Monday, 16 March 2009

Highlighting the good in the fifth worst

Bombay often gets a bad rap. From Suketu Mehta drawing the city as a place crawling with underworld sharpshooters and crooked cops, to Slumdog's depiction of alleyways and toilet pits of the slums, Bombay is rarely mentioned internationally as anything other than a cesspit of poo and plague.

And now, Business Week has rated Bombay as the fifth worst place in the world to do business, citing issues such as security problems, pollution, sanitation, infrasructure and traffic as major impediments.

I admit, I too am guilty of adding to the negative Bombay profile, having complained about the same issues. Bombay is not an easy place to live, and I'm sure it's an even harder place to do business, particularly for foreigners. Just the simple act of travelling from a meeting in the city to one in the suburbs can sap your energy and time. Travelling from the city to Bandra, where I live, can take up to an hour and a half (even though it's only about 20 kms). Being stuck in an un-airconditioned taxi leaves you the choice of either suffocating in a furnace-like environment with the windows wound tightly up, or choking in pollution with the windows down. Either way, it takes a couple of hours to recover: that's a couple of hours you're out of action and unable to do anything constructive.

Having said all that, Bombay is a fantastic place on many levels and I feel compelled to highlight some of these.

1.Generally relaxed and friendly population. Bombay people are coastal, they're outward-looking and broadminded. They will, almost without exception, help you with directions, help you with translations, help you choose the right pappadums at the supermarket. It's relatively safe for women to walk down the street alone.
2. People at the top end without fail speak English. This is good for business. Further down the food chain, English proficiency might falter, but most people know enough to get by.
3. Geographic location. Two hours by plane to Dubai, four hours to Rome, eight to London. Only about five hours to Singapore, about seven to Hong Kong. For someone from Australia where everything is long-haul, this is important. In fact, considering Sydney and London as the bookends to my life, Bombay is extremely central.
4. It never closes. Granted, most businesses here open at 10am but they're often open till late. Restaurants are open till at least 11, shops close at around 9.30pm. Almost everywhere home delivers, so there's no need to even go out to get milk.
5. Good nightlife. Lots of options when it comes to drinking and socialising. Blue Frog. And, unlike Australia where people stay in during the week and then get completely shitfaced on Friday and Saturday, every night is a chance for a night out. That's partially because most people have maids, so don't have to go home and do housework.
6. It's cheaper to live than most countries. Although real estate is phenomenally expensive. But it's a good place to try to ride out the recession and dramatic global media meltdown as an under-employed journalist.
7.Did I mention the sunsets?

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