|»Vivek Kaul's Diary|
Sunday at the Taj
27 JANUARY 2016
[Editor's Note: Bill was in Mumbai recently for the Equitymaster Conference. He wrote the following Diary entry late Monday, but we were delayed in getting it to you because of yesterday's holiday. But better late than never, as we're sure you'll want to read Bill's thoughts on India. Enjoy!]
We watched the sun rise over the bay this morning, trying to gauge the soul of the place.
'Timeless' is a word often used to describe the subcontinent. But time passes here, just like everywhere else.
Everywhere you go, much is the same. There are 24 hours in a day, no matter where you are. Here, as everywhere, there are myths and illusions - greedy, stupid, and saintly people, jackass governments, Johnnie Walker, and experience-consuming tourists.
Last week was the first positive week in 2016 for the world's stock markets.
An announcement from Mario 'Whatever It Takes' Draghi at the European Central Bank sent stock prices up on Thursday and Friday.
'ECB Chief Vows No Surrender', the Financial Times reported.
'There are no limits to our action,' claimed Draghi.
But there are limits. Trees do not grow to the sky. Neither in India nor in America. Night follows day. Highs follow lows; lows follow highs.
Although much is the same when you travel, you find differences, too. And you find them almost anywhere from a trailer park in Tennessee to the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai.
Everywhere has its particularities.
We have set up shop in the hotel bar, listening to sitar music and sipping coffee. Three days have passed already. Here in the Taj is a culture rich in nuance...and endlessly fascinating.
More important, it is comfortable. The air conditioning works. The pigeons, crows, and seagulls are kept away by steel netting over the garden area. Beggars and terrorists (the hotel was attacked in 2008) are held at bay by armed guards. Waiters offer you a drink whenever you sit down.
It is here, then, that we will draw our measure of the place. And we begin by reading the Hindustan Times. Politics occupies the top spot in the news here, as it does almost everywhere, followed by celebrities, corruption, and crime, in roughly that order.
Tax the Rich!
We're not sure what category to put Thomas Piketty in.
The French economist is widely known as the 'Karl Marx of the 21st Century' and hailed far and wide as the hero of Bernie Sanders and other mental defectives.
As Piketty recently told an audience at the Jaipur Literary Festival, India should cut down on inequality in society by raising taxes on the rich.
Inequality is a big issue in India, if you believe the press. Columnists rant against it. And university students kill themselves in protest.
Dalits are members of a 'socially and educationally backward class'. One Dalit young man hanged himself at the University of Hyderabad after an apparently insignificant dispute.
At another school, three girls who were studying to be doctors threw themselves down a well. They left a suicide note complaining about the insensitivity of the school.
The news report does not say what their teachers were insensitive to; inequality is suspected.
The haze is thick.
The early morning sun can barely get through. The red ball on the horizon is indistinct...like the melody of the sitar music.
Without knowing the hidden cues, the native context, the extended myths that wire society together, we are not sure what to think.
Where does one idea start, and where does it stop?
The patterns are unfamiliar; the details are new to us. One thing bleeds into another, like the sun into the surrounding haze.
Twelve hours later...
It is soothing here in the Taj. More intrepid travellers would be out on the streets, exploring the city and its people, enjoying the 'sensory overload' that greets Westerners in Mumbai.
But our senses are overloaded already. We only have to read the news and look out the window; our circuit breakers nearly give way.
There is no beginning and no end to it...that is the reassuring part. India whispers to you: Don't worry...it just keeps going.
The sun will come up tomorrow, too. Women will walk along the wharf in their colourful saris. Politicians will lie. Life will go on...more or less as usual.
A Sure Bet
Betting on 'more or less as usual' is what we do at the Diary.
We have no other compass...no other lodestar. No revelation lights the way. No secret formula directs us to the future.
When things get out of whack, the surest bet in the financial world is that they will come back into whack before too long.
When markets get into strange territory, it is just a matter of time before they 'correct' and move back to more usual ground.
These patterns are familiar: Prices move up; then they move down. Now, the hot sun, high in the sky a few hours ago, has settled back into the rim-hugging haze.
And here in the Harbour Bar, the sound of ice falling into a glass, like the bells of St Patrick's in Dublin...or the muezzin of Raqqa, calls the faithful to evening prayer.