Category Archives: India

A Secularist New Year Resolution

secular-india

Ever since the BJP came to power, they’ve been crawling out of the woodwork – RSS ideologues, Hindutva radicals, and random school teachers. They want to remind you in speeches that India is Hindu; that Hinduism is great and any book or movie that says otherwise should be banned; and that their version of Hinduism (no short skirts! no public kissing!!) is the one that everyone must follow. It’s pervasive, relentless and, to the dismay of those of us who disagree, it is slowly moving from being intolerable to being irritating, but “chalta hai.”

There seem to be two aspects of what is happening. Let’s call one – What is Being Said. The other – Real Changes.

What is Being Said is getting crazier and crazier. Should we clamp down on inflammatory speech? Nitin Pai, a public policy commentator with Acorn, makes a good case that protecting freedom of expression is better and easier than restricting inflammatory speech. Why? Because you can’t ensure that nobody is ever offended.

It might be better, but I’m not sure it’s easier. Rioting in India is difficult to control because of the 24 X 7 news cameras and because the rioters tend to be unemployed youth for whom rioting is a source of income. The odds are stacked against the police.

In any case, there are laws on the books that supposedly curb hate speech. So perhaps there’s not much to be done here except murmur to yourself “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me.”

The problem is that things don’t end with What is Being Said. It drives Real Changes. Books are being pulped (Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus, Sekhar Bandopadhyay’s Plassey to Partition). Textbooks are being changed (Dinanath Batra has rewritten the Gujarat state school textbooks  where science and history are liberally mixed with mythology). And there are serious extra-judicial bans being placed on all kinds of ‘unacceptable’ behavior. Small, but Real Changes.

What is Being Said is not independent from Real Changes. When What is Being Said goes unchecked it supplies oxygen to Real Changes. It emboldens all the closet Hindutva sympathisers to come out in support of What is Being Said. Which gives the mistaken impression that there is broad-based public support for What is Being Said. And the next thing you know, a book or a movie is banned. Or it becomes OK to harass anybody who kisses in public. Suddenly, Real Change has happened.

Bit by bit, these ideologues and goons are chipping away at the edifice of our beautifully diverse, secular India. And it all begins with letting What is Being Said go unchallenged. While politicians and pundits rant about What is Being Said on TV (and that is important) the secularists among us are not doing our bit in the forums where opinion is formed – among friends and family.

We secularists tend to not engage with the Hindutva-flavored friends of ours on social media. It’s OK, we say. I can’t change the way they think so why engage in a meaningless debate. But that’s misguided. You can change the way people think. Most people don’t put too much thought into these issues. They tend to go with the flow – wherever they think the majority of their family, friends and people who they respect are going. We need to let them hear what we think about What is Being Said.

If the discourse on Hindutva in your homes and chai shops, on Facebook and Twitter, remains one-sided, then be prepared to lose what you love. Years from now you’ll look back and regret that when Real Changes were turning the clock back on secular India, you could have been more engaged and made a difference, but you didn’t.

Are you OK with that? I’m not. Ain’t gonna happen. No sir, not on my Newsfeed. I will engage. And that is my new year’s resolution.

Aadhaar Under Attack for Specious Reasons

A parliamentary committee is about to reject the National Identification Authority of India Bill of 2010. Here is an article from The Hindu about it. Here is my post from a few months ago on the UID project.

The success of Aadhaar is important for India. Very important. It is a foundational pillar for nation-building (as in Aadhaar) . And it is really, really disheartening to see it being attacked and brought down.

The reasons for the opposition to the bill in the Parliamentary Committee per The Hindu article are,

Sources in the Committee say the Bill has been rejected in its current form on the grounds of the project’s high cost, as well as concerns regarding national security, privacy and duplication of the National Population Register’s (NPR) activities. One major sticking point was reportedly the Aadhaar project’s ambition to enrol every “resident” of the country, rather than every “citizen.”

A common misperception is that Aadhaar is linked to an entitlement program. It is easy to understand why there is this misperception. Today any entitlement program – PDS (ration card) or a passport – has the identification and entitlement program tied together. Sometimes, one entitlement program might use the identification from another entitlement program (a ration card can be used for many purposes other than getting rations at a Fair Price Shop), but there is no stand-alone identification program.

Aadhaar is a stand-alone identification program. It does not come with an entitlement program. It simply links a number/name/father’s name/address with biometric identifiers [Update: It is actually number/name/date of birth/address]. Every entitlement program comes with a set of qualifiers (PDS for BPL, passport for citizens…).

What qualifies someone for a government entitlement program can vary quite a bit. Aadhar cannot and should not duplicate a verification system for all these qualifiers. But once someone is qualified say by the PDS to receive a ration card, if the UID number is linked to the ration card, every time the beneficiary wants to get subsidized rice from a PDS shop, biometric identification is fast and infallible.

With that background let’s examine each of the reasons for opposing the bill.

Inclusion of “residents” as opposed to “citizens”

The people who raise this as a problem must be under the impression that the UID number by itself confers some benefit. But it doesn’t. Let’s say the Secretary in charge of PDS thinks that only citizens should get the benefit of subsidized rice and an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh should not. Perhaps he thinks that by giving a UID number to the Bangladeshi immigrant we are enabling him to “take advantage” of the PDS.

We are not. Whatever verification procedures are used by the PDS today to distinguish between an illegal immigrant and a real citizen should stay in place. The UID could be an additional layer of verification (you do have to show some government ID to get the UID) but it cannot and should not replace what PDS has in place. However, once the beneficiary’s qualifications have been verified by PDS, his UID is linked to his eligibility for subsidized rice. He uses biometric identification to get his rice.

The same logic applies to getting a passport or anything that is a benefit for citizens but not for residents.

But then you might ask, why not just have Aadhaar cover citizens and not residents. Here are two good reasons why:

- Residents may not have entitlements. But remember this is not just about entitlements from the government. There are KYC requirements for opening a bank account where UID can help. And non-citizen residents can also open accounts.
– To distinguish between a citizen and a resident is not an easy process. It is best done by other departments, like the Home Ministry. It would greatly slow down Aadhaar if they had to do it.

Issues related to privacy of those who have been assigned a UID number

Aadhaar has been designed to give answer’s to questions like “Is this man whose thumb is on the scanner, Ram Mohan?” It replies in yes or no. It does not answer questions like what is the name and address of a man whose UID number is 12345…

This is as good as it gets from a privacy standpoint. Now that doesn’t mean that it will be foolproof. Nothing is. After all there is a database somewhere where names and addresses and UID numbers are stored. But isn’t that true about any database anywhere in the world? If you want to live in the modern world and one day become a first world country you are going to have your biometric identification somewhere.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram has also raised issues about security weaknesses in Aadhaar. “The possibility of creating fake identity profiles is real” he writes. I can’t see how that would happen given that the biometric data has to belong to a real person and it can’t be someone who is already in the database.

Perhaps he means that non-citizens can get a UID number and that shouldn’t be allowed. As I have argued above, it is not UIDAI’s responsibility to qualify people for citizenship. The Home Ministry should continue using the methods they use today like police verification for passports.

The problem in tackling objections related to privacy or security is that the person who is in charge of security or privacy has to just think of scenarios where your system will break. An honest discussion about the probability of the event and it’s downside risk is never really possible if the people objecting have an agenda. And you can be sure that most people who are opposing Aadhaar have an agenda.

Duplication of work being done for National Population Register

I haven’t paid it much attention, but my guess is that the National Population Register is a program for identification plus it also classifies people into citizens and non-citizens. Why can’t the National Population Register use Aadhaar as its ID infrastructure? Or if it provides better ID infrastructure let’s do a “dare to compare” and pick the better one.

Aadhaar is not just a superior technical solution. It’s implementation is designed to be scalable at low cost. Which is why they have been making such rapid progress. It helps that Nandan Nilekani ran a multi billion dollar company tech company before he volunteered to do this. He knows how to do this. And he has just a single point agenda – he is in a position to do some good for the country and he is taking that chance. Try doing something like this with a politician at the helm.

The massive expenditure that the project entails

If you have a big country, it takes a lot of money. I have seen some estimates that the cost of enrolling the whole country the investment is just over $3B. Compare that with the cost of subsidies on food, fertilizer and petroleum at over $29B per annum. Some say that the leakages in just the PDS system are 85% out of a total budget of $12B. You do the math. And that is just the savings in one entitlement program.

The truth is that these questions about Aadhaar are not being posed by people who want India to have an identification system that brings us into the 21st century. I don’t know what their agendas are. But I do know that if 85% of PDS subsidies are leaked through corruption, the numbers are large enough that there will be powerful forces ranged against anything like Aadhaar that threatens the destroy the gravy train. I also know that a program with a $7B budget is big enough that people will want a piece of the action. And if they can’t get it, the next best thing is to bring the whole thing down.

If I can’t get mine, nobody can. India be damned.

End of an Era at Infosys

Yesterday, N R Narayana Murthy retired from Infosys. In a touching farewell in Bangalore, friends and colleagues, present and past, bade him goodbye. There were breaking voices amongst the speakers and moist eyes in the audience. It was a great send-off for a great leader.

To Indians, everywhere, Narayana Murthy, means something special. For those of us in business, he didn’t just build Infosys into the global powerhouse that it is today. On the way, he set the standards in so many ways for the rest of corporate India – corporate governance, ethics and values, quality – he showed Indian industry what it meant to be world-class.

To ordinary Indians he is their inspiration. He makes them believe in themselves. That ordinary people with nothing except talent and ambition can make it big in modern India. And on the way, they don’t have to compromise on their values.

To me Mr. Murthy epitomizes what being a leader is about. I won’t even attempt to capture that in a few sentences because I can’t do it justice. But here’s a personal story that is pure Mr. Murthy.

One day in midtown Manhattan, I was walking with Mr. Murthy to a meeting. It was probably 1997 or thereabouts. Infosys was under $50 million in revenues and we were an inconsequential speck in the IT industry.

In midtown, we were surrounded by these skyscrapers adorned with the names of Fortune 500 companies. Suddenly, he stops, looks up at one such skyscraper and says “Basab, one day we’ll have our name on one of these buildings”.

That’s the way he is. Somewhere between ambitious and wild dreamer. The first step to being a great company is to aspire to be a great company. He knew that then. We know that today.

We will miss him being at the helm. Au revoir, Mr. Murthy!

Can You Write a Full Sentence of More Than 140 Characters Anymore?

In the IT Services industry you have to be able to write code. And English. In fact, not being able to write code may be alright. But without English you just can’t function.

And yet, it is surprising how little attention is paid to written communication skills. The BPO industry trained thousands of people in spoken English, often accompanied with accent training. But English writing skills get little attention.

Why are English writing skills so important?

Internal business communication in an IT Services company is entirely in English. The offshore model means that business matters that could have been transacted in a meeting or over the phone, necessarily end up on email. If an email, or design document is not well written, a whole day might go by before a clarification or correction can be made. Big waste of productivity!

Second, Indian offshore service providers work with clients who are used to dealing with consultants who typically have excellent writing skills. In western markets particularly, writing with clarity and even flair, is a mark of a good education. That’s what you get compared with.

Over time, most clients on the IT side of the house have adjusted their mental models and no longer automatically connect good writing skills with IT skills. But as we start going in front of business, the same problems will start surfacing again with a new set of clients.

Nominally, Indians in the IT Services industry were educated in English medium schools. I would guess that over 90% of the industry took their XII board exams in English medium. But when it comes to writing English, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean much.

Indian high school education is all geared towards college entrance exams. Entrance exams for engineering colleges don’t test on English. The Physics, Chemistry and Math exams are entirely (?) multiple choice. As a result, nobody cares about English at school. Correction – nobody cares about any language, period.

And then came the mobile revolution. The kids coming out of college now write emails, the way they text. Short, unintelligible sentences full of typos. Not surprising since for them words texted far exceed words written in full sentences in email or any other form of writing.

Go to the comments section of any Indian publication online. You’ll see what I mean. I can’t understand half of what’s written there.

This is actually now a crisis. I believe that with the new generation, writing full sentences is just not cool any more. Every idea must be conveyed in 140 characters or less. Much of it will be SMS English. There will be typos galore, because, you know what, I am too busy to review what I just wrote. If you can’t understand what I’ve written that’s your problem.

As always, the industry will have to come up with its own solutions. We can never rely on the Indian education system to meet our needs. But unlike technical knowledge, it is really difficult to start writing well if you have ignored it in school and college.

In Which Basab Gets UIDed

A couple of weeks back, I was in the Infosys Bhubaneswar offices. On Friday, which was my last day at work before my vacation, UID enrollment was going on on campus. SBI, one of the agencies entrusted to enroll people into Aadhar was going to be at Infosys for a week.

I decided that I must get enrolled. There would never be a better chance. And so I did. But it took me two trips and 3 hours.

UID or Aadhaar as it is called is India’s unique identification project. It is a massive, in fact the biggest, biometric identification program anywhere in the world. It is quite different from programs like the US Social Security programs or any country’s passport or driving license programs. It’s sole focus is on unique, infallible biometric identification. It does not have any benefit or purpose associated with it. Rather, it is designed such that any benefits program (like the Public Distribution System) or regulatory purpose (id of bank account owners) may use the Aadhaar infrastructure.

It will be cheap, fast and near infallible. Say you walk up to a bank to open an account. You fill up a form that states your name, UID number and maybe even father’s name and address. Then, you peer into a lens that scans your iris and sends its data and the data from the form to the UID system. The UID system simply sends a Yes or a No – Yes this person, whose iris you scanned, is who he claims to be (name, father’s name etc.). The system will never send back your name, father’s name etc. Just a yay or a nay. Clever.

Actually, it is clever in other ways too. By avoiding a direct connection with any benefits program, it entirely avoids the politics surrounding any benefits program. Also, the government plans to run only those parts of the system itself that it absolutely must. The rest is being outsourced. So we will hopefully not build up a huge bureaucracy to run Aadhar, just a small one.

The original team that worked on the UID project had many team members (and its program manager, Raj Mashruwala) who came from tech companies in the Bay Area. I attended a talk and panel discussion about UID by some of them at Google in Mountain View a few months ago.

Most Indians are cynical about corruption and so a common refrain you will hear about Aadhaar is that politicians and bureaucrats will never let it succeed because it will make leakages in benefits programs so rare. One of the panelists at the event was an ex-IAS officer, now entrepreneur. He said that pols and bureaucrats, especially the ones in New Delhi, won’t mind at all if petty corruption of the kind you find in PDS and NREG went away. In fact, pols might want to take credit for eliminating this most visible form of corruption. The big bucks are anyway in scams like the 2G scam, where UID has no role to play.

So anyway, back to my own odyssey to get enrolled in Aadhaar. At 5pm on Friday, I wound up my work and went and stood in line. There were probably 15 people in front of me. A form was handed out, which I filled out, but not after having to ask for help. Why is there a “Relationship” field after “Father’s Name”? It may not have been this exactly, but there were a few totally befuddling fields to enter.

The line was moving really, really slowly. When my turn came, it was close to 645pm. And then I discovered why.

There were two stations. At the first station, the form you had filled out, was entered into an application on a computer. The trouble was that they (Aadhar or SBI, I don’t know who) needed the fields to be populated in both English and Oriya.

Now typing in Oriya using a QWERTY keyboard needs special skills and a special keyboard. The next best thing is to type in English and transliterate. The enrollment application used Google Translate’s transliteration service. Which is pretty nifty, but only in the hands of a trained operator. The woman at the first station was, shall we say, less trained. As a result, the Oriya part of the form was taking forever.

Eventually, I had to ask her to step aside and let me do it. I can’t read Oriya. So I would type in Roman, transliterate and then she would tell me if it was OK or not. We made some progress. But even with this arrangement, something like “R. K. Puram” proved extremely difficult.

Just after 7pm I got done with the data entry. Now onwards to station 2. Station 2 was for finger printing, iris scan and a photograph. But just my luck. As soon as I sat down, the network connection just disappeared. The operator couldn’t pull my record from Station 1.

The operator tried various things, which to me looked like a variety of paths to reach the same file folder on the other computer which was no longer connected. Then he would jiggle some wires and try the same series of things again.

Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is called insanity. Or a random number generator. Windows is somewhere between the two. Sometimes it actually produces results. So I let him keep trying for 5 minutes before I asked him to call his supervisor.

He called (not phone called, just called out loud). The man was getting a cold coffee at the coffee station across the hall. He got back with his drink in another 5 mins.

He tried the same thing a couple of times. But not for too long. He seemed to have had some experience with the mysterious ways of Windows. He rebooted. Another 7 minutes.

Now, finally, the operator had my record. The iris scan was a snap. Next was the finger printing. No problem. And then, what should have been the easiest thing, taking a photograph with webcam, didn’t work. And finally, that’s when I gave up.

I had a scheduled call at 730pm. I left at 725pm, disappointed. I wasted 2.5 hrs of my life and had nothing to show for it.

People say that the profit motive automatically brings in efficiency. This was a clear example of how that is often giving credit where credit is not due. SBI is enrolling people into Aadhaar because it has a vast network and great reach which positions it well to profit from the exercise.

But I doubt if SBI is making money at this. Their costs per day per enrollment center are fixed. They probably get paid per enrollment. But if enrollment is this slow, how can they turn a profit? Simple things like investing a little bit in training, better software and a wireless network instead of wires going all over the place could easily increase throughput. But apparently it hasn’t occurred to them yet.

I also didn’t understand why Aadhaar requires information from enrollees in both English and the local language. Couldn’t it be in one or the other?

Anyway, my story ends on a positive note. I went in to the office on Monday evening just for this. Somebody had already confirmed that my record still existed. All I had to do is get my biometrics recorded. I did and now I am enrolled in Aadhaar.

Bollywood Digital Music and the Galapagos Effect

Today was Mother’s Day. My gift for my wife was a compilation of Bollywood songs on a CD that she can play during her commute. I spent a good bit of time on Saavn and iTunes to put the compilation together. It got me thinking about the Indian digital music scene once again.

Saavn is a new and upcoming internet music streaming service for Indian music. You can stream any song in their very comprehensive library on demand. The quality of streaming is pretty good, at least out here in the US. The website is simple to use, though some minor UX issues could do with some attention. (btw, why don’t songs have composers as a field?)

You can make your own playlists, or just play playlists that other people have saved. I used their Weekly Top Songs as a jumping off point for my compilation.

Raaga is a competing website that has been around longer. Both these websites have the same ad supported business model. Currently, it is mostly display ads. Eventually, I expect audio ads. Both websites have Android and iPhone apps.

Overall, this ad-supported on-demand streaming model seems the most interesting thing happening in Indian digital music. They have completely handed over control of the download business to Apple, which is a shame. But that’s a different subject.

Funny thing is, this model doesn’t exist for digital music in the US. Here, on demand streaming is like owning the song. With wireless broadband now, for all practical purposes, one is never cut off from the cloud. If I can stream any song at-will, with high quality streaming it’s not very different from owning it.

In the US therefore, there is no ad-supported on-demand streaming model. You can subscribe to a whole library for a period of time which means more $$ (Rhapsody). Or you can buy and download all the songs you want for much more $$ (iTunes). [In Europe, Spotify is a little like Saavn, which is why they are having trouble entering the US].

Then there is the ad-supported model called internet radio. The differentiating characteristic of internet radio is that the user has no control over what song is played next. Pandora, the leader in this model, is expected to have an IPO soon. In India Bombay Production follows this model.

How is it that Indian digital music seems to be evolving very differently from western digital music? The answer is what I will call the Galapagos effect. The way unique species developed on the Galapagos island (or Madagascar) because it was cut off from the mainland, the same way, Indian digital music is insulated enough from the western industry that it can and will mould itself differently.

Copyright law is very tricky. It differs from country to country. Which is why you can’t get Pandora outside the US. Or Netflix. Or many books on the Kindle. It also works the other way, as in the case of Spotify.

Indian copyright law is different enough that Pandora or Rhapsody is going to avoid the hassle and instead focus on its US business.

But that’s not all. Broadband infrastructure is a key enabler for digital music. In India, that infrastructure so far has been well behind developed countries’. In fact, it might be argued that so far, the target listener for Saavn like companies has been mainly the NRI. This might change soon as broadband and 3G penetration increase.

So, while Pandora, Spotify and Rhapsody pass on the Indian market, it leaves white spaces for startups to exploit. That is, until Apple decides to go after the Indian market. They already have almost the entire market for Indian digital music. And they are rumored to be planning a cloud service for streaming your music. Which will be easy to extend since Indian copyright laws allow it.

In the meanwhile, I’m not complaining. I get to listen to any song I want on Saavn for free. If I’m feeling lazy I go to Bombay Production. It’s free and uninterrupted. Pretty good deal.

But I worry about the future. I want Saavn to survive. This morning I spent 2 hours on pulling together my compilation. Most of that was on Saavn which was incredibly useful. But then I went and spent $20 on iTunes. Doesn’t seem fair.

The Role of English in Modern India

The New York Times has a piece India Faces a Linguistic Truth by Manu Joseph

English is the de facto national language of India. It is a bitter truth.

The article goes on to depict this battle between people who want to make English a national language and those who don’t. If English becomes a national language then

Accepting that English is the national language would have benefits that far outweigh soothing the emotions of Indian nationalism….

The chief beneficiaries if English attained this status would be the children who attend the free schools run by the central and the state governments. An overwhelming majority of such schools are not taught in English.

This was news to me. I thought English was an official language. The Wikipedia entry on India says that both Hindi and English are official languages. English is a ‘subsidiary’ official language, whatever that means.

I think the English genie is out of the bottle. It is the language of the aspirations of young Indians. Cultural jingoism is not going to be able to push back the economic drive of English. To get ahead in India today, to get a well paying job, you need English.

There are issues with this situation, of course. From an earlier post

One, English is a self-perpetuating advantage that creates haves and have nots across generations. If your parents can speak in English, if their friends and their children speak in English, you are much likelier to grow up to speak English. This self-perpetuation is true about education in general (if your parents are educated you are likelier…) but while better access to books, schools and teachers can, to a large extent, break the cycle for general education, this is really hard to do when it comes to speaking a non-native language.

Two, an English medium instruction may actually be detrimental to a child’s education. There must be millions of children who sit through say, a History class in English, not understanding much of what is being taught.

From another post English Medium Education Can Lead to Poorer English

Across the cross section of India, I think English medium education works to disperse educational outcomes. For a small minority, it results in better English skills but no better general educational outcomes. This small minority, who have an “English friendly” environment, an English medium education poses no hurdle, or a very small one. But the rewards are linked to opportunities in the global marketplace for higher education and jobs, including the export oriented service industries in India.

For the large majority, however, according to the research, English medium education works differently and leads to poorer educational outcomes and poorer language skills. If this is the case, it must be a matter of great concern to education administrators.

If things continue as they are today the future will see:

  • English, not just talent and hard work, will be a key determinant of income. Did your parents speak English? Could they afford to send you to a English only convent? These factors will determine the kind of job Indians will get perhaps more than their capabilities. Class mobility while not being engrained for generations, will be restrained.
  • We need a well educated population – for a 21st century economy, for a well informed electorate. Is a forced diet of English medium education going to get us there? Will children learn elementary school science better in English or their mother tongue? Do we even have the teachers who can teach Biology in English, in the numbers needed?
  • Will English medium students actually join the work force with good English skills? If you go by the writing skills that one sees in the comments section of Indian websites, I seriously doubt that all the years of English medium education has done them any good.

If there is any policy direction that we need here it’s that India has to pay serious attention to the manufacturing side of the economy. Sophisticated manufacturing industries value skills. Factory workers don’t need English skills to work with global clients. Just like Germany’s world-beating machine tool industry is all German speaking. While the capital markets industry, being integrated into the global capital markets, speaks English.

And if we focused more on teaching English better, rather than teaching every subject in English, we just might turn out better workers.

Bollywood Music – the Android Opportunity

Can Indian digital music become a legitimate business? Or will it stay stuck with a 20th century distribution model?

You might say that Bollywood is already digital. You already get popular music on iTunes and amazon.com outside India. But the problem is that Apple and amazon.com are force-fitting their template for western music onto Bollywood music.

Take pricing. iTunes pricing for Bollywood songs is its standard 0.99c. Amazon.com is the same, though I saw a few songs for 0.89c. The Dabangg CD costs what? Rs. 150? For 10 songs. That works out to 0.33c per song. And the shame is that the 0.99 pricing is not because the Indian studios want that pricing. It is because Apples forces a standard template on everyone.

There are a bunch of other things that I would expect from a music service that specialized in Indian music. Don’t expect these from Apple or amazon.com. Correcting spellings, for instance. I find the “did you mean ….” in Google is very helpful. But when I am looking for music on iTunes for the movie Awaara, I don’t know how it’s spelt. Aawaara picks up something, so does Awara, but neither is Raj Kapoor’s Awaara, which is what I want. It should be so easy to build an intelligent, forgiving search for spelling Indian movies in English.

Here’s what came up when I was looking for Dabang on iTunes (instead of Dabangg).

Indian popular music is about the movies. The movie is part of the experience of the song. It is also a revenue making opportunity. Sell music videos. The cross sell opportunity between music, music videos and the movie itself is enormous. It is not being leveraged at all today.

I am sure Bollywood executives wonder about how to leverage this opportunity. Indian music is just too different. It’s not just a matter of pricing. Waiting for Apple or amazon.com to wake up to the opportunity is not the answer. So what do they do?

There is a way opening up. Because of Android, 3G and more broadband.

As I write this, I am listening to Shreya Ghoshal on iTunes/MacBook – WiFi – Airport Express – Denon receiver – Polk speakers. But most digital music is consumed through a portable player. The world’s dominant portable music player is the iPod (and the iPhone). The iPod never really caught on in India. Neither did the iPhone. Too expensive. So most of the market comprises of cellphone mp3 players.

Android is going to be big in India. People who own cellphone mp3 players today will have Android phones within 2 years. Android is the perfect platform to build a digital music player for. And its user base will have size and depth.

I think Bollywood should do a Hulu. Two or three leading studios [labels] should come together with a VC and form a company. The company’s mission should be to build a digital music business in India.

There are many models out there that could be candidates. Download with/without DRM (iTunes, amazon.com), Subscription (Spotify), Streaming and ad supported (Pandora). The technology too is mature. Scores of Indians in the Bay Area have the expertise to build digital media systems.

The key challenge is on the deal-making side of things. The ownership of copyright in India is a little more complicated than in the US. Also, the industry is more fragmented. To get a critical mass of copyright owners on board will take a lot of doing. But hopefully, the opportunity ahead is what will convince them to sign up.

IIM Ahmedabad ranked 11th by FT

The Financial Times has its Global MBA rankings for 2011 out. IIM Ahmedabad is ranked 11th. It was not ranked in previous years. So this is completely out of the blue.

The Economist recently also published their MBA rankings. IIM Ahmedabad was ranked 85th – the only Indian MBA program to be on the list. Which is better than not being on the list, but only just.

So the FT ranking is quite a shot in the arm. I have never had any doubt that my fellow alumni can stand toe to toe with the best. The faculty and research, I know, could improve. But the students are the best anywhere. Yes, they are picky and high maintenance and tend to not fit into every organization. But, at least in part, that is because they are just smarter than the people around them.

OK enough self-serving praise. If IIM A is so hot, how come it didn’t even get a rank till last year?

You have to apply to be ranked, and I don’t know if the institute applied or not. But even so, there are a few things it has ranked high on, which may depend on changes to methodology, and that may have pushed it higher in the rankings.

Take a look at the FT page I have linked to above. It allows some pretty neat analysis on-the-fly.

IIM A has ranked high on Salary Today (3rd) and Weighted Salary (2nd). Since these were computed using PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) it has ranked quite high. It also ranked high on Increase in Salary, before and after the MBA (3rd). Also on Careers and Employment.

Not surprisingly, it ranked low (92nd) on Research and International Faculty (last). It also ranked low on Women in Faculty (12%).

Now, how all this was factored into the final rankings is not something I went into. I expect, Salaries must have had a pretty high weighting in the overall rank computation. Using PPP there, helps a lot, and I would argue is absolutely the right thing to do.

Now if only the institute were freed from the clutches of the government it could do something to attract world-class faculty and focus a lot more on research. Like many things in India (the economy, for instance) IIM Ahmedabad shines, in spite of, not because of its ownership by the Government of India.

[Update: As many readers have informed me, the FT ranking is for the PGP X program which is a 12 month full time MBA that accepts students with considerable work experience (avg 10 years), unlike the PGP program which is a 2 year MBA but accepts many (most?) students straight after college (as I did). The PGP program does not qualify, because of the low work ex requirement, for the FT rankings. The PGP X program, which is new, was ranked for the first time.]

Tiger Moms and Indian Parenting

Amy Chua made waves with this piece in the Wall Street Journal. She also had a very successful Davos visit where she found herself debating Larry Summers, which is a daunting task, even on a subject that you might think you have him on the backfoot for.

Summers had a quotable quote

I think you have to decide whether achievement is the route to self-esteem or whether self-esteem is the route to achievement.

But he also said

“It is not entirely clear that your veneration of traditional academic achievement is exactly well placed,” he said to Ms. Chua. “Which two freshmen at Harvard have arguably been most transformative of the world in the last 25 years?” he asked. “You can make a reasonable case for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated.”

Now, Gates and Zuckerberg will certainly bump up the average earnings of Harvard dropouts quite a bit. I don’t have data to tell you if that will be enough to outdo the hedge fund millionaires among those who graduated. But I can guarantee that the median earnings of a Harvard graduate far exceed the median earnings of a Harvard dropout. And to Moms, medians matter, not averages.

As an Indian, I totally get where Amy Chua is coming from. Our Indian friends in the US are no less focused on their kids academics and extra curricular activities. You may think that this kind of parenting is part of the culture. It is, but it is not deep-set. It manifests itself because of economic reasons.

India, like China, is a poor country. There are no safety nets – no unemployment benefits, no healthcare insurance. If you don’t have a job, its a ticket straight to the poorhouse. The govt. hospitals don’t work and the rural employment guarantee program can only prevent starvation.

But just education doesn’t guarantee much. The dispersion in outcomes of your education is very, very wide. Even among college graduates, the average IIT graduate’s life-time income could be 10X that of an Arts graduate. I doubt that that is the case anywhere in the developed world.

And one more thing. The difference in quality of life between Rs. 4 lakhs and Rs. 40 lakhs p.a. is stark. Not like that between $40,000 and $400,000.

So if you are one of the millions of salaried, educated, middle class parents in India and you are thinking about the life your children are going to have, you are not thinking about self-esteem or creativity. You are thinking about simpler goals like how do I get my son into an engineering college? If your child shows just a little bit of promise, he will be entered into coaching classes every spare minute of the day. Or be sent to Kota. He will not have a life for two years of his childhood. Activities? Forget about it. You can’t make a living playing the flute. And no Engineering college needs you to have any extra-curricular activities.

Now imagine that you are that child. You made it into an Engineering college and then made your way to the US. How would you raise your kids? Probably the way Amy Chua did. Even though the income dispersion among college graduates is much lower in the US and even the bottom quartile of college grads have a pretty good quality of life, you raise your kids the way you were raised. It takes an effort to break away from your own upbringing. You may say, that’s why it’s cultural. But if it is, it wears off pretty quick.

The reason I don’t think this is culturally very deep set is because I can see how things can change within a generation. Even within India. Some of my friends in India would be called affluent anywhere, but in India they are in the top 1%. For their kids, they seek a more well-rounded education. Maybe they are wiser and know what really counts to get ahead. Or maybe they know that their own wealth gives their kids a safety net.

Does this parenting play out everywhere in the world? Probably not. I think there are a few conditions that are present in today’s India and China that make it so. One, the country must allow upward mobility. The economy has to be growing for there to be opportunities for talented graduates. Two, there should be a pretty sizable educated, salaried middle-class. That’s when parenting behavior becomes widespread enough to be deemed “cultural”.