Strategic advice to Indians in South Africa

Strategic advice to Indians in South Africa

In 2005, I wrote an article titled, ‘State of the Nation’, after a trip to South Africa at the invitation of the Jamiat ul Ulama where I met and addressed hundreds (perhaps over a thousand or more in total) of Ulama, businessmen, scholars, teachers and parents in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. I also met and addressed exclusive groups of political, community and business leaders in these cities. After that trip, I documented my impressions and made an analysis of the situation of Indian Muslims in South Africa (with a special focus on Gauteng Province) in the hope that it would be useful to those who cared to read it. I am attaching a link to that article for anyone who is interested in it. It makes for interesting reading as a comparative article to what I am writing here to see what has changed in the past 12 years.
Since then, I have travelled to South Africa every year, with two trips in some years (including this year 2017). I have spoken at two National Conventions of the Association of Muslim Schools, the National Convention of IMA, at several meetings organized by Al Ansar, Minara Chamber of Commerce, University of Kwazulu Natal (Business school), Jamiat ul Ulama, MJC and delivered more Juma bayans than I can recall. During these trips, I have once again had the privilege of meeting and speaking to a cross section of South African Muslim society that most South Africans don’t have access to. Of special note is my meeting with the late Ahmed Kathrada who spent over two hours talking about his experiences in the Freedom Struggle and the challenges that Free South Africa faces and asked me many probing questions. At the end of that meeting, he said to me, while giving me a signed copy of his memoirs, ‘You are a very peculiar Maulana. But we need many peculiar Maulanas like you.’ I cherish the memory of that meeting and consider his comment as a badge of honor.
During all these trips, I have listened more than I have spoken, learned more than I have taught and benefited more than I could have imagined. I therefore feel it to be a responsibility on me to share that learning and my analysis of what I see happening in South Africa in these past 12 years. As that is half of South Africa’s lifespan as a free, independent nation, I believe it is important. I leave it to the reader to decide.
n  Please read the article on this link:
n  Then ask:
n   What has changed since 2005?
n  Which of these recommendations have been acted upon?
Leonardo Da Vinci says“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
I believe it is time – it was time 20 years ago – high time, for South African Indians to wake up and take stock of who they are, what their value and relevance is to society and what they need to do about it. And to remember that value is determined by the receiver, not the giver. Value is a factor of market perception. If you want to know your value, you need to ask others.
I would like to begin by giving an example of the Parsee community in India.
Parsees of India
n  < 1%
n  Highly respected, highly influential
n  Highly educated
n  Top 5 employers/tax payers
n  Top 5 wealthiest
The key word here is ‘contribution’. What goes without saying is that the contribution is done in a way that is clear to all concerned, highly visible and highly appreciated. In one word, if one were to ask, “If the Parsees of India and all that they represent, disappeared from the land, would that make a difference to the people of India?’ I don’t think that is a question that takes much thought to answer, if you live in India. Just to drive home the point totally, imagine India without Tata and Godrej; just two Parsee names. I rest my case.
I would suggest that you do the same analysis with South African Indians. Ask the question, ‘If the Indians of South Africa disappeared from the land with all their assets, signs, symbols, culture and religion, what difference would that make to the South African Black people?’ If you wanted to use just one name and not two, ‘Guptas’, then the answer would be clear. But bad jokes apart, you know what I mean. Indispensability is critical to survival. You must ask, ‘As a community, are we indispensable, irreplaceable, critical to survival of South Africa?’ Forget the past. Ask this question in today’s context. Human memory is notoriously short. Think today because it is today, not yesterday, which will influence tomorrow.
Some data you may need to do this analysis:
Extent of Indian businesses in South Africa in terms of:
1.      Business volume (Billions of $) of Indian businesses.
2.     Nature of business (strategic: large scale farming, infrastructure development, power, finance, mining, health and education) versus commerce (retail, FMCG, restaurants – generally service sector with some exceptions).
3.     Extent of employment created by Indian businesses (Tata Steel alone employs 74000 people and is worth $25 billion).
4.     Tax paid by Indian businesses in South Africa.
5.     Cost of replacement of Indian businesses and Indians in society.
6.     Employee satisfaction of people working for Indian businesses, households (you may like to compare all of the above with White Owned Businesses to get some comparative data). Has anyone ever done an Employee Satisfaction Survey nationally, especially with domestic employees?
7.     Do you have a source that is unquestionable and comparable, demographically and in terms of GDP for this data? Questionable data, partisan reporting does more damage than good.
Remember that contribution is a number. It is measurable and if it is not measured or unmeasurable then it is not visible and will not be appreciated. I know that you are going to say that you don’t have the means to measure the things that I have mentioned above. I say to you that, that in itself, is your answer. Once again, I rest my case.
You will notice that I have not mentioned the role of Indians in the Freedom Struggle. That is not accidental. The harsh reality is that today, it doesn’t matter. I mentioned the role of Indians in the Freedom Struggle in my article in 2005. Twelve years have passed since then. Memory was dim then. Today it is almost gone. The generation walking the street in South Africa, the generation which will go to vote in 2019, the generation that is listening to those using the plank of race and xenophobia is a generation that didn’t see apartheid.  They don’t know what it meant to rush to find some means of transport to get out of a White area where they went to work, before dark, because they had no permit. They have never seen ‘Whites only’ signs on park benches, toilets, entrances and exits and in every part of their lives. They don’t know what it meant to pay the same amount of money but get third rate service only because you were Black, even if you were in Africa. They don’t know what it meant to be Black in a nation ruled by Whites and be treated as subhuman in your own land. They don’t know any of that. True, that they have forgotten that this is because of the sacrifices of those who fought for independence (Black, White & Indian) and gave up their present for the future of this generation. Yes, they have forgotten. That is sad, that is bad but that is the reality.
On the other hand, they know what it means to be Black in a nation ruled by Blacks but still not have jobs, still be treated badly, still be poor while you see others with more than you have. They neither have the wisdom to see that this is not the fault of Indians. It was not Indians who deprived them of jobs or who made promises that couldn’t possibly have been fulfilled. It was not Indians who didn’t tell them the truth that gaining independence was merely to cross the threshold of freedom. After that it takes the next two generations to build a nation. It was not Indians who hid these facts from them. All this they don’t understand and nobody, least of all those who want to use them for their own ends, will tell them. All that they know is that they are suffering, that they are angry and they need a target for their anger. That target is the one who has more than they do, who flaunts it, who shows it off in his lifestyle and who really has no power or strength to protect his assets. That is like taking ice cream from a child. That you are going to be hungry again, once the ice cream is gone, is not something that they are willing to reflect on. That it is much better to learn how to make ice cream is not something that they are willing to think about.
Yes, I know all the reactions that I am going to get to the statement above, “We didn’t get this for nothing, we worked hard for it, our parents sacrificed their lives so that we could have what we have today. These people don’t want to work hard, they want it all on a platter, they have an entitlement mentality, they think they can simply wish for wealth and it will fall into their laps, one day they will find out.”
I say to you, ‘Right on all counts. But they will discover that after you have disappeared from the land.
We have the history of several other African nations as evidence that the strategy of xenophobia; using a prosperous community as a target for the anger generated from broken promises of the government; works. It is highly successful in winning elections. We have several examples of that globally, not only in Africa. There is no reason to believe that it won’t work in South Africa. It is emotion not fact that generates mass action. And it is emotion that is the tool being used. One of the most powerful of emotions, far more than love, is fear. More than fear is hatred, that comes out of fear. So, fear and hatred mongers will get elected. The target community will enter the hallowed halls of history and the public will face some more broken promises, but that will be of no use to those who were used and discarded.’
Let me begin with my SWOT analyses of South African Indian Muslims. I would suggest that you do the same for South African Indians collectively. The beginning of the solution lies in an objective, even brutal, analysis of facts as they are. Not as we would like to view them. So, please be completely frank. If you have any doubts, talk to the other side, face to face. And listen to them. Don’t argue. Listen quietly. Go, do it.
 SWOT Analysis of South African Indian Muslims
n  Homogeneous, compact, consolidated (changing now)
n  Relatively wealthy
n  Legacy of the Freedom Struggle (getting diluted rapidly)
n  State is supportive (changing now)
n  Ulama & Maktabs and community support for them
n  Harmonious relationships all around (changing now)
Warning: Strengths you ignore become weaknesses
n  < 1%
n  Changing population demographic & dynamics
n  No presence in strategic business areas
n  Racist attitudes & intolerance for any critical perspective
n  Low/no presence in politics, government, judiciary, executive, military
n  Poor education – Resultant myopia & rigidity
n  Internal conflicts are a cancer but which is funded, encouraged and enjoyed
Warning: Weaknesses you ignore can destroy you
n  Continue to live with dignity, prosperity and grace
n  Retain and build on the legacy of the Freedom Struggle
n  Be perceived as highly beneficial, essential, irreplaceable part of society
n  Become icons and benchmarks for the Muslim world, of how to live in a pluralistic, multicultural society
But only opportunities you leverage can help you
n  Become redundant, irrelevant and soft targets
n  Used to further other’s agendas and discarded when usefulness is over
n  Racism, rigidity, isolation and ignorance leads to annihilation
n  Become the subject of a Harvard case study in AD (Accelerated Demise)
Threats ignored… well, let me leave it at that
History has the potential to teach us great and valuable lessons without the pain and cost that those who lived those times, paid for them.
However, as someone said, ‘What we learn from history is, that we learn nothing.’
And as someone else said, ‘Nations that don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’
I say, ‘The choice is yours.’
History lesson: Indian Example
I believe that South African Muslims are repeating the mistakes that their counterparts (and ancestors) made in India. Indian Muslims were at the forefront of the Freedom Struggle in 1859 and then again in 1930’s – 40’s which resulted in final independence from the British on August 15, 1947. Indian Muslims with their Ulama in their vanguard, paid a heavy price in blood and lives to win freedom. After that, they retreated into their Madaaris, Khankhas and Darul Ulooms and the common Muslim people went back home and continued with their lives. No attempt was made to consolidate the gains of the independence movement, to be active politically, to fill positions in the administrative services, military, judiciary and police. No attempt was made by Muslims who had considerable wealth to get into industry, not even to invest with other industrialists. Madrassas and Darul Ulooms consciously remained apart from universities and strongly discouraged (forbade) the learning of English, science, math and other modern subjects. Even with Aligarh Muslim University, to this day, there is no active academic relationship and an atmosphere of caution.
I won’t go into the reasons, real and imaginary, for all this but the fact remains that this resulted in Indian Muslims being sidelined everywhere, their contribution in the independence struggle forgotten and them as a community being used as a vote bank and then discarded once they had fulfilled their purpose. Extremist Hindu parties used (and continue to use) Indian Muslims as a target to fuel hatred and get some cheap votes by making inflammatory speeches, which make the speeches that some of the extremist Black politicians are making in South Africa sound like love stories. These speeches routinely result in pogroms and since 1947 literally thousands of Muslims have died violently at the hands of roving mobs. And this continues. Nothing happens to those who create all this except that it helps them to get elected. Those who advised Muslims to stay away from politics and to ignore the world are as responsible for this tragic state of affairs as those who did and continue to do the killing.
The Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi has some horrific data about the issue of so-called ‘Communal Riots’, which is the euphemistic name given to anti-Muslim pogroms. . The lynching of Muslims by roving mobs of so-called Gau Rakshaks (Cow Protectors) is another case in point to show that it is emotion, not fact that fuels action. That no action is taken against these vigilantes is a message for South African Muslims and Indians to reflect upon.
The thing to remember is that the number of Muslims in India is ten times the total population of South Africa. There are four Muslims in India for every man, woman and child of any religion or color in South Africa. Yet these numbers can’t help us. I am stating all these tragic facts here because I see a reflection of our history in the current events of South Africa.  For the past twelve years I have been trying to say to you that South African Indians and Muslims are making the same mistakes in a newly independent (now over 20 years) South Africa, that Indian Muslims made in an independent India 70 years ago. Same actions give the same results. That is why I want to briefly quote the lessons from India so that South African Indians can learn from them and not repeat our tragic history.
What we learn from the history of Muslims in India’s Freedom struggle is:
n  Strategically wrong decisions led to abiding hostility and the squandering of the gains of the Freedom Struggle
n  Apathy led to filling of the vacuum by others
n  Divided voting = lost advantage
n  No strategic focus, game plan or action to date
n  Internal conflicts = collective weakness = suicide
n  200 million Muslims became irrelevant
I quote from the speech of Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (RA) at the inauguration of the Tabligh Markaz in Dewsbury, UK. He gave some very important advice which is relevant to Indian Muslims who migrated to other countries, including South Africa.
n  This is a new land – don’t transplant your controversies from India & Pakistan
n  Don’t isolate yourself because it is your Akhlaaq (manners) and Mu’ashira (society) which is the most powerful means of Da’awa
n  Participate in politics because only those who participate in the process can participate in the decisions
In a democracy, the only thing which counts is the vote.
And everyone, including your domestic worker, is a voter.
I believe there are some harsh realities that South African Indians in general and Muslims in particular must face, own up to and change. I say Muslims in particular because these are attitudes which run counter to Islam. If South African Muslims displayed the Akhlaaq of Rasoolullah and the Sahaba, we would not have a situation like the one we have now. However, instead of that you seem to have brought across the seas, attitudes of your villages in Gujarat and elsewhere, with your shortsighted, narrowmindedness, your prejudice and your racism. India is a very racist culture. Indian racism goes back thousands of years and is ingrained in and is a part of the Hindu culture in its caste system.
Muslims who should have rejected it, because there is no caste system in Islam, embraced it and created a caste system of their own in Indian Islam (Ashraf, Ajlaf & Ardhal) that doesn’t exist anywhere else. This caste system was created and supported by Indian Ulama and that is the case to this day. Apart from other things, it is a system that is based on discrimination on the basis of color with ‘fair’ (nothing to do with justice) being the first requirement, seen as good, superior, desirable and dark being inferior, undesirable and looked down upon. Just look at the matrimonial ads in Indian newspapers and find me a single one that says, ‘Wanted: A bride who is dark in color’, and I will place my turban at your feet.
That attitude was also brought with Indians and Indian Muslims to South Africa. In South Africa of the apartheid era this worked very well and was supported by local laws, segregation regulations and housing. Indians lived in their towns separated from Black townships and White areas, always aspiring to be considered equal to Whites and apart and superior to Blacks. Even someone as enlightened as Gandhi made comments comparing Indian and Black people which are highly embarrassing to put it politely. At the cost of sounding apologetic, this was a factor of the Indian cultural mindset of which Gandhi was also a victim as was almost everyone else. To say that Indians are not racist is a lie. To try to justify it by asking, ‘What about the tribalism of Black people?’ is to try to say that one wrong justifies another.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. The purpose of saying this is not to blame but to identify a critical problem so that we can cure it. Especially for Muslims, racism is Haraam and a great sin that if not dealt with, will result in great humiliation when we meet Allah. No matter what happened in the past, it is something that needs urgent attention and must be rooted out. The place to begin is in our homes and schools.
Harsh Realities
n  This is a Black country and you are not Black – not because Black people rejected you but because you rejected Black people
n  You are seen as a highly visible, enviable, resource rich, ostentatious, insensitive, inward looking, weak, defenseless, non-beneficial minority
n  You are a propagandist’s dream – a soft target i.e. the fuel which can be used to further their own ends
Ignoring reality is the fastest way to become its victim
However, you can still live here as ‘different’ but highly respected and valued – but only provided you do the right things which begins with putting your own house in order.
Face the Reality
n  Strategic Focus is like air – without it you will die painfully and quickly
n  Learn to work with others different from you in every way – except a common destiny
n  Internal conflicts are cancer – must be eliminated urgently
n  Those who cause them must be hunted down and axed out
The time to tolerate negativity is over
What to do?
Change your mindset
Any system, left unattended degenerates into chaos. Gardens, families, marriages, countries, organizations, all follow the same pattern. They all need regular attention.
Critical need
  1. Recognize that racism is a life-threatening issue (quite literally)
  2. Create a high visibility impact & do it fast to demonstrate that you are taking action
  3. Avoid getting isolated and get everyone on board. Stay silent and you become the next victim.  
  4. Spend enough time, money and energy to make an impact. (Key word: Enough)
  5. Find leadership which can bridge boundaries
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Find Inspirational Leadership
n  Find leadership:
n  Which is inclusive and can transcend boundaries
n  Which can communicate and build trust with diverse people
n  Which is trusted by all parties to be just and impartial
n  Which has the humility to learn from others
n  Which has enough strength to ensure compliance
Warning: Internal Conflict just got upgraded to cardiac arrest status
I don’t think there is a single leader of any faith community among Indian South Africans who can fit this bill. The alternative is to find an organization which can perform this role. In my opinion, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is such an organization. I leave it to you to collectively decide. But let me say right now that unless it is a genuine collective decision which is supported wholeheartedly by all sections of the Indian South African community, it won’t work. Some South African Muslims have a rich history of backstabbing their own leaders, of loose cannons who go off half-cocked and create all kinds of confusion and disruption, of being hypocritical in their speech and actions. I submit to you that the time for playing these games is over.
Speak to the opposition
n  Take the wind out of their sails by acting urgently on matters that need action
n  Show the opposition how they will damage their own political goals if they take the route of xenophobic violence. Find someone who can talk to them and who they will listen to. You need someone with credibility with them.
n  Build a popular front for nation building by including everyone in it – Black, White, Indian or Coloured
n  Reject the language of race which still divides you. If you think you are South African, stop referring to each other by color. You are human beings. Not pawns in a chess game.
Immediately put your own house in order
n  Accept publicly that things have gone wrong and that you (Indian community) will put your own house in order
n  Set up an Ombudsman Desk in every city where people can report human rights violations. Investigate all cases objectively and ensure (enforce) proper compensation. There is no excuse for breaking the law of the land.
n  Conduct Cross-Cultural Sensitivity & Understanding programs and preach race equality everywhere, especially in religious institutions and gatherings.
n  Start a Community Dialogue between Black & Indian people. Include others.
Don’t give fuel to others to light a fire under you
On-going with long term focus: Build a credit balance
  1. Talent Search (among underprivileged): pick highly talented youngsters irrespective of race and tutor & mentor them
  2. Build state of the art schools in Black areas
  3. Educate one Black child for one Indian child in your own private schools
  4. Start Entrepreneurship training & startup funding for young Black entrepreneurs
  5. Invest in long term development projects (not charity and food packets): housing, health care, clean water, sanitation, kitchen gardens, livestock management, child care, sports and adult literacy.
  6. Get into the executive, judiciary and military – Remember that it takes 35 years for to make a General, Judge or Minister
  7. Become active in politics at all levels, from voting to working as political activists to standing for election. Set up a fund to help those Indian political candidates who have the talent, ability and willingness but not the funds for campaigning.
  8. Set up Chairs in all universities for business, politics, education, health, environment and Islamic studies
  9. Stop all public criticism & pamphleteering – you are a bad joke. Attacking people, you disagree with, only shows your own ignorance and bad manners. It is not enough to talk about Adaab-ul-Ikhtilaaf. You need to practice them. This must be demonstrated especially by the Ulama. The present situation is totally unacceptable and a serious disservice to the community. Beware that if the present situation doesn’t change, it will result in a total alienation of the community from the Ulama.
  10. Get into media – at all levels – urgently. Create a media which is fair, intelligent, proactive and courageous. Not the propaganda machines that we see today in the name of media.
Treat it like it is – investment in YOUR future
Finally, most important of all is to remember that the window of opportunity is fast closing


“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein
My life is worth $ 7

My life is worth $ 7

On October 20, 2010, I was 55. I released a book on that day called: 20-10-2010-55 which was 55 life lessons that I learnt in my life. I have decided to share those with you (those who read the book please forgive me) and so you will get one every day until we finish them all.
Those who feel motivated to read the book itself can get it from Amazon. Those who would like to know more about me and my life should read, “It’s my Life”, which is also on Amazon (India, US & Canada). My life is worth $7 (INR 200). I am most grateful that Allahgave me the life that He gave me for $7. Ajeeb!

I turned fifty-five on October, 20, 2010. That’s the title of this book and blog; 20.10.2010-55. On that day, I reflected on the lessons that I had learnt in an unusually rich, active, exciting life lived in India, Guyana, America, Saudi Arabia, and in travels in other parts of the world. I wrote this book as a tribute of thanks to all those who added value to me, taught me formally and informally, and invested in my learning. During my childhood and teens in India through the 60’s and 70’s, I spent all my vacations walking in the jungles of the Aravallies, living with my dear friend Uncle Rama. Imagine the excitement of a fifteen-year-old with a .22 rifle or a twelve-bore shotgun, walking with one Gond companion, Shivayya, all over the jungle bordering the Kadam River. 

At times Shivayya and I would walk in the night to witness a Sambar mud bath and sit behind a tree, quietly watching majestic Sambar stags roll in mud and then stand up to shake off the excess; coated in an armor of mud which, when dry, protects them from biting insects. Sometimes we would hear the call of the tiger as it set out for work. I learnt to read tracks which tell the story of all those who passed that way. I learnt the meaning of smells which tell their own stories and can mean the difference between life and death. But the biggest lesson I learnt was to take life seriously while having fun and to extract every drop of learning.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, I spent five years in the Amazonian rain forests of Guyana bordering the Rio Berbice. I went there when I was nineteen and lived alone in Kwakwani. During weekends, my friend Peter Ramsingh and I would take our boat on a trip fifty to sixty miles upriver and camp on the bank or on a sandbank. It was our code of honor to not take any food on these trips and live off the land from our hunting and fishing. As an emergency fall back, we would take some raw chicken guts in a plastic bag. If we didn’t manage to catch any Lukanani or to shoot any Agouti or Canje Pheasant, we would trawl the chicken guts in the Berbice and sure enough, we would get a bite – Piranha. Great eating as long as you know how to keep clear of the teeth and retrieve your hook. I would see alligator eyes shining like diamonds sprinkled on the dark waters during our night patrols to check our fishing nets. During one trip, Peter and I accidentally caught a twenty-two-foot Anaconda in our fishing net. It was so heavy that both of us couldn’t lift him clear off the ground. I met people who live thirty to forty miles up the Berbice River in houses on stilts, in small forest clearings where they grow a few vegetables, hunt and fish for their meat, and don’t come to ‘town’ for months at a time; no water except the river, no light except the sun. Sometimes it is a single family of Amerindians. Sometimes it is a couple of families who live by one another. Their children play in the forest and swim naked in the river, yet I never heard of a case of Piranha bite; never figured out that one as the river is infested with Piranha and they love to bite. These families always grow the best honey which they would sell to people like me who turned up on their doorstep, or take to town and exchange for a couple of bottles of country liquor – deadly stuff in more ways than one.
I received news in May, 2011 that my dearest friend, mentor, and boss from Kwakwani, Nick Adams, entered into Islam along with his wife and sister-in-law.
I spent ten years in the 80’s and 90’s in the rain forests of the Western Ghats in Anamallais, India and further south, planting tea, coffee, cardamom, and rubber. I spent many hours tramping up and down hills and valleys, sometimes at a height of eight to nine thousand feet on the famous Grass Hills; at other times, wending my way in sweltering heat through the thick forest on the Ghats where the sun almost never reaches the earth. One day, I escaped an angry, charging bull elephant by what could only be a miraculous divine intervention. All my tea garden workers believed that I was divinely blessed from this day on; a belief that I did nothing to dispel – who would object to being divinely blessed? On another instance, I walked up to a Red Dhole kill – they moved away and sat in a circle watching me, while I ensured that the Sambar hind that they had brought down was dead. On a forest road in the Anamallais, I once had a face-off with a huge Gaur bull who eventually decided he didn’t hate me enough to eliminate me and moved away, allowing me to move on, on my Royal Enfield motorcycle. My greatest joy was to camp on a huge rock outcrop called Manja Parai in Lower Sheikalmudi Estate where I was the big boss, sitting on a platform in a tree to watch elephants come to drink in a nearby stream. When the elephants left, the Gaur would come. Finally, when everyone had gone their way, my companion Raman and I would descend and light a fire against the bitter cold, smoke a couple of beedis, and drink hot, sweet tea and wait for the sun to rise. Gradually, the sky would lighten; the orange glow would show and then the majestic ball of fire would come up over the edge of the horizon, greeting us across an expanse of forest and tea gardens. What is the value of such a sight? 

I never was good at math.

Lest you think, all play and no work – I went to one of the best schools in Hyderabad, India, where I was born and spent my childhood – The Hyderabad Public School. I believe that school is the most important institution in building character and preparing the child for manhood. No university or institution of higher learning can do for character building what a good school can do. I went to one of the best, not only because of the infrastructure, which was world class, but also because of the wonderful people who taught me. Simultaneously, I acquired a formal Islamic education (twelve years) with both book learning as well as Tarbiyya, which I continued over the years. I learnt that it is always possible to do more than conventional wisdom would have you believe if you push yourself. I also learnt that pushing yourself is great fun. In school I was passionate about horse riding; I excelled in dressage and also played polo. After completing school, I went to college and graduated with degrees in History, Political Science, and Urdu literature. I also have a post-graduation in Management from the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) and a further qualification in Applied Behavioral Science.
I specialize today in Leadership Development and Family Business consulting and have written several books on these and other subjects. I have retained my interest in the wild places and those who live there. This has developed into a passion for photography and so over the past several years, I have spent many very happy hours every year in Kruger and Hluhluwi National Parks in South Africa and in other forests of the world.
Over the course of fifty-five years, of which thirty-eight have been working years, I have met thousands of people across races, nationalities, colors, political landscapes, genders, sizes, and shapes – ranging from business and political leaders walking the corridors of power (in 2008 I met the King of Saudi Arabia, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz ibn Saud at a banquet in his palace in Mina; the Prime Minister of Guyana, His Excellency Mr. Samuel Hinds is a personal friend of thirty-five years standing), to religious scholars (Muslim, Christian, and Hindu), union leaders, anxious parents of children who have become strangers to them, heads of family business – billionaires who would give half their kingdom for peace of mind and real happiness, poor farmers and hunter gatherer tribesmen and women who have little, but are ever happy to share it with you. They have problems like the rest of us, maybe even more, but you don’t see that on their face or hear it in their voice.
I met tribal leaders in their villages, one of them comprised of four huts in the rain forest in the Western Ghats in India and broke bread with them and to their utter astonishment, played with their children. I drank milk straight from the udder of a buffalo and honey straight from the hive, with the blessings of the owners. I swam in forest rivers that have no names, rode horseback on the South American pampa and the English Moors and fished for Piranha and Arapaima in Rio Berbice. I have driven cars, SUVs before the term was invented (we called all of them ‘Jeep’), Caterpillar dump trucks, bull dozers, and boats. I rode a buffalo into a lake until it decided to dive and I floated away. Mercifully, I grabbed her tail and she towed me back to shore. I met teachers, parents, and students in South Africa, Malaysia, India, Guyana, U.K, and America and wondered at our similarities which far overshadow our differences. I have spoken to audiences ranging from a few people in a room to nine-thousand people in the great masjid of the International Islamic University in Malaysia and marveled at how easy it is to connect to people across every imaginable boundary. I was one of three million in Haj on more than one occasion and if I had a dollar for every smile I got from a stranger, I would be a rich man. I feel I am a rich man anyway because of all the experiences that life has afforded me. I have been in life threatening situations more than once, facing direct personal danger sometimes from both, two legged and four legged creatures, but I am still here. I studied many religions and philosophies and then came to Islam with my eyes wide open. Though I was born in a Muslim home, my Islam is by choice, not chance. Having seen the opposite spectrums of the economic scale – the rich living responsibly or irresponsibly, the poor living with self-respect and dignity or justifying all sorts of bad actions by reference to poverty – I have developed a strong sense of justice and compassion. I believe the two must go hand in hand. I also learned what I consider to be the two most important lessons in my life, after sharing which I will end this introduction.
The first relates to the fact that essentially we are all in control of our lives and selves and no matter how powerful or powerless we may believe we are, there is always something that we can do to make a difference.
‘I will not allow what is not in my control, to prevent me from doing what is in my control.’

The second relates to the fact that everything we do counts and defines us as human beings and becomes our legacy to the world. I ask for the courage to do what is in my control, fearing nobody but my Creator to Whom is my return.

 ‘All that we chose to do or chose not to do, defines brand value and character.’
Fact is stranger than fiction

Fact is stranger than fiction

I discovered a new word: Mitron. It means, ‘A large group of unsuspecting people about to be hit by something they will take a long time to recover from.’ Ironically it comes from the Hindi word – Mitron (Mitr = friend. Mitron = of friends). I believe we are in a Mitron moment; the discovery of a word and an experiential understanding of its true meaning.
Demonetization has hit us all but it hit the poor the most. People who live on the knife edge of society which can change overnight from a life of dignity to a life as a beggar on the street. People who have no ‘nest egg’, no safety net, no backup. I recall two things as I write this article. One is an article by my good friend, Prof. Madhukar Shukla of XLRI who wrote about these people on the knife edge; the other is one of my own very early consulting assignments. Let me tell you about that.

In the late 80’s I was hired by The Commonwealth Trust to assess a very interesting economic development program that they had initiated in East Delhi (how many Delhiites even know that East Delhi exists?).  The program was well-intentioned in that it offered interest-free loans to ‘small entrepreneurs’ but with the condition (supposed to be a benefit) that they pair up with corporate executives so that they could teach them a thing or two about business. My first thought, as an IIMA grad was, ‘I can smell an MBA behind this from a mile away’. I say that because it was a typical theoretical approach without a clue about the reality on the ground. Let me explain.

The loans given were to ‘small entrepreneurs’. I keep using apostrophes for this term to underline what ‘small’ meant. Rs. 3000 (which wasn’t all that much even in the 80’s) was the average loan amount. It was given to the Istri-wala (mobile clothes iron man).
This wonderful picture will bring to mind the man (most cases it is his wife who works on this cart) whose services every one of us urban Indians have benefited from. We send down from our fancy apartments, our clothes to him who parks his push-cart in the street outside our compound wall. He irons our shirts and trousers, sarees and skirts; charges a few rupees which we pay in cash and he moves on to the next building or villa. What he earns that day pays for the rent of his ‘house’ (this article is getting too full of apostrophes), school fee for his children (you can’t keep people from aspiring), and food for his family. That money is what keeps him on the knife edge and saves him from falling off and coming to your house with begging bowl in hand. The Commonwealth Trust offered small loans to people like him, the vegetable vendor, the cobbler, the shoeshine guy, the bicycle repairer, the truck tire puncture repairman and similar ‘small entrepreneurs’. The biggest loan had been given to a man who had a printing press with a single machine in a small shop where you had to turn sideways to get past the machine.
As I mentioned the ‘fringe benefit’ according to the initiator of the scheme and The Commonwealth Trust was the partnership between this small entrepreneur and a corporate executive. The corporate executive with his education and presumably greater understanding was supposed to help the small entrepreneur to keep good accounts, pay tax, use technology, build a customer base, survey his market and make growth plans. The formal introductory meeting was arranged in a five star hotel with tea and samosa in an atmosphere of pretended equality between partners and the pairs were made. Three years later, the project came up for evaluation and that is where I came in.
That is also when I discovered East Delhi and that too in July. Those who have lived in Delhi in summer without air conditioning may understand what I went through. The lanes of the area of East Delhi are so narrow that even a Maruti 800 can’t drive through them. I would leave my hired car on the main road and either walk or take a local auto rickshaw. I preferred the latter because the driver knew the people who I wanted to meet and usually told me stories about them later after being a silent listener to the conversation that I had with them. I spent two weeks on this assignment and learned what every Tandoori Chicken knows; what the inside of a tandoor feels like. East Delhi was also one of the places most affected by the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, the perpetrators of which still walk free and victims suffer in silence. But then in a country where to break the law with impunity is a status symbol, that’s understandable and expected.
To return to my story, I met these small entrepreneurs, every single one of them. I sat with them in (or near) their businesses. Drank tea with them (which bless our culture, our poor are those who uphold it) which they insisted on paying for and asked them how their business was going and how their partnership was doing. All conversations were in Hindi but I am translating here for your benefit.
Me: Namashkar Jee, how are you. I am Yawar Baig and have come from The Commonwealth Trust you ask you a few questions about your business.
He: Namashkar Sahib. I am repaying my loan on time. I have not defaulted.
Me: (as red in the face as someone with my complexion can get): No, no, no! I didn’t come to ask about repayment. Of course, you are repaying on time. You have a great record. The Commonwealth Trust is very pleased about this. I have only come to ask how things are going with you and with the partnership that was made with Mr. S0-and-so.
He: (relieved smile followed by eyes shifting): All is well Sahib.
Me: Please don’t call me Sahib. My name is Yawar.
He: Jee Achcha Yawar Sahib. (I gave up after trying for some time).
Me: So how is it going? Do you meet each other? How often do you meet?
He: (eyes shifting again): All is well Yawar Sahib.
Me: (persevering): Do you meet each other? How often do you meet?
He: (realizing that I won’t go away): Sahib, we have not met after that first meeting.
Me: (genuinely shocked): Why? Why didn’t you meet? What happened?
He: (hurriedly): Sahib, it is not his fault. You see I tried to meet him several times. But Sahib, I am a small man (hum chotay aadmi hain. Wo baday aadmi hai). He is a big man. I went to his Kothi (mansion – Hindi for big house – not necessarily a mansion but he calls it Kothi to honor its owner). But his Chowkidaar (security guard) turned me away. He refused to believe me that Sahib had asked me to come. Yawar Sahib, I am a small man but I have izzat (honor, dignity). I didn’t go there to ask for charity. I went there because they said that we were partners and I could talk to him any time. But if the Chowkidaar turns me away, I won’t go again and again.
Me: (at a loss for words): But didn’t he give you his phone number? Couldn’t you call him and tell him to speak to his Chowkidaar?
He: I did Yawar Sahib. He told me to meet him in his office. But there it was worse. So, I gave up.
Me: But this partnership was supposed to help you.  What did you do when you couldn’t even meet your partner?
He: Yawar Sahib, the truth is, how can he help me when he knows nothing of my reality. He lives in a different world from mine. So, different that he can’t even imagine what my world is like. I agreed to the partnership because that was a condition of getting the loan. I never expected that it would work. And it didn’t. I am most grateful to The Commonwealth Trust for the loan. I needed that. The partnership I didn’t need, so it doesn’t matter.
Me: (wondering what I am going to write in my report): What did you do when you needed any advice?
He: I went to my Mamaji (uncle or father in law) and sometimes to my neighbor (essentially his competitor) and asked them. They advised me and I followed their advice.
Me: Your competitor gave you advice about your business which was good for you? Isn’t he your competitor?
He: (shocked at my ignorance): Of course, he gave me good advice. He is my competitor but first he is my brother (from my community, extended family etc). Of course, he gave me good advice. He is easy to reach. We have a relationship, a real relationship, not only business and above all, he understands my reality because he is a part of it.
This conversation was more or less what I had with every one of those in that survey. One common factor with all of them; that their entire business was in cash. After all, when was the last time you paid the Istri-wala or the Sabji-wala or the Bai who comes to clean your home and cook your meal and the many walas our life quality depends on, by cheque? When was the last time he asked you for your credit card to swipe? All their business is in cash and so is the business of all those in the value chain they deal in; those they buy the necessities of their lives from. All cash. Out of their meagre and harsh existence it is the genius Indian woman that they save some money – again cash. They don’t bank it. They buy gold if they can or just keep the cash. It is their saving for an emergency and since the biggest requirement of emergencies is liquidity, they like cash. Sometimes this saving is done over such a long period that it amounts to a good bit; maybe three to five lakhs (3-500, 000). But that is what they slogged and sweated for over decades. Should that be taxed? Especially in a country that has no social security, no emergency services to speak of and no support for such people except what they can get from their savings and families.
Indeed, they don’t declare this income to the Government. They don’t bank it because every trip to the bank means a loss of business. They need cash and in cash they trust. It is not for nothing that even in bigger establishments you may have seen the sign, ‘IN GOD WE TRUST. REST STRICTLY CASH.’ That is not a statement of religiosity but of hard reality. Does that make them ‘black marketeers’ and thieves? Indeed, these small businessmen and women don’t pay tax but they contribute to the economy both directly by buying and indirectly by providing services. As I mentioned earlier, they add value and quality to our lives and take away the drudgery of daily chores. It is all these people who are the true backbone of the economy. It is they who spread goodness all around them because of the food chain that they are part of and support. It is they who create neighborhoods which are dynamic and alive though overall poor. Unlike dead American inner cities which are home to the poor in Western societies. And these, our poor, our small entrepreneurs, our salt of the earth man and woman who are the hardest hit in this Mitron moment of demonetization.
I was reminded of all this when I read this interview:
I was reminded about this because the demonetization move has once again underlined the fact about our society that decisions that affect millions are taken by those who are as foreign to them as Martians would be to us Earthlings. People who either don’t understand their reality or couldn’t care less. People who don’t even think of them as a ‘vote bank’, because momentarily, votes can be bought or swayed by tearful oratory. And that is enough to get elected and then it doesn’t matter what those who voted think or feel; survive or perish. People, who even if they knew that reality once upon a time, have chosen to forget it and take pride in associating with the high and mighty rather than with those who they were born among and grew up with. But then you can’t fault a person for his aspirations, can you? As long as rhetotrick (my coinage – tricky rhetoric) is in plentiful supply, facts don’t matter. What happened doesn’t matter as long as its creators can give it a positive spin. Human life is not cheap. It is priceless. Has no price. Is free. (not the usual inference of the word, ‘priceless’, I realise).
One economist friend said to me, “The economy will take a decade to recover from this move.” I said to him, ‘Economies don’t ‘recover’ in a decade. They are replaced because all those who participated in the old economy have perished.’ ‘Recover’ is a term that economists use on their neat charts. The reality is neither neat nor painless. India’s economy ‘recovered’ after the Bengal Famine. But 2 million people perished. Economists don’t care about that. Not that they are heartless. It is just that they don’t have the language to express the monetary value of sweat and tears; of life and death. Numbers are used so much because they are neat and help us to remain out of touch with reality. When our reality, that which we have jointly created, is so painful, nasty and brutal, we need tools to keep it at bay. Numbers are one. Entertainment is another. We need to forget reality. The alternative is to change reality so that we don’t need to forget it, can enjoy it and benefit from it. But that takes too much trouble. It is easier to forget.

I mention this here because in this race to garner all resources for oneself without a thought about others, we have created a society that is crying out in pain and grief. It is inconceivable to imagine that the resources of the world can possibly be concentrated in the hands of so few, but as they say, ‘fact is stranger than fiction’. I can imagine the derision or at best amused smiles if any author dared to suggest that 62 people would own 50% of global assets and the rest of the world would watch silently. But that is not fiction. That is fact.

For perspective, let me state that a bus has 65 seats excluding the driver’s seat.

Money, money, money

Money problems are not money problems, even when they are money problems.
Dire Straits’ famous song has some very politically incorrect lyrics but the refrain, ‘Money for nothing and the chicks for free’ sums up the situation of black marketeers and owners before the demonetization and the name of the songsters – Dire Straits – sums up their situation in India today. 
But what are the implications of demonetization? We have seen many theories; conspiracy and otherwise. One of the best articles that I have read is by former Finance and Economic Affairs Secretary, Arvind Mayaram, which is here:
Let’s see what the real, on-the-street effects of demonetization are and what their implications can be.
We are a cash economy and that is not because we have a huge number of people with black money but because we have a huge number of poor people who don’t have bank accounts and don’t deal with anything other than cash. For anyone who has lived or travelled in rural India this needs no explaining. So, I will not waste your time trying to describe what we have seen and experienced all our lives in our country without any problem or complaint. Those who need convincing can try to buy vegetables, fish, eggs, meat or chicken and pay for them with a credit card or cheque. Both buyers and sellers are not evil hoarders and black marketeers but ordinary, garden variety men and women trying to live their lives. This money that is earned by the sellers in never enough to be deposited in a bank. It is used to buy food and necessities for their families, goods to sell the next day and a little bit to set aside for a rainy day. This may accumulate over the years to some thousands. Do these people have documentary evidence about where they got this money from? Can they show that they paid tax on it? Can they show accounts of what they earn daily? Does the vegetable seller, the meat, fish or egg seller have a P&L account and a Balance Sheet? Does she have a PAN card? Does that therefore make them criminals? 

Another situation is that of the middle-class housewife. Her husband gives her money to run the home, every month. She may only have completed primary school (in many cases she may not even be literate) but is a master economist. She manages to run a very good home, cook great meals, ensure that everyone has what they need and still she is able to save some money which she keeps hidden in the house. She doesn’t have a bank account. She doesn’t even want a bank account because it involves documentation that she can’t manage on her own and if she asks anyone in the family to help, her secret will be revealed. She doesn’t tell her husband or anyone about this but some day when one of her family needs something urgently she digs into her stock and surprises everyone by saving their skins. Is she a criminal because she does all this secretly? She is not an evil schemer. She is my and your mother.
I can give you many more examples but will let this suffice for the present.
Now comes demonetization and whatever it did to the illegal funds of political parties and black-market wizards, it also wiped out the savings of these people. That is what I am trying to interpret and find the bright side of.
The demonetization did wipe out the value of cash sitting in warehouses and suitcases of political parties and businessmen. And it did and will bring in cash into the vaults of banks who seem to have emptied those vaults lending to the same (or similar) businessmen who reneged on those loans. Those loans are still outstanding, post demonetization. The one who didn’t repay the loan continues to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. But the middle class and poor of the country paid the bank on his behalf. That is a very neat arrangement, if you ask me.  
How and why does black money get generated? The main driver is the fact that political parties are not compelled to show their sources of funds. This is the strangest of phenomena where every individual is compelled to show where he earned his money from and must pay tax on it. Even charities in this country must apply for and get tax exemption failing which they have to pay tax on donations which they collect and disburse in charity. But a political party which gets a million times more, need not show how it got that money or from whom. I am sure I don’t need to explain the implications of that on the black-market economy, corruption and hoarding. That situation remains as it is. So though the funds of those political parties and politicians who were not in the know reverted to their original value or less (Rs. 1000 = Rs. 5; in this case Rs. 0) the doors to accumulate such funds once again, no questions asked, remain open. As for those in the know; the originators of this idea, their associates, families and friends, mint employees and managers, drivers, secretaries, servants and others of power brokers and of course the usual suspects (friends in need); all had ample time to save their hoards.
As for all the talk about reducing fiscal expense and so on, Arvind Mayaram has spoken about that in the article above, so I won’t repeat it. It must be obvious to anyone who knows what the word ‘fiscal’ means. What I want to repeat however is what Arvind Mayaram said which goes to the core of the issue in terms of the future and that is the issue of faith. Not faith in god but faith in paper.
People save money and keep those savings in paper currency because they believe that the value of their savings will not be nullified. They have faith in the currency though they know that the actual paper has no intrinsic value. Even though inflation erodes the value of their savings people don’t convert their savings to gold or immovable property because liquidity is more important for them than whatever loss of value that may take place over time. This is what ensures that money remains in circulation and is not taken out of the market and parked in gold. Paper money exists because people have faith.
That is the reason also why in Islam, Zakat (@2.5%) is liable every year on gold and silver even if you have to sell some of the gold and silver to pay what you are liable to pay in that year. Obviously, this reduces your stock of gold and hypothetically speaking it can reduce over time to a level where you are no longer liable to pay Zakat. Despite that Islam decreed that you must sell a part of the gold and give that money in charity because Islam recognized the importance of keeping money in circulation.
It doesn’t take great imagination to see what will happen if people lose faith in the currency. That is the reason, as Mayaram says and we all know, the US dollar has never been demonetized though it is the most counterfeited currency and the most trusted currency in all black-market deals. Faith in the currency must be balanced against whatever negative effects that may happen because of unaccounted currency. Those negative effects must be neutralized in other ways; for example by making political parties account for their cash inflows, state funding for elections and eliminating Income Tax.
Demonetizing currency destroys faith in the currency, discourages people from keeping their savings in paper money, encourages them to take their savings out of circulation because it pits importance of liquidity against saving the capital amount. It places huge hardship on the weakest and least influential people in society. It further disempowers those who are already the weakest; women (housewives, mothers), illiterate daily wage earners (headload workers, porters, construction workers, beggars), small business owners (you must understand this in the Indian context to know what I mean by ‘small’), small service providers (rickshaw pullers, thela walas etc.).
It is easy for the powers that be to talk about accepting the inconvenience because they don’t have to face it themselves and can easily turn a blind eye to the fact that a daily wage earner standing in a queue at a bank to exchange his life savings for the snazzy new currency is also losing his wage for that day. For many that is a very significant loss. For some it may mean that when they return the next day to their job, they find that the job has gone because someone else has been employed in their place. I won’t list the kinds of suffering that housewives, the old and sick and so on are undergoing standing for hours in serpentine queues. Those who are interested can go and talk to people standing in those queues. Or even better, go and stand in such a queue yourself to see how it feels to stand for six hours without food or water or shade or anywhere to rest your tired legs. People are doing more than that.
It is clear that the move to demonetize currency was taken without sufficient thought about all its intended and unintended consequences and without adequate preparation for its seamless and painless implementation. If that had been done, there would have been no reason for the tearful histrionics and theatrics that we are witnessing which are probably good for TRP ratings but not for anything else.
Whatever the effects of demonetization may prove to be on black money, what is clear is that faith in paper currency has taken a very big hit. I am not sure if this loss of faith can ever be restored. The thought that is uppermost in the minds of people is that if the government can do this once, it can do it again. And if one government can do it, then so can another government. Try to think of what conclusion the average man and woman standing in long queues to exchange old notes for new; who may even lose a part of his savings in this process, will come to.
Sadly, our media won’t show us the truth as it is not viable for them. But ignoring the truth won’t change it. Reality, unrecognized has a nasty way of biting very hard when you are not looking. That is perhaps something that those who demonetized currency didn’t think of. That is also something that may show its effect in the elections; the only place where politicians and political parties are held to account. Jai Hind.
Forget about money

Forget about money

Money measures nothing except greed. 
When money becomes the objective, misery is the return. 
Service is the goal, the result of which is prosperity.

Money is an effect, a result. What do I mean? Well, you see, we live in a world of cause and effect. The fundamental rule here is, ‘If you want an effect, work on the cause.’ For example, peace is an effect; it is the result of justice. So if you want peace, then seek to ensure justice for all. If injustice prevails, peace can never come about because people will fight against injustice as indeed they should and peace will be disturbed.

Similarly, money is the result of intelligent effort. The effort can be dishonorable or honorable. Both kinds yield money. One yields money coupled with anxiety, fear, disgrace, hatred, shame, and the ill will of people. The other kind yields money with respect, honor, goodwill, love, gratitude and the prayers of people. Your call which kind you want. Remember, the second kind is actually easier. And you will sleep better too.

Remember also that money is a measure of nothing except greed. It is what you do with money which counts, not how much you have. So seek to do something with money that has a lasting positive effect. That is what gives meaning to money and makes it a source of benefit to you and others and gives you an opportunity to leave behind a legacy of honor.

As the lyrics of the famous song by Abba go:

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man’s world
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It’s a rich man’s world

The biggest killer globally today is not war but poverty. And that is not the result of lack of resources but lack of compassion and concern. The fact that we have created a world in which 62 of the richest people own more than 50% of the global population, is not simply astonishing and shameful but very encouraging. Because what we created, we can change. That we must change it, is not something that needs emphasis. A world (or country) with a huge income and wealth disparity is less prosperous, less peaceful and less happy than a country where the income/wealth disparity is not so marked. It is in the interest of everyone, including the wealthy, that wealth is shared. That increases disposable income and buying power which translates into a stronger economy and more prosperity. Strangely the powers that be, who are supposed to be intelligent, don’t seem to understand this and insist on cornering resources at the cost of the vast majority.