Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Last Mile..

Three stories of missing last mile in India today...

Expectations started building up as the driver drove me to Terminal 3. Wide approach road, huge landscaped garden in between, beautifully done traffic island and a huge parking facility already announced that it is going to be a world class airport experience. Though Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad have already transformed themselves, this one is probably the best.

Check-in queue is long and the guy behind me always ends up knocking at my shoe. He seems to be in a hurry to go past, and this is not new in India. I had to turn around more than once to make him notice that there was an issue! Security check is not without arguments still. No strict rules prevail. There are negotiations and interpretations. In the West, no security officer really listens. India is warm. Modelling clay sample in my bag aroused suspicions. I had to return to the checking counter and get the handbag checked in.

Departure lounge is better than the one at Terminal 1, which also is quite state-of-the-art though. Treatment of islands is better. Passenger seating is now equipped with charging point on every cluster of seats. There are more clusters of individual working stations, where a single person can work on a laptop. Amidst the regular branded shops of pens, perfumes, cosmetics and electronics, what attracted my eyes was a Haldirams’ outlet, which resembles more of an accessory retail counter. I could literally see watches being sold there rather than sweets and humble namkeen. The Indian touch was present only on a poster at the entrance. Dilli chat arena was surely trying to speak a modern ‘Indian’ design language. Elements picked-up from images of the ubiquitous auto rickshaw to nukkad-lamppost and saturated colour palette with some informal font were trying to be as international as it was trying to be Indian.
I could not locate the GATES sign in the first glance. Once I spotted it, the large beige carpeted walkway did indicate a longish walk ahead to the aeroplane. There were indicators to ‘walkalator’. People did get confused on what it was meant to be. A large empty expanse of walking area without any visual break does remind me that I am probably in a European country where visual culture is all about visual stillness, empty grounds and a ‘little accent’. Inherently minimalist!

At gate 37B, I saw a man running and almost out of breath as the final call for boarding was already made. He was trying to explain the reason and the attendant was calmly swiping his boarding card as if telling him that this was nothing new for her! As the man was muttering something to include me in the conversation, he ran ahead of me into another long walk to the aerobridge. Half through the aerobridge and yet another security check; this man happily produced the boarding card. He was still gasping from his long run to this place. And lo and behold! He did not have a stamp on his hand-luggage card. He was sent back for scanning the luggage again…he argued… negotiated even.

In developed countries, once you clear the security check, there is no further check. The whole system has to be made so fool-proof that there is no need for repeating an activity. India has already built beautiful and international airports all around. However, certain flawed service flows prevail. I moved ahead for the final of the final check of my boarding card right at the gate. I could still hear the arguments at the other end of aerobridge.
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Delhi is now splattered with flyovers and ‘metro-pillars’. Metro train service is something that was a jewel in the crown for Kolkata, no so long ago. Now this honour is with Delhi also. Metro pillars are now become the landmarks for providing directions to guests. Far flung areas like Rohini are now suddenly become liveable and costly at the same time. Malls are springing around the metro stations. There is now a ‘ladies only’ coach in each train. Mumbai had such segregations since a long time. However, it is something new in Delhi.

I also got to know of 'ladies only' autorickshaws operating in Delhi. Lady passengers and lady drivers as well; an interesting development for the capital city which is also infamous as India's crime capital and reports frequent women-centric crimes.
“Have you travelled by the Metro to the city, with kids…. I mean in ladies compartment?”

I asked my sister who lives in Rohini and whose extended family has really claimed to have benefitted from the Metro connecting Rohini to city.
“Actually no”; she said with a pause.
“First you have to go out of the housing complex and look for a cycle-rickshaw (there are no autos there), to reach the Metro station. Then, once you alight from the fast and efficient ride of the Metro at CP or any other station, you again have to haggle with other autos /rickshaw to travel to the actual point.”

So for simple shopping in Karol Bagh area, she would still prefer to use her car point-to-point. City gets the Metro, but last mile connectivity is still to be travelled.
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Café-coffee-day is now a favourite meeting spot in cities. They are known to let you sit-in for hours together without really consuming anything significant. New age costly coffee and the happening ambience have seemingly made it a much sought-after café brand.
I entered the café on Janpath, which was suggested by the person I was meeting with. It is rather spacious with a huge ceiling. I settle in and greet the person who is waiting for me. I started talking and I realised that music is too loud to have a proper business conversation. I asked the staff to reduce the volume and they actually did it. However, there was a high pitch noise of the mixer from the kitchen counter and I really had nothing to say about it. I changed my seat. Next, I had to place an order. I could see the waiters conversing between themselves; giggling, and probably making some snide remarks about some other table, but none looking my side.
Finally we walked up to the counter and placed an order for a few things to eat in. We settled ourselves back at our table. Music was loud again. We were sort of helpless. Food arrived, but packed. It was meant to be consumed here, I protested in vain.
Well, everything about Café-coffee day is excellent, but for the last few steps to the consumer experience.

And India has 'miles to go before the leap’!