Today marks my fifth day in Hyderabad, India’s “city of pearls,” biryani capital, and its second Silicon Valley. Here are some thoughts, observations, and learnings from the city I will call home for the next two months.
It’s a man’s world.
Men. Men everywhere. Men on motorcycles. Men in rickshaws. Men standing idly on the street. Men in cafes. Groups of men on buses and just about anywhere you look for that matter. The interesting thing is that you’ll find most men in western dress, wearing button-downs or t-shirts and jeans. And the women? The few women you see commuting are almost always in vibrant traditional Indian clothes, sporting comfy kurtas and stylish saris. They are like rainbow sprinkles on the rocky Hyderabadi road.
SLOW: City “under construction.”
The most striking thing about Hyderabad is its stark contrasts, irrespective of the neighborhood you find yourself in. On any given street, you can find an imposing, modern high rise next to an abandoned plot full of piled up stones and rubble, which is in turn next to shacks made of corrugated metal and plastic sheets. Ten years ago, the new “tech city” was non-existent. Today it is absolutely chaotic, but also one of India’s up-and-coming urban centers.
Holy cow (and bull)!
I had heard the stories about how cows are sacred in India, and how they roam about freely through the streets. Still, it never occurred to me that bulls would receive the same treatment. Much to my surprise, on the first day in Hyderabad, I spotted beige cows and jet black, horned bulls wandering about on the side of the street – sometimes alone and sometimes being led by locals. Who knows, I may be spotted at some point swinging my bright red raincoat on the streets of Hyderabad, shouting olé as I dodge a raging bull’s advances.
Everyone is praying for monsoons.
Expecting to melt away with the hot Indian sun, I have been pleasantly surprised to find relatively mild, warm weather. With monsoon season underway, the first rains poured down, cooling the city. A close friend told me,
“You’ll see, everything here depends on how good the monsoons are. Good rains mean good crops – and low inflation.”
The same day, a colleague related the monsoon to microcredit loan default rates: in years of good monsoons, rural farmers have plentiful harvests and loan repayment rates are near 100%. In bad years, however, default rates rise – this is one of the risks that microfinance firms must factor into the risk premiums for their loan products (and one of the subtle aspects I will have to consider for the next two months).
I couldn’t be more excited to work at Vaya FinServe this summer. I’ll be helping them think through how they should launch individual loans to enable many more Indians at the base of the pyramid grow their businesses and lead better lives.