20 May 2016

The Trogon of Creekpore - A Short Story

The Trogon of Creekpore is a short story about the journey of a bird-watcher, looking for the Malabar Trogon, into the wild forest of Creekpore, and his encounters therein.

I have reproduced, in the post below, only the first section of the story. 

You can read the full story by downloading the pdf document from here.

The Trogon of Creekpore - A Short Story

"Tomorrow, early morning, you must go inside the forest, sir. You will get to see rainbow birds," the owner of the lodge, Tiptop Forest Villa, said to me. I was peering through my binoculars at eventide, standing on the lodge's veranda, hoping to snatch glimpses of a few native birds.
"Rainbow birds?? What are these rainbow birds, Suhas?"
"Oh, I mean, birds of all colours of the rainbow. Birds with many colours of the rainbow - each body part, from beak to plumage to tail, of a different colour. And you'll find them as happy as the rainbow smiling in its reflection in the pond. And twittering as cheerfully as the young lover sitting under a rainbow and singing an ode to the beloved."
Damn this poor man's William Wordsworth. "Will I get to see the Malabar Trogon, Suhas? I am quite keen to see it."
"Why not, sir? Not only the Trogon, you will also get to see the Pied Hornbill, Tawny Eagle, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, Pied Kingfisher, White-rumped Shama and numerous other birds. Birds here are not shy. You will find them foraging, preening, calling and generally going about their chores, all on the most easily visible branches. The privacy of foliage is not for the birds of Creekpore."
"Quite unabashed, eh?"
"Very much, sir."
I am not an ornithologist, but I am no mug either. I had done enough bird-watching in life to know that Suhas was talking through his hat. An inveterate marketer of Creekpore that he was. I didn't let my thoughts manifest themselves through my body language. Travelling teaches you that. On every journey I have encountered fraudsters and blatherers, importuning me to shell out hard cash for all kinds of experiences. Sometimes they get the better of me. Well, we live and we learn. And we travel to learn, don't we? 
"Does the forest department provide guides, Suhas?"
"Ramesh is there. But he is a scoundrel. He is often found in the ditches, drunk. There are also murmurs that he leads villagers looking for fine wood to the best groves and also steals eggs from the nests of endangered species to sell them."
"Appalling, Suhas. That's appalling. Is there no other fellow? Why doesn't the forest department take action against this rascal?"
"Sir, this place is still being discovered. Not many bird-watchers come here to justify having more than one full-time guide on the rolls. As for taking action against Ramesh, sir, he has never been caught red-handed nor has anybody formally complained against him."
"So, I will have to wander in this wild forest with a crook? No, Suhas, no." I shook my head. "You come with me."
"Ramesh is good as a guide. He knows the forest and avifauna well. Never harmed or gypped a tourist. Well, at least, not yet, sir." He smiled impishly. "Besides, I cannot leave the property tomorrow. Most of the staff will be attending an election rally in a village thirteen miles from here. The local politician has paid them well. So I could not deny them permission, sir. They will be leaving early morning."
"Good Lord! What a place this is. Where have I come?"
"It's a tip-top place, sir." He smiled and left to make arrangements for tea.

I had made my acquaintance of Suhas on an online travel forum. He pestered me for over six months to visit his lodge. He would rhapsodise about the fecundity of the jungle and how effortless the sightings at Creekpore were. It was my avarice for sighting and photographing exotic birds that made me accept his offer. And there I was, meeting Suhas for the first time in person and already wondering whether I had acted wisely.

Creekpore is a hamlet at the edge of the eponymous forest. Twenty-five years ago it was deep within the forest. Today, it is outside it - without having moved an inch! When you drive from the nearest railhead, a bust of Sir Anthony Creek is all that exists to announce the arrival of the hamlet. Tiptop Forest Villa was once the official residence of Sir Anthony Creek, a naturalist and an officer in the Imperial Forestry Services.

After dinner, the staff lit a bonfire, under a sky that resembled a sequinned black-saree. Suhas came up to me, beaming. "I have spoken to Ramesh, sir. Have sternly warned him not to drink tonight. He promised he would be here at 6:30 AM, fresh as the morning dew." 
"All right, Suhas, I take your word. But if this blighter does not turn up or should I find him tipsy, I shall wander into the yonder forest all by myself. If I am not back by the lunch hour, do send a search party. I may get lost, become a leopard's lunch or die of a snakebite. Whatever fate befalls me, inform my wife of it, will you?"
"The resident Devi of Creekpore will protect you, sir. People of all religions in these sylvan parts revere the Goddess. No harm will come. Trust me. Not in my fifteen years of living here have I seen or heard of any disturbing incident. Well, at least, not yet, sir!" Another impish smile.
I snorted and left shaking my head.


You can read the rest of the story by downloading the pdf document from here.

Copyright © Maneesh Goal. All Rights Reserved.

Disclaimer: This story is entirely a piece of fiction. All names, characters, places, descriptions and incidents are a product of the author's imagination. Resemblance to any actual person, place or incident is mere happenstance.

22 April 2016

Oh, mister, mister! Why won't you offer a tip, mister?

"But the average man doesn’t wish to be told that it is a bull or a bear market. What he desires is to be told specifically which particular stock to buy or sell. He wants to get something for nothing. He does not wish to work. He doesn’t even wish to have to think."
- Jesse Livermore

A street-side beggar will never know the toil and hardship that the person, who has just thrown a rupee into his bowl, had to go through to earn that rupee. A person begging for stock-tips will never know the amount of back-breaking work that the person, who's recommending a stock to him, had to undertake to research and value that company.

The majority of participants in stock market belong to this 'beggar' category. People like me, a tiny minority, are the Atlases, the 'labour' category, who have to put in 14-16 hours of work daily, including on weekends. The populace, unfortunately, observes the behaviour of these numerous beggars and ends up forming an incorrect opinion about all market participants. It doesn't help that people like me go about calling ourselves 'gentlemen of leisure' - after all, when work is your passion, it's unconscionable to call it work, what?

Tip-seekers are often worse than the beggars you encounter in Mumbai's local trains. The local train waaley bhikari at least sing to you before asking for money! The impudent tip-seeker, on meeting a serious participant like me, first launches a broadside. 
"The stock market is nothing but an infernal casino!"
"Ah, yes, rather, quite." I attempt to put up a stoic front.
"And you, sir, are a despicable gambler!"
"At your service, man," I say, tipping an imaginary hat.
Then, realising the import of what he has just said and not wanting to antagonise me beyond the point of no return, he checks himself, regains his composure, simpers and innocently slips the question, "kya lagta hai abhi market? what do you think of the market right now?"
Looorrrrddd, nooooo, not that question again. Is zillion times not enough? How many times will I have to endure that question? Ah, devil take the person who asks it, devil take the person!
Silence. His whole aspect now pregnant with expectation. "Here, take this Baba Bengali's phone number. Call him to know the future. If I could peep into the future, I would have become the richest man on the planet," I answer with a straight face and walk away.

None of these pestilences will ever have my advice on, say, a writing pen worth Rs. 100/- But whisper a stock idea into their ears and their eyes light up, cheeks flush, an expression of profound gratitude steals over their face. Without pausing to think, without batting an eyelid, they will peremptorily instruct their broker to take up a position worth Rs. 1 million. Often even more.

"Oh, mister, mister! Why won't you offer a tip, mister?" For many years now it has been my policy not to offer tips to anybody, not even to my father-in-law. Money can never be made consistently in the stock markets on information and conviction borrowed from others. 
A popular ploy of these imbeciles, to extract a tip, is to try to guilt-trip me. "One must always share knowledge freely with others," they will say. 
Ah, I have always done that, man. Always done that. 
Nobody who has ever come to me seeking knowledge on how to trade or invest in stocks gone back an unhappy man. (To say 'nobody' would be paltering with the truth. Uncouth people and bigots are the exceptions. I will shoo them away every single time.) On several occasions, I have gone out of my way to mentor people on the finer aspects of investing and trading. 
Where these beggars are making their blooper is in mistaking tips for knowledge. Now, isn't that like asking for a ready-made dish in the name of recipe? Grossly immoral, I say!
"Okay, so you want knowledge? Here you go, man." I begin an exposition of the aspects and nuances of investing - how to evaluate a business model, how to value a firm, and all that. The idiot has trouble listening. He stares at me with the expression of a baboon who has been denied his meal. Undaunted, I persist with my speech - more a soliloquy now than a monologue! The nincompoop's patience is soon drained to the dregs. He thrusts his palm out like a traffic policeman and, cutting me off mid-sentence, says, "If you don't want to give a tip, then don't give. Please, don't waste my time blathering."

How I wish these beggars realised that if stock-tips had any value, nobody in his right mind would give them away for free. 
(There's a certain variety of the tipster who dispenses free advice on national television. Be careful, dear old feller! These self-proclaimed experts are mere marketing agents of their employers, masquerading as altruists. If they were even half as competent as they sound on television, they would be making money in the markets as full-time investors or traders, not labouring for a salary.)

Jesse Livermore, the great American trader, had a few interesting words to say about tip-seekers:
"It has always seemed to me the height of damn foolishness to trade on tips. I sometimes think that tip-takers are like drunkards. There are some who can't resist the craving and always look forward to those jags which they consider indispensable to their happiness. It is so easy to open your ears and let the tip in. To be told precisely what to do to be happy in such a manner that you can easily obey is the next nicest thing to being happy which is a mighty long first step toward the fulfilment of your heart's desire. It is not so much greed made blind by eagerness as it is hope bandaged by the unwillingness to do any thinking.
"Answer me, man!" I ask the supplicant who has disturbed me in that moment of serenity when I am enjoying a smoke. "What will you do after you've bought a stock on a tip? Will you regularly call up the benevolent tip-giver and grovel to know whether to buy more, sell or simply hold the damn position?" 
I blow a few smoke rings and watch them dissolve in air. 
"Do you have the wherewithal to evaluate an incessant stream of data - company-specific announcements, sectoral dynamics, regulatory developments, domestic and global macroeconomy, geopolitics, market volatility - yes or no?" 
He purses his lips. 
"If you do not know what you have bought and why you have bought it, how the dickens will you know what to do with the position? What if the tip is merely a contrivance for the tipster and his friends to unload their holdings onto gullible people like you?" 
I wait for his reaction. None. His face, as blank as a white shroud.
"Do you have the nerve to make decisions in the face of daily uncertainty? Do you have the frigging balls, the mental fortitude to stand a 50% drop in the market price of your stock?" 
His mouth's agape. 
"No, sir, you don't, I can tell. Good investing and trading is 80% about understanding human psychology and only 20% about economics."
"Uh-huh," he mumbles.
"It is no wonder that people like you eventually lose money in the stock markets. You come thinking it's easy to make money here, isn't it? - all you have to do is open an account with a broker, click a few buttons, and voila! money will come flooding in like the tide." 
He smiles a foolish smile, like the person whose cover has been blown.
"Are you serious? Is this some frigging Disney film? You think if there was any easy money lying about, the seasoned market participants would allow you to simply walk up to the table and have your fill? No, sir, you are but a naive pig, living in cloud-cuckoo land, who has been tricked and led inside the slaughterhouse for the seasoned men to butcher and make a living. Every weekend I see them dancing and carousing over the mortal remains of pea-brained people like you."

"Oye apne Sharmaji ko dekho," is a common lament of these benighted souls. They refer to an acquaintance of theirs and complain of how the fellow got lucky with a stock-tip and raked in big time. This is a common behavioural bias - we cherry-pick a few, non-representative data points, which are vivid and / or readily available to us, to help us draw conclusions, about the underlying probabilities, consistent with our world-view. In statistics we call this error 'selection bias'. Let me assure you, Mr Ignoramus, your acquaintance is merely enjoying a short-term loan from the market. He will eventually be paying it back, with an enormous interest cost to boot!

The behaviour of these mendicants, I must confess, does serve as an important contrarian indicator on occasions, particularly when the market has moved significantly in any one direction. I have benefited enormously from their foolishness. Here's how. 
In late 2007, I had to attend a wedding in central Mumbai. No sooner did I cross the threshold of the wedding ground than a goop, standing 50 metres away, waved out to me like a semaphore, ran to meet me before I disappeared into the crowd and asked, "Say, the markets are rocketing. Be kind enough and suggest to me names of two-three companies whose prices will double in two months." I uttered the choicest of expletives from around the world - in my mind, of course. Then, muttering to him, "R-group stocks," a fail-safe advice in those times, I made a dash for the reception podium. Over the course of next few weeks, I sold off most of my stock holdings. We all know what happened after that. Some dumb luck that, eh?
Few years later, in late 2011, when the world markets were fussing over the likelihood of sovereign default in the Euro area, I happened to be attending another wedding. I bumped into the same gentleman. This time, though, he chose to ignore me and passed by me without stopping to say even a perfunctory 'hello!'. Bells began to toll in my mind again. We must be close to a bottom, I thought. Alas, I had no free cash to benefit from this insight. But I got the temerity to hold on to my positions resolutely. Future events proved me right again. 
I take this opportunity to publicly thank this gentleman.
(Note: Two data points do not make a trend. And an approach that appeared to work in hindsight may well yield unpleasant outcomes in the future. I have narrated the two anecdotes only to convey that the foolishness of people around us should ring an alarm bell in our minds, and impel us to evaluate things afresh, from first-principles up.)


"If you want to make money in stocks, do your own thinking."
"Honey, that's the hardest part."

10 April 2016

Hullabaloo in Mulund

This is an interesting story, inspired by a real-life incident, which I was narrating to a few friends yesterday. The incident occurred in a place where yours truly has roosted all his life - Mulund, a suburb in north-east Mumbai, and which abuts the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a place pullulating with wildlife - including leopards (panthera pardus). 

Many summers ago, a leopard, bored with his quotidian life, blithely sauntered into the main bazaar area of Mulund and took up residence inside a shop in the dead of night - managing to steal in to the premises through a gap in the roofing. Next morning when the shopkeeper arrived, he saw that the jumble of cotton sheets he had placed in a corner the previous day was alive and heaving. Thinking that the thing alive underneath was a domestic cat, that regular trespasser on his premises, he pulled the sheets and screamed 'Ho!' at the denuded animal. In two shakes of a lamb's tail the hapless fellow was out on the street, all of a doodah - his breathing stertorous, eyes about to fall off their sockets, and limbs flailing like a semaphore to catch the public's attention. Shortly the leopard presented himself before the public, looking amused as he tried to ascertain the reason for the commotion. Being an intelligent animal, he surmised that, perhaps, the public was expecting him to perform some acrobatic feats. Always eager to oblige discerning viewers, he started leaping from roof to roof, pausing only to snarl and display the immaculate dental architecture inside his mouth. A pandemonium ensued in the bazaar, some people clutched at their throats like stage actors and screamed, others simply ran for their lives. One chappie, however, demonstrating admirable presence of mind, rang for the forest officials. The party of forest guards & officials arrived half an hour later, and it took them another five hours to trap the leopard.

The shopkeeper, I am told, was never the same man again. After a few weeks of the incident, he folded his tent and retired to his ancestral village to ponder over the meaning of life.

27 February 2016

The Haughty Diner: An Absurdist Piece on Our Times

My wife and I were dining, last weekend, at a peaceful, suburban restaurant when an interesting incident occurred.

A swarthy, corpulent man strode in with the swagger and nonchalance of a queen pig arriving at the royal pigsty. He was wearing loose, green trousers and a purple bush-shirt. He and his family seated themselves at the table adjacent to ours. The man's bottom overflowed out of the seat, like cotton-bales bulging out of overstuffed, roofless trucks on Indian highways. After a brief discussion amongst themselves, they ordered some soup and unpronounceable starters. The thingamajig's exaggerated gestures kept catching my attention all the while.

When the soup arrived and was being served, the waiter's hands trembled a trifle too much and some liquid spilled on the table cloth. The beast screamed at the waiter, "Don't you know how to serve soup? you bloody anti-national!" The words rang like gunshots in an abandoned monument! Diners at every other table in the restaurant swivelled their heads round the axes of their necks, fixed their gaze on this pestilence and inspected him with disdain and bemusement, behaving as would have the members of British gentry upon discovering Gunga Din dining in their midst at an upscale restaurant in London! The waiter, whose face had turned mauve with shame, muttered a few incoherent words of apology and withdrew, staggering, to the cloak room - after all, neither the maître d’ nor any of the patrons, including me, had come to the hapless waiter's defence! But the uncouth man, blissfully unmindful of everything, simply stayed focused on the task at hand - 'slurp! slurp!.... munch! munch!.... burp! burp!... fart! fart!'

Thankfully, we had reached the end of what was otherwise a wonderful dinner. In a short while we exited the restaurant, thereby sparing ourselves any further horrors.


Disclaimer: The above story is entirely a piece of fiction. Resemblance to any person or incident is mere happenstance.

What is absurdist humour?
Wikipedia defines surreal or absurdist humour as: a form of humour predicated on deliberate violations of causal reasoning, producing events and behaviours that are obviously illogical. Constructions of surreal humour tend to involve bizarre juxtapositions, non-sequiturs, irrational or absurd situations and expressions of nonsense.

6 November 2015

Philosophy, I need it! - Chapter II

"Abscond from charlatans and deceivers as thou wouldst from venomous snakes!" - G. V. Desani, All About H. Hatterr, 1948.

Warning: The following post contains shocking language. Any resemblance to any person living, or dead after reading this post, is purely intentional.

Chapter II:

(Read Chapter-I here, do not proceed ahead if you haven't read it.)

This post is dedicated to those imbeciles who ask of me the following inane questions:
  1. Earlier you used to say / do one thing, now you say / do something different, why?
  2. You quit the very Whatsapp group you started, why?
    Note: Participating in Whatsapp groups is these days a matter of great pride for nincompoops and layabouts, a frigging social benchmark! It was once an instant-messaging app. Today, it is a constant-messaging app. If you don't post 'Good Morning' messages, Santa-Banta jokes, a picture of Sunny Leone seductively holding a fruit, memes, or hoax messages, the members take it as a personal affront. And if you leave the group (assuming some febrile mind has not already chucked you out), you become a target of derision and calumny. Tut-tut, such depravity, such mediocrity! For me it is unconscionable to waste time that could be spent pursuing dreams, learning, mastering hobbies and all that - sources of lifelong felicity. It takes all kinds to make a world, forsooth. To each his own, amen!
  3. Earlier you used to talk to me, now you've blocked my number, why?
  4. *?!#%^+<>$, why?

My guru, Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett's business partner), once said: "Acquire worldly wisdom and adjust your behaviour accordingly. If your new behaviour gives you a little temporary unpopularity with your peer group then to hell with them!"
To hell with them, indeed!

Oh, monsieur! oh, ma-sewer! following are the reasons or the circumstances under which I would prefer to change my behaviour. It's not an exhaustive catalogue, but it outlines the major reasons :-
  1. A man who does not learn from his mistakes is a fool. Mistakes are what provide us with experience. Rather than regret them, I prefer to learn my lessons and apply them in my quest for a better future. This means I will alter the way I do things i.e. change my behaviour. It is the 'art of continuous learning' that has gotten the human race this far, not denial or stubbornness.
  2. The legendary economist and investor, John Maynard Keynes, once famously remarked: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" This is self-explanatory and common-sensical. But the majority of people I know of do not practise it, perhaps, out of the fear of: 'what will people think if I change my opinion?' In the stock market, it is often the ability to grasp and internalise this simple principle that separates the successful from the dregs. In social life, too, we may learn things about people / events / situations which, hitherto, may have been unknown to us. Why shouldn't we alter our behaviour then?
  3. We are not only known by the company we keep, we are also influenced, positively and negatively, by the people we come in regular contact with.

    "When you sit with someone who’s calm, you can become calm. If you sit with someone who’s agitated and hateful, you can become agitated and hateful." - Brother Phap Dung, Thich Nhat Hanh's senior disciple

    This is all the more important in the prevailing environment of intense political ideologies and religious bigotry - an environment where people first label you as anti-this / pro-that and then proceed with the conversation, an environment where even people who call themselves our friends are perfectly willing to abuse us if we are not in their camp.

    If we are on the quest to excellence and happiness, then we must choose our friends wisely. My idea, one borrowed from Warren Buffett, is to, as far as possible, seek the society of people who I like, trust, and admire (note the presence of an AND operative).
  4. Many of the reasons previously outlined in Chapter I.
Many people will dismiss these four reasons as some kind of bohemianism or heresy. They will do this because: either this kind of thinking was never a part of their upbringing or envy!

Important Note: The above discourse is certainly not intended to communicate that we must change our behaviour over every trifle, every wriggle, every new fact that we may encounter in life. My rule is: only when I assess that the subject is important and not changing my behaviour is likely to cause me harm, would I elect to alter my behaviour. It also does not apply to one's moral scruples.


3 July 2015

Philosophy, I need it! - Chapter I

Dedicated to the many blokes whose egos have received a juicy blow upon hearing a 'NO' (often without an explanation) from me! :-)

My thoughts, in my own words : - 

A person who hasn't mastered the art of saying 'NO' will neither find enough time for himself nor for the many important things he wishes to accomplish in his life.

A person who has the gumption to say 'No' has to often encounter an interesting retort from the person who has asked for his time - "sab log aa rahe hai, sirf tu hi nahin aa raha. Bada aadmi ho gaya hai tu." This statement is nothing but a psychological device that incorporates aspects of guilt-tripping and social-proof. Faugh! But the silliest and cheapest aspect is the reference to India's feudal structure - The Bada Aadmi factor! 
How the dickens do you mean 'Bada Aadmi'? Doesn't a 'Chhota Aadmi' have the right to say 'No'???
These scumbags have, perhaps, no inkling that India has a Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom (a fundamental right) to everybody irrespective of his social position, sex, caste, religion, etc. The freedom to say 'No' is very much a part of this fundamental right (barring some legal exceptions, of course!). By questioning or denying this right, these insolent people are insulting the Constitution of India!!! Why would any sane person hobnob with these horse's patoots?

Another line that is often employed, and not without considerable hauteur, is "Why don't you come? waise bhi kya kaam hai tereko?" I must concede that I am a gentleman-of-leisure and have absolutely no work on any day of the week. But even an orangutan knows that there are many better ways of wasting one's time than being in the society of f(r)iends whose brains have been sculpted by the man who, upon realising that both his hands were paralysed, decided to use his feet for the brain-job. 

Remember, your time is your most valuable possession ....never ever gift it to an asshole who has no respect for other people's time, choices and decisions in life.

I'll end my note by quoting my guru, Howard Roark - “I came here to say that I do not recognise anyone’s right to one minute of my life."


Related story: Here's an interesting anecdote (starring Bruce Lee) narrated by Joe Hyams in his wonderful book, Zen in the Martial Arts, on the importance of spending one's time wisely :-

Many of my jeet-kune-do lessons with Bruce Lee were shared with Stirling Silliphant, one of the most successful screenwriters in America. Often, after lessons, the three of us would retire to my backyard and, over a glass of fruit juice, sit and talk. These few moments were precious to me because, invariably, I gained an insight into one or both of my friends. 

On one such occasion, we talked about the difference between wasting time and spending time. Bruce was the first to speak. 
“To spend time is to pass it in a specified manner,” he said. “We are spending it during lessons just as we are spending it now in conversation. To waste time is to expend it thoughtlessly or carelessly. We all have time to either spend or waste and it is our decision what to do with it. But once passed, it is gone forever.” 

“It’s the most precious commodity we have,” agreed Sterling. “I always view my time as divided into infinite moments or transactions or contacts. Anyone who steals my time is stealing my life because they are taking my existence from me. As I get older, I realise that time is the only thing I have left. So when someone comes to me with a project, I estimate the time it will take me to do it and then I ask myself, ‘Do I want to spend weeks or months of what little time I have on this project? Is it worth it or am I just wasting my time?’ If I consider the project time-worthy I do it. 

“I apply the same yardstick to social relations. I will not permit people to steal my time. I have limited my friends to those people with whom time passes happily. There are moments in my life — necessary moments — when I don’t do anything but that is my choice. The choice of how I spend my time is mine, and it is not dictated by social convention.” 
After Stirling finished talking, Bruce looked out into space for a few moments. When he finally spoke, it was to ask if he could make a telephone call. 
When he came back, Bruce was smiling. “I just cancelled an appointment,” he said. “It was with someone who wanted to waste my time and not help me spend it.” 

As he left us, Bruce turned to Stirling and said, “Today you were the teacher. I realised for the first time how much time I had been wasting with certain people. I never before considered that they were taking my existence from me, but they were.”