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Unrequited Love - Views on News from Equitymaster
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  • Jan 27, 1997

    Unrequited Love

    Dear Mr. Multinational:

    I have not heard from you for a long time. I was going through my file the other day and I noticed that the amount of projects cleared by my friends at the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) over the last five years is over US$ 19 bn. Yet, the actual money that has come in from you is only US$ 4.5 bn.

    That 23.68 % success rate seems a bit unfair. Just think about it. I invite you over for a five-course meal and you only come for soup and salad. How do you think I feel as a host? I went around the neighbourhood the last few years to see what kind of meals you were being promised by the others. Then I planned my menu in such a manner hoping that you would be overwhelmed by my generosity and quick-learning. But, alas, like a lover waiting for her Dear One to show up at the door only to see the night fall and the silence envelope this loneliness, I am saddened by your absence. You have not come. Yet many in the world sing my praises. They crowned me Miss Universe, Miss World, and even the stock markets danced to heavenly tunes. Many in the world say that I have more English-speaking people here to do your work for you than any other developing country in the world. Many more say that the Indian mind is quick and sharp and entrepreneurial - and point to the success of Indians living in other parts of the world. We have the talent and we have the people, the markets, the buying power of the middle class that you lack in your own developed countries. Then why do you not line up at my door?

    Other countries have restrictions on which businesses you can be involved in and which you cannot. We used to have those, too, but that was when we were younger and foolish. Now you can come here and do anything you like and own all of it. Imagine 100% ownership. And your companies here can use local funds from banks, financial institutions, or stock markets. How many countries offer you these facilities?

    Think of what others are doing to you - and you still go there. The other day while waiting for you at the Gateway of India, I met this sailor and asked him why all of you flock to the arms of those who may not protect you. Why, I asked him, must you go to a country where they will sign a lease with you to use some space or a restaurant and then change their minds suddenly, and throw you out. And not apologise. And not compensate you. That is what happened to some sailor called Mac but he still goes there.

    Do you remember a sailor called Ron - one of your kind. He came here many years ago and won a contract to build some power plant. Well, some of my misguided brothers promised to throw him out in the sea but our courts ruled that my brothers were wrong and they had mistreated a guest. They were asked to pay a big fine and let Ron continue to live in India. Even if we sometimes make mistakes, we punish ourselves for that. Yet you sailors go there all the time - there to the lands where you are not protected by any laws.

    I know what you men are like. You enjoy going to parties and drinking and doing things that I cannot even dare to write because they will make my face redder than the redness of your suntanned body. But if you enjoy going to parties, you should be here with us. My friend, Gautam, has the best parties in the world with the best music, the best food, and the best dressed people. He even arranged for people to be whisked through immigration so they would not miss his party. We always invite you and want you to be one of us. We treat you as honoured guests and the doors of our homes are always open to you irrespective of your colour or religion. Ask your sailor friend Michael. He was even invited to a few toilets that have now become shrines and temples of worship.

    I remember many years ago when you were only allowed to come upto my front yard and not allowed into my house. You cried in rage and said that FERA must go so you could come. Watching you prance around the garden with your sailor clothes and white hat I was enchanted by your promises. So I changed FERA in such a way that you would rarely see him, never hear him, and never be touched by him. But what happened? You never came. And your friends who were here - oh, how they broke my heart! First those foreign banks cheated me of my money and only because they were big, foreign people with financial muscle I let them go free. And then your other friends began to blow cigarette smoke in my eyes.

    What am I to think of all you people? Are you honourable people or is your honour measured by the size of your wallets? If that is so I have other friends who you should meet.

    Oh, what am I saying in my anger? Forgive me. I am angered by the waiting. You do not know how hard it has been to make all these changes. To go around telling my friends that you will be here anytime, anyday to rescue me. But I do not know how long I can carry on like this living on borrowed time. I remember you telling me once that 13 is your unlucky number. Well, I do not wish to scare you, but there are now 13 people in my house watching over every decision that I make.

    Oh, maybe that is what is scaring you! You must have heard about this uncertainty at my house. But that is a very unfair reason not to come. If you are so worried about the stability of our relationship then what are you doing in those other homes where you spend so much money and so many nights? I know that one day those people who are there today welcoming you will die. And then do you know what is going to happen? I know you don't. All the sailors tell me that is so. They say they live for that moment. But when it comes to being here with me in my house, they say they are worried about the long term. Oh, what do you know about the long term. In my house we say that the life of the universe is but a blink in the eye of our Lord.

    I remember when I was younger, I thought you did not like these clothes I drape myself in and my Indianness. The sailors would always return from the other houses with stars in their eyes - as if they were hypnotised by some magical spells. Fearing my own inherent beauty, I dressed myself in clothes that sailors like and bathed in perfumes that would hypnotise. I discarded my Indian brands for foreign ones bought from the market where all goods are now available at lower prices. Still, you have not come.

    I have a friend who tells me I should be patient. "These are strange people", he always says, "they spend many years shouting and screaming and then when you have removed all the obstacles they are left in nakedness - like a man without his sword. They have nothing else to fight for, nothing else to shout about. Then, to delay their arrival, they send their lawyers to your home to make sure it is all for real. The lawyers", my friend says, "are very slow. They dot the "i's" and cross the "t's". And that can take many years. Normally", my friend says, "this whole process can take upto four years so - if you allowed them to enter your house in 1992 - they should be here sometime this year".

    My friend is a learned man. 50% of the time he is right. But I don't know what to believe any more. I find this whole thing very depressing. All the time and effort to create a menu which none of my neighbours can match, to fight the strange looks from the 13 people in my family, to be mocked at by all these other sailors who seem satisfied by the meals they have in those other homes! How long must I live in the agony of loneliness?

    But I hope my friend is right. I will stand by the door and wait for you to come. Because I know that every sailor must move on and that my low cost, English-speaking, intelligent, and friendly mind and this beautiful bunch of roses called courts, parliaments, and laws that I specially plucked for you will encourage you to find the truth.

    Until then, I shall wait for you with dedication of spirit and an understanding of time.

    Your hopeful lover.



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