Hot Wheels: The Magic School Bus

Since our learning expedition touched down in Chennai a couple of weeks ago, our primary source of transportation had been the minibus. It isn’t your average minibus. It is a rather spacious 23 seater. The minibus has a milky white paint job and even comes with beige curtains to shield its passengers from the blistering Indian sun. It has both a driver and his sidekick. This sidekick is responsible for opening/closing the door, dealing with security guards at our destinations, and making sure that all passengers are comfortable (this can also include distributing bottled water).

We relied extensively on the minibus to get us from point A to point B in Chennai, Agra, and Delhi and rarely made use of taxis, public buses, or rickshaws. Not only was it a comfortable and reliable form of transportation, but we were also able to take in some of the unique sights and sounds of India. Fortunately, we had Prasad and Mahesh (I-India educational trip organizers) in addition to Professor Sundaram to answer any questions that might have arisen as we peeked out the window.

Sights: As we ventured from one point to another, we endured large amounts of traffic on the road. Motorcycles with an entire family on it, large crowded buses, and midsize cars were all vying for a place on the narrow road. It would not be unusual for some 2-3 cars and multiple motorcycles to share a two lane road. Every now and then, you would also see a large cow roaming the side of the road or even simply ‘chilling’ in the divider between opposing sides of traffic. You would then pause and ask yourself, “How on Earth did these cows not get hit by any moving vehicle?” We quickly learned that cows are sacred in India and have a special role in the Hindu mythologies. Consequently, no one would dare kill a cow even if accidental. Could this be where the expression “holy cow” comes from?

Sounds: There was one pervasive sound that was continuously heard on the roads: the honking! And when I mean continuous, I really do mean non-stop. It seemed as though drivers would literally drive with one hand on the car horn. Given how densely populated the roads were and the amount of congestion, I guess it is only natural that you would continuously honk. Moreover, it was not unusual for many of us to go back to the hotel and continue to hear the honking!

Hot Wheels, our primary form of transportation

Hot Wheels, our primary form of transportation

The comfortable interior of our minibus

The comfortable interior of our minibus

A little traffic never really hurt anyone

A little traffic never really hurt anyone

Categories: Chennai, Delhi, Impressions of India | 2 Comments

Visit to TERI

On our last day in India, we visited TERI(Tata Energy Research Institute) university, located in the south of New Delhi. TERI, is a research institute established in 1974, and its focus fields are energy, environment and sustainable development. The Institute’s Director General is Dr. R.K. Pachauri, who is also the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Before we head to TERI University, we had chance to visit TERI RETREAT and take a walk around beautiful trail and garden. I really enjoyed relaxing time of being out of honking while being around green that I had not had during the trip. After 30 minutes of introduction of TERI and its green buildings, we explored different parts of the site in order to study how TERI facilities are designed to be self-sufficient in terms of power supply and also to study the technologies that the institution develops. The facilities in TERI RETREAT use process that is environmentally friendly and resource-efficient throughout the life-cycle of the facilities. TERI RETREAT consists of a residential training facility for executives and research laboratories of various fields regarding environment and sustainability.

Our tour started with the residential complex. The building uses bio mass gasifier as the power source. The building faces south to maximize sun light gain and has solar panels on the roof, the energy from which is used to heat up water. The building maintains its room temperature at 20 °C in winter, 28 °C in summer through circulating underground air from 4 meters below as the temperature of underground air is around 26 °C all year around. The facility can save around 40% of energy with this air conditioning system compared to conventional way. The waste water management system cleans waste water from toilets and kitchens by using reed plants. The way that the complex utilizes plants and air conditioning system to minimize energy consumption was very impressive, and I was surprised by that fact that India ranked second globally for green building in terms of square feet after U.S because my first impression of India was far from ‘green’ after seeing loads of trash and untreated sewage every corner and breathing in polluted air in Chennai and New Delhi.

(Check out the news from The Hindu Business Line if you are interested in.

Although it will be challenging to adopt the technologies used in the TERI complex in urban areas with limited space and dense population, I became more optimistic about environment in India after this tour.

After exploring residential complex, we moved to bio mass gasifier site as well as laboratories of oil zapper. Oil Zapper is basically bacterial strains that suck up oils and convert them into water and CO2. The product can be widely applied for oil refinery sites and oil splits caused by accidents. The product interested me because Korea had a massive oil spilt in Taean County in 2007. At that time, more than 1.8 million volunteer workers cleaned every stone in the beach by hands. Although effective microorganism products were used after much of work had been done by hands, it might have taken shorter time to revitalize the area if products like Oil Zapper had been applied in the earlier point.

TERI showed me whole different story of India, green technology. We traveled to TERI university campus and wrapped up our visit by attending lectures given by Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Dr. Srivastava of TERI and Professor Sundaram regarding climate change and business.

Categories: Delhi | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Slumdog Millionaire’s Loveleen Tandan

On Monday evening in Delhi, we were lucky to meet with Loveleen Tandan, Co-Director: India for the Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire. Over drinks and North Indian snacks, we were all captivated by her charisma and stories from her career.

Tuck students with Loveleen Tandan

Tuck students with Loveleen Tandan

Loveleen is a rarity in India, as traditionally most women in India’s film industry are actresses and concentrated in the colorful Bollywood industry. While Loveleen loves Bollywood flicks, she comes to filmmaking rooted in the documentary style but years ago switched to fictional films based on her belief that once you turn on a camera, you immediately alter reality.

After graduating from Hindu College, Delhi University with Honors in Sociology, she pursued a Masters in Mass communication from MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia University. Starting as a production assistant, she quickly advanced by becoming a de facto Casting Director on Mira Nair’s 2001 film Monsoon Wedding. Following several more casting director or advisor roles (e.g. The Namesake, Vanity Fair, Tandoori Love) she landed the role of casting director on Slumdog.

In many of her career moves to that point, Loveleen would step up to fulfill a role beyond her initial assignment – and on the set of Slumdog her role grew substantially to the point that she was given the unique title “Co-Director: India” as a recognition of her contributions. She served as a check to ensure that the characters, settings, and tone of the movie matched with reality.

But most critically, she was the driving force behind the decision to use children from the slums as the young characters in order to capture the raw reality of India’s slums. Since these children do not speak English so she first had to sell producers and the studio on taking a large risk by filming their scenes, almost one-third of the entire film, in Hindi. Based on her persuasive arguments, Loveleen stepped in to rewrite the children’s lines as well as direct those scenes.

Loveleen was candid about many of her casting and directorial decisions, particularly around the use of the street children. Obviously, nobody knew during filming how successful the film would be – but Loveleen was acutely aware of the impact she would be having on their lives financially as well as psychologically since they would be on a movie set. Therefore, they were careful to have parents on set, as well as start the children in formal schooling (setting them up for future success after the shoot ended). In addition, their share of Slumdog’s profits were put into a trust until their 18th birthdays.

Currently, Loveleen resides in Goa where she is working on the manuscript for her directorial debut. It will be the first time she works with her own content, instead of adapting and reacting to another’s work. While her career in cinema is a far cry from the more traditional business avenues that all of us will be pursuing next year, my classmate Mike Friedman made a great connection between us and Loveleen. Many of us come from hierarchical organizations where a lot of content, ideas, and overall strategy were set at a higher level before we were able to react, contribute, analyze, etc. But as we step into our post-MBA careers, we will find ourselves in leadership positions, mentoring younger colleagues and assuming increased responsibility.

Much like Sindushree Khullar at the Planning Commission earlier in the day, Loveleen also served as an inspiring, strong female perspective (most of our conversations in India were with men). She embraces the fact that she is a woman, and noted that it is something she must negotiate every day in her career. But she does not want to simply be a “female filmmaker” – she is hoping to leave her legacy as a filmmaker who happens to be a woman.

Categories: Delhi | Tags: | 1 Comment

NDTV: A glimpse into Indian news media

On Tuesday morning we got a glimpse into the pioneer station of private television news in India. NDTV was the first non-state media outlet that was allowed to report the news. P1030383We got a behind the scenes tour of many of the different departments and sets. First we stopped into the post-production editing area and spoke with an editor about how he cuts the film for different stories to slice together the images that are seen as the anchor speaks. Usually, he only has twenty minutes or less to create the final product.

Next we spoke to a reporter about his job chasing down stories nationwide. He travels with just one cameraman and has to fight the intense traffic to reach a scene in time to report back. We then got a view into the main control room, where staff pieces together the different shots and stories in real time. There is one for each of the channels that NDTV runs, an English and a Hindi news channel, a business channel and a lifestyle channel. We got to peek in on a live set and watch an anchor conduct an interview with the head of Indian sports commission about a recent scandal. Next we were introduced to the team who runs a political satire show with huge, life-like puppets- think Sesame Street meets The Daily Show.

Finally, we had an hour with Prannoy Roy, the CEO, founder and founding anchor of NDTV, who was described to me by an Indian friend as India’s Tom Brokaw. Mr. Roy discussed his views on the tabloidization of India’s news media, ethics in reporting and the future of news in the internet age. It was fascinating to hear from someone who had been in the business since its inception and had seen the TV news media market grow from one channel to hundreds of channels nationwide. What was particularly striking to me was that the challenges were in some ways extremely similar to the American market, the diversity of channel offerings, a shortening attention of viewers and the rise of sensationalist tabloid style journalism. But one of the major differences lies in the proliferation of internet access, which we heard numerous times would rise quickly by huge multiples in the coming years. NDTV has an opportunity to remain at the forefront of Indian news media by figuring out how to convert their programming to the mobile web, which before long, will be the main way that hundreds of millions of Indians consume their news.

Categories: Company Visits, Delhi | 3 Comments

Meeting with Sindushree Khullar, Secretary of the Planning Commission

Monday was a fascinating introduction to the Indian political system.  After sitting in a Parliament session and meeting with the Prime Minister of Tribal Affairs, we had a wonderful meeting with Sindushree Khullar, Secretary of the Planning Commission.  The Planning Commission is responsible for creating the five year plan budget and the allocation of resources to various industries and regions.

Overview:  The Planning Commission was set up by a Resolution of the Government of India in 1950.  The impetus to form the commission originated from the objective to raise the standard of living by leveraging the resources available in India.  Efficiently taking advantage of the resources would create jobs and accelerate the Indian economy and export industry.  Specifically, the Planning Commission is responsible for assessing the resources available in India preparing plans to efficiently utilize the resources, and prioritizing where and how these resources are allocated.  The Planning Commission accomplishes these goals by publishing Five Year Plans.  Currently, the twelfth five year plan document has been placed before the National Development Council for discussion on December 27th.

Areas of Focus:  Historically, the planning system was highly centralized and government-run.  During the liberalization of India in 1991/92, the Planning Commission went through significant change as it had to navigate issues brought by the new open economy like import/export industry and foreign direct investment.  The Commission has evolved tremendously and today it takes a holistic approach to budgeting and planning by bringing together industry experts and leaders from over 30 different sectors.  Some examples include Rural Development, Health, Infrastructure, Decentralized planning, Panchayati Raj and Special Area Program, Environment & Forests (Including Climate Change), and Financial Resources.

Major Challenges:  Themain challenges the Secretary discussed were bringing the current account deficit to a reasonable level, increasing foreign direct investment, and reforming the tax system.  At a state level, public service delivery, health, and education are the major issues.  The Secretary describes her job as an “Essay in Persuasion”.  She lamented the fact that it takes at least one year to get just about anything approved.  With so many worthy causes, her main challenge is prioritizing and funneling limited resources appropriately.  The last year has been especially tough for India as the world economy continues to recover from the financial crisis in 2008.  India’s current account deficit has increased as the demand for Indian goods and services decreased.  The Secretary emphasized the importance of private sector investment and strategies to help foreign countries feel comfortable and excited about investing in India.  For example, $1 trillion is needed to improve India’s infrastructure, and the Secretary estimates that 50% of these funds should come from the private sector.

The Secretary said she is “hopeful” about India’s future.  She feels the Indian economy has bottomed and reemphasized that tax reform and deficit reduction are key to garnering funds to support these important initiatives.  Our group came away extremely impressed with the human capital at the Planning Commission, but the issues are incredibly overwhelming and it is difficult to see a clear path to generating the necessary funds in the near term.  We share the sentiments of the Secretary and are hopeful and optimistic for the country over the long term.

Categories: Delhi | 3 Comments

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