Monday, March 21, 2011

Warren Buffet... Go home!!!





The cover story above is from a Chennai-based magazine. And the column below is the one I wrote for the Asian Age on saturday. I had a hectic time ( so.... ummmm... what else is new?) in Singapore. But more on that in another post. The good news is that Singapore has gone from Sanitised to Sexy in under a decade. It is looking gorgeous, and I had a great time there...

************* 80…. Not out! Buffet bats hard for Team India… and himself! Warren Buffet exhausts me. I’m sure he exhausted several other people on his virgin trip to India. At 80,he is still at the crease, batting away… and going by his energy levels, he’ll hit his century effortlessly. It is just not natural for an octogenarian to be jetting half way around the world at such a hectic speed. He described his quickie chakker to India as a ‘Better late than never’ trip. And came up with a booklet full of quotable quotes, starting with philanthropy being much harder and riskier than business. At around the same time, another American Billionaire buddy of his , Bill Gates, was also floating around the countryside telling us what to do with our money ( earn it – and donate it!). Why do I get the feeling India is being sent on a massive guilt trip by these two guys? And why do we need to take lessons in charity from anybody? Least of all super rich Americans who have made their pile. One of whom has an established business here, (the other wishes to establish business in India)?Declared the Oracle of Omaha in Bangalore, “We want to be where the action is, and the action is here.” No kidding, buddy!Someone obviously forgot to tell these two guys our approach to philanthropy is different. ‘Daan’ has always been an intrinsic part of our culture. If the present generation has callously ignored the message from the shastras – that’s their business. The thought of being lectured to by people who represent the land of milk and honey, and scolded that we are not doing enough, is a bit much. I think it is condescending and patronizing in the extreme for anybody to preach charity. To each his own. And decision to give or not to give, or even how much to give and to whom, is a very individual one. We keep hearing wonderful speeches on Corporate Social Responsibility, and there are enough people cashing in on the glory attached to it. But give me a break. Warren Buffet is obviously a very , very generous chap ( he has pledged 99 % of his fortune, mainly to the Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation). Well, good for him. And I am sure the angels in heaven ( where his seat is guaranteed) will compose a special song for him when he gets to the pearly gates. But right now, what he is doing in India is scouting around for fresh opportunities to make still more money. He has his ‘brother or son” Shri Ajit Jain, to help him invest in the country via Berkshire Hathaway ( more chewing gum, anyone?). We are cool with that. We are also cool with more fizzy drinks ( thanda matlab…?) hitting our stores, what with summer around the corner and over a billion parched throats to quench. Buffet says he hasn’t come her with an ‘elephant gun’ loaded for acquisitions, but hey – we are cool with that, too. India is original elephant country. I am confused. Perhaps I am too ‘retarded’ ( Buffet’s word to describe the delay in his coming to India) to get it. But the man is here to make even more money – right? And after he has made it, he will donate it, right? Meanwhile, his share holders will be a happy lot, since Buffet has assured them he is scaling up and looking at big markets like India, China and Brazil. He also told overwhelmed, gushing reporters that he feels he has more money than he needs – he eats well, takes vacations, watches movies… the regular stuff lesser mortals indulge in even without those billions and trillions. So, the logical question to ask him is this : “Why do you want to make more money, Sir?” His answer will be : “ The more money I make, the more I can give.” Noble. Our Mr. and Mrs. Money Bags are being prodded into following the Gates-Buffet pattern of giving. They are being coerced into parting with large portions of their wealth, because they are told it makes them look good. Heaven knows how convinced they are about all this giving-shiving of their paisa, and God knows what their children think about it (“Grrrrrr…. Dad! Mom! Ab mera kya hoga?”). But ‘Giving’ is the new a la mode statement to make. And all these ‘new’ ‘improved’ charity drives amongst loaded desis have a lot to do with Keeping Up With The Buffets. How can you hope to sit at the High Table in Davos if you haven’t announced a humungous donation to a pet cause ?Without knocking these magnanimous gestures of our do- gooders, it is amusing to note the publicity machine that goes into overdrive when these grand donations are made. There’s nothing quiet or discreet about charity these days. And perhaps Gates \Buffet will argue the more you talk about it, the more it inspires others to reach for their wallets. I dunno. I have seen some high profile charity auctions at which dodgy millionaires have crept out of the woodwork for the all important photo- ops … only to creep right back again… zero follow ups, zero money . Where does all that lolly go?? Any answers?? The second and third richest men in the world doing zabardasti with the 55 desi co-Billionaires featured on the Forbes 2011 list, are definitely pushing their luck. Coaxing these guys to sign The Giving Pledge followed by a public statement and letter is really a bit much, as pressure tactics go. The Chinese are smarter. After a similar initiative in China last September, not a single Chinese billionaire who showed up for the banquet bothered to sign the pledge. That’s what is called the ultimate Oriental snub. Let’s see whether the multi-course Indian buffet piles on more on the table than the Chinese one. Or else, the world’s most famous philanthropists may go home hungry and disappointed. No such thing as a free lunch… perhaps India is not the moveable feast Bill and Warren expected it to be!

14 comments:

ashwini said...

M'am, great interview in the magazine. As for Buffet, well I think Amercia is bringing out its begging bowl, and doesnt want to admit it. Look what it did in Libya for its petrol resources? So far we have seen three wars, Gulf War I and II and the war in Kosovo. Whenever the US economy and the President starts doing badly they start wars, and use business tactics to run their economy. Where was this person all these years? Surely, they must be desperate for cash! I think we should just show our Indian hospitality and wave such people goodbye!

Jyostna said...

Fabulous interview. Super like it.

pkmukherjee said...

At least Buffets and Gates are giving away their wealth for the poor and needy.

In India the max "Daan" goes into the temples and religious trusts and that mostly in cash!!And how much of trickles down the BPL category is anybody's guess.

cmpershad said...

Go out of kitchen... then who will cook... no way, not me :)

Radhika Gupta said...

great interview... n i agree with your take on buffet and gates...

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Indian Essay said...

The media is crazy - they lose sight of the fact that Buffet, for all his wealth, lives an extremely simple life. He is probably more "Gandhian" than most indians put together. He's lived in the same small house for the last 40 years, eat simple food and *lives simply*..go tell that to the vulgar Indian money bags who flaunt their towering expensive homes, private jets and yachts (Ambanis, Mallyas, etc etc). Indians are inured to poverty and are incapable of giving away like Buffet.

KK said...

The smart beggers even in remotest part of our so called "poor and illiterate" country, put some cash beforehand in their begging bowls, more the money and bigger the denomination, better the probability of recieving quality alms.

Jeevan G said...

I haven't read the interview in the magazine, however this post appears like "gas" to my limited knowledge. I understand, we Indians are aware of the "daan" philosophy, however are we really doing enough to reduce the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots"? I do not know what enough is and at what CSR should start and stop? However the least I can say is these two guys have the heart to donate a chunk of their hard earned wealth for a better global society. I do not know of the statistics and outcomes of this philanthropic work but may be as an esteemed writer who may have access to information - you should showcase that - rather than making a lame outburst of "don't preach charity". How on earth does it help Bill Gates to fund HIV/AIDS prevention programs for the past 9 years? Can anyone point out the possible lives this could have saved? Probably no! But in my heart, I believe that was a good cause and it inspires me to donate a little bit of what I make.

May be you should give an intelligent view of "Buffet: Go home" rather than a sentimental one. Again, I haven't read the interview, so not sure whether you have covered this there!

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Jain said...

This is such nonsensical article... You make it sound as if being rich and earning money is a crime. If Buffett and Gates want to earn money by doing business in India why do you think it is a bad thing ? This is the whole cycle of human development.. People invest money, they make productive things out of it that makes human lives better. From what they earn, if they are contributing a good portion of it to less fortunate among us, what is wrong ??
This is such hopeless point of view, they would make money from India by organizing certain things, which are available to be organized. If others in India are smart enough they can do the same, no one is stopping them. They are going to utilize the talent in Indian youth which is otherwise going waste or being spent in shouting slogans on the streets of India or in some religious processions...
I guess people who spend their lives just in writing such pieces and commenting on others, do not realize what it takes to produce something which is useful to human society at large, what it takes to do scientific research and development that makes human lives better... They only enjoy the riches of the hotels or the advancements in technology by writing such articles (which by the way are enabled by such technological advancement only) and being happy by false praises of some cha-chas.... Such a shame on you Shobha...

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