Monday, August 15, 2011


So I'm sitting here at Goa Airport and there's this movie on Zee Cinema, muted ofcourse. I can't for the life of me figure out what the heck is going on but I have to admit, it's absolutely fascinating. I have no idea what the story line is. No idea who the protagonists are, can't for the life of me recognise any of the actors..... But man, the visuals I do see are so weird I honestly can't look away.
When I started watching it, there was this bare chested, long haired dude, slightly flabby but with the required beefiness. Somehow, he ended up in ice. Not on ice but in it. Don't ask. And he explodes out of the ice. So there's this beefy bloke lying prone on the floor and there are these chunks of ice strewn around him. Then this other guy, who looks like a cop of sorts, (still haven't figured out if he is or isn't) and he first acts surprised to see shirtless guy there, then shirtless guy regains conciousness and is shivering. They have words. Then possible cop guy starts kicking shirtless guy's arse and suddenly shirtless guy goes from a beefy wimp into one of those arch villian, indestructible rajnikant types. A few seconds later he morphs back. The possible cop guy also alternates between being terrified of the arch villian and beating up the wimp. Then a third dude comes in from somewhere and this totally improbable fight scene starts up.
Around this point I got bored and looked away. When I looked back there was this whole independence day thing on, with a whole bunch of cops, the requisite bunch of cute but dim kids, the constipated elder males and a woman with old lady make up and a white sari with a red border. She may have been a widow or just a highly respected epitome of womanhood, I really don't know. So now with this whole independence day celebration going on, there's this young cop going all rockstar on a santoor, some random kid spinning in slow motion and the epitome of woman hood looking fondly on. Womanhood then starts to sing and the elders start looking even more constipated and the camera pans to various pictures of Indies Gandhi and the Indian flag and then goes back to the constipated elders. I got bored again. The next time there was a tableau of one woman in a green sari, two guys in pantyhose face masks, and a 'baddie' with glasses, a black shirt and a white waist coat. Baddie is holding a machine gun and shoots another dude running towards him holding another gun. The fellow gets shot in the armpit of all things and dies. Evil guy laughs his evil laugh.
Unfair I think. You may be an extra but that doesn't mean he has to die of an armpit shot. And that too on the right side. Sheesh.....
Now they're at a hospital. Lots of people running around outside, constipated elder shoving a really geeky looking doctor around.
I give up. I have absolutely no idea what's going on. Where is the schitzofrenic arch villian? Very confusing. Oooh I just saw Nassiruddin Shah. He's in jail. Where did he come from? What's going on? This must have started out a big budget independence day blockbuster. Still not sure what they were aiming for though. I'm still as confused ad ever.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Unrest at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Just the other day, I was a hapless but captive audience for a rather loquatious taxi driver. After breaking the ice, commenting on my destination and how it along with a couple other places in the vicinity were regular drop off points for all cabbies in the area, he proceeded to launch into his main theme. The Government. According to him, we are as badly off or a little worse off than we were under the British. The oppressed masses are as miserable as they were earlier, the same governments(individuals) keep coming to power and merrily looting the country. If you're in power or close to it you will have money. The industralists will support anyone in power. Babus are in the best position though. As inflation and the cost of living rise, so too do their requirements. Where Rs50 used to be sufficient, one now needs Rs500. Who suffers? Why the masses ofcourse! Taxi drivers and their passengers. He then went on to the whole Maharashtra for the Maharashtrians school of thought. Maharashtra without Mumbai is poorer than the badlands of UP. He spoke about this Police inspector that he once had as a passenger, who asked him why he didn't stay in his home town in UP and do something. Why did he have to come to Mumbai taking away from the Maharashtrian Manoos. My cabbi's reply was something along the lines of "Mumbai is not the only place in Maharashtra. Instead of stopping people from coming here and working, why don't Maharashtrian politicians spend more time developing the rest of Maharashtra giving the rest of the Maharashtrians a better life. Why are farmers in eastern Mahashtra killing themselves and why are Maharashtrians starving in the interiors of Maharashtra? Is Mumbai the only place that needs ministers, babus and laws?" That ofcourse took him to his primary issue which was the Brahmin rule. BJP or Congress, they're a bunch of Brahmins bleeding the country dry. Through the ages Brahmins didn't have to work. If you were born Brahmin, you had a license to live off everyone else's effort but you still had all the power. When we won our independence it was with educated leaders. Then Nehru and his successors (Brahmins) took over and the whole country went down. They made sure the Brahmins continued to make money doing nothing more strenuous than sitting on their collective asses, while the Kshatrias did their bit to keep them in power and keep the rest of the populace in their place. I tried pointing out that it was the same downtrodden masses that insisted on voting the same brahmins into power and that got me another volley of fluent hindi telling me that the masses were coerced into voting a certain way and those that were free, didn't vote. We were closing in on my destination, so I asked him what was the solution to all this. Their time is coming to an end, was his answer. The Brahmins may call it Kalyug, but their time is up. They have misused their position for too long and have become far too arrogant. They will fall. Just you wait and see.
This guy isn't a one-off case. Its the fourth or fifth time someone has said something like this to me after the middle east started to burn. A change will come. The masses will rise up against the corrupt government. My question is, what then? You bring down the existing government and then what? Who or what fills in the void left in the system? It's very easy to point out defects in the existing system. What are we to do about it? If not one of Sonia's puppets who then will lead the country? Will the group that controls this great economic powerhouse, this emerging behemoth, this market of a billion plus consumers... Will they choose to clean up a rotting system, or will they succomb to the lure of easy pickings and lap up what's offered, leaving the bottom of the pyramid exactly where it is? Or will we have nation wide riots like in the middle east with the country descending down an exceedingly slippery path into mayhem and anarchy? While I hope not, my taxi driver seems convinced that a war is headed towards us. And this one will not be religious. It will be between the castes.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Of Bugs and Superbugs

I absolutely detest taking antibiotics. So today when I read about the WHO getting all hot and bothered that the misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals was leading to the emergence of superbugs and strains of resistant germs, I went “HAH!” Not the evil scientist “BWAHAHAHAHA!” or the snide trouble maker’s “snicker snicker” but more of a relieved, ‘you can’t hurt me any more’ with a dab of ‘up yours’ thrown for good measure kind of ‘HAH’. Let me give you a bit of background here.
When I was ye high (approximately a foot and a half in my socks) I got the runs i.e. Dysentery. Now as I have only the foggiest memory of that period in my life, I rely on third party info here. Sources being my mum and various other family members. Long story short, the family doctor nearly killed me with an overdose of antibiotics, a child specialist was then brought in and I was cured but apparently the antibiotics damaged my immunity system so badly that I stayed very vulnerable to any and every disease in the vicinity. A shift to the clean air of Goa helped, but coming back to Bombay, now Mumbai, now even more polluted, brought on all sorts of new crap.
I have been on a variety of antibiotics and even one biopsy (DO NOT get me started on that). I’ve noticed that the young guns are usually the ones who make my sicker while the old guys who accept that allopathy does not have all the answers are actually the ones who cure you. My favorites though are those old doctors with tiny clinics and compounders who give out little packets of multi-coloured tablets in different shapes and sizes and detailed instructions on when to take what. I’ve noticed they always cure me. After about five years of messing around with different doctors/quacks  I have finally shortlisted one gastric surgeon, one orthopedist, one dentist and one ENT. I still need to find one skin specialist, one optometrist, one gynac and most importantly one GP.
The benefits of my gruesome experience:
  • Avoid Doctors with degrees from posh sounding institutes.
  • Avoid Doctors who use a lot of new fangled equipment. They are usually too reliant on machines rather than instinct.
  • Avoid Doctors who sit in well done up clinics. The posher the clinic the higher the overheads therefore the longer your treatment will take. If he has overheads to worry about, then curing you will not be cost effective. He’s going to take you for all you’ve got.
  • Stick with the older generation doctors with smaller, dingier clinics. They tend to cure you and send you off. They haven’t got into the habit of treating patients like ATM machines. A quick trick to identify them, when you walk into their clinics and see files piled haphazardly in corners and various knickknacks shoved into cubby holes around, you’re safe. This guy has been around for a while. If it’s a pristine clinic, with teak furnishings, polished equipment… run away!
  • Talk to your Doctor, if he acknowledges the impact of stress and a need for a healthier style of living, or if he just tells you to stop being a baby and get on with it, you know you have a gem. Never let him go!
  • And most importantly, get referrals from people who have been living in the same area for years. They usually know the best doctors because they’ve been to them over the years. Beware of the hypochondriacs though. You don’t want a doctor who encourages that.
Expecting diseases to stay put just because the medical/pharmaceutical fraternity hasn’t been able to catch up is stupid. Diseases will evolve. Popping stronger pills will only give you an ulcer. Running to a doctor will probably just make you broke and ill. So get your priorities straight and enjoy till your time comes. And in the mean while, keep a little black book of doctors. Who knows when a superbug might get you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

16,324 hours and counting...

Today is an anniversary of sorts. I have finished 6 years in my current role. In that time I have developed severe acidity, gained 10 kilos, seen my salary multiply several times over and been given the title of Vice President. 6 years = 312 weeks = 1,484 days (6 dayweeks for 2 years + 5 day weeks for 4 years – 30 days holidays a year) = 16,324 hours spent working in the markets and 4,272 hours spent commuting to work and back. That’s a grand total of 20,596 hours that I have dedicated to my job (and this doesn't include the leave sacrificed).
Was it worth it? I don’t know. Unlike most, I didn’t start out as an analyst or as a trader. I started out as a saleswoman for key domestic institutions. Those institutions are still the most sought after for practically every salesperson. I’ve witnessed every circuit in the market and seen crazy crashes and crazier rallies. I’ve seen the Sensex swing 2500 points in a single trading session (and this was in 2006! The base was a lot smaller), I’ve seen the market fall 13% in a day and trading continue, I’ve seen liquidity dry up and later flood the market… sixteen thousand hours covers a lot!
Here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way;

On Markets and Investing
  • A mega IPO usually marks the peak of the market – Reliance Petroleum in 2006, Reliance Power in 2008 and Coal India in 2010.
  • A full investment banking pipeline always indicates the beginning of a buying frenzy.
  • Over a long period of time, trading does not make you big money, investing does. The only people who make money trading are the dedicated traders, and that too only for a limited period of time. It is the investors that make the truly astronomical amounts and the investors who survive downturns.
  • Markets will fall. There is no such thing as a perpetual bull run. Everything reverts to the mean. Every business has its cycle.
  • Takey our profits off the table. Ideally try and bring your portfolio cost down to zero.
  • A falling market has no support and a rising market has no resistance.
  • Never trust anyone forcing a tip on you. Chances are they're stuck in a position and want an exit or want company.
  • You will never make money on everything that you are invested in. Some will fall, some will be flat and only a small handful will rise. If all are rising, it means the market is overheating and you should exit while you still have the chance.
  • There is a HUGE difference between speculation and investment. Decide which one you want and stick with it. Ideally invest the majority of your money and trade with a small portion. Take trading profits off the table and invest them.
  • Buy at the point of maximum pessimism. Go contrarian and make a significant bet. Loosely translated it means thumb your nose at your colleagues and Udyan Mukherjee, gather all your money together and buy Buy BUY!!!!!
  • No matter what Warren Buffet and his minions say, the market ALWAYS knows. Playthe trend.
  • No matter how strong the India story, a global meltdown will wipe out all returns. Therefore diversify your investments out of the equity markets.
  • Never trust an emotional call. Numbers don’t lie. Cash doesn’t lie.
  • Behavioral Finance is possibly the most underappreciated branch of Finance. Study it.
  • Trends can and frequently do change overnight. Don’t fall in love with a trend, it’s not going to stay. Abandon and move on. The financial markets take the laws of survival to a whole new level.
  • Read. As much as you can, whenever and wherever you can. The information always helps.
  • Remember that whatever happens, the system will always be salvaged.
On Stocks
  • Governments lie, managements lie and analysts don’t have all the answers or all necessary information.
  • Estimatesfollow the market.
  • Valuations are relative. Steady earnings growth and growing order books are extremely important. Always watch the reserves.
  • Never average your losses unless you know something everyone else doesn't. Otherwise sell your losers and hold onto your winners. Be disciplined with your stop losses.
  • When picking a stock to invest in look at the debt levels, the cash flows, the dividend payment history, the capital expenditure, the return on capital employed and management quality. The party boys never make you any money.
  • Bewary of how much you pay.
  • Never buy something that has been running up for 3 consecutive days. Price graphs steeper than a 45 degree angle will reverse quickly and viciously.
On Work
  • A good boss and a great team are generally mutually exclusive. Get used to it.
  • Today’s kings are often tomorrow’s beggars. Be nice to the people around you. It’s not worth it making enemies.
  • Weasels always survive, except in fairy tales.
  • Don’t try breaking into existing cliques. It usually ends in pain. Be yourself and your clique will find you.
  • Reply All is dangerous. Consider the consequences before clicking it.
  • Always double check before sending.
  • Always carry a notebook into meetings, no matter how irrelevant you think the discussions are.
  • Take notes. Important details are often forgotten.
  • Make sure all your bosses know that you treat them equally. Be very aware of the political affiliations around you. Treat your colleagues and bosses like your clients.
  • Have a life outside the office. Stay in touch with old friends. They keep yougrounded.
  • Stay focused and be careful what you sacrifice.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Of Weasels and Eagles

After much pain and frustration I think I have learnt the secret to success at work. I wouldn’t recommend this for anything other than work. If someone associated with my personal life acted like this, I would slap them. Hard.

There are a couple of sayings that kind of sum up what I’m getting at. “Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” “Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable” While the former is what happens, the latter is what one should live by. Helps keep the disappointment at a minimum.

There’s a reason why ‘passionate’ is never used to describe veterans. Increased exposure to the rest of humanity isn’t pretty. As someone else put it, “Never underestimate the power of very stupid people in large groups” or in management for that matter. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never worked in a ‘fun job’ but I’ve always noticed that the ones that last in most companies are usually the weasels. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are really a lot of fun, but they still qualify for the term “weasel”. There are some who’ve elevated it to an art form. Being the enlightened few, they’ve figured out early exactly what will happen to them if they show the least sign of initiative or creativity. It’s like that arcade game with the moles and the hammer. Every time a mole pop’s it’s head up, you whack it with the hammer. In real life Pavlov’s theory would kick in but in the game the moles being the suckers for punishment that they are, keep popping up even faster. Give them a brain and the game would be over in one maybe two rounds. Self preservation is a wonderful thing.

I guess middle management's whole role is to drain the life force out of everyone under their command.  From their attitude, to their procedures, to the colour of paint on their walls! A happy, motivated, creative work force might be poached by competitors, is expensive to retain and is a constant threat to senior management's jobs. But a disillusioned, de-motivated, manic-depressive work force... well, that's just perfect isn't it? Low maintainence, easy to control and sometimes it's as effective a means of destruction of competition as a biological weapon. Nuclear weapons and poisonous gasses have nothing on a depressing, demotivated, complaining colleagues. They can, and I speak from bitter experience, suck the life out of you far more effectively than anything else on this earth. Just think about it from management's perspective for a minute. Depressed and demotivated employees don't drain depratment budgets, it's the happy, high performers that do. Lower pay outs to employees means more money left over! And misery loves company, so wherever they go, it's not happiness and cheer that they're spreading! Like the demetors of Azkaban they will suck out every happy, creative thought from their colleagues wherever they go. Possibly even play such distructive politics that competing teams are thoroughly destroyed! BWAHAHAHAHA!!! What more would anyone want? You're managing well within your budget and your competitor is in shambles! You da Man!

So the secret to success, as I see it, is to keep your head down and do your work and have faith in the essential pettiness that is a large part of any and every employee. Understand here, that there is a very BIG difference between the entrepreneurs that have risked a lot to build what they have and the employees that have piggy backed on that success always ensuring that their respective rear ends have been adequately covered. Always remember, every moment is the dawn of a new error, and when mistakes have been made, someone will get blamed. Do your level best to make sure you have an air tight alibi when that happens. And last but not least, eye-contact is a double edged sword. If you don’t have the bulk to intimidate a pestilential superior, don’t risk the eye-contact. The pettier the opponent, the more likely they are to consider it a threat, or worse! In other words, keep your nose clean and stay below everyone's radar. It's tougher than it looks...

Once again, anyone attempting outside work isn't going to get you very far.