Pathways of fate

Two roads converged in the woods and I took the one less travelled. And that does not seem to have made any difference! ūüôā ūüôā ūüôā

In fact even Robert Frost, whose poem “The Road Less Travelled”, admitted that if he were to retrace his path and were to come upon that same fork, he was not sure if would make the same choice yet again.

Some poems, stories, books stay with you. Floating around in your subconscious. This is one such poem that I remember from my school days. I cannot recite the entire poem in one go, but I remember the theme and the imagery that it had left in my mind back then. “The Pied Piper of Hamelyn”, “The Highwayman”, “Hiawatha’s Wooing”, “Satpura ke Ghane Jungle“, “Jhansi ki Rani” are some of the others.

Speaking of personal paths, I had drawn the locus of my movements on Earth sometime back. In my much younger days, decisions of my elders moved me around on the paths that I was takinng. There was no questioning and full trust. And i have had a whale of a time. Later on, as I entered the last few years of my teens, the path that I took have largely been my doing Рwith useful help and advise from others. So if I should regret, its on me. If I should celebrate, its on me.

Here’s how my domestic path looks like. These are the cities that I have been to, spent time working and/or visiting.¬†From all these places I have learnt something. Some good things, some bad. Transit cities are not shown. So, for example if my journey takes me to Xanadu en route to El Dorado, I would not show the former on the map.

And below¬†is how my international footprint looks like. A lot to cover, a lot to learn. When a group of us friends had decided to take a snowed in break in Auli (Uttaranchal) we had met a guy who had been to 120 countries. One of us had wondered aloud if those many countries even existed in the first place. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the formation of the various stans, I am sure this guy would’ve been thrilled. More to add to his travelogue. His Fodors was expectedly, very frayed.

So often we hear ourselves or our friends, associates¬†fret and muse about choices and chances missed. About milk spilt. BTW, I don’t feel bad about any milk¬†that’s spilled – because A) AMUL is not listed and B) I hate milk more than I hate luv storys. Coming back to the sombre mood, many of us love to regret, retrace and draw out imaginary probabilistic paths of alternate realities. Good fuel to feed the fire.

Does the Buddhist Baggio regret not hitting the target during the penalty shoot out against Brazil in the 1994 FIFA World Cup? Columbian Andres Escobar was not even allowed to be around to regret his faux pas of scoring an own goal against the USA in the same tournament. He was shot. And then some personal anecdotes that I have lent a sympathetic ear to:

“If only I had listened to my inner voice and pursued architecture from Sir. J.J. School of Art, I’d have been so much more successful. But my father wanted me to be an engineer”.

 

Kaash hum kuch aur padh lete bachpan mein. Hum bhi private gaadi ke driver hote, parking attendant nahi. Driver hone ke liye kabhi kabhi angrezi aani chahiye“. (I wish I could have studied. I would also be a chauffeur today instead of a parking lot attendant. Sometimes, knowledge of English is required of a chauffeur).

 

“If only I had waited for the birth of my son. I would not have to give up a promising career and become a housewife”.

Charles Dickens gives us young ‘uns some hope when he says that “Regrets are the natural property of grey hairs”. But then there is a perplexing (to me) remark from Henry David Thoreau telling us that “To regret deeply is to live afresh”.

 

Here are two paintings – which one is regret and which one is sorrow?

        

 

 

Sorrow and regret seem to be two sides of the same coin. Maybe nothing cleaves the two. But regret is not the same as guilt. See the painting alongside – is it regret or sorrow or guilt?

 

 

One lesson that I have learnt from my investment related readings is this: When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Just cut your lemons (i.e. losses) and run.

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Uncommonwealth games

Wish I could ask this question to someone in the Finance Ministry: Why the fuck should I pay all these taxes and bear the indirect heat of the GST (at least in the short term) if this is how your team is going to use up the money? Given that method of GST implementation makes the Union Finance Minister all the more powerful, these questions will surface.

I am referring to the collosal waste that is being planned in Delhi in the name of Commonwealth Games. The latest issue of India Today carries a story on the issue – and that is just the beginning. Many more voices of dissent will start surfacing as the date comes closer.

Maybe we should call it Cogresswealth Games?

The total expenditure of the Games is now estimated to be Rs. 40,000 crores! That’s roughly 3.8% of our total external debt. Crazy.

Shera is the mascot of the Games this time around. Thats a tiger. In the last 9 years the tiger population in the country has dropped from 3,600 to 1,400. Just 1,400 – less than the number of employees in a mid sized Indian company. I wonder what even a sum that’s as little as 5% of Rs. 40,000 crore could do¬†for our tigers.

We will have to face a lot of humiliation and embarassment at the world stage for this seemingly idiotic decision to host the Commonwealth Games here. It will be a good test to really see how thick skinned we are as a nation; how moribund the opposition (BJP and its allies really are) is and how the ruling Govenment manages to grin and justify – as the days roll by. And I wonder what is Rahul Gandhi doing? I think these type of events are a good platform for him to get into and be known even more. Good test of organisational skills and gives international exposure too. Not that he needs them – but I think young and younger Indians would be more impressed by performance than lineage.

The Chief Minister of Delhi, Ms. Sheila Dixit (or Mr. Suresh Kalmadi) had boasted that the Commonwealth Games are a small thing for India and that we would like to see the Olympics come to India. Olympics, my foot. I have full trust and faith in the International community and the Olympics organising committee to not lose their sanity. We seem to have lost our way in planning for these Games. I doubt if I will be alive to see the day when the Olympics kick off in India. Any hopes surely seem to have been dashed by the manner in which these games have been organised. Despite spending those crazy sum of monies, almost every stadium, every activity seems to be plagued with delays. The recent rains in Delhi have effectively washed away any hopes that a few may have been harbouring. Here are some examples:

  • Siri Fort Badminton complex – wooden floor has buckled due to water seepage. It is here that Saina is expected to deliver us our gold in badminton. The entire floor will have to relaid. Super.
  • Yamuna Sports complex – this is brand new. Environmentalists are crying hoarse that this will damage the fragile Yamuna ecosystem but the Supreme Court quashed their petitions are ordered the fun and games to resume. Resume they did, but have been abruptly halted since the false ceiling has fully caved in and the ensuing waterlogging that. Divine intervention?
  • Dr. S.P. Mukherjee Swimming complex – (this is my favourite) When it was being inaugurated, a waterpipe burst and it sprayed water on the people present during the function. But no one seems to have been bothered, since why would you not expect to get wet when visiting a swimming pool? ūüėź
  • The cycling velodrome – We built one. Then some grim international governing body came in and said that we need timber cycling tracks. The velodrome was reconstructed and now its been flooded. cool.
  • Talkatora Boxing Stadium – Virender Kumar will have to first learn to swim then think of the winners’ podium for there is/was more than a foot deep of water surrounding the stadium
  • etc etc etc

Then there are the delays in the Games Village. 34 village towers need to be prepared to house the teams and their entourages but only 6 of them seem to have seen the light¬†of the day. ITDC is now constructing these (see box) and shortage of manpower is being cited as reason for the delay. All my non-Indian readers, I really don’t understand what you mean when you seem to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of people in India! Speaking of the foreign hand and foreigners, I feel that the organisation of these Games is a brilliant case study to demonstrate the continuing Indian fascination for anything foreign. The underlying lack of self confidence in our society and polity seems to be coming out here.

I smell a rat here. Kickbacks? Favourites being granted contracts? Subversion of the bidding processes? I do not know how many medals will come to India but I do not think that the Opposition parties will let the ruling Congress and its allies get off so easily on this. As I said earlier, this drama is yet to enfold and will be a good test to see if there is any life left at all in the BJP.

The balloon will cost Rs. 40 crores. If it gets used in the closing ceremony as well then the bill will increase further. The helium for this ridiculously expensive balloon is coming from Russia and the management of the balloon is going to be carried out by an Italian company called K-Events. For all you know, maybe the balloon is coming in from China. I don’t know if you know that the Adidas Jabulanis (footballs used in the recently concluded FIFA World Cup) had an Indian connection – the latex for the bladders came from Kerala. But why should we use anything that’s Indian? It’s only imported maal for us. Will the balloon have anything Indian at all? Maybe the ropes used to hoist it up? That’ll be the great Indian rope trick. And yes, the money of course is as Indian as it can be!

Another painful action item is the removal of filth, beggars and animals from Delhi’s streets. Garbage is fine; animals may be fine; but beggars are NOT. They are citizens of India. You can’t just pick them up and dump them somewhere else. This sounds like what they used to do with people during the emergency. Not that¬†I was around to understand anything during that Congress induced madness, but read Vikram Seth’s tragic, A Fine Balance to get one view of that era. Already some terrorist groups have seem to have become active. Some 10 – 15 kilograms of RDX have been seized. China banned vehicles from some roads in Beijing for the Olympics. That move is good according to me, as long as it does not severely inconvenience the lives of the locals. Having been in Delhi, I know that cordoning off any major road there will cause havoc. Add a bit of rain. And the famous Delhi spirit of agitation. You get a perfect recipe for disaster. A local NGO seems to have estimated the number of beggars in Delhi to be around 120,000 and the number of stray dogs at around 250,000. The cleanup operation of these beggars and dogs is expected to cost around USD 65 million. That’s around 325 crores of INR! Fantastic.

Delhi is trying to spruce up its image. Or being made to. Union Home Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram has apparently asked Delhiites to change their “behavioural patterns”and adopt manners befitting of residents of “an international city”. What crap. What someone needs to tell these panjandrums is that yes, clothes do make a man. But for that, the man needs to fit into the clothes. He needs to be trim, tucked in and tight. Delhi is our capital and an awesome city in terms of infrastructure (as compared to the rest of India!). But it is not, and cannot be what these people are forcing it to be. Only hours and hours of sweating it out in the gym can tone your muscles and make you trim. There is pain involved in that. And love. And determination. The Congress party is feeding steriods to Delhi.

And you and I and the father of the pretty girl next door are going to foot the bill.

Paul

I’m dead tired and have no energy anywhere within me to keep my eyes open….tomorrow when I wake up, we will have a new world champion nation. Paul the Octopus says that the cup is heading towards Spain. I used¬†the randbetween() function and it says Netherlands. My randbetween() function, correctly predicted the semi-final outcomes –¬†just like¬†Paul the O.

But now I might lose the plot. For Paul the O is never wrong, is he? Is it a he? How do you know an Octopus¬†he from an Octopus she? w”ink”. Good luck Spain. And good luck Oranje. And good luck Paul.

Tell me, honestly: Why are you watching the final today?

  • To see history being made. (I majored in¬†history, you see)
  • ¬†Good sport. Important match.
  • time pass
  • Everybody else is watching. I’m a guy…so what if my favourite country is out…I like the sport.

I think for many, the real zing of the tournament died some days ago. I think I am correct. No?

They Had Two, But Could Show Only One Ball

Running to empty houses all over England, nevertheless playing all over the country ūüôā¬†I guess we hear and feel and are made aware of the English pain¬†the most¬†of any nation that exits¬†the World Cup. One reason for that¬†could be the fact that a large section of the media that covers soccer comes from England. And its no guess which way their hearts will beat.

Speaking of movies, watched The Shawshank Redemption based on a recommendation of a past colleague. Wasn’t watching much films back then in 1994, so had missed it then and ever since. Powerful performances and super dialogues:

¬†I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border.

There’s another¬†line about a bird with beautiful feathers that comes to roost quite evocatively as well.¬†

And another: The A-Team.¬†I remember reading the books way back when¬†I was half the age what Wayne Rooney is today. the movie was¬†nothing special but I read somewhere that Fox Studios has hit big and nicely with this one’s release in India.

  

Tilting My Cup…

So, finally….titling my cup towards your domain, and starting to blog! I guess, expecting the reverse – hoping that you tilt your cup/goblet/chalise/mug towards my domain (kaushalmahajan.com) and kill some time (at the least).

Have had a few sincere and a few casual and a lesser few sarcastic requests to start blogging all over the past years, and given that I have time to kill, thought why not.

And what better topic to¬†dribble over the keys than football! I love the game and do harbour delusions of kicking around a bit. And now that we are in the KO stage – let the real World Cup begin. So heres how the sweet sixteen line up against each other. Its one of the craziest round of¬†16 thats come about and like any long suffering football lover,¬†I hazard some predictions –¬†some that are obvious and some putting my foot in my mouth and scoring some goals.¬†Since a¬†large section of this blog is also going to focus on¬†investing psychology,¬†I ¬†wanted to relate the process of issuing predictions to the whole quirky experience of placing money behind bets in the real world of bulls and bears. So the second part of the post attempts to stick my neck out, make predictions and put money (in hypothetical currency – lets say, Jabulani units) behind each bet and then lets see¬†what happens as the sixteen start their square dance (never mind that the pitch is not square). With the Euro being what it is and the honourable exits of the EU teams, I guess the Jabulani (or the Jabu, as a short form) might just be a better currency!

This is what I picked up from the internet regarding the predictions that came out from various quant desks.¬† Some of the models¬†were not explicit regarding the composition of the round of 16 –¬†I extrapolated that by using the probabilities that each such report mentioned per participating team. While I am aware that¬†the UBS desk has predicted a¬†Brazil victory,¬†I am not able to open their pdf and therefore not able to complete the¬†table.¬†Earlier there was a war (here and here) between statisticians and the quants, but I guess these logits and odds are at odds and ends to the main subject of this post, so lets not get sidetracked. Kotak Mahindra’s looks surprisingly on target. Does that mean that we will have a brand new, very populous¬†nation kicking around in the 2014 finals? High hopes! ūüôā

While some of the experts (experts ‚Ȇ quants) are now predicting¬†quite a few matches to end up in a penalty shoot out, I’ll reverse the¬†order to suit my purpose and have my logical potshots first and then proceed backwards to the 45min drill. Here’s what we can make out from what we see of the 16:

  • Almost everyone is saying this, offering some digestives alongside – one of USA, S. Korea, Ghana and Uruguay will fill our vision on 6th of July semi-final. nice.
  • No more than one European team will make it to the semi-finals this year. Despite better club level playing structures and more money (again!), is this a portend of at least the football switching sides at half-time? The ball rolling away from Europe to other “emerging” pitches?
  • There’ll be a lot of fretting and fuming on some refreeing decision. FIFA will still look the other way when replays are shown to them. I hope your favourite(s) do not become the victim(s) of such intransigence.
  • Expect more surprises. I picked up this line from the web – that the round of 16 is the real world cup – thats when the real serious boys start kicking around. I don’t know – maybe that view is being¬†fuelled by a feeling of disbelief that some of the marquee names that have departed¬†were dealt the unluckiest cards by the hand of¬†God.¬†Not so¬†–¬†I think all ¬†teams that are in the 16 have played good and have reasons to be there. So, I predict a few more upsets (ok. at least two?). Question is – are you willing to bet on it? How many Jabulanis are you willing to lob on an upset happening? Real money?

Which brings me to the second half – my predictions and what the experts (analysts) are saying and what prices (odds and spreads) are ruling at this moment. The post is in good time, the first match of the stage of 16 is about to be kicked off – so I’m not cheating. I may edit a few bits and bytes of the post later, but I promise to keep my prediction as it is! ūüôā

This is what I think. The probabilities of winnings are as per the odds for each outcome offered at Ladbrokes on their home page, which may well be a proxy to what a¬†certain section of the football watching world thinks – Ladbrokes’ house advantage notwithstanding. But thats not the point anyways – I’ve just included them there for illustration purposes. So,¬†am¬†I crazy knocking off a well balanced¬†Spanish armada and advancing the Samurai Warriors? Maybe.¬†However,¬†I do wish¬†I had 2 – 3 bottles of Asahi right now with me as¬†I type –¬†I like¬†that smooth brew. Anyway,¬†I think that Christiano was wronged in the previous world cup and the universe has¬†some debt to repay and that the Japanese¬†are one of¬†the best current examples of the sum of parts being much larger than the whole.

Any real fotballing logic behind this? Well, not much. It’s a random pick – most things in the world are random, though many deny. Here’s what went through like lightning flash through my mind when I was randomizing:

  • Uruguay – Suarez and Forlan connect like crazy and the fact that they haven’t let a single one slip under the legs of their goalie clearly shows the class of their defending. Fucile’s perfect tackles help.
  • S. Korea – I feel too much has been made of Park Chu Young, though that free kick was good and he is generally young and good. Their need to mend their fences re their defences think tank.
  • USA – The intensity and toughness make up for the seeming lack of flair and talent.
  • Ghana – Did they score goals in the group stage? Ghana and England (!) are the only two sides that have qualified into the 16 scoring just a brace during the group stage!
  • Germany – Machinistic and moving the Jabulani well amongst each other.
  • England – Actually I’m tentative re Germany vs. England that’s why have bet only 3 Jabulanis on this match. I think it could be 1-1 or 0-0 and then England will get KO on¬†PKs.
  • Argentina – Leo is one of the best, the very best in the world today. It’s the assists that he will provide that will work for me. Superstars dont always shine at the big stage – maybe they are overanalysed or that they are heavily guarded?
  • Holland – The Oranje have potential – loads of it, but have not fired yet. But given Slovakia, I think it should be easy for them to move ahead and shape up only to sadly get shipped out by Brazil.
  • Slovakia – Defences look weak. Although riding high on the win against Italy, I think one quick, early goal by the Oranje will get them to the ground and put their defence lines in disarray.
  • Brazil – Fabiano is looking fab. Goalkeeper is the best on the pitch today. I think their reputation preceeds them and some lesser teams just make way for them.
  • Chile – Would hate to see them lose to the Dungarees. I’ve always like this nation’s football – probably of the stars that played for this nation when I was younger!
  • Paraguay – I know I am being contrarian dunking Paraguay for they are turning heads like crazy. Playing good fast attacking football.
  • Japan – But they are also turning heads – not just of the watchers but also of the bricks in the wall as the Jabulani whizzes above and behind and into the nets during the Japanese free kicks.
  • Spain – Probably the most talented team in the Cup, but its difficult creating a symphony out of too many whizzes. Somehow the midfield has not supplied enough to Fabregas. While Fabiano is looking fab, this one has not. So far at least.
  • Portugal – They haven’t conceeded a goal. Draw out their talons and fight against the best and are not intimidated. And when they have faced poorer teams, they have absolutely crushed them. Maybe a long shot to the Cup but I think the Navigators will dribble around the Spanish Fury. Given fine balance I have allocated only 5 Jabulanis here.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Now comes the tricky part of asset allocation. I’ll discuss some of these¬†aspects in the¬†investing pages later, when Jules Rimet has a new name emblazoned on¬†his bottom. Jules Rimet Trophy really, he’d have to literally turn in his grave every 4 years to have a new country (or a repeat offender ūüėČ ) tatooed on his bottom if it really were that. Coming back (lack of beer makes me babble), I’ve put down more money (i.e.¬†Jabulanis)¬†on marquee names, dependable business and very less on the quarters onwards. If my bets are correct, then my longer term bets (on quarters onwards) should mulitply the winnings (if any) since the market has not yet started quoting on these anyways. I might just figure out a way to scale up based on the then extant odds and calculate how my hypothetical portfolio might have¬†grown/shrunk, or might just down a few more asahis and forget about the whole thing! Why complicate matters when the real match is on….

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