India Online

Jaipur, India | BCBusiness
India’s business culture may be evolving, but its famous textiles are still dirt cheap.

In the bustling town of Jaipur, cultural change in business is afoot

Departing from the Sarai Rohilla station, the train to Jaipur runs through some of Delhi’s worst slums. Along tracks lined with shacks and lean-tos checkered with tarps, pigs and children wander through scattered garbage and fetid pools of sewage. Looking out the window from her seat in the second-class compartment, Sonali Jain knows that these disturbing scenes define India for many foreigners. “Of course the world has seen Slumdog Millionaire and this represents India for them,” she says.

But Jain wants it known that there are other Indias. And when it comes to business, she says, cultural change is afoot. “It used to be that everybody wanted a good government job,” says the 26-year-old State Bank of India manager. “That was the way you gained respect from your family and the community.”

For Jain and other graduates of the prestigious India Institute of Technology, the goals have changed. “Nobody wants a government job anymore,” she says. “Everybody wants to be in business for themselves. Life is not about banks and security. Life is about people finding solutions and creating something new.”

STAY Hotel H. R. Palace is a far better experience than you’d expect for its budget price, with clean, spacious rooms (rooms from $25, D-157 A, Kabir Marg, Bani Park, Jaipur,
SAVOUR Thali, the traditional vegetarian sampler plate, is easy to find in Jaipur. But in the beautiful southern Rajasthani city of Udaipur, the Garden Hotel Thali Restaurant specializes in this all-you-can-eat favourite (Rs.150).
SEE Outside of Jaipur the magnificent Amber Fort draws flocks of tourists, but if you don’t feel up to a long auto rickshaw ride, the City Palace and impressive Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) are in the heart of town.
SOUVENIR Rajasthan is famous worldwide for its vibrant textiles. Brilliantly coloured saris are made-to-order in countless little shops, as are men’s and women’s bespoke suits (from about $100).
STATS Population approximately 69 million; Area 342,239 k.m. sq.; Capital Jaipur; Currency $1 = about 50 indian rupees; Time UTC + 5.5 hours (12.5 hours ahead of B.C.)

Jain knows the entrepreneurial spirit is not always easy to find in India. “There’s a lot of bureaucracy and low initiative,” she admits. “The prevailing attitude is that you don’t change the system; the system changes you.”

Her job supplies ample evidence. “One of my customers might need a letter from the bank and I will have to go ask for it from some employee who is just waiting for a pension. And it can be so difficult. I want to say, ‘I’m just asking for a letter, not a kidney!’”

Jain has the kind of job most Indians dream of, but her dreams lie elsewhere. She’d like to emulate Indian success stories like IIT graduates Sachin and Binny Bansal, the brothers behind the website Flipkart. “It’s like an Indian Amazon,” Jain says. “It started with selling books, but now they sell almost everything. They have an IPO coming soon.”

Jain’s own idea focuses on her hometown, Jaipur, the city of about three million in the heart of India’s state of Rajasthan. “My plan is to start a website,” she says, “offering the best of Jaipur. In India, Jaipur is famous for a lot of things—for example, bedroom items such as the kind of quilt called a razai. You can find them selling on eBay for four times the price.” Jaipur is also famous for certain kinds of sweets, she explains, such as gajak, which is made from jaggery (cane sugar). “I want to start a website where people can find the best of everything from Jaipur in one place. I’ll call it the Jaypore Store.”

Friends of Jain’s have already found success with online ventures, some of them backed by government and school grants now being made available to Indian entrepreneurs. One started an ingenious business taking online orders from train passengers, then delivering good quality, hygienic food to customers at the station platform. “The food on these trains can be quite terrible,” she says, eyeing a vendor moving through the car with a bucket of samosas and snacks.

Her boyfriend, Jain says, got a grant of one million rupees to start a business offering online math labs to Indian students. “There are a lot of venture capitalists waiting to invest in these kinds of projects,” she says.

Jain is waiting too. She’s eager to leave the family home and get out on her own. But there’s a hitch. “My fiancé’s older sister is not yet married,” Jain says. “So it is expected that he must wait for her to marry before his turn comes.”

Even for a young, upwardly mobile generation, tradition has not disappeared from India just yet.

Local Knowledge

Visitors to India are hesitant to eat on the street—perhaps with reason. But State Bank of India manager Sonali Jain insists that Jaipur is a relatively safe place to try local delicacies. She recommends:

Golgappa, a small, think, hollow, fried shell that is filled with either sweet or spicy ingredients.

Bhelpuri, a popular dish featuring puffed ruce and crunchy fried bits called sev, plus tomatoes and other vegetables, tamarind and spices.

Onion kachori—a traditional fried bread with, natch, onions.

Jain also recommends a short trip to visit Chokhi Dhani, a resort on the outskirts of Jaipur that features a traditional village theme including a spa and plenty of local food.