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Letter from India

April 2008
Letter from India

By Reetika Nijhawan Khanna

From Rolls Royce to Jimmy Choo—“it’s all here.” What’s the next item of lifestyle cachet heading our way, I wondered. The answer to that came in the form of Mumbai’s second annual boat show. World-class brands like Azimut and Ferrati are hoping to ride the new money wave in India. The well-heeled and the Kohlapuri-clad thronged to inspect luxury yachts on display.

I live two blocks from the ocean, but I’ve never felt like I live in a coastal city. The prospect of finally exploring our vast coastline, escaping the rinse-and-spin cycle of city life is exciting. I took my son to the “marina” at the Gateway of India for a sunset cruise during the boat show. There is no pier, not a single jetty, just steps running down the embankment. We had to hop across three ferries and then ride in a rickety boat to board the Rs. 40 million ($1 million) yacht! The sequence of events in India doesn’t always follow conventional wisdom. First come the Porsches, then comes the push for better roads.

Marinas will be built shortly, informs my brother, CEO of Sorenstam Ventures, a young boat dealership in India. Having worked for a number of years on Wall Street in New York and as a trader in London, he has dropped anchor in Mumbai to test Indian waters. I asked him to compare the experience of living and working in the financial districts of the world with life on home turf.

“Even though I am an Indian, I have found it tough to settle back in. I found it much easier to enter a new city like London with nothing more than a suitcase and a job offer. In spite of having family and sundry contacts from boarding school to call upon, settling into an Indian city is exhausting. I’ve spent weeks apartment hunting, thrashing out inconsequential details with difficult landlords.

Setting up a new business is even more challenging given the poor infrastructure. India is still India in that sense. Mundane issues—from broadband speed to hiring competent office staff—sap my energies. I constantly have to spell everything out in detail. Excessively long hours do not always translate into greater efficiency. On the flip side cities are like amazingly well knit villages—akin to the intricate social guanzi network in China. Every industry meshes into another, everybody knows everybody. The fact that one is never alone was one of the reasons I headed home.

Unfortunately, the city, in spite of its size, isn’t truly cosmopolitan yet. One has to suffer through hours of traffic to catch a jazz concert or a decent play. There are cultural pockets that are hard to get to. Everyone is in a hurry to upgrade economically with little time for leisure beyond Bollywood films and clubbing.”

In addition to designer goods and hip-hop culture, the Western yen for weekend excursions and adventure is beginning to feature on our radars. If the boating industry gathers wind, one will not have to wait for that annual vacation to get away from the grind—weekend jaunts and sunset cruises could be the panacea. The deep-pocketed will float their 100-foot boats—interestingly described as “fancy house boats” by a visitor at the boat show—while the rest of us also look forward to exploring the great blue (the water does get less murky a few miles out) in less conspicuous vessels. With an economy surging ahead and everyone working furiously to achieve personal goals, frequent gulps of fresh air will bring much needed respite to over-worked city folk.

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