Re Snigdha Sengupta’s “Mumbai—the new VC hub”, Mint, 9 October. I agree with the comment about the gradual shift away from Bangalore of venture capital (VC) funds setting up shop in India, but I have a different take on the reasons for this. In my experience, the location of the Indian offices of such funds is driven more by the preferences of their senior Indian personnel than by deal flow considerations. This is because the funds face a challenge in kicking off their operations on account of tough competition for talent. The way they see it, deals can be sourced from all over the country, irrespective of where their Indian offices are, but getting good senior resources is top priority. This is probably the largest factor behind VC firms locating in Mumbai and New Delhi.
I read “Cracking the cocoon” by Ramesh Ramanathan, Mint, 22 October, with interest. It was the story of Shahid, the rental car driver’s struggle and achievements, with no optimism or dreams. The concluding observation, “India’s growing aspirations are not being fuelled by that of all Indians”, reminded me of Bhanwar’s story that I would like to share with all readers.
A few weeks ago, on the last leg of my trip home from Hazira near Surat, I entered the economy compartment of Borivali-Bandra around 9pm. After I found a seat, I gave a fleeting glance to my co-traveller. Bhanwar, with his frail looks and sunken cheeks accentuated by his young age, was like any other passenger. What amused me was the contrast between his appearance and the contents in the thin polyethylene bag that he held in his equally frail hands. Bhanwar seemed engrossed in the information on a pack of Lindt chocolates, while another unopened pack of Godiva was shining through the transparent bag.
He noticed my stare and proceeded to explain: “My boss was on a trip abroad and brought these for us.” With the cocoon broken, I learnt that he had moved from a village in Rajasthan to Mumbai when he was only 14. That was 12 years ago. Till date, he had worked for one boss, a very kind gentleman, Singh, who ran a travel agency out of Borivali. Singh often travelled abroad and always remembered to bring some goodies for his employees. The chatty Bhanwar continued talking about how he got married five years back, about his child recently joining a school, and so on, when a casual remark from him took me completely by surprise!
Bhanwar mentioned that as a peon, he earned less than Rs2,000 a month, and had carefully managed expenses to own a one-room “home” in the suburb of Andheri, as well as not too pithy savings in the bank! I was stunned. Here I was, earning a six-figure salary and still managed to own (on a loan) an apartment only last year, at an age almost twice that of Bhanwar. I tried hard to add his pennies to see how could he have managed. Until I heard him murmur, “I do all right… We even buy 200g of milk daily and I only have half a cup of tea in the mornings, never have any outside (except when offered by Singh)”. The background aspirations and the drive were then clear…
I wanted to tell him that he and, perhaps, his child needed better nutrition. I didn’t. Rather I couldn’t. The respect he earned from me about chasing his dreams—it made me feel too small to advise him about what was good for him! Perhaps Shahid, too, just went forward with his life, one step at a time, not necessarily thinking of his aspirations as dreams... I am sure there are plenty of such lilies in the pond, and multiplying too...
India will do fine without a collective vision, even as most of our national “leaders” keep themselves busy with their “vision” of chasing the votes of Bhanwar and Shahid.