Monday, August 29, 2011

What do you know about village life?

As posted on

A couple weeks ago we surveyed readers like you to see what your perceptions were of rural India with regards to mobility and connectivity. We also wanted to get a sense for how different your own behaviour and access is from the villagers. We asked you to guess different parameters about infrastructure and behaviours in the region of Vadipatti (i.e. Vadipatti Taluk excluding the town) which is in central Tamil Nadu. Whoah! you guys were way off. Most of you guessed that the villagers had less access, mobility and connectivity compared to you but you just didn’t realize HOW MUCH less. Here are the results:

Who answered the surveys

125 people answered this survey online. 75% were from the major Indian cities. Of this half were from Chennai which is the closest major city to Vadipatti Taluk and the rest spread out across Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. 10% were from Western Europe and the United States and 5% were from small towns in India. In Vadipatti we surveyed 1000 people across 125 villages of which 540 were entrepreneurs running a business.

The results

Excluding the town of Vadipatti there are 10 petrol bunks in Vadipatti Taluk which is 1 per 20 to 25 square km. Most of you underestimated the number of petrol bunks. Your median guestimate was 3 petrol bunks and average was 7. A large number of you guessed that your city had 100 Petrol Pumps (Median value). Your average guestimate was 340. For Chennai for instance, which is 164 sq km your median guess is that there is 1 per 1.6 sq km which is around 15 times the density. This means a villager in Vadipatti Taluk has to travel about 15 times as far as you do to get petrol.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

From Subsistence to Suprasistence

As posted on

Over half the world simply subsists – caught in a cycle of supporting ones immediate survival. More than half of India is a subsistence economy. The word subsistence is a derivative of the word ‘exist’ which comes from the Latin word existere meaning ‘to emerge’ or ‘to be’. But what does it really mean to subsist? Typically it is thought of in terms of poverty – some amount of money that people earn - but to me it is not equivalent – I think it is better defined in terms of an energy use cycle.

Here’s what I mean. In rural India, according to the NSSO studies, people use 50% to 70% of their income to buy food which means the majority of expenditure goes towards fueling the survival of the body. Compare this to the United States where it is around 20%. Similarly, an NCAER survey in the late 1970s showed that around 90% of fuel consumption in rural areas in India is used for cooking. I assume it’s improved now but venture to guess that it’s probably still in the range of 70% or more. In the United States only 15% of household energy consumption is for the kitchen. Furthermore, fuel consumption in rural India is still largely biomass – firewood ranks highest followed by dung and crop residue. An NIC report (I’m not sure which year) estimated that 89 million households spend 31 billion hours annually in biofuel gathering. That’s a lot of time. The subsistence cycle is thus to eat to sustain the body, use the energy to gather fuel and tend to the fields and livestock and then use the energy from these efforts to once again fuel the body. Petroleum, electricity and LPG together are minimally used not because of availability but because they must be paid for with money rather than time. And in this is an implicit judgement of human worth – that its value is little more than the kCalories expended per unit time to gather fuel or transform food on the cooking stove.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What do you know about rural India?

****This survey is now closed******
We have some interesting results that will be officially announced in a ten days or so and not on the 15th as previously promised.

Think you know what rural India is really like? We are doing a short quiz to understand your perception of rural India and to get some information about your ecosystem that we will use as comparison. The survey will take you about 2 minutes and we will post the results next week along with what the real numbers look like.

Take the quiz!*

Please do take 2 minutes to participate!

*For folks outside of India - 'Petrol Bunk' is India speak for 'Gas Station'.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Different Species

There is this strange sense of duality that India seems to bring upon you. On one hand there is this feeling of being on the cusp of something extraordinary. The giddy experience of watching something once so far removed from the developed world morph so rapidly and palpably into a modern society. The sense of possibility, the sense that something big is about to happen is now regular dinner party conversation.

The journey of one generation to the next has been so fast that parents often have little context for the lives of their children. Particularly for the lives of the children who have been abroad and returned speaking, dressing and acting differently. This new India is English speaking, moves easily from one city to another, sometimes one country to another. It is hyperconnected and watches all the same TV shows as the rest of the English speaking world, hears the same news, and eats burgers and chicken nuggets almost as often as dhal and rice. This is more significant than you might think. “You know”, a friend tells me at dinner last week, “when I was young when we met kids who had grown up abroad we never knew what to talk about. We used to feel so awkward – they watched shows you never heard of, ate things you never heard of and talked about things you never heard of and had an accent you could never understand”. “But now it’s so different”, she says “recently my kids met some kids that had grown up in Singapore and the US and they got on immediately playing games with the same characters and constructs”. There is the feeling that we are increasingly becoming one world. Another friend who runs a global business and has lived in London, New York and Moscow has decided to now base out of India because its “here that its happening now and you want your children to understand it”. It’s easy to go to the US or Europe and get into the system in a few years, but to understand India is much harder, he contends.