Design challenge: futuregaon 2010

The future of India is literally in her villages, 550 million Indians under the age of 25. Over 65%  of whom live the rural hinterlands of
the country and they cannot all migrate to the cities drawn by the
glittering flickering images on their second hand black and white TV’s
that run in their village shacks by car batteries and jugaad.

And yet, is it fair that they should be left out of the great social
and economic revolution that is taking place in India’s urban sprawls?

Given the infrastructural constraints and the lack of time
available, with the opposing maximizing pressures of [raise literacy,
income,  opportunity, skills] with [wants, needs, consumerism, economic
prosperity] because given the environment and the finite geographical
resources available, the population constraint is simply immeasurable.

So how do we bring down the transaction cost of every possible
service to be delivered to the common man in India, the humble kisan,
the aam junta?

By using existing techological infrastructure to minimize costs and
maximize reach, both in terms of return on investment and social value

How best do we bring the best the 21st century has to offer to the
villages of India, with the benefits of learning, knowledge and culture
in a manner that best fits their needs and yet serves to minimize the
effect on the surrounding ecology?

By framing the problem to be solved with the maximum constraints, allowing us to design for the future with a minimum impact on the environment.

Posted in Business, Design, India/China/Asia, Mobile phones & Bottom of Pyramid, Rural Innovation, Strategy | Leave a comment

Curd rice on a hot summer’s day

As a life long lover of a full sapad, complete with n-number of papadams for me to carefully crumble into my sambar and ghee, you can only imagine my salivary glands getting into action when reading this little snippet from The Hindu.

At an introductory price of Rs 10 for 275 gms, the curd rice is
garnished with mustard, cashew nuts, raisin, green chillies, ginger,
curry leaves and carrot.

The product will be available throughout the State in a few
days, according to company officials. Details of the investment have
not been disclosed but the thinking behind the launch of the product is

Hatsun has an early morning product  –   milk, and afternoon product  –   ice cream.

The refrigeration facilities with Hatsun’s franchisees merely
hold inventories from early morning to practically until lunch time. These facilities could be better employed by a product that also sells during that period. What’s better than curd rice?

Look Amma, now you can buy readymade curd rice in a pouch for Rs 10/-. Someone needs to import it to New Delhi’s South Indian shops, the one in Munirka is too far away, how about Yamuna Apartments? OK tell you what, just send me a hamper, no?

Anyway, its interesting to note this little regional innovation, that, as the article says, is a product whose launch has had some thinking behind it. Not only was this an unmet need, but nobody even knew it existed. Why am I thrilled, well, can you imagine being able to pop it in your bag for lunch in the morning without any hassles at all? Some of the convenience foods are over priced in the premium paid for the preparation and timesaving, but some are not only a good value for me, as this [yuck] Krd Ryce [who named this? ] – especially since the Medrasis are such a tightfisted lot – but also worth the extra money, as a pouch of Mughlai Paneer for instance. Its Rs 80 true but you can buy it for a dinner party and add some mushrooms and any extra veggies you want, its got enough gravy and you can stretch it out far more economically than ordering take out from the neighbourhood dhabha. Probably safer in summer too. I’ll try to have the photo’s up tomorrow.

Now, interestingly enough Nestle and Amul are taking a different path – that of flavoured yoghurts. I shall be curious to see how that takes off, the language of the article and the brand messaging is oh so very creamy layer. It might be good for making lassis, that’s about all I think of, the reason why is because of a datapoint that struck me this afternoon.  I remember standing in the grocery shop when some woman asked the shopkeeper for flavoured milk.

Now I’m going to digress a bit to describe how to order in a small grocery shop, the standard one down at the corner that you go to everyday, simply because I noticed the difference between it and my Kiki Supermarket on the corner of Powell and Jackson. Now the shopkeeper asked her what flavour milk did she want, and she goes what do you have? She had an impatient sneering expression on her face as though she wasn’t expecting too much under the subject of "flavoured milk" from this kind of shop that too in not so fancy a market as GK1 or South Ex or something like Priya Cinema Complex with its Modern Bazaar that served the diplomatic enclave.  I mean we’re bordering Kalkaji and [shock horror] Govindpuri after all ;p

He says "Butterscotch, Pistachio and Banana Peach" or some such posh flavours, and you could see her suddenly look up with interest, and asked to be shown the brand. Now two things come to mind at this point, one, the customer doesn’t really browse. You can’t, I found myself trying to do so today, and I just got underfoot everyone’s way, there’s no impulse buying in India, no sirree, or at least not until absolutely the point of purchase, which to be honest, I just realized, is the shopkeeper himself.  I like  unbranded indian potato chips and asked for them. He didn’t have any and told me to try some weird new fangled stuff like a cross between a pringles and a baked lays. When I went today there were a few fresh packets of indian style potato crisps in an unmarked clear plastic bag – cottage industry, probably being made by hand inside some narrow gulli somewhere.

So back to the flavoured yoghurt being launched as probiotic or whatever that means, the ads will act as an impetus to someone, say me, being intrigued enough to ask for it when down at the market next, but if my shopkeeper hasn’t received it yet then I don’t know if I would walk to a rival grocers to buy it immediately. You really can’t do that, or if you do, you must do it only for one single product or something beneath your own grocer’s notice. Seriously, they take customer retention and loyalty extremely seriously since after a point the market stabilizes in any one particular neighbourhood and if you can’t maintain and keep your existing customers, like a doctor, there won’t be any new ones moving to the neighbourhood soon. Don’t forget, in 43 C heat I don’t really want to go very far or walk around a lot to do my shopping.

l, on the other hand, still fresh off the boat from San Francisco, peered into the cold storage and looked at all the local cheese, butter and butter substitute varieties available. Who needed imported stuff? Everything is available right here. Now that’s scary. Because I’ll still have bring my own Miracle Whip and Mayo ;p

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If choice and convenience are indicators

then the quality of life in New Delhi, or at least South Delhi, seems to have improved. The vegetable vendor down the road, with his cart parked behind the small paanwaala, is offering mushrooms, sprouts and baby corn along with the usual potatoes, onions and green chilli. The quality of his tomatos was also far better than what I got in GK2 market. What’s interesting is that Alaknanda market has always seemed dusty and dull compared to the glitz and glamour of GK1 Main Market with its McDonalds, Esprit and Cartier.

But today’s foray seemed to tell me that while not in the best of shape, it actually was a microcosm of what a neighbourhood market should be. Fresh fruits and vegetables, books, magazines and newspapers, groceries, bakeries, pastry shops, the butcher, a few banks including a Citi ATM, tailors, plastics, stationary, a photography studio, the Xerox machine walla – was there anything you could not get done or buy at this market? Jewellery perhaps and fancy clothes, but that’s what malls are for, this market was for getting work done, not for lingering and strolling, gazing at the displays in the windows as one does elsewhere.

I also picked up fresh soft flat bread, branded of course, a vacuum pouch of Mughlai paneer for Rs 80 [that’s my $2 for today] and tiny bottles of green coconut water for Rs 15 each. At first the thought of having to throw away so many plastic bottles instead of the shell of a coconut seemed to be wasteful but then I remembered that in India, ragpickers would make sure nothing that could be sold for reuse would be left to rot in the dump. Oh well, I threw in a bit more in the garbage, just concerned that the plastic liner might hurt a cow. That’s odd. San Francisco has banned plastic bags in the city. And plastic bags are over running Delhi, even tiny shops who would have used bags made from old newspapers were giving away plastic bags. Maybe Delhi should ban plastic bags instead of golguppawalas?

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My misspent youth: Searching for design

I’ve written before about my intensely felt relationship with design. And where, to have to quote myself boo hiss, I said,

Design, is inherently a philosophy or a system of values first, and it’s implementation, in whatever form, second.

made me just realize that my youthful flirtations with arts and crafts, engineering and ultimately design were all aspects of wanting to know the full life cycle of how things were made. You know, the fundamental monkey’s curiousity that we all carry within us?

So anyway, it also seems to be, in retrospect, my dropping out of NID after much soul searching was but a search to start the shaping of my own. We have such raw values at 16 and 17, we see everything in black and white. The edges of the decision making are as sharp as Occam’s Razer. Age brings with it a myopia of a certain kind.

A willingness for things to be a bit blurred around the edges. The details will take care of themselves, our life experiences have shown us by now that by now. We’ve learnt to seperate the wheat from the chaff, and finally are becoming more efficient with our energy use. I mean, chalta hai yaar, why get worked up over small stuff? Its too hot to move. Is it life or death?

Friendships in India demand that you think about your answer in relation to just about everyone you know in your life because that is the way it is. What to do, we are like that only. Anyway I digress.

To finally get to the point, if design is indeed a manifestation of our value system, then does it not then follow that design for the future must indeed maximize constraints while minimizing the use of valuable natural resources?

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My misspent youth, part two

Martin asks me the in comments to continue reminiscing about my misspent youth. How could I resist such a request? Continuing my rambling about my years in Bangalore, studying at BMSCE in Bull Temple Road. Memories start exploding in front of my eyes, going to Goa on the night bus, going just about everywhere on my moped, taking one sometimes two passengers behind me. Most of them weighed more than that moped did. But I got lucky with that machine, the engine was good, and never stalled even when rains sometimes brought flooding near Richmond Circle upto your knees.

My bike, my motorized pedalcycle, Wilber as he was fondly named, was possibly the best friend I ever had. No matter what kind of day I would have had, I could always soothe my soul by putting in ten bucks worth of petrol [in the eighties Rs 10 bought you 1.1 litres of petrol and 50cc of oil] and just finding a road or leafy neighbourhood to drive through aimlessly. There is a security in having your own transport in India, particularly if you are a girl. That’s just the way it is.

I think that’s why I had those vivid fantasies of being a biker chick, even on a little moped, I could understand the zen of motorcycle driving. And funnily enough, I was probably the only one I knew who had not read Zen and the Art of Motrocycle Maintenance until like 1997 or so. People all had read certain books by the time they’re done with college in India, it just seems to be so, no? Atlas Shrugged or Fountainhead are popular too. Is it that shared culture of philosophy read, basic fundamental questions asked and answered, being young and carefree, something that keeps me so tightly bonded to my circle of friends that I have made in India over the last 25 years?

It seemed to me that for the most part, when it comes to people you play with, as opposed to the people you may work with, you want them to echo or resonate with the things that touched you emotionally too. At least a few or enough of them so that one is able to find some common ground and shared understanding. I find that it is so with the smartest people I know. I have such a history and shared mental space with my friend Emma in Yorkshire.

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My misspent youth

Writing the post about my conversation with Neelakantan, who is currently based in Bangalore, I was hungry for information about my old ‘hometown’. For four and a half years, I lived there when I first came back to India. These were my undergraduate years, the college years that we all remember fondly. Freed from the pressures of the various Board exams we were forever studying for in school, college was where we let our hair down and had the fun that most others do in high school only. Oh well, we’re a nation of late bloomers and I think that my generation is growing up.

I must be getting senti in my old age, overcome with such maudlin thoughts. How cynical we were and blase, at 18 and at 24, thinking we knew all about life, feeling immortality stretch ahead of us infinitely, like parallel lines, never to meet, even over the horizon. Adulthood hits you with a two by four, yaar. Worse than Bode Plots and Nyquist thingies, you know, from Control engineering. The only class I ever had to take tuition for. We used to live in Banashankari III stg, always somewhere in the boondocks, the only places where a bunch of college kids could find a landlord willing to rent to them. Age discrimination exists mightily in India, which is why I have stopped colouring my hair. Hopefully the chunks of white will help me be taken seriously. That too, I’m a girl. Oy vey, as they say back in the US of A.

Among other things, I liked to fondly imagine that I was a biker chick with my own gang of thugs on bikes. Yes yes I had a lurid imagination fuelled with lashings of too much science fiction and Modesty Blaise. What to do, I am like that only. Imagine how embarressing it is to find out, almost two decades later that they were only humouring my pretensions. Meh. I was also a familiar figure with the jugaad to get a) credit at the MG Road petrol bunk, b) have my mechanic let me make STD calls from his house to my boyfriend in Medras, har! c) be allowed to pay for books by hire purchase by the fellow at the bottom of Double Road where it meets Richmond Road is it? the other end from Lalbagh. I prefer Cubbon Park myself. More shady trees to climb.

At one point I was lodging with an Italian lady, whose young sons I would give lifts to college on my moped, or to rehearsal practice for their heavy metal band [don’t roll your eyes, that was Millenium, I was there, when he first started doing that, with a hairbrush, in front of the mirror in the kid’s room. ] Today he’s in wikipedia! And once he opened for Deep Purple, I was there. So I sat backstage for Cats, as the band played Memories and Mephistopheles the Cat, and waited for practice to get over for Starlight Express. How much Andrew Lloyd Webber can you take to play your soul’s music?

It seems to me that perhaps misspent youths carry their own value, feels like our weight in gold or diamonds.

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What is perspective?

Funny dat I’ve never seen the need to ponder perspective. I don’t even feel like smiling derisively at myself. I’m taking the trouble to respect the person that I am, enough, to listen with an open mind, my own thoughts. And I found myself wondering what perspective was…

First, lets take the blog. I feel uncomfortable with some of the things I write about, not quite sure that it ‘fits’ with some tightly constrained vision of what my blog should be about. A frustration I had always felt until now. Neelakantan’s comment in an earlier post seems to imply that it was time for perspective to come back, that jugaad was not a work in progress anymore but could in fact be archived, on a high dusty shelf, in a back room somewhere, that look like the jumbled displays in the Calcutta Museum. I do wonder if they’ve modernized it yet? It was my favourite museum, because it was still firmly, dustily, old maidishly Victorian, not like the oh so shiny and new British Museum whose elder sister she is. For did you know that Calcutta was once the Eastern capital of the British Empire?

We seem to have a love and hate relationship with Ye Merrie Old England, home of forefathers, [or at least for some, spread across the land over 500 years,but shhh, we don’t talk about these things nowadays] and its just the same in England too. Or so I discovered, but shhh, we don’t have to say anything about these things now. Reading Vijay Prashad’s post as mentioned in the earlier post, made realize Prashad’s true message to his compatriots – Indians are a bloody racist lot. In one way or another, I guess you could say, since India is the motherlode of laidback chalta hai yaar tolerance, we’re open minded bigots. We make snide comments about everyone across the board. Here, let me start…

Tamil Brahmins, the Iyers and the Iyengars, or TamBrahms as they’re fondly called or not, "Bloody Paapaans" are studious, conservative, very religious, have beautiful daughters who fight to act in the films, very miserly, live spartanly and aren’t what they seem. They have to have curds with their sapad, their idlis soft and their dosas crisp, and would choke rather than touch meat. Ayoyo, aapdiye, as they say. Ask me, I was once pretending to be Lakshmi for one such household.

Bengalis, or Bongs, as probably every single one of them who ever studied engineering was called in his youth, poor things, have very unusual nicknames at home, like Rhompa and Jhompa, Tiki and Taka though they might have perfectly good Bengali names like Moushumi and Aparijita, Anirban and Biswajit. Will cheerfully drive a long knife down their neighbours back for a good bowl of macher jhol and baath, come to think of it, so would I. What about the loochis with chana dal, you know, the one that has big coconut chunks in it? Ami bangla booshtey pari, bolte pari na, bhoole gachi, bishoon saal hoye galo.

Coconut chunks in spicy sauce remind me of Malayalis. The Mallus are a strange lot, one race with whom I’ve always felt a kinship with, god only knows why, Shibu do you know the answer? Shibu, poor thing, shared common bathroom and kitchen facilities with me in our final year of engineering, and knows only too well just how much work I won’t do in Sawai Madhopur. His good name was Koshy Koshy, don’t ask, you either ‘get it’ or you don’t, but I don’t have the patience to tell you the difference between the Marthomites and the Jacobites, the Syrian Christians and the Roman Catholics, the Hindus and the Moplas, but that’s just one small state that shares a common language, a to-die-for cuisine, mmm Syrian beef fry with coconut, mor and rice.

Then there’s the Gultis, oops I mean our Telegu speaking brethren from Andhra. To be honest, all I really know of them is that they have weird surnames and are driven to succeed. Scary lot, if you ask me. Though I know the odd Naidu from Old Medras who is more cosmopolitan than most.

Moving to the ‘cow belt’, embaressingly where the roots of my own family lie, we have bhaiyyas from UP, who are superceded only by the Bihari bhai in mulish stubbornness fueled by righteous ignorance for a variety of pointless matters all conveniently under the common heading of "izzat". As in "Upun ka ijjat ka baath he yaar" *rolls eyes* Is all they know how to do is brawl, drink, fight, swear, and occasionally harass women? Really! And the Jats! Rednecks all of them.

Have I left anyone out? The Punju, the Surd – OMG the plethora of Surd jokes, worse than the Irish or Polish ones, that we tell to each other, even the Surds themselves. The cut Surd, the Sikh who cuts the symbols of his faith, his long hair, walks around mingling with the rest, without a beard or turban or iron bangle. Its Khushwant Singh, and of course, good old Santa and Banta, and Milkha Singh and Dara Singh, the incisive brain of one balancing the amiable stupidity of two and the physical prowess of the others.

South Delhi Puppies are a very special breed. These days they aren’t just Punjabis either, they can be from anywhere. But you can tell by their fake accents, their imported cars, toys, gadgets and BLING. OMG the bling. Why are the columnists questioning what Dr Manmohan Singh said yesterday about conspicuous consumption? Don’t they know the Puppy themselves? Doesn’t it make you puke too?

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