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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The 'Dalal Street' as I know

I have mostly been parsimonious in my lifestyle and detached from the act of multiplying money in a spectacular manner.

This has to do with the Hindu Brahminical household surroundings, followed by a social and left-affiliated education system I was exposed to in India.

For the initial twenty years in my life I knew stock market is all about speculation and opacity, where no one ever gains. A stock-broker or dealer was a kind of taboo word in the educational and family discussions.

And interestingly in eastern India, where I come from, never did I meet anyone who had dabbled in stocks or the unreal money as they call it.

The ‘Mehta’ and ‘Parekh’ scams that rocked Indian capital markets in the nineties vindicated the belief of me and folks, teachers around me. “This is such dirty scandalous world all about black money and you see they sell papers and write on computers to make money,” said a teacher once in my senior school years.

“It’s only for the dalals, the middlemen, who make money even when the country is at war. They are thick skinned and thin blooded people only money runs in their blood,” told a senior who was an aspiring left student leader.

At 1700 kms from Mumbai I saw in Bollywood films only smugglers in Amitabh Bacchan films play in ‘satta’ or stocks and race course. One movie ‘Satta Bazaar’, showed how a family is ravaged only because the son becomes a stock broker.

My uncle, a senior official with a nationalised bank once told me “See I’m simple man but even I can make out from the name of the street where this Bombay Stock Exchange is. It’s called Dalal Street.”

‘Dalal’ in eastern India carries a certain negative connotation. It refers literally to a miser, some one who makes money from unethical means. I as a school boy had little idea, but thanks to daily reading of newspapers I was not sure or convinced what all people were saying.

I thought if ‘dalal’ is so much of a bad word, why a journalist called Sucheta Dalal was instrumental in unearthing the stock scam. There must be something more to it.

And I was true there was more to it. Much more. ‘Dalal’ is a surname like a Mishra or Chopra and they are successful individuals in all professions and as entrepreneurs. Stock market is no dark land; it’s one of the indicators of the country’s economy.

And India’s Bombay Stock Exchange is the oldest bourse in Asia and Dalals, or the brokers have kept it alive facilitating flow of high value investments in the country. It has a flip side too which the scams have brought out, but it’s like any other necessary evil the country has like its tax system, postal department, banking system etc.

They are great tools for the growth of India, but have to be well regulated. Four years ago I also became a party to the share trading world, thanks to my job as a market writer with a leading economic Web site.

Off late direct market participation is off limits for me due to some professional obligations, nevertheless we are always linked to the market through our mutual funds portfolio.

And guess what. I liquidated a portion of my funds portfolio, invested a year ago, with an average 30 percent return and used the profits (read the unreal money) for some social cause, which I’m proud off.

This is where markets are good. The gains can fund some one’s education, medical bills, or even food. But only if we use it for good and not buy inflated luxuries.

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