I am in India for a wedding, vacation, and visitation with many relatives (mine and the wife’s), proving to be fun, tiring, chaotic, colorful, and loud, which is to say a lot like India itself. Years ago I read “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found” by Sukhetu Mehta, a real-life account of someone born here and raised in the US who moves back to Mumbai as an adult (with wife/kids). The perspective provides a pretty interesting narrative for people unfamiliar with India, much less the absurdity that is Mumbai with the hypercrowding, traffic, gangsters, moviestars, and incredible (and recent and increasing) wealth disparity.

Amazingly, that picture of the city from a few years ago has only increased in all aspects. A huge housing boom is underway with new high-rise luxury developments dotting the landscape where slums used to be. Interestingly, private developers have taken to splitting parcels of land with the squatters – using half to build new mid-rise tenements (gifted to the former slum-dwellers) with standardized retail cubes on the ground level, and the other half for the glass-covered condos. It’s an interesting way to see how the private sector handles a problem when an incredibly bureaucratic government is busy handling other topics (or taking bribes). I’m suspicious of the concentration of low-income families in high-rise blocks – just this past month Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing projects were demolished, symbolizing what I took to be the final nail in the high-rise project coffin. It’ll be interesting to see how these projects end up in 10 years, both socially and from an investment perspective (looks a lot like housing growth in the early 2000s, so a bubble must be forming).

When I try to read about India, all I’ve found is a lot of excitement about BTO and globalization, which I’ve found myself tuning out. Like the “green revolution” the volume of reporting on a hot topic leads me to just forget about it. But visiting India reminds you of the rapid pace of change – neighborhoods I visited just last year are now completely different, redeveloped. The pace is hard to really imagine, and you can see oncoming catastrophe everywhere (overpopulation, too many cars for too few roads, broken anemic legal system, rampant corruption/bribery, etc) but somehow everything keeps churning forward. It’s fascinating to watch and I’m curious to see how it progresses in the future.

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