Curdled With The Growing Indian Economy

Hi Everyone, 

No, I can’t levitate.

Namaste from India!  We came, we saw, we conquered!  Not exactly….but we moved and have settled in the world’s largest democracy.  Thanks to professional movers, good airline service and support received from my employer in transit accommodation, I couldn’t have asked for a smoother move! 

I can’t help but wonder about how integrated the world and transportation services are that people are able to move 10,000 miles and things fall in line like ordering a drive-through breakfast at your local McDonald’s.  But that’s how the world moves these days.

After settling in, I wanted to get assimilated in my adopted residence.   Food is a good place to start.

We use yoghurt quite a lot in our meals.  So, I ventured out in search of a plain yoghurt.  First, nobody in the nearby small stores I visited understood what yoghurt was.   The rare store that understood pointed me to the flavored, single-serve variety (from well-known brands) that I wasn’t looking for.   The most common name for plain yoghurt here is curd. 

The curd (note the capital D) that tasted heavenly!

I bought this half-a-litre plastic-sealed package weighing a little over a pound of yoghurt for just 34 rupees, that is about $0.52.   

The yoghurt was simply so delicious that I just had to understand how they make it.  My analytical mind wanted to get deeper into the supply chain behind this delicious product here.  I found out two main reasons why the yoghurt here tastes so good.   

First, it is made fresh and they do daily deliveries to area stores.  Though it has a claimed shelf-life of 15 days, hardly anyone consumes it so late after it is made.   

The Indian consumer habit is to make yoghurt everyday using boiled milk mixed with a teaspoon or so of the previous day’s yoghurt in it to get the process started.  In 6 hours or so (most do it overnight), a fresh batch of home-made yoghurt is ready for consumption!   

Second, they use a bacterial strain called acidophilus to curdle the milk.  I am told that the strain used in tropical countries like India is different from the bacterial strain used in North America to make yoghurt.  This gives a different consistency and flavor to the yoghurt.   Whatever it is, go acidophilus!  

OK, I can hear you go Damn, get off your yoghurt obsession!  Move on.

This country uses WhatsApp as much as Americans use toilet paper. 

Everybody is on it. Almost every local merchant or small service provider wanted to get my mobile number so they could ‘WhatsApp me’ on essential goods to be bought or services to be delivered.  To give you an idea of how pervasive this is, my car driver has started sending me inspirational ‘Good Morning’ messages on WhatsApp every day! As cute as it felt initially, I am starting to get tired of it.  

Speaking of toilet paper, that isn’t the primary choice here.  My family is getting used to the “health faucet”, which is a flexible bidet that gushes pressurized water for cleaning your ‘posterior orifice’, after you complete the ‘evacuation’.  The soft jet of water hitting the right spot feels uniquely comforting in a way.  Sorry, I wanted to say this in the least offensive way possible.  😊

In short order, thanks to WhatsApp, we were hooked up with home-delivery grocery stores, furniture stores, appliance outlets, and apps/websites for utility payment services for phone, electric, cooking gas etc.   Even banks come to your home to get your account opened. 

Navigating the roads to serve you better!

All the magic happens without you running around because of the huge number of “two-wheelers” (scooters, bikes) on Indian roads.  Most of them are employees delivering products or services for customers, and those simply commuting to their workplaces. 

The thing that strikes most people who spend any time in India is that there is constant activity everywhere.  People are always on the move, wanting to make a better life for themselves and their families.   They are friendly but always in a hurry.  Perhaps that growth is understandable given the data that Wall Street Journal shared recently:

Moving up in the world.

This is the world’s fastest growth market for cars, even luxury cars – BMW and Mercedes have had their best percentage growth in India in recent years compared to any other country.   I do wonder where will all those cars go, given the already congested roads.   

Of course, there is still a lot of poverty but the middle class is booming and the rich are getting richer.   Rapid economic growth is driving people at the higher levels of income towards global standards of affluence.  Most of the world’s major airlines each have 20+ daily flights from major Indian cities to the rest of the world, and most of them are nearly full as I have often observed.   

Inflation is also relatively high (at 6-7%), so this is a difficult place for retirees because fixed income interest rates (at 7% or less) barely keep up with inflation.  Even relatively better off retirees on fixed income who are risk-averse (meaning low allocation to stocks) are feeling the pinch, from my anecdotal conversations here.  

This issue is further compounded for retirees living on U.S. social security or U.K. pension here.  The slowly appreciating Indian currency against the US dollar and British Pound, combined with low COL raises in their dollar or pound pensions have served a double whammy for such retired folks in the last 12 months. 

This kind of problem, of course, is universal as the world’s major economies have had to endure low interest rates for several years now.  These nearly zero interest rates is what drove many U.S. and European fixed income investors towards higher income opportunities in their own home countries – so, they bought more equities, REITs and dividend growth stocks over the last 5 years, driving up valuations (though the February correction has brought back some sanity.)       

It doesn’t take a hardened critic to see the obvious disparity here.

Cities in India are growth magnets. They are constantly expanding, putting pressure on infrastructure and civic services.  The early investors in Indian real estate are rich beyond their dreams.  Broadly increasing affluence targets similar high-quality property in limited desirable neighborhoods in India’s mega-cities.  

And the money is also spilling over to equity markets – India’s stock market had a tremendous year in 2017, gaining 35% in US dollar terms.  You could’ve thrown a dart at any Indian company stock last year and it would’ve gone up in double digits (some in triple digits!). 

While health care costs are rising in India, they are still a far cry from the costs in the U.S.  I have examined one case in detail in my previous article.  Basic medicines are very inexpensive here, mainly due to government mandate to keep them affordable for the low income majority. 

Apply 5-10 X lower costs compared to U.S. in just about every category of health care and hospitalization, and then you will understand what I mean.  Indians may worry about the nearly 10% annual inflation in healthcare costs, but they are coming off a different base than what Americans have had to deal with. 

While the rural areas and small towns of India have poor health facilities and marginal health care, the cities have well-qualified doctors with services that deliver excellent value-for-money, at least from the perspective of Americans used to paying outrageous out-of-pocket costs.   This may be a reason why most middle-class Indians self-insure.  

While we are doing well in the ‘settling down’ phase here, there is one thing that frustrates me a lot in India.  No, it’s not traffic or crowds that gets a lot of media attention about India.  These were known factors going in for us, so they don’t surprise us. 

It’s the darn Internet!  Internet speeds are so slow here that what passes for so-called ‘home broadband’ in India reminds me of my old 56K modem that I used to have in my graduate school days.  Sure, I pay only $20 a month for it, but at that pathetic speed, any bill to pay at all seems atrocious.  Even at $50 a month, the speeds are only marginally better.  I sure miss my unlimited broadband back in Texas.

The wealth disparity is so obvious here, and yet many go about their daily lives focused on improving their lot in life.  The first lesson for Americans like me is not to take prosperity for granted.   

Most readers of this blog are lucky to be living in countries with strong minimum wage laws, developed infrastructure and civic services, legislated safety nets, and a high regard for personal liberty.   While personal liberty is fairly strong in India as well, there are structural issues that prevent millions of people from reaching the level of basic living standard that we take for granted in the United States.  

More to come later.  Stay tuned!

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23 comments on “Curdled With The Growing Indian Economy”

  1. By Prasanth Reply

    Where in India are you? Asking because I live in Chennai (South of India) and I have 150 Mbps broadband internet (Fibre to home) and pay $16 monthly for that. Also, if you have a cell phone, usually in any city you should be getting reasonable 4G connectivity dirt cheap.

    • By Roman Reply

      Thanks for the input Prasanth. I am not ready to share my location yet. Besides, I spend enough time in other continents that I don’t quite know what to call “home” at times!

      • By Prasanth Reply

        Sure. Wherever you are in India, if you live in a sizable city, you can check for the following internet providers:
        1. Hathaway internet – http://www.hathway.com
        2. ACT Internet – http://www.actcorp.in

        Apart from these Airtel – the telecom giant also offers broadband.
        Depending on where you live, I’m sure there are other local broadband networks too.
        Best of luck for your stay in India and hope this move turns out to be the best move you have made until now!!

  2. By Gasem Reply

    Now you know why some cell phones allow access to 2 SIM cards.

    Interesting stuff!

      • By Prasanth Reply

        Worth getting an extra SIM – example Reliance Jio CIM – dirt cheap, gets you 4G connectivity almost everywhere you go in India. Also, do not forget to register for DND (Do not Call Registry – google for it). Will help reduce spam calls and SMS’s

  3. By Mayank Bhatnagar Reply

    Hey 10 – reader from India here. I have recently discovered your blog, and really like your writing style.
    Yes, moving to India can be a bit of a challenge, but you seem to have a great attitude about it, and should do well here!
    I’m in Pune, btw, feel free to connect if you need any help in figuring out how things work here 🙂

    – Mayank

    • By TFR Reply

      Thanks for the kind offer Mayank. I will get in touch with you whenever my travel plans bring me to Pune.

  4. By Mrs. MFB Reply

    I have never been to India but I get to see it in amazing race show. A friend said that if you set foot in India, you will really appreciate the place that you came from. Nevertheless, Enjoy your stay in India!

    • By TFR Reply

      Thanks for your comment Mrs. MFG. Your friend who made that comment probably meant it as an off-hand snide, but the truth for those spend several months in India is that it has its beauty that it doesn’t reveal to casual, judgmental visitors.

  5. By ZJ Thorne Reply

    That fresh daily yoghurt sounds incredible. It’s interesting what ends up annoying us about other countries – I would never have anticipated Whatsapp and daily “good mornings” from someone I pay for a service from. I would also be annoyed.

    Your journey seems incredible. Do you plan on learning how to do some of the traditional cooking or the language local to the region you are in?
    ZJ Thorne recently posted…Net Worth Week 99 – Building Tension EditionMy Profile

    • By TFR Reply

      Thanks ZJ. I can cook a variety of Indian dishes. Local language is a challenge, but thankfully English is widely understood.

  6. By Mr. Groovy Reply

    Hail India! Everyone keeps bleating that this century is going to be known as the Chinese Century. I say “bah.” It’s going to be the Indian Century. Glad to hear the transition is going swimmingly. Mrs. Groovy and I are tentatively planning on visiting Kerala in February or March of 2019. I hope we’ll be able to meet. Cheers, my friend.
    Mr. Groovy recently posted…Building Groovy Ranch: Update 9My Profile

    • By TFR Reply

      Thanks Mr. Groovy. I sure hope India does well, also because my employer is counting on it! I will look forward to meeting you in Kerala or elsewhere in India during your vacation – please mail me closer to date to schedule it.

  7. By freddy smidlap Reply

    10! it always amuses me when i see my american brethren walking around with plastic water bottles they bought at a store for something like a buck. we already bought the water that comes out of the tap which is delicious and mostly clean. lots of people take this potable water for granted and should not.

    i read a fair amount of cooking material. does india tend to offer an egg in place of meat in stews and sauces? hope you settle in well.
    freddy smidlap recently posted…How We Get Boned by High State TaxesMy Profile

    • By TFR Reply

      Thanks Freddy. Bottled water is a scam in the US and it amazes me that supermarkets dedicate an entire aisle for stocking various brands of packaged drinking water. In almost all parts of US, water straight off the tap is absolutely safe to drink. In India, it helps to carry bottled water while traveling since municipal water outside of major cities may not be safe. Egg is a substitute for meat in some dishes, but no, most Indian restaurants don’t offer egg in meat’s place. That’s because strict vegetarian cuisine doesn’t use egg at all. Alternative sources of protein (lentils, soy, diary products) are used by vegetarians in India.

  8. By Mike H Reply

    Hi 10!, thanks for the update and nice to know you are getting settled in smoothly. I thought you are vegetarian, right? Glad you are enjoying the fresh Indian yogurt.

    Living in Thailand for more than a decade has made it commonplace and now am looking at another overseas assignment not too far from India.

    You are in Mumbai, right?

    Mike

    • By TFR Reply

      Thanks for your comment Mike. Yes, I am a vegetarian. I prefer not to disclose my location publicly at this stage. Good that you are at the cusp of another international assignment – do drop me a mail if you are in India or whereever “not too far” is, and we can connect.

  9. By K. McGarrett Reply

    This is so interesting; please write more on this topic. I find it fascinating how different countries manage daily living. Often they are doing a lot better than the stereotype.

    • By TFR Reply

      Thanks K.M I try to balance my articles between personal experiences and topics of broader interest (like finance/investments/related news). Thanks for stopping by.

  10. By Hustle Hawk Reply

    As an expat myself (UK citizen in the Middle East), looking forward to reading how your expat adventure unfolds. India does have good yoghurt (try some raita with poppadoms or curry v. tasty). Chai tea is very good too – but drink in moderation because it contains a lot of sugar!

    I also like your focus on the positives if the country, e.g. affordable healthcare, dynamic and growing economy and young workforce.

    HH

    • By TFR Reply

      Thanks HH. We love raita, popudums and masala chai. Every country has its positives and negatives. By focusing on the good things, the not-so-good ones tend to bother less.

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