Monday, July 17, 2006

...

It has almost been two hours since you left for work. I guess you’re going to be late again- like you have been for most of this week. It is always like this, the week before you head abroad for your on-site projects. I remember you telling me that this trip is going to be shorter. Yes, they have become shorter, a few weeks at most, but a lot more frequent.

Have you seen the hibiscus in our backyard lately? They have come out quite well. The red seems so, so… intimate. It’s a pity though the chrysanthemums failed this year. As did the Zinnias. But I am very pleased with my work. I know you’ll notice, once you manage to get away from the laptop and the sitcoms on TV.

I am sure you’ve even forgotten that our house has five rooms now, just for the two of us. Four of them to take turns to sleep in, and that one big hall, where I spend most of my time. Not like the little studio apartment we moved into when you began working. Sometimes at night I walk around the house. After you’ve gone to bed, after I hear you snore softly into your pillows when I walk past your door in the dark, after the Guptas have switched off their lights, after the Mahajans’ daughter has been dropped back from some party. I walk in the dark, from one room to another. Two nicely made beds. Unslept in months. I feel happy as I realize how well you’re doing for yourself at work to be able to afford this house for us. Sometimes I think of suggesting you to buy this one. But then … things are so complicated right now.

Have you noticed, how few people come visiting us these days?

(I forgot to tell you that the agency lady called last evening. I think the new lady should be coming in tomorrow. She seems nicer than the previous one, doesn’t she?)

I have trouble remembering things lately. I guess my medicines were of some use after all. I haven’t taken the pills from the red bottle in two weeks. The other one, the one that doctor said I couldn’t afford to miss if I wanted to avoid being sent away, I still take. I have this feeling that you’re going to be wild.

But there are things I do remember clearly.

I remember when we were kids, and I used to tell you that we’d be married and live in the same house with our respective spouses. And party all the time. And always have quorum for carom. I guess this was what you had in mind when we moved in here. When we were kids… aha… seems so distant now.

I recall the night you, after years of living in denial, after many men in white coats, after numerous referrals, finally began to believe the diagnosis. That it could happen to me, that everything could be normal, and yet not quite. That life would never be the same again. That my mental disorder was for real, and not just a random case of short attention spans. And that it was degenerative. How you brought me back from Delhi, and locked yourself up in the bathroom for hours.

I remember that look in your eyes, when Maa died, in the same manner as Baba- quietly in bed, in grief, knowing that after me there would be no next of kin. The cold look, that held a steely resolve, which told me that I wouldn’t be taken away and locked up somewhere.

And how about your absolute conviction that I should do the household chores, buy the groceries, the meat, the vegetables, oversee the maid, the laundry, the cooking. Almost as if so that you could tell the world, and yourself, that I was paying for my subsistence. (And yes, I do remember how you held me once when I came back home, tears streaming, because I had lost the shopping bag and all my money, and how afterwards you made me go look for it.) That I should continue writing and sending it out. And that I should check the mail for replies. Have not written much lately, but like I said, I have been strangely distracted.

And I remember that infrequent string of men in the house. Don’t know how you met them. I think they worked with you or something. At least that cute guy Vikram told me he did. (He was quite nice- once tried to explain to me what work you did, and how you were the only woman on the floor and how I must be so proud of you.) And then some went inside with you. And I remember, standing next to your half-open door. In the dark, while our eyes met for a flash. The first time it happened, I saw shock- and I guess for a while you froze in the frenetic motions of passion. I remember how gradually, on subsequent occasions, that initial shock hardly lasted, and a pain took its place- a pain much deeper than I’ll ever feel. They probably didn’t even notice the slowing in the rhythm, the muting of the moans. No, I’m sure they didn’t.

These trips of yours are beginning to irritate me. I feel so lost with these women in the house. The last one talked so much over the phone that I just couldn’t work. She’d figured her husband was cheating on her, I guess, and by the time you returned I could’ve done a libretto on it. I wish you’d stop leaving me with these caretakers while you went away. I know it’s a part of the deal you cut with my doctor. I know, but sometimes I wish I could just tell them to sign somewhere and vanish for the day. But I don’t- I know you’ll be upset if you found out.

You know we’re getting on in years. In fact I can’t even say I’m in my early thirties. Lost that privilege two years back. And you, can barely do so- may be for a few more months. And then what? How much longer can we swim together in our dreamless little fishbowl? Have been asking myself that question often lately. There is way too much beauty in this world for you to ignore. I heard Sriraj had a baby girl. I quite liked that guy- a bit heavyset, but a great sense of humour. The two of you should’ve carried on. Wonder why you split? Or perhaps I do. Like the others. But the rest, they were just OK. I think by now you’re getting the drift.

Chhaya is not coming in today-I gave her the day off. Instead of having leftovers from last night, I had two bars of Toblerone. Don’t worry, there’s still one left for you in the refrigerator. And then I had some of that Stoli you got last time and then smoked one of your long Chinese cigarettes. It felt so, so good, and almost took me back to that special place, so far away. I shaved today, after your numerous reminders.

Like I said, you’ll be late from work today. And I am feeling very drained now. I guess it has something to do with the three thin lines I cut on my left wrist about an hour back. Which now dangles in the luke warm water of the bathtub next to me. Into which three rings of red spirals dissolve- not quite as deep as the hibiscus outside, but just as intimate. The razor might find it weird- its steel misplaced, against my soft brown skin. You will be berserk once you get back. Very, I guess. Somehow I don’t think you’re going anywhere in a long time. I hate myself for doing this to you, but much less than I despise myself for letting your dreams die.

I’m sure that you’ll play along, just this one last time.

(Dedicated to S and K, living in peace in their dreamless world. And with many thanks to G, who wanted in, anyway.)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Humpty Dumpty's Song

In winter, when the fields are white,
I sing this song for your delight -

In spring, when woods are getting green,
I'll try and tell you what I mean.

In summer, when the days are long,
Perhaps you'll understand the song:

In autumn, when the leaves are brown,
Take pen and ink, and write it down.

From "Through the Looking-Glass" Lewis Carroll, 1832-1898

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Leaving

For G- who left today for greener pastures.

Another farewell, and when the optimists, finding the glass half full, have left looking for new beginnings, the pessimists, finding it half empty, have left predicting apocalypse, it is left to us, the realists, to hang around, finish the drink, settle the bills and head home, in a contemplative mood.

I step out, refusing the offers to drive me home, as a soft rain soaks Bombay’s remaining nocturnals- the Drunkard and the Destitute. A soft drizzle, the halogen shimmer under a street lamp, allowing a slight rustle in the few trees that inhabit this part of town. And an occasional thunderclap- a noise I had been told happens when a white, fluffy, lazy cumulus, finds itself in the way of a darker, sprightly and more blithe stratus.

And I wonder, what is family. Do we reserve the sentiment for the unit we’re born into: father, brother, sister, mother- in singular and plural, alternatively. Is it the one we acquire, the spouse, the kids?

Or does one attach a similar importance, which one normally reserves for the text book family, to people who change you in a certain way, unique in the way they do, and not always making you happy, but affecting you, definitely and irreversibly.

So G (short for Gamma) was gone.

Gamma, that letter of the Greek alphabet, which simply implied that in our professional scheme of things he was third in the hierarchy. Globally. But to us the word had a special meaning, which had no meaning outside our little world of volatility traders. That unpredictable element, the irrelevant first derivative of Delta, which whipsawed us when we least expected, or on better days left us with an unexpected but welcome profit. The one who would Smile upon our minutest errors, or Smirk, at the greatest achievements. Yes, that he truly was. Unpredictable.

G and I assumed our respective roles at around the same time some three years back- me at the bottom of the pile, and he, leading the pack. In fact he was the one who took me into this line of work. I think that, more or less, caused a certain bond. Apart from the usual rigmarole of making money for the desk and the room, I ran his errands, as is the norm in our line of work. Pulling out data from Bloomberg, formatting his Man Comm presentations, spreadsheets and spreadsheets, with tons and tons of numbers. Very vital, very confidential, and at that time very meaningless.

Since we couldn’t compromise trading hours, we sat through these things on late evenings, Saturdays, holidays, Sundays too. His work was too important to delay, and even though it didn’t form a part of my mandate, I’d do it. One such holiday, on a festival of utmost importance to most, he told me that he loved to come into to work. To watch the markets move around the world, around the clock, unrelenting, without passion, without sympathy. Just the cold blinking numbers on a screen, and the unusual dead of the trading floor. And slowly, I got to like them too. Flashing. With or without any meaning.

And between these things we talked, and talked. About markets, about the volatility, the future of interest rates in Brazil, or exchange rates in New Zealand, breaking down of correlations, commodity prices in Russia, relationships, my imaginary girlfriends, out of the money personal equity exposures, in the money positions which we couldn’t book profits on, because of some silly compliance rules which debarred us from selling too soon, and property markets. While macros ran on complex spreadsheets, while pizzas were sliced and cokes were downed. Complex questions of life easily crystallized, and randomly resolved.

And over the next three years, even when I didn’t really need to do that stuff, I carried on nevertheless, much to the delight of those who followed my footsteps into the trading floor. Just because, he’d stick his head out of his corner office, and holler- “T.O.!” I spent hours at his house, sometimes partying or just chatting, late into the night.

From him I learnt… oh what a shit load I learnt. I learnt to trade, to sell, to buy. When to sit out, and when to take the plunge. When to respect greed, when to resist it. I learnt that there is a method to the madness, to the numbers flashing on a Bloomberg terminal. That complex algebraic formulae, do mean something in the real world. That the Taylor’s and the Fourier Series, are not just words. That there lies a beauty in numbers and models, in equations of variables and that the Greeks aren’t always just that. That people are intelligent, and weak, all at once. I learnt to make deals, I learnt to walk away from them. I figured that I this world there aren’t just big things and small things- that there big things that you must ignore, and small things that you just can’t afford to. And that’s what has made the difference between- Greed and Greatness.

I realized that greatness lies not in numbers, and not just in your account balance, but in realizing your responsibilities and reacting to that realization. That there is a time to holler, and a time to pat a person on the back. That your anger has a value and so does your compassion, and if you use either of them too often, you risk losing respect. Respect. I learnt that respect is not reserved only for those above you, but also to be showered on the perceived insignificant, when they deserve it. That putting your arm, that mighty arm of G, around a person when he’s down, means so much, as it does multiply your elation when the going is good. That to reach out, you must do it at a level which is neither too high, nor too low, but just right. That you must retain that humility and the humanity to be able to make the difference. Make the difference.

I learnt that the biggest thing that you can have in a relationship, any relationship is trust.

This has taken me 2 days to write. Now, I sit in the empty dealing room once more, only that this is the first day that you’re officially not around. I’ll miss having you around… but I know, I know that one can’t bind themselves to people like you. You were meant to move on to bigger things, like I will one day. That we were just meant to brush past each other, and yet make that slight ruffle, an occasion to remember, to rejoice.

And today as I shut down my PC and I collect my things, my debris of existence, I find myself realizing that things will never quite be the same.

All the best!

(Delta is the change in the price of an option for a one point moves in the underlying.
Gamma is the change in an option’s delta for a one-point change in the price of the underlying
Volatility Smile refers to the long-observed pattern in which at-the-money options tend to have lower implied volatilities than other options. The pattern displays different characteristics for different markets, and is an area of significant academic research (i.e., it is not well understood). A closely related concept is that of Term Structure of Volatility, which refers to how implied volatility differs for related options with different maturities.
Smirk is an inverted Volatility Smile)

Saturday, July 01, 2006