10 Years of the Mumbai Marathon


Yup, the first Mumbai Marathon I ran was in 2006. Back then it was really easy to register for a running bib and probably under 5,000 people ran the half-marathon. Now it’s tough to register and they have capped the number of runners at some 25,000 for the half-marathon. When I used to train 11 years ago, the streets were empty and people would look at me like I was some crazy person. Today, if you don’t pay attention you might “run” into another runner on a Saturday or Sunday morning run. It’s great to see the whole city get involved in the race and especially all the people who come out to cheer on Pedder Road and Marine Drive.

Below are my finishing times for the 10 years I’ve been running the Mumbai Marathon.

1. 2006 – 2:16
2007 – did not participate (some wedding, I think mine!)
2. 2008 – 2:16
3. 2009 – 2:07
2010 – got sick
4. 2011 – 2:01:26
5. 2012 – 1:57:01
6. 2013 – 2:02:59
7. 2014 – 2:08:37
8. 2015 – 2:04:18
9.  2016 – 1:58:31
10. 2017 – 2:08:47

Picture from the first Mumbai Marathon I ran in 2006.

24 Hours of Craziness With Modi and Trump

This past Tuesday around 8pm (Bombay 8pm, NYC 9:30am) I turned on CNN International to watch US voters goto the polls to elect either Trump or Clinton. It was clearly going to be the Hillary Clinton show based on all the media publications and polls who said Trump goes low and that Hillary goes high. As I was switching channels I saw that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was giving a speech at the same time. I thought man, why is he trying to steal the limelight while the biggest elections in the world are happening and this guy must be talking about Swachh Bharat #2 (Swachh Bharat = Clean India). I continued to flip channels and settled back on watching CNN International.

1narcos-tmagarticleThen my phone went nuts with all the WhatsApp messages (yeah, India loves WhatsApp and not Facebook Messenger). I’m wondering if there was some announcement that CNN missed in regards to the US elections – nope. PM Modi dropped the equivalent of a nuclear bomb on the financial markets by banning the use of Rs. 500 (USD 7.40) and Rs. 1000 (USD 14.80) denomination notes in an effort to fight black money, corruption, fake currency notes and terror financing. This was not some ban that would go into effect in 1 week, 1 month or 1 year, it was going into effect in 4 hours – at the stroke of midnight Tuesday. The old notes could be redeemed at a bank over the next 2 months for new notes. Of course, if you have unaccounted wealth its going to be a very awkward conversation with the Income Tax officials to explain it. Which means most people will just burn it Pablo Escobar style like he did in Narcos. As of Wednesday morning the biggest legal tender was Rs. 100 (USD 1.48) until the new currency notes hit the market. It was a genius move by PM Modi and one that will go down as the biggest changes in the course of India’s financial markets. Yes, there is probably some hyperbole in that statement but it took real balls to pull this off by PM Modi. I guess in the end he really did launch Swachh Bharat #2 (Swachh Bharat = Clean India).

pollsAt this point, my TV remote was probably ready to retire since I was switching between 5 or 6 news channels to understand the implications of this massive announcement from PM Modi. All the while I was following the US elections on CNN and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website – which was still showing that Hillary was going to win. So, I went to bed at 1:30am in the morning (Bombay 1:30am Wednesday, NYC 3:00pm Tuesday). I got up at 5am in the morning to start watching the election results come in as the polls started to close across the country and all of a sudden the numbers for Clinton don’t look as awesome as they did just hours ago. I kept on checking FiveThirtyEight about Clinton’s chances of winning and it was like watching the stock price of a company that just announced it was being investigated by the FBI (wait, that actually did happen to Clinton). It seemed like Trump might win and the financial markets around the world were poised to open gap down.

Then it happened, Trump was able to cross the magic line of 270 electoral votes and win the US Presidential elections to be the 45th President of America. I’ll be honest, it’s still a funny thing to say, hear and type that Donald J. Trump is the next president of the United States of America. I didn’t vote for him and I really hope he only focuses on getting the economy back on track and fixing the broken political system with its special interest groups, lobbying groups and political action committees. It’s definitely wait and watch.

On another note, something that I’ve observed over the past few days is that people want to hear what they want to hear. Or in the case of online media, see or share things they have a strong viewpoint about. Of course, that’s the whole point of Facebook and Twitter to share, post or highlight content you agree with. Unfortunately, some of that content is either fake or written just to drive traffic to a page that is plastered with ads. Then there are the articles that are absolute puff pieces with zero fact checking and just published to cater to audience that likes or dislikes a particular point of view.

Below are a couple screenshots this past week from my Facebook wall.

facebook

This article claims 3 people have died because they were standing in a line. Yet, they provide no information of the deceased or interviews with their next of kin. This piece definitely caters to people that are livid that PM Modi has screwed them of their hard earned black money.

facebook-image

The narrative of this Facebook post I assume is that Trump is going to be President and the “shit has already started” in that minorities are being targeted. The problem is that this Saudi student died a week BEFORE the elections. Yet, people are sharing it and adding their two cents. I’m waiting for someone to share a story about Rosa Parks like it happened yesterday.

This past week both Modi and Trump did some historic things which might rub some people the wrong way. My advice is don’t blindly follow and do your own research and understand both sides of the coin.

Favorite lines comparing the US and India:
US counting votes, India counting notes.
In the US, black president leaving. In India, black money leaving.

Note: As if this blog post wasn’t long enough, I just realized this is my 500th blog post. I’m sure it’s Trump’s fault that I didn’t write 1,000 blog posts by now 😉

 

Guns vs. Corruption

As I type this blog post, I’ve got CNN on in the background and they are covering yet another mass shooting. This time it’s in Munich, Germany where guns are very tough to get. While Germany is still in shock and trying to comprehend with how to deal with the pain, for Americans it’s a daily affair. How did we get here? If you ask any die-hard card carrying National Rifle Association (NRA) member, it’s not guns that kill people but people kill people. That logically doesn’t even make sense. But, since the NRA is one of the most powerful lobbying groups inside the beltway, we are left with daily shootings.

While I was traveling in the US last month, many people would ask me questions about India since I’ve been living there for the last 11 years. Many would ask about the state of corruption since the new Modi administration has been in office for the past 2 years. Even before I could get a word out about corruption the same standard phrase would be blurted out “they really need to do something about corruption and lock up those politicians who take bribes.” I would explain to them the Modi administration is doing it’s best to try and curb corruption but there is only so much the government can do. I’d quickly change the topic to talk about gun violence in the US and why can’t the most powerful nation on Earth figure out a way to solve this mass shooting epidemic. Then they would remain silent and you could see the anguish on their face.

It’s so easy to say, they should ban guns, they should eliminate corruption but it’s not a simple process. Guns are so ingrained in the American ethos and part of the American Constitution. It will take a joint effort to restrict certain types of weapons and I’m not sure it will happen in my lifetime. While corruption is everywhere and more so in emerging markets like India, I’m not so sure you can easily wipe it out. You can curb it by using technology and transitioning to a cashless society but humans will be humans.

What is painful about the gun violence is that humans are dying and it seems there is no end in sight to the madness. At least with corruption, some politician might hit the jackpot and earn billions but people are not dying in the process. (Okay, the one caveat is that some of the Indian government programs to help the poor with getting their daily nutrition have been targeted by politicians. Which has led to some “leakage” in the programs.)

 

 

 

Dump Trump

Dump-TrumpI just got back from an extended stay in the US and Canada and the main topic of conversation has been Trump. Every discussion with an Uber driver started with Trump. When visiting Canada everyone wanted to know more about Trump and I joked I was visiting to check out the country in case Trump gets elected.

But, what really amazed me was the amount of coverage he was getting from the media. After the Brexit vote came in, all the news anchors wanted to know what Trump had to say, no one really cared too much about Hillary. My guess is that they know Trump will provide them with a sound bite that is provocative. Then the 24 hours news channels can spend hours dissecting the statement and bring in more ad revenue.

The run-up to the US election in November will be very interesting to watch. More importantly the debates between the two candidates should start to shed some light on their policies and economic views which at this point is the most important thing. When I hear Trump say he wants to bring manufacturing back to America, it’s a great sound bite but I don’t think it’s that easy.

How did we get here? That’s the billion dollar question that no ones seems to have an answer for on the Republican side. Democrats have their own issues with Hillary, she’s probably one of the least trusted candidates and is a political insider. For a country with a population of 320 million and to have these two candidates rise to the top, shows that the system is way beyond broken…it’s a joke. The cream of the crap.

 

When the Cheerleading Stops

$_35In life we all face adversity, some more than others. We go about our daily lives and take many things for granted. Then you get the call that everyone dreads, that something has happened to a loved one or a very dear friend. The world briefly seems suspended as you process the information and you feel helpless. I recently got that call from my wife and I could barely understand what she was saying between the torrent of tears and sobbing. Her youngest uncle from her dad’s side of the family had unexpectedly passed away. I was stunned.

It sounds cliche when you hear “unexpectedly passed away”, but in this case it really was surreal. In fact, for the longest time I had incorrectly assumed his age. To say the whole family was in a state of shock is an understatement, he was the “baby” of the family. He was the one that would always want to organize family get togethers or vacations so that everyone could spend time together. He was the one that would walk around the table and make sure everyone had a drink in their hand or their plate was full of calories. He cared for everyone and didn’t discriminate between family member or the staff that worked for him – he wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable and happy.

Let’s be clear, this was not an uncle that I had known since childhood but he became part of my family when I got married. Yet, for days I was shocked and couldn’t believe what was happening. Then it dawned on me why I was feeling this way, he was really the cheerleader of the family. It didn’t matter what you did, he always wanted to get behind whatever you were doing. My wife is an architect and her first project was her uncles flat – his reasoning was she had to start her career somewhere so why not with him.

He was a cheerleader for me as well. Several years ago he heard that I co-founded a financial software company and he was insistent on paying for the software. The best part, his office staff had not even installed or used the software and yet he was asking me who to make the check out to. I was like easy tiger, let’s first make sure your office can benefit from it.

The world is already filled with negativity and it’s great to have someone that is your personal cheerleader. And when the cheerleading stops, that deafening silence is the most painful part of getting that dreaded phone call.

Oh I think that I found myself a cheerleader
She is always right there when I need her

From the song “Cheerleader” by Omi. Although the song is about dating, the song is so apt.

Dear Ola & Uber, Welcome to the License Raj

Bits-Bytes-CarEveryone from the Bay Area to Bangalore is talking about whether we are in a technology funding bubble or not. I think that misses the bigger question in India of whether the Indian government might have an effect on it. I woke up this morning and saw an article that Vijay Chibber the secretary of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, has stated that companies like Ola and Uber must be registered with the state government like any other taxi operator. Vijay refers to Section 93 of the Motor Vehicles Act which states that the state governments have jurisdiction.

Ola has raised just under Rs. 6,660 crore in funding and employs thousands of people and that is most likely going to come to a screeching halt if the government has its way. Registering with the government is not the issue but existing taxi’s are registered and it’s pretty clear no one likes the existing system. How many times have people been refused a ride from a taxi driver? How many times has the taxi driver driven like he was in an F1 race? How many times have you stepped into a taxi and the floor board has rotted and you can see through? Yup, I’m sure all of us have faced this issue.

This issue goes back to my disconnect with Modi. He will travel all around the world and meet with enthusiastic entrepreneurs like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk but back at home…

Well back at home, we are back to square one with the “license raj” of yesteryear. The central government has punted on the issue and has let each state government frame the guidelines for the taxi app aggregators like Ola and Uber. This just means more work for Ola and Uber in dealing with each state government – oh, what joy for them! And, in states like Maharashtra they may impose a cap on the number of taxi’s that an operator can have, because that’s how we roll in the license raj era. VC funding meet Indian Government regulators, you may have met your match.

 

A Decade in India

passport
tl;dr
(too long, didn’t read)

The original plan was to land into Bombay on October 1, 2005 and stay for 6 months…I’m still here 10 years later. In what can be termed the longest 6 months ever.

The long version

I landed into Bombay on Oct 1, 2005 and thought I would be back to the shores of California by April 2006. But, life had other plans for me. Just to refresh your memory, what was happening around October 1, 2005:

  • USD-INR was Rs. 44
  • Sensex @ 8634
  • DJIA @ 10,658
  • NASDAQ @ 2151
  • The big song in India was Kajra Re from the movie Bunty aur Babli
  • Louisiana was still reeling from the after effects of Hurricane Katrina (Best quote “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”.)

I’ll be honest, I never expected to last 10 years in India. I used to come to India during the summers as a kid and I would always complain about things not working right, things getting delayed or it smelling. One thing is for sure, some things never change!

Cousins, friends and business associates will ask me from time to time “are you happy in India”. Living in India has it’s own set of pros and cons just like living in the US does. However, after 10 years I can categorically say yes – I like India. The reason is very simple, living in India is an adventure. You will never know what to expect and everyday there is some new thing to deal with. For some, this environment just doesn’t work well if you want things to be consistent, straight forward and proper.

Don’t get me wrong, there are days where I have to shake my head and say to myself “I moved here for this crap?” Such as the recent kerfuffle regarding encrypted internet communications. The Government of India, in their infinite wisdom wanted individuals to save their previous 90 days of chat messages in clear text in case the government requested them. To call this idea stupid would be an understatement, it’s the type of half-baked policy that many Indian government agencies roll out and then quickly back pedal because they didn’t think through the process.

Anyways, they call India an emerging market for a reason. Lots of opportunity, but also lots of issues to deal with you. As I say “if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”