A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘India’ Category

books around the world, one flight at a time (iv)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 23, 2007

Serendipity enters one’s life when one least expects it.

Yesterday I took advantage of a long layover at Heathrow to wander slowly through Borders’ aisles. Many books called my name, but only one found its way into my carry-on bag: Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House.


In the tradition of A Year in Provence and other similar books, The Caliph’s House tells of Shah’s experience relocating to Morocco, buying an old riad in Casablanca, and restoring it – or at least restoring it to inhabitability.

I began reading with the assumption that Shah was a British subject of Indian (Muslim) heritage, based largely on his name (Tahir means “pure” in Arabic) and his wife’s (Rachana, an Indian Hindu name and one, incidentally, shared by one of my favorite college professors.

Soon, however, Shah disclosed that he was Afghani British, not Indian. Hmm, I thought.

He mentioned his father’s regret at having raised his children in a quiet English town rather than in the Hindu Kush, where he had spent his own childhood. Interesting, I thought. Sounds a bit familiar.

Finally, he noted that Morocco held particular fascination for him because his father’s father had moved their after the death of his wife, a Scottish aristocrat known as Bobo. Ahaaaa, I thought. I know who you are!

Tahir Shah is the brother of Saira Shah, whose book The Storyteller’s Daughter started my books around the world posts.

The book was good on its own – a well crafted read and a thoughtful narrative made all the more interesting by the fact that Shah was neither a total newcomer to Morocco nor a complete outsider (he might not be Arab, or Berber, but as a Muslim and a sayyid he is certainly within the community of the faithful).

My reading of The Caliph’s House drew extra richness from all I had learned about the Shahs’ family from The Storyteller’s Daughter. I love literary families – the way individual family members’ memories resonate with one another’s, even when they do not agree. (For example, I think no one should read Edward Said’s Out of Place without also reading his sister Jean Said Makdisi’s Mother, Teta, and Me.)

I read The Caliph’s House all in one gulp, bookended by two venti Starbucks teas, as my layover flew by.


Posted in Afghanistan, Americans, books, home, India, London, Morocco, mosque, religion, time, travel, women, words | 4 Comments »

following the money trail: Indian investments in Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 27, 2007

The Oxford Business Group‘s latest report on Syria interprets the same 2006 FDI numbers quite differently than I did in following the money trail.

OBG’s Syria: Ties with India emphasizes a number I mentioned but thought little about: the $84 million that India invested in Syria during 2006.

Here is OBG’s take on things:

Having enjoyed considerable and profitable success with both Iran and China, Syria is now turning its attention to another of the emerging giants of Asia – India.

Like China, India has been increasing its profile in the Middle East, seeking new markets for exports and ramping up investments so as to gain a stake in the energy sector and to open trade doors. India’s booming information technology (IT) industry is also looking to the region, where countries such as Syria are just entering the next stage of the technology and communications revolution.

In 2006, India was one of the largest non-Arab investors in Syria. Though well behind front runner Iran, which accounted for half of the $800m of investments from non-Arab nations, India came in a respectable third with $84m, just behind neighbour and rival China, which contributed $100m to the total.

India’s contribution to Syrian foreign investment looks even more healthy when it is considered that fourth ranked Germany directed just $24m, while total European investments added up to $155m.

Most of the Indian investments in Syria to date have been relatively small scale, mainly in the energy sector. However, this is something Damascus is seeking to change.

In mid-January, Fouad Issa al-Jouni, the Syrian industry minister, was in the Indian city of Bangalore to tout his country’s investment potential. Taking part in the annual Partnership Summit, staged by the Confederation of Indian Industry, he said his country had much to offer Indian investors.

Syria is a good option for investment with its unique geographical location, diversified economy, ongoing trade liberalisation process and good infrastructure base, al-Jouni said.

Al-Jouni also said that his visit would allow him and members of the accompanying delegation of Syrian businessmen to get acquainted with the latest technological and economic developments in India, and to promote Syria’s major industrial advancement and available investment potential.

Another prominent figure to recently give a sales pitch for Syria was India’s ambassador to Damascus, G. Mukhopadhyaya. Addressing the Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Indian city of Hyderabad on January 9, the ambassador described Syria as virgin market for investors.

Saying that there had been a major liberalisation of the Syrian banking and finance sectors, Mukhopadhyaya said these offered good business opportunities.

There was also immense business potential for Indian businesspeople in the country’s pharmaceutical sector, railways, information technology, education, tourism, construction, agro-processing, textiles and textile machinery industries.

Another move to deepen cooperation came on December 18, 2006, when the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce (FSSC) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC) outlining plans for cooperation and promotion of bilateral business relations between the two groups.

Fascinating. Now that my eyes have been opened, I can’t wait to see where these new partnerships lead.

Posted in Damascus, economics, India, Iran, politics, research, Syria | Leave a Comment »