Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Entrepreneurship: Alive and Kicking in Bangalore

India may be known to the business world as the land of the Tatas, the Birlas, the Narayan Murthys and the IITs and IIMs, but the first thing that hits you when you land in India and you drive out of the airport to your hotel or home is the number of shops lining the streets - big departmental stores, tiny shops selling paan, biscuits, chocolates and juices, roadside stalls selling savories and snacks, makeshift stalls for clothes or just men and women squatting on the pavement selling anything from flowers to toys to books.

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A paan seller

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Dry fruits and fresh fruits on a slow Sunday afternoon

I wouldn't be surprised if the number of entrepreneurs per thousand in India is the largest in the world, though I sometimes wonder how any of these businesses make any money at all. Some of these are just tiny businesses with just a table and a row of huge glass jars with some chocolates in them in the front room of a house (of course, that business may not be the enterprise sustaining the families).

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A chaat stand

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A peanut seller finds some shade

Of all the different examples of small business enterprises I've seen, the one that fills me with the most satisfaction is the food stalls operated out of tempos or out of the backs of Maruti vans. Because the vehicles are mobile, they are able to operate out of a small strip of pavement. These vehicles arrive at the designated spot (usually near construction sites of which there are untold numbers in Bangalore right now) with huge vats of smabhar, rice, curries and raagi (millet) balls, throw open the doors and set out the dishes. They also bring with them plates, glasses and jugs of water. There's usually a woman behind the vats serving laborers their breakfast, lunch or dinner.

It's thrilling to see this in operation. The food stall operators make brisk business and the laborers get home cooked meals, the kind they like, probably at even lower prices than the Darshinis.

Another small business enterprise that has gained popularity in Bangalore is the mobile beautician. With every little nail clipper, eyebrow tweezer and cotton ball squared away into their one big bag, the women zip around town in their two-wheelers and snip hair, clip nails, pluck hair, scrub away dead skin, massage tired muscles, moisturize, peel, wax, thread - in short, a provide a plethora of services - all in the comfort of their patrons' homes.

And from all accounts, the mobile beauticians make a roaring business. Building her client list mostly from word of mouth, M, one such beautician I know, works from 6 am up to 9 pm, seven days a week! And on many days she still does not have time to break for luch. At one point in her business, she got so busy that she enlisted her cousin as an assistant and it is a sight to see the both of them zipping through the community on their scooter, or one or the other of them walking briskly to make her next appointment, cell phones hanging around their necks.

With a 10th grade education in which English was part of the curriculum, M does a marvellous job of communicating with her various clients (most of whom don't know Kannada). She has a business card and a rate card and no Blackberry. It is a mystery how she remembers where she has to be at the appointed hour, but she does - she's never missed an appointment and more likely than not, it'll be her calling me to remind me.

Her drive and work ethic are nothing short of amazing, and her level of service exists in a rarefied world. When it comes to deciding whether to head over to a salon or pick up the phone to call M, the choice is clear.

And the day might not be far behind when that Blackberry makes an appearance.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Falling On The Tummy Is Serious Business

Little n turned 6 months nearly two weeks ago. She's progressed phenomenally from the mostly inert infant she was when we got home from the hospital. Initially she slept for a solid 23 hours a day. Eating and sleeping were her only two activities. She would sleep through diaper changes, loud noises, dress changes, hot summer days and cool nights with nary a whimper, sometimes even while feeding!

After Big N, who used to wake up every two hours on the dot, even at night, I wasn't sure if I should be thankful for Little n's habits or, frankly, be worried.

Now, six months later, she still sleeps through the night (hallelujah!), but is awake most of the day. She's also into putting her body into various positions - on her back, on her tummy, on her side, with head wedged against the side of the crib. She also does a really funny backstroke kind of a move on any flat surface that propels her backward at a fast clip.

The process that led to her falling on her tummy is rather intriguing. She first started out lifting her right leg and throwing it over the left, the rest of her body still hanging back. It took her a couple of weeks to figure out that the top part of her body needed to move too. After days of promptly flinging her right leg over the minute she was laid on her back, she finally fell over on to her tummy, but now her left hand was stuck underneath her chest. After a further few days she figured out how to pull her hand out.

The amazing thing is that none of this is learned, obviously. Each time she tried to turn to her side it was as if something beyond her control compelled her to do it. The same is the case with flipping on to back from her tummy which she mastered a few days ago. Now it's a constant flip-flop - on to her tummy, then promptly on to her back.

There is a fair amount of frustration involved. During the time she did not know how to get off her tummy, her neck got tired from keeping her head up and she'd let her head fall forward on the mattress, rest for a few minutes and then lift her head again. Even this got tiring after a few minutes and not knowing how to move from her position, she would start whimpering and looking around for someone to help her out. But none of this prevented her from promptly getting on her tummy the minute I turned her on to her back, her demeanor approximating that of someone working seriously on an important task intent on accomplishing it.

Now that she is able to get on her back by herself the next item on her agenda is to figure out how to move forward while on her tummy. For the present she's stuck in reverse gear.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Weblog Awards 2006: Desicritics in the Top 10!

Desicritics has been nominated for the Weblog 2006 Best Asian Blog Award.

Voting is underway now and will go on until December 15th. Voting is restricted to one vote per computer in a 24-hour cycle. So if you've visted Desicritics and you like what you see, please vote. And if you haven't visited Desicritics at all, now is a good time as any to do so. Mosey on over, mate!