The DAME Was Late

Swami A Aiyar’s latest column is about how the messes in the Commonwealth Games are the ones the government has made, while the few successes involved are the ones the private sector are involved in. This is a sentiment that I generally agree with, but it commits one key error when it talks about how the Airport Express line opening late is an example of government failure.

Actually, the public sector DMRC completed almost all its work within the hard deadline of the Games opening ceremony. Though they did miss their own deadlines; and the violet line still isn’t operating on the last few stations. The Airport Express line however was a private sector responsibility – it’s being operated by Reliance Infra (Anilbhai, that is). The DMRC was supposed to do the civil engineering, and R Infra (whose website’s core infrastructure page says it’s under construction – tee hee) didn’t do the electrical work and testing on time. To be fair, the DMRC has an interest in putting the blame on Reliance – they get to charge it a penalty.

The Swaminomics column also mentions Reliance’s putting up the world’s biggest refinery in record time as an example of private sector excellence; so the Reliance failure this time around is kind of piquant. The difference between the two situations could be explained by:

  • Dhirubhai was betting the farm with the Jamnagar refinery, and this added a little bit of desperation. The Airport Express Link is nowhere as important or as much of a flagship project; so management was not quite so obsessive about getting things done ahead of schedule.
  • Dhirubhai had it in him, while Anilbhai is a wanker. This is my favourite explanation, but then I’m biased. It is an explanation that is shared, though – some years ago I read either in Business Standard or Business World a deliciously snarky editorial that when talking about Anil Ambani’s attempt to set up ultra-mega power plants in UP, talked about how only an idiot would want to sell power to the bankrupt Uttar Pradesh electrical utilities. Sadly, I’ve lost the link.
  • Or to be very cynical, since this is a public-private partnership project, Reliance Infra presumably ends up making money no matter how late they are.

That last point could work the other way around too, though. Maybe Reliance Infra isn’t actually that late, and the Commissioner of Metro Rail Safety is refusing to give the clearance to extort a bribe out of Anilbhai.

The exasperating thing is that ever since the news about the Airport link not opening on time came out, there’s been a news blackout on what is going on. There was that one Business Standard article I linked above on the penalty, and nothing since then. Not even news about when the line will open. So we can’t actually know what is going on, and who actually fucked up. What sadness.

On a more personal note, I wish there was at least some information on where the airport station actually is. At present, DIAL hasn’t got the Terminal 3 parking completely functional; so being picked up at the new terminal is a nightmare. If the metro station is right inside T3, though, it would mean I could come to Delhi, catch the metro to Dhaula Kuan, and get picked up from there. That would be awesome. Of course, this would also require domestic operations to start at Terminal 3. They haven’t, and this time this is because of fuckups from both the private and public sector – the IT systems didn’t work back in July, but now the bottlenecks are the entirely government owned and run Delhi Transco and Delhi Jal Board.

Oh, and for a very well written piece on how the vast majority of fuckups are governmental, not private sector, here’s Salil Tripathi in WSJ.

Notes From a Delhi Weekend

Or, too long for tweets, too short for individual posts. This is an Amul Chocolate blogpost. Or perhaps Goldilocks. Whatever.

  • To my great sadness, I fell sick on Saturday, and though my family had tickets to the athletics events at the Commonwealth Games, I wasn’t able to attend. I’m not sure when India’s hockey semifinal is, but between leaving tomorrow afternoon, and the immense difficulty in getting tickets, I think I won’t be able to attend that either. Such is life.
  • The innermost lane on all roads to Games venues have been reserved for vehicles with Commonwealth Games stickers. I am astonished for two reasons – first, that Delhi’s drivers are actually obeying this rule for the most part; and second, that there are so few vehicles with stickers. Since this is Delhi, I would have expected anybody with even a tenuous connection to anybody in government to have stickers. This is not the case. Astounding.
  • My home is near the tennis stadium, and thus my neighbourhood has born the brunt of Commonwealth Games ‘beautification’. In the past year, our sidewalks have been ripped up and relaid thrice. The last time (in the beginning of August), this involved raising the sidewalk to a height of six inches above road level. All well and good, except this was also done across everyone’s gates, making it impossible for cars to move from the roads to the driveway. The next morning, the MCD Senior Engineer accepted bribes from everyone to build small ramps to facilitate entry and exit. Well played, I say.
  • That said, the new sidewalks and road berms are very nice indeed. They are lowered to road level at zebra crossings, the berms too are interrupted to make an island at said zebra crossings. And when I walked from Safdarjung Enclave to Green Park, the new sidewalks made the walk much better than it used to be. However, it is still not perfect, because six things keep fucking up what is otherwise an excellent sidewalk:
    • power transformers
    • garbage dumps
    • cars parked on the sidewalk
    • street vendors
    • security guard boxes
    • shops enroaching on the sidewalk
  • The last two categories – shops pushing their displays or stairs onto the sidewalk and security guards’ kiosks being placed on the sidewalk instead of inside the house are sheer bad civic sense on the part of private parties. The street vendors and cars parked on sidewalk are bad luck or incompetent planning – Safdarjung Enclave and Green Park were developed in the 1960s when few households had even a scooter, and nobody could have anticipated that every house would have two cars at least. The transformers and garbage dumps on the sidewalk, though, are inexcusable enroachments by the government itself on public property.
  • There is now a FabIndia outlet in Green Park. Delhi visits have therefore become even more expensive.
  • Green Park Market is becoming positively Chennaiesque in the density of pharmacists. It has at least five, in what can’t be more than a three kilometre stretch. I suspect this may be a result of the Adyar Ananda Bhavan triggering a slow metamorphasis. If it continues, than in twenty years Green Park will no longer have Punjabis but elderly TamBrahm thathas taking morning walks in GAP shorts and white Converse sneakers. Whatay.
  • I also finally got to travel on one of the new low floor buses with the bright green paint jobs. If you can get a seat, they’re definitely more comfortable than the old rattletraps. If you can’t, there’s not much difference. The getting on and off on the low floor is a small delight though.
  • I have more to say on the subject of buses, but that is a blogpost (or possibly an oped) in itself.
  • The Hindi signage for the Green Park metro station reads ग्रीन पॉर्क and not ग्रीन पार्क. That is, Green Paurk. The signs inside the coaches are fine though. I am mystified.
  • The Airport Express Metro Line is not ready yet. Oh sigh. But more on that in a separate post.
  • The Metro coaches themselves are very nice, and the way they use LEDs in the route strip above the coach doors to show which station is coming next is very clever. They also have power points for laptop and mobile charging; though the coaches seem far too packed for anybody to use these properly.
  • Yes, the coaches are jampacked, even on the South Delhi stretch of the Yellow Line that people were afraid would be underutilised, because, hey, South Delhi snobs always take their cars. The Violet line was only jampacked upto JLN Stadium though – and that was presumably because people were going to watch the Games. But then again this was on a Sunday night – a weekday maybe more crowded.
  • There was a Wired article which said that the major attraction of public transport over driving yourself was that instead of focusing on the road, you could read, or play games on your smartphone, or tweet, or suchlike. This is true in general, but the Metro is so crowded that reading will require immense concentration and Zenergy. And the network in the underground parts of the Metro is good, but not good enough.
  • In fact, the Metro is so crowded that it leads to practically Bombayesque levels of overhearing other people. On the violet line, I ended up overhearing a girl who was terribly unclear on the concept of interchanges. This was in addition to the person who asked me at Central Secretariat station if the train we were getting into was going to… Central Secretariat. He believed that the sign saying Central Secretariat was actually denoting the train’s destination.
  • I was tempted to be snarky about people who cannot understand how the Metro works, but after reading this Slate article on signage, I am more sympathetic. It is actually an important question – how do you explain the concept of an interchange to somebody whose learning style does not mesh well with maps?
  • Also on the violet line was a small child who was surprised that the train suddenly emerged from the underground tunnel and went on to a bridge. His mother explained to him that the Metro runs both under and above ground. He pondered this, and then nodded gravely.
  • The story of 4000 condoms being distributed at the Commonwealth Games Athletes Village and then the drains getting clogged with the condoms (insert cleaning your pipes joke here) is by now known to everyone. But all these foreigners keep having sex anyway. What I am more concerned about is – are the games also helping the local teenage volunteers get any action? They seem suspiciously cheerful. And if they are, how much does the bright red and white volunteer tracksuit contribute to this happy state of affairs? It is true that bright plumage helps birds attract mates, but in that case only the male is brightly coloured while the female is dowdy. But here, the male and female volunteers both have the same shiny tracksuit. This must be investigated.

Notes From My Bombay Trip

  • My Jet Airways Citbank Card finally came of some use and I used miles accumulated since 2007 to get myself a return ticket to Bombay where I attended the NiTyaGu wedding. Regrettably, Airport Development Fees and Congestion Charges cannot be paid for by miles.
  • When introducting Konnect, Jet Airways seems to have forgotten to make provision for it in the frequent flier program. It takes as many miles to redeem a full-service ticket as a Konnect ticket. Naturally I booked full-service tickets.
  • Having a full fare ticket allowed me to finally enter the Jet Airways lounge at Chennai. Alas, the lounge has no wifi, is slightly dirty, and while I was there had not only hyperactive kids but a Malaysian couple who fought over the guy tying his shoe instead of listening to the girl. The guy then made the girl cry. Am I the only person who notices these bizarre domestic disputes?
  • Having a full-fare ticket also meant I got to watch 30 Rock on the inflight entertainment system (Nishit D and PGK, please note). Also, two episodes of Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai.
  • Apropos of inflight entertainment systems, now that K Maran has taken over Spice Jet and is going to rename it Sun Airways, will it start offering Sun TV as inflight entertainment? If this is too expensive for a low cost carrier, will it just play Kalaignar’s poetry on the PA system? Will Azhagiri now buy Go Air in retaliation? These are burning questions.
  • Bloomberg UTV has hoardings up all over Mumbai claiming to be blunt, and sharp. It is clearly the Schroedinger’s cat of Indian broadcasting. That means that if anybody actually watches it, it will collapse.
  • Speaking of hoardings, I did not see a single hoarding or OOH banner that referred to the football world cup while in Bombay. I fear its obsession with Indian celebrities is now crowding out everything else.
  • The banana lassi at Theobroma is awesome.
  • Theobroma is now offering to courier its brownies anywhere in India. Unfortunately payment can be made only at Mumbai. This makes it useful as a gifting option where the gifter is in Mumbai, but is pretty useless if you’re in Kanchipuram and want to order. This week I shall call the Colaba outlet and ask if they’ll take payment by EFT.
  • Kodhi made me (and others) watch the 90210 season two finale. This led to consequences that are too scandalous to discuss outside a W-File. Unfortunately, I am not going to start writing the next W-File until at least July.
  • The grub at the Rajdhani in Oberoi Mall was seriously good. In fact, the khichdi, kadi, and jalebis were themselves worth the price of the whole thali.
  • I met PGK at the reception. Like Sreesanth, he is a personable young man. Unlike Sreesanth, he is not Mallu.
  • TamBrahm weddings are like ERP implementations.
  • Sambhar in Chembur continues to rock.
  • My Jet Airways Citibank Card also came in useful at Mumbai airport, where I got complimentary access to the lounge, which didn’t even care what my ticket was. Unfortunately, the lounge is only marginally less noisy than the public seating area, so I shifted there. Oh sigh.
  • A lounge that banned children would be quite excellent. To fend of accusations of elitism and child-hatred from mommybloggers, it could accomplish this by serving alcohol and barring entry to anybody less than 18 years old. I am still not sure how it could get rid of other annoying guests, like the ones who loudlly discuss compensation schemes on their blackberries. Tchah.
  • The wifi in Mumbai airport was down and didn’t start working until it was almost boarding time. I will have to add the appropriate tags to this post later, when I get home. Also, the wifi is only free for ten minutes. Oh sigh.

History Repeats Itself

The first time as labour, the second time as capital.

This is interesting. Back in the 19th century, when Southern Pacific and Central Pacific were building transcontinental railroads in the USA, they used Chinese labourers when they hit California. Here’s a very Web 1.0 page on the subject. Precis-ing it madly, the interesting bits are:

  • When Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific was asked how small and weak Chinamen would be up to the heavy physical labour of building railroads, he said “They built the Great Wall, didn’t they?”
  • Irish labourers were paid thirty dollars a month each and given free accommodation. The Chinese got a  dollar extra but no acco.
  • The railroad companies were excited about using Chinese labour because they did not practice slavery or peonage, but had a labour agency system. The Age of Gold, a book I read a few years ago, mentioned that the railroad owners were largely northerners and antislavery; and also that the question of granting statehood to California helped trigger the US Civil War.

The Wikipedia page on Chinese American History (badly needs cleanup) points out that things weren’t quite as rosy as that:

  • The labourers usually couldn’t afford passage to America and booked their ticket against future wages. Their wages were then withheld until the ticket was paid for. And you thought TDS was bad.
  • White labourers responded with fury and racism at this competition, and the Yellow Peril meme was born.

Eventually, the Chinese labourers also started working in fisheries and agriculture, and established a massive Chinatown in San Francisco.

Cut to today. China is now offering investment and technical expertise to build California’s high-speed rail line.

That New York Times article in the link has a full circle narrative, and saying that China is now bringing technology and money instead of labour; but given the way the Chinese operate, they’ll probably bring in the labour as well. (Alas, no citations to offer here except private emails about what’s going on at Mundra port and my own observation about the Huawei office in Mumbai)

The really interesting part is on Page 2 of the article:

China’s mostly state-controlled banks had few losses during the global financial crisis and are awash with cash now because of tight regulation and a fast-growing economy. The Chinese government is also becoming disenchanted with bonds and looking to diversify its $2.4 trillion in foreign reserves by investing in areas like natural resources and overseas rail projects.

“They’ve got a lot of capital, and they’re willing to provide a lot of capital” for a California high-speed rail system, Mr. Crane said.

I have a conspiracy theory that infrastructure is only the beginning, but more on that in a separate post.

Customer Financed Projects

In F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, the main characters are an American couple called the Divers who are Page 3 People in the 1920s. They live on a hillside Villa over the French Riviera, where they throw parties for American tourists and expats. Unfortunately up to the 1920s Riviera hotels were open only in the winters and there would be no tourists in the summer. So they convince one particular hotel owner to keep his hotel open in the summer as well, so that the stream of guests for their parties never dries up. Eventually the hotel starts getting so many guests that the owner doesn’t even need the support of the Divers to make the summer season profitable.

When I read this, I was reminded of what the Adanis have done while constructing the Mundra port. The Adani steel plant isn’t viable without the port, so the steel company has become a part investor in the port project and is financing the rail link between the port and the existing Indian Railways network. Once the rail link is completed, Adani steel will benefit of course, but so will everyone else who wants to use the port (and of course so does the port).

Project finance epiphanies aside, Tender is the Night is one of the most disturbing books about adultery and breaking down marriages I’ve ever read. Now if only it wasn’t so indulgent of its main characters.

All India Radio

Samar Halarnkar is pissed off that Indian FM radio stations only play Bollywood songs and puerile PJs (a sentiment I share to some extent) and proposes a solution in the Hindustan Times – putting AIR on steroids.

AIR has found fans like me — though let me confess that before I ‘discovered’ AIR, I was quite addicted to a radio spot in Mumbai called ‘Kamla ka hamla’, the random outpourings of a fast-talking transvestite — not because of a grand plan to counter the explosion of private radio but because it is a public broadcaster that is not beholden to the demands of the mass market.

Ideally, public-service radio must give voice to and reflect the needs of democracy’s silent majorities and minorities. It cannot be left entirely to the whimsical flick of a few hundred million wrists. “Broadcasting,” as Tony Benn, a British socialist politician once observed, “is really too important to be left to the broadcasters.”

An AIR with vision and verve could lead India’s radio revival. Imagine if it became a National Public Radio, the wonderful public-radio network in the US. There are many like us, waiting for lively, intelligent radio.

So because Samar Halarnkar is too cheap to buy an iPod and download podcasts (or a Worldspace receiver for that matter), the taxpayers of India must shell out their money to revamp AIR and the brightest people in government must go build a vision and verve for public radio instead of, oh I dunno, fixing the university system or conducting police reform or something.

For this he gets paid to be a columnist?

Incorporating Heritage

Neel has a blogpost which talks about IIT-D designed board games that incorporate elements from traditional Indian stories into their design. He also laments that most Indian design and architecture does very little to showcase heritage, and picks on malls, airports and railways stations as being the worst offenders. I had some scattered thoughts about this which were too long for a comment, so here they are:

  1. One of the big problems with incorporating heritage into any venture these days is that you put yourself at grave risk of Rajan Zed issuing press releases that you are offending Hindu sentiments. In fact going by past experience it could be not just Rajan Zed but Rajput associations, Jain associations, Sikh associations, ad nauseum.
  2. Railway stations – depends on what you’re defining as heritage. When the British were building stations, they they built gorgeous facades which mixed up Mughal design elements (arches and domes), continental European decoration (the gargoyles at the station formerly known as Victoria Terminus), pre-Mughal construction (red sandstone), and some stuff which was entirely fresh from the architects’ perspective. I think that railway stations in princely states may also incorporate local architecture. It’s probably construction in post-independence India that gave us the horrible concrete blocks with no aesthetic appeal – the same applies to most of the airports.
  3. Airports – we seem to have moved from a situation where there was one single design of ugly concrete blocks being used for every airport to a situation where one single design of curved beams and glass walls is being used. Personally, I find the new one more attractive; but Neel’s point about it not having many Indian elements is valid. Delhi’s airport has made an effort with interior decoration for Terminal 1D, but this The Delhi Walla blogpost seems to suggest that it’s half-hearted.
  4. Malls – yes, these are the most egregrious offenders when it comes to cookie-cutter design and absolute lack of architectural imagination. I think that this is because somewhere there is a design handbook for malls which lays down points on laying out a mall to maximise retail sales which is being followed religiously without either any attempt to run local experiments to see what works better or imagination by architects on how to make it look cooler. [rant done] But even if architects did want to come up with cooler designs, would builders and tenants pay for them? Hm.

Another thing about heritage is that it’s desirable, but so are many other things (whether on pure functionality or for the wow-it’s-so-cool factor). So some of these are:

  1. Is it functional, innovative, valuable? Neel cribs about airports, but the fact that Delhi’s new airport has inline baggage scanning delights me so much that I hardly notice the lack of heritage design elements.
  2. Is it aesthetically pleasing? Everyone’s taste on what looks good will be different, so this is difficult to measure. But as an example, look at Jet Airways’ long-haul business and first class. Not much in the way of Indian design, but incredibly innovative and good-looking.
  3. Is it unique? This ties in with the crib about all malls and airports looking like each other. On the one hand, using a standard design brings down costs and I think China has built dozens of new airports just by reusing the same design over and over. Delhi’s new airport terminal might be standard curved beams and glass, but that standard design allows it to function on natural light throughout the day and not turn on electric lights until night – which has its own functional and aesthetic appeal. Of course, poor construction of that design is probably what led to the same terminal being flooded during the rains.
  4. Is it designed by Indians or an Indian company or even for Indian consumers? Even if it doesn’t reference existing heritage, if it’s iconic enough it could eventually become Indian heritage – like the Bombay Gothic buildings (good) or the Ambassador (bad). I know that Jagadguru has said that nationalism is the superset of religious fundamentalism which is itself the superset of terrorism, but I still think it is awesome if my national heritage is added to.

Another thing is that heritage doesn’t automatically provide quality. Air India paints Rajsthani chabutras on its aircraft windows but sucks as an airline. There have been so many animated movies about Krishna (Cartoon Network is running five this Janamashtami), but the dialogue and storytelling is usually terrible. 

So heritage is awesome, but only when the companies using it already have the capability to create great products; and also when designers and developers have the space to use their imagination.

The Chiranjeevi Metric for Success

I was reading the April 2008 issue of the Asian Institute of Transport Development’s Journal of Transport and Infrastructure yesterday. Yes, I am that far behind on my reading, and yes I do read journals on transport for fun. It was a special issue on Public-Private Partnerships, and had a paper on Hyderabad’s suburban rail system and its planned Metro.

Describing the efforts taken to design the MMTS network and the MMTS stations to make them as convenient and appealing as possible for commuters – bus bays for the feeder buses, seats on the station platforms, station beautification – it concluded with this line: Net effects of these stations and trains is validated by the fact that most of the Telugu movies have at least one scene shot in an MMTS station or train or both.

It was the first time in five years that inflight reading made me laugh out loud.

Some Public Transport Links

First up, the Times of India has a report on the Lajpat Nagar station of the Delhi Metro facing problems. While the station itself is being built, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is refusing to give the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation land for entry and exit points. If this situation is not resolved, then come June 2010, the Metro trains will stop at Lajpat Nagar, but passengers will have no way to actually get into or out of the station.

In 2008 in Preview, I had written about the Bangalore airport being completed without a road to the actual city, and how passengers to Bangalore would have to take onward flights to Mangalore and then a Volvo to Bangalore from there. Now it looks like Metro passengers to Lajpat Nagar will have to go to Moolchand and take an auto from there.

Actually, metro stations that get built but where the trains that don’t stop exist/ existed in real life. Recently, there was Buangkok on the North-East line of the Singapore MRTS. The station was built, but not used for two years. Then, a chap had the bright idea of putting up cutouts of white elephants all over it. For his pains, he got hauled up by the police, shaken down and eventually let off with a stern warning. Singapore, eh?

The story doesn’t end there. The whole controversy meant that the station was finally opened to the public, and this was accompanied by a huge opening ceremony and party. Enterprising schoolgirls who were involved in social work decided to raise funds over there by selling ‘Save the White Elephant’ tshirts. They too were given a warning by the police:

On Friday, Jan 13, while preparations went into overdrive for the carnival to celebrate the opening of the $80-million station on Sunday, drama knocked on its doors yet again. This time, it was over some “Save the White Elephants” T-shirts that former Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) students were planning to sell at the carnival.

That day, the students and Punggol South organisers received a reminder from the police that they needed a fund-raising permit before they could sell the T-shirts to the public, in line with existing regulations. The 27 students were also told that they might break the law if the T-shirts were worn “en masse”.

Lawbreaking by t-shirt. Awesome.

Now, moving on to less bizarre matters, Governing magazine has a piece on proactive infrastructure planning (via). It makes the valid point that most transportation infrastructure planning is reactive, and consists of increasing capacity wherever there’s congestion. However, if you create capacity where none exists, the benefits to the places on that new route can lead to an economic boom there and change transportation patterns so that the old route gets decongested – everyone is going to the new places instead. The article uses the high-speed train line between Madrid and Sevilla as an example.

It’s an intuitively sensible concept, but the example given also made my inner skeptic sniff and ask the following questions:

  1. The Spanish economy has been having a general construction fueled boom for many years, right? So was the boom in Sevilla and Andalucia notably more than the rest of the country?
  2. What’s the boom in the region and city been? High-speed rail usually serves only commuters – and so the service industry. A manufacturing boom needs decongestion and faster speeds on cargo lines as well – did those get built or decongested too?

Also, the article doesn’t really give any pointers about which underserved route you should create your highway or rail line on. I mean, why Sevilla instead of say Granada or Valencia or Bilbao?

In fact (and this is where I come into disagreement with Atanu Dey), this is where small airports and low cost airlines score over high-speed rail – you don’t have to take expensive bets building an entire high-speed line only to find it doesn’t get utilised – just build a small airstrip and terminal, and let low cost carriers serve them. This was pretty much Captain Gopinath’s dream with Air Deccan, but unfortunately it didn’t work out for him personally. But he did use to make the point that the airstrips are already there – they just need to be served. And so the risk is entirely on the private parties who operate the routes – not on the government or taxpayers who have to build the rail lines.

Actually, making sure your new route is utilised isn’t as hit or miss as the last paragraph makes it sound. It’s been done successfully by the new ports in Gujewland – Pipavav, Mundra Adani, and Palanpur through private-public partnerships.

What has happened here is that the port operator has persuaded heavy industries to build new plants next to their ports and take advantage of dedicated terminals for iron ore or gas or finished products (don’t recall the details, sorry, and don’t have the paper this was described in on me right now). Then, the port operator, the industrial user of the port, and the Indian Railways set up a joint venture which is dedicated to linking the port to the existing railway network.

So merely building a route is not enough. You also need to ensure somehow that there are enough users for it. That is tangentially alluded to in the article when it talks about the Meteor line and the National Library in Paris, but never addressed explicitly. I know, the article probably had a word limit constraint, it only wanted to introduce the what instead of writing a thesis about the how, but I wish someone would address the how. Oh well.

In Pragati

I have an article on how finance is actually infrastructure and financial sector reforms out in this month’s edition of Pragati. The link to the article gives you an excerpt and you’ll have to download the PDF version (slightly less than 2 MB) to read the full thing.

The article had a checkered history. I had almost finished researching it when I suddenly had to dash to Delhi. When I returned to Bangalore I fell sick and told Ravikiran and Nitin I wouldn’t be able to write it after all. The fact that I had no furniture in this point and writing would have to be done propped up against a wall may have contributed. Then I came to Bombay where I had a guesthouse with a dsek, and called up and offered to write it after all.

By this time I was five days over deadline and had to write it in a mad rush between ten and two in the morning at my guesthouse. The next day I had to check out of the guesthouse and didn’t have a new one to shift to, so I finished the article between noon and three in the afternoon while squatting in an unoccupied cabin next to an FX dealing room. Sadly, I had finished the bit about currency markets and was writing about financial inclusion and regulation by then.

Anyway, the result of all this was that I wrote the article in practically stream-of-consciousness style. As a result, not only was it a week over deadline, it was 1200 words over the word limit. It is a tribute to Ravikiran’s mad editing skillz that the article is now within the limit and still readable.