Wednesday, October 25, 2006


A warning- Most people might find this post a trifle boring.

First things first- I am feeling really proud about the fact that if the Tata deal goes through, technically, FDI from Indian exceeds that into. Of course from a financial markets perspective it might not be all that good, but one will have to wait and see. Of course, in the meantime media- print and otherwise will continue deflate your ego by running stories of how people affected by starvation in UP got cheques of Rs. 20, but then in our countries there is no dearth of such happenings- so one must find their little joys as and when they can.

One of the things that I have been thinking about lately is the state of the Indian economy. I mean, among other things I am paid to have a view on such things. At this point, let me first state that whatever follows are my personal views and not that of the organization that I represent *** feels really important, pushes his tie-knot higher, chokes***

Later this month the central bank sits down to review the monetary policy. It is something that every one around me is talking about. People are wondering if the central bank will raise rates. In my mind given the current state of affairs in the economy it is not really so important. First, when the economy is as overheated as India it is unlikely that any hike in interest rates will anyway have any effect on controlling inflation, much less GDP growth. I mean with everyone thinking of a hugely steep forward earning curve, it does not seem likely that anyone is going to think about deferring consumption. For instance, some really young people will take twenty-year loans to buy houses, thinking that they’ll repay it in the next 5 years or less, so they think that they are much less affected by a hike in interest rates. There are two reasons for that. In a country like ours one can either invest in assets or invest in a lifestyle (which is just a fancy way of referring to consumption). When consumer sentiment is thus, cash is really the most negative carry asset around. Leverage is the king. If people were to invest, they will look at asset classes that are potentially likely to grow in tandem with the real economy- read property, equities etc. Secondly, creation of assets like these often leads people to think that when the value of these assets appreciate astronomically, it is likely that further leverage is possible against the same. It is a vicious cycle, but then everyone just keeps consuming hoping that the guy next door is wiser. Actually, I don’t think anyone bothers at all.

What I was wondering is what does a central bank- whose essential means of managing the economy is monetary policy, do when faced with a situation like this. I mean tweaking interest rates is what a central bank can do best. Or so I thought. It seems my shortsightedness stems from the fact that I have not really seen enough economic cycles to list down the possibilities. A similar situation prevailed in India in the early nineties when we witnessed a similar boom in both equities and real estate. This was primarily fuelled by the emergence of the IT sector- an event unprecedented in the history of the country. No one really cared what money cost as long as they had it, and as long as they could buy that one scrip that every one had been talking about or that one apartment block which had swimming pools on every floor. These are times when the central bank looks up and sees the writing on the wall and it reads inflation. And monetarists don’t like inflation- especially this kind of inflation which comes with unbridled economic expansion.

Hiking rates at a time like this doesn’t really help. While it does little to contain private spending it does definitely make the cost of state borrowing higher, leading among other things, in a developing economy as ours, to a slowing down in creation of social infrastructure, as well as increasing the burden of welfare policies- thereby promoting the inequitable distribution of wealth. The solution is not to make money expensive, but rare. So, most central banks approach such a problem by containing liquidity. Now it is a fact that nothing much moves without money- so if equities are hot and speculative- assign a risk weight of 200% on bank lending to brokers, if housing is a bubble do the same to home loans- get the picture? Worse- intervene, buy the local currency from the market, flood the market with bonds. Nothing bothers banks more than two things- tight liquidity and low capital adequacy. Banks essentially rely on overnight funding for a lot of things and when those rates reach double digits, or their capital adequacy is in single digits panic sets in. they simply stop lending, for no price or love of money. And then everything comes to a standstill – trust me to the dyed in the wool central banker a tumble in stock markets or property prices is not always the biggest worry.

But this time things are definitely different. The economic growth is much more real, definitely more fundamental, more brick and mortar. This must be a big source of comfort to any policy maker. Industrial growth is hot, but I really don’t think credit growth is in line with it- it is a lot more benign. So while it might not be necessary to take all the drastic measures mentioned above – some of them have already been taken, it might just be the right time to hand over the baton of economic policy to the fiscal guys. Needless to say fiscal reforms are a much more structural means of economic development and policymaking. Greater transparency in the spending of the government, tighter tax nets and reining in of the “black” economy will do just as well, and go much further in an economy such as ours. More than that, while the private sector increasingly assumes self-sufficiency, it will be more important to bring about a quantum change in the magnitude and quality of spending in the social sector. And it will go a long way in ensuring that people don’t starve to death and those who survive starvation are not handed twenty buck cheques to feed a family of fourteen. Of course if all goes well, there might not be any family of fourteen in the times to come. Amen!!!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tag Again

Been tagged by D&C, and hopefully this will shake off the terrible infliction of writer’s block (if I dare call myself one). Work’s been too hectic- what with the entire paranoia of the year nearing the end, and closure being the buzz word- BossMan walking up and down the trading floor yelling at everyone around at the same time, shouting mostly the one word- “Close, Close!!!”

But tonight’s Saturday. Things are different. Meeting Anuja later in the evening and looking forward to it. And then BossMan is away for the coming week, attending an all important conference in a far away land- so that means I can do as I wish.

So D&C, eight things about me? Well you asked for it. I mean that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for over a year and a half on this blog, but now I can blame my narcissism on you, and with documentary evidence.

#1. I’ve wanted to be on a ship for a long time. Do random things, soak the sun on the deck with a beer by my side, get off at one port, and return once I’ve had my fill of a place, and wait for the next ship and write while I am on it in between. I have wanted to be a travel writer for too long. I mean, my attempts at fiction have failed miserably thus far. Travel writing is different. There are no heroes to create, no villains to kill, no marriages to concoct, or heartbreaks conjure. No great love, no mystery. Just the things which suffuse your mind through the five senses and sometimes the sixth. An easy and enormously entertaining activity. It obviously is an entirely different thing that I can’t ever get down reading anything that isn’t fiction, but then that’s different.
#2. I am often (wrongly) called a miser, but actually it’s a combination of laziness and procrastination. I mean, about a year back I decided to (and even blogged about) buy a house, upgrade to a car that would probably incentivise driving, buy myself that Harmon Kardon amp- but a year down the line nothing’s changed. Its not a nice thing, but it isn’t too bad either. IK (who incidentally is on a upgrade drive of late) after drawing up my personal balance sheet with remarkable accuracy pointed, prophesied I’ll never get hooked, because irrespective of the money in the bank, I’ll never add value to another person’s life just by being around. This accusation of not loosening my purse strings is most often flung at me by D, but I guess I have called for it. Of course she accuses me of many other things, but those later.
#3. People bore me. Probably it works both ways, and probably it’s a wrong thing for a sales guy to say, but then since this post is about me people can go fuck themselves. Most people insist they are uncomplicated, simple, nice and easy to get along with, and this turns me off in about twenty seconds flat. Simplicity is criminal- it is a denial of everything that’s beautiful. If you’re around me its gotta gotta sting- otherwise its not going anywhere.
#4. I’m a workaholic- and this is another of D’s accusations which I deny all the time. But its true. Nothing obsesses me as much work, and nothing drives me than the feeling of being driven. Sometimes even I am amazed with how much I love my job and everything that goes with it. The sheer thrill of moving markets, the pressure to closure, the rush of adrenaline, the magnitude of the moment, the here and now of things – it is just so addictive. So much so that I can’t even remember the last time I felt lousy about waking up at 6 in the morning and heading to work.
#5. I hate, and I don’t use that word often, hate people who use the word “Dude” to address me- and twang the “U”, if you know what I mean. It just sends the blood to a vein I didn’t know existed in my head, and I just downgrade that person to the list of people I wouldn’t meet if I had a choice. Dude- what the fuck- sounds so fucking borrowed. Go take it elsewhere pal- don’t try your just learnt to speaky English twang on me. And I really don't appreciate people who send me forwards. Never read a single one of them. Never. Staright to the Trash Can.

#6. I need to get married. After spending two consecutive weekends with female batch mates who extolled me on the virtues of long-term companionship and on how even my biological clock is ticking, its just looming large on my mind. I mean I am growing old- turn 30 next month. I can’t drink as much anymore- and that is a great reminder of age, and neither as frequently. But the entire stress of finding someone I’d remotely consider spending the rest of my life with seems so daunting. I have met people I like, but I realize that’s a finite set, and that there’s this entire universe of people like me for them to choose from. And I have a short attention span- really short, and that doesn’t go too well with such people. Incidentally, according to D, I won’t manage to marry ever.

#7. I hate driving. Simply hate. I like the feel of the wheel; the mechanics of the automobile- can spend an entire day fooling around with my car, and doing things. But somehow the thought of weaving through traffic, watching out for people and cars around me just scares me enormously. Its hard to explain- probably an outcome of my now famous attention span, but that’s it. It obviously has its inconveniences- women don’t like getting dressed up and being bundled into a smelly cab, neither do I, but the prospect of driving, of not being able down drinks, of abandoning caution is just too much.

#8. The last one already- umm, that’s a tough choice to be made. I am one hell of a narcissist. Though I make it a point not to bring it up in conversations, it somehow sneaks out. People sense it. They realize that I hold hardly anyone in awe, and in fact probably have a very low opinion of everyone else and that they the rare few I appreciate are genuinely stars in their own right- I mean I do posses a great sense of judgment in deciphering the good in people, but am not quite as discerning as I rank their shortcomings in my mind.
That's it- if I still have you.
I for myself tag Anu, Shuchika and Shikha
PS: What to do- bad mood!!! Been like this for sometime now.

Limousine Eyelash -2

“Repeat?” asked the waiter, shaking me out of the trance-like state which for a moment had gripped me. I nodded. It seemed like it would take a few stiff ones to digest this one. I then called him back to order a pack of cigarettes- the urge to smoke was almost undeniable at times like this. And I hoped Tua would take her own sweet time.

It all began many, many years ago- an innocent click on a social networking site, a consequence of the amusement of finding someone who worked in the same monolithic, stiff upper lipped organization. A voyeuristic peep into someone else’s life, someone who probably between the uninspiring hours of Nine to Five wore the same mask as I did and probably even sat a few floors below in the same building. An outcome of boredom on a languid dull Thursday after a long week in front of a merciless workstation.

Who would’ve thought that you’d figure out that I’d been sneaking around, and come and looking, who would’ve predicted what followed. It was the textbook cyber-romance of the 21st century. For months afterwards I threatened to write about it, only to give up when you threatened back to disappear forever.

And so a year passed and then a few months. Marriage did cross my mind, as it did yours- sometimes vocally, though never at the same time. For us it was mostly “I’m in the mood but you’re not” kind of togetherness and that characterized almost everything about our relationship- our insecurities, our passion, our sex, the fights- oh, almost everything. It was about this togetherness, which was neither nice nor cosy, but just that- a little stitch every now in then on the sides, just to remind us why we were in the relationship.

Finally, one day I came back from that Paris trip to find your cupboards empty. I waited and waited and tried calling you again and again- first the dull ring of your unanswered hand phone, and later presumably after the battery like hope ran out, replaced by the soothing but ineffective voice telling me, almost prophetically, that the number I was trying to reach was unavailable. You had simply disappeared. All attempts to trace you failed. You had stopped turning up at work, emptied your bank accounts, paid the sundry bills and left. Even your parents had no clue, or chose not to disclose. Finally that call to Cynthia- who first feigned ignorance and then said- If I were you, I wouldn’t want to know.

Those were difficult days initially. First the phase of not being able to believe what was going on- of course there was that initial fear of some harm having befallen you, some mortal danger, but that passed soon. No newspaper reports- for weeks I actually developed a more than casual interested in those columns in cheap eveningers- suburban housewife strangles four daughters and kills herself; elderly couple hacked to death in posh condo etc., and then that absence of morbidity that always prevails even if you’re subconsciously aware of harm to a loved one. No, that was not the case. What followed were those days of hard work, of finding solace in front of a screen full of unforgiving cold numbers, in graphs, of pie charts, of presentations, of the clink of a deal closed, the finality of money in the bank. Of evenings spent in many bars, mostly this one, mostly alone, drinking away arguably the best years of my life. And then the worst- the nights of drunken loveless sex with near strangers, which led me to wonder- which was worse- sex for money or that without love?

And then it happened. I came back home from one evening, two months away from my Thirtieth birthday, uncharacteristically sober. I had met my numbers at work for the year earlier that day, and even though it had happened year after year, I just couldn’t get over the elation of it. I just felt like treating myself, but it took like three phone calls to figure out that the worst realization of loneliness is not when there is no one to share your grief. It is when you realize that there isn’t a single person you know who can forget their own mid-week exhaustion to join you in the celebration of your little successes. Grief is mostly a concoction of our own dark imagination. Happiness is a more genuine emotion, and hence more memorable occasion to share.

After that action was swift. A week later I bumped into Priya at a meeting. Soon we were dating, and this time the decision to marry was swift and easy. There are things in life that you want, and there are things that you can get- and somewhere in between there’s this thing called happiness. I was married before my 30th birthday. I remember how we would get drunk almost every other night, just to drop the inhibitions. And finally, now, a few years later I feel like I am running a nursery with a woman I once used to date. Easy.

But then there are so many questions that I still want to ask you. Questions that I have asked myself again and again. Do you still wear your nose-ring on the wrong side? Do you wear it at all? Do you still have my letters from the passage of various Eurail trains – all tied up in that red string? Where do you live now? Do you still lose the house keays with that alarming frequency? Do you still sit on the staircase, waiting for whosoever you share the house with to return, sometimes sobbing, because you want to use the washroom? Do you walk around barefoot at home and at work? Do you even now holler at the maid, and at work the Janitor for not keeping the floors clean enough? Are you still edgy about the way your shoulders stand out against your frame? Do you still get sent back by hairdressers, refusing to snip your lovely tresses? Does your nose still crinkle and turn red when it snows? Do you still launch into action on a hung-over Sunday morning and make life miserable for those around you- and where do you manage to draw up that energy at that unearthly hour? Do you still smell of nicotine and mint when you wake up? Do you still scribble numbers everywhere and keep looking for them later? Do you still doodle at work- finishing your notebooks from the last page to front before work can fill otherwise? Do you still etch names on glass and every else? Do you still…?

And that night remains etched in my mind. The first night you spent at my house. When after a brief discourse on morals and the like, you asked me to go down and check if you’d locked the car door properly. I walked, grudgingly, not knowing where this would lead to. Then you parked yourself on my side of the bed, put your knees up, blocking my view to the TV, scolding me for not polishing my plate clean at dinner (“You don’t eat too well, do you?”). You even took away my favourite soft quilt (and wouldn’t share it with me in spite of insisting on a full blast AC), and the bolster, and most of the pillows. And repeatedly threatened to leave till I fell asleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, I felt two hands pulling my shirt, dragging me under the soft quilt. Perhaps you saw me shiver slightly and curl in a little more than usual. Perhaps…

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder- and I looked up. And I heard a once familiar voice say- “Can I join you?”