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Debt-ridden Greece & Its Philosophers

With Greece deep in crisis what if the country turned to its philosophers for a way out? Armand D’Angour, a lecturer in classics at the University of Oxford has listed out the so-called ‘ancient solution’ to the ongoing Greek crisis. We summarise his analysis as it appears on the BBC website.

 
Solon: According to D’Angour, “Solon abolished debt bondage, limited land ownership, and...
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Life Exclusive
Meeting businessmen and striking commercial deals in Lebanon

The writer gets down to serious business of striking deals for exports from India. The 52nd part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business

 

As we settled down in our new way of life in a totally foreign country, we began to slowly understand the Lebanese way of life. If men were handsome and smart looking, women were exceedingly beautiful and most westernised in their dress and behaviour. They were friendly and hospitable. Our own concierge Arieff, who handled general security and the central phone of the building, had recommended a young Syrian girl to my wife, who would be able to do the menial jobs but she could only speak Arabic (Syrian dialect), so we began to learn a few words. Mustafa was constantly stopping over at home to check if we needed any help and advice.
 
When we came into the country, Rashid Karami was the prime minister. And as we learnt a little more about the political system in operation, India and Lebanon had lot of similarities. The president was a Maronite Christian; the prime minister was a Sunni Muslim and the speaker—a member from the Druze community.  One could say, it was the best secularism in operation in the Middle East, which was either Kingdoms or Sheikhdoms or run by virtual dictators.

Hafeez Assad was the president of Syria; Gamal Abdul Nasser was president of Egypt; King Saud was in Saudi Arabia; King Hussain was from Jordan; Al Sabahs ruled Kuwait; Saddam Hussain controlled Iraq and the Shah was the Iranian head.  Gulf countries had their Emirs.  Except for Lebanon, which was called the Switzerland of the Middle East, followed the European practice of Sunday as its weekly holiday, rest of the above named followed Friday closure.
 
So, businesswise, we had to everything that was possible to conclude the deal by Thursday in the Gulf, but luckily we could complete the transactions and have the Letters of Credit (called ‘etimaath’ in Arabic) by Friday. It was a tightrope situation, but our Lebanese agents could handle such details with great care and alacrity.
 
Because of the presence of large number of successful agents in the country, Lebanon was becoming more and more important for our commercial success. I remember, even when we had cement delegations from India, sponsored by the State Trading Corporation, whose representative would take active discussions in negotiations, they would all come to Beirut, and more often than not, the buyers would meet them there. Of course, the STC team would visit Kuwait to finally conclude the contract and have the L/Cs established. On our part, both the Council and STC worked hand-in-glove when it came to marketing Indian products.
 
Our exporters continued to complain that in spite of several representations to Shipping Corporation of India, they were unable to offer regular vessels so that shipment commitments could be made. This was not possible, because of inadequate cargo for delivery to the Lebanese port of Beirut. However, in the case of Jordan, as we had a bilateral agreement to buy their rock phosphates, there were at least two vessels a month which touched the Aqaba port. Of course, a number of vessels from the Far East would touch Aqaba, and as such, some exporters were able to make regular shipments, and would use road transport to bring the cargo to Beirut, via Syria and have the goods cleared at the land border.
 
Jordan, being a mountainous country, also had a very large Palestinian population, who were refugees from Palestine, as Israel had firmly established itself there since 1948. Both Syria and Lebanon bore the brunt of the refugee population and we had a large number of them in Shatilla camp, very near the Beirut international airport. Though India was the first Asian country to recognize the Palestinian Liberalisation Organisation (PLO), I was unable to meet their demand, when one day some armed men came to our office to seek supply of Jeeps from India. Arab countries would not buy any product from any company that was even remotely associated with Jewish enterprises; their representative explained to me that this rule was waived when it came to supply of arms and ammunition.
 
The Indian Ambassador based in Beirut was also accredited to both Cyprus and Jordan.
We had a small office there, and if I can recall, we had Khalid (Ansari?) as the Charge-de-
Affairs, a very bright IFS officer.  
 
I went on a week’s trip to meet the growing number of importers of Indian goods. They were fluent in English and seasoned businessmen who were associated with the trade and industry;  Emannuel of Synco; Wael Zurub and George Zaarafili (met them in Synco, but later on moved out to set up their own companies), Mohammed Mango, Chacha Mirchandani (the oldest Indian who had received permission to operate from King Hussain's father) and Engineer Abdullah Khalifeh, who had a cast iron foundry and was doing well.
 
Because of the advantage of language, it was not difficult to move about in Amman the capital, on the hill, and very much like the Lebanese these folks were cultured and friendly.  Very business-like and upfront, they would happily provide you the information needed to conclude business. These merchants had regular dealings with their Lebanese counterparts and this helped us to increase our trade.
 
Though a number of contacts were established, the Jordanian business community was flooded with offers for a variety of building materials and services from India, once my report was published. It was with Abdullah I was in close touch for many, many 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. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at anantha_ramdas@yahoo.com.)
 

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Life Exclusive
Natural beauty and the smart Lebanese people

Learning the art of doing business from the hardworking and smart Lebanese businessmen. The 51st part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business

As we entered the fag end of 1969 and having spent some six months in the Lebanon, we settled down well. We met a lot of Lebanese people of different walks of life and realised how hardworking and smart the businessmen were in being the conduit for promoting sale of goods from various countries to Saudi customers, who, in order to beat the heat came in thousands to live in the mountains of Lebanon with their families. Likewise, many came to spend their holidays to have fun in the snow-clad Cedar Mountains.
 
Yes, I came to know that Lebanon was one of the few countries in the world where one could live in the plains in the city, feel the mild and enjoyable winter climate and yet, in a couple of hours drive reach the mountains to enjoy the beauty of snow. The cedar tree, an important symbol in the centre of the Lebanese flag, I was told, had a religious reason too, in that Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross made of cedar wood!  There were some rains too in winter in the city, but, tourists, who flocked to take advantage of the climate, would swim in the Mediterranean, enjoy the sun, and travel back to the mountains so that they could skin the next morning!
 
Saudi and other Arab countrymen would come down to Beirut with their families and enjoy their summer vacation, instead of going to Europe and facing the unpleasant truth of not knowing the language, whereas, in Lebanon, they were at ‘home’ and enjoy the hospitality at comparatively cheaper cost. It is at this time the Lebanese agents would also travel up to the mountain resorts and sell their wares. A lot of business was thus concluded, very often, we were able to meet the Saudi and Gulf buyers in the city when they came down from the mountains to do their shopping.  The Lebanese businessmen had the advantage of being able to speak fluently both French and English, and acted as the ‘tarjuman’ or translator into Arabic, thus concluding business and pocketing a commission.
 
Many seasoned exporters, who stopped over at Beirut, en route to UK and Europe would invariably take the assistance of these agents to conclude business. Thanks to the arrangement made by Lakshmipathy, my predecessor, they would stay in the Commodore Hotel, get a special discount, as being members of the Council, and walk it up to our office in the Commestra Building. After my taking over, I continued this practice, and became friendly with all the folks at the front desk so that our exporters did not have problems. Though the Lebanese food had a number of vegetarian items to choose from, for the diehard Indian, we were able to guide them to visit Sirena Restaurant, owned by Bisham Verma and his Lebanese wife. Sirena was also catering to Air India.
 
Thanks to the support received from the Indian Embassy, and spearheaded by Ganga Lal Casewa, the world’s first All-Women Indian Cooperative Society was established in Hamra Street, Beirut, with Pushpa Dewan as president and Pratibha Patel as the secretary. This was the first point of cultural contact between the Lebanese and Indian women where a lot of cultural activities were organized.
 
We had regular visitors from Syria, who were keen to get supplies of agricultural implements, diesel engines, auto parts and a few other items for the construction industry. The problem, however, was the payment, as the Syrian government was not permitting direct imports, and most of the goods were routed through government organisations. They, however, permitted the imports, provided there was no outflow of foreign exchange. Merchants, being what they are, devised ways and means to short circuit the process by arranging for 365 days credit, and arranging for the remittance from Lebanon, which had no exchange control regulations.
 
The labour supply in Lebanon came mostly from Syria; thousands of workers would cross the Masnaa Border everyday by bus and share-taxis, work in Beirut on agricultural lands, return back once a week or so.  The earnings, in Lebanese pounds or lira, were locally converted into dollars, etc, and this was bought at a premium for remittance to meet such imports. This practice was known to all, but as there was no objection for receiving remittance against exports effected,
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) apparently did not make any ruling.
 
Our joint venture committee, meanwhile met regularly and other Indian expatriates like Capt Bedi (representing LN Thapar), Fakir Chand Karani (king of pearls who had a jewellery factory), Zaveri and Lalwani keenly watched the progress. I was able to get some good contacts and advice from these people, which I was able to use to advantage.
 
Beirut also boasted of the successful running of the AUB—the American University of Beirut, where a large number of students from Lebanon and from all neighbouring Arab countries were admitted. The faculty was both American and Arab and a number of businessmen had their wards here from Saudi Arabia. For the Arabs in general, for education purposes, they either chose the AUB or the Cairo University for higher education.
 
It was only through the regular visits of PD Patel of Sigil India, Kanthibhai of KB Thaker & Co and Muhammed of Kirloskar Oil Engines I was able to get a lot information and support in our attempts to gather knowledge of the Syrian market, which was practically closed due to centralized imports and exchange controls. We did have a bilateral trade with them, like we had with so many others.
 
As the market was developing, I was more and more in contact with exporters who were stopping over at Beirut. I gathered the importance of establishing a working relation with Saudi Consulate.
 
Although I had established a long working schedule for myself, averaging some 12 hours a day, working six days a week, it really became a nuisance when some exporters would stop over for a couple of days, have no contact with me or the Embassy, and then barge into the office and demand service on Saturday evenings. I tried my best to meet their requirements most of the times; but, eventually, decided that I will be out of circulation on Sundays at least to be with my family and kids. Yet, it was only much later that we could take them on site-seeing of places like Grotto or Jeita. Or, for that matter, Mamaari Castle, which was built by a Lebanese engineer and generated its own electric power by the artificial forced flow of water. The other picnic spot was Damour, where a small tributary of Dog River passed by, and from where we could see the Israeli soldiers in the occupied lands.
 
Lebanon was and is a great place to live with its wonderful people, as long as one kept away from religion or politics, which anyway was the keynote for success in peaceful living in this part of the world.

(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. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at anantha_ramdas@yahoo.com.)

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