Desis in North America are finally making news for something other than Pulitzers, spelling bees or plum positions in the White House. Hedge fund billionaire Raj Rajaratnam’s trial is heading to jury, the biggest insider trading trial in years.
Gary Weiss in The Daily Beast has cottoned on to the fact that the trial is not just shining a light on the murky dealings in the world of high finance. It’s also a symbol of a changing Wall Street. “Wall Street is no longer a white man’s preserve,” he writes.
So far so good. But then the article goes on to talk about the “insularity” of
Indians, Pakistanis, Bengalis and Sri Lankans. Rajaratnam’s college buddy Anil Kumar, a former McKinsey executive pleaded guilty to getting $2 million from Rajaratnam for inside information. Rajiv Goel, Rengan Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta are all desis involved in the scandal. (Even the prosecutor Preet Bharara is India-born!)
Weiss says outsiders can’t help but note this “ethnic clubbiness”, although for South Aisans “it’s merely an extension of a style of business — working a network of friends and acquaintances — that’s played out for centuries on the subcontinent, only applied, in this case, for allegedly criminal ends.”
Hmmm. That sounds like exactly the way everyone else does business. Presidents of the United States go back to their college buddies and early work days when they appoint staff members. Corporate CEOs and heads of non-profits go through their rolodexes when making key hires. In that case it’s just called networking, not a strange exotic ethnic-specific hawala style of business. Weiss admits that Wall Street for its first 200 years remained a WASP preserve. The old boys club shut everyone else out but no one talks about its “ethnic clubbiness”. White is always regarded as the absence of ethnicity.
In fact, while Rajaratnam will be judged for his alleged financial shenanigans by the courts, he should be congratulated on one count. Desis can be insular but not in the way Weiss imagines. In the US, the proliferation of Telegu
Associations and Bengali Associations suggests that desis abroad cling to caste and clan with even greater fervour than they did back home. The grand gathering of Bengalis every year in the Banga Sammelan is all about the glory of the Bengali language. But even amidst the dulcet tones of Rabindrasangeet, the Bangladeshis complain they are being sidelined by the West Bengalis and the West Bengalis complain about how demanding the Bangladeshis are.
That Sri Lankan-born Rajaratnam spread his largess among all his South Asian
brothers is in itself a sign of progress. He didn’t just benefit the Sri Lankan
Tamils and their temple associations. Perhaps the organisers of SAARC should take note.