Humility – the inextricable cricketing quality, and its decline

Virat Kohli attracts trolls like a flame does moths. His latest: the interview wherein he shares his disappointment with ‘fans’ who trolled his “love” Anushka Sharma. Valid point on the unfairness of targeting her; the larger issue is what makes him troll-worthy and the even larger one of humility in cricket.

In defending his lover, Kohli invoked the fact (in his opinion) that “I don’t think anyone has helped India win as many matches or performed as consistently as I have in the last five years”. He then goes on to align himself with the reductionist ‘either you are with us or against us’ attitude that is so en vogue these days in all spheres: “After that, to see such reactions after just one poor innings, was very disappointing. What it does is it makes you lose faith in a lot of people. It’s a good thing in a way – you get to know who’s with you and who’s not.”. Finally he ends with a rant that does not make any linguistic or logical sense: “So in my case if I don’t do well in two games it is a dip in form whereas for some of the other players they perform two games out of ten they come back in form. I don’t understand that and I don’t really pay attention to it.” – yes, it doesn’t look like you are really paying attention to it.

Cricketing greats of yore:

When the Gavaskar and Dev era ended, Indians got a chance to align their pride and hopes on Tendulkar. He was joined by genuine greats like Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman and Kumble. Tendulkar, for all his post-retirement bravado, could never have been faulted for arrogance despite his many achievements, a quality that has endeared him to millions. Then there’s Dravid, a person who always let his consistency and technique speak for him. Be it the troll lamenting his inappropriateness for limited overs cricket or an Alan Donald seething at him on field, mouthing expletives about his mother – nothing could ruffle the man. Laxman – well he was never heard save for the crack of willow on leather. Ganguly too saved all his brazenness and aggression for the field. In all their years, none of these legends of the game needed to self-indulge.

For cricket lovers who are put off by the Australian bullies, one of the worst offenders Ricky Ponting too saved his energies for thrashing the opposition on the field and post-match bar brawls rather than telling the world what a great player he is (which he was).

A team sport like cricket has no room for individual brilliance on a sustained basis. Even the Tendulkar era was marked by at least 3-4 other players who could be considered at par with the legend. More recently, then Indian coach Greg Chappel publicly stated that Dhoni is a future Indian captain. This when Dhoni was barely a year or so into the side, had a terrible sense of fashion, could speak barely a couple of sentences of clear English and had no helicopter shot. Since then, despite controversies over conflicts of interest, his inability to establish himself as a Test Captain and accusations of favoritism, Dhoni has not had to reassert his value as a player and captain – his win record speaks for itself.

Trolls are a part of life Virat, accept them or don’t do your bit to nurture them. Much like flies, they get attracted to anything that smells bad. They have been around in various forms – the techniques have changed. Chants of ‘Ravi Shastri Hai Hai’ in Wankhede was trolling. Unimaginably, Tendulkar himself was boo’ed in Bombay once! A match at Eden Gardens is a spectacular gathering of a stadium full of trolls – who can forget Gavaskar’s hate:hate relationship with the venue? The internet and social media have just amplified the voice.

Aggression and talent can get you as far as you have come Virat. Hard work and humility will get you further, with some help from lady luck. Meanwhile, growing up is a good thing despite what many people say.

Should the undersigned now look forward to being targeted at cricket venues for choicest abuse from Virat Kohli? Nah, doing so wouldn’t be humble 🤷🏻‍♂️.

“Nothing happened for 60 years” except “too much democracy”

“A worthy end should have worthy means leading up to it”

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
“Philandering Nehru”

When my parents were born (one in the dying moments of the Quit India Movement, the other just a year before independence), Indians could expect to live for under 30 years on average (life expectancy of the poor being much lower) and there was practically no middle class. The literacy rate was 16% (8% for women). A starving, divided, destitute country began its Tryst With Destiny.

By the time I was born some 3 decades of mostly “Nehru misrule” later, life expectancy was 51 years, the literacy rate was ~50% (30% for women), my father was a (rare for that time) post-graduate, and my mother was a (rare for that time) graduate. Secure salaried work, a small but elegant house in a Tier 2 city, a scooter…that was how far a person born in Karachi who migrated to India just before independence and was orphaned in infancy had come. Under “Nehru misrule”. Soon thereafter, we were nestled in leafy and quiet Malleswaram in Bangalore in a neat 3BHK house and owned a 4-wheeler (an elegant Morris Minor bought 2nd hand. Or was it 3rd hand?).

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How I remember MG Road, Bangalore

By the time my own kids were born (both at the zenith of India’s growth in the 2003 to 2007 period), I was a triple post-graduate and my wife was a double post-graduate…quite the norm and nothing spectacular, and Malleswaram was neither quiet, nor affordable. Life expectancy was now 64+ years and literacy stood at 76% (55% for women). Not only did a middle class exist, but it was divvied up into the lower-middle, the middle, and the upper-middle so that each consumer class could be appropriately targeted by the plethora of brands that were at our disposal. Till this point, barring 6 years of BJP rule and a couple of years of meandering coalitions (which did not do too badly, mind you), the “cursed and corrupt Nehru-Gandhi family had held sway over the country, robbing India of her dignity, and the people of their right to prosperity!”.

The institution I completed my first post-graduate course from was set up in 1949, immediately after independence through an act of Parliament under Nehru’s plan of developing the workforce that India needed to move forward. This was followed by the setting up of CSIR, IITs, BARC, IIMs, AIIMS, ISRO, and many such institutions under “Nehru misrule”, each of which continue to either serve public interest or build careers, or both.

Apart from my anecdotal story, here are a just a few of the stark macro developments that happened in the period between 1951 and 1969 (period till 5 years after Nehru’s death, which can safely be taken as the period of continued influence):

  • 70% increase in consumer goods industries, which is a respectable for that time Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 3% (for those who say Nehru focused only on capital goods!)
  • 4x growth in intermediate goods production like steel, paint, plywood, pipes, tubes, etc. That’s an 8% CAGR, something even Modi would envy!
  • 10x growth in output of capital goods like like buildings, machinery and tools. That’s a 14% CAGR, something even Modi will not boast he can achieve. No, not even on a nominal basis!
  • The Green Revolution, which was the 1st (and genuine) Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative (remember, 14mn tons of food had to be imported between 1947 and 1953 to feed the population). Yes there are folks who say Nehru focused on industry, not agriculture. And that the Green Revolution happened after his death. Consider this: the Green Revolution was not a switch thrown by someone. Apart from the specific steps initiated during Nehru’s lifetime, an important contributor to the Green Revolution was the land reform aggressively pursued by Nehru, which ended Zamindari.

Consider that this growth came about from a starting position where 90% of equipment required to make ANYTHING had to be imported. By the time I was born, that percentage had fallen to 8%! By the time my kids were born, India was exporting vehicles and launching satellites for the world!

Apart from this, on the democratic front, universal suffrage was implemented forthwith. In comparison, the US of A, a much larger and older democracy, could or would not implement universal suffrage till the 1960s. Even in 2020, black voters were susceptible to both disenfranchisement and intimidation. More starkly, American women got the right to vote a 130 years after the 1st presidential election! A 130 years! Besides one person one vote, federalism was committed to deeply and truthfully in India. This despite the fact that one giant of a man held sway over every person in the country (long before the Modi wave, all of India was a Nehru tsunami!).

So the starting position was one of disadvantage, to put it mildly. India was already committed to the paths of sovereignty, equality, and democracy. Hence, industrialisation and growth at any cost, needs of the hour though they were, could not be forced down people’s throats like China did. What India attempted – industrial transformation with democracy – was thus unique. So much so that it offered a model to many of the newly independent colonies of the world. This obsession of Nehru’s with ends AND means perhaps came from Gandhi and his commitment to HOW we win freedom. If Mr Amitabh Kant laments that this commitment to democracy came at the cost of growth then we should seriously worry about the intellect of the people heading policy-making bodies (yeah, yeah; I know Niti Aayog is only a PR agency!). Besides, Mr Kant would do well to know that the same democratic principles brought his lord & master to power. Twice.

“Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another” – from Amitabh Kant’s namesake, Immanuel Kant

Here, we hit the argument professed by the ‘nothing happened for 60 years lot’ of why didn’t India grow like Singapore. That such narratives are still held on to is surprisingly in itself – I don’t think that’s an argument worth getting into considering the size, scale, background, and constraints India faced at independence and for years after. All things considered, the statistics and achievements above show we achieved a little more than “nothing”.

Nehru’s biggest mistake was not his commitment to socialism, or China. It was his spawn. Indira was made the president of the INC in 1959, well before Nehru’s death; she was clearly being groomed for a leadership role by him. The fact that she was not made the PM right after his death is a testament to Nehru, his party, and the times he lived in. Indira was authoritarian and is directly responsible for many of the economic ills we face today. Sanjay was even worse. Rajiv was inept and is directly responsible for many of the communal ills we face today. Modi, meanwhile is both authoritarian and inept, a most dangerous combination that perhaps only North Korea would know something about.

Nehru’s spawn

Considering Nehru’s image, the genuine love people had for him, his aura, and his obvious capabilities, would India have been better off with Nehru as a benevolent dictator? I mean, considering the statistics, the lack of any real competition within the Congress, the lack of any competition for the Congress itself, and the passing away of Gandhi soon after independence and Patel soon thereafter, he could have been forgiven for assuming that holding onto as much power as possible and directing policy individually was the best course of action for India. But then, THAT wouldn’t have been Nehru.

The ultimate tribute to Nehru the democrat comes through the bizarre action of Indira Gandhi in ending the Emergency and calling elections in 1977. There was no need for that move when she was well entrenched and was considering (according to some accounts) bringing in a presidential form of government, with her at the helm. While she may have grossly misjudged her popularity by reading what the heavily censored press wrote about her, there are some who believe that Nehru’s genes and his influence on her forced her hand, leading eventually to her defeat. Mock this theory, but before that consider this: after Operation Bluestar, her Sikh bodyguards were removed because they were considered a security threat. So innate was her commitment to secularism, imbibed by her father, that she reinstated them on the basis that someone’s religion cannot be cause for removal. In hindsight, for her, it was a poor decision but one she took knowing the risks.

Nehru’s vision of India was one of enlightenment. Modi’s vision of India is one of obscurantism. We started well, then decided to tear up the user guide and proceeded with our tryst with despondency. I’ll keenly look out for the update that my children and grandchildren put up to this piece.

Aligarh: A reflection of our rotten souls

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Aligarh is a 2015 biographical drama film staring Manoj Bajpayee in the lead role of Ramchandra Siras. Siras was a professor of Marathi and the head of the Classical Modern Indian Languages Faculty at the famed Aligarh Muslim University, who was suspended on grounds of morality.

The movie is a poignant and sensitive portrayal of a person’s utter loneliness that follows from what happens when his most basic defining trait (his sexuality) is held against him. Every frame of the movie is about the man’s loneliness.

Bajpayee won critical acclaim and a Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Siras. This actor’s avoidance of stereotyping and continual experimentation probably makes him one of India’s all-time greats. More so because none of the greats have managed to avoid stereotyping the way he has.

The movie was released 3 years before the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code calling it “clearly unconstitutional”. The historic verdict followed a long struggle to decriminalise homosexuality in India by LGBTQ activists and human rights advocates.

While the 2018 verdict was a cause for celebration, I felt that there was a certain futility in striving for the revocation of Section 377. Watch the movie to realise that homosexuality not being regarded as a crime will only be the start of a long and difficult struggle for acceptance of a people who are otherwise no different from “normal” ones, and the extent to which they do differ is less than harmless once you get over conditioning-fed biases.

As if to prove the extent of the struggle involved, here is the Central Government’s submission to the Supreme Court on 14 September, 2020, two years after the repeal of Section 377:

The bias stems from perceptions of homosexuality being “unnatural” and even “a disease”. Sample what prominent bigots currently in power had to say when P Chidambaram (then Home Minister) and the UPA government pushed for repeal of Section 377:

Needless to say, religion and a need to pander to it for political gains is the source of the bigotry. Section 377’s potential repeal offered a rare opportunity for all religions to come together in an unparalleled show of unity:

And it seems extremely rich for a lot that doesn’t give a damn about nature to label something unnatural. For me drowning a good 18-year old Single Malt Whisky in Duke’s Soda (a very common crime, especially in India) is more unnatural than homosexuality! This despite being a lifelong heterosexual with a wife and two kids, a.k.a. the stereotypical Indian ‘normal’ male.

What that doesn’t make me in any way though is insensitive towards someone who isn’t like me, especially if he/she is an oppressed minority. Periyar said it, only as well as he could:

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If you aren’t “like that”, give up the despise, the hatred, the bigotry…it will be one less negative emotion in your life.

Coming back to Aligarh, the movie.

The Indian release in February 2016 came nearly 2 years into the term and at the zenith of the right wing led government, which panders to the kind of religious bigotry that opposes homosexuality. Besides this, their supporters are known for strong arm tactics that criminally prevent dissemination of anything they disagree with. Considering this, it was widely expected that the movie will be banned in BJP-ruled states and movie halls screening it anywhere else will be intimidated by party workers. Yet, nothing! The release went off peacefully. As for commercial success, as would be expected, the movie did not fare all that well collecting ₹4.27crs against a budget of ₹11crs.

Spoiler alert follows:

My theory on the absence of any protests by the right wing loonies against Aligarh, despite their public disgust with homosexuality, is that they knew it is a true story in which the protagonist kills himself in the end. ‘The evil of homosexuality is vanquished in the end and not victorious so people can see it’…so went the loony fairy tale ending.

Rather, I feel these blinkered souls who see the world in only 2 shades should be made to watch the movie. Watch how the world comes together to harangue a perfectly harmless and sensitive man into killing himself. Bajpayee’s performance, the gritty shots, and the knowledge that all of it actually happened to a person possibly have the potential to change the train of thought of at least a couple of bigots, surely? If it does then Aligarh deserves the highest accolades.

At the time, Modi’s Teacher’s Day Address was making headlines, mostly for the wrong reasons as over-enthusiastic and pandering school/college principals made attendance compulsory for kids. I’d rather they made Aligarh mandatory viewing in every secondary school, college, and RSS Shakha.

Watch Aligarh if you are sensitive towards LGBTQ rights. Watch Aligarh if you don’t give a damn either way, because you need to give a damn. Watch Aligarh especially if you are a bigot, because you are the one with the “disease” and a watch may just make a tiny difference.

‘Only The Good Die Young’

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June, my dearest, passed away 4 days ago. The suddenness (where it all happened within a few hours), the timing of it all (when the world is going to shit), the unfairness of it all (when I need her more than ever), her youth…all of it makes my head spin and my heart break.

She came into our lives almost 5 years ago in, well….June. Hence the name. As amateur first-time dog parents our lives were turned upside-down dealing with a creature that could say so little while saying so much.

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She was a gem from the beginning – all the innocence of a puppy, and yet so mature, undemanding, trouble-free, and caring. It was almost like we had got an adult dog in a pocket size.

Over time, she became the center of everyone’s attention, the apple of everyone’s eye, and every other cliche you can think of. To the extent that a person who detested and feared dogs became a full-blown, loving, caring mother to a daughter she never had. The bond between them was something that could be seen in any captured or uncaptured moment between them. I loved June, and June and Arati loved each other 😀

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June was a dog who naturally or through perception (and for better or worse) grew to reflect what I am as a person. Someone who did not need validation, someone who didn’t care about stereotypes, someone who didn’t suffer fools, someone with limited priorities and no care for anything beyond, and someone who was happy within the self (and yes, a little happier still when we were with each other). True soul mates in that sense! Despite all her aloofness, anyone (human or canine) who got to know her had nothing but admiration and respect for her. How often do you see that?!

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As is human nature, at such a time we look upon the time spent together with a tinge of regret – we could’ve played more, we could’ve headed out more, we could’ve not given as much of a damn about what we ate, we could’ve done more. Then again, we could see every moment as enriching, full of learning, full of satisfaction, full of innocence. June brought us, as a family, out and about to the kind of places that this country – with its limited tolerance for animals – allows animals in. Hills, beaches, forests….all the places that make us, animals and humans, one.

Perhaps three of the most important lessons June had for us were:

The last one is obviously a great quality. However, it can also prove to be one’s undoing especially for someone who could not voice out her pain. In the end, whatever was slowly creeping up on her from within was something she was making her peace with in a manner that we humans with our limited perception cannot fathom.

Despite everything she may have been suffering from, her last few weeks and days were filled with more exercise, more fun meals, and more time with loved ones thanks to the lockdown. If we want to get all philosophical and seek some consolation in the tragic loss, then we would feel good about all this. Yet, there is nothing to feel good about. There is only an emptiness. One that comes from losing not just a family member, but a soul mate. Someone who gave our fickle and boring lives meaning, even by just lying on the floor (and occasionally on the sofas) sleeping 16 hours a day given a choice.

If there is anything to be had from such a heart-breaking event it is that:

  • Don’t take anyone or anything for granted. Live for the here and now because there may be no tomorrow, and the past doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. You may not get a chance to try on that new dress you are saving away, to make that phone call to a friend you’ve been putting off, to say sorry to someone you disappointed, to try something new, to go out and play with your soul mate…..that is what dogs do, and something we ought to do more of.
  • If you have a dog, trust neither your instinct on anything new she suffers from nor prior data on past sufferings. Err on the side of caution because like I said earlier, they won’t let you know till it is too late.
  • Despite everything, and you may not admit or realise this, your life is incomplete without a loving, caring, trusting dog.

Goodbye June….doggy heaven must be full of tennis balls to chase and bowls full of ice-cream.

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(This was written in a hurry while most of me was still in shock. I have not bothered to rewrite it yet, and may perhaps never. As crude and hurried as it may read, I don’t really care)

A Tale of Two Governments

img_20181130_081650013(Source: Business Standard)

It was the best of times, it is the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it is the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it is the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we have nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we are all going direct the other way – in short, the period is so far unlike the previous period, that some of its noisiest authorities insist on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
(with due apologies to Mr Dickens).

Much is being made of the recasting of GDP data. Conveniently, UPA-1 and UPA-2 period growth rates have come out trending lower than earlier published figures. This puts an end to the claim of double digit growth during the UPA era.

Without getting into the statistical jugglery that has facilitated this downward revision, lets focus on real life indicators that are less easy to juggle (read, fudge/obfuscate/fake/manipulate/doctor/massage), in addition to GDP growth. Growth in:

  • Sensex (presumably growth and growth prospects will eventually reflect in stock market sentiment, and thus performance)
  • Corporate Revenues (if there is growth, companies will sell more, na?)
  • Corporate Profits (if companies are selling more, they will earn more, it follows)
  • Corporate Capex (if they are selling and earning more and they believe growth is secular, companies will invest more),
  • Exports (non-oil) (how competitive the country is globally),
  • Imports (non-oil) (the resources a growing country needs in terms of raw materials, equipment, etc)
  • Central Direct Tax (growth results in earnings, earnings results in taxes),
  • Central Indirect Tax (consumption and investment driven growth leads to higher indirect taxes)
  • States’ Tax Revenues (what is good for the consumer/investor is good for the local government)
  • Bank Credit (a growing economy needs bank credit)

This is a universally acceptable list of real world indicators, perhaps even for blind as bats and bat shit crazy Modi Bhakts. So let us begin.

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A 4.5 percentage point difference in returns over a 5 year period means that for every Rs100 that you started with, you were better off with the UPA (Rs198.53) by 22.2% compared to the NDA (Rs162.52). Multiply this difference over the entire market capitalisation of the Indian equity markets (US$ 2.18 tn) and you have a HUGE hole thanks to lower performance.

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Over the long term (and assuming things are going well), one would expect corporate revenues to grow at the rate of nominal GDP growth (i.e. real GDP growth rate + inflation). As a thumb-rule, 10% is considered to be a good yardstick given around 6-7% real GDP growth and 3-4% long-term WPI. The 10 year UPA era saw growth that was nearly TWICE that thump-rule while the Modi era has seen growth of half the thumb-rule. If growth rates are indeed higher post UPA then it isn’t clear who is growing.

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Revenue is vanity; profit is sanity. Moving beyond topline growth, corporate profits reflect the policy environment, growth prospects, and sentiment even more strongly. Here, the difference is even more stark with 13.2% profit CAGR in 10 years of UPA compared to a -1.8% CAGR (basically, stagnation) in the 5 year Modi era. This is thanks to misadventures like DeMo, a hurried GST, currency volatility, policy ambiguity, inadequate attention to bank recap, belated realisation of the extent of the bank NPA problem, and a host of other governance failures. Absence of profits mutes employment generation, capital investment, R&D spend, CSR, etc.

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As expected, the muted growth is resulting in lower corporate capex, forcing the govt to step in with expanded public sector capex. This exacerbates the deficit situation, resulting in higher inflation, a depressed INR, and a classic chicken and egg situation. More so when the public sector capex is directed at wasteful assets (such as statues).

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Non-oil Exports growth rate that is a 10th of the UPA era growth rate! Seriously! A 10th!! Despite all the valuable (expensive!?) relationship building through foreign trips! Make in India, Start Up India, Get Up India, Sit Down India, Go to Sleep India! The consumption lever isn’t working, the investment lever isn’t working, and the exports lever clearly isn’t. Perhaps Modi can invent a 4th GDP growth lever!

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The story with imports is a similar one. The modest 5.7% growth that is seen here is also largely thanks to consumption oriented imports. This has exacerbated the INR’s fall and worsened the BoP/CAD situation, if nothing else. Cheap and easy consumer credit (apart from data) is the opiate of the masses, clearly.

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Direct tax growth is a reflection of growth in personal income and corporate taxes. The difference in growth is stark. Even more so when you consider that ITD scrutiny has increased post DeMo, compliance has gone up, and there are more people filing ITRs. Despite this, there is a 10.7 percentage point difference in direct tax collection growth rates!

Indirect tax growth is the only area where the NDA area outshines the UPA era. No surprises here. a) GST has led to greater compliance; b) excise duty on fuel has been increased to a level where it is burdening the economy, thus increasing collections. Not much for the Modi govt to take credit for here.

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State tax revenue growth is lower in the last 5 years than in the 10 before that, though not by much. Given that big ticket items like real estate, fuel, and liquor have been left out of GST, this isn’t surprising. In any case, the stagnation of state revenues also points towards lower growth rates, which is the moot point.

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Finally, bank credit. All the moderation in revenues, stagnation/degrowth in profits, lower sentiment, volatility, indebtedness, etc. is reflected in the reluctance to borrow to expand. 9.8% is below nominal GDP growth and is much less than half of the UPA era credit growth rates. Modi/Jaitley in their ‘Heads I Win; Tails You Lose‘ approach will claim that there was profligate lending during the UPA era, which led to the NPA problem. Simultaneously, they will pressure/bully the RBI to relax the PCA restrictions on banks – which have been put in place to control the problems on hand – so as to push credit (push credit on to who? Who wants to borrow?! And for what?!).

 

Headline GDP and Ease of Doing Business Rankings – the two pet obsessions of the Modi/Jaitley combine – have only led to a reverse goal seek exercise. And this may be what this 5yr period has been all about. Just that much, nothing else.

Ok fine, a couple of statues too.

On Stress, Control, and the role Dogs play

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Everyone seems constantly stressed out. Stress triggers are omnipresent and each spark can trigger a cascade – a bad boss, traffic jams, the weather, kids, parents, studies, work….basically everything that makes up routine modern life as we know it.

There is nothing modern about stress though, which is as old as humanity itself. Fact is, we have not changed much physiologically in the past 50 odd thousand years. Most of this time is represented by life as hunter gatherers, a small fraction as agriculturists, and a minuscule portion as post-Industrial Revolution workers that we see ourselves as today. All of the physiological responses to stress – like change in heart rate, blood pressure, etc. – are tied to our fight or flight response. Hence, we retain the same response mechanism that was designed for our two primary purposes: survival and reproduction.

In most cases, modern life does not have predators or pose threats of starvation. Yet, our age old instincts get triggered each time a challenge, an unpleasant experience, or a perceived threat appears. One would think that if our bodies have evolved to respond to these triggers then the response shouldn’t be something to worry about, right? Not exactly if the triggers are as constant as we find them. 12 hour work days with demanding (demonic!) bosses and competitive co-workers, capped by battling peak hour traffic to get home to uncompleted chores, demanding family members, and unbalanced finances, doesn’t sound like the typical hunter-gatherer’s day. So the point is the constancy of the triggers and what it does to us. If every day and every moment is an emergency, what kind of havoc is being wrecked on our body?

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Also, we tend to focus on the physiological effects of stress. What gets overlooked is how constancy of stress, and the instinctive, intuition based, short-term thinking it encourages, changes our response mechanism – we end up using this reactive mindset even in situations where careful, systematic, and deeper thinking is required like in relationships, investing, and career choices.

While there are many theories about stress triggers, I do believe that lack of control is a common link, and this is what got me thinking about the (definitively proven!) stress-busting abilities of dogs.

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How do dogs reduce stress? Companionship, the fuzzy feeling when we rub their coats, the exercise we get thanks to them, the feeling of being a caregiver, the 10,000 year old domestication history everyone talks about that makes it natural….all fair points. But could a sense of control be one of the strongest factors? Look at it this way: we feel a sense of control in having a well-trained and well-adjusted dog. From the dog’s perspective, (s)he is well-adjusted because you have been accepted as not just an owner, but a guide and leader, or the so-called ‘Alpha’. In a life that throws uncontrollable challenges at us constantly, here is a relationship where you finally feel in control. It is not the leash, the chain, the cage, or the prod that is in control, but you.

In some sense, despite being the Alpha, it is an honest, 2-way relationship where you need your dog as much as (s)he needs you, perhaps more than you know. Your time, patience, love, attention, and devotion will be paid back at rates of return any fund manager would envy.

Lessons from Graham: 3 ways you can ‘mar’ your investment returns

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Benjamin Graham, the original Value Investor, is widely regarded as the Dean of Wall Street and not without reason. His fundamental lessons drawn from the early part of the 20th Century remain timeless.

Here is a humble attempt to distill his advice into three fundamental points. There is obviously a helluva lot more to investing; however, assuming simplicity is almost an end in itself in investment success rather than just a means, one can do a lot with just this much.

Forgetting you are a Marginal Investor in the business not the stock

Unless you are a short-term trader (don’t be one!), recognise that you are buying a part of the business. The distinction is important is because it sets a different kind of expectation, which in turn influences returns.

You’ll often hear about a company that is a great business and not a great stock. Over the long-term, this will converge because a stock cannot provide you with a return that is greater than the return the business provides on the invested capital. In the short to medium-term, the stock may under-perform. Such times, assess for yourself:

Is the company growing?

A business derives growth from doing better than its competitors while retaining pricing power in the market. This will have many underlying factors within it, which are worth analysing since growth is not an outcome of chance but purpose. Revenue, market share, price growth, and volume growth are some of the indicators of how well the business is doing at a fundamental level. Some of these numbers are easy to come by and analyse, others require some elementary effort.

If so, is the growth improving return on capital?

Growth for the sake of it translates into poor return on capital. Whatever cash a business needs to fund growth with is cash that isn’t flowing to its owners. Hence, stellar top and bottom line growth may not mean much if excessive capital is being used to generate it.

The above questions preoccupy management and promoter time. There is no reason why they shouldn’t preoccupy you, the public shareholder, too with some sense of proportion.

Paying obeisance to Mr.Market

Graham explained the working of the stock market through an allegory. According to him, Mr.Market is a co-owner of the business alongside you. He comes to work every day bids to buy what you own when he is wildly optimistic or asks for a price to sell you what he owns when he is very pessimistic. His ‘bids’ and ‘asks’ fluctuate every day, minute, and second, day after day, reflecting his estimate of the business’s value even though nothing in the underlying business fundamentals has changed in that time. Each time you turn Mr.Market away, he comes back with a revised offer, influenced by expectations, biases, opinions, or even his mood of the day.

This allegory is useful in understanding the role of emotions in market price movement. Theories about market efficiency went full circle from Mr.Market to the Efficient-market Hypothesis and back to a recognition of the role of emotions and animal spirits in pricing. Perhaps the best endorsement of this approach comes from Warren Buffett who regards this as “the best part of the best book [Graham’s The Intelligent Investor] on investing ever written”.

Takeaway for the investor: market price is a reflection of Mr.Market’s mood of the moment, not the business’s value.

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Disregarding Margin of Safety

Margin of Safety (MoS) in investing refers to the proportion by which Mr.Market’s price is lower than your estimate of what this business is worth. MoS is something you naturally want to maximise. But why?

MoS takes care of all the guesstimation, assumptions, hole-plugging, and bypassing that are a fundamental part of trying to assess business value. The best value investors will tell you that in investing it is far better to be approximately right than precisely wrong. More mistakes have likely been made in the pursuit of precision than in making educated guesses using organised common sense. The reason is obvious: the false confidence that comes from precision leads to bigger bets and bigger mistakes. MoS then takes care of what may be important but not knowable.

Think of it this way: if you are driving a truck weighing 9 tons and need to cross a bridge, you will confidently go over it if the load bearing weight of the bridge is 10 tons. More so if the bridge spans a 2 feet deep gap. But would you if it spanned the Chenab River?

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Think like an owner, ignore fluctuations, and keep risk in the foreground – with this, you may not see big home runs but you will make fewer mistakes. Long-term investment success, despite what many will tell you, is about the latter rather than the former.

 

New Year Resolutions are ‘D.U.M.B’

‘Tis time for New Year’s Resolutions, which alongside Goal Setting and Performance Appraisals may be the most utterly useless exercise that humans indulge in. 

In corporate jargon, goals need to be “S.M.A.R.T”, i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. New Year Resolutions are, in contrast, “D.U.M.B” (Distant, Unclear, Malleable, Bullshit). Giving yourself the long leash of a year to become a better, fitter, prettier, healthier, richer person (or whatever else you desire to be) is a self con.

We are all perfect, rational, healthy, smart, pretty, and happy people in the future. But who will get us there if not our present self who is out to self-delude?! Truth is that we do not treat our future selves too well. In fact we treat them quite badly not just through active mistreatment of ourselves (gluttony, over-spending, too much drinking, laziness, procrastination…) but also by bumping responsibility for saving, getting fit, losing weight, being [truly] happy on to them. So in some sense, our interests are competing with our future selves.

Ergo, remember that your competition isn’t your co-worker, fight partner, classmate, boss, spouse, kids….IT IS YOU!

true nobility

Go with daily goals, even weekly goals but no longer. Benchmark yourself, compete with yourself. A personal example: for the past 15-16 years, my specific goal has been to see myself as the fittest I have ever been. This helps me to a) work on improving myself continually; and b) realize that I cannot rest on my achievements since there is tomorrow to think about. With some effort, this goal has been mostly realized. I may or may not be able to outrun the average 18 year old today but I can certainly outrun my 18 year old self (and the others who followed) if he were to come Back To The Future. For this I cannot pat my own back; I have that 18 year old and his successors to thank for the sacrifices they made and the hard work they put in for their future self, me.

This new years (months, weeks, days, and moments) fight yourself and your laziness, set goals that compare you with you, and mind incrementalism:

Positive Incrementalism                                Negative Incrementalism

Drops maketh the ocean, each Paisa the Crore, Milligrams the KG, and Steps the Marathon.

June @ The Beach – thoughts on overcoming fear

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June, our 2.5-year-old German Shepherd spent a day on the beach with us. The open space, the sun, the sand….all of it made us eager to get there. The water though didn’t hold out much excitement for us since we believed that she has a mild form of Hydrophobia (as do I; maybe it’s genetic!!). Plenty of myths exist about some breeds’ fears, including that pointy eared dogs dislike water. The only truth is – and where I am at fault – is that lack of early exposure leads to reluctance.

It started with a good warm up – I got onto an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) and sped it for well over a kilometre with June chasing me at full pace for the entire length. Once done, it was time for her favourite fetch game with a tennis ball.

After a while, my 10-year-old son Vyyom bravely decided to venture out into the water (having lived away from the coast since quite a few years now, it was his first time too!). June watched him for a while as he mustered up the courage to keep going further out, stepping back each time a tiny wave got to her feet, continuously whimpering at the growing distance. She gradually kept pushing her boundaries and soon enough got to a depth wherein she needed to paddle to stay afloat. It was a shocker for us having seen her strong reluctance even to get her feet wet every time we tried earlier. This time, without any encouragement, coaxing, or force she comfortably moved ahead. We were beaming with pride, smiling in a way that only a proud parent could (leading the small crowd at the beach to wonder what we had been smoking!).

The reason to my mind could be one of two (or maybe even both). Seeing Vyyom venture forth, she may have felt a strong instinct to protect him – she is very protective of Vyyom since he is the youngest in the family. The other reason (and the more likely one) could be that she saw this kid, who is in a way her ward, doing something that she is hesitant to and this cognitive dissonance helped her to overcome her fear. Either way, seeing her confidence bloom thrilled us no end, goose bumps and all.

How naturally this happened makes me think that kids (canine, human, or any other form) should clearly not be forced to try and overcome their hesitation or fears. They will do it on their own terms, when they feel the time is right; the only thing they need is motivation to do so. But there is something worse than using force; it is not providing them the opportunity to overcome their fears. After all, you can’t overcome what you can’t face! As far as June is concerned, visits to dams, lakes, and this time around the beach are becoming routine and perhaps the recurring exposure helped her to push her limits. If we had assumed that a beach is just not the place for her then all of us would have been so much poorer for the experience and this golden moment would never have happened.

Human children have many temptations to keep them indoors and after a point would be perfectly happy to become couch potatoes. Dogs however need the outdoors (and no, there are no “house” dogs that are meant exclusively for the indoors! Did you know that those cute little Dachshunds are actually hunting dogs?). Take them out as much as you can and let their confidence grow; they’ll take to the outdoors like, well….fish to water! This growing confidence will reflect in lot of their behaviour in everyday circumstances making them happier beings who will pleasantly surprise you all the time.

Now, my only further hope is that her fortnightly baths will become easier after this 😊

For more pics of June @ The Beach: https://photos.app.goo.gl/tEH0Wg8jgPbmjXzE3

3 Charts That Demolish Vijay Rupani’s Tweet (and politics)

The so-called Gujarat Model is what led to Modi’s rise. A magnet for investors, an industrial hub, a wannabe financial centre, above average GDP growth, ~7-8% of India’s economy….the State would be ignored by industry at its own peril.

Hence, a Gujarat CM’s opinions attract a fair degree of attention. Vijay Rupani, given charge of the State after Anadiben Patel’s failure in managing multiple crises, in charge of administration and more importantly, ensure a BJP win in November 2017 weighed in on Beef Politics with this tweet:

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The bovine platitudes in this tweet ranged from the ridiculous (like ‘single-most’) to the absurd (relevant for the ‘whole world’) to the pathetic (the ‘moral and spiritual’ precedence). Rather than lampoon this tweet on histrionics or anecdotal arguments, let’s use irrefutable data. The proposition is that beef consumers are morally and spiritually degraded and that saving the cow is the only salvation for the whole world. So let’s compare the paapi cow slaughterers of the world with India:

Firstly, who are the biggest sinners?

beef consumption

Despite being the 5th largest Beef exporter of the world, India hardly consumes any of the stuff itself. Most of what it does is Buffalo meat anyway. So India compares well with these lands of sinners.

Now, all this beastly consumption of the sacred cow must screw with people’s intellect first, surely reducing them to brainless twits? Look at the PISA scores of the countries for this. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in member and non-member nations of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading.

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Sooooo….there’s no salvation here from not enjoying those steaks.

Next up, HDI. The Human Development Index is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators.

HDI

On this composite indicator, Indians do not enjoy a longer, smarter, or richer life by avoiding Beef.

What’s left? Let’s include one materialistic parameter. GDP per capita. To be fair, let’s use PPP basis, which adjusts for the lower price levels in India and thus ranks the country higher.

gdp

So big-time Beef consuming populations are smarter, healthier, richer, and fairer societies and the people there live longer!

I am not even beginning to suggest that we should start eating Beef to get as rich, healthy, or smart as them. The data above does not suggest that if one believes that correlation is not causation. The rhetoric from fanatics (even more definitely) does not suggest that we are going to gain anything from avoiding cow slaughter.

Then again, Vijay Rupani may be on to something. After all, ‘moral and spiritual degradation’ is so much more of a threat than hunger, malnutrition, poverty, or illiteracy. In the after-life anyway.

 

Disclaimer: Written by a sworn vegetarian who does not envy his abilities in Science, Math, or Reading but recognises right wing bovine excreta when he sees it.