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Time to Believe in Optimism

Acting like things are better will make them better

For many weeks now, there has been fear and panic on the business pages of newspapers. Now, there is fear and panic of an altogether different dimension on the front pages of the newspapers. In the months to come, there will be much analysis on the attack on Mumbai, and on its impact on different aspects of life in our country. It's ultimately useless to speculate on the exact motivation and logic of the terrorists. However, it can well be conjectured that this was an attack on what terrorists see as symbols of India's economic activity. It's an attack on everything that 'we' are or are trying to be and 'they' aren't and see no way of becoming.

In the last few days, we've heard some of the same old rhetoric about 'indomitable spirit'. Every time there's a terrorist attack anywhere in this country, the next morning sees a whole lot of people starting off for work as if nothing happened. While this is usually cited as a fabulous example of their indomitable spirit, it probably has more to do with the fact that they have no choice. There's work to be done and a livelihood to be earned. Even if someone step into a bus or a train with his heart racing with fear, it will look like he has an indomitable spirit, and that surely makes good copy.

However, to use a much derided phrase, this time it's different. It really is. Unlike past terrorist attacks, this one puts the onus of showing the indomitable spirit on a different class of people. As a writer of a column that is (mostly) about investing, I can say that this time, the onus of showing the indomitable spirit is on people like you and me. Suketu Mehta, the American-Indian writer of 'Maximum City' wrote this on Friday in the New York Times, "So I'm booking flights to Mumbai. I'm going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn't have to be just economic."

Which is what we must do in other aspects of our lives. As an investment analyst, it seems a little silly to be focused on financial risks when one has just been emphatically reminded of the real meaning of the word 'risk'. As Mr. Mehta recommends, it's probably time to be a little reckless and just assume that the future will be fine. Make a commitment to belief rather than cold calculations and make some investments. Yes, there's still a global recession and a business slowdown and so on and so forth. But things will get better only if we act like they will get better. Even if a rational analysis tells you that this is not a good time to make investments, take some risks and go ahead. These were not attacks on two hotels and the people inside them, they were a bet against India's future. I think we need to take up this bet.