FIVE CENTURIES ago the lure of doing business in India was so strong that a generation of bold and adventurous Portuguese navigators and sailors changed the map of the world in order to get there. Vasco da Gama and his compatriots discovered the sea path around Africa just to get access to Indian spices and peppers. Half his fleet and less than half his men returned to Lisbon from that first journey in 1499, but the world was transformed by the adventure. Portugal took control of the Arabian Sea from the likes of the Ottomans, creating the first modern European colonial empire with trading stations and forts from Goa to Muscat to Macau. Not only were the African continent and the Indian subcontinent opened to Europeans for the first time, but along the way an obscure Italian sea captain found America by mistake while looking in the wrong direction for a shorter way to India.
We are now at the cusp of another great Western adventure with India. Americans have become "India struck"-and we are not the only ones.
Visions of fabulous new markets for everything imaginable are again entrancing businessmen and entrepreneurs around the globe. Some of the statistics are indeed amazing. With a population of over a billion, Indians are a sixth of mankind. More than half are under 25 years of age. India has enjoyed growth rates of 9 percent and 9.4 percent in the last two fiscal years, and its economy is now the third largest in the world in terms of purchasing power parity. India has a middle class of a quarter billion people. Some five million new subscribers sign up for mobile phones every month in India today.