Thursday, December 10, 2009

You know you are trading too much when...

You describe your expanding waist-line as curve steepening

You buy eggs in lots rather than dozens

You think of your hair loss as a fall in real yields

Your volatile love life is on a bearish divergence trend

Your bless your loved ones by saying "May the Flows be with you"

You feel that the price action of the traffic suggests that the road is well-bid

You think people moving in and out of the train represents good two-way interest

You think of Rain as God's liquidity management tool

You ask the waiter at the fast food joint if your 5 minute Take-Home order for Vada-Sambar got filled

You haggle with the street shoe vendors by saying "Yours" when their price is too high

Your weight-loss programme encounters a 25 year non-moving average barrier protection at 95 kgs

You say that you got stopped out on your cell-phone conversations because of no signals

You think wearing trousers is nothing more than short covering

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Wednesday

Happy cities are all alike; every unhappy city is unhappy in its own way.

I got an opportunity to have lunch at the India Jones restaurant in the Trident Hotel yesterday. This hotel stands almost at the end of Marine Drive, arguably one of the most famous promenades in India; part of the quintessential Mumbai skyline. I am sure the view from one of its top floors would be awesome. The bright lights of the city, the criss-crossing of automobiles as they dart up and down the road, the shimmering moonlight in the sea. Mumbai is like a painting and yet not so, for it changes every instant, too swiftly for anyone to dissect or analyse how finely etched the lines are or how deep the brush strokes have been. Before you are finished admiring the picture, a new one comes up.

Later in the day I was walking down the promenade itself. Right till the end portion which juts out into the sea. Along the way I saw many people. All sorts of people. Groups of friends who were out to enjoy the cool breeze, Families who were there for a weekend outing, Couples seeking their own little nook in empty space. Essentially, like trains all running on their own separate tracks. At times they could pause and acknowledge impersonally the presence of one another. But there is never any intrusion. All are free to do their own thing.

On a Saturday evening, the world is buoyant. There’s a quiet enthusiasm which pervades the spirit of one and all. One can choose to reflect on a week well spent and look forward with enthusiasm to the coming future, which will bring with it happiness, good health and prosperity.

Not so on a Wednesday.

If there’s one day which I am unable to understand, it’s Wednesday. There seems to be no ostensible purpose for a Wednesday to exist.

Sundays are for preparing for the week ahead, planning for the things one has to do, the wars that have to be fought, the goals that have to be achieved.

Mondays are for groaning, for blues, for asking people how the weekend was, for just ‘making it through’.

Tuesdays are for shaking the overhang of Monday, for being pessimistic but somewhat less so, for hoping that the week will close fine

Thursdays are when the goals seem within sight, for planning for the weekend, for starting with the beginning of the end.

Fridays are when Saturday is almost at hand, the week has closed, missions have been accomplished, failed ones postponed.

A Wednesday, however, is neither here nor there. Bang in the middle. I never know what to feel on a Wednesday. If there was ever a vestigial day in the week, Wednesday is it. I prefer to just let Wednesdays slip by, without giving them too much thought or attention.

Last year unfortunately, one Wednesday caught the Universe by the collar and made it sit up and take notice. One nondescript little Wednesday, almost exactly a year ago.

I was sleeping at that time having come home from work. It was probably around 11 PM. In the normal course of things, I would have woken up in the morning the next day, gone on with my daily routine and life would have been utterly peaceful and monotonous as usual.

Exactly which vibration or flash of my cell-phone caused me to wake up I don’t know. I got up and looked at the screen. There were many missed calls and messages from an odd combination of people.

The messages spoke of Mumbai being under siege by terrorists. Armed men had infiltrated the Taj and Trident hotels, Nariman House, CST, Leopold Cafe and were holding the city hostage. Firing was on at all these locations. One did not know which other locations were affected.
I don’t remember what my first reaction was. I was quite groggy; Trying to wake up from the dream. After a few minutes of trying to wake up, I realised I was already awake. This was for real.

Everyone else was quietly sleeping in the house. There was no real point in waking them up. I was scared out of my wits, especially out of concern for my friends and office colleagues, many of whom worked in those areas. My office was within 2 kms of all the locations affected.

Frantic calls and messages followed. To just about everyone I knew. Thankfully, no one amongst those I knew was affected. A friend called from Hyderabad, the shakiness in his voice unmistakable. People simply did not know how to react. Anecdotes were told, of having passed by CST 15 minutes before the attacks started, of meetings scheduled at the Trident and cancelled, of deferred decisions to go to Leopold’s for drinks.

The nightmare continued the next day. Cautionary messages were floating all around. The media was enjoying itself thoroughly. NDTV in its coffee table bravado was asking survivors how they felt to have witnessed people getting killed around them. Aaj Tak I did not even dare to switch to. They would probably have declared that the terrorists were a bunch of brainwashed aliens who had landed on earth some 6 months back and linked it with the mysterious disappearance of some cows in Argentina.

Tales were told of the difficulty in flushing out the terrorists. How they were dodging the NSG, defying death to the point of torturous frustration. Generously helped the magnanimous news channels which were broadcasting each and every move of the official forces in exclusive-scoop enhanced detail.

It was a perplexing experience for everyone involved. The city knew how to handle bomb blasts and bandhs. A bunch of men in random locations firing at will was a tougher proposition to tackle.

I remember chatting with one friend over the Internet, who was subjected to the sounds of gunfire for two days at a stretch, being a Colaba resident. Two days of non-stop gunfire, of uncertainty, of panic, of not knowing what the next shot would signify. We were all just praying for it to end as soon as possible. Solace and comfort seemed very distant indeed.

The terror continued on the next day. I did go to office, it being the last day of the month which typically is a busy time for me. Most banks (with whom I have to interact as part of my work) were operating out of emergency locations with minimal staff. In the afternoon, there were rumours of some terrorists escaping in a van and going towards CST again. Our office doors were shut. Once things were clearer, we were told to leave.

There was an uneasy silence all around, whether real or imagined I do not know. Perhaps I was projecting my own emotions on to my surroundings. It was not the silence of fear, or helplessness however. It was the silence of rage.

As one of the most famous Mumbaikars wrote on his blog then: "As the events of the terrorist attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver, loaded it and put it under my pillow, for a very disturbed sleep,"

And as he clarified later, it was not fear which made him do it. It was a realization that he was alone when it came to protecting himself and his family. The inept system did not care, could not handle or be responsible for the safety of citizens, ordinary or extraordinary.

A system in which the Chief Minister came for a grand tour of the affected places along with one of his film director cronies once the terrorists were done with their ravaging. One in which the Home Minister of the country stood guilty of not taking intelligence warnings seriously and allowing hundreds of lives to be lost. One in which a regionalist political party breaks furniture and attacks offices at will, but was nowhere to be seen when it’s beloved city was under attack by national enemies.

And sadly, one in which we still have not fully learnt our lessons. Just a few weeks back I heard a statement by the current Home Minister, who stated in some context related to terrorism “I assure you all that we will give a fitting reply if there were any other untoward incidents in the future”

I see a flaw in his line. A very fundamental flaw in the mindset of the system, which tells me why Mumbai in particular and our country in general have been victimised again and again. Will. The problem is will. It shows that we are always waiting for something to happen and then responding to it. This approach cannot prevent damage and loss of life. When it comes to terrorism,the entire state machinery and intelligence must be directed at the prevention of such attacks rather than cure.

How? How does one tackle the modern terrorist, whose outrages make no sense and are purposeless? How does one reason or negotiate with such people, who, like the Joker in Dark Knight, just want to watch the world burn?

The answer comes from the movie itself. Bruce Wayne, when he is rendered helpless by the web of terror weaved by the Joker, talks to Alfred, his trusted friend philosopher and guide. Earlier in the movie, Alfred had mentioned a bandit in Burma, a bandit who was killing local government emissaries and stealing precious stones just for the fun of it. A bandit like the terrorists of today.

“The bandit in the forest of Burma, did you catch him?” Bruce asks.

“Yes”, says Alfred.

“How?” Asks Bruce.

“We burned the forest down.”

Subsequently, Batman catches the Joker by “burning the forest down” – by infiltrating every cell phone in the city and modifying it to act like a sonar device which can give a fix on the Joker’s location.

So that’s what needs to be done. Every nook, every corner, every store, every bus, every railway station, every computer, every vehicle needs to be “burnt down”. That is the only way.

Holistic cures will take a lot of time. Reforming, understanding root causes, removing poverty etc etc Too much time. They may eventually succeed, but enough damage would have been done by then. Because the problem is large, widespread and already at hand. There is an army of people ready to blow up at a moment’s notice. There are states which are failing.

Yes, privacy is a concern. State interference is a concern. Human rights are a concern. But compared to the price to be paid for such terror, its pie in the sky.

So let us all burn the forest down. By all means. Lets us get our boring, purposeless Wednesdays back again.

For I do not think we have the strength to bear another such Wednesday.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Great Indian Marriage - An Open Case Study

What follows is a narrative, referred to in management schools usually as a case study. It describes a managment situation in a very interesting (to me) area to which you, the reader, is expected to respond. Through remarks and the thoughts of the protagonist I have tried to give a flavour of the lines along which one may think. Frameworks, trends, creative ideas - all are welcome. Responses may be posted as comments. The entire problem and the solutions that you propose will be treated as open source - freely shareable in their entirety, with contributors being acknowledged and credited.

Full credit to Chetna for the idea and for suggesting that I write a blog on it.

Bharat Singhal walked up to the window. The cool breeze from his 21st floor office was quite soothing. The 37 year old CEO of Sampoorn Vivaah Ltd pondered over his first big assignment.

Sampoorn Vivaah was an entrepreneurial venture borne out of Bharat’s vision of providing an end-to-end solution for what he always considered to be the ultimate Indian management situation – a marriage. The idea was to have a presence at every stage of the process – helping people search for their perfect match, introducing the families, the engagement, inviting people, rituals, celebrations, themes, dresses, honeymooning and so on.

Apart from such traditional things, newer trends such as internet websites and the dramatization of incidents from the bride and groom’s lives had started turning marriages into an art of story-telling – a larger than life event which required flawless planning and execution at every stage.

He also noticed that increasingly people now favoured made to order marriages – they were taking a more active interest in each and every aspect and customizing it; Standardization was out, personalization was in.

Given India’s favourable demographics, expanding economic growth and the culture of lavish spending in marriages, he was convinced it was an idea that would work.

And he now had his first big client – the 27 year old son of a prominent Marwari businessman from Jaipur was to get married. One of his friends who was a favoured guest in that household had recommended Singhal to them. Indians by nature are uncomfortable with institutionalizing what are seen as family events. Times however were changing and more and more people were ok with seeking professional expertise in managing such events.

This was as big as it got. Money would not be a concern. It being his first assignment, he was determined to avoid any goof-ups at all costs. It would be a trend setter as far as marriages were concerned. He knew that not everyone could afford to have a marriage on that scale. He wanted to make sure that many of the ideas and steps could be modified and replicated to suit different budgets.

He glanced over the hurriedly scribbled notes. So many things to be taken care of, he thought. What would be the different steps involved? How would he go about looking for the appropriate match? How would the entire process be conceptualized? Could there be a framework for it? What tools would he use for the different stages? What were the latest trends that people were following? What new ones could be set? Creative, appealing, dear to the Indian heart?

This is no longer only about Mangalyam Bhagwaan Vishnu, he thought, as he sat down to work...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Personal Experiences - the next big financial market?

"Everything that can be invented has been invented." - Charles H. Duell, Director of U.S. Patent Office, 1899

I am sure Mr Duell would disagree, 110 years later.

Throughout history, as needs and technology have evolved, financial markets have also developed seeking to derive returns from any asset possible. This has been particularly true in the last two centuries.

Futures developed in the 19th century as a means of hedging against price fluctuations in agricultural commodities.

From there, the evolution of financial markets has borne a fanciful resemblance to Maslow's Hierachy of Needs.

They have become more and more ideated and less tangible.

Commodities, equities, bonds, art, water, power, carbon credits all are traded.

One of the latest things in this list is death. (Read this: )

Another brilliant financial innovation has been options. Essentially, people had actually figured out a way to price probabilistic rights!

There are assets which generate intrinsic returns. A business is one of them. A business adds value to a certain set of raw materials, profitably sells them to customers and hence grows and generates returns.

Then there are assets which generate returns because the price which people are willing to pay for them increases. One example would be Art.

With the advent of the Internet, a very powerful set of tools have developed which enable people to construct and disseminate personal experiences. Its a second Renaissance of sorts with the available media of information dissemination being directed towards individuals and their experiences. Blogging, Youtube, Facebook, Orkut, Gmail, Twitter, so on and so forth.

Marketing has and will continue to become person centric. In that sense, the set of personal experiences as encapsulated by a person will become an asset that yields returns. It will be possible, before long, to monetize personal experiences.

Which begets the question in my mind - how long will it be before the army of financial engineers and quantitative wizards turn their attention towards developing a financial market out of personal experiences?

How long will it be before they figure out how to price how much personal experiences would be worth in the future?

If this sounds ridiculous, read on.

I base the idea on two key things.

The first is the possibility of standardization and packaging of personal experiences from a financial view point, in terms of risks and returns.

The second is the set of tools which will enable it to be done.

Anyone who has read about the subprime crisis of 2007 and the subsequent 2008 bust would have read the term Mortgage-Backed Securities etc

Without getting too technical, I would say that MBSs refer to investment assets in which the returns were obtained from the people who had availed of loans to buy homes with the homes themseleves as collateral. Several thousand mortgages could be packaged together and sold to investors who had money to put in.

This was a paradigm shift in financial markets. As beautifully described by Michael Lewis in "Liar's Poker", for the first time the asset side of the balance sheet could be tapped into. As long as the home loans could be standardized and packaged, they could be sold to investors.

I am confident that mathematics will evolve to the point where in it is able to price personal experiences in such a collective pool and turn it into an investment.

Coming to the tools which will enables this to happen.

The Internet is the bane of Classical Economists. This is because of two features that it has: One is what is called " positive network externality". That is, higher the number of people that use the Internet, the more is the benefit that each user can derive.

The second, more importantly, is Zero Marginal Cost (not for the Internet in itself, but for products or services that are sold and disseminated through the Internet). Zero marginal cost means that the cost for producing an additional unit of the product or service is zero.

This causes problems because classical economics state that in perfect competition, demand and supply match off at the point where Marginal Cost equals the Market Price.

This can obviously not work for Internet based Products / Services, since Market Price will not be zero.

The Market Price, then, must be the price that people are willing to pay.

And people are willing to pay for personal experiences.

Naturally, WHAT they are willing to pay will change over time. This is where financial markets will step in.

I must emphasize - personal experiences have been marketed and sold since times immemorial. Paintings, books, music, photos, blogs, journals, newspapers - all of these capture them.

My point is that financial innovation will ultimately end up intersecting with technology to create the next big punter's paradise in this field.

Google, that mecca of innovation, for example, has come out with Wave (no I do not have an invite)

To quote Google:

"Google Wave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together..."

How long will it be before some financial whizkid figures out how to package a set of Google Waves and sell it to a Japanese pension fund which thinks this set of experiences may be worth more in the future?

Not too long, is my guess...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

XL Memories II: SACrificial lambs...

The Maharashtra state elections yesterday coupled with a chat session with an XLRI senior toggled a chain reaction of snapshots from the past. Another indifferent turnout left me feeling a bit sad and indeed irritated with those who did not vote.

I did vote. I voted for a candidate with a post-graduate degree and no criminal charge. He is unlikely to win unfortunately. So what. I took part in the process.

For XLRI taught me, amongst other things, to respect and to have faith in a democratic process. I have experienced how powerful it can be, first-hand.

For those who would not know, XLRI has a body known as the Student Affairs Council. (No, its not a committee which aims to keep track of philandering educatees). This Council (SAC for short) consists of the General Secretary and representatives from each of the classes. It is the apex student repesentative body and as such, case default for all student problems and grievances.

Circa early July 2006. As a typical newbie MBA, after examining my "skill sets" and deciphering how best to "leverage" them, I concluded that I needed to apply for elections to the SAC. I would be a harbinger of change. I would be a true leader.

Over discussions with a senior SAC member at Chhappan Bhog (a popular snack outlet in Jamshedpur) I made up my mind to apply and submitted my nomination.

Instructions were absolutely clear. There was to be no campaigning. (This ain't no engg college). Each candidate would have some time to present his candidature. (known as the soap box; the term probably originated from Hyde Park, London where public orators would stand on soap boxes to deliver impromptu political speeches). That would be followed by a Question and Answer session. May the best man win.

As expected, I was not the only enthusiastic contender. There were a large number of people for each division. I sat nervously anticipating my turn. I had prepared a list of the issues which I intended to focus on.

When I was finally called, I was quite shaky. Staring at 180 faces, most of them unfamiliar and asking them to vote for me was, to put it mildly, unnnerving. I blurted out the points that I had noted, reading them almost verbatim at times from the paper in my hand. I hardly looked at the people present.

Q & A began. And I learnt the most important lesson of leadership. Just when I thought all the questions were done and was about to walk back to my place, a person whom I will call Revolutionary Vampire (if you are reading this, absolutely no offence meant) got up and asked me: "How do you expect to represent us, when you are not even prepared to look at us?"

Ouch. I thought Mallus were nice people. I was stunned. I had no answer. I knew then and there that I had lost it. The senior SAC members who were moderating Q & A told me not to answer the question, but that was not the point anyway. I came back to my seat, feeling listless.

When the process ended, we were each asked to leave a person behind who bear witness on our part for the counting of votes. I picked on one of the few people whom I knew at that time - Nirkesh Mulundwala (keep guessing, folks!).

Finally the results were announced. 6 deserving people had won. (As later events proved, they were deserving). I gathered the courage to ask Nirkesh how many votes I had received.

"2" he replied.

2 votes. Not as bad as I had expected. To this day I don't know the kind soul who voted for me.

"Ah well" I consoled myself. "Public life is not meant for everyone"

Cut to Jan 2007. January is a transition period in XLRI. The senior batch typically lazes around in the JLT, getting photographs clicked in arbitrary poses, while the junior batch starts shaping itself up for the year ahead as the new senior batch. Entering Grihasthashram.

I was with the Lord of Destruction in his room. (One of the 6 people mentioned above).

"Are you applying for SAC this time?"

"No no, I failed miserably last time."

"Things are different. People in the batch know you now. You have helped everyone a lot with acads"

"That doesn't matter. I still am not networked enough"

"People don't want a high flyer. They want someone whom they can trust enough to get the job done"

"It won't work..."

Well, I applied again.

Life one year later in XLRI is quite different. Everyone knows everyone. Bullshitting doesn't work.

I knew the real issues this time. I knew what to focus on. I knew the questions that could be asked. And I didn't need the piece of paper.

Still, the past creates its own overhangs which are not easy to get rid of.

I don't recollect feeling more nervous ever in my life. Two people (who shall remain unnamed) were kind enough to accompany me on a walk in the bylanes of Circuit House. Much of the time was spent in anticipatory silence. The cool bracing air did lift my spirits.

I entered the classroom and took a look at the other 2 contenders (2 out of 3 would make it, so not a bad ratio one may think). Number 1 was the Lord of Destruction. Number 2 was CRISPy Bong - a person whom I do not know very well personally but have high respect for. The kind of person who would take the shirt off his back and give it if needed. These were the sort of competitors you would much rather give up against in all humility, than fight to the finish.

Backing out was not an option now. I stated my points. Looking at the faces in front of me, each one which had certain qualities associated with it. Unconsciously trying to connect with them.

Trust me on this guys. I am here to do my best. I won't screw up.

Q & A followed. I tried my best to answer with raw honesty.

Time was up. Votes were to be cast. People looked as inscrutable as ever.

Did I manage to strike a chord with them?

Ganjeshwarnath was my counter this time. I waited for the few minutes of counting outside. It felt like an eternity.

Finally, the people inside came out. I looked at Ganjeshwarnath, a standing question. He broke into a smile.

Before I knew it, I was in the air, a dozen arms holding me, spread eagled and legs flying around, subjecting my rear to a brutal volley of kicks, cheering and shouting.

Yes, my vote count this time was slightly higher than two.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

B(e) for Mumbai...& Maharashtra...

एक छन्निच्या एक घाव तरी
बसू द्या रे माझा दगडा वरी
आज इमारत जुनाट झाली
मरतील जीव अकारण खाली
म्हणुनी आदि या
पाडून टाका देऊन धक्का ...

What's in a name? That which we call Mumbai by any other name would still be as intoxicating...

Let's focus on the real issues, gentlemen. Like power shortages, farmer suicides, naxalism, infrastructure, water management, terrorism, congestion, slum rehabilitation...

Or suffer the consequences. You can fool all of the people some of the time or some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Wake up, Raj...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Asterix & the Global Financial Meltdown...

In times like these, when we are in the throes of the worst recession since the last 60? years, Asterix is a good read.

Particularly the "Obelix & Co." issue. I am forced to marvel at the predictive power of Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo.

It serves as a very simple illustration of the whole genesis of this crisis. It also serves as a warning as to where we may head from here if the crisis doesn't get over.

The plot starts innocently enough, with Julius Caesar seeking a way to defeat the indomitable Gauls.

Enter Cauis Preposterus, a brash, confident young graduate of the Latin School of Economics - the archetypal Investment Banker of the Ancient World.

"Just how would you set about weakening the Gauls with their magical strength?" Caesar asks.

"Easy, O Caesar. Gold, the profit motive will enfeeble them and keep them busy. We must corrupt them" replies Preposterus.

Notice how Preposterus projects the idea of money as the motive that can enfeeble the Gauls, who are leading peaceful lives so far because they have thus far concerned themselves only with real assets - boars, fish, potions, Romans...

"You shall have unlimited credit. Get to work, Preposterous."

Sounds startlingly in sync with the actions taken by Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve - when in doubt, cut rates. Flood the banks with unlimited credit.

Preposterus leaves for the Gaulish village, meets Obelix and is all praise for his menhirs.

"How much is it?" He asks.

"I don't know, I usually swap them for something." says Obelix.

"I'll buy it. Two hundred sestertii." says Preposterus.

This represents another key component of the crisis - assets for which the fair value itself is not known. Or rather, assets which do not have any fair value.

This sets the cycle in motion. Preposterus tells Obelix that he will buy all the menhirs he can make. He also keeps increasing the price that he pays to Obelix for them.

Obelix has to produce more and more menhirs. He doesn't find the time to hunt boars anymore. He starts buying boars. More people start producing menhirs and they all need boars for which others start hunting.

Obelix has a lot of liquidity with him. Preposterus encourages him to boost his consumption, which Obelix did not really need to do.

"You want to start spending your sestertii. You need some smarter clothes. It's not the way for a man who's doing so well in menhirs to dress."

The result is that when the village pedlar comes with all sorts of consumption goods, Obelix buys all his stuff - just because he has the money to do so; Without the real need for buying them.

This of course, causes no end of jealousy. Everyone wants to have money. Obelix is like the first set of investors who made money in all the leveraged products & derivatives touted to them. The rest jumped in because they had to compete.

Everyone wants to make menhirs. Asterix gets Getafix to agree to provide magic potion to all the people in the village who want to make menhirs.

Getafix makes a very illuminating remark:

"The funny thing is, we still do not know what menhirs are for"

Bingo! An asset without intrinsic value, for which prices are continually going up due to unlimited liquidity. In pursuance of this, the real economy is being abandoned. The stage is set for the crisis.

Caesar starts getting worried. His Treasury is being drained and he has menhirs which he doesn't know what to do with.

Preposterus tells him to package the menhirs and sell them to the Romans. Something that will make the neighbours envious, even if its utterly useless. Like the US secondary mortgage market. Package the NINJA (No Income No Job No Assets) loans into AAA securities.

And then starts the greatest marketing campaign in the Ancient World.

Preposterus also manages to come out with derivatives on the menhirs - togas, jewellery, sundials and a do-it-yourself menhir kit.

"We have peace with the Gauls, and thanks to them we are going to make a real killing too!"

A slight problem surfaces. The Romans start making menhirs too. Caesar is forced to drastically reduce prices for the Gaulish menhirs. People are stuck with menhirs and they don't know what to do with them.

Prices start falling drastically. Phoenicians, Egyptians & Greeks also start flooding the market with menhirs. In the end people don't want menhirs even as free gifts.

Caesar accepts the losses and writes them down. But there's another problem...

A nervous Preposterus tells him "I wanted to keep the peace in Gaul, so before I left I gave orders for them to go on buying menhirs and raising the price."

Caesar is furious. He tells Preposterus to go and reverse the orders immediately.

Obelix has come back to his senses by then.

"I am bored and I have had enough now. Everyone has lots of sestertii. Everyone's the most influential man in the village."

The Romans stop buying the menhirs. The Gauls are at a loss as to what they can do. They have people working for them who have to be paid and they are no longer getting any money.

Obelix is initially blamed for the crisis, but Asterix makes the villagers see sense. They realise who is ultimately responsible for the crisis. They attack the Romans and all's well that ends well.

Getafix tells Asterix:

"I hear there's a grave financial crisis in Rome, though I don't know what caused it. Anyway, they have devalued the sestertius. Big heap menhir makers stony broke." A killer line!!

Considering that it was written in 1976, its eerily in line with what has largely happened in this Crisis. Remarkable.

It serves as a reminder of what happens when common sense is abandoned and people start paying more and more for assets which lack intrinsic value, driven by the lust for yield and profits, just because they have the liquidity. A bubble builds.

And sadly, always, the bubble bursts...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sympathy for the Bubble Machine...

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a Bank of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith
And I was round when John Thain
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Bank Am
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
I stuck around Wall Street
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed Lehman & Bear Stearns
Richard Fuld screamed in vain

I became a Bank
Held a Bonus Rank
When the Crisis raged
And the Bailouts stank
I watched with glee
While your Banks & Funds
Declared bankruptcy
And I charged a fee

I shouted out,
Who destroyed Citi
When after all
It was you and me

So let me please introduce myself
I’m a Bank of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for oil punters
Who got killed before they squared away

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

Just as every banker is a criminal
And the public officials saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Goldie
Cause I’m in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your capital to waste

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, um yeah
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, um mean it, get down
Tell me baby, what’s my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, what’s my name
I tell you one time, you’re to blame…

(With apologies to the Rolling Stones)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Darr to think beyond the IIMs...

3 interesting links:

Please note the dates. Some things just continue...

Disclaimer: The content / text / opinions etc on each website mentioned above are the respective responsibilities of their owners.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pearls After Swine...

Dear Investor:

Swine flu is a pandemic that is fast spreading across the world and remains a high risk to global economic development.

Clients who wish to hedge their Swine Flu exposures may now consider our Global Swine Flu (tm) Index - An investable currency basket split across asset classes and geographies which uses our proprietary Swine Universal Amalgamated Regressor (SUAR) Model to determine optimal portfolio constituents for complete de-risking.

For the first time ever, investments in this Index are jointly guaranteed by the Fed & the IMF along with the BOJ, ECB, BOE, SNB, ILO & WHO; A study has shown that making pigs safer to eat could boost global GDP output by 0.00002133%, thus offering significant upside potential to global growth prospects.

Our key recommendations based on the model are:

1) Long MXN against CNY

Historically, the number of any sort of cases reported in China (whether they be of swine flu or human deaths) is always less than the actual number, whereas in the current crisis the number of cases reported in Mexico is higher than the actual. To exploit the undervaluation of the MXN, investors can go long at current levels; Decimation of the Mexican Economy is a key downside risk.

2) Short USD against all currencies

The US response to any bad news in any field in any part of the world has been to print more US dollars. The flu crisis will also lead to more dollar printing (to serve as handkerchief replacements) which should lead to further dollar weakness. Major event risks include Timothy Geithner & Ben S Bernanke. With the exit of George Bush, bombing of pig-breeding countries is not a high-probablility risk, though that may form part of the next round of fiscal stimuli.

3) Long INR against all currencies

The Indian economy will be unaffected by Swine Flu. Diseased pigs have ruled India for the last 60 years anyway and the local population has developed complete immunity to any such threats. We recommend going long INR.

4) Long currencies of Osama sightings

The market is pricing a significant possibility of Osama being dead. This gives a boost to fears of Swine Flu as people will eat pork with more impunity if Osama is dead. Swine Flu concerns will recede in countries where Osama is sighted and tactical longs may be entered into accordingly. Getting assassinated before TPing remains a key downside risk.

Any analysis included in this document is being provided for decorative purposes only. Structure pricing is a function of market liquidity & H1N1 vaccine availability. Market investments are subject to sanity risks. Please do not read the offer document too carefully before investing.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

His Mirror of Erised...

He looked into the mirror.

He saw a hermit, perched atop a snow-capped mountain. Trudging along with his bare feet in the frosty wind, quivering with every gust but going on determinedly. He was about to reach the top...

The image faded.

He saw a young couple bent over a baby in a cradle. Their eyes were shining with joy. The baby gave a radiant smile in his sleep, secure in the knowledge that there were two people in the world ready to do anything for him...

The image changed.

He saw a young man & woman walking on the pomenade. She was speaking animatedly, pouring her heart out. He was listening, in rapt attention, with the invisible beam of trust & understanding encouraging her to go on...

The image blurred.

He saw a man shouting instructions to a group of people. The man was full of tremendous vitality. They all listened to him as one. They knew that those without hope could hope, with him around...

The image vanished.

He saw a man get out of a super luxury car and walk up to the stage. The thunderous applause of a hundred people greeted him, as the mike announced "The award for the Indian Business Leader of the Year goes to..."

The image disappeared.

He saw a group of people at a dinner table. Smiling, laughing without a care in the world. Each one happy with the sheer pleasure of being together...

The image did not stay.

The mirror was turbulent now. Nothing was visible. He was trying to decipher, trying to see the image which would fit, the one which would stay...

Then it cleared. Slowly, steadily, unwavering, undisturbed.

And he saw himself, exactly as he was at that instant.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dearth Song

What about cash in hand

What about the vain

What about all the returns

That you said we were to gain…

What about killing markets

Is there a time

What about all the things

That you said was yours and mine...

Did you ever stop to notice

All the losses we've had before

Did you ever stop to notice

The crying Earth the weeping shores?

What have we done to the world

Look what we've done

What about all the yield

That you pledge your only son...

What about rising markets

Is there a time

What about all the dreams

That you said was yours and mine...

Did you ever stop to notice

All the assets dead from store

Did you ever stop to notice

The crying Earth the weeping shores

I used to dream

I used to glance beyond the MTMs

Now I don't know where we are

Although I know we've drifted far

Hey, what about past performance (What about us)

What about commodities (What about us)

The markets are falling down (What about us)

I can't even invest (What about us)

What about the bleeding fund (What about us)

Can't we feel its wounds (What about us)

What about intrinsic worth It's our planet's womb (What about us)

What about MBS (What about it)

We've turned assets to dust (What about us)

What about retailers (What about us)

Have we lost their trust (What about us)

What about carry trades (What about us)

We're ravaging securities (What about us)

What about interest rates Cut despite our pleas (What about us)

What about the Holy Street (What about it)

Torn apart by greed (What about us)

What about the real economy (What about us)

Can't we set it free (What about us)

What about investors dying (What about us)

Can't you hear them cry (What about us)

Where did we go wrong Someone tell me why (What about us)

What about the man (What about us)

What about the crying man (What about us)

What about Buffet (What was us)

What about crashes again Do we give a damn…

[With apologies to Michael Jackson]

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Cribber adviseth...Come back to life!

So this is what a friend had to say, post his 26th birthday...

"first thing
stop thinking abt what ppl think abt you
dont type just read
step by step
first take the class list and point out people who you were very regular with or u really like and now think have changed or are no longer good people
send them a text saying " I am sorry for everything..."
they deserve a second chance and u should give them one
then whoever calls back or messages back answer them in more than 20 words not like hmmm... or yes... or no... long complete sentences
end the conversation by i miss you... i dont think u have ever done this
thatss to make yourself realize that u miss the people and u r losing out on prescious time
then write this whole thing down in your blog so that reinforces the feeling
then maro 50 sit ups and go for a brisk walk
no music
look at the couples
and try and gauge how they met
i mean at juhu beach
think of allt he ridiculous stories u can come up with
let your mind run wild
if the guy looks nice anf the girl not nice
its like he was in a car she in a bus
but he loved the way her hair was flying
and she had the most beautiful eyes
he just chucked his work and followed her till dindishi agar from colaba when she got off
he went to her and said that i dont this often but i just had to tell you how beautiful your eyes are and then they dont meet for 2 years
again one day at best house red light their eyes meet
and she had a smile in her face
and so on and so forth
but remember this is not a task
jsut try and get in touch with your good feelings inside
get emotional
miss the love of your life if any
cry if it makes u cry
let go
stop thinking what people want u to think
be yourself
and no music
others' words are worthless
listen to yourself
do it baby
you deserve yourself..."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Why so serious...

I saw "Dark Knight" yesterday. Again. The difference being that this time it was in the IMAX Dome in Wadala. An awesome cinematic experience. The Dome setting brought out the appeal of the visual imagery, the action sequences, the sounds of the movie.

And I was left marvelling yet again at the insane vagaries of one of the most terrifying villains of all time (whether fictional or real) - The Joker.

It is not easy to understand exactly why the Joker is so scary. You watch his antics, you watch his horrifying deeds and slowly, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, things start falling in place. But one does not get a complete picture.

The Joker as an antagonist is frightening because he shakes your beliefs to the very core and does something truly unexpected - he far exceeds the set of normal "expected unexpecteds" that you have implanted in your mind.

People set rules, regulations and impose restrictions on themselves in order to ensure a beneficial social order, in order to prevent excesses, in order to develop a sense of progress an achievement. They attempt to understand, to adapt to their environment & then to manipulate it to their advantage - to control, to direct towards such ends as each one might have.

The Joker turns all of this on its head. He's a self-described agent of Chaos, who does not believe in rules. He does not have ends. He has means, & in the absence of ends, does not know what to do with them. He's like "A dog chasing cars", who would not know what to do with one if he caught one.

It amuses him to see people who try to control things. People who formulate plans and who think things will go go according to them. He wants to prove that that people do not know what to do once their plans fall apart. He's an entity who wants to test the infallibility of people merely to prove that they are going to fail. He pushes them to their limits to prove that they will falter.

The Joker thinks that people desire control over their surroundings, their environment, their fate, other people. It is to such people that the Joker poses a threat. He brings them down to their knees. He brings down the Mob, which hungers for money & harbours the notion that things will be back to normal once Batman is dead. He brings down mentally-ill people, who, relatively blamelessly, believe that they will regain control of their minds with the Joker's help. He brings down the corrupt police officials, who betray their fellow officers for money. He brings down Jim Gordon, who in his zeal to capture him, overlooks the danger of corrupt people within his own team. His greatest triumph is the fall of Harvey Dent, the incorruptible White Knight of Gotham City, who is maddened by the loss of the woman he loves and who blames the external environment for it. Dent loses control over himself; He starts believing in the fairness of Chaos; He believes that it was an indecent world which was cruel to him & the way to tackle it, the only morality is, Chance.

How does one defeat such a person? Men like the Joker only want to "Watch the world burn". They are not looking for anything logical. They cannot be bullied, reasoned with or bribed. As he says when Batman is interrogating him for Dent's & Rachel's locations, "You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with."

The way out lies in realising the gap in the Joker's ideology, the one thing that he has not bargained for - People who exercise control only over themselves, instead of everything else. Those are the people who are able to defeat the Joker. Rachel Dawes, who does not flinch from death right till the end. The people in the two ships who master their fear & let their trust in humanity surface; The ones who choose to not succumb to the mistrust induced by him. And most importantly, Batman. The one who chooses to see himself become a villain, an outlaw, a hated figure - because HE's internally at peace with what he is doing, because he knows what he is doing is right. He does not seek control over the opinion of the people of Gotham City. He does not desire fame, adulation, praise. He's able to let go of it all because of his steely resolve, the belief that what he's doing is right. He realises that he has control only over himself, he can only shape things by the way he reacts to situations.

The Joker is a villain of our times - senseless, purposeless, without any morals or rules. I see him in various forms everywhere - in criminals who commit the most dastardly crimes, in terrorists who kill innocent people, in the driver who kills in a fit of road rage, in the student who goes on a shooting spree, in the distressed executive who commits suicide, in the intolerance of the moral police & religious fundamentalists - everywhere when people lose control over themselves & become agents of Chaos.

Without a doubt, one of the finest characters created in cinematic history.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Apology

Experimental, in a way;


She looked at his tear-stained face.He hadn't stopped crying since she came. She knew it would be ok with time, he would regain his composure, she just wanted it to be as soon as possible. She was frightened. She had never seen him cry before.

"Blood pressure abnormally high. My God, she's sinking. Nurse, NURSE!!!"

They went for a walk. The garden was so refreshing, in the cool winter days. It's going to be ok, she assured him. Things would be fine. Count on me.

"She's going into cardiac arrest. We will need to do an emergency operation."

He was smiling by now. She was quite pleased with herself. I can convince anyone, she thought. Just a little bit of reassurance, it always works. He's just a kid...

"Too late. Too late. Inform her relatives."

"You hate me, don't you?" The parting remark caught her by surprise. Her face froze with shock, as the taxi sped away.

The door swung open, a man stepped in. He saw the immobile figure lying on the bed.

He turned back & bitterly regretted the impulse which had made him say that. Ah well, I will apologise, he thought. She always listens.

The man stood still. The doctor looked at him quizzically.

They told him they had no idea where she had gone. She had just packed up and left.

The doctor asked him gently "Did you know the lady?" "I thought I did", he replied.

Vanished without a trace. It was hopeless. No one knew of her whereabouts. He searched & searched in vain.

"She passed away very peacefully. More peacefully than most".

He heard her whispering softly. He heard her peals of laughter. Most often he heard her voice - clear, limpid, as smooth as the waves gently crashing against the sea-shore.

"What is your relation to to the deceased?". "I never could figure that out myself" he replied.

He felt he was going mad. Loneliness would kill him. He had to be surrounded by people all the time. Life had to go on.

"Is there anyone whom we can inform?" "I am here, now", he said.

He had seen her walk into the hospital. Here was the chance he had been waiting for. Soon, it would be all right. He would know peace again.

A woman came into the room shouting "Did you find her?" and stopped. She spoke no further.

"Yes, she was admitted a few days back. Not too long, so the Doc tells me. Ah well, the poor woman..."

"You are still waiting. Is there something that you would like to do?" "No, now there is isn't"

The doctor stared at the man. In his wrinkled face he saw a young boy, terrified. He could not comprehend what the boy realised - tha the apology had taken too long in coming...

A Prayer...

Reach for the morning Sun, the gently blowing Breeze, the azure Sky, the sweet caress of your Parents' hands on your cheeks...

Smile unrestrained, with the hopeful anticipation of better things to come, with the promise the future brings, with the innocent enthusiasm of a baby at peace with the world...

Talk to your friends, relieve their pain, each one who is agonized for bearing an untold story inside him, they are still there, they haven't walked away...

Trust the aut0-rickshaw driver to get you home, trust the watchman to be up & vigilant at night, trust the intention, trust the person...

Let Go.
Let go - fear, doubt, guilt, regrets - let it all go; State the obvious; Become an open book...


Monday, March 23, 2009

A tribute to Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge...

Rather an odd tribute, one would think.

But I am a die-hard fan of the Asterix series. The kind who can quote call-outs verbatim; Many of the issues I do not even need to read; I can play it like a slide-show in my mind.

Which is why it never ceases to amaze me how wonderfully Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge have translated an essentially French series (in language, but more importantly, in character as well) into full-blooded Queen's (Dictator's?) English, while preserving the spirit of the original.

The first thing that strikes me are the names. The Bard, a torture for the auditory senses, is named Cacofonix, while the old gentleman with a pretty & young wife is named Geriatrix (incidentally his wife is the only major village character which is never named in the entire series, apart from the village itself - YES, the village is NEVER named in the entire series!) Dogmatix is one of the best-named characters - He's actually a very dogmatic character (witness his howling whenever a tree is cut)

The names of one-time characters are even more mirth-inducing. Many of the British characters are named after esoteric taxes - Getafix's British druid friend is called Valueaddetax (in Asterix & The Goths), while a trainee legionary is called Selectiveemploymentax (in Asterix the Legionary). Another favourite name is Courtingdisastus (in Asterix in Corsica); The pun on his name when one of the Corsicans warns his sister about flirting with Romans is too funny!

The beauty lies in revealing something about the character through his name and always ending it appropriately - ix for the Gauls, ic for the Goths, us for the Romans & a for the Ladies. So you have a scheming Gaulish traitor named Uptotrix (in Asterix & The Banquet), a tough Briton chief (in Asterix in Britain) named a after a line from Hamlet (Mykingdomforanos) & a decadent Roman Governor named Varius Flavus (in Asterix in Switzerland).

And now. the repartee, the conversations, the lines. One can go on and on and on, but to pick out a few: (Warning: Read the original, to get the full drift of the remarks!)

Asterix in Switzerland: The entire sequence in the beginning, when Vitalstatistix sacks his shield-bearers, is a sublime classic; Some sample lines:

"The Chief will lose his standing in the tribe if he throws his weight around like that" (In a reference to Vitalstatistix falling off his shield)

"The Chief is bent on getting a good angle on things. Proves what you can do if you have got the inclination" (Asterix & Obelix are carrying him on the shield; He is in an inclined position because of their height difference)

"He's just serving half a pint of mild & bitter" (Obelix alone is carrying Vitalstatistix like a waiter, Vitalstatistix complains of feeling like a half-pint chief & being a mild man who is now feeling very bitter)

Asterix in Britain:

"He's been removed once, but you mustn't shake him too hard even if he asks you to" (Obelix says this for Anticlimax, Asterix's first cousin once removed, who had previously asked Obelix to shake him by the hand)

Asterix & The Big Fight:

Cassius Ceramix, the Roman stooge chief after challenging Vitalstatistix to the Big Fight, says "Gloria Victus! I turn my back on you" & turns around on his shield, after which his shield-bearers turn & he is facing Vitalstatistix again.
"No, not you! If you also turn back, then I get back where I started!"

Asterix & the Banquet:

Obelix is interrogating the traitor Unpatriotix; He ask's him which place the Romans have captured & taken Asterix to;
"I don't care whether you have ordered rum or not! You don't soften me up like that!"

Asterix & The Secret Weapon:

One of the village ladies argues with Cacofonix:
"Oh, so a woman can't be a bard"
"No Ma'am, shes barred from being a bard"
He gets bashed left right & centre.
Asterix observes his black eye and remarks:
"No holds barred, eh?"

Genius. Pure genius.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

XL Memories I: Kung-Fu Ganjeshwarnath...

An XL superjunior, known to me only as "Bitchy Offliner" suggested that writing about Sundays was toooooo boring.

"Pray expound", he beseeched; "On thy wealth of experiences at XLRI; The rich cultural heritage & legacy which you left behind"

As always, I fell to the occassion.

I wish I had something glamourous to write about. Perhaps something like this:\

A teetotaller for 2 years
Didn't attend a single wet night
Passed out as the Batch Topper
Got drunk in the final convocation wetnight
Danced as he had never danced before
Proposed to the love of his life at Dimna, as the sun rose
She look'd down to blush, and she look'd up to sigh
With a smile on her lips and a tear in her eye


Instead, I will write about my 1st year XL room-mate, Aditya Jhawar and an incident which still brings a smile to my face.

It was in the sultry summer days (July, perhaps). I was sitting quietly in the room, doing some assignment. Jhawar had gone for a bath. The second time that day. My God. Even once was a drag for me.

After he came back, I heard a buzzing sound in the room. Made me feel really queasy. I look all around, petrified and then I SAW.

The most gigantic insect I had ever seen. It menacingly circled over my head; I almost shrieked. A fresher who has live all his life in a metro is not the most formidable of opponents for a creature like that.

My face was convulsed. Aditya couldn't figure out what was wrong. He just saw my dazed countenance and was mystified. I pointed a trembling finger toward the apparition and managed to sputter out "udhar dekh".

Aditya spun around. He sized up his adversary. They circled each other for quite some time. Aditya was galvanised steel. He had turned into a leader of men. It was him and the Insect. A fight to the finish. Winner take all. No pity. No mercy. No regret.

Aditya took out his Brahmastra - the towel which he had just thrown onto his bed. He began wielding it like a champion of champions, cutting currents of air with the sheer impact. His eyes never wavered. It was death to the man that lost his nerve.

The Insect darted towards him. A brutal frontal assault. Aditya spun around, unperturbed. His towel was still drawn at the ready. Every muscle tense. Waiting for the right moment.

The Insect swerved & went to the rear. It caught him by surprise. It was a split-second. I shouted at precisely the time when it was about to deliver a killing blow, Aditya just turning around, towel in hand...

I opened my eyes. Aditya was standing, beaming. The Insect was nowhere to be seen.

Kung-Fu Ganjeshwarnath had vanquished the oppressor. The world was at peace.

A good Sunday...

Its been a good Sunday so far.

To begin with, I went for a brisk walk. On the beach. 45 minutes. My place to Juhu Chowpatty. 5 km. I have had so many concerned people telling me to shape up. My well-rounded personality is a potential health hazard.

Then I got my hair sheared. It was a sugarcane field in miniature. Took a great load off my mind. I know why Dilip Menda is so stress-free these days.

Then, I started this blog. And I already have two comments, by two valued people.

Just Googled for songs with the title "Sunday"
There's one by Sarah Brightman called "Tell me on a Sunday":

"Don't write a letter when you want to leave
Don't call me at 3 a.m. from a friend's apartment
I'd like to choose how I hear the news
Take me to a park that's covered with trees
Tell me on a Sunday please

Let me down easy
No big song and dance
No long faces, no long looks
No deep conversation
I know the way we should spend that day
Take me to a zoo that's got chimpanzees
Tell me on a Sunday please

Don't run off in the pouring rain
Don't call me as they call your plane
Take the hurt out of all the pain
Take me to a park that's covered with trees
Tell me on a Sunday please..."

A fresh beginning, sans fresh promises...

This declaration is more for my own self, than for anyone else:

I, am not blogging, for any of the following:

1) To give the world a fascinating peek or sneak preview into my life, my thoughts, my opinions
2) To re-start from where I had left off 3 years ago when I became too lazy to update my blog
3) To find an outlet for any frustrations that I may have in life; broken dreams, broken relationships et al

And as to the reasons for blogging, the blog will justify itself...