Dear Pune

Dear Pune,

I’m really sorry that I haven’t been able to make much time for you these past few days, you see work has really picked up and that means there has been no time to go out , see you sights, meet your people as much . I promise I’ll be better at it in the coming weeks – cant come to Pune and not try and experience a bite of atleast everything there is to offer right

Speaking of bites, Pune you have the most incredible food. From the chai wallas to the small hole in the wall dhabbas that you find everywhere – the city is a culinary experience on its own. I have particularly developed this strong affinity to the chai here. My morning schedule has already got into this nice routine, I wake up, shower , take a rickshaw to work , get dropped in front of my usual chai wallah where I’m now known as a regular. It is a standard ‘cutting’ chai in the mornings (and mid morning, and afternoon and early evening). I tell you Pune, this chai is amongst the best part of the city. It is this delicious tea with these spices and heaps of sugar – a brilliant way to start the day. Another great discovery was a place called Burger King, (at the entrance to East street). Do not be confused, this is not the burger king that one can find in the US – but a small one storey building where for a princely sum of Rs. 80 you get a burger a little larger than your face , freshly made with a host of delicious and indian sauces. Even my lunch dabba is something of excitement, every day there is some different vegetarian dish with some rotis – and every day I’m pleasantly surprised with what you can do with vegetables in ways you would never be able to imagine. It may be early days yet to say this, but I think I have the stomach of champions – not been sick yet (touch wood/fingers crossed). T

Let me tell you Pune, work has been fantastic but long. I didn’t know people in your city worked this hard. Saturdays are a distant memory and more often than not I find myself on the familiar Khondwa to Sadhu Vaswani Chowk route on Sunday mornings too. Its alright though, the work is fast paced and exciting – no complaints. You see DICCI is unveiling a major SME venture capital fund so that means that there is a huge push to finish things before the opening on the 6th, but welcome to the real world – where deadlines don’t move the only thing that do are your work hours (or better put your sleep hours). The venture fund is a really interesting concept, it is providing economic empowerment to Dalits through capital. Mr Kamble swears by the motto ‘fight caste with capital’, and in India money talks. The Schedule Caste community in India have a long and painful history of financial/social/educational exclusion, and through business they are now getting further integrated into mainstream society. However a major problem that still exists is the access to capital, the legacy model of collateralized lending is not something socially applicable to this demographic in many cases and serves as a significant barrier to entry to many of these budding entrepreneurs. They have the knowledge, their products are of competitive quality, and their production methods are comparable to industry standards – all that’s missing is that start up or booster capital to really let these business take off. What struck me as the most important aspect of this, is the role the economic system played in neutralizing the caste stigmas – making the entire playing field level. India is a competitive market where money talks, and by encouraging Dalit business and entrepreneurs theyre taking huge steps in making caste a thing of insignificance. Kumari Selja (Union Minister of Social Justice and empowerment) mentioned in her speech at the DICCI Haryana chapter launch ‘that while the government is thinking, DICCI is acting”. Private enterprise in India is waking up to its social responsibilities, and it’s a wonderful thing to see. You see Pune, India’s growth story needs to be an inclusive one – and I’m glad to be present at its first few steps in this direction.

Im really excited for this opening , its in a few days on the 6th of July – the chief guest for it will be the finance minister of India- P Chidambaram. A man who in no small way catalyzed my interest in India. He is an excellent speaker who oratory skills can be matched with the world leaders we have come to admire. I distinctly remember my first few days at work when I was asked to draft a speech with key points and send it as an email to someone – little did I know a few hours later I would be getting a thank you note from the “Office of the Minister of Finance, Government of India”. Imagine that Pune, the finance minister of a nation of over a billion read the stuff I wrote – a few things more rewarding than that

That’s all for now Pune, John and I will be doing a bit of traipsing around MG Road tomorrow, maybe venturing to some of your younger student spots tomorrow night – both of us need the break. I can only speak for myself but some off work time is MUCH needed.

You’ve been great to me Pune – I think you might become one of my favorite cities in India

Thanks,

Akhilesh

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