. In the fairy tale, her fertility is put at risk. Her first born child is claimed.

There is something about a woman getting paid that incites anxiety, and sometimes backlash.


Its like a spear,
no, its like a wall !!
absolutely not, its like a rope !!
a fan, a fan..
a pillar,
a snake !!

ur post was cause for much silent mirth.. thank u :-)


The analysis is surprisingly static for someone who is looking at evolving trends - this is a common error in any outside view of India- people seem to assume things are going to stand still there while everything else changes....if you factor in the techno-cultural evolution underway in India with a democratic context then the conclusions are completely invalid

Arun Pai

Much of what you say about Bombay would apply equally well to many parts of New York City, albeit at a higher economic level (the cabs, the inequalities, the fast food workers delivering $1 burgers with a smile...). Making conclusions about India looking out of a restaurant window is as accurate as making conclusions about the US looking out a LES restaurant window.



Chris Jon

The fact is, Americans unlike Indians do not screw their own on the path toward progress.

India would be a rich and much more progressive nation if it weren't for the exploitation of the masses by its own.

When you look out of a NYC restaurant, at least the level of hygiene is 100 times better than what you may find in Bombay.

Idle cabs! Who cares!

oyo mamo

Way to go chris jon, don't let them trample FREEDUMB.


Dear Chris
An incisive recap of India but won't agree with the analysis and analogies.

We are in fact very similar to the West as individuals - with perhaps the same aspirations and end goals. But are a stymied lot because of lack of forward planning of the very same technocrat who is a thinker but not a doer.

At heart each Indian craves for convenience and comfort for self - just as you guys do. So you carry the entire month's email in your treo and Manhatten carries its entire music library with it and we have drivers waiting on us the whole day. Because we don't want to suffer the inconvenience of driving in the heat amongst narrow, congested areas on badly maintained roads and then look for parking space in the same melee. You won't do that either. Won't you much rather have a driver do that for you. It is no wonder then that whenever we visit countries such as yours, we marvel at the discipline, road sense and thoughtful planning that has gone behind making driving a pleasure.

As for the drivers, even they are seeking comfort - they would much rather wait and not stress themselves out in a private job where there is no pressure on the employer to follow any strict labor laws because he does not fear persecution as he knows there will be none.

Because we are vast in numbers, we don't value life itself - and this shows in the exploitative employers, labor laws, deaths caused by incorrect diagnoses and medication in hospitals, biased insurance schemes, hit and run trial settlements, et al.

You may call it Waste People and give it a tag of idleness, we call it Struggling People trying to draw whatever little comfort from the struggle itself.

No wonder, you guys seek different challenges - adventure sport is something you guys invented beacuse you were bored with what your regimented, organised and predictable lives had to offer - so you go bungy jumping, you visit strange countries like ours to add to your varied experiences...we on the other hand are living a new challenge each day...

...and the long queue of taxis you found 'idle' were not really that but working and waiting to tank up with CNG as only 1% gas stations have that facility for the 65k numbers of taxis - another manifestation of that 'thinking' technocrat who made it mandatory for all taxis to run on CNG, without the forward planning of equipping all gas stations with that facility...because even he thinks like most of the West that we have an overabundance of human resources who can be taken for a ride!!

India needs to value life first ... and that which is in over abundance often gets misused, ne c'est pas?


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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

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