Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
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 [email protected].)


Builder fined Rs2 lakh for deficiency in service in Dombivali

According to the complaint, the builder, Dombivali-based KU Patil & Enterprises failed to obtain completion and occupation certificate and as also did not provide water connection


Thane: A builder from Dombivali has been fined Rs2 lakh by the Thane District Consumer Redressel Forum for allegedly providing deficient services to his customers, reports PTI.

Forum president RB Somani and member Jyoti Iyer have in their order warned that if the builder fails to comply with the orders of the Forum, action would be taken against him under Sections 25 and 27 of the Consumer Protection Act.

The Forum has also ordered the builder to pay an additional sum of Rs25,000 to the complainants towards legal expenses.

The case relates to one Gangadeep Cooperative Housing Society which was constructed by Dombivali-based KU Patil & Enterprises.

A total of 21 persons purchased tenements from the builder and the latter promised to get the society formed and also provide water connections.

According to the complaint, the builder had not obtained the completion and occupation certificate and as the builder had not provided water connection, the occupants had to go for it on their own expenses.


Public Interest Exclusive
Six out of 1 lakh soldiers victim of suicide, fratricide says DRDO

To make sure that the life of the soldier was comfortable in adverse conditions, DRDO is looking at the physiological needs, psychological aspects, bio-medical requirements, and even ergonomics


Dhamra (Odisha): Cases of suicides and fratricides among Indian soldiers has reduced to six per lakh this year from about 14 per lakh a few years ago, premier agency Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) has said, reports PTI.

In the defence agency's psychological research lab in Delhi, scientists and psychologists are trying to understand the conditions under which soldiers take such extreme steps.

"We have been successful in bringing down the number of such cases from 13-14 per lakh few years ago to 6 per lakh now," Dr VK Saraswat, director general, DRDO told PTI.

"To moderate the tremendous stress under which combat troops live, we are accordingly developing courses to train them and spot those who can be a victim," Saraswat, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Minister of Defence said.

Pointing out that soldiers stationed in adverse conditions, like those in Siachen, were prone to stress, he said, "They are worried about their family's welfare. Often some of them want to go home to be with their family to take care of household problems. When they don't get leave, they go into stress mode and often take the extreme step."

To make sure that the life of the soldier was comfortable in adverse conditions, DRDO is looking at the physiological needs, psychological aspects, bio-medical requirements, and even ergonomics.

A study by the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) had recently estimated that 70% of suicides occur at peace stations instead of combat zones, mainly because of family or financial issues.

DRDO's head of research and development Dr W Selvamurthy said to equip soldiers to handle stress during posting at high altitudes, they were being trained in yoga from instructors of the National Institute of Yoga.

"We also have introduced counsellors for those who need it along with a number of stress management programs and courses," the scientist said.

Going beyond the psychological aspects of stress, the DRDO has now added cognitive aspects as well in their study.

"Even the criteria for selection of soldier is based on this. We study his attitude, mental soundness, intellectual capabilities to mitigate all kinds of dangers, etc," Dr Saraswat said.

Last month, Defence Minister AK Antony had informed the Rajya Sabha that 1,426 personnel died due to suicides and fratricides since 2000.

Among other steps the department has suggested is to start a rotation policy of deploying soldiers under adverse circumstances for a particular period.

"We are also sensitising the Rajya Sainik Boards on this and establishing a grievance redressal mechanism in states," Saraswat said, adding that the quality of food and clothing has improved while married accommodation has also been introduced.


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