Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The truth about earning in dollars!

A very interesting read - though this article is about four years old, Rashmi captures life in US vis-a-vis life in India to the best extent. I can associate with the thoughts even though I havent been to the US - simply because I have seen people around me who have done so - either gone there and settled, or gone there and come back post some time, or have preferred to be in India. The article touches upon the mind-frames of all three categories.

Enjoy, if you have a few minutes to spare...

There are two ways to look at a foreign salary -- the Catholic and the Protestant.

The first is characterised by a missionary zeal to convert using the rupees-multiplied-by-43.8-times formula ingrained in every self-respecting Indian head.

Which is how $110,000 achieves the headline-grabbing status of 'Rs 50 lakh!'

But, protests the economist, how far does that Rs 50 lakh go in a foreign land?

What you have to look at, then, is Purchasing Power Parity. The theory of purchasing power parity says that, in the long run, exchange rates should move towards rates that would equalise the prices of an identical basket of goods and services in any two countries.

Duh. Despite having acquired, at some point in life, a BA in Economics, I have no idea what that means.

Purely in layman's terms, how much bang for the buck? Well, says the World Bank, $150,000 fetches you a Rs 50-lakh lifestyle if you reside in India.

In the US, the same $150,000 is actually equivalent to earning Rs 18.7 lakh.

The Economist's famous 'Big Mac index' makes it easy to understand. A hamburger costs $2.90 in the US, but $1.10 in India. Take that, you dollar-earning desi!

Beyond economics

Of course, the real picture is far more complex. Despite what the Big Mac index might indicate, an 'upwardly mobile' lifestyle in India is more expensive.

If your family decides to have Kellogg's cornflakes for breakfast everyday in India, it will work out to about 4 boxes or Rs 500 a month.

An American family, on the other hand, would spend about $20 a month for the same breakfast.

Given that a reasonably well-to-do Indian family earns Rs 50,000 a month, it spends 1% on its cornflakes! Whereas the reasonably well-to-do American family earning $5,000 a month spends only 0.4% from the mahine ka budget. That's way, way cheaper.

So despite being a supposedly 'poor' economy, we have higher relative prices -- dollar prices -- for many commonly consumed goods. Food and petrol, in particular.

Although, conversely, we can afford bais and drivers, dry cleaning and nice haircuts. There is always a trade-off!

Living like a desi

How much dosh you have stashed away in the bank depends on how you choose to live.

If you are earning a dollar/ pound salary and your objective is to 'save', you live an Indian lifestyle in a foreign land.

This means eating mostly at home/ shopping at Kmart/ Wal-mart; thinking 10 times before making an impulse buy (out pops the conversion calculator: 'I can get this cheaper in India. Forget it!')

This is an attitude typical of the just-set-foot-on-foreign-shore worker, especially on an H1-B visa. And there's nothing wrong with it. Four-five dudes share a cramped apartment, live frugally and save a pretty packet by the time they head back home.

And even though they may have lived in what the Chicago or London native might consider as Mira Road and eaten at the US equivalent of Udipi joints, the experience of living in the First World is reward enough the first-timer. Clean air, wide roads, 'systems' that seem to work.

But, should s/he decide to stay on longer, the immigrant will be tempted to buy in to the host country's way of life. You shop to 'feel good' about yourself and, eventually, being the thriftiest shopper in town loses its charm.

So one fine day you decide to buy the Polo shirt costing $100, even if your mom thinks you are crazy because you could buy five shirts for the same money back home. Earlier, you moved, geographically. Now, you have arrived, mentally.

That dollar salary will never feel quite as weighty again.

Resident Non-Indians

On the other hand, living in India -- even for the guy with the Rs 18 lakh salary -- has its own hidden cost.

Money provides some insulation -- but the stress of working in First World conditions but living in Third World ones is inevitable. You can fiddle with a Blackberry [suit] in the backseat of an A/C chauffeur driven car.

But you are in Saki Naka, stuck in a trademark traffic jam, with a beggar tap-tapping furiously at your window.

The airport -- which sees more of you early in the morning than your spouse does -- seriously sucks. As does the fact that a substantial portion of the taxes the government earns from you end up as employment guarantee scheme for politicians.

Par kya karen, yeh hai India. So we 'adjust', grin and bear it.

At least we now have multiplexes and megamalls to hang out at, no?

The hidden price

Of course, living abroad may result in a postcard perfect 'Big Picture'. But life is made up of a million little things. And, at that level, regrets remain.

A friend who has spent most of his post-IIT life in the US -- a good 12 to 15 years -- noted on a recent visit that he really enjoyed visiting Chinese restaurants in India. "Because you can taste the food," he said wryly. "Everything there is so bland... so American."

Another friend says she misses the sights and smells of the sabzi markets in India. "The veggies there are so fresh, it feels like abhi zameen se nikle hain." American tomatoes, she insists, are huge and red, but absolutely insipid.

On a more serious note, there's the issue of parents. Growing old and lonely, often not in the best of health. Move here, you insist. But they resist.

The world is a 'global village' where India is just a mouse click away.

You buy the folks a computer with a broadband connection.

And life goes on.

The economics of emigration

Is where you live about geography, or a state of mind?

Well-known journalist Thomas Friedman has just authored a new book on globalisation titled, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.

In an article in the The New York Times Sunday Magazine, he writes, 'Only 30 years ago, if you had a choice of being born a B student in Boston or a genius in Bangalore or Beijing, you probably would have chosen Boston, because a genius in Beijing or Bangalore could not really take advantage of his or her talent.'

Now, he argues, anyone with smarts, access to Google and a cheap wireless laptop can join the innovation fray. 'When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate.'

With all due respect to Friedman -- a brilliant writer with a mostly credible theory -- emigration will continue.

Despite anecdotal evidence exchanged at cocktail parties about young people who would rather stay back in India than go abroad, the fact remains that every Indian who enrols at Penn State or Sheffield University is a potential immigrant.

The Japanese or Koreans are not.

The odd Westerner will make India his/ her home, often citing the warmth received from the Indian people.

The majority of middle class Indians, given a chance, will make the West their home, despite the cold reception.

Suketu Mehta, in his scintillating book, Maximum City, analyses the situation as only an Indian can.

'Every summer, waves of Indians living overseas come back or send back little pictures: of their son in front of the new 52-inch TV; their daughter sitting on the hood of the new mini van; the wife in the open-plan kitchen... the whole family laughing together in the small backyard pool, their 'bungalow' in the background.'

These pictures plant little time bombs in the minds of siblings left behind, he writes. 'They hold the pictures and look around their two-room flat in Mahim and, suddenly, the new sofa and 2-in-1 Akai stereo look cheap and shabby in comparison.'

Hope floats

In the 1980s and 1990s, the IITs were associated with 'brain drain'.

Now, reports of dollar salaries of IIM graduates hit the headlines. But the real story lies elsewhere.

These handful of graduates studying in near world class institutions will be in demand whether in India or abroad. There will be some initial heartburn -- bhala usko mujhse better paying job kaise mila -- but in the medium to long term, things usually even out.

And staying on in India -- where your company values you enough to put down a Rs 50-lakh deposit for a house in Napean Sea Road -- is a very smart option.

The real appeal of 'foreign' lies for those who graduate from the second and third rung institutes. Job mil jayega but not one with fast enough growth or large enough goodies.

Going abroad, for them, is the only means of achieving quick and easy economic salvation.

So, at great personal risk, they beg, borrow and pay their way into not-so-well known universities. And then fight for a job to recover the several lakhs 'invested'.

By and large, the strategy seems to work.

And dollar dreams will continue to pound in India's head.

(authored by Rashmi Bansal)
Source: http://in.rediff.com/getahead/2005/apr/11rashmi.htm

Monday, June 08, 2009

Mind your punchline!

Sometimes I just dont get company punchlines. They never seem to be aligned with their principles, and the value they provide to the customers.

Here are two examples from companies I have interacted with, and experienced:

Vodafone - 'Happy to help you'

WTF? None of my friends have ever agreed to that line. I mean - its not just a line right, there has to be more meaning to it. Dozens of times when I have called up Vodafone Customer Care, and have had long wait periods, calls being connected from one department to another etc etc. The last time I did it was last week - I had to cancel my Gurgaon connection (I am in Bangalore presently) - so I call up Vodafone (toll free 111). So they first tell me that this isnt the Postpaid Department, so they will connect me to the required one. I wait online for the same - then I get onto another agent. However he tells me that this is a Karnataka connection, and advises me to call an NCR Customer Care number.

I then call the new number, and await for the umpteenth time while the IVR finishes, then I explain to the new Service agent I find about the cancellation and whaddaya know - he again says this is not the Postpaid Department, so I will connect you across. I wait, wait and wait - no sign of the phone being picked up. Tired - I hang up. (Remember that the NCR number now isnt toll free for me). I call back after an hour or so - finally get an agent, convince him to do the job fast - but the problem aint done with rite - he tells me no one is available in the Postpaid Department - hence he will forward my request and I will get a call within 24 hours. A week passed by - there was no call from them. I gave them a call yesterday - went through more shit - finally he assured me that the connection would be terminated in two hours.

Wait - there is more - he also told me that in order to recover the security deposit of Rs 250 (which I paid 2 years back) - I will have to submit a written application to a Vodafone store, and go along with an address proof, ID proof blah blah. Oh hang on - not to a Karnatake store, but one in NCR. Hello - whatever happened to globalization!

HDFC Bank - 'We understand your world'

When you choose such a punchline - you have to see to it that you completely cater to the customer demands. Now I dont have any other problem with HDFC service - just that there is always one fear when you visit an HDFC ATM - that the card may remain stuck in the machine. Now if you did understand our world, you would have imbibed an ICICI or any other model - where you just have swipe the card, and not insert it in the machine. Thats definitely more easing for the customer. At times I have seen many customers complaining of cards getting stuck in the machine - especially when it happens to the neighbourhood old uncle - he does get worried! What about their world - you gotto understand that too - rite?

Well - the world would just be a better place if you companies either completely get onto what the customer wants - that aint easy for sure - so well just improve on your punchlines! :)

Watz wid the Academy Awards?

I happened to see the movie - 'The Reader' yesterday. The only thing which possibly impressed me in the movie was the silence and slow but emphasizing pace of the movie. On the whole, I thought that the Academy has gone for a toss by having presented an Oscar to Winslet.

To those who haven't seen the movie - make sure you dont watch it along wid children or even female colleagues. The movie contains brash, bold shots of full frontal nudity - both male and female. In fact the first 40 minutes of the movie was more of an erotic drama than dat part which would yield the momentum to cinema. Winslet doesnt leave any respite in exposing every inch of her body - nothing new for her as she has done it in the past in Jude, Heavenly Creatures and the unforgettable Titanic. I must say she looks very beautiful, but then it seems that she took the Oscar for the erotic scenes and nudity rather than acting - I could hardly see any of that there. I have seen better performances from her in the past. Probably I agree with what one of my friends had to say - 'soft port show - maybe Winslet was just due for the Oscar'.

Amidst such movies, performances and skin show on the screen - where does august cinema like Taare Zameen Par & Lagaan get lost ? So many good Bollywood directors aspire to reach the elusive 'Academy Awards' - however dont such things reduce the credibility in the awards, and bring out feelings of nepotism, injustice and even at times disgust. Besides all other thoughts, I did like Slumdog Millionnaire, and found it to be wholesome entertainment for the viewer. But Oscars - naah... am just happy that Rehman got the long deserved one for the background score. For the rest, the Awards Committee will just have to learn to open their eyes, look around, take better decisions, make better judgements.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Things at MDI I would neva fget...

Wow - here I am back penning down my thoughts before I leave my alma meter - neva did this despite having so many chances in the last so many months...
Here goes da list - in no particular order:

- Room No 223, First Floor Boys Hostel, Change Masters
- Team Ulrichians
- Students Council, MDI
- Being the PGHR Representative - PGHR07
- Induction days, when I learnt to live without a cellphone :)
- Vaibhav Chaturvedi, the best roommate one can ever have
- Chhakka Wing Terrace
- The only cricket match HR07 won & the victory night
- One sleepless night for a project submission in Term 1; sleeping nearly at 6 AM
- Reaching late for the same submission and scrambling a good presentation :)
- Rahul Jain, my best pal at MDI
- Rahul's impromptu presentation in Term 4 - STCM class (he didnt know ANYTHING about the case/topic/slides etc)
- Term 3 - HRIS class Role Plays; the great DILBERT experience
- Late night countdown meets within Team Imperium 07
- Summer Placements Oscars night - three awesome converts :) - a sleep of 1.5 hours and a lecture at 8:30 AM
- Sankar Prasad Datta - one of the best people I have known in my life
- March 31 2007 - packing stuff all nite post Term 3 exams to vacate room for Summers; nearly NO sleep
- Term 1: Group 3
- Unlimited pangey wid Profs at MDI
- Term 2: Cost Accounting Exam days: absolutely no idea how to answer the paper - everything upto the Almighty :)
- Badminton post 11 pm at night - especially in winters
- The innumerous dinners at Metro Mall Food Court
- Roaming the campus at night - and then adding to the number of rounds, doing bakar :)
- Competing on Pacman with my roomie :)

Da process of becomin a Mandevian began from Day 1 - and is still underway - prolly 18th March 09 will brand us forever - look forward to it now...