Saturday, July 15, 2017

பயிர்ப்பு (Payirppu)- Language and Culture are inseparable

As someone who has delved a bit into various Indian languages, I am of the firm conviction that language is not just a few words of expression, but are a true reflection of the culture of the people.

A perfect example is the Tamil word பயிர்ப்பு (Payirppu) . This word, from a classical Tamil perspective, happens to be the fourth in a series of qualities that are unique to a woman- அச்சம் மடம் நாணம் பயிர்ப்பு ( fear, feigning ignorance even when in the know of things, blushing/ shyness and the fourth, PAYIRPPU, which, to me, is a word unique to Tamil, and which I do not know exists in any other language).

Payirppu பயிர்ப்பு denotes the instinctive ability of a woman to distinguish between the physical touch or intimacy of her husband, and that of any man other than her own. Classical Tamil holds that the nature has bestowed this unique ability to feel that difference, and resist that unwanted touch. I am not getting into a debate of whether these four qualities are relevant, in today's "modern world". I will reserve that for another day. I am just interested in what the language offers, and how this has driven a poet's imagination, and how the poet has dared to interpret an event in the Ramayanam, very differently from the original author, based on the uniqueness of the culture, and the associated language, and with special reference to the word பயிர்ப்பு. Yes, the poet in question is the immortal Kamban. The sub-story in reference is that of Ahalya, the virtuous one, in Ramayanam.  Before I jump into the topic, as a snippet, the word Halya in Sanskrit means " one without beauty" , so "A-halya" means connotes two negatives in one go, indicating that she was extremely beautiful.

Valmiki and Kamban have approached the same episode, from entirely different perspectives. In the Valmiki Ramayanam, Valmiki straightaway says, without any fear or favour, that Ahalya knew very well that Indra was desirous of her, and that she was excited to be enticed by him to bed, without her husband knowing. For someone who is considered to be one amongst the five most " virtuous women ever" in Indian Puranas and Ithihasas, this may come as a shocker. But then Valmiki is someone, who calls a spade a spade. And this is exactly how he does it, and I quote , verbatim, from Balakaandam of Srimad Ramayanam.

अथ अब्रवीत् सुरश्रेष्ठम् कृतार्थेन अंतरात्मना |
कृतार्था अस्मि सुरश्रेष्ठ गच्छ शीघ्रम् इतः प्रभो ||
आत्मानम् माम् च देवेश सर्वदा रक्ष गौतमात् |
"She felt fulfilled in her heart of hearts and then she said this to that best god Indra, 'I am gratified in complying with your wish, oh, best of gods, get going oh, lord, from here quickly, oh, ruler of gods, always safeguard yourself and me from Sage Gautama.' Thus, Ahalya said to Indra. [1-48-20, 21a]

इन्द्रः तु प्रहसन् वाक्यम् अहल्याम् इदम् अब्रवीत् || १-४८-२१
सुश्रोणि परितुष्टो अस्मि गमिष्यामि यथा आगतम् |
"Indra on his part smilingly said this word to Ahalya, 'oh, well-hipped lady, I am quite delighted, here I go as I have came.' [1-48-21b, 22a]

In short, according to Valmiki, the steamy affair was nothing lesser than that between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten!! And that, Ahalya indulged in it, knowing that it was Indra, and not her husband. And paid the price for it.

Kamban, on the other hand, approaches it from the பயிர்ப்பு (Payirppu) angle, totally different from Valmiki's.

I quote பால காண்டம்/அகலிகைப் படலம் verbatim, here, again.

'தையலாள் நயன வேலும், மன்மதன் சரமும், பாய,
உய்யலாம் உறுதி நாடி உழல்பவன், ஒரு நாள் உற்ற
மையலால் அறிவு நீங்கி, மா முனிக்கு அற்றம் செய்து,
பொய் இலா உள்ளத்தான் தன் உருவமே கொண்டு புக்கான். 18

'புக்கு, அவளோடும், காமப் புது மண மதுவின் தேறல்
ஒக்க உண்டு இருத்தலோடும், உணர்ந்தனள்; உணர்ந்த பின்னும்,
'தக்கது அன்று' என்ன ஓராள்; தாழ்ந்தனள் இருப்ப, தாழா
முக்கணான் அனைய ஆற்றல் முனிவனும், முடுகி வந்தான். 19

Kamban's version is that Ahalya did not "welcomed" "him" when "Gautama" returned to the hut. She simply agreed to copulate with him, not suspecting anything unusual. But பயிர்ப்பு (Payirppu) made her realize, when he touched her, that he might not be her husband, but she was disinclined to protest, fearing that she might be considered as "moving away from the conjugal duties of a wife" and therefore it might not be right for her to reject his advances  (" 'தக்கது அன்று' என்ன ஓராள்"). In other words, Kamban deftly uses the பயிர்ப்பு (Payirppu) concept that Ahalya was indeed innocent, and therefore deserved to belong to the elite five. Kamban goes on to explain that Ahalya was made to pay the price for a sin that she did not knowingly commit.

In this example, one can see how a single Tamil word is used as a prop, to differentiate approaches to the same story. கம்ப நயம் என்றால் இதுதான்!!

Pic Courtesy: the Internet

Friday, July 7, 2017


We live in a more westernized world, where the teacher is a "professional" who is paid to render specific " education services" to obtain either educational qualifications or specific skill-sets. Respecting the teacher is not necessary. In fact, to call the teacher by his/ her first name, is now perfectly acceptable, just as you would call anyone else. ( "What else is the name there for?") This the flow of the times, and we need to accept this, if we are to survive in this "modern" world. However, two things need to be looked into.

One - the quality of the teacher. In good old days, the teacher, under the guru shishya parampara, used to play multiple roles in the life of a student. The parent; the teacher; the coach; the mentor...   all rolled into one. For which he had to go through immense rigour and " earn his stripes" , as it were, before he climbed that altar. In other words, the guru's life was as much of a penance, as that of the shishya. The Guru had to make sure that he befitted the role of the Guru.

Two - the student. The Student had to look for the right guru. Had to make himself worthy of that guru. Was required to be humble. Was required to serve the guru and the guru-patni in all aspects of life. Was allowed to argue with the guru, with the sole purpose of vichaaram ( probing to further one's knowledge), within the ambit of the Tarka Shastrams ( rules for questioning/ debating). The guru himself used to usher the shishya to a "higher" guru, when he realized that the shishya was ready to take on larger vistas.

These were the ideal situations. The point is - we come from a culture that requires the guru to be of the highest calibre, and the student to surrender at the guru's feet in all humility, with the aim of learning as much as possible from the guru - and if possible - going on to better the guru at some stage, in an humble manner.

On Guru Purnima day, I am tempted to quote Adi Shankara's 6th Stanza in his treatise Guruvashtakam. Just as a reminder to all of us, that , no matter how high we fly, let us remind ourselves to be at the feet of our gurus.

यशो मे गतं दिक्षु दानप्रतापात्
जगद्वस्तु सर्वं करे सत्प्रसादात्
मनश्चेन्न लग्नं गुरोरंघ्रिपद्मे
ततः किं ततः किं ततः किं ततः किम्

yasho me gatam dikshu danapratapaj-
jagadvastu sarvam kare yatprasadat |
manashcenna lagnam guroranghripadme
tatah kim tatah kim tatah kim tatah kim ||

"My repute has travelled in all directions through my philanthropy and prowess; all the things of this world are in my hands as rewards for my virtues; but if one’s mind be not centred upon the lotus feet of the Guru, what then, what then, what then?"


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Farm Loan Waivers

I am surprised, even shocked, by some of my learned friends shouting from their roof-tops, over the recent farm loan waivers by a few state governments. Some of them, clearly masquerading as economists,  express " concern" about "profligate spending" through these waivers. " As it is, the government's finances are not good. How can the government go on this spending binge? How will the budget support it? Where will the govt raise funds for this from?" ...   and some particularly relish adding " evil Modi!" to that. After all, anything and everything has to stop with " evil Modi!".  Otherwise one would never be able to establish that one is " balanced" in his views.   So much so, for modern day intellectuals.

Of course, even a nursery school kid will tell you that if you throw away your money into something that will not return the money, that money basically is written off, and it is not wise spending. We do not need economists to point that out. Economics 101 will tell you that such loan waivers will fall into the " unplanned expenditure" category, and will add to the already strained finances of the state governments. State governments, which announce such waivers, have to fund that through internal accruals, or go and beg the Central Government, which, at it's discretion, may budge partially. Who pays the bill? The hapless tax payer...   direct taxes, indirect taxes, borrowings... etc fund this...  so, it is amply evident that loan waivers are not good for the Income/ Expenditure statements of State Governments ( ultimately spilling over to the Centre). Governments may increase taxes, or borrow more to tide this over, and often results in their credit ratings getting lowered, increasing their cost of capital further. At the national level, exchange of the Rupee gets affected; companies cannot anymore borrow at favourable interest rates from abroad... etc etc.

So, if it is so apparent, why are the State Governments doing it? And why is the Central Government looking askance? Before we get into that, let us look at a few other areas of "leakage" of tax payer money, which these "Economists" and some of my intellectual friends are sweeping under the carpet.

First instance: Air-India. Accumulated losses more than Rs. 60,000 crores. All taxpayer money going down the drain. The more Air India flies, the more it loses. Strangely, all these Economists are against privatizing Air India. They play a pivotal role in form public opinion against it, and the Opposition parties are quick to seize on that, and instigate Trade Unions to go on indefinite strike against privatization.

Second Instance: Bad and Doubtful Debts of Private companies. Banks are saddled with up to 8 lakh crores, as per a recent estimate, and growing. Will any of these economists protest against writing off these assets? Other than crying " go and recover from business sharks" what else can they offer, as a meaningful solution? Is it as simple as raiding the biz houses and recovering sacks of money supposedly hidden away by biz magnates? How much more disingenuous can that be? If banks can somehow write off bad debts of business houses, why cant they write off bad debts of the poor farmer who has no collateral or no other means of supporting himself and his family? Remember, after banks write off the bad debts, their balance sheets are strained, and taxpayer money is used again, for recapitalizing it and getting the banks back to normal.

Third Instance: For decades, most state governments have been giving free electrical power to the farmers and downtrodden. None of these economists intellectuals ever protested other than the cliched " oh! this will spoil the finances!" , did they? Who foots the bill? Taxpayer. You and me. If this freebie can continue indefinitely, why not write off farm loans too?

Fourth Instance: Freebies by various state governments. Free TVs, laptops, mid day meals, sewing machines, bicycles, mobile phones, mixies...   you name it, they get it all....   all at taxpayer's expense. Was it ever stopped?

This list is endless. The point is - there are already a whole heap of direct and indirect write-offs and waivers that are draining the exchequer. Farm loans only add to it. And all these will most certainly exacerbate the fiscal balance of the State Governments and the Centre, alike.

Back to that question now. So, then, WHY are the state governments now doing it again, as had many of them done in the past? The answer lies in three successively failed monsoons. There is no water anywhere, except in the ocean. The hapless farmer is pushed to his limits, unable to support his family even for two square meals in a day. Not to mention private loan sharks  baying for his blood. Farmer suicides are not rhetorical. They are a harsh reality. A bitter reminder, that successive governments over the last 70 years at the centre and the state, have still left 55% of agriculture land TOTALLY dependent on the monsoon, and close to 70% of the working population are farmers.  Where did all the "development funds" to improve the lot of the farmer go all these years? No no, not to the Swiss banks!

Given this state of affairs, farm loan waivers, though undesirable and harm, are UNAVOIDABLE under the circumstances. Unless those economists and some of my dear friends are saying " it is OK if a few thousand farmers and their families end their lives in utter desperation, but the State's finances cannot be imprudently used for waivers". I view this waiver as an extreme emergency measure, whichever government, belonging to whichever political party does it. A necessary evil, as it were.

So then, what are the long term solutions to this problem of farm loan waiver? To me, part of the answer lies in the SKILL INDIA initiative, or whatever rhetorical name it is called by. It is utterly unacceptable that a progressive country ours, has 70% of its population dependent on agriculture. As a comparison, the USA with 300 million population, has less than 3% of it's population as farmers, and is still a nett exporter of Agriculture products. The government urgently needs a long term re-skilling strategy , to skill the "uneducated" farmer into in manufacturing and services sectors. That obvisouly will have to start at the classroom level, by dramatically recasting our outdated education system. And move on into vocational courses, where the individual is trained in a particular trade- be it working in a textile mill, a cloth manufacturing plant, a toy making plant.. or whatever...  train him in a particular, allow him to excel, and create an environment where he stands a reasonable chance of a skilled job , preferably in or near his own place ( rather than crowding the big cities which are already bursting at their seams).

Next, aggressively introduce modern agriculture equipment and push drip irrigation and other modern methods of increasing agri productivity. Repeal draconian labour laws which prevent collective farming and getting machines to work instead of man. This should be done progressively, while re-skilling happens, in order to minimize any social unrest.

Also, aggressively invest long term reduction of dependence on the skies. Increase water bodies. Prevent lakes and ponds from being closed down. Deepen them wherever possible. Involve local population in that effort. Build more dams. (Damn the environmentalists, who are the biggest stumbling block in economic development).  Create more check-dams, which are much smaller in size than the conventional dams, but which play a very important role in last-mile water storage and release. Seriously work on interlinking of rivers. At least within the  state, to start with, if riparian issues crop up. Chandrababu Naidu has shown the way in Andhra, by interlinking the Krishna and Godavari within the state, in a span of just 11 months, bring in tens of thousands of hectares of land into additional cultivation. If the government will, there certainly is a way.

All the above, be it education reforms, free electricity bans, interlinking of rivers, etc...  are unfortunately either in the State List or in the Concurrent List. Which means that the Centre cannot act suo moto, and need state governments to display the kind of political will that is needed to push these reforms. Sadly none of them are displaying that, at the moment.

Until these reforms happen, and until the over-reliance on agriculture and the rain-gods is reduced, we will continue to witness such loan waivers in the future too. And until then, some of these Economists and some of my esteemed friends, can continue to score brownie points.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The GST Conundrum

I see a lot of doomsayers, coming down on GST, and it's implementation, effective first July. Knives are already being sharpened, metaphorically speaking, to be driven into the Govt., by the Opposition, Media and "Economic pundits", and wannabe's alike. Mr. Arun Jaitley's team is not helping matters, by taking a hard stand on the implementation. Confusion, and even panic, reigns supreme.

I have been on the ground, in at least two countries, when their respective GST's were implemented, replacing the then existing VAT structure. Australia in the late nineties and early 2000s, and in Singapore. These are relatively more "established" economies, with clear tax structure, and much greater tax compliance than in India today. But even these found it more than a handful, to manage the onerous task of cut-over to the GST regime. Even there, there were naysayers, denouncing the moves to transition into GST. My ears are still ringing with the Aussie shrills of " this will destroy the economy', in the Capital Hill of Canberra. But transition, they did. And successfully, too. With just two categories of GST . Everything has either one uniform GST rate ( 10% and 7%, respectively for the two countries), or none ( applicable only to the "essential goods and services"). Remember, Australia is politically a loose federal structure of states, owing allegiance to the Queen, and yet, some of them itching to secede from the union, time and again. I recollect the GST was one of the hot topics for the failed secession attempt of Western Australia from the Union, a few years ago. Singapore managed it very well, politically, and the transition was smooth. They initially were happy with 5% and then moved on to 7%.

Other countries have still not moved into a GST regime. China, for example, has a peak VAT rate of 17% plus local taxes. There is no official plan to move to GST there. One may then wonder " if China can do without GST, then why impose on us? You, evil Modi!". Firstly, this is not a political debate about GST. It is an economic one. In fact, if at all, this could impact Modi electorally, if the implementation goes awry. After all, his major constituency of voters in 2014 had been traders, who are , generally speaking, so used to pocketing tax meant for the exchequer, by various dubious means. GST is expected to put an end to their " incremental income" , by forcing compliance, and making sure that the money that is meant to go to the govt , does so. Yes, there could be the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip, for some time, but I do expect that to be ironed out over time. Modi has bitten the bullet, and a hard decision has been taken to implement. Even fi electorally damaging for his party, this GST will be prove better for the country over the long term. Perhaps, Modi's hunch is, that going by the example of DeMon, where it was widely expected to trounce the BJP in U.P., but instead, give him a handsome mandate, he may fancy taking electoral chances too, in 2019.

Secondly, why GST? All countries that have implemented GST have witnessed increased compliance, at stable prices, over time. GST will be , broadly speaking, more like the musical chair game, where the onus is on the last person in the chain, to collect evidence of compliance earlier, and claim relief, failing which he will lose out. Hence it is in his interest to comply. Failing which , the end consumer will end up paying through his nose. Thirdly, the state governments hitherto had been playing with tax rates in every tax budget, to shore up their regimes of freebies ( remember those farm loan waivers, free TVs, free fridges, free bicycles, free laptops, sewing machines and what not?) . No, the state Govts lose the ability to fiddle around with tax rates, generally speaking. The will now be the sole preserve of the central govt. Hence, expect the State Government finances to come under strain, if they do not tighten their belts. This is good for the country as a whole, in the long run, but in the short term, frictions are inevitable.

Fourthly, in a vast federal structure like ours, implementing a monstrous tax structure is going to be a daunting task. For the manufacturers, traders, service providers, govts, tax authorities and Chartered Accountants alike. Make no mistake about it.

Lastly, in a country where awareness about taxes is generally abysmal, expect a lot of cheating, and blaming the govt for it, to happen. This will provide the ideal fodder for the political parties to go after the government. In some cases, prices are expected to spike, in the name of GST. After all, the average ignoramus citizen is unlikely to either fathom GST or question it. The RBI has done well not to reduce interest rates, in spite of the lowest possible inflation agains ta backdrop of three successive failed monsoons. There was heavy political pressure to do so, in order to stimulate growth, but so far, the RBI has held it's ground, perhaps in anticipation of a general price rise due to GST. The bottomline - in the normal course, GST should only reduce prices overall ( may vary amongst individual goods and services) , but then, the shoddy implementation is most likely to aid the those cheaters amongst the principals, and could witness a general price price. To me, this appears to be the most likely scenario. I will be delighted to be proven wrong. Nett of it, is GST for the better or for the worse? My take - worse, for the short term. But will simplify and regulate taxes and their compliance over the long term, and will stimulate growth, and free movement of goods and services across the country.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Praise the Lord!!

Tirupati Venkateshwara Swamy has played hide and seek with our family. As a child, I never got to visit Tirupati. Whenever that topic arose, my father, in a  stern voice would say " Oh! There is this ancestral curse that would not allow us from visiting Tirupati!"  I poked him further when I was old enough to understand.

It turns out that, over a hundred years ago, one of my ancestors had died on his return from a padayatra of Tirupati. Remember, in those days, there was no flight, train or bus. People used to commute in bullock carts. For pilgrimages though, traveling in groups on foot ( Padayatra) was preferred.  So, my great ancestor had decided to relieve his soul from his body, on his way back, after his sumptuous prasadam of laddoo, which must then have been a 200 year-old  tradition by then. Lo and behold! The dogma in the family was set right there. All everyone had faithfully adhered.

Until in 1985. The rebel in me was not convinced. I had then told myself " his time was up, and so he had passed on. Why blame the Swamy for it? Also, if I visit Him, and his only response is to take my life away, then he is no God, which obviously cannot be true!". Youthful belligerence had prevailed ultimately. After I had joined the college of Engg, Guindy, Chennai , I had made , not one, but 7 trips to Tirumala and Tirupati. What had started off initially as a mark of rebellion had soon turned into a mini-infatuation with Balaji. My friends I made those trips, waited overnight in the serpentine queues without food, water or toilet-outs and endured pain. All for an under-60 second darshan of Him. But I never felt bad, for many reasons.

Firstly, I used to look forward to the trip, for not just the temple visit, but also hiking expeditions that invariably followed, in the nearby hills. Short, but sweet hiking trips with friends made it very, very enjoyable. None of us could afford any hiking gear, but that did not deter us. We had to be wary of the forest officials. the relative of one my friends was in the forest dept., and he arranged for the hikes, along pre-set paths, and kept it "safe and discreet".

Secondly, youth and company of friends had ensured that overnight waiting in the queue, was had turned out pleasant than waiting in the queue for a Rajinikanth movie ticket!

Thirdly, and most importantly, is the connect with the murthi (statue) of the Lord. I have to admit here, that every time I had visited, I used to sulk at the long wait. I used to tell myself " Why this obsession for the people? What is so great about this temple, that people are more than happy to wait out and have darshan? Chee! May not be worth at all!".   These murmurs within the cerebrum used to continue, even as I stood in the queues. Inch by inch, the goal would gradually come nearer. Weary legs, tired eyes and drooping shoulders would wish that the agony ended soon.

Until one reached the sanctum sanctorum. The shrill " Jarugandi, Jarugandi!!" notwithstanding, one glimpse of the Lord within that all-important 60 seconds, would invariably be enough to forget everything in this world. The pleasures and pain, the happiness and sorrows and all travails and tribulations, would, in a flash, be relegated to oblivion. There mere presence in front of that majestic form of the Lord, would put everything else in the back burner. Such is His radiance. The magnificent decorations on the imposing statue, shining in all splendour with gold and diamond on every inch of His body, would send the crowd into raptures. " Govindaaaa, Gooooovinda!!" filled the air. In an instant, I used to be transported to another world, forgetting everything else. Even today, I can swear by it. There is something unique about Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala, which I do not find in most other temples. That wonderful and indescribable feeling can only be experienced.

For the believer and the non-believer alike, it does not matter whether you visit on foot, by air, by train, or by road. All I can say is - live that experience!

Friday, June 2, 2017

The future of Energy Sector companies in Indian Equities - June 2017

This is a discussion on the fundamentals of energy sector, which companies to invest and avoid. Note of caution: this is in no way, any recommendation to invest, and I am not liable, in any way, for any consequences.

There is a tectonic shift in the energy scene in India. here are the salient developments:

1. Oil - ONGC is producing less and less, and more worryingly, finding less and less . Private players are no different, when it comes to success in exploration.

2. World oil prices are heading lower, but this likely to be a temporary phenomenon. In 10 from now, I expect oil prices to be double of where it is, now.

3. In India, natural gas is not a game-changer. At least not yet. All efforts to pipe gas to end consumers is a mixed bag. For Industrial consumers, it has been a fairly successful things. Private consumers are largely restricted to cities.

4. The government continues to push Nuclear energy vigorously, with those countries who are willing to play ball. Equity returns from companies focused on Nuclear, are likely to be slow and steady, and will be like bank rate of return.

5. Wind power was pushed aggressively by the UPA, ahead of solar, mainly due to technical reason. At that time, a decade and half ago, wind power was cheaper to instal. However, the cost per kwh of wind power has not kept with time. It has stayed. On top of it, maintenance of windmills is an expensive proposition, which makes the cost per kwh significantly higher than coal. Unless government gives big subsidies, it is not viable. Companies like Suzlon suffer on multiple fronts - cost of capital to instal and run ( BOO or BBOT model) , the right technology, and non-payment from state electricity boards. With Solar power costs coming down crashing, state boards are playing the wait-and-watch game, rather than investing in new windmills. That does not bode well for the likes of Suzlon.

5. Due to rapid technological advances, now, SOLAR power is as cheap or marginally higher, than coal. That makes it a wonderful proposition in a hot, tropical country like India. Maintenance costs too are rather modest, even in inhospitable terrain like the deserts of Rajasthan or in Ladakh. The key component, the solar panel, is imported, mainly from USA and China. If any producer in India comes up, they are the ones to subscribe to. The key drawback of Solar power is that it is not a 24*7 source, which means, you need alternate sources during nights, rainy periods etc. to back up. Solar will signficantly cut our carbon footprint too. The sad part is, India did not see this coming, so not many producers have invested in research and production of panels. The Chinese and Americans are making hay.

6. Hydro-electric power is suffering from erratic rains. I do not expect to see significant investments in the future . Companies like Torrent Power, Tata power etc are likely to stay flat over the long term, unless they reinvent themselves.

7. One beneficiary of this will be battery companies like Amara Raja. I think they will do well to tap the storage requirements, especially in stand-alone smaller solar units, and will do well over the long term.

8. Transmission and distribution companies like T&D Areva, Jyoti Structure, Voltamp etc... will continue to be depend on the vagaries of the state electricity boards. The UJAS scheme has given a temporary relief to the balance sheets of the state electricity boards, but it has only kicked the can down the road. The long term solution lies in stopping of free electricity, removing pilferages, and timely collection of bills - these are very difficult, in a country like India. So, I am not very gung-ho on them.

9. With LED bulbs, again, companies like SuryaRoshni or Wipro Lighting should ideally benefit, but, with volumes increasing, their margins are getting squeezed too, so they are not exactly exploding in the stock market.

10. Alternative fuels like baggasse, ethanol etc - I do not see a future in India for these, since Solar costs are coming crashing, and it is cleaner. So, companies like Thermax, BGR, Cethar Vessels etc may be affected, unless they reinvent. Thermax has a subsidiary called TBW, specializing in alternate fuel boilers.

11. nett nett... where to invest in the energy sector?

My mantra for the long term - AVOID excessively leveraged companies that have a drag on their balance sheets - BGR, GVK, GMR, LANCO, Suzlon etc... you can speculate short term if you wish to, but to me, these are not investment-grade. AVOID political animals like ADANI POWER.
AVOID - Banks that have exposure towards thee excessive leverages

My take ( all long term only)

1. Evergreen companies like L&T, Siemens. Cummins
2. Risky bets like CG power, Torrent power ( small portions of your portfolio)
3. Amara Raja - not just for energy, but for auto and comms sector reasons too.
4. Select companies in energy space like Technoelectric engg, KEC and Kalpataru power
5. PTC Finance - is a power-sector related play, which will do well over the long term, since their payments are secured by govt backing.

are the experts in dissecting some of these companies and suggesting what could be good plays.

After my illness, my memory is failing me , in terms of specific names. I have tried to recollect as much as I could.

Disclaimer: With market at all time highs, I other than L&T, Cummins and Amara Raja , I do not have any personal exposures in any of these companies. I plan to take position whenever the market corrects 30% or more. Nifty currently rules at the 9650 mark

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Madodari's lamenting of Ravana's death

I was reading up a scene in the Kamba Ramayanam, where Mandodari, Ravana's virtuous wife, rushes to the battlefield, sees the dead Ravana, and plunges into uncontrolled dirge. Out of curiosity, I wanted to compared how Valmiki has described the same scene in the original, and how Kamban's version stacks up.

My verdict - it is hard to say which one is better. Both are absolutely beautiful in their own ways. I am quoting the Original texts, as well as giving their their meanings as I understand them. It is apparent, looking through the verses in both Sanskrit as well in Tamil, that the two great poets have approached the same scene with their own different imaginations.

I am only quoting the relevant section of the Yudha Kandam here from Valmiki Ramayanam. . In the earlier part of the same chapter, Mandodari starts off , by waxing eloquent about Rama's virtues, and the fact that Ravana's infatuation for Sita cost him and his country dear. Here, in these verses, Valimiki has dwelled more on the virtues of Ravana, as seen from Mandodari's eyes, and the fact that his body has been sieved by Rama's arrows, and that that illustrious body has been reduced to a caracas by the might of the virtuous Rama's arrows. Of particular interest, is the way he has described Ravana's slain body, which now looks akin to " arrows looking like the seep spikes on the body of a porcupine" and " a mountain broken down by a thunderbolt".

Kamban, in contrast, focuses on the arrows piercing Ravana's body, and his interpretation of it. While saying that the arrows have pierced so close to each other, on Ravana's body, that there is no place even for sesame seeds to fall in the cracks, he goes further with this masterpiece of description, where he says " it is as if the arrows are frisking his entire body, to see if there is any place in his body that still harbours infatuation over Janaki ( Sita), in order to flush them out".

I really enjoyed comparing and enjoying both versions.

Valmiki Ramayanam:

स्निग्देन्द्रनीलनीलं तु प्रांशुशैलोपमं महत् || ६-१११-४४
केयूराङ्गदवैदूर्यमुक्ताहारस्रगुज्ज्वलम् |
कान्तं विहारेष्वधिकं दीप्तं संग्रामभूमिषु || ६-१११-४५
भात्यभरणभाभिर्यद्विद्युद्भिरिव तोयदः |
तदेवाद्य शरीरं ते तीक्ष्णैर्नैकशरैश्चितम् || ६-१११-४६
पुनर्दुर्लभसंस्पर्शं परिष्वक्तुं न शक्यते |
श्वाविधः शलकैर्यद्वद्बाणैर्लग्नैर्निरन्तरम् || ६-१११-४७
स्वर्पितैर्मर्मसु भृशं संचिन्नस्नायुबन्धनम् |
क्षितौ निपतितं राजन् श्यामं वै रुधिरच्छवि || ६-१११-४८
व्ज्रप्रहाराभिहतो विकीर्ण इव पर्वतः |

Rough translation:

"O king! The body of yours which was really dark as glossy sapphire, gigantic like a lofty mountain and resplendent with Keyuras and Angadas (two varieties of armlets) and necklace of cat's eye-gems and pearls and wreaths of flowers, which body looked more charming during your pleasure-walks and dazzling in battle-fields, which shone with luster of jewels as a rainy cloud with flashes of lightning lies transfixed in numerous sharp arrows today. Though it will be difficult for me to touch it again, it is no longer possible to embrace it. It has tendons cut to pieces, by arrows of Rama, dug deep into your vital parts and closely transfixed like the spikes of a porcupine. Though dark of complexion, it is now transformed into the colour of blood and lies fallen on the ground like a mountain broken into pieces when hit by a stroke of thunder-bolt."

Kamba Ramayanam:

வெள் எருக்கஞ் சடை முடியான் வெற்பு எடுத்த

திரு மேனி, மேலும் கீழும்

எள் இருக்கும் இடன் இன்றி, உயிர் இருக்கும்

இடன் நாடி, இழைத்தவாறோ?

''கள் இருக்கும் மலர்க் கூந்தல் சானகியை

மனச் சிறையில் கரந்த காதல்

உள் இருக்கும்'' எனக் கருதி, உடல் புகுந்து,

தடவியதோ ஒருவன் வாளி?

Rough Translation:

The incomparable Rama's arrows have pierced both the top and bottom halves of the body of Ravana, who had so nonchalantly lifted the Kailasa mountain, the abode of Shiva, who adorns the Crown flower on his hair, so densely that there is no space even for sesame seeds to fall in the cracks. Are they frisking his body for any remnants of infatuation for Janaki?

ஒப்பற்ற  இராமபிரானின் அம்பு வெள்ளை  எருக்கம் பூவை (முடியில்)
சூடும் சிவபெருமானுடைய கயிலை மலையைத் தூக்கிய இராவணனுடைய  அழகிய உடலின் உடம்பின்    மேல்பகுதியிலும் கீழ்ப்பகுதியிலும் எள் இருக்கும் இடம் கூட இல்லாமல் உயிர்   இருக்கும்  இடம்
முழுவதையும் தேடி ஆராய்ந்த வண்ணமோ? தேன் குடிகொள்ளும்
மலர்களைச் சூடிய கூந்தலையுடைய சீதாதேவியை மனம் எனும் சிறையில் ஒளித்து  வைத்திருந்த காதலானது உள்ளே (இன்னும்
எங்காவது) பதுங்கியிருக்கும்   என்று    எண்ணி; உடல் புகுந்து
தடவியதோ? உடல் முழுதும் நுழைந்து     (நுழைந்து) தடவிப்

ஒருவன்  வாளி -  ஒப்பற்ற  இராமபிரானின் அம்பு;  வெள்
எருக்கம் சடைமுடியான்- வெள்ளை  எருக்கம் பூவை (முடியில்)
சூடும் சிவபெருமானுடைய; வெற்பு எடுத்த திருமேனி - கயிலை
மலையைத் தூக்கிய இராவணனுடைய  அழகிய உடலின்; மேலும்
கீழும்   - உடம்பின்    மேல்பகுதியிலும் கீழ்ப்பகுதியிலும்; எள்
இருக்கும் இடம் இன்றி- எள் இருக்கும் இடம் கூட இல்லாமல்;
உயிர்   இருக்கும் இடம்  நாடி-    உயிர்   இருக்கும்  இடம்
முழுவதையும் தேடி; இழைத்த ஆறோ?- ஆராய்ந்த வண்ணமோ?
கள் இருக்கும் மலர்க்கூந்தல் சானகியை- தேன் குடிகொள்ளும்
மலர்களைச் சூடிய கூந்தலையுடைய சீதாதேவியை; மனச் சிறையில்
கரந்த  காதல்   - மனம் எனும் சிறையில் ஒளித்து  வைத்திருந்த
காதலானது;உள்   இருக்கும்  எனக் கருதி - உள்ளே (இன்னும்
எங்காவது) பதுங்கியிருக்கும்   என்று    எண்ணி; உடல் புகுந்து
தடவியதோ? - உடல் முழுதும் நுழைந்து     (நுழைந்து) தடவிப்

ஒப்பற்ற  இராமபிரானின் அம்பு வெள்ளை  எருக்கம் பூவை (முடியில்)
சூடும் சிவபெருமானுடைய கயிலை மலையைத் தூக்கிய இராவணனுடைய  அழகிய உடலின் உடம்பின்    மேல்பகுதியிலும் கீழ்ப்பகுதியிலும் எள் இருக்கும் இடம் கூட இல்லாமல் உயிர்   இருக்கும்  இடம்
முழுவதையும் தேடி ஆராய்ந்த வண்ணமோ? தேன் குடிகொள்ளும்
மலர்களைச் சூடிய கூந்தலையுடைய சீதாதேவியை மனம் எனும் சிறையில் ஒளித்து  வைத்திருந்த காதலானது உள்ளே (இன்னும்
எங்காவது) பதுங்கியிருக்கும்   என்று    எண்ணி; உடல் புகுந்து
தடவியதோ? உடல் முழுதும் நுழைந்து     (நுழைந்து) தடவிப்


हा राजन् सुकुमारं ते सुभ्रु सुत्वक्समुन्नसम् || ६-१११-३६
कान्तिश्रीद्युतिभिस्तुल्यमिन्दुपद्मदिवाकरैः |
किरीटकूटोज्ज्वलितं ताम्रास्यं दीप्तकुण्डलम् || ६-१११-३७
मदव्याकुललोलाक्षं भूत्वा यत्पानभूमिषु |
विविधस्रग्धरं चारु वल्गुस्मितकथं शुभम् || ६-१११-३८
तदेवाद्य तवैवं हि वक्त्रं न भ्राजते प्रभो |
रामसायकनिर्भिन्नं रक्तं रुधिरविस्रवैः || ६-१११-३९
वीशीर्णमेदोमस्तिष्कं रूक्षम् स्यन्दनरेणुभिः |

36-39. haa! raajan = Alas; O king!; prabho = O lord!; yat vaktram = that face of yours; sukumaaram = which was so tender; subhru = and distinguished by charming eye-brows; sutvak = a glossy surface; samunnasam = having an exceptionally prominent nose; taamraasyam = coppery lips; diipta kuN^Dalam = and brilliant ear-rings; tulyam indupadma divaakaraiH = which vied with the mood; the lotus and the sun; kaanti shrii dyutibhiH = in loveliness light; and luster; kiriiTakuuTojjvalitam = was illumined by a number of diadems; bhuutvaa madavyaakula lolaakSham = which shone with its eyes wild and rolling through inebriety; paana bhuumiShu = in banqueting places; vividdha sragdharam = bore garlands of various kinds; chaaru = was lovely and charming (in every way); valgusmita shubham katham = was lit with a captivating smile and indulged in a delightful talk; tava tadeva = that face of yours; na bhraajate = does not actually sine; adya = as before today;

"Alas, O king! That face of yours which was so tender, O lord, and distinguished by charming eye-brows, a gloss surface, having an exceptionally prominent nose, coppery lips and brilliant ear-rings, which vied with the moon the lotus and the sun in loveliness, light and luster, was illumined by a number of diadems, which shone with its eyes wild and rolling through inebriety in banqueting places, bore garlands of various kinds, was lovely and charming in every way, was lit with a captivating smile and indulged in a delightful talk - that face of yours does not actually shine as before today pierced with Rama's arrows, it lies dyed with streams of blood. It has its marrow shattered and has got soiled through the dust raised by the chariots."

स्निग्देन्द्रनीलनीलं तु प्रांशुशैलोपमं महत् || ६-१११-४४
केयूराङ्गदवैदूर्यमुक्ताहारस्रगुज्ज्वलम् |
कान्तं विहारेष्वधिकं दीप्तं संग्रामभूमिषु || ६-१११-४५
भात्यभरणभाभिर्यद्विद्युद्भिरिव तोयदः |
तदेवाद्य शरीरं ते तीक्ष्णैर्नैकशरैश्चितम् || ६-१११-४६
पुनर्दुर्लभसंस्पर्शं परिष्वक्तुं न शक्यते |
श्वाविधः शलकैर्यद्वद्बाणैर्लग्नैर्निरन्तरम् || ६-१११-४७
स्वर्पितैर्मर्मसु भृशं संचिन्नस्नायुबन्धनम् |
क्षितौ निपतितं राजन् श्यामं वै रुधिरच्छवि || ६-१११-४८
व्ज्रप्रहाराभिहतो विकीर्ण इव पर्वतः |

snigdendraniilaniilaM tu praaMshushailopamaM mahat || 6-111-44
keyuuraaN^gadavaiduuryamuktaahaarasragujjvalam |
kaantaM vihaareSvadhikaM diiptaM saMgraamabhuumiShu || 6-111-45
bhaatyabharaNabhaabhiryadvidyudbhiriva toyadaH |
tadevaadya shariiraM te tiikShNairnaikasharaishchitam || 6-111-46
punardurlabhasaMsparshaM pariShvaktuM na shakyate |
shvaavidhaH shalakairyadvadbaaNairlagnairnirantaram || 6-111-47
svarpitairmarmasu bhR^ishaM saMchinnasnaayubandhanam |
kShitau nipatitaM raajan shyaamaM vai rudhirachchhavi || 6-111-48
vjraprahaaraabhihato vikiirNa iva parvataH |

"O king! The body of yours which was really dark as glossy sapphire, gigantic like a lofty mountain and resplendent with Keyuras and Angadas (two varieties of armlets) and necklace of cat's eye-gems and pearls and wreaths of flowers, which body looked more charming during your pleasure-walks and dazzling in battle-fields, which shone with luster of jewels as a rainy cloud with flashes of lightning lies transfixed in numerous sharp arrows today. Though it will be difficult for me to touch it again, it is no longer possible to embrace it. It has tendons cut to pieces, by arrows of Rama, dug deep into your vital parts and closely transfixed like the spikes of a porcupine. Though dark of complexion, it is now transformed into the colour of blood and lies fallen on the ground like a mountain broken into pieces when hit by a stroke of thunder-bolt."

44-48. raajan= O king!; te shariiram= the very body of yours snigdhendraniila niilam= which was really dark as a glossy sapphire; praamshu mahat shailopamam= gigantic like a lofty mountain; keyuuraaNgada vaiduurya muktaahaara sragujjvalam= and resplendent with Keyuras and Angadas (two varieties of armlets), necklace of cat's eye-gems and pearls and wreaths of flowers; adhikam kaantam= which looked more charming; vihaareShu= during pleasure-walks; diiptam= and dazzling; sangraama bhuumiShu= in battle fields; yat= which; bhaati= shone; aabharaNa abhiH= with the lustre of jewels; toyadaH iva= as a rainy cloud; vidyudbhiH= with flashes of lightning; chitam= lies transfixed; tiikShNaiH naikasharaiH= with numerous sharp arrows; adya= today; punaH durlabha samsparsham= though it will be difficult for me to touch it again; na shakyate= it is no longer possible; pariShvaktum= to embrace; tadeva= it; sambhinna snaayubandhanam= it has tendons cut to pieces; baaNaiH= by arrows (of Rama); svarpitaiH= dug deep; marmasu= into your vital parts; lagnaiH= aim closely transfixed; shalakaiH yadvat= like the spines; shvaavidhaH= of a porcupine; shyaam= though spines; shvaavidhaH= of porcupine; shyaam= though dark of complexion; rudhira chhavi= it is now transformed into the colour of blood; nipatitam= and lies fallen; kShitau= on the ground; parvataH iva= like a mountain; vikiirNaH= broken into pieces; vajra prahaaraabhihataH= when hit by a stroke of thunder-bolt.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

My take on the Indian Economy, Circa Aug 2015

The NPA mess in Banks

No one seems to be happy, these days, in banking circles. The recent moves by the Government to give more teeth to the RBI to go after defaulting companies and their boards had caused euphoria initially, but that that is quickly giving way to despair amongst banks.

Reason? Hitherto, the banks were allowed to " sleep over" the Non_Performing Assets (NPA) mess, ie, loans given to big industrial houses that have gone sour,with little prospect of recovering them, under the existing laws, without writing them off in their books. Many Public Sector Banks ( PSBs) saw their CEOs  adopt this tactic very smartly, wherein, without writing off the bad apples, they kept on postponing the problem, for their successor to come in and handle. It may be noted that apart from a few "stupid" private banks, the PSBs were manipulated by greedy business magnates, over the years, to oblige them with loans that looked dubious, to say the very least. Some willing bureaucrats heeded the advise of their political masters, enabling swindling of huge swathes of money over the last 7 decades.

Now, firstly, the RBI is empowered to take on the defaulters, and bring them " to the street" if required, in order to recover the loans. That means, the Vijay Mallayas of the world cannot any more hide behind the "limited liability" concept, cajole politicians, bureaucrats and banks to lend them thousands of crores of rupees without proper risk assessment and collateralization being done.

Secondly, and more importantly, the banks will be required to "hand over" the bad apples to RBI, but only after writing them off in their books, after the mandatory waiting period, as laid down in the guidelines of the Indian Bankers' Association (IBA).

What are the potential fallouts of these over the short to medium term?

One, banks because of the write-offs, banks in general can be safely expected to report poor quarterly earnings over the next few quarters. Their stock prices may correct, from the rather lofty valuation currently. Banks are the backbone of the Stock market, and therefore, the ripple effect may be seen in the Stock Indices correcting, too. Any Geo political events that may weigh, over and above this, could only exacerbate matters. Therefore, the risk to reward, in stock markets appears to be diminishing for now. This view of mine is for the short to medium term only.

Two, expect more industrialists to be pulled up legally for default. This is likely to send shivers down the spine of many. Essar, Videocon, Bhushan Steel, GVK, GMR, Suzlon,Lanco etc come to my mind, but there could be many others too. The will throw water in the already poor investment climate, where fresh investments are hard to come by, a fact borne out by the fact that lending to the capital goods sector has actually been going down over the last three years. So, until clarity emerges on who is going to be spared, expect investments to lie low, and therefore, GDP growth to continue to be pale, at around the 7% mark. There is no reason to despair, though, since there is enough excess capacity available for the economy to absorb in case demand picks up. And, in any case, compared to even China, a 7% GDP growth is pretty good, by any yardstick. The unknown entity here is the monsoon. If we end up with a reasonably good monsoon, then things may not have much of an impact on demand. However, if the monsoon fails this year too, as has been happening over the last three years, then Modi will have a tough time coming back to power in 2019, and this likely economic backdrop.

I am disappointed that while the Government has addressed the immediate sick baby - NPAs - they have not yet gone to the root of the problem. While failed enterprises are the foundation of any robust capitalist economy, in India, Risk Assessment and management for Banks, is either very weak, or can be easily manipulated, or both. So, while, the nation may grin it's teeth and clean up the balance sheets of Banks as a "one-time" pain, the problem is likely to resurface, unless lending norms are tightened significantly. To me, Arun Jaitley's acid test lies here. So far, he has failed, but tomorrow could well be different.

So, are there no positives out of this seemingly despondent scenario? Of course there are.

Firstly, expect awareness amongst public and banks to increase. Expect push-back, when it comes to lending. Banks may insist on tighter norms for lending. Politicians may still have their way, but it is going to be more difficult than before. This clean-up exercise sends out a strong message to the sharks out there, that manipulating the system for their personal gains, is getting increasingly difficult, if not impossible.

Secondly, for every Dhoot or Ruia or GVK Reddy who will come under the hammer, expect green shoots to come in. This, to me, presents the more exciting aspect of this clean-up. Tomorrow could well see new business leaders, with fresher ideas, come in and make a difference.

Whether that difference will point towards the positive direction, remains to be seen.

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Picture Courtesy: The Economic Times

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The God of Honesty

It was less than 3 years ago. Arvind Kejriwal was then busy,  organizing one press conference after another. Targeting leaders from the Congress, to Shiv Sena to the BJP , and hurling one corruption charge after another. That was enough to get him the limelight. The presstitutes were only too eager to oblige. After all, who would want to give away freebie TRP ratings?

Cut the chase. Today, Brutus has stabbed Caesar, in front of cameras. The man, whose claim to fame was solely based on hurling unsubstantiated corruption charges, stands alone - getting a taste of his own medicine. The self-styled God of Honesty clearly is God no more.

A few take-aways from today's press conference:

1. Why did Mishra have to wait, and call for a grand conference call, in order to hurl corruption charges against his own leader. If he were that concerned about probity in public life, why did he not blow the whistle then and there? The onus is now on him, to provide prima facie evidence. Without that, to me, this will only be yet another of those political gimmickry.

2. The charges appear to be serious enough to warrant a criminal investigation. I hope the Central Government and the Governor have the spine to pursue this, rather than pussy-footing over the issue.

3. If Kejriwal is indeed clean, as he claims, then it is equally incumbent on him to file a libel or defamation suit on Mishra, in oder to clear his name. Allow the courts to decide, and give him the clean chit. There are too many lawyers in Delhi to help with him in this effort. Including the redoubtable Ram Jethmalani, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, and - yes - Arun Jaitley   ;)