rural India

What do you know about village life?

Posted on August 29, 2011 by Tara Thiagarajan in Physics of Poverty, Writing. 2 comments

A couple weeks ago we surveyed readers like you to see what your perceptions were of rural India with regards to mobility and connectivity. We also wanted to get a sense for how different your own behaviour and access is from the villagers. We asked you to guess different parameters about infrastructure and behaviours in the region of Vadipatti (i.e. Vadipatti Taluk excluding the town) which is in central Tamil Nadu. Whoah! you guys were way off. Most of you guessed that the villagers had less access, mobility and connectivity compared to you but you just didn’t realize HOW MUCH less. Here are the results:

Who answered the surveys

125 people answered this survey online. 75% were from the major Indian cities. Of this half were from Chennai which is the closest major city to Vadipatti Taluk and the rest spread out … Read More »

What do you know about rural India?

Posted on August 8, 2011 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Writing. 5 comments

****This survey is now closed******

We have some interesting results that will be officially announced in a ten days or so and not on the 15th as previously promised.


Think you know what rural India is really like? We are doing a short quiz to understand your perception of rural India and to get some information about your ecosystem that we will use as comparison. The survey will take you about 2 minutes and we will post the results next week along with what the real numbers look like.

Take the quiz!*

Please do take 2 minutes to participate!

*For folks outside of India – ‘Petrol Bunk’ is India speak for ‘Gas Station’.

Go on. Innovate!

Posted on January 10, 2011 by Tara Thiagarajan in Uncategorized. 3 comments

(as posted at

You’d think that with almost a billion people out there in the rural areas that there would be amazing innovations to be found there every day. But there aren’t. Search as we might innovation is hard to come by. Implicit in the definition of innovation is change, but the village ethos is about tradition. It’s about holding on to age old practices. Walk into a village and life looks almost the way it did hundreds of years ago. In my column last week I talked about celebrating human innovation. Why is there so little of it? Take a look at what India looks like from the sky, ask people a few questions and the answer is quite obvious really.

Most of India looks like this.

Tiny settlements of a hundred or fewer households smattering the landscape. … Read More »

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Posted on December 11, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Writing. 6 comments

One of the greatest challenges our rural folk face is a lack of access to information about markets – not just distant markets but neighbouring markets as well. Few of them read and our research has shown that they don’t tend to travel beyond a few kms for commerce (see my earlier post Do not disturb). When they do travel longer distances it’s primarily to visit temples on pilgrimage. Consequently, many of them claim that they don’t need a phone because everyone they know and interact with lives close by. I was lamenting the difficulty of getting new product information to people who live in these circumstances and my husband very helpfully offered up that it sounds like we need to have heralds or messengers and town criers like they did in medieval Europe. That got me thinking and I … Read More »

Do not disturb

Posted on October 24, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Uncategorized. 4 comments

One very eye opening fact that is emerging time and again in our research is that rural microentrepreneurs access very small markets. Our first survey found that about three quarters do not buy or sell beyond a 5 km radius and only 2% venture beyond 20 km (the ‘middle men’?).

Here’s a view from Google Earth of a region of rural Tamil Nadu that is 5 km across. It has a cluster of about 12 villages with a population roughly between 4 and 5,000, typical for most of India. That’s a really small market to be limited to. Contrast this with a view of Chennai which has 100 times that in the same area.

Unfortunately in this first survey we did, Turns out even 5 kms is way out there for most and it’s an even more fragmented … Read More »

Culture and Progress

Posted on August 3, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Uncategorized. 6 comments

In the five years I’ve now spent working in rural Tamil Nadu, I have been frequently surprised by the level of creativity that surfaces at various events that we hold. On the other hand real progress and innovation is hard to come by. Somehow village societies don’t make the leap. My father believed that this was a consequence of attitude – the attitude of waiting around for someone from somewhere to come and do it for them, ‘it’ being everything really. He blamed it on the government programs of handing out free stuff.

As a child my father spent all his holidays in the village, shuttling between Poolankurichi, Nerkuppai and Thekkur by bullock cart. He was also the first of his family to travel to the United States for graduate study. He was fascinated with the … Read More »

Connected we succeed, divided we default

Posted on April 26, 2010 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Microfinance, Writing. 3 comments

At Madura Microfinance, one of our primary assumptions is that women who are more informed and better connected will be more successful and make more productive use of loans.So, much of our efforts are aimed at increasing networks and access to information among our members. A PhD Student from Oxford, Sangamitra Ramachander, recently studied our women’s borrower groups to see what kind of factors predicted whether a group went successfully on to the next higher level loan or would default.This is still a work in progress but there are some very interesting results. Here is one odd one that stood out to me. She found that women that travelled more frequently to neighbouring villages (but surprisingly not the nearest towns) were several times more likely to be successful rather than default. It’s not clear whether this factor is … Read More »