December 10th, 2007
Impressions of India
Johnson & Johnson’s operations in India celebrated their 50th anniversary earlier this year. I know this because last week I was liberated from my office in New Brunswick and traveled to Mumbai where I met some of the people who manage the company’s businesses there.
It was an incredible trip. While there, I not only had some fascinating conversations with my colleagues, but also walked through the touristy section of Mumbai up to The Gateway of India, saw my first Bollywood film, and even got to visit the ancient Hindu cave temples on nearby Elephanta Island (Where I was attacked by a soft-drink loving monkey. Twice. However, that’s a story for another day…) But from the first morning that I gazed out over the city from the comfy confines of my hotel, it was clear to me that Mumbai is a city of great contrasts –the cityscape is dotted with modern tower blocks overshadowing aging and in some cases, crumbling, low-rise housing and grand yet faded buildings from India’s colonial past. As I learned more about India, I realized it too has many faces. While it is clearly a land of incredible opportunity, it also presents some significant challenges.
Before traveling, I had the chance to hear Shashi Tharoor, the former UN Under-Secretary General for communications and public information, speak about India and more broadly about the role of communications in our rapidly changing world. As I reflected on my initial impressions of India, I was reminded of a passage in his latest book, The Elephant, The Tiger and the Cell Phone:
How, after all, can one approach this land of snow peaks and tropical jungles, with twenty-three major languages and 22,000 distinct dialects (including some spoken by more people than Danish or Norwegian), inhabited in the first years of the twenty-first century by a billion individuals of every ethnic extraction known to humanity? How does one come to terms with a country whose population is 40 percent illiterate but which has educated the world’s second-largest pool of trained scientists and engineers, whose teeming cities overflow while two out of three Indians still scratch a living from the soil? What is the clue to understanding a country rife with despair and disrepair, which nonetheless moved a Mughal emperor to declaim, “If on earth there be paradise of bliss, it is this, it is this, it is this?”
I plan to write more about my trip — and about our businesses in India — very soon. More to come…