The Rise of Indian-American

The Billionaire’s Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund. By Anita Raghavan.Hachette; 481 pages; $ 29.

Oct. 6, 2013, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 07 No. -8 Oct. 4- 2013 (Ashoj 18, 2070)

This book clearly illustrates what a great melting pot America is.  Indian Americans populate every aspect of this story. The crooks in this true story are of South Asian descent ( Rajaratnam, king of kings, and Rajat Gupta, his apprentice), and so are the importantplayers ( Preetinder S. Bharara and Sanjay Wadhwa) from the US federal government who painstakingly brought both of them  to justice. Anita Raghavan also of Indian origin, who used to work for the Wall Street Journal, has done a magnificent job of putting together this story, based on tapped phone transcripts that US courts allowed to be used for the first time in a insider trading scandal.

Rajaratnam, a mathematics wizard originally from Sri Lanka is a Wall Street hedge fund dealer, who founded Galleon, a hedge fund company.  He has nurtured his talent well in the materialistic environment of Wall Street and has been duly rewarded. He is a billionaire. But he does not want to stop there because the heady,  adrenaline rush for making more money is insatiable. Rajat Gupta is a handsome Indian businessman- philanthropist, who is  clearly a millionaire but aspires to be a billionaire by making friends with Rajratnam.

Harvard-educated Rajat Gupta, one of the most accomplished Indian Americans, sat on the board of many important financial organizations such as McKinsey, Goldman Sachs , and American Airlines. After a board meeting, he would secretly phone his friend Rajratnam and illegally share some juicy financial nuggets which would prompt Rajratnam to sell or buy certain stocks and make thousands of dollars at one go. This happened with certain regularity as the tapped  phone  transcripts reveal.

The exquisite irony is that neither the king of kings, Rajratnam, nor the apprentice,Rajat Gupta needed to be cheats as they were already financially very well off and greatly respected by the American society from its President (Mr Gupta was a guest at the White House at least on one occasion) to ordinary Americans who marveled at these elite South Asians who had made good in the American system.

Rajratnam comes across as a smart Bollywood gangster type( inappearance and actions) and provides some of the fun parts in the book. For example, he offered thousands of dollars to anyone who could drink 10 tequila shots in a row or eat an entire loaf of bread without a drink of  water. The sharp difference betweenthe gentle character of Rajat Guptacontrasts wellwith the gangster type and hugely sustains our interest in the book. The apparent Sadhu and the obvious crook.Rajat Gupta by dint of intelligence and hard work right from his days in his native Calcutta rose up the ranks and distinguished himself. Clearly as the book makes amply clear these people and the generations of South Asians following them  were “ twice blessed”. The first blessing was to be born after  the Indian Independence of August 15, 1947. The end of the Raj meant possible social advancement for all sections of society and foreign travel. The second blessing originated in America with the civil rights act in the US in 1965 which did away with limited annual immigration of only one hundred Indians to America. More were welcome based on their skills. For many Indians like Rajat Gupta who had attended the fiercely- competitive Indian Institute of Technology ( IIT) and were ready to take on the world, America with its changed immigration policy clearly became a beacon of hope  in the Indian darkness.

Unfortunately throughout his trial Rajat Gupta continues to deny any wrongdoing. It appears he has rationalized his actions.As you read the book you can envision how whiffs of pervasive corruption from South Asia have clearly been transported to greedy, welcoming Wall Street.    

To a South Asian audience this book also feels like a  cautionary tale from the Hindu Purans of prodigious talent, hard work and immense wealth all at the end turning into ashes. It could well be a Greek tragedy too.A case of truth being stranger than fiction.An excellent read.Highly recommended.

Buddha Basnyat.jpg

Buddha Basnyat MD

Buddha Basnyat, MD, MSc, FACP, FRCP, Director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit-Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Kathmandu.

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