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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Sharks

We were returning from a meeting with the treasury. I was accompanying our Group Business Head, the boss of my boss. He made a casual comment, then, almost 10 years back, the crux of which, I remember quite clearly. He had said referring to someone in treasury that they are grossly overpaid. Their bonuses come from profits they make on dealing in securities, but the profits come from market movements, rather than their decisions. They manage a large portfolio of investments. A small fraction of a percent gain results in huge bonuses. Losses can often be attributed to the market.  He also, perhaps, mentioned that it was unfair – unfair to those in other parts of the bank, who struggle harder, take real decisions, and face sterner consequences.

That guy in treasury is representative of many others in the corporate world, whose salaries and growth aspirations have to be met out of interests of customers, other employees, shareholders and even the larger society. These sharks are commonplace nowadays; the number has risen over the years and is rapidly rising.

They’re not difficult to identify at all, especially by someone at the top with sharp senses. So often, during meetings, at conferences or even as one passes by, this guy with sharp senses must be noticing this shark and thinking to himself, “If this guy wasn’t around, we’d have saved 5 mn!” But 5 mn is just the direct cost of this shark...the derivative costs are much higher.

Financial impact apart, the presence of such sharks is huge dent in the work culture and work ethic. It pulls down those who work with him – thus costing an opportunity. The sharks generally tend to build an army of mediocre subordinates around themselves, thus further denting all of the above. All such impacts can be calculated in financial terms and it can be seen that these costs are paid for by others, often with the life of the institution.  

Why do these people at the top let this menace bite through their companies? Shouldn’t they focus on this rather than on business numbers or regulators or media or stock prices? Or is it treated as an unavoidable hazard of a growing organisation?

Sharks are not just people. Often, departments or product propositions can have the same characteristics and consequences.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Disk Space in My Mind

For thinkers like me,..........................What? Why the smirk? You think I’m flattering myself by calling myself a thinker, huh? I don’t have to be a Gandhi, Tolstoy or Vivekanand to be a thinker. Anyway greatness does not have much co-relation with popularity. Anyone who spends considerable time thinking is a thinker. Since I don’t have much to do, I think...anyway, let me not get distracted.

For thinkers like me, majority of emotional upheavals (meaning a drop or surge in the emotional quotient like in case of anger, ecstasy, fear, jealousy, etc.) are caused by thinking of what my wife does, does not do, did, did not do, should do, should not do, should have done shouldn’t have done, says, does not say, said, did not say......I hope you get the drift. But it is not about my wife alone. There ought to be a comma after wife. After the comma, other entities like children, mother, father, siblings, neighbour, the mayor of my town, my subordinate, my boss, the managing director of my company, the prime minister of my country, the president of the USA, the head of the European Union, the leaders of Islamic State....the list seems endless.

You think this is funny? I’ve been thinking of how to illustrate the entire gamut in a figure. If I use a table or an excel sheet, this is how it may look like. The number of rows may increase manifold. The verbs stated here are commonly used ones.



One such sheet is for each entity. Then I realised that there are cross-sheet relationship like I also think about what my wife did but children did not do. The operating system of the mind must be amazing. It has to store emotions and thoughts in so many cells and pivot tables. For the moment I’ve given up trying to illustrate it in a figure. But what the hell, I am not able to illustrate the map of the place my mind travels in, every day, every moment. All the technology is rendered insufficient!

Anyway, illustration is not the crux of what I intend communicating here. The crux is that all the emotional upheavals and the consequential actions and emotions are caused by stuff I can do almost nothing about!

Pause. Read the highlighted portion again – slowly – one word at a time. Stare into space while you introspect. Continue reading only if your reaction is, “Oh! What a profound insight!” or “I never thought of it this way!” or at least “I agree.”

Now we move to the crux part 2. If, instead of offering the disk space in my mind to so many entities, whose actions I have no control on, I choose to, try to and struggle to concentrate my mind only to what I do, what I don’t do, what I should do, what I should not do, what I say, what I don’t say, etc., would it be better?

I’ve had this realisation earlier as well, vaguely though. That time I started focussing my attention to what I was doing. Now the result is quite interesting. I’ve been doing Yoga-asanas for over 12 years now. But by focussing my thoughts inwards, last month, I realised that my Sarvangasana was perhaps incorrect. I was giving more support to my back, because of which, the tension, which should get created on the abdominal muscles was not getting created. I corrected my posture and felt much better doing the same Yoga-asana! Invaluable, priceless benefit for me, though it may not be of any value to another person!

Now, consider this. If I were to (as in, destined to or required to) find a solution to the crisis of refugees in Europe, somehow, I’d have been required to act in that direction. But as it stands today, I just read about it in papers or internet, knowing well that there may be innumerable other perspectives to the same story, I’m not exposed to. I do find myself sad, disgusted and aggrieved. But, does it help any person concerned? It doesn’t seem so. I’ve no business to take any side, since I have no stakes. Why, then am I getting worked up? Same is the case with other entities.

Every megabyte or kilobyte of space in my mind, which gets occupied by issues I can’t do much about eats into space I can offer to issues I can do something about.


Selfish! Did you say I’m being selfish and unconcerned about larger issues? Well, you may say so, but I can’t do much about it, unless you ask me to clarify. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Ek Villain

It’s the title of a Hindi movie. I quite liked the plot, the performances and the presentation of this rather off-beat story. I don’t care if it was lifted or inspired by another movie.

I don’t know if the psychological disorder shown in the movie exists to that extent or leads to such actions, but the existence and dominance of negative emotions cannot be denied. I found myself empathysing with a brutal murderer. This guy is representative of contemporary criminals like the perverse rapists or fraudsters, who commit heinous crimes in complete consciousness. It may be an exaggerated narration, but I will not be really surprised to know that such persons exist.

If one cares to give it thought, it is quite miraculous how we’re able to live with so much negativity around and about us. In the last decade or so, we’re able to communicate much better. But what is it that is getting communicated? All that newspapers and news channels talk about and highlight are a variety of crimes and violence, wars and counter wars, incompetence and futility of governments and oppositions, natural calamities & accidents, corporate scandals and the ‘legally permitted crimes’ committed on the pretext of growth and profitability. The social media is no different. Our experiences in dealing with shopkeepers, employers, teachers of schools, police, office bearers of housing society and just about everybody is laced with negativity. Everything is enraging and as spectators, we are helpless. The pent up anger just keeps coming out from a container with a bottomless pit.

Then a spiritual guru appears on the scene and talks of positivity, compassion, meditation. We read some quotable quotes on social media. We ignore the negativity for some time. We hit ground again sooner than later. Then we get sick of all this and decide to take a vacation. But let us not run away from the fact that if acts of mindless violence are on the rise, it is representative of the rise of violence in the minds of people.

If we make a list of people we’re angry with, it will perhaps encompass the entire humanity. Sounds unlikely? Let’s try. We’re angry with the politicians because they are corrupt and self-centered. We’re angry with the government because they’re incompetent and ineffective. We’re angry with the bureaucrats because they are bureaucratic. We’re angry with the businessmen because they’re blinded by profit motive. We’re angry with service providers because they don’t do their job honestly. We’re angry with the environmentalists and activists because they stall the growth efforts. We’re angry with terrorists because they kill innocent people. We’re angry with the judiciary because they take too much time to judge and even then pass wrong judgements. We’re angry with the children because they just don’t behave the way they should. We’re angry with parents because they just don’t understand. We’re angry with God because...

The world of alternate thinkers is quite interesting. The alternate thinkers and sustainability proponents are very angry with the mainstream.  The environmentalists, the human rights activists, the food & nutrition experts, the natural farmers and organic farmers, the educators and education enthusiasts, the gurus of peace and love, the animal rights activists, the proponents of an alternate economic models and a host of other such groups are angry with people outside their group. Even within the group there is substantial difference of opinion and conflict.

There is absolutely no dearth of knowledge and arguments on either sides of the table. There is billion times more information than what one can read even in the table of contents.
But, there is violence beneath much of this.

Can we be non-violent in the mind, in our thoughts? A teacher in Haider, another Bollywood movie I liked says, “Jab tak hum is inteqam se azaad nahi hote, tab tak koi aazadi hame azaad nahi kar sakti.”


I’m sick of thinking about all of this. I’m sure you’re sick reading about it as well. Let us go and play a game. Even if it means playing with the same people you’re angry with. Which game? Any one. Carrom, chess, rummy, badminton, cricket, snakes & ladders, kabaddi....Just about any game. Play it with someone or play it alone. Just get lost in it.

Companion

“You’re lucky to have a spouse, whose thinking is aligned with yours”, we’re often told. Indeed. We’re lucky to have each other as companions. For both of us, it is difficult to imagine what life would have been if there was someone else.

But I do not agree that many of those who say so are unlucky in this regard. In fact, in very few cases, I sense that one is held back because of his/her spouse. What is lacking is either clarity in thought, honesty of effort or endurance to stay put.

A friend of mine, Sanjay has also been a colleague. We come from quite similar family backgrounds and academic paths. While in office, we spent a lot of time discussing life, gossiping of the irony of people, sharing practices for good health. Career-wise, both of us were quite un-ambitious. We often spoke of our exit from job and life thereafter. Then I quit job to move to a farm life and Sanjay thought that soon he too will move out. We did not have exactly the same vision of an ideal life, but moving off the systemic conveyor belt had to be common starting point.

It’s been three years since I quit. Sanjay has been following our movements. In our latest meeting, I felt a bit uneasy. There was some bitterness in his tone. He said, “Buddy, you’re lucky. Your wife is co-operative. It’s not the same for everyone. Sheetal (his wife) loves city life. She wants the best school and a bright path for Arjun (his 5 yr old son). The weekend eating out, shopping, going on a vacation are very important for her. I can’t even dare to discuss you and your life with her. I’m scared she might stop me from meeting you. As it is, we have loads of arguments about healthy habits, non-essential shopping and all that. But I’m happy for you, man. Make the most of the opportunity.”

“Tell me, when you all go to a restaurant, do you refrain from eating there?”

“No, I too eat.”

“But, you were so particular of not eating out. You know it’s unhealthy and an unnecessary expense. If you let them eat, while you cook for yourself, you’ll at least ensure your health, save some money and may be, some day, make an impression on them.”

“Oh, man! You will not understand. If I create scenes like these, my family life will get finished.”

“Is this your fear, or you have tried?”

“I have lived with her for 12 years now. I’m sane enough to know what to try and what not. I told you, you will not understand.”

“Come on, man. Are you saying that your wife does not give you enough space to do things, which are healthy? She does, right? Does she disagree with the fact that though eating out is unhealthy and expensive, you eat out to relax after a hectic week, have a bit of family time and eat tasty stuff, which is otherwise difficult to have?”

“I guess, she should agree to that.”

“So, if you tell her that you are ok to go out, spend the time and money, but will not eat out, since you anyway don’t particularly enjoy the taste, what will she have to say?”

“Why create so much fuss? Then someone will have to cook separately for me. Besides, it’s not that I don’t enjoy the taste. It’s good, once in a while.”

“So, what you’re saying is that Sheetal enjoys eating out and you don’t mind it once a week, though you can stay without it. You know that it is unhealthy but you also want to avoid confrontation.”

I paused, just in case there was any disagreement. When there was none, I continued, “Is it not sufficiently clear that you are the one, not her, who feels the dissonance? It is your decision to not suggest an alternative. Then why blame her? If I were Sheetal, I would have felt annoyed at the way you think of her. If you are so committed to your health, then take whatever care you feel is necessary. At least suggest an alternative.”

He decided to keep quite. I sensed that he’s trying to avoid confrontation, this time with me.

I dropped the subject and started talking of business, politics, climate change and other world issues. But I could not help feeling sorry for Sheetal. 

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Inviting Participants To A Fair Marketplace

A theory of a ‘Fair Marketplace’ or a ‘Fair Price’ may be a good starting point for the creation of a Fair Marketplace. But is it a necessary condition? Let’s explore.

Let us consider the starting point as the presence of connected market participants (providers and consumers of goods and services) who are willing to act in this direction and who don’t distrust each other. There may or may not be a reason to trust, but it is sufficient if there is no reason to distrust. Let us see if these ingredients are sufficient to get started. There may not be a shared theory, philosophy, or ideology. You may not understand economics at all. You may not know or agree that the prevailing market practices are exploitative and unfair. If you say, “I am committing to participate in a marketplace, which is based on fair (non-exploitative) prices, not co-related with or based on the prices determined by the existing market forces.”, we’re on.

The first step is to create a laundry list of people with relevant details. What kind of people? Owners of businesses, self-employed professionals or freelance service providers should be able to participate on the supply side. On the demand side, everyone, who is a consumer, should be able to participate. We’ve left out salaried individuals from the supply side because they may not be in a position to influence fairness in the operations of their employers.

One may take a stand that I want to be fair, but I will act only when we have a fool-proof theory and everyone all others are also fair. There is also another way to start off. We trust each other and start off. Start-off means we begin economic exchange at prices, which are fair and in no way compared with the price in the existing marketplace. Let us simulate price determination and further activity leading to an economic exchange.

Who determines the price? The provider does. We have trusted his commitment to be fair. Can there be more providers of the same service? Yes, there can be. Should there be a guideline for the provider to arrive at the price? There may be a guideline, which says that ‘The occupation/profession of the provider is expected to enable the provider to meet his/her needs and those dependent on him/her.’

The above guideline leads us to a very interesting scenario. There are two service providers, one a bachelor with no dependents and leading a very minimalistic life and another, a family person with many dependents, who require medical attention. Both provide same service. The price that both arrive at may be vastly different. Nonetheless, both follow the guideline. Can there be a marketplace, where different prices exist for the same product/service?

The answer to the above question is also interesting. We agree that the occupation/profession of the provider should enable him to fulfil his/needs and we also agree that we trust his integrity in arriving at the prices. Since people have different needs, the prices for the same product or service will be different and has to be accepted. By not accepting this difference, we will end up pushing the prices to those determined by demand and supply. This is a completely different paradigm. It deserves some thought.

Let’s say the new paradigm is acceptable. In another scenario, the service provider is passionate about photography or scuba diving or car racing. In order to meet the expenses of his passion, he needs to jack-up the price of his service. Now is the difference in pricing acceptable?

Before we seek an answer to the question, let us examine the question itself. It is quite obvious that the pricing in such a situation is not acceptable and is also unfair to the consumer. But that is not the point. The point to be noted is that such questions arise because we think of such a possibility. We think of such possibilities because we’re conditioned to distrust. When we’ve trusted the provider’s integrity to arrive at the price, we must also trust that he/she understands that loading the expense of an expensive passion/hobby is unfair on the consumer. Therefore, the question is redundant.

We’ve moved one more step. We’ve accepted the new paradigm that price of a product/service may differ based on the need of the service provider. We’ve also ruled out the possibility that the provider will indulge in practices to hike prices, which are clearly unfair. That leaves us with those scenarios, where there is a marginal difference of opinion between the provider and the consumer as to ‘what is fair’. Such differences can be and should be sorted out bilaterally.

One last point to be included in the new paradigm (referred to earlier). As the consumer takes the responsibility of accepting a price, which fulfills the needs of the provider, the producer also must accept the responsibility of fulfilling that need of the consumer, which his product is meant to satisfy. This cross acceptance of responsibility will go a long way in determining a fair price.

Guess this may be sufficient food for thought for one blog post. Let me continue in the next post.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Economic Equations of a Fair Market Place

Problem Statement: Coconut prices dipped sharply sometime last month owing, perhaps to over supply or lack of demand. Farmers suffered because they could not recover the costs. 

Understanding, Analysing and Solving the Problem: 

  1. The proceeds from coconut sales were supposed to be sufficient to meet the livelihood expenses of the farmer in addition to covering the direct and indirect costs of growing the coconuts. At this stage, let us assume that the price paid for growing the coconuts (labour, etc) are fair. 
  2. Let us focus on two assumptions of the problem. First, that the buyer is unwilling to pay a price higher than the one determined by the market. Second, that the seller has an understanding of what is fair price.
  3. Let us begin with the second assumption. Is the seller equipped to determine the fair price, without reference to the previous market price? If we assume that there is a buyer who is willing to pay a price, which is fair, will he be able to calculate the fair price? Will he agree that any price above this price is unfair to the buyer? Will the buyer trust him and agree with his calculation? 
  4. If the dialogue is between the seller and the buyer, without any intermediary, it seems very much possible that all the above questions get a 'yes' in response.
  5. Thus the two parties can arrive at a Market Price, which is acceptable as fair to both parties. 
  6. Now, let us get the aspect of demand and supply. The seller has arrived at the unit price of coconut assuming that all his stock will be sold. But if the supply is more than demand, the seller is unable to meet his total sale proceeds requirement. He then needs to innovate to add value and sell the value added product or sell it to someone who can add value or preserve it. This transaction also has to happen at the same fair price. Is that difficult? If no, great. In most commodities, it should not be difficult. Some amount of processing or preservation is possible. But if it is indeed not possible to add value or preserve, both the buyer and the seller should bear the brunt and reduce the production of coconut next year and replace it with something else.
  7. If the demand is more, the buyer has to find an alternative to coconut (or consume less) and urge the seller to increase production next year by replacing something else with coconut. 
Appears to simplistic, isn't it? I agree it does appear simplistic. But that is not the point. The point to be noted is that if there is sufficient trust between the buyer and the seller and both are committed to being fair, a solution is possible. Even a complex problem can be solved. It may take more time or intelligence, but it is possible to arrive at a fair price. 

If you think you are a fair buyer and a fair seller, let me know. Let us see if we have sufficient number of people to create a fair marketplace! 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Fair Price Determination

Price (of goods or service) is determined at the point where the demand curve meets the supply curve .  This was one of the first lesson of economics taught to us in junior college. They’d still be doing the same, I guess.

A separate note may be required to illustrate that this method of price determination has resulted in certain goods and services being priced obnoxiously high or obnoxiously low. It may also be argued that because of this, the social inequalities have widened further. Also, economic sustainability of certain professions has come under serious threat, irrespective of the fact that the services are life essentials. The income potential of many service providers, in absolute terms is  so low that it questions the sustainability a society where price is determined by this mechanism. But this is a separate subject in itself. We’re assuming its understanding for the purpose of this note.

Academically, it may be argued that these anomalies will get corrected over a period of time and such period shrinks as the information in the market tends towards perfection. But it is this intermittent period, which can create tension amongst the socio-economic classes of a society, which may lead to unrest and even civil wars.

The government plays the role of lubricator to avoid friction by taxing the ‘have’s’ and passing benefits to the ‘have not’s’ by way of welfare programmes and subsidies. The risk of civil unrest aside, certain members of the benefiting class of the society notice the apathy of the other class. Some of them take a charitable view of the situation and either engage in roles similar to the government or convince buyers to pay higher prices by appealing to the charitable nature of members in their own class. However, both the government and the charitable class work to heal the symptom (social inequality).

A cursory observation is sufficient to infer that these interventions by the government and non-government institutions haven’t healed the symptom. Not because the idea is incorrect. But the rate at which the inequality is increasing is far higher than the rate at which these institutions are able to bridge the gap. The net gap thus keeps widening.
The question to be explored is this: Is it possible to fix the method of price determination in such a way that the undesirable symptoms are avoided? The answer, after due deliberation, appears to be ‘No’. The current mechanism of price determination flows out of natural behaviour of human beings living in a society. Any intervention by government or non-government institutions to curb the undesirable symptoms of such behaviour has resulted in additional, perhaps bigger problems like corruption and systemic inefficiencies.  It might even be argued that these interventions, aimed at bridging the inequalities, themselves have contributed to the increased gap.

What does all this mean in the current context? If one goes by a a linear equation, it forecasts wider inequalities leading to social unrest, leading to disruption of the current economic mechanism. Across many countries & regions in the world, the social tension resulting from such power struggle is being witnessed and is also threatening life. But societies have never adhered to linear equations; and this fact is what keeps the hope alive. The hope is that some new variables will alter the equation.

Village Swaraj is the culmination of Mahatma Gandhi’s view on the subject. It outlines the working of an ideal society. Someone rightly commented that such a society, which has attained swaraj, i.e. swa+raj can only be created by individuals, who have attained control (raj)over their own individual selves (swa). From an economist’s perspective, what are the characteristics of such a person? Let us attempt to understand this. He is content with what he earns and owns. Greed does not urge him to earn more and fear does not persuade him to own more. He does not view his economic standing by comparing himself with fellow-members of the society. Someone with more or less economic prosperity is viewed as the manifestation of diversity amongst human beings.
If such individuals inhabit a society, the theory of village swaraj may be witnessed in practice. Ironically, such a society will not require the theory of village swaraj. It may turn out that description of what one observes in such a society coincides with the theory of village swaraj.

How would such a society determine price? It would be unacceptable in this society that a specialist surgeon charges Rs.10000 for a day’s work, while the farmer sells his labour Rs. 200 per day. However, to arrive at a fair price for every product and service is tough, almost an impossible job. How then will price be determined? Such a society will leave the responsibility of determining the price with the supplier. In case of multiple suppliers / service providers, they may collectively arrive at fair price. Buyers or service recipients will not question the pricing. In fact they will receive the service with gratitude and at the same time bless the service providers. There is no need for laws to ensure fairness.

Do such individuals exist? My guess is that most individuals are intrinsically such. But the ones who are most likely to realise such a society are the ones, who have the ability to swim against the tide. 

Lonely, but not Scared Anymore!

We don’t fit into any ready mould. Neither in the mainstream nor in the alternate sphere. This makes me feel lonely, but also relieved. Relieved, because I’ve come to terms with this fact. Relieved, also because I’m not obliged to adhere to any religion – Environmentalism, Nationalism, Humanism, Consumerism, Capitalism, or any other religion or belief system with regard to farming, education or social order. This may come as a surpris for a few of you reading. You may have thought that I’ve a strong sense of ideology, but fact is that I have no sense of identity in the belief systems of anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism, anti-modernity and the like. I have no grudge against the mainstream anymore.

I’m unable to connect with any group, but I feel very much connected with every individual. I’ve discovered that all individuals are like that. When I converse with one person, whether about economics of different farming approaches or about education of children or about managing personal finances or almost any other subect, the conversation is quite an open communication. Both of us listen to each other. However, one more person joins in, and the conversation gets dominated by fears, doubts, distrust and caution. Of course, these emotions come to fore in the guise of practicality or pragmatism. The flip-side of the discussions so far with individuals has been that these turned out to be purely academic in nature. In every case, no action emanated or was intended. Purely academic conversations become quite boring.

But I’m no longer scared of this loneliness. That does not mean that I’m ok to stay lonely. It means that with time, I feel hopeful that we will not be lonely. The thought of what our children will experience on this front had been scaring me some time back, but the fear has been reduced a bit. My father and brother have been telling me that we’ve shown strength and determination in difficult situations. Things can only get better in future. I feel confident of our physical and mental strength to wade through rough waters – together. That helps me overcome fear. In the last few days, I’ve analysed our finances as well and the assessment assures me that we are adequately provided for even if we are unable to earn for the next 15-20 years.

What if we continue to remain lonely, despite our efforts to be otherwise? Unlikely; because if I remain alone for a long enough time, I’d have learnt to live alone – and that is not the same as being lonely!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

This Issue of Financial Security

Money has such a pivotal role. Almost no one can be indifferent to it. However, very few, a miniscule minority really understand it and can take balanced decisions about it. While it is a rational subject, emotions drive decision making.

A person in his forties, earning Rs. 5mn pa, but is absolutely unhappy with his job, is asked, “How much more money do you want to earn, before you feel secure enough to retire?” He says, “I would like to quit, but I can’t arrive at a figure, the more, the better.”

Now, this can be interpreted in two ways. One, that his cribs about his jobs are nothing more than an engaggement in self-pity. He needs someone to agree with him that he’s going through troubles and that factors outside are responsible for his misery. The second interpretation is that he truly wants to free himself out of his misery, but is not feeling financially secure to quit his job. Which of the interpretations is correct can be easily gauged by asking simple questions like, “If you do a thorough examination of your finances and you realise that you have more than enough for all your financial needs, will you quit immediately?” Or one may say, “I know of someone, who is very good at answering this question of financial security. He has done it for himself and has also helped many more feel secure. We can meet him tomorrow. Should I fix a time?” It is then easy to ascertain which of the interpretation is correct.

During the last few months, I’d been unsure about our financial security. I know that this is a rational subject and the logical answer can be found by simply arithmatic calculations. The financial objectives are as under

  • There is no need to build a networth to be inherited by children.
  • All needs including those beyond physical sustenence, should be considered for fulfillment. On cross examination, if it is found that for fulfilling a particular need, the time and effort required to earn the requisite money is not worthwhile, the need may be dropped.
The question to be answered was whether I had enough to achieve my financial objectives. Since there is no need to leave inheritance, it is alright to deplete principal amount. The results of my calculations revealed that if I have a networth of Rs. 10 mn, I manage this money to generate returns of 12% pa, I withdraw 30k per month for the first year and then increase the monthly withdrawal by 10% every year (to account for inflation), then, I will be able to satisfy my financial requirements till 2060 and still have assets worth Rs. 15mn. 30k is a little more than what we currently spend on an average per month. In 2060, I will be over 80 years, probably dead. It should also be considered that during the coming years and decades, I will make efforts to earn.

Does that make me feel financially secure? Yes, it does. But I’m not sure if this kind of understanding will help other people. There are many I know, who have so much that they will not be able to spend in this lifetime, but are still unsecure. There’s something else that helps in getting that sense of security.

Anyone wanting to explore their own financial standing, welcome to drop me a line.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The problem with the System is...

Generic, casual but serious discussions, particularly those pertaining to corruption, politics, education, depeleting value systems, ecological consciousness, healthy food and habits, organic farming, etc have a typical tendency. Within no time, the discussion enters the area of ‘shortcomings and defficiencies of the existing system’. The unanimous culprits are greed of capitalists, ignorance & indifference of consumers and inefficiency of governments. Every participant bashes the three entities as if he belongs to no group. Reality, however, is that he belongs to all of them.

 Till this point, the discussion is in the arena of entertainment and/or social interaction. As a natural fallout, a few people feel initiated enough to take charge of the situation and act responsibly. Their conviction and action begin with an assumption that the system needs correction and it can happen through an awareness about what is wrong with the existing system.

At this point, let me elaborate by taking an example. Let’s say ecology. The argument of those educated on the subject is that we (mankind) have misused natural resources to satisfy our greed and in the process caused ecological imbalance, thereby threatening sustainability. If man had been more conscious, we wouldn’t be sitting on a time-bomb. We must correct it by being ecologically conscious and spreading awareness.

When the awareness is being spread, the audience (people outside this group of committed individuals) accept the rationale undisputedly. There is indeed no logical flaw in the argument. However, most of them do not refuse the plastic bag offered by the vegetable vendor nor remind themselves to carry a bag when they step out to buy vegetables. Which means that though they agree with the message, their actions are not aligned. They also have very plausible reasons for not being able to adhere.

Naturally, this enrages the person who’s spreading awareness. He says, “Yesterday this guy agreed that we should be more conscious about our ecology and today he forgets! People are so insensitive and indifferent. The government must ban plastic bags altogether. That is the only way to stop this mess.”

At this stage, let us review what the activist is saying. He says that the businessman in his greed is destroying the ecology. The consumer is insensitive and indifferent. If the government actually bans plastic bags and enforces it effectively, the activist feels a sense of victory. But the government in the long run, is a representative of people, unless it is a dictatorial type. So sooner than later, the goverment also becomes the adversary of the ecology.

My argument with the campaigner is as below.

Any characteristic demonstrated by the system is not by design. It is by default. What I mean is that the system appears to be insensitive, because a critical mass people happen to be insensitive. The three entities are not working together to destroy the ecology. Ecological destruction is an incidental fallout of the way they are! Important to note here is that people are the way they are, not the way they have made themselves. Since people just happen to be the way they are, they cannot change themselves to become otherwise. It is beyond them. Therefore, it is not possible to change the characteristics of the system. To me, it appears quite naive to think that logical argument can turn an insensitive person into a sensitive one. He hasn’t become insensitive by choice, so he cannot choose to be sensitive.

So, what should the campaigner do? Give up?
Yes. The campaigner must give up trying to cleanse the businessman of his greed, the consumer of his insensitivity and the government of its inefficiency. The more he tries, the more they will resist. The campaigner must accept that these systemic realities as given and then address his concern for the ecology, which is in-turn a concern for the same people in the system.

Is this like saying that you accept defeat and still keep fighting? 
No. As I see it, there is no fight. So, there is no defeat. If the ecology continues to worsen, is that defeat for the activist? Surely not. It is a direct fallout of people’s characteristic and their actions (which stem from the characteristics).

If I were as concerned about the ecological imbalance as the activist is, I would live a life, which does not create imbalance or creates least possible imbalance. If I were too troubled living in the imbalanced ecology, I would try and live in a place, where I’m not subjected to the illeffects of ecological imbalance. If I find that there are other people, who are equally concerned about the ecological imbalance, I would try and figure out if it is possible re-create the systemic realities in which people would be sensitive, businessmen will not fill their ambitions by over-looking or ignoring the imbalance created.

It seems logical to me that if there are sufficient number of people, who are willing to live a life without creating or creating the least possible ecological imbalance, the system will automatically reflect ecological sensitivity. But, and this is an important but; if there aren’t the critical mass number of people, who are willing to live by a principle or philosophy, it is futile to alter the system characteristics, because system characteristics are purely a reflection of the way people are.

I was initiated to write this after reading about a movement, started in Bangalore, in which the initiators of the campaign are trying to impress upon other people and the government, why they must act and take decisions, which ensure sustainability in areas of agriculture, education, cottage industries, etc. My humble submission is that if there aren’t enough number of people, who live by the tenets of sustainability, the system cannot reflect it. Living by tenets of sustainability means living holistically, not piece-meal, not only those aspects, which are convenient. These people must then discard all practices of what they agree as ‘unsustainable’ way. For example, and these are quite tough to execute, market price cannot be the base on which price should be determined for transactions, the framework for education and occupation may need to be re-invented at a very fundamental level, the various useful fallouts of the ‘unsustainable way’ like the internet, money, scientific inventions in the various areas, need to be reviewed for usage.

If there is a critical mass number of people, who can live by making ‘sustainability’ as the pivot of their lives, then the unsustainable and the sustainable ways of life can co-exist till the time either everyone lives sustainably or the unsustainable way of life ends life itself. At the cost of repetition I would like to re-iterate that the system has never been modified and cannot be modified by conscious action. Systemic change is simply reflection of change amongst critical mass people. Satyagraha is quite a tough act!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A Sinking kind of Feeling

There has been a strange feeling inside, which is tightening its grip off late. It’s a sinking kind of feeling. I’m finding it quite difficult to articulate, but I guess I must do so. Let me trace the various strands, which may be the causes.

  • There is a substantial lack of enthusiasm. Not about anything in particular, but generally a lack of enthusiasm. This state seems to be similar to the time, when after about a decade of working and being ‘successful’, there wasn’t much to look forward to. Linear progress on professional and personal fronts wasn’t exciting.
  • Most reasons, for which we happened to walk a path less trodden, seem almost irrelevant. There is no flaw in the thought process for eg. good food, good habits, lead to good health, stress-free state of mind, which further leads to a great environment for children to grow up in. There is no denying these facts. But these reasons are not complete. Perhaps there is an agenda, which is yet to be realized. At least, it appears so. There has to be.
  • The path of the mainstream surely is not an alternative. The possibility of walking that path again is far more depressing.
  • I’d expected our altered lifestyle to have some influence on people close to us and others as well. Though this was not the purpose for altering the lifestyle, I must accept that there was some anticipation. For example, I’d anticipated that many people will seriously try to understand our approach with regard to children. If we were to invite people to let their children live with us, there would be at least few parents, who would seriously consider it, at least for few months or years. But as it appears today, we’ve been largely forgotten.
  • Many times, I feel as if I’m dead and I’m watching the world, people known and unknown and the lack of impact of my death. True, no one is indispensable, but so inconsequential? The claps of the applause and the voices of encouragement, which pepped us up during the first year or so have all died out. Everyone has gotten back to work.
  • As I write this, it strikes me that all this anticipation about the influence over others was always supposed to be incidental and not the main purpose. But the fact is that this incidental impact is also important. I do realize that it should not bother me. It does not really bother, but does result in this sinking feeling.
  • Another, quite similar fact, which keeps playing on my mind, is that the social standing of people like me is absolutely unacceptable. It appears to me that I’ve slipped in hierarchy and am on the sidelines, whereas I’d expected to be of help to my peers, friends, family and other hitherto unknown people.


I have no clue, at all, about the way out of this state. There is no intellectual understanding, which is lacking. The lack of influence and the slipped social standing is a reality and I must accept it. Till the time this acceptance comes at a very deep level, I guess this feeling will remain.