Thursday, February 16, 2017

The "Metrosexual" Musician

The very mention of "Carnatic Musician" would typically bring in images of either a man with a kudumi, with layers of Vibhuti or Naamam, dotted liberally in between, with Kumkumam, in a Silk dhoti and Angavastram ( later adapted to silk shirts), or a lady in nine-yard sarees, face awash in turmeric, and a big Kumumam on the forehead, garnished by a liberal dose of gold and dazzling diamonds.  

Sartorial preferences have morphed over the last 3 or 4 decades, in tune with changes in the societal preferences. For the ladies, the gold and diamond seem to get "richer" in looks, and so does the Silk saree, which has shorted mostly to six yards now. For the men, those  symbolisms of religion ( Vibhuti, Naamam et al) have all but vanished from the forehead. A half-beard, to compete with the latest film hero, is in. Shirts have given way to Silk kurtas, though the Dhoti has largely remained. Quite often, the kurtas compete in glamour with those of the music band that leads a marriage procession! Clearly, religion is passe' , and haute couture is in.

But time has not only touched upon the musician's exterior. His content has undergone huge changes too. Rather than sticking to the songs of the  famed "Musical Trinity" , musicians are unafraid of dishing out hitherto unknown and unsung songs of composers in the vernacular languages. So a Tallapakka  Annamacharya or a Muthuthaandavar today jostles for lung space as much as a Shyama Shastri or a Dikshithar, though, by and large, the instrumentalists prefer to "play" it safe, with "known" fare, for obvious reasons. After all, you don't want the listener to grope in the dimly lit Sabhas on what song is being dished out.

But more! Today's musician, on the average, is suave, well-travelled and rather well-heeled. Unlike many of the musicians of yore, today's musician is well educated, in the conventional sense. Because he gets to see the world, literally and figuratively, his thought process has undergone a tectonic shift, too. Sometimes, you even see the odd musician fancying himself as a "liberal". He is not shy to discuss his favourite brand of Scotch in public. That would have been nothing  short of a disaster, not so long so, when the norm used to be slip to the back-stage and quietly gulp that peg rather surreptitiously. Today, the musicians clearly are at ease, discussing social topics, from LGBT to caste to politics to Cricket, and, on to films. And I personally am able to FEEL the reflection of the musician's thought process, on the performance on stage. While tradition is still being stuck to, by and large, innovation, and even invention on stage, are increasingly taking a bigger share of the pie.

Is this all good for Carnatic Music? Well, I leave that to you to decide.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

When to exit long term stock holdings

This is not for short term punters. Nor for swing traders, who look mainly at charts for entry and exit. This is also not for investors who remain in a stock for 2 to 3 years max and then jump ships. This article is for those long term investors, who are willing to wait out in select stocks, hang on to them for sweet compounded annual rates of return, but then do not know when to call it quits.

I have been one of those investors who has hung on to quite a few of my investments over the long term. I do punt in some select stocks, I do take undue risks in some fancy small-cap stocks, but my main investments remains with stocks in whom I have believed over the long term. That belief has kept me hanging on to them even in the "worst" of stock market times.

I had invested in stocks like HDFC ( my all time fav stock), Lupin, L&T, Mahindra and Mahindra, UPL etc. since the early 2000s. I had hung on to them even during the great meltdown of 2008. In fact , I had added to my positions when the markets crashed. Before the crash , about 40% of my holdings were in such long term (LT) stocks. Just before the crash, I had fortuitously smelled the oncoming crash, and had exited about 30%, leaving my 30% in the market to suffer the pangs of the crash, along with the blue chips.

I used the spare cash, to " square off " some of the 30% positions in the market, but also to add to my LT stocks. Over time, I came out unscathed, but there was a lot of short term pain. But even during those painful days, I had refused to quit the HDFCs of the world.

So, what parameters did I use, to either hang in, or exit? The yardsticks I used were a few:

1. How strong is the management? How ambitious are they? Do they have the track record? Is their ambition not over-ambition?

Example of HDFC - they passed on all the above. I am still holding on after 15 years. Same with Lupin.
Bad example of Renuka Sugars - I was stupid enough to believe in a strong management in a cyclical industry, that , in hindsight had bitten off more they could chew. I had to book a huge loss and get out

2. I do not bother much about valuations, which are transitionary, over the long term. What looks like overpriced today, could become more affordable tomorrow, with earnings growth. Key then is - are earnings likely to continue to grow?

Example here is for M&M, which I had quit: M&M had diversified business under the strong leadership of Anand Mahindra. Their tractor business used to balance out any vagaries in the other parts of their business and vice versa. But circa 2012, I realized that their earnings were unlikely to grow much, given that the tractor biz got flat. IN hindsight, my call was spot-on.

Bad example is L&T, which I continue to hold. They pass the muster in the parameters of point 1 above, but I was not able to foresee the global oil price meltdown coming in 2014. I am still holding on, because oil too is cyclical, and it is a matter of time before it picks up again. The moot point is - whether in this interim period of 3 to 5 years, my investment could have yielded better returns in an Eicher or a Bosch. The answer is Yes- which is why I call it a bad example, even though my logic of staying on per se, is right.

3. Are the companies doing whatever they are doing, absolutely right, and is there any risk of their going wrong or a threat of looming competition? Surprising as it may sound, some companies get into a sweet spot in the market from which they are seemingly not dislodgeable. Examples are : Balkrishna Industries, Lakshmi Machine Works, Bosch, Page Industries, UPL , and to a lesser extent, Eicher Motors. 4. And then there are those quiet performers, which do not warrant an exit for decades, because they keep doing more of the same, and in the best possible manner. You wont get multbaggers here overnight, but your investment is in safe hands, and would yield decent returns. I know there are people out there, who argue that, rather than staying on forever, it is better to go in and out more often to maximize your returns. As I said, I bank on my punting stocks for that, and would leave the better part of my money in such stocks above. If you wish to go in and out of stocks every third day, then that is purely your call. Accordingly, your choice of stocks will change too.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The distressed farmer

It has become a sickeningly regular affair. Year after year, those despondent farmers out in the dusty outback commit suicide, driven to the extreme by sheer helplessness. The successive governments show token gestures, the media sensationalizes it, and a few drops of rains is all it takes, for deja vu.

In this poetic trilogy below, I have tried to capture the scene and the mood of the hapless farmer who took his own life away, unable to swim against the tide of fate. In three different languages. The flavour is the same, across the three. The presentation and context may vary.

The distressed farmer

Fleas circle my mortal remains
Hoping for a meal of blood.
The poor souls do not realize
that I am their food now,
Because of sustained lack of food.

My once strong body,
That had carried many a sack
Full of grains, to the shanty,
Is now ready to be carried,
To be devoured by fire.

Those strong arms, that
Planted many a sapling
And gave green life
Far into the distant horizon
Had dared to take my own life-
Crop head or human head,
The sickle knows only to harvest.

I am used to the stunning green
Of the crops swaying in the gentle breeze
But years of prolonged drought
Had made me to stop staring
My open , lifeless eyes now gaze
Into the empty blue sky
Into an abyss of famine.

Water had receded into oblivion
In the canal, the pond and the well
And took away with it,
Any remnant moisture in peoples' hearts
Not to mention the last drop
Of tears in my weary eyes.

There was no water,
To quench my parched gut
No soul to water my drained spirit
My endurance was long dead
Before I decided to kill myself.

Just as the fleas settle down
On my claret collar
They are shooed away -
By a torrent of water.

From out of nowhere
Long after my absolution,
They  brought buckets of water
For the customary ablution!!

कुछ बाक़ी नहीं

ज़मीन जल चुकी है, उम्मीद अब कुछ बाक़ी नहीं
ऐ खुदा बस करो , तेरे इम्तिहान में अब कुछ बाक़ी नहीं।
आखों में आंसू , सीने में शरम, हालात से मजबूरी 
इनके अलावा मेरे पास और  कुछ बाक़ी नहीं ।

सोचा था - मेरा पसीना फसल बनके लहराएगा एक दिन
पर अब मायूसी की तूफ़ान के सिवा और  कुछ बाक़ी नहीं।

आशा की तुख़्म को बोना था खेत में - पर अब
लगान का वज़न के अलावा और कुछ बाक़ी नहीं ।

सोचा था - पेशा बदलूँ तो क़िस्मत भी बदलेगा
पर बेखूफ़ी के अंगारों से और कुछ बाकी नहीं।

ज़िन्दगी का हर मोड़ अब मेरे लिए बंध है
रास्ता-ए-ख़ुदकुशी के अलावा और कुछ बाक़ी नहीं।

பொய்த்த வானம், போன மானம்

காய்ந்து வெடித்திட்ட நிலத்தின் மடிதனிலே
மாய்ந்து  கருகிட்ட நெற்பயிரின் பரவல்
ஓய்ந்து  மருகிட்ட என்மனதை நோக்கிப்
பாய்ந்து  வந்தது தரித்திரக் கதறல்

முப்போகம் பார்த்திட்ட காலமும் போய்
எப்போது மறுபடியும் ஊண் என ஏக்கம் 
தப்பாது என் குடும்பம் இனி வறுமையிலிருந்து
தப்பேதும் செய்யவில்லை, பின் ஏன் தண்டனை?

ஆண்டாண்டு காலமாய் உழவனுக்கு சாபம்
தீண்டாமை கொடுமையினால் நீர் தர மறுப்பு
மாண்டாலும் சரி , அவர் தயவு இனி நமக்கு
வேண்டாமே என வானத்தைப் பார்த்தேன்.

கார்முகில் போன இடமோ கடவுளுக்ககே வெளிச்சம்
பார்முழுதும் வறட்சியின் கோர தாண்டவம்
ஏர்பிடிக்கும் என் நிலைமை என்னென்று சொல்வேன்
வேரோடு என் குடியை அசைத்திட்ட வறுமை.

ஒரு வேளை உணவுக்கே வழியிங்கு இல்லை
தர வேண்டும் தன் கடனை- ஈட்டிக்காரன் தொல்லை
பிறகென்ன செய்வேன் , வழி வேறு இல்லை
இறப்பைத் தழுவினேன், இனி இன்னல் இல்லை 

- D-

Photo courtesy: the Internet




Friday, January 13, 2017

The quirk of fate

It has been a year, to the dot. A year, since my friend Raghavan decided to press the button of the parachute all of a sudden, and headed straight to heaven. He had probably fumbled when pressing the button. Which probably explained the rather gory scenes.

The end was vicious, and totally unexpected. His family was hit by a meteor, as it were. All who knew him, were devastated. But, probably next to his family, I was one of the most affected. I was in the final stages of completing my Chemo regimen when he had died, and my Oncologist had prohibited me me from seeing him one last time, for hygiene reasons. Just 48 hours before he had succumbed to a massive heart attack, we were talking for 3 hours on the phone, and I was scolding him for not doing his exercises regularly, and not taking his health seriously. But then, he was gone. Gone, in a jiffy.

I could not see him off physically then. I am unable to see him off my mind, one year after. Not a day passes without remembering him. 

We became friends a quarter of a century ago. Through our respective professions. I had the chance to work with him, while he visited India, on a few projects. We had hit it off instantly. Both of us were very argumentative in nature ( I still am). Our vista of interest was similar, and so, we used to discuss, and end up arguing, on many of them. We used to talk for hours - in person, on the phone, and at work. But, invariably, at the end of it all, we used to smile and laugh the day off.

We were the bouncing board for each other. We used to share our thoughts, feelings, those dark secrets..  what real friends should be doing. We used to chide each other when we felt that the other person was doing something wrong. We were a sort of conscience-keeper for each other.

I still remember that fateful day, when Raghavan and I went casually to the hospital, in 2015, since I was feeling unwell. It took all of 45 minutes to turn my world upside down. When the doctor had broken the news of my Leukemia, Raghavan was the only one with me at the hospital. He had broken down inconsolably. He was a lot more worried about me, than I was, about myself. He probably thought my story was over, then. Little did we all realize it would be rather his story that would end sooner.

While looking for photos of Raghavan for this post, I realized that we had practically never taken photographs together!! I had to dig through my archives
for this decade-and-half old photo! We probably had taken each other's presence for granted. Probably thought that we were going to be around, forever, and never bothered to take portraits.

In anyone's life, people come. And people go. But there are a few who stay. A few, whose thoughts linger. A few, who leave an indelible impression, in one's life.

My dear Raghavan, dont ever think that you can escape from my arguments! God has given a few wonderful and close friends. He took you away from me, for now. But, one day, I will join you in heaven, and we can continue our friendly banters. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

An appeal to fellow Indians

I am appalled at the negativity that is doing the rounds - in the social media, the mainstream media, the polity, and yes, even in the judiciary.

A few educated souls are complaining about the long queues outside the banks and ATMs. About how they really care of human life, and how people have died because of this " draconian demonetization" move. A few "more" educated people have promptly pronounced this as a stupid move, while giving no solutions on better ways to handle the menace of countefeiting, terrorism and conversion funding,  and of course, black money.

This polemic of "long queues" , is empty space. Nothing more. These are painful times, for the common man. Make no mistake about it. Unfortunate, unavoidable. But collateral damage caused by years of condoning and, I dare say, abetting black money and corruption.

Almost all of us, including yours truly,  are guilty. Guilty of either looking the other way, when dishonest things were happening to us or around us. Or, sometimes even hide behind the excuse " but I am helpless, as an individual, to stop it, so I am going with it". Put your hand on your heart, and say openly that not once in your life have you come across a situation where bribery and black money have impacted your transactions, directly or indirectly, or whenever they did, you DID something about, other than meekly voicing your protest.

Let us admit it. People were, willy nilly, party to black money, corruption, and in some rare cases, involving directly or indirectly, in activities that may have harmed the nation in some way. You, me, and everyone who stands in those long queues today, and bemoans the " ordeals" of today's long queues.

Our conscience did not prick us then. But our legs hurt now, do they?

If we managed to duck our inner calling then, it is only fair that we put up with this pain now, however hard it may feel.

Time for us to make amends, folks. This government has decisively moved against the malaises affecting the economy. Until we get any indication to the contrary, we need to stand by the government's efforts to weed out these ills, however hard they may be. Think of today's pains as the Karma of condoning improper activities, now coming back to haunt us. Bear with it. Until the pain subsides.

And subside, it will. In the meantime, rather than resorting to empty rhetorics like " I knew this would fail", " look at the misery of the common man", " I declare this as a stupid move", " I declare this as a solemn failure", or throw empty statistics that carry no real meaning, you can do the following, if you have the wherewithal.

1. Volunteer work in the bank queues, to help people. To fill in forms. I inform people who are groping for information. To help bank staff in mundane work, wherever the management allows. I know some of my friends are already doing that.

2. Avoid hoarding of cash, more than what ie really necessary. The govt has clarified that there is no cash crunch or any run on the banks.

3. Stop spreading negative messages and jokes that are supposedly inteneded to lighten things up, but end up spreading negativity, and sow seeds of doubt, in the mind of the unsuspecting common man.

4. Progressively go plastic. And help others do that too, by sharing your views, and suggestions , on the benefits. To your vegetable vendor, your watchman, your driver... or whoever you think may need it.

If you think you cannot do any of that and maybe more, then the best you can do, is to stop whining. You did not dare to do anything about the wrongdoings going around you, then. You preferred to keep shut. Please continue with it now, as well. Let the government do it's job of cleansing.

Monday, November 14, 2016

My brand of Patriotism

Full throat, at the cricket stadium
Cheering my team India for a win
I wave the Tricolour in full fervour
Want India to triumph, through or thin.

Full throat, I shout at the Bank employee
Demanding that I get serviced instantly
I curse the government, in full fury
Can't status quo be restored, I ask insolently.

All pumped up, I stand in scorching sun
Waiting patiently for my turn at the box office
For Kabali, anything goes, anything can wait
Trudge in the serpentine queue, too, is sheer gait.

All charged up, I stand in the scorching sun
Waiting impatiently for my turn at the ATM
In TV, my show is starting now, nothing can wait
To hell with demonetization, get this straight.

Atop the Al Burj and Empire State Building
The tricolour beams in all glory, on Independence Day
My forty inches chest expands in no time, to fifty six
My patriotism hunger just got an instant fix.

The hapless bank employee toils away tirelessly
For him, the working day meanders endlessly
The man behind all this ordeal, has a chest of fifty six
Patriotism be damned, can no one make him a nix?

nix= a quantity of no importance

Friday, November 11, 2016

RaGa at an ATM

I join the serpentine queue
In Parliament House, for true
The lone ATM beckoned me there
Photo-opp was on offer, fair and square.

Two hours of artificial smile, and"clean Delhi Air"
Flashing cameras, waving hands, here and there
The day seemed way too long, to end
I need a Thai massage full, to make amend

As I guffawed in frustration, the end was nigh
I neared the ATM, with a deep relieving sigh
Inserted my card, keyed in my PIN
Hoping to end the day, with a win

But, pronto! Out came my ATM card
Suddenly something seemed seriously flawed
On the ATM , flashed a message, impromptu
"That PIN was your Swiss Bank Account, Buddhu!"

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Delhi and Pollution

The Delhi Government, for once, has taken action on war-footing, to tackle the pollution threat, which now appears bigger than the dangers to Kejri's position from the Lt Governor.

In their press release, the Govt has listed 8 amazingly effective tools to tackle pollution. In their hurry to run and execute these actions on the ground, they may have forgotten to give the complete picture. I thought I should help them by adding these (imaginary) supplements to each action.

1. All Delhi schools will remain shut for the next 3 days.

       - It may be noted that children not going to the schools, but playing in the open for these three, will put them at lesser risk of pollution-related illnesses, as advised by the eminent research scholars of the JNU. It will also improve the children's body resistance automatically, so that they don't have to go through the Modi-imposed World Yoga Day next year.

2. For the next 5 days, no construction and demolition work will take place in Delhi.
      - The Government hereby decides that their policy of " no constructive work" , over the last one and half years, shall be extended to " no construction work". However, as for demolition work, it may be noted that terrorist groups shall be exempt, and can their regular demolition jobs with the same vigour as always, aided by the local media and liberals.

3. All diesel generator sets have been banned for the next 10 days, except at hospitals and in emergencies.

      - No gensets. And the Delhi Government is unable to provide uninterrupted power either, as always, because " Evil Modi" is the root cause. So, people should stop working ( in all forms), and instead consider breathing itself as work. This is the Delhi Government's way of "breathing life" into the Delhi economy, as advised by the eminent economist Dr. Amartya Sen. Dust up your dadi's wick lamps.

4. The Delhi government will supply power to unauthorized colonies which use diesel generators.

       - In that process, the Government shall ensure that authorized colonies will not get their quota of power. Tough luck, Lutyens' Delhi! The slums of Pahargunj and Sangam Vihar need it more.

5. The Badarpur power plant will be shut down for 10 days. There will be no fly ash transportation from the power plant.

       - All the fly ash will, instead be used to build a huge wall around the power plant and no one can see it anymore, so that later on, if someone says " the power plant is the culprit", the government can conveniently ask " where is the power plant? We don't see it. We get our power from our friendly neighbour Pakistan, since evil Modi has declined to provide power " .  " But we can see smoke billowing" ..  " well, have you not heard of there being no smoke without fire? This smoke is caused by fire, but not a power plant".

6. The Environment department will launch an app to monitor the burning of leaves.

       - The App will not cover the Jessica-Lal type burning of human bodies in restaurant chulas. 

7. Vacuum cleaning of roads will start from November 10.

       - Latest update is that the Government has decided to retain status quo, when ti comes to cleaning of roads. In other words, there will not be any cleaning, anyway.

8. Water sprinkling will start on all roads from tomorrow.
      - We will import the water from China, since evil neighbours Haryana and UP have declined to allow water to us. If that is not feasible, we will use the filthy water from the biggest gutter that is running across the city, called the Yamuna, to do the job. It does not matter if people die of asphyxiation from stench of the Yamuna. The pollution is more important than the stench and the epidemics.


Once this emergency passes, the Delhi Government will resort to Business as usual. Which is :

1. Do nothing about anything.

2. Flood Twitter with messages of how the Lt. Governor. 
3. Step 1 above

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Jokes on AG's quitting Times Now

  1. Let us sit down, and make two minutes of noise of the highest decibel levels, as a mark of respect for AG. That is the best respect we can show him.
  2. Now that AG has quit Time Now, A K Hangal can openly say it again, as he had done in "Sholay",  " Inta sannataa kyun hai bhai? "
  3. Why did AG quit?  "The nation demands to know".
  4. Don't keep jamming the TV remote, not knowing whether the TV is on mute or not. It is just that AG has moved on.
  5. Clearly, the management of Times Now told him " Go, Swami!"

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The legacy of Barrack Obama

The Amercians have chosen to zero in on two of the most consummate disasters, as presidential nominees. The arc-lights are firmly on these two. One day, it is Trump playing his xenophobic xylophone. The other day, it is the FBI on the trail of Hillary. In all this melee, one man stands in relative obscurity.

Barrack Obama is quietly leaving some indelible imprints of his legacy on American history. The jury is still out there, on whether the first ever "black" President has done more good , or more harm, to the USA, and, by deduction, to the rest of the world. Of course, when Barrack formally lays dow office, the customary bouquets and brick-bats will follow. But, I am convinced that what Obama has contributed ( or failed to), deserves a slightly deeper look, in the context of the state of the Nation, when he had taken over.

Cut back to 2008. The world was on the verge of Economic implosion. Wall Street had become Wail Street. The USA gave unsolicited lessons to the whole world , on hitherto unheard-of lexicon-  Sub-prime, Mortgage-Backed-Securities, Credit Default Swap, Collateralized Debt Obligation, Countrywide Finance, AIG, Citibank, Lehman Bros, Bear Stearns, Credit Rating Agencies, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac,  Shadow Banking System, Bail-outs et al. The spill-over of Wall Street into Main Street and on to the World Street, was vicious. Economic armageddon sounded it's evil laughter, from not far away. Obama had inherited a monster, created by a misguided US economic model and policies. And, had promised to fix them all.

He may not have quite fixed them all. After all, decades of decadence could not have been hoped to be reversed in one, or even, two terms. There have been quite a few gaps. On the Economic and social fronts. Things could have been much better. On creation of jobs,  inflation, credit control, investment climate etc. Better care for the black welfare than was promised, better trade relations with China and he rest of the world, better diplomatic effectiveness on world stage etc.

But then, things could have been much worse off, as well. For, the mess that Obama found himself in, an Economic whirlpool was threatening to suck the USA, and the world. It was not easy, by any stretch of imagination. The malignancy in the economy had regressed to stage IV.

In that backdrop,  it would not be an over-statement to say that Obama has pulled off "Mission Impossible".  The means that he and the US Fed have adopted to fix the deep rooted issues and the resultant melt-down, may be the topic of discussion in the hallowed classrooms of Harvard, the media and amongst Economists for the foreseeable future. But, the fact remains that Obama has clearly succeeded in stemming the rot. Not just that. He has managed to restore a semblance of order in the financial markets of the world. Something, that is absolutely critical for continued peace, from Fiji to Finland.

And he has not stopped there. He has managed to rein in inflation, reversed the trend of job losses to one of job creation in the US, and has ensured that the US Economy has grown at an average of 1.5% to 2% during his tenure.

This news below, is his "crowing glory". The last quarterly GDP report before he hangs up his boots. He surely goes out, on a high, in this regard.

Things may yet unravel later. For, what Obama has done may be nothing more than bravery of the valiant Dutch boy, who plugged a dike with his frail fingers, to prevent flooding of a whole town, one stormy night. Just as the Dutch government took steps to build stronger dikes and fortify the town further, subsequently, the successive US governments and Presidents have their work cut out on the Economic front, as much as on other areas like Diplomacy, Trade, and the World Order etc.

But, I am sure that Barrack will be back in Illinois with an outward sense of satisfaction of making sure that the world did not unravel at one of the most trying times in modern history.