R2I Club Lunch


Today, we were invited to JW Marriott at Juhu for a lunch with families belonging to the R2I Club (“Return to India”). Except our family, all the others returned to India from the U.S. I was surprised to find that people have returned to India from such fabulous places as San Diego, one of the most liveable cities in the U.S.

Well, home is calling ! Like what happened in China a few years ago, the economic growth of India in the past couple of years is attracting middle-aged Indian Americans to return home, and contribute further to its growing economic might. Most of the people were from Mumbai, and one of the clear learnings was it is better to return to the roots in one’s own area of the country, unlike what we did. Neither me nor my wife particularly like Southern part of India where we hail from originally. We were prepared to go to any other place ! We ended up at Mumbai, one of the most dynamic yet difficult places to live in. This was suprising to most of the folks we met today.

JW Marriott in Mumbai is one of the best places to network in the city. It is a fabulous hotel by any standard, perched on the shores of the Arabian Sea, with the sea water almost touching the cafe below the lobby. Beautifully designed in sandstone colour, the hotel is in the midst of the busy Juhu area, known for its film star crowd. When you drive into the hotel, there will be an army of security personnel checking your car – its underbelly, the boot, et al – followed by an individual security check when you enter the hotel lobby through an airport style booth. You can just hang around in the lobby and be witness to celebrities shaking hands with other VIPs and networking around…..it’s a great place to hang out in the evening with the city’s most well-know disco.

We arrived well in advance and were waiting for some 40 minutes before the first R2I friends turned up for the lunch. The JW Marriott Brunch is again one of the city’s most well-known Sunday events, completely sold out on all Sundays. The R2I Club had booked 26 seats for 8 families and we were looking forward to networking with these folks.

It was a fantastic lunch as always, with a buffet spread from all over India, including even some Lebanese food specialties. The Buffet with alcohol included costs just S$ 40 and without alcohol costs just S$ 30 ! Alcohol consisted of beer and white/red wines, unlimited of course.

We met a wide cross-section of R2I folks, it was interesting to share tidbits of Mumbai living and its idiosyncracies. Many of the returnees had a short term view of the potential of their return, while some had a long term view. Many would go back to the U.S., I guess. But the current attraction and fascination seemed to be India, despite the difficulties of day-to-day living. I was vehement in communicating the difficulties, influenced by the happenings of past couple of weeks. It is not a great place to live, not with its endless traffic snarls, lack of civic amenities, terrible roads, unclean environment, poor infrastructure, rough people behaviour on the roads and in public places, lack of niceties, et al. I thought I would be less than honest if I do not acknowledge the harsh realities of life in Mumbai.

However, I did not see even a whimper of dissatisfaction from anyone of the returnees. All seemed to be in perfect harmony with their surroundings, and families in place. May be all of them were from Mumbai to start with – growing up in a place like Mumbai from a very young age has its advantages due to the opportunities it offers. Further, cultural assimilation cannot be underestimated. If there was any simmering discontent, I did not feel or see the same in any of them. They seemed to be happy with living in Vile Parle, Santacruz, Powai or Vashi, all well-established suburbs of Mumbai.

As is usual in my transactions, I communicated the dichotomy in the society – professional within the business environs (like a Hong Kong or a Singapore) and lousy outside in public and government behaviour and performance. Good words were offered by several folks commending the Singapore government, its economic performance, the city design, Sentosa, and the Changi Airport. Many said Changi was the best airport in the world.

I did feel I was a bit out of range since I did not come back from the U.S. Singapore is not considered something extraordinary in India. Many think that it is kind of “part of Indian society”. Not surprising, but not something which attracts peoples’ attention a great deal.

This brings me back to the point I made in an earlier blog post that Singapore Government should aggressively promote India in Singapore society and business as well as in India itself – otherwise Singapore will lose its relevance beyond being considered as a short-term tourist destination in India. Almost all people seem to be fixated on the U.S. and its universities for instance. Singapore’s status as an emerging bio-tech hub is not recognised in India, which has its own deep expertise in this area. Promotion, which I thought was a forte with the Singapore Government, has not been used much in India to push the cause of Singapore.

Well, it was a good weekend, did a lot of house cleaning as well, hope you had a similar weekend,

All the Best for a great week ahead,

Vijay Srinivasan
03 Sep 2006
Mumbai

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