In Haruki Murakami we trust. His fiction balances itself with perfect poise on that tightrope between immense depth and alarming accessibility. You never quite know what to make of his work: is it profound in its insistence on fusing alternate realities and open-ended problems with no solutions, or is it just easy-to-read surrealism that only conveys the impression of literary quality? Is the speed with which you can read a Murakami novel a deterrent to his winning the Nobel?
Now, his latest adventure in the book trade leaves a similar trail of confusion. Is The Strange Library, a lavishly, quirkily and self-consciously illustrated combination of image and text a representation of where fiction can go in the digital age, or is it a gimmick to sell a story of less than thousand words at an overpriced £12.99 (about Rs 1,300) just before Christmas?
Translated into English only now, but not a recent book, The Strange Library was published in Japan back in 2008. It tells of a young boy whose mother is expecting him home for dinner, but who blunders into a library where he himself might become the librarian’s dinner. Considering the lack of length, revealing any more of the lot would give the entire game away.
Most Murakami tropes are in attendance in this fable or extended nightmare. There’s food, there’s a mysterious girl, there’s no cat but there’s a bird. And, most of all, there’s the consistent logic of a dream in the storyline. For anyone who’s unwilling to try a full-length novel by the Japanese rock star of contemporary literature, here’s a shortcut to his writing.
The real value of this volume, however, lies in the interplay of visuals and text, with the latter often flowing into the former. It is, in a word, beautiful, and the whimsical images enhance the unpredictability of what is, nevertheless, a tightly controlled narrative. Ted Goossen’s translation runs just as effortlessly as Murakami’s unencumbered and luminous storytelling.
But what to make of this strange tale? The identity of the writer forces attention to what might have been passed off as a smart story had someone else written it. The metaphor of eating brains crammed with knowledge is too delicious to ignore, as is the narrator’s Kafkaesque predicament of being imprisoned without any obvious reason.
Are books and knowledge meant to be a jail, then, breaking out of which can only mean deep personal loss? As usual, Murakami provokes a search of one’s own soul, forcing us to weigh the price we have to pay to get what we seek. This is a story which takes far less time to read than to ponder over.
Here, then, are the seven reasons to read The Strange Library.
7. How often do you get to read TWO new Murakamis in one year? Don’t forget that Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage were released earlier in 2014.
6. It’s a beautiful, beautiful, book. In fact, the UK and US editions have different designs, and both are worth buying and preserving.
5. There are no cats. Welcome relief.
4. It’s the quickest way to find out what Murakami writes about. Definitely better than reading Wikipedia pages.
3. It’s, as the cliché goes, unputdownable. You have to read till the end to find out what happened. Does the boy escape?
2. For passages such as this: ‘“I get it,” I said. “Our worlds are all jumbled together – your world, my world, the sheep man’s world. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. That’s what you mean, right?”’
1. And the number one reason is: This book is about loneliness. And who isn’t lonely?
Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight
Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.
Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.
In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.
One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.
Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.
Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.
It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.
Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.
The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.
The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.