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India is coming close to winning serious respect as a nation that's going to shape consumer behaviour and experiences in the 21st Century. Unless it all goes down the pan, that is. Why is it, in this amazingly impressive country, that so many public toilets in top-notch places (airports, shopping centres, even major corporate headquarters..) are simply not up to standard? The world's biggest human civilisation needs to sort this image problem out or risk undermining so much success on other fronts. And that doesn't mean going over the top with obsessive Japanese-style toilet kit. It probably just requires training staff in the world-standard visitors expect and that modern India must now pull off with a flourish. Nothing new here.

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For new, we made a quick stop in Chennai (aka Madras) at the spanking new Expressway shopping mall. How many chances do you get to make a first impression? The mall has opened before being finished. There are electrical wires sticking out of concrete walls, more trip hazards i'm sure than in the city's largest kindergarten and again, it lets the side down. (Same toilet problem by the way, though this time with a line of non-working electronic taps with the timeless sign show hands, water will flow".) Maybe it's a dry run for the Delhi games, where the world's athletes may also have to put up with facilities that are brought on stream before they are really ready.

You have to wonder if infrastructure delivery in a large Chinese city routinely meets a higher standard. The problem seems to be that for every glowing example of 'New India' there's another of an India that's hurriedly making do. Queueing at Chennai airport for a flight to Bombay, most of the thoroughly modern passengers have a4 boarding passes they've printed themselves. What are the gate staff doing? Using the steel edge of a large table (provided for security checks to carry-on bags) to carefully tear each boarding pass into two parts. Wonderful improvisation, or two Indias struggling to get in sync? Arriving at Mumbai, the new terminal is a New India showcase, proving there's no intrinsic reason why the home team can't pull off a world-class performance.

Tata broke new ground for world-class India in buying Jaguar and Land Rover.Just today, British Airways and Kingfisher airlines have announced a major tie-up (BA's 1st with any Indian airline). Who knows more about top class consumer experiences, the Indian alcohol to aviation group or the world's favourite airline? I can tell you. BA have everything to relearn from Vijay Mallya and his award-winning team. New India is old news. World India is coming on stream.

Philip Orwell. 05.09.10

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