Thursday, November 25, 2010

Indian Healthcare Needs to Mature, Fast!

That's the kind of call I always dreaded receiving.
A few days back, at about noon, just as we were relaxing for a lazy weekend ahead, I received a call that Neeti's Pa had suffered a major heart attack that morning.
I was shell shocked, it hit me hard. I thought "How could this happen to us?"
It was even more surprising because Papa was extremely conscious of his health and has been a stickler on having the right kind of diet.
Immediately we rushed to book tickets on the internet to be in Delhi with them. Despite all the progress we all claim to have made, connectivity in the country is still woeful and pathetic. The earliest flight we could get was at 6PM, a good 5 hours away. Those were a testing 5 hours!
We landed on time thankfully and proceeded straight to the hospital, reaching there at 9 PM. Neeti was quickly ushered in to meet Papa. She came out in 5 minutes and I was relieved to see the furrows on her forehead gone.
Papa was fine. He had just had a light dinner and was settling for the night with a slight pain from the procedures that had been done. We were assured by all that he was out of any kind of danger and the pendulum was fast returning to its mean position.
It was Mom's presence of mind that ensured that the situation remained under control. She rushed Papa to hospital within 30 minutes of the attack.
Neeti and I stayed back in the hospital at night. It was indeed shocking to see how tough it is for relatives of patients to manage. Having to make do with high handedness of hospital staff and attendants being forced to buy pricey food and beverages from the "official" cafeteria is really a pathetic experience.

While we were in the hospital, I observed quite a few Kashmiris, Afghans, Iranians, Africans and whites who had come to this hospital for treatment - I witnessed medical tourism, one of India's emerging industries, right in front of my eyes.

But I also wondered why Kashmiris were here for treatment? They claim to hate India, some want azaadi and some want to amalgamate with Pakistan. Doesn't Pakistan have hospitals, why can't they go there? Or is it that they want best of what India has to offer, but want to keep the rhetoric alive? Or are they plain hypocritical? If they hate India, they should not come here to Delhi to get treated, they should travel across the LOC instead.
Gradually, as Papa was recovering, the insurance claim process was initiated. I was pretty confident that since he was insured by a public sector insurance company, the claim process would be smooth. But I was informed by Neeti and my sister-in-law that the TPA, which was founded by one of India's leading insurance agents and connected to Bollywood's first families - one of yesteryears and the other today, was creating massive issues preventing a cashless settlement - all those excuses were made up. After each query was resolved a fresh one was made in quick succession making it apparent that those supposed to provide the suRaksha were doing the exact opposite. What is the point of having a cashless facility, when the family of the patient has to run around in virtual agony to get the claim process initiated?

Finally we had to concede - agree to not taking a cashless facility.

Clearly there is a case for IRDA to examine the (mal)practices the TPAs and insurers have been following for so long and give some respite to the hapless patients and families.

Frankly, it is a real pain to fall seriously ill in this country. First the hospitals and the doctors will fleece you, ensuring that the medical bills run in to pages, let alone ancillary charges. Then the insurer and the TPA will virtually make the relatives sick from stress.

In short, if you are in India, try to never fall sick, for if you do, your family will go through an ordeal of stress and anxiety that could bring them to a brink! For sure, our healthcare systems need to mature.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's A Matter of Perspective

How much is enough? That is a question which is far too difficult to answer. At the end of the day, it is a matter of one's perspective.
We work hard for a good life, for that big, fat bonus at the end of the year. But while toiling for that, we end up losing peace of mind, health and valuable time with loved ones - we take our loved ones for granted, but lives are short..... Are our perspectives right?
And when I was thinking of all this, I received this email from my friend, Khuzem.
After a having few weeks of writer's block, this message below was appropriate to restart my blogging. Here goes.

One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the
country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live.
They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be
considered a very poor family.
On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?"
"It was great, Dad."
"Did you see how poor people live?" the father asked.
"Oh yeah," said the son.
"So, tell me, what you learned from the trip?" asked the father.
The son answered: "I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have
walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect
The boy's father was speechless.
Then his son added, "Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are."

Isn't perspective a wonderful thing? Makes you wonder what would happen if we all thank God for everything we have, instead of worrying about what we don't have!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Opening Retail - The Multiplier Effect

Much had been spoken about the opening of the retail sector in India in the context of President Obama's recent visit of India.
There has been a lot of speculation on the opening of the sector and whether there has been a quid pro quo with the United States on doling out defence deals and broad agreements on geopolitical issues in return for India easing restrictions on entry of the so-called big retail.
I believe that is the case. Gradually, the controls will be eased, just as what happened in the insurance sector.
But opening of retail has been a political hot potato. The communists oppose it in the name of ideology while elements on the centre and right oppose it simply because the Marwaris and Banias form their support base and have always been a source of their funding. These communities have been in the trade for centuries.
Let's put it simply - there is a reluctance to challenge the present paradigm.
Big retail will seek to achieve economies of scale not only on the consumer end but also on the sourcing side. That would necessitate bulk sourcing which would also translate into some element of discounting for the end consumer.
In short, the consumer would benefit from the lower prices and also a wider range that the neighbourhood bania cannot offer.
Opening retail would bring with it a whole host of opportunities for the not so well educated youth. Organised retail will hire big time for logistics, sourcing, security and manning the stores. And the youth will have a grand opportunity to pick up some skills and who knows, some opportunities for entrepreneurship in the future.
Vendors will have an opportunity to directly sell to the retail chains bypassing middlemen.
Organised retail has to develop and evolve logistics solutions including cold chain solutions to ensure fresh produce reaches the markets. This would trigger the much n investments in logistics solutions, warehousing, transportation, repair and maintenance which would lead to entrepreneurship opportunities.
Clearly opening of retail has multiplier effects on the economy.
But does this mean that it would be the end of the road for small retail?
Certainly not!
Models of hub and spoke in retail trade, involving, say a Walmart and a network of neighbourhood retailers can be thought of. That way it is a win-win for all. Traditional retailers stay in business while Walmart increases its footprint.
In short, opening retail should not be a political hot potato. Instead, it would have multiplier effects on India's GDP, in the long term.

Friday, November 12, 2010

An "On Top Of The World" Break!

A week before Diwali, Neeti and I, took a much needed break from this mad-mad-mad Bombaypolis.
We packed our Dreamliner, headed out to Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar, 250 kilometers away, early that Saturday morning.
The drive was a breeze, the air crisp and refreshing, the 80s-music great, the mood, undoubtedly, on top of the world.
Some snapshots of the reprieve from the hypertension of Bombay are here for you to see.

There's always light at the end of the tunnel!!!

Amazing Banyans at Wai!

The final leg - getting a high!!!!

My idea of relaxation!

Magnificent Silver Oaks at the Prospect!

Strange ways of this world - A holiday for us means work for him.

And gently flows the Krishna!

A fiery sunset!

Our cottage!

The Sun plays hide and seek!

The Prospect stands tall, 98 years on!

Stand tall, stand firm!

Coffy for anyone?

Silence, despite the cacophony of the crickets!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do 50,000 jobs today, matter?

This was so familiar.
During his visit to India, President Obama behaved like a super smart, manipulative college lass who uses the boys who swoon over her to her advantage, get them to do her homework, assignments, etc.
It is indeed true that Manmohan Singh swoons over America. Indians do admire the United States.
So his speech in the Central Hall of Parliament which was liberally peppered with references to our mythology, freedom struggle, Gandhi, Ambedkar, Chandni Chowk and a lot more was meant to sound like music to Indian ears.
The references to India's emergence as a great power were tailor-made to sweet talk India into doling out business deals.
That seems to have worked very well for Obama. Besides the deals signed by SpiceJet and Reliance Power, the press had been receiving selective leaks suggesting that POTUS' sales trip was immensely successful.
A blog on Indian defence, LiveFist, authored by a well-informed defence journalist, Shiv Aroor, recently reported that the Indian Air Force is buying an additional six C130J Super Hercules transport aircraft.
Instead of the publicly announced order for 10 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, the Indian Air Force may just end up ordering 17. Similarly, the Indian Navy could order a few more Boeing P-8I Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
The bottomline is that we have gifted the United States over 50,000 jobs. The salesman-in-chief, POTUS, would now expect a reasonable bonus, read: a re-election!
But 50,000 jobs do not matter for India, neither do 100,000 jobs, or for that matter 1,000,000 jobs.
What matters is whether we are able to extract the right leverage from the United States.
It is certainly true that Obama's long-winded sales spiel in Parliament does not mean anything for India. We do not need his stamp of approval to get into the United Nations Security Council. We cannot rely on the United States to solve our regional security issues, afterall the United States is no headmaster to punish an errant Pakistan. It's our job to teach the Pakistanis a lesson.
How we would get the right leverage in the United States is clear. The United States has been asking Indian corporates for investment, which was explicit in the recent visit of President Obama.

It would not matter much for India if Mr. Ratan Tata would get Jaguar Land Rover to set up a plant in Detroit or Mr. Mukesh Ambani setting up a refinery on the Gulf of Mexico.
Increased corporate investments would lead to increased transfer of technology and know how. That also has an unintended but useful consequence in the form of penetration of lobbies in Washington. Undoubtedly lobbies help, Israel has shown that well. That is the leverage we need - the ability to influence policy when so desired. That should be the strategic objective.
That means we are in it for the long haul. So 50,000 or 100,000 or even 1,000,000 jobs do not, do not matter at all in the immediate future.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Salesman of the Year - POTUS!

The POTUS landed here today. And the POTUS came along with the FLOTUS.

I am not talking about any spacecraft. I am talking about the President of the United States and the First Lady of the United States.

Just before 1 PM, the Air Force One touched down at CSI Airport, with the salesman of the year, Barack Obama.

It appears after the Republican Tea Party routed him in the American mid-terms, he has no option but to show some action.

What better way than to fly down to the new El Dorado, India, selling his wares and contemplate the defeat by the Tea Party over a warm cup of tea at the Taj Mahal Hotel! (The Taj does serve very good tea, my personal favourite is Assam tea, though, I am told Darjeeling is equally good!)

Let's accept it, that the American economy is on a downslide. That's what cost him a mid-term.

Today, Obama has no option but to become a roving salesman for America Inc.

He does not love India the way Dubya Bush did (that was a mutual love affair!!! I miss Dubya a lot when it comes to United States - India relations!), but it is money, it is business that speaks.

China will not import volumes from the United States. Europe is half-dead economically. The rest of the word has insignificantly small long term potential. That leaves only India in the reckoning. If business with India increases, so will jobs in the United States. That is what forces him lift curbs on transfer of dual-use technologies to India. That's what prompts him to make a pitch for hi-tech exports, nuclear technology, defence deals, aircrafts and you name it, its on sale!!!

It is a game, we need to play it well to get the best from the United States. We have to make the United States dependent on exports to India to force them into a strategic partnership, that helps us stand up as a counterweight to China's quest for dominance in Asia as well as quelling Islamic extremism.

POTUS' visit rings a bell - remember when Bill Clinton was forced to write back sanctions on China for economic reasons?

So far, salesman POTUS has done a decent job, now it is turn. But without doubt, POTUS is the salesman of the year, he wins the award hands down.
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