From camels to Rolls Royces

Monday, 5 November 2007

It used to be a joke among those observing the rapid development of the Middle-East in the seventies and eighties that the oil states there had gone from camels to Rolls Royces in one generation.

In another conversation just last weekend, we were talking about how some things in India were far more modern than in some Western countries- the Delhi metro and mobile phones being examples- and that this was because of the leapfrogging effect of a later adoption of a technology. So, there’s often been a revolution rather than the evolution that the Western nations went through in their adoption.

So this, in an article by Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times, did strike a chord:

So what should India do? It should leapfrog us, not copy us. Just as India went from no phones to 250 million cellphones — skipping costly land lines and ending up with, in many ways, a better and cheaper phone system than we have — it should try the same with mass transit.

His question in the first sentence relates to how India can reconcile its new found passion for the car with the congestion it already has on its roads.

He goes on to say that

India has become a giant platform for inventing cheap scale solutions
to big problems. If it applied itself to green mass transit solutions
for countries with exploding middle classes, it would be a gift for
itself and the world.

Now isn’t that a major shift in how India is perceived! She is seen now to have the ability to fix at least one of the worlds bigger problems using the ingenuity of its people. I think this is something that is only now becoming apparent to the world. I mean, think about it: China is usually heralded in the area of manufacturing technologies as being the low cost, efficient producer- largely on the basis of low labour costs. But already India is seen to be capable of making a difference not because of a labour cost arbitrage but by the use of its brainpower. I think this is a major milestone in how India is perceived in the world.

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