Saturday, October 27, 2007


A blog after a really loong loong time. Nothing much happening to be frank, and some of the funny things that i know i rather not blog about and get into trouble.
Nevertheless, Last week I was in Istanbul, (a place where I long wanted to go) on a business trip, and I spent the weekend there doing touristy stuff.
I have read a lot about the city, especially from Orhan Pamuk's (2006 Nobel laurete for literature) memoirs Istanbul Memories of a city, where he describes his childhood in the city of Istanbul, and his historical murder mystery My Name is Red, where he describes the world about the Ottoman Empire, during its peak, and the cabal of the miniature painters (who painted like the masters of the old) and their jealousies and rivalries.

But unlike the melancholy Istanbul I read about in Pamuk's memoirs, I found Istanbul to be a bustling and a thriving city. though the book describes the city in 1950s, 60s and the 70s, and says that the people of Istanbul were living under the shadow of the past glories of the Ottoman empire, and describes the burning yalis (villas) of the Pashas who could no longer maintain them, right now the city looks absolutely magnificent, and my colleagues in the Istanbul Office complaining about the sky high property prices and a similar villa by the Bosphorous (narrow strait of water connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea) would be costing upwards of a few million USD.
Definitely looking at the streets of Istanbul, it appears to be more of a Western European city than a East European or a Asian city. The country had undergone a wave of modernization under Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) the founding father of Modern day Turkey
The glitzy shopping malls in Levent, where prices are as high as in Knightsbridge in London (I couldnt afford to shop there) and the Night clubs in Beyoglu, the Restaurants around Taksim all was screaming a booming economy. And surely the Turkish Economy is booming, from the late 1990s where triple digit inflation was the norm, the currency was revalued and 6 zeros were cut off (1 New Turkish Lira = 1,000,000 old Turkish Lira) in 2001. Since then the Turkish Lira has strenghtened and turkey has been lobbying for joining the European Union.
Though I didnt go out anywhere during the week, on the weekend I managed to do all the touristy things, such as visit the Historical parts around Sultanahmet, The Hagia Sophia (a church built in 532 AD during the Byzantine empire when it was called Byzantium) and later converted to a church in 1453 (Rise of the Ottoman Empire or the Fall of Constantinopole, depends from which side do you view history) , the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern, and underground water storage tank, which was also a hide out for the army during seige.

(hagia sofia)

Blue Mosque

I also visited the old-fashioned covered bazar (similar to many indian bazars that I have seen but always feels great to buy trinkets in such a place), the Galata light house, the Topkapi Palace and the modern Dolmabahce palace. (tick marked all the touristy places)

Istanbul, is a classic place where east meets west. Lying on the edge of Europe and Asia (Istanbul itself has 2 sides, the European and the Asian side, divided by the strait of Bosphourous) and it was the Capital of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, (and previously capital of the Byzantine Empire when it was called Byzantium) and was a key point in the silk route where indian and chinese goods passed through to Europe. (The decline as mentioned by Orhan Pamuk in his memoirs also has a lot to do with the Suez Canal and improved shipping routes which eliminated the cargo to travel by land and thus reduced the importance of Istanbul.

Also it has seen the rise and fall of many empires right from the Persian Emporer Darius invading Europe, and the Byzantine Empire, Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire and also one of the holy crusades have been fought here. Even today one can see the clash of the civilizations to some extent between the majority pro-western secular majority and the slowly rising pro-islamic powers.

Apart from all of this something that is fantastic in Turkey is the Turkish sweets, (Turkish Delights and the absolutely fabulous Baklava) though I didnt really like the Turkish Local Alcohol (Raki) and sampled the Mezze (being vegetarian i didnt eat much of the local food)
Anyways I guess I will go there again, (the night life in Beyoglu being the most attractive point of it all)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I'll be Watching You

Long time since last post, many things to write about, but I guess right now its just this link from Youtube.

It is by a Student of Columbia Business School (CBS) who is making fun of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States of America, Ben Bernanke.

You can check out the video here. Have a nice laugh, though might be a bit tough to follow for those who are not familiar with economics, and concepts like yield curves.

I cant stop humming the tune ... when the growth rate dips and the yield curve flips, I ll be watching you.

And to be frank, the entire financial community does watch every move made by the Chairman of the Fed, and interpreting each statement made by him (yes its always a him) and interpreing future interest hikes and cuts.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cricinfo is Taken over by ESPN

These days every week one hears about an Indian firm taking over a foreign firm. Each time I hear about it my heart swells with pride. But yesterday when I heard, that an Indian firm (well origanally Indian) was acquired by an American Firm (ESPN) from a British firm (Wisden) I am all the more overjoyed. Not so much rueing that an Indian firm is bought out by foreigners, but an Indian company is so successful, that even an American firm buys the website when few Americans play cricket (apart from the South Asian Immigrants)

I am sure all you cricket fans out there know what is Cricinfo. By far the number one website for cricket, especially if you are an indian fan and are working on weekdays, there is nothing better than cricinfo which gives ball by ball commentary.

I have been following Cricinfo some time since 2000 (about the time I had a PC at home) and the cable wallah blocked ESPN Star for all those pay channel issues.

The website is absolutely amazing, not only for indepth coverage of each game, but also with stats and all that cricket trivia which comes along with that.
The commentary is ideal for a person while working in office to have a look at frequently and be well updated about the match in progress.
Agreed the commentary has a huge amount of India bias at times (especially earlier whn the entire team was Indian and the matches held in India)

The story about cricinfo is also fantastic. It was put together by a bunch of semi amateurs in 1993 and then in 1999 Sify funded them. (about then the PC penetration went up in India, and also Infy TCS and Wipro started hiring loads of software engineers who had to warm the bench for a few months at a time. what better method to spend the day than reading the commentary on cricinfo)

In 2003 the website was acquired by Wisden (the one with the Cricketers Almanack) and thus there was more international coverage (including domestic cricket not only in India and England but all around the world) . By today it has over 7 million hits every day, and is the number one cricket website all over the world. The reason that ESPN has acquired the site is that it is the number one sports website visited by a huge Indian population (yes all our H1-B visa holding software engineers, all the students in graduate school) and thus made a good investment.
ESPN with its asian partner Starsports already was a major broadcaster for cricket in the Indian Subcontinent (till BCCI and all other problems started) Thus this is one more arrow in their quiver.

The website is growing so fast that it has been acquired thrice in 8 years, and I am sure one day we might see it as a separately listed firm. Also this is a signal for all those tech start ups, to believe in what they do, and then sky is the limit for growth. More over unlike my mum telling me that watching cricket does no one any good apart from the rich over paid cricketers themselves, some cricket geeks did manage to eke out a living by simply watching the game, and writing about it.

The Site not only had the stats about each and every player, but also special columnists
Like Steve Lynch's Ask Steven answering all your doubts about rare incidents and trivia
S Rajesh's Numbers Game comparing the latest statistics and the players current form
Todays Yesterdays saying what all happened on the same day in previous years in cricketing history and many more

Another unique feature that not only I have noticed but discussed this with friends is the nature of the commentary. It is much more light hearted and fun ot read rather than hear ex-cricketers drone about on Doordarshan.
this coupled with the reader feedback (due to the internet it becomes an interactive system) the system makes me feel some times its better to follow the match on cricinfo rather than watch live on TV.

And after living in London for over a year now, when I dont have a TV at home there has been little other choice (apart from going to a pub and watching it there)

All I hope is even with the new owners (especially Americans who do not play or follow the game ) the website retains its character, its colourful commentary and the trivia databases.

I would like to end this with a few bits of hilarious commentary from cricinfo (though i am sure its a lot more funny when read in context)

Bravo runs faster than he bowls. His last delivery was so slow, , the non striker nearly over took the ball before it reached the batsman.

(Harmison gets a wicket after a really torrid over) ... Harmison to Ganga, OUT. Come one it is tough for any one to face Harmison. Will the next ball be a wide, a no ball, or both? Should I go forward or stay on back foot, or simply watch the ball sail over my head to the fine leg boundary?

I would like it if you readers could post some commentary which you find really funny as well

Monday, June 04, 2007

Mumbai as an International Financial Center

Recently (yes I am always late in such posts) there was a Percy Mistry Committee on how to create Mumbai as an International Financial Center.

Ajay Shah has given the most comprehensive coverage here (His blog is one of the best on the Indian Financial Sector at the moment)

Though the intentions are good, and required urgently as well, especially since Indian firms are in a takeover spree this year, and a well developed financial center would enable them to raise more money for such take overs, (Like Tata Steel buying Corus, or Suzlon acquiring Repower, or even UB Group buying Whyte and Mackay ... this list can go on for ever ...)

There are a couple of hurdles for the same, (as per my view)

  1. For any place to be an International Center for any thing (not just financial center) the location has to be welcoming to the most talented foreigners. I am not just talking about the US or Europe. One can see London is the financial center for all of europe, while Frankfurt is not. The city of London has 1 in 3 who is born outside of the UK. Same thing can be said about New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. (Atleast with respect to nationalities working in the Investment Banks)
  2. To attract such talent just money is not an issue, but also one needs to have world class infrastructure that can attract people to migrate to such a place. Though India has a lot of talented people, I belive in the value of diversity as well as the "Wisdom of Crowds"
  3. The local political parties should also be welcoming enough, and not demand for job quotas, either for the backward classes, or for the local communities (i.e. sons of the soil) Right now Maharashtrians are rioting when Biharis come to give the Railways exams, I doubt people would be so welcoming to Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Lebanese, apart from the Americans and Europeans who run the financial industry world wide
  4. Most importantly, in any place there needs to be some kind of certainty in the working days. Mumbai has 2 days lost due water logging during the monsoons, and has another day possibly lost due to a strike or a bandh. This would lead to uncertainties in settlements of trades.
  5. Most important is a captive market. Though there is a market right now for M&A advisory, and for raising Equity Capital, there is not an active Debt Capital Market, also on the asset side there is not active investor base who would be buying complex financial securites. (though we have had an informal derivatives market such as Badla, and there is a huge betting market on the monsoons)
  6. Another aspect of the local market is that we need to have foreign firms wanting to list their stocks on the Indian Exchanges. Indian Currency and Stocks and bonds should be traded else where. Indian Mortgages should be securitised and sold all over the world from Tokyo to Sao Paulo.
  7. All apart one thing which can be easily addressed is the regulatory aspect, and I hope this step is quickly corrected by the government. India surely has the manpower from the best institutions who can run such a business

Thus in my opinion, though Mumbai will definitely be a Regional Financial Center, providing the financing needs for Indian as well as neighbouring South Asian countries.

More over Mumbai has stiff competition from established centers such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and now even Shanghai.

But frankly speaking, I hope I am proved wrong, and Mumbai does become "The Global Financial Center"

Sunday, June 03, 2007

India and China Boom or Bust

In the last few days the Chinese Stock Market has risen exponentially, and is prone to high volatility. Though on a smaller scale the same thing is true about the Indian Sensex and Nifty Indices.

Some people (Bulls) might say that this is due to deep structural changes due to higher profitability of these firms, some may say it is due to the Yuan being undervalued, some may say due to the growth of exports and the resilience of the US economy and the American consumers still consuming has led to this growth.

Where as on the other end the skeptics remind us that these are all the signs of a bubble. Remember the Nikkei Crash in 1989. (the Japanese Stock Index Nikkei 225 was nearly 39,000 then and it crashed to reach 15,000 thus losing 60% of its value) This crash has been followed by 15 years or recession or depression. (I am not qualified enough to use the correct terms)

Similarly the South East Asian crisis in 1997, left South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia scarred.
The currency plunged, and stock markets crashed. The companies went belly up.

Its 10 years since that crisis. And we can see similar signs of exponential growth.
An article in Livemint , by Subramanian Swamy looks at the possibility of India and China facing a slow down or a bubble burst, in case proper financial reforms are not made in the two fastest growing countries.

Also will populist politics in India pull all this growth down?
The Honourable Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has considered liberalization with a human face, while his leftist coaliation partners from CPM, have totally denounced liberlisation, and are asking for further control of the economy.
I remember May 2004 when the Stock market tanked on comments made by the Left.

Will that happen again?

Only time will tell. Right now let us all make hay while the Sun shines.

Haaaphoos ....

Yes, I am talking about the very Alphonso Mangoes. If Mango is the King of Fruits, then Alphonso variety is definitely the Shah-en-Shah (king of kings)
Alphonso Mangoes (or Haphoos, as locally called in Mumbai by the Maharashtrians and the Gujaratis) are favourites in Mumbai.
Infact these mangoes were so popular that they nearly cost their weight in gold. In the middle class suburban Mumbai, an indication of your wealth was when could you afford a basket of mangoes for yourself.
Though the first bunch of fruit would reach the markets in March, my family would be able to afford the fruit only when it would reach an affordable amount (Rs 100 a dozen or so I remember) and thus we would have these mangoes only for 3 weeks from Mid May to first week of June. Though my dad would keep buying the other variety of mangoes (dasseri, langda, kesar, pairi) I would like nothing else apart from the original Ratnagiri Haphoos.
I do remember in the late eighties and the early nineties, the curt remarks from relatives, neighbours and other family friends (well I dont think consider them friends) about how they would have mangoes right from March to October, how my Dad's school friend had a double door refridgerator (it was a novelty in India pre-liberlization) and how he would store mangoes in the deep freezer so he could enjoy them all year.
I also remember the times when I asked my parents when I saw mangoes on the streets with vendors early in the summer (though at prohibitive costs) and my parents would brush me off, saying these were lower quality and the best ones arrived only later on the year. Once I actually saw through this white lie, I stopped asking, since I know my parents themselves winced a bit while brushing me off.
As I grew older, ever wanting to be the contrarian, I started acting as if I disliked mangoes (just like saying though I cant have it, its just cause I dont like them much)
Now that I am living in London, my mom asked me a month ago, if she should courier a dozen alphonso mangoes to me this year. Not wanting to be another mango snob like the people whom i despised as a kid, I flatly refused saying it didnt matter to me, and was not worth all the hassle for them.
But finally I found some Alphonso Mangoes in London at East Ham (nice place for South Indian food, and yes as near the West Ham soccer club for all you premiership fans). These were imported from Ratnagiri, in Maharashtra.
These were exported from India, and though they did cost quite a bit, but definitely worth it all. Brought back all the memories of having the first mangoes of the season.
I guess their scarcity makes them all the more delicious, and for those who have them 6 months in a year, sure miss out on this part of the taste. Meanwhile let me have the one I just cut, in the extreme desi fashion, using my hands, and scraping the fruit from the skins.

How Rich are YOU?

I got this link from India Uncut, and seems interesting.

I dont know how effective it is, and apart from having the USD and GBP exchange rate a bit wrong (I think they still value the USD much stronger) it also I think gives a bit of a rosy picture, (I guess to motivate you to donate a bit more)

Try it out (How Rich are You?)

Do you think it is real?
Were you surprised (i.e. your rank in the world is higher or lower than you had expected?

Please do let me know by posting in the comments section.
For me, I was positively surprised, as for some one sharing an apartment, having bicycle as sole mode of transport and not having a television at home to save money, the site surely puts me way above what I would think my true networth is.

I would like to distinguish between wealth and income. Wealth is total assets that one has, and Income is what is earned in a year.
Though I think my income is high, my expenditure is higher, and my past being as modest as it was, surely in the wealth list I would be way way down in the order.

Also the interesting part is, once you put in a lot of numbers, to look at the wealth index, it shows a non linear distribution.

For example a Medical Intern in India (earning paltry Rs. 1700 a month or USD 500 per annum is ranked in top 80%ile of the world), a lecturer in a Mumbai college with income of USD 2400 per annum is ranked 14.95%ile of the world

Any one earning more than half a million dollars is in top 0.001% of the world.

Below is the table

Profession -------------------USD -------------% of people above you
Below Poverty line------------365-------------------- 91%

MBBS Intern in India --------500-------------------- 80%

Call Center Employee -------5,000-------------------14.39%

H1-B Software

Programmer in US ----------50,000-------------------0.98%

Avg salary in US B-school ---100,000------------------0.66%

CEOs of India Inc------------200,000------------------0.01%

Movie Stars, Sports Stars,
Politicians, CEOs in US,------500,000-----------------0.001%

Where do you stand?

(P.S. Sorry for the sad formatting, wasnt able to get it in line in any other way)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sex and the Desi (or the lack of it)

One colleague was surprised to know that I was single, and sharing an apartment with two other guys.

He said "Damn that would cut down your sex life to half"

I shake my head with a grin and ask him, "which half? Thinking about it or talking about it?"
("though definitely not blogging about it" I can hear the sceptics say)

I guess he is still dumbfounded (I am telling you, for the westerners meeting Indians is as much of a culture shock for them as much as it is for Indians travelling to the west)

Anyways since the Indians are the ones who invented the concept of zero, he was not wrong in my case.

And for more about sex and the desi read this.

Multiple Nationalities

Recently had to get a Schengen Visa to be able to travel to Europe and the whole thing is a bloody chore.
Every day in the newspapers I read about the visa problems of Indian Nationals in UK (HSMP problem) and the US (H1-B). More and more Indians are migrating out of India (Read Rashmi Bansals blog on Migration)
I guess coming from a third world country has its fair share of problems, especially when travelling to first world countries, even though you have no desire to migrate illegally. (Sure many of my desi readers might identify with that)

Every time I have been waiting in the queue for a visa I have cursed the firangs (especially the Americans who can seem to go anywhere without a visa and now I guess its the same with EU Nationals, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders)

At the other end of the spectrum are guys with dual passports.
And yes many of my colleagues fall in this category.
Brazlian and German, Algerian and English, American and English, Russian and English, Romanian and English, Bulgarian and American, German and American and the king of them all,
3 nationalities, English, South African and American.
Damn damn damn. This enables them to travel to many countries without any issues.

But the question arises, whom do they feel loyal to? Now its unlikely that these countries go at war against one another, but whom do they support during soccer matches?

Take the case of this person.
Born to German parents, in Ghana (you know this diplomats children) and raised in Turkey, India, and other parts of the world. Studied in America, and works in London and is married to a French lady.
Where does he belong?

His accent is a confusing mid-atlantic one (some where between British and American) and I dont know what national anthem would their children sing.

Right now since India doesnt give dual citizenships many Indians give up their nationality. Having friends who are contemplating giving up their Indian Passports, an act I cannot imagine doing right now. (who knows what happens in the future though :P )
I guess it is like selling your soul to the wild capitalist west (as if I havent by working for them)

Is the queue and hassle of Visa interviews that painful that you give up your nationality?
I guess Lakshmi Mittal who has been living outside India for more than 2 decades still holds and Indian Passport, I am sure we all can manage it.

Inspite of all the caste politics, the pandering of vote banks, the stupid subsidies, the rampant corruption, crumbling infrastructure, excessive crowds, loads of poverty, humungous amounts of filth, retrograde bollywood movies, even more regressive television serials, a joke of a cricket team (not to mention other sports), ruled by a party of sycophants, I still am proud to be an Indian, and Indian I shall remain. (for the time being atleast)

I saw the movie "The Namesake" which shows the life of the Desi Immigrants in the US. People who leave everything they have to go in search of the great American dream. A house in the suburbs with a backyard and a 2 car garage. The immigrants there take up US citizenship just so their children can have a good future. In todays materialistic times, I am sure its the worst reasons.

In the UK Lord Tebitt proposed the Tebitt test, that the country you support in sports (e.g. cricket) when your adopted country plays the country of your origin.

Suprisingly in the UK, most second as well as third generation immigrants support the homeland of their ancestors (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka) during cricket matches.
I guess it has as much to do with the social acceptances of children at school i guess. If you are not counted as british by the brits, then why would you support them?

Nevertheless I have rambled long enough, and atleast for a few years (while I am away from my homeland) I shall keep living this existential dilemma

Saturday, May 19, 2007

How to pen a best seller?

Recently I read 3 books which have been on the New York Times bestseller list. All 3 have been authored by Ben Mezrich and all of them are nice quick reads, but nothing so fantastic as to be a must read for everyone. But reading his three books I sure can make out a formula for penning these best sellers. (though they are classified as non fiction, I am sure one can write fiction with the same formula) The books:

  1. Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions
  2. Ugly Americans : The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions
  3. Busting Vegas : The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought the Casinos to Their Knees

Have some of the critical ingredients, like smart Ivy League students from a middle class back ground, all of whom might have struggled hard to make through to MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Yale. All of these with a engineering, computer science or mathematics as a major. the main protagonist is invariably a hard working smart guy (Kevin Lewis is the half Asian Black Jack whiz who can count cards, Seymon who is a son of Russian immigrants has techniques much more powerful than card counting and brings down Casinos around the world, John Malcolm is a son of a working class mother who goes to Princeton on a football scholarship, and moves to Japan to trade derivatives on the Osaka exchange)

The second major ingredient is money, and lots of it. Betting worth a few hundred thousand dollars on Black Jack, or arbitraging the volatile Asian derivative markets for a few hundred million. Come on every one is interested in making money. The more the better.

The third ingredient is the underworld. Come on, the main protagonist has to be in danger for his life (else the book wouldn’t be interesting, the risks taken by him would be trivial) From the casino bosses in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, to the Japanese Underworld the Yakuza. Guns, beaten up people, death threats. Surely it gives cheap thrills to the readers.

The fourth ingredient is sex. (by far the most important one) In the book, throw in references about Lap Dancing in Vegas, strip clubs, Geisha bars in Tokyo, prostitutes, and surely it will get lot of people interested in the content. And I am not counting alcohol and drug abuse. Come on they are now expected to be there every where.

This combination surely doesnt fail. For most Americans (Ben Mezrich's target audience) would have aspirations. Every one would wish to go to MIT (or Princeton or Harvard or Yale ... for that matter even CalTech and Stanford) . If they were already not there, then at least wished they were there or wish their children will be there. Again every one would want to make money. The idea of smart middle class bunch making easy money compared to the big bosses who control the casinos or the mafia surely seems fair. And add to that, people buying Ferraris and Ducatis and rolling in cash, lights up the imagination of readers. The underworld being portrayed as the bad guys. Come on, this is the oldest formula right from the Hindi Movies. The essence of a good story is a powerful villain. Imagine Ramayana without Ravana (or even Kaikeyi) or Shakespeares Merchant of Venice without Shylock. Damn there would be no story. And coming to sex, need I say anything? the thriving pornographic industry, tells us that there is a market out there. Show me some one who wouldn’t be interested in those high class hookers, with sculpted bodies and experienced in the most exotic forms of carnal pleasures and I will show you some one who has a difficulty in expressing their inner thoughts. Deep down inside most people are perverts and though not many have the courage to do so, (damn those moral, ethical, and social dilemmas) every one would want to be in that position, and surely would nt mind that in form of entertainment. (print or electronic media)

This surely makes me think about writing a book. So what if the American market is big, the Indians with 1 billion are an even bigger audience. With rising incomes and aspirations, more and more will be reading such books about other middle class people who made it big, in the bad bad world. Similarly other authors have written about the Big Bad world of Investment Banks (Monkey Business, Liars Poker ) I am sure now there is a market out there for Desis. I am not sure when would i write some thing, and even more skeptical if any publisher would be in their right frame of mind to publish the trash that I dish out, but then hope is ever eternal. Also I am sure one of these best sellers would surely leave me with enough royalties to retire.
Hopefully in the Bahamas.

On another note even Chetan Bhagat followed a similar formula for 5 point some one. Middle class boys going to IIT Delhi. There is not much money involved but the villain is the head of the Mechanical Engineering department, and there is a short love story with the main protagonist and the villains daughter and smoking grass, drinking vodka on the roof the hostel. I dunno about One Night @ The Call Center (link), but I am sure though most Indians are employed in Call Centers (after agriculture and shopkeepers I am sure Call Centers are the third largest employers in India) no one aspires to be a call center employee. Damn when did you read a book on life of a grocery store owner? (though most people, Gujarati Banyas especially end up becoming one).

That way I am a little late. In this day and age everything is electronic, and some one has beaten me to this idea by having a blog on this. Leveraged Sellout is written by a Princeton graduate who ends up in the M&A division of Goldman Sachs in New York.

Thats true we all are selling dreams. I hope I can sell some more. Surely there is a market for the story of a Middleclass Gujarati of conservative Brahminical upbringing in the fixed income division in a Bank in the City of London :)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Housing boom or bust??

The author is seriously incompetent to make any rational judgement and comment on the general state of economy, politics or any other matters. All the views are personal and not endorsed by any of the firms that might have employed him in the past or are currently employing him.

Recently with many of my friends actually moving to buy a house (well I think for those people in the fast lane, who got married soon after b-school, and now are getting settled by buying a house), people were contemplating the decision to rent or buy.

Many people believe that house prices can simply never come down (this imagination is fuelled by the current housing boom in India, just like the rest of the world) and people in India would rather pay an EMI (monthly mortgage payments) of Rs 50,000 instead of renting the same flat for Rs. 25,000.
That is negative carry of Rs. 25,000 a month!!!
All this for convinience of not moving frequently, and believing that the same house would keep appreciating in value by the same amount each month.

Since my dad works in the construction industry in Mumbai, I do know that housing prices can be equally volatile, but yet not every one believes me.

Thankfully for skeptics, the US Subprime housing crisis has already started and people have started accepting the Reality.

I found this link on the Freakanomics blog which has plot the inflation adjusted house prices from 1890 onwards.
This confirms the current trend since mid 1990s about the skyrocketing housing prices (driven in an era of low inflation, easy consumer financing, growing economy and rising incomes) but go back a little further and the real picture emerges.

India like in every other thing is a little behind the rest of the world, and much more volatile than the rest of the world, would surely follow the suit.

so my advice to anyone right now: "Keep renting"
(Hahaha, this is keeping in mind the disclaimer above)
I am doing the same in London, (not that I have enough money to buy anyways)
And you can see the graph for yourself

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dammit its crossed 2 !!!! yippppppeeee .... arrrggggggggghhhhh

Haha, I am not talking about Sachin Tendulkars score, and the cheers which Indian cricket fans might have when he scores a few runs but I am talking about the Pound Sterling (GBP) the lawful currency of the United Kingdom which has appreciated to be worth more than 2 USD.

Working on the trading floor in an investment bank, we all were anticipating this move since last december, that it might occur some time, but it finnaly breached the barrier last week.
And we heard the cries of anguish and happy depending on which trader was long or short which currency.

All the colleagues and friends started talking about, how this might affect their bonus at the end of the year. (Since we all work in an American Bank, compensation is in USD, but we live in UK so expenses are in GBP)

And all my indian friends are complaining about how their wealth has fallen due to the surging rupee (INR). (INR went up from being 46 to the USD to 41.68 in the last couple of months)

Even for me it has been mixed feelings all my current savings are worth more, and my parents are suddenly richer (though not that they would ever understand the currency markets)
My future earnings might be a little lower.
But dammnit. Why complain in currencies moving by 5-10% a year when I should be more bothered about increasing my own salary by working harder (or should i say smarter??)

Anyways not all my readers might appreciate the importance of this post, people might consider what is the importance of currency rates (and many including my parents think they are normally fixed through out) the FX rate and the interest rate in the different economies provide tremendous arbitrage opportunities.

Take for instance the Yen carry trade. People borrow in japanese yen (at 1% per annum) and deposit money in US Dollars (at 5% per annum) this looks like neat 4% profit, but you are exposed to the currency fluctuations.

I guess bigger than the Yen carry trade has been the Turkish Lira and the Brazilian Real.
With Rates being 16-20% and the currency appreciating, its sure has been some investment.
(Imagine, you could borrow in Yen at 1% and invest in Turkish Treasury bills and get a return of 18%, so much money to be made, just for taking some currency risk!!!)

Well though all these ideas appear fantastic in hindsight, if one loses on such trades, you would surely be branded as an idiot.

Anyways enough of gyaan on FX (foreign exchange for my non banker readers) lemme now mope around on my loss of future wealth. :P

Monday, April 09, 2007

Stallion battalion

Saw this one weekday when I was going out for lunch (which I invariably do, when the food in the cafeteria at work is not per my liking)
There was the Mayor of London, coming for some Ceremony at the St. Pauls Cathedral, and thus there was some elaborate security arangements.

One was the horse back police force. I am sure they could incorporate such a scene in buddy cop movies, should be hilarious. A chase in the city of London, with narrow winding streets with dead ends, (Unlike NY, where every thing is in a grid format) a horse back chase should be fun, especially throw in a double decker bus in the back ground.
Wonder why no one thought about it yet

also in case you see some crime, you can always report it to the policeo n the number being advertized on the horses

Pictures from Paris

After seeing the Video posted by Exchange students Meeku and Nanhee (hope I got their dorm names right), let me post some pics about my trip to Paris.

Most people have seen most of the wonderful sights there, (the Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triumph, the pyramid outside the Louvre, Champs Elysses ...) Let me post some pictures about the sights many might not have seen.

First some from La Defense, though many people might think what is so nice about a business district, it is a bit unclean, crowded (not so on weekends though) and has nothing much else apart from tall glass buildings. Well I beg to differ, it does have some pieces of different architecture, and though not everyone might agree with me, I am sure some of it is magnificent.

Some nice Arty mega size sculpture in La Defense, the business district of Paris

Some weird architecture at La Defense

The Arch at La Defense

Next, though a movie has been made about Moulin Rouge, not many know it lies in the heart of the Red Light District of Paris, (Tube Station Pigale). Though now Moulin Rouge has proffessional dancers and not prostitutes, along the streets you can continuously be pestered by people trying to sell you pornographic DVDs, inviting you to Lap dancing, pole dancing, and all other kind of shows. What was a geeky brahmin of conservative middle class upbringing like doing at this place? No need to ask :P

then the view of the city from Sac re Cur. It is the highest point in the city, from where one can see the skyline. As you observe not many tall buildings, unlike Manhattan (or even London where you see so many cranes in the sky which are about to be building sky scrapers). Paris is a massively huge city, especially once you venture out in the suburbs. A lot of it appears semi rural to be frank. Unlike Mumbai, which is one long concrete mess.

Videos from D16

Well in the era of Youtube, every one is guaranteed their 15 seconds of fame, and there are crappy videos dime a dozen, a couple which came out of my dorm in IIMA, i think are fabulous (obvious bias due to dorm loyalty)

The first one is by my juniors (class of 2007) about their batch

the other one is by French exchange students, who have made a video about Paris, for the residents of the great dorm, and this is another good one, and surely gives me ideas about how to shoot a video.

Also i think i will upload my videos about the Oktoberfest soon.

London bridge is falling down ...

... falling down, london bridge is falling down and God save the Queen

Well i do vaguely remember the nursery rhyme, and now I live near the great Tower bridge (near tower of london) and routinely jog (ok yeah walk) along the bank of the river Thames (or Temms as the brits pronounce it), I like the look of the magnificent bridge, and last weekend i saw one of the rare sights, the bridg openning up to let a ship pass through.

Thankfully we live in the era of camera phones, and I managed a picture, though a little grainy since taken by a camera phone.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Trip Back Home to India

Well in the year 2007, I have been lucky enough to visit home twice in the space of 3 months.

The funny thing is whenever i go home, since I have been staying away, the watchman always stops me and asks where do i wanna go. Any amount of explanation doesn't work that I actually lived there. The problem is every 2-3 months the day watchman changes.
This is surely unlike the nightwatchman (not to be confused with the same term in cricket) Pandey, is the same since I last can remember. And he knows me really well, since in our small building I am the only guy who routinely returns post mid-night, and he has to stay awake till i return. (Yes, after that he locks the gate securely and goes off to sleep). This perk is the only thing that makes him stay there. Apparently he has another day job, and he saves paying rent in mumbai (which is exhorbitant as many of my readers will vouch for) and gets paid Rs 2200 as well. No doubt the day watchman quits as soon as he gets a better job. Why are they being paid so less. Well in a building full of gujaratis, no one is willing to pay enough for security. (Damn, no wonder Somnath Temple was looted umpteen times by all the invaders)

Anyways, apart from that, the other thing i notice in my house is that on the Television suddenly the sports channels are relegated to later slots, and i spend a couple of hours just searching for them. Gone are the days when i had ESPN and StarSports within first 10 channels. This time round I found them at 59 and 71.

Also with all the hullabaloo about the salaries in IIMA, with people getting astronomical salaries, and then rejecting them to start some lingerie business, (didn't I say some one puts their personal interests before money) my parents inquired how much did I actually make in a year.
When I smilingly told them my salary, and even multiplied the figure by 85 to convert Pound Sterling to Indian Rupees, my mother got shocked. Then my father asked me how much did I save, and when I told them the figure, they were terrified. So little, and that is when i cook clean and wash utensils myself? go bicylcing to work, and live in a shared accomodation.
Some how my mum felt sad, her middle class brahminical values of thrift had not been completely imbibed in me.

Moving from salaries, I went and visited my maternal grand parents. With all my maternal cousins hitched, unfortunately I am the next one in line. Loads of not so subtle comments are made, about me being the next one and I made my best attempts to act ignorant. (Next for what? Walking the plank, being the sacrificial lamb, next to be guillotined? Nay much worse .. marriage #*$*^%%#!!!)
Now I am sure many of you might think marriage is not that bad, (did I hear necessary evil here?) and some might go on to advocate the benefits to me.

But wait a second, 4 years of engineering apart from adding analytical abilities left me completely socially challenged, and through all my adolescence and young adulthood till now i think a total of {exp(i*pi)} (e raised to the power i times pi) girls might have been interested in me. (Do I here sniggers why am I still single?!?!?)
And having no other attractive feature I am sure in an arranged marriage, only reason why a girl would end up considering a guy like me, would be stable cash flows in the future. Having a beer belly is bad enough, but being looked upon as a (Cash) Cow is absolutely pathetic.
Some how I wriggled out of those ugly situations saying I am only 25, but my mental age is more like 12, and the killer one was I hardly save a tidbit from my monthly salary.

I am sure i might have to face, many more such subtle questions from other relatives as well (just like any young adult of indian origin might be), thankfully my parents dont ever talk about this topic (yet). I guess looking at the deterioration in their quality of life post marriage and post my birth, they dont wish such misery on others.
I guess no one values the freedom, and independance you have while being single and earning enough with no liabilities.

And yes when I am home with nothing to do, I resumed one of my routine tasks which was assigned to me when i was living at home. That was buying groceries and vegetables.
The problem with your family living in the same locality for 22 years is that every one knows you. From the vegetable vendor, to kiranawala. The shopkeepers not only greeted me but also asked how long was i back for? Most of them though were under the impression I was still studying, and that too some where in Amayricka (sic). They too raised the topic of marriage (damn, damn, damn, curse the whole indian society !&^#%$#*!$^*^%%#)

Last but not the least, my motorcycle was finally given away. (Dad has given it to his employee as a perk of the job) Well though i might have cursed it a lot, for its lower than expected mileage,
have had my share of accidents, but I truly miss my bike. Hardly Davidson as I jokingly referred to it, or MH-02 EA 7211, as it was registered was definitely an extension of myself if not a part of me. It was with me for 5 years, and gave me the freedom not having to use the overcrowded public transport, while zipping through the clogged traffic of mumbai.

And this time when i was visiting a friend, i thought I rather travel by local train from Andheri to Bandra by train rather than by Autorickshaw and safe Rs40 (50 pence here). And in the whole process i broke the glass on my Omega watch which took a lot more to repair. (did i hear penny wise pound foolish here?)

More over when i went the second time round to India for recruitment in IIMA, it was another nice feeling. For a change I was on the other side of the fence. I could ask a question of which I had no clue about. And apart from that, the girls actually are looking forward to talk to you. (hahahah).

Though there are many more things to write about, but they are even more boring than the ones written above, and I wish to spare my dear readers from that.

Cricket for Charity

Well after India is knocked out from the World Cup, and loads of advertisers have lost money, ad agencies have to come up with smarter ads rather than make Sachin Tendulkar smile, and sell more Toothpaste, Motorbikes to Energy drinks, and every Indian has started talking about how bad the game is, all is not lost.

At least here in London, CRY (Child Relief and You) has organised in London, a cricket tournament which would raise money for the poor orphans. Now since obviously they cannot rope in the popular and much loved (??!??!??!?) indian national cricket players, generating money by selling tickets (leave alone television rights) is not possible, they are roping in corporates, to play the tournament and actually pay money for playing in the tournament, when there is NO prize money. (only incentive to win is you get to play more matches, which might be a good one, especially for those in the Indian Cricket Team)

When a colleague forwarded an email about this and asking for volunteers, saying it is some thing like 100 Pound Sterling to play, I was a little taken aback.
Come on I am the kind of guy who likes watching sports, and my dose of adrenalin rush comes from cheering my teams (and sighing in despair when they invariably lose).
My complete lack of fitness, (as regular readers might know my whipping in squash by Murari continues) and with my increasing waistline, my right arm medium fast i guess has become right arm gentle medium, and am sure my dibbly dobblies will be despatched for boudaries (that is when i bowl the ball on the stumps). All this is when bowling is my strongest suit in cricket. [:D] The less we talk about my batting and fielding (I am sure I here a couple of giggles here) the better.

But nevertheless, since it is for a noble cause and i shall have something to look forward to on the weekends, I am game.

Also with the Indian debacle I can root for the team i really like, Stephen Fleming's Black Caps.
The Kiwis have got a couple of setbacks during this cup, the worst being Lou Vincent's injury (Darryl Tuffey has also been sent home, Mark Gillespie and Ross Taylor are still injured).

And India's outster from this world cup would sure have its benefits. I am sure it would have been much worse if India lost all matches in the Super Eights. We have been spared the pain, and also with India out most of indian fans will be able to focus on work, and the Indian GDP will rise 0.3% faster this month, and surely Indians can do better than play this silly sport. Acquiring global companies for instance [;)]. Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani and Kumarmangalam Birla should have their eyes focussing on manufacturing firms abroad, not a motley bunch of guys dressed in blue.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Egyptian Trip (part 2)

I dont want to bore any one with history lessons which I got on my travels to Egypt, and thus if you want to see all the pictures you can see them here .

What was something unique was interacting with Kiwis, South Africans and Aussies.
Apart from their accent, (Aye, mayte, and the brash arrogance of the aussies) even the South Africans and Kiwis did have some distinct characteristics.
During the campfire a Kiwi guy did the Haka (the Maori tribal dance) and every one sang their most popular campfire songs. I tried my best with the Indian song (Darling Open the door ... why are you angry so??) which is a popular number at any boy scouts camp, but hten finally I plugged my Ipod and played the evergreat Mehbooba oh Mehbooba from Sholay and suddenly all the people started swaying their bellys just like an Egyptian Belly dancer would.

And talking about this, throughout my stay in Egypt, the locals thought I was one of them (brown skin and knowing a couple of Arab words helped), but as soon as I said I was from India (or Hindoostan as some of them still call it) every one would simply shout out Amitabh Bachchan since hindi movies are extremely popular there. This was a proud moment for me, since I saw that Egypt was a country with slightly higher per capita income than India, but all their income was simply from tourism, toll on the Suez Canal, and electricity exports from the Aswan dam to Sudan and Somalia.
They didnt have any industries, and no cars of their own. The roads of Cairo were all crowded with the air smelling of Unleaded petrol. Thus India even though equally poor had made many advances, not the least in the entertainment industry.
The tour guide himself said that his favourite movie was Amar Akbar Anthony.

Another thing that I observed was that the Egyptians didnt have a concept of Vegetarianism. I went in to a Kebab house and all i asked was a Nan sandwich without kebabs, (as i have done before in Europe, doner kebab with no kebabs). Here the guy tried convincing me that the meat wasn't bad, offered me chicken, mutton, tender lambs meat but I relented. When he realised I was from India he said the meat was all Halaal (though i am not a muslim) and also said that they didnt serve any beef. after convincing them that I was perfectly fine with their establishment and didnt think that it was dirty but i was a person who was averse to eating meat.
After the whole comical episode got over, they didnt know how much to charge me for the salad and nan sandwich. All this is when those guys dont know English and I dont know Arabic. Some knowledge of Hindi and Urdu helps since many words are similar, but I am sure a lot was lost in translation.

And for people having raised this issue about racism, (especially after the Shilpa Shetty in Big Brother controversy) I did feel a bit isolated at times, but I am sure that was more due to coming from a different cultural background rather than discrimination. (dont we indians segregate according to our languages)

Another good thing i observed was their desire to travel and care free nature.
Though these are descendants of sailors, travellers and adventure seekers (the white residents of SA, Australia and NZ) and with social security and even blue collar jobs paying well, you could be a carpentar and take vacations all over the world. There was a Kiwi woman, who was a police officer in Aukland and was earlier an English teacher in Tokyo. She had currently taken a year off and was travelling all over the world. (you dont see that too often amongst Indians)

Well in india due to lack of social security and people sticking close to their roots, there isnt so much desire to travel or explore the world. But also the same thing makes people work harder and be more ambitious.
Dont know, I hope i get to travel and experience different cultures, and hopefully pick up the best from them.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Egypt On the Go (Part 1)

Finally, all my dear esteemed readers (yes both of you)
Time has come to write about the greatest vacation i have had (since something called pgp2 in IIM Ahmedabad)
Thankfully i was sincerely working in my job since 2nd May 2006, without ever taking a single day off (not to hunt for flats, not for falling sick, not to show my girlfriend(s) around the city of London, diligently working hard (or hardly working as some of you skeptics might say). Thankfully the Compliance division did not like me not taking any holidays in the calendar year, and forced me to take some days off.
At the same time I had already booked my trip to India (home) sometime in January (not knowing or ever bothering about leave entitlement, being the diligent chap that I am)
Thus grudgingly my manager sanctioned another holiday in December 06.
Now left with a sanctioned leave, but no where to go (being stuck with my 2 flat mates who are slightly less boring than me on weekends wasn't bad enough for all 3 of us) finally after talking about all the vacation options with my peers Piotr suggested Egypt, and Amir gave me contact of a really great travel agent, and I could book my trip to Egypt.
Wary as I was about conducted tours, I booked myself on the King Rameses Tour with On the Go tours , but as opposed to other people scaring me that the conducted tours are fool of Oldies this was full of young people, with most of the people being from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and one each from Brazil, France and obviously India (yours truly) and a couple of English people were there as well.
As you can figure it out from the web link, the trip was surely a great deal and well we sure had a whale of a time.
The tour covered most of the touristy places in Egypt,
The City of Cairo, The Great Pyramids of Giza, The Aswan Dam, the Temple of Abu Simbel (which I surely think should be in the 7 wonders of the World, though i guess it is the 22nd Wonder), Temples of Luxor, Kanark, EdFu and Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.
Also a 2 day 2 might trip on the Nile on Board the Feluccas (Single Sail Boat) without any toilets or spare rooms. It was 2 days of relaxation, drinking beer (the Great Egyptian Beers, Stella, and Sakkarra) and playing cards ( I learnt the great Aussie card game, called Arsehole)
This was followed by the second leg of the journey to Dahab which is a beach resort near the Israel, Jordan and the Saudi borders.
Its a quite place, with great Coral Reefs, Red Sea (which is quite astonishingly blue) nice sandy private beaches, and lots of Sunshine, with the back drop of the mountains (Mt Sinai)
I also climbed up Mt Sinai, which was the place where Moses gave his 10 commandments after spending 40 days and 40 nights hiding up there with his followers.
I have said enough, and now since each picture is worth a 1000 words (and Ancient and a very popular saying) here are the snaps

The Great Pyramid of Chiops

As you can see, this is the 2nd of the great pyramids of Giza. These pyramids were tombs and built in a manner thus they could last for thousands of years (since the Ancient Egyptians believed that the soul would re-enter the body in the after life)
Thus the pyramidical shape, which not only gives stability, and the weight would fall on the sides and be equally distributed rather than the central foundation (where the tomb of the Pharoah was placed) Also being pyramidical not conical let the air pass through around it without creating wakes, being on top of a hill and in the desert allowed it to be not affected by ground water and rain. Thus these mighty Structures still stand on defying time.
There is an Egyptian (Arabic) saying
Every man fears time, but time fears the Pyramids

The Sphinx

This is a statue of the Pharoah with a lions body. We can see that the face has been defaced, and that has apparently been done by the invaders army's (such as the Turkish Ottomans, the Greeks, the Romans, Napolean Bonaparte) or the religious converters who defaced these monuments and asked that if there is GOd then he would protect himsself (and succeeded in converting the Ancient Egyptians to Islam and Christianity) (Not because of Obelix climbing up the nose as shown in Asterix Comics by Goscinny and Uderzo) Nevertheless this statue is massive, and is along with the great pyramids one of the 7 Wonders of the World

sunset At Sakkara

The On the Go Group
The Great Temple of Abu Simbel (of King Rameses II)
This Temple of Abu Simbel was built by King Rameses II (arguably the most powerful Pharoah of Egypt in the Ancient times)
This was carved out of a hill, and if you notice the door in the center, has been so carved that on every 21st of February (his coronation date) and 21st of October (his birthdate) the sun's rays go right inside the 60m passage and shine on the face of the statue of King Rameses himself.
Though since then after the Aswan dam is built and Lake Nasser would have flooded the temple, the whole hill has been moved behind, and thus now the Suns rays shine on 22nd of Febraury and 22nd of October (shifted by a day)
That kind of knowledge, and architecture in those days is quite remarkable. Considering this is 3300 years old
The Blue Nile (the real one, not the Strip Club in Colaba you pervs), Life line of Egypt as seen from the High Dam in Aswan
The River Nile is the life line of the country of Egypt.
Egypt has a population of 77 million, which only inhabits 4% of the land mass of the country, and that is along the banks of this river, the rest of it is Desert.
A little more on the trip (the fun parts, the people on the tour, the egyptian people and the country and a little more history lessons in subsequent posts)