Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Beirut, the hospitality capital of the Middle East

Beirut was the place where the east and west mingled easily and even the very conservative Arab from neighbouring states would feel free here. The 55th part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business


It was early morning, when I was getting ready for the office when Mike from Commodore called to say that a Capt Krishnan Nair was in the hotel and would like to meet me.  Apart from exporters from India, we had many airline crews staying there, including Air India.
Though I had seen many crew members in the hotel during my brief visits, I had not established any contact with them.  It was therefore a surprise that Capt Krishnan wanted to meet me.
When I met him a few minutes later, it turned out that Capt Krishnan Nair had really nothing to do with Air India, except that he took their flights often. He was, in fact, managing director of Leela Lace a well-known textile manufacturer, who was on a fact finding mission en route to Europe!
Though I spent most of my time and energy in promoting engineering goods and services, when enquiries came for other items, I passed them on to respective export promotion council or suggested that the person to meet the Indian Embassy commercial secretary, VP Singh, a well-educated, Arabic-knowing IFS officer for his advice.
As we got to talking on the subject, I realised that as Beirut was the most fashionable centre of the Middle East, there should be no reason who I should not involve in our Indian Women’s Cooperative Society to do some marketing. Immediately I got in touch with Pratibha Patel and Pushpa Dewan, and asked if they could organize a display of the materials.  Meanwhile, this young and dashing Capt Nair managed to persuade an upcoming film star and leading fashion model, Gladys Aboujoude to come and wear the various lace dresses that he had brought with him.
Twenty-four hours later, we had a beautiful show with Gladys wearing the dresses and walking up the ramp!  The hall was overcrowded with lots of local merchants and was a great success, well covered by the Daily Star, the only English newspaper in Beirut!
The cooperative was already marketing the Indian silk scarves, which I had helped them to get, on a consignment basis, from Artwork Exports Pvt Ltd from Calcutta.  I believe Capt Nair was able to get a few contacts after the exhibition.

When I reached the office the next day, after collecting the mail from the GPO, I found a lot of enquiries for various items in Saudi Arabia, and the usual complaints of importers asking for delivery of documents without payment due to delay in shipments. Most importers paid off the dues, but, very often they would turn around and asking for some special discounts. I was thinking of a short trip to Jeddah and Riyadh, when I met an old friend, Musa, a member of an aristocratic family in Iraq, who had similar association with a member of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia. He welcomed me to visit him in Riyadh.

I took the trip to Jeddah and met our Ambassador and Bijli, the commercial attaché, both of whom had become close friends. As a matter of practice, I always kept in close touch with the embassy, and freely exchanged my notes and reports with them.  So, when I told him about the royal unofficial visit to India, he was totally taken aback, and only when I assured him of my close relations with Musa, we discussed the issue after which a top official message was sent to our prime minister. The visit was a grand success and on his return Musa showed me the framed welcome address by the community in Bombay.

After this visit, our connection with the Saudi Embassy in Beirut became much closer and they were very cooperative in accommodating our requests for visit visas to all our exporters, provided a letter from the EEPC accompanied the application! We made the major breakthrough in supplying steel drums for their refinery in Jeddah, made by Steel Containers, a government of India undertaking.

Encouraged by the response, I made even more contacts in Riyadh, where Musa had a small aluminium window making and steel wool plants. Unfortunately, we could not make any headway in our supplies, as India was short of the metal itself and used steel window sections instead, which, the rich customers in the Middle East did not want to use.

The Lebanese people looked European in physical appearance, and had a beautiful blend of eastern, oriental and Arab hospitality, all rolled into one! Friendly and hard working go-getters enjoyed their life to the full. Government offices closed latest by 3pm which many establishments followed, though shops and other business houses dealing with both east and west worked longer hours. Beirut was the place where the east and west mingled easily, and even the very conservative Arab from neighbouring states would feel free here.

 The population of Lebanon was about 2.5 million people; a similar number of Lebanese emigrants encircled the globe and their remittance, back to the country was large, for which reason the Lebanese lira remained a stable currency in the Middle East.

 The only problem that people faced was the large number of Palestinians in country; they were welcome to stay and even work, as long as they did not take law into their own hands, which, because they carried arms, occurred once in a while causing trouble to the ruling government.

 Yet, the people always remained cheerful and hospitable.  If I remember correctly, it was Laila who began the first ever hijacking of a plane which emanated from Beirut International Airport.  No one could visualise that this would be the beginning of many to follow in the years to come.

(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected])


Maharashtra says CBI cannot probe Adarsh scam

Maharashtra government and Adarsh Society are questioning CBI's authority to probe the case nearly a year-and-half after agency started its investigation


Mumbai: Even as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Wednesday filed its charge sheet in the Adarsh scam, the Bombay High Court allowed Ministry of Defence (MoD) to submit its response within two weeks to Maharashtra government's claim that the central agency had no jurisdiction to probe it, reports PTI.

The Maharashtra government and the Adarsh society filed their affidavits before the court questioning the agency's authority to probe the case without its approval, nearly a year-and-half after it began the investigation.

They contested the propriety of the CBI probe on the ground that neither the state government nor the High Court had handed over the investigation to the premier investigative agency.

The affidavit submitted by the counsel for the state government AY Sakhare said the state had not made any request under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, to CBI to investigate the scam. The agency derives its powers from this Act to investigate cases.

The division bench comprising justices SA Bobade and Mridula Bhatkar allowed the MoD to intervene in the public interest litigations (PILs) in the Adarsh scam after its counsel Kevic Setalvad opposed the state government's claim that Adarsh land belonged to it and that CBI cannot probe the scam.

He pleaded before the court to allow MoD to intervene in the matter which was granted.

Counsels for Adarsh Society and state government Shekhar Naphade and AY Sakhare opposed MoD lawyer's plea to intervene in the matter, saying the Adarsh Inquiry Commission had already settled the issue of ownership of the land in state's favour.

The judges said the court would have to examine whether any order was passed earlier asking the CBI to probe the scam.

It was on a recommendation from MoD that the CBI had launched a probe in the Adarsh scam.

The affidavit filed by Ruprao Deshmukh, Joint Secretary in the Home department, said, on CBI's specific request the state had made available the records and extended all cooperation to the premier investigative agency.

The affidavit said the Adarsh Inquiry Commission appointed by the state to probe alleged irregularities in construction of the building in upscale Colaba had submitted its interim report in April and that it will take appropriate action after receiving the final report.

After hearing the arguments, justices Bobade and Bhatkar directed the MoD to file an affidavit in response to Maharashtra government's stand within two weeks and adjourned the hearing on the PILs till 18th July.

The court allowed the MoD access to all documents to enable it to file its reply.

The court was hearing PILs filed by social activists Simpreet Singh and Pravin Wategaonkar seeking monitoring of the probe by the High Court and invoking provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in the case.

The agency had registered a case in the scam on January 29 last year under IPC sections including criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery and showing forged document as genuine, besides sections pertaining to Prevention of Corruption Act.

Former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, Congress leader KL Gidwani, top-ranking retired army officers Lt General PK Rampal, Major Generals AR Kumar and TK Kaul, retired brigadiers RC Sharma and MM Wanchoo are among the accused.

The FIR also names Subash Lala, the then principal secretary to Chief Minister, former principal secretary of the Urban Development Department Ramanand Tiwari, former municipal commissioner and IAS officer Jairaj Phatak and fellow IAS colleague and former Mumbai collector Pradeep Vyas as accused.

The late mother-in-law and sister-in-law of Chavan had flats in the society. Chavan was Revenue Minister between 2001-2003 and had dealt with files pertaining to the ownership of land. He is alleged to have recommended allotment of 40% flats in the building to civilians and also changed the development plan to favour the society which was said to be meant for Kargil widows and war heroes.

The MoD had ordered a CBI probe in the scam on the recommendation of the Army Chief following a preliminary inquiry.

Besides CBI, the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department are also probing the irregularities.

Apart from Chavan, two former Maharashtra Chief Ministers Sushilkumar Shinde and Vilasrao Deshmukh are under the lens for granting clearances in violation of norms.


Videocon to start production from Tamil Nadu plant in 3-4 months

The videocon plant in Manamadurai in SIPCOT Industrial Park near Madurai would manufacture LCD Plasma TV sets and other electronic goods and spares


Chennai: Home appliances manufacturer Videocon Industries' Rs1500 crore manufacturing plant in Tamil Nadu would begin production in next three to four months, reports PTI quoting a top company official.

In 2010, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tamil Nadu Government for setting up the plant at an investment of Rs1500 crore.

The plant is coming up in Manamadurai in SIPCOT Industrial Park in Near Madurai to manufacture LCD Plasma TV sets and other electronic goods and spares.

"Tamil Nadu project has been delayed. We have already invested huge amount (Rs700 crore) so far at the plant. The project is very much on... We will be manufacturing television sets to begin with..It will start (production) in three to four months time...", Rajkumar Dhoot, managing director, Videocon Industries, told reporters in Chennai.

Besides, manufacturing of the television sets, Dhoot also the President of industry body ASSOCHAM, said the plant was also feasible for manufacturing other electronic products.

Currently, Videocon Industries have a plant at Bharuch (in Gujarat) to manufacture coloured glass.

"We have the only plant in Bharuch, to manufacture coloured glass. We want to export them to Indonesia, Malaysia where the demand is there...", he said.

He said they had shifted their Hosur plant ooperations to Manamadurai inorder to use latest technology for manufacturing plasma televisions.

The company had planned to recruit about 700 people once the plant becomes operational, he said.

Stating that there has been demand for colour television sets, he said, "the demand is there. we are supplying every where. We just imported (Cathode Ray)tubes from our own company in China and now within four months time, we will have enough supply for colour television sets".


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