Sunday, November 2, 2008

Back in Pune - what has changed, what is the same?

After a long 4 month stay back home in Europe (Berlin, London), away from Pune, I have finally returned to India, via a one week stopover in Singapore.

It's good to get away from time to time
So first of all, I would say that it's good to be back. Frequently changing curtains really helps you appreciate different aspects of different places. It was good to be back in London, with its multi-culture environment, tradition and history that strikes you wherever you go, and of course old friends (and some new ones!). Dito in Berlin, with the history, an amazing recent development of the inner city (sometimes I wish I actually lived there permanently), its greenery and generally amazing, often alternative, creative population.
Pune is different, of course, and being away really helped appreciate the warmth of the people, the beauty of apparent chaos and disorder (having lived in Singapore and Zurich, I can honestly say that happiness is not derived from perfection...), the very decent lifestyle I can afford as an expat here (despite being constantly broke!), and just the interesting stuff that goes on all the time (it has to, there are so many people here, something has to be going on all the time).
In many ways, I think Pune (or many parts of India in general) are quite the opposite to places like Singapore - which is clean, orderly, safe, modern, connected, etc.

Spending time in different places from time to time, and comparing, helps you find what you love about a place, and what you hate about a place.

Being back
Having said that, last week was Dhiwali, the festival of lights, and I swear by my cheap Acer Laptop, nearly everyone was setting off firecrackers 24/7. It was like the two hours after new years eve, but for just under a week. No sleep to be had (unless you are a deep sleeper like myself). But that's just India, something every foreigner or expat either loves or gets used to, or leaves the country (if he has that choice).

So what's changed, what's different?
One thing I noticed was that Pune, having hosted the commonwealth youth games 2008, appears a bit more 'green' and certain parts of the city's infrastructure (roads, lights, etc) seem to have been renewed - properly(ish)! This doesn't usually happen here, from my experience, a new road is built just to be torn open again the week after to put in some underground cable (this country needs managers!!). What remains to be seen is whether this 'green fever' was just a fad to show a nice face for the CWYGs, or is in fact a sustainable effort by the city and its government to sort out this emerging hub (seriously, if anyone in power reads this, do something about pollution - enforce checks for cars, two wheelers and rickshaws, ban open fires of plastics and other chemicals! If a high enough fine is attached to an offence, and incorruptible enforcement is available, it generally works).

Other than that, I haven't noticed too much of a change here in Central Pune (apart from like new houses and developments, but those are always there in a booming city...). People are still around, happy, doing their thing.

Change and startups
So, in a way, the fact that not tooo much has changed (as far as my limited vision could tell), is bad. From a startup point of view, change is good. Change is underway in fact, with several initiatives in the pipeline from the community. A french startup who must have found out about our story (or here for older browsers) have asked me about moving to Pune to bootstrap their startup. That's a change, I would say (though external to Pune)! I would totally love to get in touch with more european or US startups who are interested to come over to Pune to bootstrap their startups! 

Maybe those french guys (if they come, fingers crossed), will be the beginning of something bigger (which I'll certainly try to push). Just imagine how cool it would be to just leave comfy home and head over to Pune, to bootstrap (I've done it, it's amazing!) with a bunch of other like minded young aspiring entrepreneurs from all over the world? Imagine the interactions, the clashes, the creative potential of 5 international startups sharing some huge kibbutz like complex with 5 other Pune startups! We'd chill by the pool (which we'd inevitably be able to afford as a hive), have amazing home cooked food from our chef(s) (which we'd inevitable be able to afford), share resources, bounce off ideas, help each other out, etc! 

Anyone else loving this idea?

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