about anything under the Sun!
Black & White
So a friend and I were having lunch yesterday, and the topic of conversation veered towards Investing, and specifically Real Estate. That by itself is no surprise! The last few years, most conversations, no matter where they start, seem to always circle back to the subject of Real Estate in Bangalore. We could be talking about the reproductive cycles of the Wildebeest that inhabit the Masai Mara, and the conversation will gradually morph into how vast the game reserve is, how much open space there is in terms of acres, and subsequently in square feet (square yards if you are in Hyderabad) and how nice it would be if we had the same space in Bangalore, and if so, what it would cost to buy a plot of land there. Think you get the drift…and sadly, I suspect the same is true of other cities in India as well. So anyways, here we were, talking about certain investments he was considering as he’s been looking to buy a house for a while now.
Apparently, his Realtor brought him a proposal recently that looked attractive, and so he started engaging in a deeper discussion. Pretty soon, one thing led to another and he was soon meeting the seller. Just so happens that the seller is a reasonably big celebrity in professional circles around here, so that just got my friend that much more interested in the whole transaction. So a meeting is set up at one of the posh hotels in the city (yeah, first red flag I guess – no good real estate deal at this level ever gets discussed in such a setting) and they meet.
Some background about the celebrity – this is a well-known, much respected individual in society and is looked up to as a role-model, by those of us that aren’t as accomplished. As he goes about selling my friend on not just how good a deal this is but also how he wants the deal done – in total transparency, following all the rules and complying with every requirement in the book etc etc. (Red flag #2 – if someone is preaching beyond belief and it looks too good to be true, then chances are it isn’t!) Now, all of that is supposed to be a given, but in India, things work differently. Its the exception to follow the book, not the norm. So my friend certainly continues to be impressed and is just happier by the moment. That is until Mr. Celebrity pulls a fast one on him…
Apparently, he had been involved in another transaction where he was forced to bend some rules, and as a result, he has some accounting issues he needs to reconcile. So he asks, without batting an eyelid, that this transaction be done in such a way that it allows him to fix that earlier mishap, basically clean-speak for exchanging ownership for the property over a briefcase full of cash. And as if that isn’t enough, he goes on to explain how this is all common in India and one needs to acknowledge and act accordingly? Yes, those of us that have been at the receiving end of these conversations only know too well how seamlessly that question of payment terms is woven into the discussion. Its the biggest reason India continues to languish despite all our prowess!
So my friend is not just upset at the ugly turn the conversation has taken and how this whole exercise has been a waste of time for him and that he won’t be able to do this deal after all (yes, the terms were non-negotiable, of course) but he is just completely appalled at how this man could fall from grace so quickly and in such ugly fashion, how he with his status and position in society, could stoop so low.
After having heard the story, it really is hard for me to respect the guy any more. Its not like he has a real need for the extra money he is saving (or hoarding, to be precise) and there is really is no excuse. What in our instincts causes us to go down this shady path? Is it greed? Can we simply blame the corrupt mindset on our culture? Should we not find it in us to set the right examples and remove this deep-rooted evil? Will we ever grow past this as a nation? I want to be hopeful and to be optimistic but that is becoming really hard to do as you hear more and more of these incidents.