Sunday, June 27, 2010

Frommers India 4th Edition - Mumbai Magic

Frankly folks, I don't know whether to grin or blush or what.

You guys simply *have* to read this review that just appeared in the latest Frommers India guide!!

For those who want to know what the 3-star rating means - here's the guide to Frommer's ratings:

According their website: "the Frommer's star rating is meant to quantify the kind of intangible, experiential elements that help travelers make informed decisions.

The "baseline" recommendation is zero stars - every hotel, restaurant, attraction, shop, and nightlife establishment that Frommer's chooses to review is recommended; otherwise, we simply wouldn't include it."

I'm soooooooo very pleased with this review! Actually, even that's an understatement. At the moment, I want to twirl around and hug someone at Frommers (if only I knew who wrote this!). Unfortunately, after being labelled "super-sophisticated", twirling is out, so I am forced to offer a more sedate thanks.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

How do you survey a billion people?

Two diminutive women showed up at the door this week.

They said - in Marathi - "Janaganana karaycha aahe"

Jan-a-gan-a-naa (a neat tongue-twister, try saying that fast!), is a compound formed from two Sanskrit words:

janaH = people
gan.H = to count or consider

After they rattled off that tongue-twister again, I figured it out (thank god for Sanskrit lessons in school).

"Ah" I said to them, sounding ridiculously Anglophone and hopelessly upperclass. "Census-saathi aale ka?" Are you here for the Census?

It was a hot summer afternoon. I invited the ladies in, and offered refreshments. It was then that I saw their big black bag - CENSUS OF INDIA 2011.

The black Census Bag

From the depths of the bag, the women produced large forms. I had expected tacky forms on bad paper, the sort you see at the Post Office. Instead, the forms were aesthetically pleasing, printed on thick, good quality paper, and colour-coded for ease of use. Later I found out that the forms would be scanned through character recognition software, and that there would be no manual data entry.

The Enumerators with their form and custom-designed pad.

There are 2.7 millon Enumerators roaming all over the country at this moment, surveying 240 million households. They've been given 45 days in which to do it. Since this is India, where people speak 450 languages, the Powers that Be have sensibly restricted the Census forms to 16 primary languages. The Postal Department - another giant Indian undertaking - has been kept busy shipping these forms to multiple data collection centres across the country.

For anyone who has run any kind of project, the challenges of tackling such a gigantic logistics effort are quite obvious. For example, how do you train 2.7 million Enumerators? The Census team follows a cascading system, of course, starting with a mere 90 trainers at the top of the pyramid, but geometrically progressing to 2.7 million in three crazy big steps.

90 National Trainers,
who train

725 Master Trainer Facilitators,
who in turn train

54,000 Master Trainers,
who then train

all the 2.7 milllion Enumerators!

Sigh. Sheer poetry. The math is beautiful. Honestly, this is the kind of big leap of ambitious "can-do" that impresses me no end. Here
are some other impressive numbers:
  • Number of villages being surveyed: More than 600,000
  • Number of towns being surveyed: 7700
  • Total population being surveyed: 1.2 billion
  • Number of "how-to" manuals printed: 8 million
  • Amount of paper that's being used: 12,000 metric tonnes (ha! I can believe that!)
  • The cost of this exercise: US$ 130 million
I sat down to answer the questions, but I was also very keen to see the whole process in action.

There seemed to be two types of forms - one type that collected basic data about the household and its members, and another that collected information about the quality of housing and amenities, assets, and other lifestyle questions.

The basic data will go into the National Population Register - an ambitious project that is being done for the first time ever in India, to produce accurate information about people living in each area. The National Population Register will contain a "List of Usual Residents" for each area, along with socio-economic profile (gender, education, occupation etc). From this list, duplicates will be weeded out across the country, and every Indian will be issued a Unique ID.

Answering questions for the National Population Register

I'm waiting now, to see what they're going to do with our names. The women wrote them down in Marathi, ruining the pronounciation and spelling. What further destruction the character recognition software will do to our names, I don't know.

But I have (strangely), a lot of faith in the bureaucracy. Slow and plodding it might be, but it usually gets things done, and is capable of getting things done on a very large scale. Let's wait and watch.