When you think about romantic destinations, India may not be the first place that comes to mind. Maybe you think about Paris or a charming town in Italy. But, as 33 of my classmates and I learned on the India Global Immersion Program, Indians know a thing or two about a good love story. In 1632, Shah Jahan, a Muslim emperor, built the Taj Mahal, or crown palace, to commemorate his wife Mumtaz Mahal. When she went into labor with her 14th child, Mumtaz sensed that she would not survive childbirth. As she lay on her deathbed, she asked her husband to build her a monument. She knew that her husband would endure so much grief living without her that he would surely kill himself. By giving him such an epic task, she saved her love’s life. She died, and over the course of the following 22 years, craftsmen and artisans toiled to build a marble mausoleum in her memory. As the glistening arches, domes, and minarets came into our line of sight, we stood in awe – and then we whipped out our camera phones to capture the romance of it all.
Our journey took us from this historic tribute to love to a modern day monument to money. Just Southwest of Delhi, we visited Gurgaon, home to CyberCity, a 3,000 acre business district. As we drove through this massive privately owned corporate park, we saw buildings emblazoned with the logos of Fortune 500 companies. American Express, Bank of America, GE, IBM, Microsoft, Infosys, and others have set up shop in this corporate commune. CyberCity boasts its own private fire station, district cooling system, and private metro. Traffic will soon whizz past the modern cityscape on a 16-lane highway that is currently being built. The polished skyline demonstrates the globalization the country has experienced since the 1990’s and the recent transformation of the Indian economy.
Entrepreneurs turned business moguls shared the secrets of their success with us as they told us how they built their businesses. In 1986, Meena Bindra took out a $130 loan from the bank and used that funding to design 50 ready-to-wear outfits. Today, her business, Biba, is one of the largest organized retail operations in the country and sells fifty to sixty thousand pieces a month. At Flipkart, India’s leading e-commerce company, the founder told us how he named his e-business. With little to no money with which to buy a domain name, he wanted something that was eight characters and sounded cool – and stumbled upon FlipKart, which he got for a steal at $8. But comingled with unbridled optimism about the country’s growth, we heard about the need for infrastructure development, the difficulty in accessing capital, and the high costs of doing business. While the economy has grown significantly in recent years, many obstacles must be overcome for it to achieve a more sustainable growth.
When we weren’t in conference rooms, we got a taste of the hustle and bustle of cities. In Mumbai, we witnessed the elaborate and intricate dance of the lunch deliverymen, the dabawallas. Every day, a troop of 5,000 delivery men collects more than 200,000 lunch boxes in the suburbs, dispatches the hot meals to office buildings all over the city, and returns the empty lunch carrying cases to their point of origin. They do all this with astounding accuracy and an error rate of .0009%. We rode through Delhi’s old city on rickshaws and those with the gastro-intestinal gusto sampled street food. We developed a penchant for salwar sets and kurtas, and our suitcases came back to the US crammed with more colors than when we left.
The GIP gave me the opportunity not only to explore India, but also to advance my career. I will be spending the summer interning at FlipKart. If you’re thinking of going on a GIP, go for it. It was an incredible adventure filled with new friends, excellent cuisine, eye opening experiences, and a love story or two.