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Death of a dream

A trip to Mecca. Europe trip for parents. A new car. All plans cancelled. Like this Mumbai man, thousands of Indians have been touched by the global economic meltdown, reports Neelesh Misra.

india Updated: Oct 07, 2008 02:37 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times

Mansoor Ali Khan is living on his father’s kidney, and wishes he had his foresight.

Khan, short, bespectacled and 30, is a sub-broker — a broker’s broker, the weakest link in the stock market food chain.

He was the friendly neighbourhood guy everyone pumped with checks when the market was booming. Everyone who knew nothing about share trading wanted him to make a big buck for them.

Then, the dream crumbled.

As a housing bubble in the United States spilled over to global finance, and hastened in recent weeks by a history-making collapse of iconic banks and financial firms, stock markets worldwide went for a free fall.

Sensex tanked nearly 45 per cent since January 10, when it touched an all-time intra-day high of 21,207 points.

On Monday, it tumbled 725 points, or 5.8 per cent, to close below 12,000 points for the first time since September 2006.

The turmoil has ripped the lives of tens of thousands, who, like Khan, had aspired to make a fortune from the market.

"People are taking personal loans to pay up, mortgaging their wives' jewellery, one of my clients had taken an insurance for his child, he broke it to pay for shares," said Khan, as he sat in his tiny first floor office above his father's 40-year-old shoe shop, in a maze of Mumbai's biggest shoemakers' hub of Chembur.

Khan's sister — his first client – lost her savings of Rs 3 lakhs. On his assurance that it would get doubled, his wife had pumped in her father's wedding gift of Rs 3 lakhs into shares as well, nearly all lost now.

Khan separately lost his personal savings, squared off his mutual fund investments, and he still owes the broker Rs 20 lakhs that his clients are unable to pay up.

"I had so many plans. I had planned to go for Umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca) this Ramzan, I wanted to buy a new car, I wanted to take my parents on a holiday to Europe," he said. "Now, there is nothing."

Khan does not come to his office any more. There is no work.

The computer on which he traded online was sent for repairs and is ready for weeks, but he hasn't bothered to collect it.

"It was greed, pure greed. I blame myself… and the government, which did nothing for the small investor," Khan said. "We got carried away… I regret it now. When the night never stays for long, even the day won't, right?"

It was day — bright sunshine — on the bourses when Khan made his debut as a sub-broker on Ramzan last year — the Sensex was then around 17,200 and rising. This career seemed perfect: it didn't involve a lot of running around that was Khan was barred from, after doctors put inside him a kidney donated by his father in 1997.

Khan's father wanted his son to join the family's successful shoe business. The son decided to take his own road.

"I used to sneer at others, and tell myself: what others make in a month, I will make in a minute. When I slept, the market would be at 18,000 (points). When I woke up, it would be 19,000," he said.

Business boomed. The tiny office would be crammed with investors.

"I was so happy. The moment I woke up, I would want to just rush to office, read investor newsletters, and find out new ways to make money," Khan said.

And then, the collapse began.

"Today I drag myself (to work) and am forever looking to cut my losses," he said.

Many of Khan's clients were family members, friends and neighbours who had trusted him with their life's savings – money he had promised would multiply.

"I cannot face them now. There is a lot of guilt. The guilt kills you," said Khan. "But I have no option but to stick around. Maybe a better day will come soon."

First Published: Oct 07, 2008 01:04 IST