Life from a saint's perspective

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A wishlist for 2008!

Last week, I got my peanuts wrapped around in a crumpled piece of paper in this dingy bar somewhere near Churchgate station. It was this wishlist for 2008, scribbled by this institutional investor on the back of a now worthless subprime home loan mortgage while he was drowning his Black Monday sorrows.

Dear Santa,

I hope you've already refinanced your North Pole factory. Oh, don't go promising the Elves any pay increases; money will be tight for everyone next year.

If you check the list in your pocket, you’ll find that I’ve been erronously rated “bad boy” throughout this year. On smoothing over the past decade, however, my performance has firmly been at the “good boy” level. Moreover, my best buds at rating houses can always vouch for me and give me a “top boy” rating……for a fee of course, expensive cocktail parties and invites to movie premieres and fashion shows among them!

As you know, I've had a very good year. Sadly, that year wasn't 2007. Our Structured Investment Vehicle has burst it’s tires and now in retrospect seems like it was designed by a Management Associate, fresh out of college, with a “Nano” - sized blueprint. Our Equity-linked leveraged pension fund is now under investigation by the SEBI. The last we heard, the word “leveraged” is deemed to be incompatible with “Sorry, we gambled that hard earned rupee you gave us for your retirement on a bunch of CDOs and exotic options that we did not understand and ended up losing a paisa or seven.” Or 20. We are not sure yet. But what the hell, how can we be blamed? The suave bankers on wall street aren’t sure either! Our offsite sessions wih the best buds at rating houses have maxed out their MasterCards and every time we try to limit them, we are reminded that some things in life really are priceless. Our only investment that made money in the last quarter was the dough we dished out to the book runners for the Indo-Pak cricket series.

So, what I'd really love to find under the tree is a time machine so we could travel all the way back to, oooh, February. Life was so much easier when debt obligations were still worth 100 percent of face value and nobody had looked under the hood of our structured investment vehicle and found a black hole instead of a ray of hope emanating from a shining star as our friends at the analyst houses rated us. With a time machine, I could be back in the good old days when there was a fraternal and willing suspension of caution and pessimism (call it realism, if you must) between investors and issuers, rating companies and originators, regulators and speculators.

Of course, I do realize that reversing the circle of time so tastefully depicted in the Mahabharat TV seies of yore might be something of a tall order even for you, Santa. So, alternatively, I would be more than happy to accept a new rug, provided it is of sufficient size to sweep the whole subprime dirt under its edges.

Santa, you know how it is with those huge cash infusions from Chinese institutions. They bail out these ailing investment banks one after the other, especially with the advent of the falling dollar season. Anyway, I was hoping you could find a way to put a tiny little hole on the Sovereign Wealth Fund goody bag, so that some of those dollars making way into the wall street might fall down on our apna dalal street as well. An extra $5 billion would really come in handy this year, especially as my employee stock options are as worthless as Narendra Modi’s recent election promises.

Before I finish, we should spare a thought for those less fortunate than ourselves, especially those farmers in rural Maharashtra enduring spiralling commodity prices. So I was hoping, Santa, that you might be able to find a fairy godmother to stop the forward markets commission from turning into a nationalized pumpkin? I choose to remain mum on my selfish interests. As the saying goes, I too would be expected to make some speculative hay while the sun shines on the commodity markets.

Friday, January 18, 2008

My Sweet Sunshine

Okay, i've once again been guilty of sloth. But somehow now that i've got a job n all it's getting increasingly difficult to sit down and write a blog, almost to the point of being excruciating....

But as Nehru might say, change is rest.... and so, just for the heck here is a poem that i penned a while back....

A lone snowdrop rests as darkness heaves its chest
The moonshine cries as if it were of lonely angst
My eyes search for some sleep tonight
My heart longs for your smile tonight

My mind knows not how you fly into the horizon of my dreams
The breeze knows not how you sit on my eye’s swings
The ears so eager, straining to hear your footsteps
My legs so weak, yearning to drop to the knees

The dawn then throws a bindi with pride
As though the sky were his newly wed bride
I’ve laid down some flowers, and lit up some lamps

I seek out your presence near me, oblivious of bliss…..

Friday, October 05, 2007

Option Geeks!!!

“don’t go for dynamic hedges. At the barrier, you can cover only your delta, not your vega and theta” No… this is not a quote in a sci-fi greek movie from the future.

It has been 6 months since I’ve been living on the wrong side of the campus wall… and I cant help notice how work changes people. For good or for worse, I cannot yet decide. But I’ve begun to notice that when you run into people in your professional network, you as a person are judged on entirely different parameters.

A trader's problems start the moment he calls up his granpa back in kahalgaon (i couldnt think of any other bihari little village at such short notice) to tell him that he has got a job in a big bank.

Trader: "dadaji.... naukri mil gayi..."

Granpa: "accha bete... kaisi naukri hai?"

Trader: "Commodities trading"

Granpa: "kambha...? kya????"

Trader: "Er...... gehoon bechne wale ki naukri hai"

Granpa: "arre naalayak! apni kapde ki dookaan mein nahin baith sakta?"

Many traders I’ve met hardly use financial jargons when they work. At work, they are so busy doing boring things that all communication is reduced to prehistoric grunts and signs.

Trader # 1: “Rupee?”

Trader # 2: “85/15”

Trader # 1: “4 yours”

Trader # 2: “K”

I’ve heard wise people say that a person’s wisdom is evident from what he speaks. But nowhere in the above conversation could I figure out that the two guys had 20 years of education behind them. But the downside is that, even they realize this… So all their built up frustration at not being able to use their wannabe ivy league bschool education is channeled out when they are not working.

Take this instance. I’ve fondly observed a lot of guys when their girlfriends call. The attitudes sometimes border on insanity, when the girlfriend calls from mumbai asking for directions from kanjur marg station to hiranandani powai when the boyfriend is in philippines! It doesn’t help that simultaneously she is busy haggling with the rickshaw-wallah for 2 rupees. Sometimes it is dismay, at the prospect of spending the next four hours latching on to the phone when you are at the movie hall with your friends, the movie tickets in your hand. But make friends with a trader, and you’ll have to hear him call the telephone conversation as “mark-to-market” for the rest of your life. Why MTM? Because apparently his girlfriend keeps tracking his position with more accuracy than a GPS satellite.

Take this another guy. Ask him if he is game for a movie later on, and pat comes the reply, “dunno dude. I am the derivative. My girlfriend is the underlying. So my plans depend on hers!”

In college, lunch time talk used to be about the Kersam menu or the next screening on Friday. Join a company, and you are greeted with questions like

Him: “Hey, Sensex kahan hai?”

Me: “Er…Mumbai mein…?”

Him:”Ufff…. Tu aur tere gande PJs!”

Oh! So this is what they mean by brand inelasticity. Crack one PJ and all your innocent remarks are construed as PJs!

For the next 15 minutes, you have a naked exposure to a heavy crash course on sensex and exchange rate movements… “Dude, dollar has weakened to 45.20. Just yesterday I got 46 pesos! Should have converted more man!” Before he started on about hedging the currency risk on his chindi 500 dollar exposure, I stuffed the food down my throat and covered my position…..I mean, I ran out of the restaurant!

In time, you are so exposed to these analogies that you become one of them! Once I was explaining investment philosophies to a client.

Me: No sir, hedge fund managers are short investors. It is the active fund managers who are generally long.

Client (muttering to himself): These bankers and their f***ing prejudices! Who does he think he is? An NBA star?

Ohmygod! Have I forgetten the english language?

In the end, I guess it all depends on you. There are some people I know who have never changed. Some people whose lives still revolve around wet nights and getting drunk on weekends. Some people who spend all their weekend slumped on a couch watching an imdb 3.4 movie. Some people who take it as a personal challenge when their boss asks them to increase chocolate sales in the eastern region….

Now comes the question. Do I want to be the professionally successful holier-than-thou geek? Or the good-for-nothing lazyboy-bound human who is happy with his life?

Friday, August 17, 2007

For Sale: Parachute. Only used once, never opened, small stain.

First thing Monday morning, you as a management associate walk up to your office swearing that you will just not be a part of the furniture any more. Since "Look Busy Do Nothing" is the typical workplace philosophy, you decide to call up a client requesting for an appointment. Every Tom Dick and Harry except fresh MBA salesmen have a receptionist these days who picks up these phone calls even when the boss is busy cleaning his nails in the next room. As soon as you introduce yourself, the receptionist assumes you are out to sell a credit card to her boss! If there is one thing on earth that you can give ICICI Bank credit for, that is the brand recall they have generated for retail banking! How else do you explain the inexplicable association of banks with credit cards? Now, if that receptionist passes on the call to her boss, that’s it! She joins the sea of unemployed youth in the US who lose their jobs to middle class Indians willing to make a career out of speaking on the phone!

One barren week without a single appointment, and you realize the first golden rule of prospecting. Differentiate yourself from the credit card seller. You then miraculously recall your organizational design lessons and creatively call yourself an “Associate Manager”. Well, it may not be cool.. But better than business developer or management associate at any rate! But before you get a chance to pat your back, you realize that your competitor has beaten you by calling all their management grads AVPs! Imagine calling up your grandma in cochin and announcing that you have been made an assistant vice president in HBSC!.............and then a year later to tell her that you have been promoted to an assistant manager! Don’t look so incredulous! Assistant managers probably don’t have to call up strangers and request for appointments. With this piece of innovation, for once HSBC deviated from their industry nomenclature of Habitually Second Behind Citi!

Anyway, the boss talks to you over the phone and finally agrees to meet this hotshot Associate Manager from the “global bank” only to discover that the hotshot is only a lean spectacled schoolboy. You later realize that when you go cleanshaven, it only creates the impression that puberty hasn’t kicked in yet!

All your practice of lecturing to your juniors on their choice of electives rise up within you like a crescendo, as you pounce upon him with your knowledge of forwards, futures, swaptions, circus swaps, cross currency swaps and a zillion charms conjectured from thin air to dissolve his financial misery into oblivion! You begin to look for a crack on the floor to disappear into, when the customer interrupts you in the middle of a lecture on futures to give his own opinions on star gazing and astrology. You finally end the meeting begging and stealing his financials away (more because of his interest in astrology, than because of your expertise in derivatives).

Ever heard of the theory of negative selection???? To find an analogy that you can easily identify with…. Girls that are hot are already taken… and girls who hit on you arent hot enough…. So if the client is interested, credit guy wont touch him with a barge pole…and if the credit guy is drooling all over the client, the client has a million banks sniffing around for some action…

That brings us to the discussion with the credit risk team of the bank. If you’ve had a lot of experience dealing with government officials, you can count on those coming in handy! Think of your typical experience in a government office…

Him: “I need a proof of identity and proof of address. Do you have a ration card?”

You: “Yes”

Him: “How about a telephone bill?”

You: “Yes”

Him thinking: Now what is this clown unlikely to have? “How about a passport?”

You: “Oh! No sir, no passport!”

Him: “Aaah!!! Passport lagega! Passport ke bina kaam kaise hoga?”

Well, this pretty much is the best analogy I can think of for describing credit meetings! The rest of the deal is all about pricing and the like. You can take an easy shot at guessing how these would be. No different from the bargaining you see your mom doing with fish vendors! Moms: Best teachers of management, I tell you….

Dalal Street is no different from Red Street. Sales people always fight for clients and make money after they are through with their clients! You curse it, or love it. Sales is fun. It gives you an adrenaline rush like no other job. Beating a thousand other suckers to the deal.

Sales is probably the toughest job on earth…. Well, for starters, you do it to rob money off the guy whom you are selling to. Simple logic. Or else why wud you do it? and it is tough coz nobody wants to let you rob them! The title in short, summarizes the enormity of a sales pitch. You are saddled with the not-so-enviable task of offloading a product whether it is good or not. This questionable piece of logic has just sunk in the mind of a 23 year old lured by big bucks and plush offices! The inspiration to squeeze out a few words for this blog amongst the zilion spent on clients from Bhayandar to Bandstand.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nubile fantasies of a receding hairline

It is with great skepticism that a sane movie buff treats the letters r-a-j-i-n-i-k-a-n-t-h when put together. Throw in the words first-day-first-show, and you get a potpourri of emotions ranging from angst to disgust!

Though my roots trace back to the areas of Trichy hitherto explored only by barbarians and politicians canvassing for votes, I have always strived hard to be counted as a son of my adopted land Kerala. It is with great consternation that I swallow my true feelings when the largely ignorant northern parts of our large country christen everyone south of the Vindhyas as “madrassis”, in a derogatory fashion usually reserved for beggars! In fact, nothing could be farther from reality! Tams find a lot about us weird, like our love for booze and beef! If you are a tam and beg to differ with me, try walking up to yer dad and tell him that you are in love with a mallu! That’s the litmus test! Still, one thing that unites us is a love for movies and movie stars!

It remains a matter of perpetual argument between me and my tam friend Dharmesh about who is the better actor; Mohanlal (the chap whose rendition of hindi dialogues in the movie “company” reminded you of premchand) or Rajinikanth (the only human on earth whose fan following doubles every time his hairline recedes)! So, to settle the matter once and for all, we proceded to the movie hall where Sivaji the boss was being released! Yes, friendship makes you do silly things….

One can go to the extent of calling this frenzy the eighth wonder of the world! Vans packed with milk tins started off from our colony at 3 in the morning to the movie hall, where a 40-foot cutout of the actor was waiting to greet us! As a tribute to the actor and the marketing manager of amul, fan club presidents hurried up ladders and emptied all the milk… half on the cutout, and the rest on an unsuspecting skeptical mallu staring at the biggest nautanki ever witnessed by naked eye! Ticket counters opened an hour before the start of the movie to a cracker bursting welcome that would put presidents and nation builders to shame! Soon, ticket prices rose to a level that gets the Bombay builders thinking about their choice of business!

As the movie started, I got the feeling that I was the part of something that was larger than life. Kudos to the makeup man who made an ageing, balding man seem fresh enough to romance a girl younger than his own daughter on screen! Kudos to the most expensive director in Indian cinema for delivering a hit with a storyline more browbeaten than Federer on clay! Kudos to the girl who was ready to display all her talents and nubile fantasies to an audience under the shadow of an actor who earns a zillion times as much as she does! But all said and done, the catcalls of hundreds and thousands of fans were reserved for their hero who defied, rather abused the laws of gravity! Can I sense Newton turn in his grave? May his soul rest in peace!

As three states stake claim to this man, and critics and physics professors shake their head in disbelief, I watch the man unveil his charisma using one rupee coins, cigarettes and chewing gums in an era when actors are judged more on their bulging biceps than expressions!

I stand converted!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Home Alone - II

If you are thinking staying at home, after two years of hardwork at a bschool, gives you complete jurisdiction over the 20 sq ft area around the TV, you are mistaken. In the eyes of the higher authorities (read mom and dad), nothing holds greater importance than their little daughter. Even if she were going to college, a good 4 inches taller than me, and responsible for half the cases registered in our neighbourhood hospital in the last decade, she is always their “little” daughter!

Our intellect and common sense are two things we always take pride in. Whether we have it or not, we are certainly better off than Sam who sits opposite you at work and goes grocery shopping for mrs boss, or the girl you are dating who keeps telling on-off-on-off when you ask her if the indicator on your car is working fine… I cant think of a more outrageous way of emptying our preciously little brains than watching hindi tv serials! Every night for the last two months, I have been exposed to three hours of gut wrenching soaps that would make you want to trade your sister for Adolf Hitler himself, if given the opportunity!

A typical soap “woh rehne wali mehlon ki” (such a crass name!!!) has run for 1000 episodes revolving around three characters: Pari, her husband Sowmy (even men are given ladies’ names to increase TRPs!!) and her grandmom! Even Pari is fortunate enough not to have a younger sister! Sigh! An entire episode was about how Pari and her husband went out and she wanted to pluck mangoes from a tree! Didnt she hear about the special discounts at big bazar???

The cameraman and the makeup man are the most active people on the set. Hardly any job for the guy who writes the story and the screenplay.. Each dialogue is followed by a zoom on every actor in the room. The makeup man’s job is to drape the actors in shiny purple costumes that take the viewer’s attention off the actor’s face that always has the expression of an xler reading a gango question!

These soaps are somehow kinda like renting out your apartment in Bombay to 3 bachelors! Each time, one of them gets married and pushes off to greener pastures, another one comes in to take his place. Two Paris, three Sowmys and two grandmas later, the serial dint have any of its earlier cast…Little wonder that I couldn’t recognize it when I came back home after two years of MBA! “Mom, why is Pari’s hair grey? Did she grow old in just two years?” “That’s not Pari, stupid… she is now playing the role of the grandmother… because they found a better looking girl to play the role of Pari” Oh, I am the stupid one for not having figured this out! Not the director, crew and the million women watching this all over the country! Somehow this kinda sounded as though James Bond and the villain decided to swap roles after the intermission!

Neways, thank god for these serials… they provide a lot of employment to dumb and pretty people who can find nothing better to do… they keep the 40 yearold housewives glued to the TVs and lessen the burden on the MTNL fone lines…they also some youngsters like my “little” sister busy and decrease the number of hospital admissions in the vicinity…

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Home Alone - I

There are few events in life that generate as multifarious emotions in a 23 year old guy as the prospect of going home and facing one’s mother… I had left home and tasted freedom as early as when I was 15. Now, a school and two university degrees later, the God up there decided that excessive freedom bestowed on me was a danger to society and as if it were by his bidding, the angel of fate had found me a job close to home…..

My friends were much happier at these developments than I’d have liked. Probably because they were blessed with the foresight to expect some entertainment in this post and the subsequent brickbats. “Dude, the way I see it, the only problem with staying at home is that you cant bring a chick home…” No, don’t get scandalized. The two of us were known on campus as ‘Laurel and Hardy’; not exactly a description that would entice chicks to our messier-than-prison rooms! But that never stood in our way of fantasizing about greener prospects.. In any case, I let him pour his emotions and opinions out… After all, he too was in the same boat. “Just think of it dude. Havent you had enough with all the mess food? Do you really want to keep eating potatoes your entire life?” Well, this last point put things in perspective. It has been found by HR managers that nothing motivates their employees more than hurling abuses at the mess food during their bschool and engineering days. Well, if you are thinking that some of us like to abuse HR managers more, that’s a moot point here because the findings were made by HR managers themselves! Finally, to beat bang in the middle of the bush, I headed off for home with an appointment letter asking me to report exactly 58 days hence.

The first one week was heaven! With the typical euphoria surrounding a son’s return home! But then things started falling in place….. much like the difference between the PPTs the companies present on campus and the actual work you find when you land there…. A typical day goes on like this…..

“Rishi……rishi…….Rishi….RISHI!!! how can you sleep till 8 in the morning????? Remember what I’ve told you! Early to bed, early to rise….” Mom, since you told me that last, the earth has revolved around the sun 10 times, India has lost a zillion cricket matches and Iraq and Afghanistan have practically ceased to exist!

“How long will you keep staring at the comp! Already you look like a four-eyed alien with glasses thicker than a soda bottle!” Okay dad…….just think of a more endearing description when you advertise in the matrimonials, please!

“hello…. Oh shanta, kaisi ho?..... accha! Sri sri Ravishankar’s art of living discourse? Obviously we have to go… no, no… don’t bother….. my son is jobless only na! He’ll take me!!!” excuse moi?? Did she say that I’d take her???? Doesn’t my mom even know that my agnostic principles rest on the firm foundations of extreme lethargy and lack of willingness to go to far-flung temples and attend these pujas?????

I decide to shrug away the “jobless” tag by enrolling for driving classes…. At least, at the end of a month, license tho mil jayega! “Oh Bhai! Cycle samajh rakha hai kya? Main road hai…. Khud marega, mujhko bhi marvayega @#$%!” great………at least first three days I had to put up with only my mom’s abuses! To think that I sacrificed that to hear abuses from a complete stranger!

The uneventful day does have its perks like daily visits to the grocer, engaging him in challenging discussions like how the price of tomato has gone up by 2 Rs over the last one week, or how Ramu charges 1 rupee lesser for the “bigger” coconuts at the end of the street! These lively discussions are often interspersed with suggestions from Mrs Desai (that’s the generic name I give to all 55 year old housewives I meet at the grocer), who reminds me of the CP done by eager bschool students sitting in the front row! No new opinions… just the prof’s statement rehashed with a few synonyms…

All said and done, staying at home is quite refreshing and different… It’s quite flattering knowing that there is someone who keeps track of all that you are doing and takes care of you every second of the day! It’s flattering when you don’t have to make the long walk to the mess and wait longer for the spoons than for eating itself, but instead someone comes to you and feeds the food in your mouth… It’s flattering when you stop seeing potatoes in your subji, and in its place a tomato for which you haggled for 15 minutes with the grocer… nah! Nothing is worth all the haggling. I’d rather take the Karnam Malleshwari sized potatoes, that look as though they were cut with an axe!