Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bombay & the art of begging $40M a year.

The papers this week have been carrying stories about how a government survey shows that Bombay beggars earn $40 million a year. Totally believable and not at all surprising. Infact goes to show the wealth of Bombay.

Beggar Masters
Many years back I knew a guy called
Sar Zammen Bhai who was a beggar master. He used to collect unwanted children (normally with physical disfigurations) from poor families and put them in his slum colony. He then trained these kids to become beggars. In return he provided them with food, shelter and love.

A beggar kid has two sources of earning money. The obvious is earning through begging. The unknown is beggars also work as spies for businessman and mafia. They hang around their targets on streets, railway stations, office buildings, etc and eavesdrop on their conversations. Some of the beggars are also experts at eavesdropping through walls.

Begging Tribes
The second kind of beggars in Bombay are tribal beggars. These are tribes which solely live by the profession of begging. They have done this for 1000s of years. They are true professional beggars. Some of them perform street stunts and beg; some of the irritate you and extract money from you; others have animals like monkeys, snakes and parrots which they use in their begging arsenal; and some, the best, are experts at make-up and acting to make them appear totally wretched. In these tribes, the entire family moves to cities during certain months and begs while living off the pavements or in slums; and during planting & harvesting time they move to their villages to tend to crops.

The third kind of beggars are
Hijras. These are so called Enuchs or Transvestites. Apparently men who were born gay and this was detected at a very early age, so their penis has been chopped off and they are now a 3rd sex. They look like men and dress like women. They have this special way of clapping to alert others of their presence. They put on a lewd and comical act which people laugh at. They work closely with watchmen in buildings, who alert them of any wedding or new birth in a building, where they immediately show up and start their nuisance creating act. They have also created a myth about themselves that if you don't give money to a begging Hijrah you will have bad luck forever. Another well created structure by them is that every Thursday one must give money to Hijras.

The fourth kind of beggars are scam artistes. These are educated people who are well dressed. They will often approach you in a respectable and unusual location, like a bookshop, and tell you a sad story like how their son is about to graduate and how he needs Rs. 5000 ($110) for some last minute books. That you can even buy the books for him from this very bookshop. Ofcourse after you do, the scamster in league with the shop owner or salesman return the books and splits the money.

Beggar Haunts
The usual hangouts for beggars are: near religious shrines; traffic signals in upmarket localities; airport; railway stations; outside open air eateries: a person begging while you are eating is a very compelling sight!; and in tourist areas.

The Solution
So why is it so hard for us to do anything about beggars? Well what can you do with beggars? Indian is a democracy so we can't beat them or shoot them; the only thing that can be done is fine them. And if they don't pay? Well they are beggars, so they are happy to go into jails and receive free meals. So there appears to be no way out.

Bombay's Problem
Why Bombay, why does it have so many beggars. People tell me there are no beggars in Delhi or Pune or Bangalore or Hyderabad, atleast not as many as Bombay. So whats up? Its because Bombay is a rich city, much richer than the other cities. And the rich always feel guilty and need to give away their money to feel better (Gates & Buffet like)....

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Indian govt blocks all blogs in knee jerk reaction

This blog has been off the air in India since Sunday 16 July. And so have all other blogs on blogspot & typepad !

Can't believe this is happening in what is touted as the "world's largest democracy" ? Well it is. Apparently this is a security measure in response to the recent Mumbai blasts. Yea, we have smarter security than the Americans, Brits & Spaniards, who didn't ban blogs after their respective tragedies.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Making MSN talk to Yahoo Messenger

Finally, I don't have to run Yahoo for those few friends who insist on using it. You can chat with Yahoo friends through Windows Live Messenger (fancy name for the new version), by simply adding them as you normally add a contact with their full id, such as or

However to make it confusing, the below message a
ppears on Windows Live Messenger, making you believe that you have the wrong version. Just ignore.

More on MSN Messenger's Blog, click here

Update: 1 day after I tried this it's not working everywhere. Some of my friends in India on the Yahoo side aren't receiving "add" requests. So I guess we'll have to wait a while....wonder if this will cause the idea to bomb?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Re: are you ok?


thanks for asking.

Situation here is that 127 people train commuters have died. Millions were stranded due to stoppage of trains.

It was great to see ordinary citizens come forward and give water shelter food to the stranded.

Now office has reopened and its amazing too see everybody back, considering many got home at 5 & 6 am, and there is no fear in people...


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bombay needs a CEO more than ever

The blasts today have elevated the need for a Bombay CEO beyond ideological & argumentative levels. This city just cannot recover from emergencies as there is no-one incharge. No one to coordinate between police, trains, municipality, buses, hospitals, etc. Every agency is doing their own thing, and everyone from the Chief Minister to the Police Commissioner are scrambling to coordinate.

So the political parties have to put their ambitions aside for once, and have to reform the political system to bring one person in charge of Bombay. I don't care what they do, make Bombay a SAR within Maharashtra or any other formula. It just has to be done.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Maturing of the Indian BPO industry

The last 5 years have all been gung ho stories of how companies in the US & Europe and shifting their back office operations to India. Movies have been made on the subject and Westen legislators have even tried to pass bills blocking offshoring to India. All the while Indians have had a glow on their faces about how India has arrived and how they are going to win all the jobs from the West.

Now comes the reality check, with three hi-profile BPOS shutting shop in India: PowerGen UK, Apple Computer, and Belair UK. There have also been stories of how some UK banks have been advertising that they take their calls "at home" and have won customers as a result.

These are all signs that BPO activity in India is maturing. Like every story there are two sides to it and the second side is now emerging. Naturally offshoring to India is not for everyone; and India is a 3rd world country with massive red tape problems and infrastructure shortages. The BPO story that was built on the backs of massive undersea communication cables and India's large English speaking population, is now running into India's legendary red tape and infrastructure shortage reality.

So, its not going to be all gung ho stories from now. Good. Better to have a real picture than a rosy one. It'll stop Western companies from foolishly rushing into India and they'll now take a more serious calculated approach, by doing a better study and deputing better managers.

Will BPO growth stall? Does water ever not find its own level? As long as there are cost efficiencies to be achieved, companies in the West will continue to offshore to India. Then will come a time, when due to sheer practice, like in software, Indian companies will posses competencies ahead of their Western counterparts and will become essential to offshoring.

Further, all parts of the BPO industry are now maturing, from the attitude of workers to the attitude of the government and the infrastructure requirements. BPO outfits too are maturing. Going are the <500>

Blogs tracking VC/Investment activity in India

1. - written by a journalist tracking the India scene

2. - put together by a bunch of Indian VC & Angel types

3. - not India related, but a good insightful blog by a Silicon Valley VC

Good news entrepreneurs: Angels have landed

Agnus my good friend today asked me how she could get a "good investor" to help scale her beauty business. She hadn't been able to reach out to any investors who would invest Rs. 1 crore at this early stage. She was quite frustrated and was further concerned that because shes a woman if anyone would take her seriously.

This has been the story for long in India. There has been no organized way of reaching early stage investors. So the only ones who could grow were those with family money or those who had something to mortgage to raise debt. Or you could start a business like Agnus has, but you couldn't scale it. There are millions of such stories, resulting in massive frustration amongst Indian entrepreneurs.

Some time back TIE came with promise of helping entrepreneurs in this critical phase, but in reality has done precious little in India. I myself was so frustrated that I have been planning to set-up a network of early stage investors. Now I'm glad someone has beaten me to it...

Band of Angels India is an organization of investors who invest anywhere between Rs. 25lacs to Rs. 5 cr (approx $50,000 to $1 million) in your company if they like you, like your team and like your idea. Not only do they invest, they tend to play an important role in guiding you and helping through their contacts and resources.

If you want to win the patronage of an Angel, you need to submit a short note about yourself and your idea. Try and pick an investor who has interest in your sector and is from your city (historically it is found that Angels usually invest in companies founded out of their own city because its convenient for them to keep and eye and play a role).

In the event you receive an investment, make sure you keep everything clean, above board, and report every week to your investor what you are doing.

Why does the Angel invest? Typically, Angel investors are looking to grow their money 10 times in your company within a period of 3 - 4 years. So if they put in $100,000, they would like $1 million back in 3 years. No this is not a loan so you don't have to pay it back by selling off your house. What you need is have a high growth plan that in 3 years time will require a much larger investment by a Venture Capitalist ($3 million upwards), and the VC will buy out the Angel's equity in your company, thus enabling the Angel to get his money out and make a good return on it. Ofcourse this is not always the case and there are many models, but this is generally the model.

I also suggest you do lots of research before you contact the Angels, so that you thoroughly understand the entrepreneur investor relationship; and you understand what investors want. Research through Google and Google Blog Search.

Good luck and here is wishing both you and BOA India tons of success. If you have any questions feel free to ask through the comments section of this post.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Bombay's annual holiday

Today is Bombay's forced annual holiday, occurring every July. The city's transport comes to halt with the train system and the roads shutting down. Why? because it rains. Or as the Chief Minister puts it "unprecedented rain".

So every year we receive "unprecedented rain", and every year millions are stranded in their cars, trains and buses. Offices are shut and deadlines are missed. Businesses suffer massive losses. Tourists and outstation business people miss their appointments. Its a mess.

The people of Bombay put on a brave front and call it "the spirit of Bombay". How we brave the rains every year and still put on a smiling face that week at work after being stranded for as much as 6 - 8 hrs on the road without toilets.

The politicians & bureaucrats couldn't care less, about the spirit or the people of Bombay. They are too busy with one upmanship and fighting their daily petty battles with each other.

So it continues......

Levels of Intelligence

Einstien Said:

"The Levels of Intelligence go as follows:

- at the bottom you have Dumb

- next comes Intelligent

- then Smart

- Brilliant

- then Genius

- and above all Simple "