Thursday, June 25, 2015

Killing the Golden Goose..

Overdoing something is such a common human tendency that Aesop was compelled to write a fable about it..

However, when it comes to India, Indians and Indian politicians in particular, there is an affinity of a special kind..

The immediate incident that comes to mind is the news report recently that Engineering college seats in Maharashtra are only 2/3rds occupied.. Out of about 157,000 seats in 365 engineering colleges, only 107,000 seats will likely be used up this year..

Read that again.. 365 engineering colleges.. in Maharashtra alone..

Over a 20 year period, this number has gone up 3 fold, with the number of seats increasing 4-fold.. Also, there's really no substantial increase in the number of government colleges, it's only fair to assume that this increase is solely fueled by private institutes mushrooming up in every nook and cranny of the state.. Every single money bag, either a politician or with political connections, worth his / her salt has an educational institute - mostly engineering and medical colleges - instituted in the name of their father, their son and the holy spirit. The resultant supply overshoots demand - remember population growth rate and economic growth rate have not kept pace with the increase - and we have ghost classes

A normal economist would call this a classic demand supply mismatch and would probably wait for the supply curve to correct itself to meet the demand or whatever.. But when there's an Indian money bag involved, rational economics can go for a toss. A lot of these "institutes" are likely the avenue for churning funny money into legal tender.. So, the promoter, really doesn't see the need to wind up - since the actual need for this college is being met anyway.. All you are left with, is engineering students, brought up on a rote learning system, with the sole objective to pass 4 years of undergraduate school, get placed in a "Cogni" type body shop, 2 years to return a positive ROI on the engineering fees and then an MBA - Rinse, Repeat.. see above.

It's not just Engineering colleges.. it's everywhere.. Kindergarten / Day Care.. MBA / Medical schools.. Tuition classes.. from KG to PG..

All to make a quick buck.. and everyone happy... Unfortunately, unlike the famous Warren Buffett quote, there's really no sign of the tide going out anytime soon.. 

This is not a post with a solution in mind.. It's probably a good idea to have an engineering body to certify the engineering skills of individuals - kinda like the Chartered Accountancy thing - for the engineering degree to mean something. But not knowing enough about who and what can certify engineers, it's not right for me to comment.Plus, what all can you regulate?

It's just something that's bothering me, that's all..

My old English teacher once told me that Fools rush in, where the angels are fearing to tread, but would you rather be a rich fool or a middle class angel?? 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Blood, sweat, but no tears - a Father's Day post..

They say every boy's role model is his father, and I have been no exception..

From the walk, to the hairstyle and the voice tone, not to mention the looks, the love for English music, the ability to sit in front of a computer endlessly, the natural tendency to watch TV lying down, (I could go on and on) I have consciously or sub-consciously copied my dad. Well, everything except the smoking habit - that my brother has picked up..

As I sit here and try to refresh my memories from 36 years, so many instances stick out on how my dad was way ahead of his times.. Every now and then, I meet women who relinquish their career choices to satisfy those of their husbands, and I think how - in 1987, no less - my mother went to Germany for 2 years on her own for her Ph.D work, with the full support of her husband.. He took care of us, as a "single" parent, not just for those 2 years but even beyond that, since my mom worked daily in Mumbai, especially the 6 months in a year, when my grand parents were away in Delhi, he ran the show all by himself..He ran his own business, but he would be there for every school event, every teacher meeting, every sick note, and every breakfast..

Once in a while, when I fret about how doing a job is pointless and how I should start something of my own, but really don't have the balls to do so, I am simply amazed how he managed his little business, from scratch to a respectable level, give it his blood and sweat and tears, only to see it crumble one fine day.

No sweat.. No excuses.. Just dust yourself up and do your job.. ..

However, like most "men" he's not very comfortable with emotions.. It's something you just don't do - I am no exception.. It's probably how generations of men have been raised.. Keep calm and carry on.. Do your job, and don't worry about frivolity like emotions and sentiment..

No wonder, the hero of this post - my dad, would probably think of Father's Day as a colossal waste, therefore potentially rendering this post as a waste too.

At least that's what he'll say publicly.. Deep inside, I think, he loves the attention :) 

Happy Father's Day, Papa!!! I hope I can be half the dad that you've been to us..


Saturday, June 20, 2015

10 Questions..


  1. Are you going to participate in the International Yoga Day?? 
  2. If you are, would you be doing it as to fulfill your fitness routine, your religious beliefs or out of patriotism? 
  3. If it is out of your fitness routine, are you doing it regularly or just tomorrow? 
  4. If it is not part of your regular fitness routine, why are you doing it tomorrow? Just for kicks or to keep up with the Joshis?? 
  5. If you are going to do this as part of your regular fitness routine, do you normally exercise on Sundays? 
  6. If you are doing it out of your religious beliefs, what about yoga is religious? 
  7. If you are not doing it out of some weird patriotic belief that by doing this, you reinforce your patriotic duty now that the Indian Government has successfully lobbied the United Nations to make June 21, International Yoga Day, will you be engaging in this next year, when International Yoga Day will be on a boring Tuesday?? 
  8. If not, is it important to you that you be part of a Government sponsored mass PT event that makes it to the Guinness Book? 
  9. If you are going to do it anyway, for a reason not mentioned above, will you still be taking part if someone called it the Indian version of North Korean calisthenics?
  10. Finally, if all this is purely symbolic, and really nothing is going to be gained out of this entire "exercise", why are you wasting a bloody Sunday??? 

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Blank Canvas

"Where were you, when the pages were blank??" - Paul Butterworth

The blank page - or screen, in this case - when I am sitting to write, can be very overwhelming. While the computer loads the screen (I have a really, really old computer, mind you) the wait can be quite excruciating.. Not quite sitting in the dentist's chair, but it is extremely daunting to stare at the screen as it loads..

In that one moment, whatever that I had thought of writing goes off poof... Like Baital..  

The challenge therefore, lies in overcoming this blank slate. 

The easiest way to overcome this stasis is to write something, anything, as it comes to mind.. 

Bhimsen Joshi on the playlist, and a cloudy, typically Puneri monsoon morning is definitely a big help too.. 

May not quite be 300 words as promised, but any writing is good.. 

Releasing that vulnerability is essential, especially on the 4th day "sober" :)

If I can fill the blank canvas, with no inspiration, then on better days, I can be more creative.. 

At least that's the hope..  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dear BJP..

There exists a truism in life, "Never argue with idiots, they will bring you down to their level and then beat you with experience".. For the longest time, I believed our relationship being one such, and therefore never bothered interacting 

Yet, it never hurts to engage with people, idiots or otherwise, especially if - as in our case - we have to make peace for the next 4 years, and very likely more. It is important to explain where we stand, and what our misgivings and misunderstandings might be, and to try the very best to give it the best shot.. 

This, therefore, is the beginning of the effort. This ought to be a regular exchange, and hopefully not one sided.. 

You see, I have historically been accused of being a Congress supporter, an unfair (and to use a recent Jaitley term, baseless,) accusation. The Congress has historically made a mockery of the potential of this country, indulging in cynical symbolism. They have succeeded in doing this, because thus far, there was no voice to point this out. 

And I was so hoping, against hope, that yours would be that voice.

The reason I say this, was because your past interactions with me have not really been very inspiring.. You see, I am not the type who gets patriotic or outraged or anything like that.. So your past shenanigans have been a turn off.. I have also been wary given your role in stoking the "religious" fire, even though you might term that as much needed.. As for your record in power, I think it is fair to say that the root cause of the Kargil war was an intelligence failure, plus you ruled over 2 other major security lapse - the Indian Airlines hijack and the attack on the Parliament.. You even handed over a major criminal - with the defence minister actually escorting the bastard Masood Azhar as part of the handover.. Economically, I really don't remember life being any better - and the downturn of 1998 - 00 actually took down our family business.. Basically, the romance of the Vajpayee rests in the minds of the people who have either been in nappies then or were wearing rose tinted glasses. 

But still, it was time for a change, and whether I liked it or not, you were that change.. 

I must say, that though the initial noises were promising, they had an important lacuna. That was the absolute and complete lack of details on what it is that you were planning to do, other than bring India's GDP back to 8% and restore India's reputation in the world - for which there is no universally agreed to metric.. Your manifesto, if I am not mistaken, actually came out after the first phase of voting.. It is a reflection of the Indian mindset that you won such a thumping majority despite nobody knowing what exactly you were going to do.. Your focus on "execution" and not so much on questioning the fundamentals of Indian governance, also implied to me that you didn't have a problem with the patronizing, favour based system of political governance that the Congress has cynically executed for 60 years, rather your problem was with the execution of the system.. 

But, as they say, raat gayi, baat gayi.. 

Your first 13 months in power though - an important milestone since Mr. Vajpayee first was elected for 13 months - have been essentially UPA on steroids.. Nothing really different from what the 2 Manmohan Singh governments have been doing, just rushing through them.. Again, very little focus on details, more on the optics.. Whether it is ramrodding the Land Acquisition Bill or the GST upgrade or the Aadhar, all of these are essentially bills that you blocked continuously through the last 5 years, and now it is your 300+ majority that is allowing you to get these in place.. 

This is what I don't understand.. If the people of India voted for a change, why are you giving us the same shit that the UPA had been trying to serve us for the last 10 years?? The single largest land holder in the country, by a hitherto unknown order of magnitude is the Government of India.. Why then do we need a Land Acquisition Bill? Why is it that the names of Warren Anderson and Quattrocchi need to be pulled out when Lalit Modi comes to the fore?? I mean, what's the bloody connection?? Why is it that you need to indulge in continuous "what-about"ism when any question is asked of you?? Why is it that a party which promised "Minimum Government, Maximum Governance" has brought about more regulations in the first year than the last 3 combined?? 

And I am not even going to the Sakshi Maharaj and his other loudmouth brethren.. 

Fundamentally, is your only plan for Acche Din, to apply lipstick on a pig?? 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Working for Free

Every once in a while, there comes a moment, when I wish I had a bigger house, a larger car, and essentially, more money in the bank.. There's no guarantee when that moment will come, but it does.. You could say, that it has started to come with a frequency that is more regular than what I am comfortable with. 

I don't know what the driver for this is. My hypothesis is that it is essentially my mind conscience asking if I would still be doing what I was doing, if there was no money involved.. Or to put it in a different way, would I be doing what I am doing, if it were for free?

I really don't know the answer. I enjoy what I do for a living, but yeah, the money is good. Is it something that I would do if I had to do it for free? I don't know. I think that I would, but I really don't know and that is probably the best way to put it. I also get the feeling that I am not alone in this "quest" since I see a lot of people - all, incidentally, the same age or thereabouts as me - doing a lot of things that they probably wouldn't do if they had to do it for free.

Anyway, all this thought in my head can be very distracting at times. It's not something I particularly enjoy or anything, There are definitely times, when I start berating myself for not being more money conscious. This is especially true when I see / hear of people who have large amounts of money spare to invest in some non-sensical (in my mind, at least) scheme which guarantees more returns.. Maybe its my conservative mind which wonders how much money would these folks have available, that they can "play" with large sums (10-12  Lakhs is a big deal, IMHO). I mean, what use is a fucking Stanford degree if you can't be rich??

But then when I think about it, I realize that some folks take the elevators and some take the stairs, and those who take the stairs tend to be a bit fitter. I don't know if that is true, but hey, those are my sour grapes :)

So imagine my intrigue when I landed on two different links from two different sources on this topic. Both these individuals are pioneers (at least in my mind) in their field - coincidentally the same field of investing - and both came up with different perspectives on how to approach this topic. Sanjay Bakshi, - the legendary fund manager, teacher and one of the good guys in life - linked to a long post on how the philosophies of his life have evolved and how he has essentially moved to a life where he is not working for the money. Deepak Shenoy - Founder, Capital Mind - had a fantastic post on his "FY quotient" on how much money he would need to live a life of luxury for the rest of his life, without doing much and essentially Fuck You" to life. (I cannot find a link to the post right now, and I shall update as soon as find it, but I trust his opinion, and can definitely say that I am nowhere near living the FY life, since I don't have anything close 15 crores anywhere).

Essentially, what both those articles brought to me, that there comes a point, where the enjoyment of what you're doing takes over and the money doesn't matter. It does require a certain amount of financial security, and the more I think of it, I am probably close - not quite there, but close. There is a roof on top of my head, there is a nest egg that's being developed and all in all it's not so bad.. Also, one factor, which is somewhat inspiring / motivating is that these fine gentlemen were in a similar situation as I, when they were my age.

To cut a long story short, there's hope..

Joe Heller  True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, "Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel 'Catch-22'
has earned in its entire history?"
And Joe said, "I've got something he can never have."
And I said, "What on earth could that be, Joe?"
And Joe said, "The knowledge that I've got enough."
Not bad! Rest in peace!"
--Kurt Vonnegut
The New Yorker, May 16th, 2005

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ground Rules..

- This is not the first time you're probably reading this on the blog, but it really shouldn't take me 4 months between posts, but that is something I really need to correct.. Now, have made a goal to myself to get into healthier living habits (and, touch wood, have made a decent start, if I may say so myself) and one of the things I really need to get out of my system is all the various things that I would like to write about (and also a book, if all goes well)

- One of the things I have realized, is that not writing regularly stunts my brain. I feel it makes me dumb. I don't know if I have writer's block - since I never considered myself much of a writer - but I think the practice of writing makes one more prolific - kinda bit sized version of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours concept. And I really want to write more..

- SO.. Going forward, what I hope to achieve is one post, minimum 300 words, on a daily basis. (I know I have said this in the past, but hey, no point in being cynical about this). It could be here, or somewhere else, but writing is a must..

- Also, Rule #2, is that the post shall be written at home, and not at my place of work. That is because, it is not fair for me to do that. This is, and shall remain, my hobby.. If something comes out of it, great.. But there's no point in writing for the sake of writing.. There should be a time and a place, and that time and place belongs in my spare time and not at my place of work. If, for whatever reason, I don't write a post, it should not be a time to beat myself up, rather accept that I missed a day (or two) and move on.

- What I aim to achieve out of writing more regularly is the ability to construct my thoughts (or "regain" the ability) such that I can write better, more creatively, and (hopefully, fingers crossed) be able to write a story creative enough to publish one day. I think, that I have now a small window in my day, when I can write, and I would like to make full use of this window..

So wish me luck..