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Goodbye, India. And Thank You!

“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.”

― A.A. Milne

Welcome to India!

What on earth just happened??!

My head is still spinning.

Before I could say “boo”, my time here is up. Done. Gone. Finis.

Here’s the twist – with a couple of months still remaining on my commitment, I received a sweet offer (very sweet) to head back home and do my thing there instead.

Carpe diem (Sorry, I just watched that wonderful movie, Dead Poet’s Society).

Sieze the day! What else could I do?  What would you do?  When the choice is heading home or not, and it’s presented with a flourish of new incentives? Exactly.

It’s just that it was totally unexpected and sudden, and I was quite unprepared. In fact, I was under pressure to extend my commitment to stay on in Bombay (by a few years!), making me grapple with all that it means to do so.  I had finally come to terms with this, ready to compromise and lengthen my stay for the right ‘fine print’.

But as I went in to discuss the details, lo and behold, the situation got turned all upside down and topsy turvy!

Could I take on a totally different (and exciting, blah, blah, blah) assignment for the company… based over there?

Huh.

And, before I knew it,  just like that, it was over.

Things are happening so rapidly that I will be packing up and saying my goodbyes over the next couple of weeks. And then, it’ll be off and away for me. So quickly!

India

The time’s right to reflect a bit on my stay in India. Sadness is setting in. Because whatever good, bad or ugly I experienced here – only the good stands out for me now. [Aah, the mysterious workings of the human brain!]

I feel so lucky to have spent this time living and experiencing India – very different from a visit every now and then.

I feel so fortunate to have met all those wonderful people, many who have now turned into life long friends.

And I know that while I will still be racking up tons of frequent flier miles flying back and forth, it will never be quite the same as living here.

Mum-bai

And of the city that became my home for almost two years…whatever can I say?  

A view of Mumbai at night, "clean" and shining bright!

A view of Mumbai at night, “clean” and shining bright!

I love this city in all its smelly and chaotic glory. I love its vibrance. I love the warmth – not of the weather so much as of its people. I love the shopping. I love the theater. I love the yoga I pursued here. I love the best pani puri in the world. I love…so many things here.

[But I do hate the sight of all that roadside garbage nor will I miss the traffic and crazy commutes].

The sweet and sour experience of living in India is looking mostly sweet – in retrospect and when it’s getting time to say goodbye. Isn’t that always the case?

Home Again

So, I head back to the US with all the eagerness of going home, but it’s mixed in with the sadness of leaving the new nest that I had created for myself in my native land.

Aaah, the yin and yang.

My time here has flown by! Almost two years that feel like the blink of an eye.

I am heading to a place where the news I will be reading is not about Sonia Gandhi, Kejriwal or corruption and scams.  Instead it will be about Obama (yes!), Boehner, job creation and the fiscal cliff.

As I get ready to return home, I’m glad to say that I’m not alone. Nor will I ever be. Because accompanying me will be big buckets full of memories that will never go anywhere.

Yep. I consider myself very lucky indeed.

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“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”

― Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

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Heading towards a different skyline on the other side of the world

Heading towards a different skyline on the other side of the world

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P.S.  And what of my blog??! I haven’t had the time to figure that out yet.  I have loved every minute of creating it, even when the number of readers was at zero because it was never about how many would read it, rather about what thoughts were pouring through my head that just had to get written somewhere.

Now, what?  Perhaps I just morph it to The Yin and Yang of Life…whaddya think?

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Bottoms Up! The Rising Popularity of Alcohol in ‘New’ India

America’s Whiskey

The idea for this post (other than being apropos just before New Year’s Eve party time) actually came from an edition of NY Times this week which has a feature story on America’s liquor. Which one, you say? Why, bourbon of course.

What was really interesting is the closing paragraph…I’ll get to that in a minute. But, essentially, of all liquors, this one is homegrown American, and its popularity appears to be soaring. It’s a whiskey by another name, no? Exports of bourbon comprise a whopping 70% of all distilled American spirit exports each year. And its volume is expected to grow even further.

Back to that closing paragraph and in relation to growth was a telling  statement, as seen in the following excerpt from this story:

In five to 10 years, will their products be in such high demand? The industry is banking on big growth in India and China, said Charles K. Cowdery, author of “Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey.” “If those markets develop as has been anticipated, no one will have made enough,” he said. “If they don’t, everyone will have made too much.”

That kind of begs the question (since I’m here on the ground)…

What does India drink?

You may have already heard my angst about having to spend an arm and a leg for the “economy variety” of imported wines (cheap, in other words)…for example, Yellow Tail! That’s because the government here taxes imported alcohol at the rate of 150%. Apparently, there are moves underway that will reduce this import duty to a mere…50%.  An improvement, anyway.

Actually, India has a history of Prohibition from the last century. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to ban the sale of alcohol across India and today there are four states, including one of the more prominent one – Gujurat (also Gandhi’s home state) that impose Prohibition.

Alternatively, I wonder if the youth of Mumbai and most other metros in India even know what the word means!

Alcohol consumption is absolutely and visibly on the rise in India (part of India Shining?). Yet, the untapped market is huge because only 22% of men and 2% of women in India consume alcohol. Therefore, the foreign and domestic liquor companies see huge potential here.

The most popular alcohol by far are distilled spirits (rum, brandy, whiskey), followed by local liquor such as palm wine or arrack.  Trailing the pack are beer and finally, wine. Spirits make up a massive 88% of what Indians regularly drink, beer is 10% and wine only 2%.

All these numbers point to one overriding factor: untapped market.

In fact, according to a TIME magazine article last year, India’s market size of $14 billion in 2009 was projected to grow at 10% per year, exceeding the market growth for alcohol of China, US and Europe combined! One that smart liquor, wine or beer companies anywhere in the world would be foolish to ignore. And, they aren’t.

The Other Side (There’s Always One)

On the other, murkier side of the equation, there are definite concerns of alcoholism as a disease, with a disturbing impact on the health of Indians.

An article on this topic in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, expresses this major issue:

What is of particular concern—and an important indicator of health risks—is that the signature pattern of alcohol consumption in India is frequent and heavy drinking. More than half of all drinkers fall into the criteria for hazardous drinking, which is characterised by bingeing and solitary consumption to the point of intoxication.  Moreover, spirits account for 95% of the beverages drunk in India.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India saw a solid increase in recorded adult per capita consumption of alcohol over the past few years. What is probably most troubling is the age at which alcohol consumption begins. Over a decade of time, this age has dropped from 28 to 19 – almost nine years!  Therefore, the prediction is that that age will drop even further, to an alarming 15 years in just a few years time.

Never the Twain Shall Meet? You wish.

What is perhaps most disturbing is that the country that is yet to be able to provide basic human needs and necessities to its population is also eyed as one of the most attractive markets for liquor in the world. How does the country balance the two?

This is just one more reason why India with all its dichotomies is one of the most difficult and complex countries to understand…or govern.

With respect to liquor, now you have accessibility and affordability combined with ‘permission’ from a much more liberalized society. In this country more than any other, I think, it really begs the question…is the glass half-empty or half-full?

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