Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Indian Growth Story

Every time I fly back home, India amazes me in a positive way. This time I am coming down India within less than four months, and the development brings a smile to my face - the kind of smile I have while coming out of a job interview knowing that I have hit the bulls eye with my answers, a quiet sense of delight. A pleasure I don’t share with anyone until the final glorious outcome. I feel the same right now while seated besides a gentleman coming from a very modest background. His cap is dirty and wet with sweat, his clothes showing off the hard labour he is putting in to save enough to fly back to his home town. I feel this is an achievement. In the past I have really longed that some day I would sit beside an Indian farmer in domestic flights, and it seems like I am getting closer to that dream becoming a reality. The sense of quite pleasure is because I would like to wait until all the poor Indian farmers can make this as their lifestyle choice.

Contrary to this, on my international flight from London to Delhi I met a young Indian entrepreneur. He is only 23 years old and he is heading the technical team in his father’s company. I had a long conversation about the work he is doing so as to assure myself that the position is not a gift of silver spoon but something he has earned. And the young chap did manage to impress me with his knowledge in the sector he is working on. However, like most Indians, he doesn’t appreciate everything that is Indian. Purdue university graduate he feels life is much better in the West and that India has no future. This irked me and what started off thereafter was a long conversation where I broke all his myths about western life style from my experience of living the past three years in London. When the system works there, all is fine, the moment things break down; they take painfully long in rectification.

India is growing and it will be a success story. If only all of us can be a little honest to ourselves and our nation. Commonwealth Games 2010 has exposed corruption to the extent one could not even believe, and I would like to see all those guilty accused.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Origin of Agarwals

Once upon a time there used to live a king called Maharaja Agrasen in an ancient state of India called Agroha. He appeased a beautiful princess called Madhavi in a swayambar her father King Nagaraj organised for her. Swayambar was a practice in ancient Hindu culture where the father would organise massive social gatherings by inviting many agile and able prospective suitors to win the heart of his daughter. In that gathering she is expected to put a garland on one of the men as an indication of her choice and marry him during that event. She chose King Agrasen over all the other able and equally competitive prospective suitors. It is believed that the Agarwal clans originated from King Agrasen and the 18 children he had with Queen Madhavi gave the names to the 18 gotras in the Agarwal clan. I am a Mittal gotra married into a Garg gotra family. In Agarwals, marriage within the same gotra is prohibited as they are considered as siblings. However marriage of Agarwal with another Agarwal is allowed and preferred as long as the two belong to different gotras out of the 18 gotras.

King Agrasen with his dedicated meditation pleased Goddess Mahalakshmi (the Goddess of wealth and prosperity in Hindu religion). She blessed him and asked him to give up knighthood (the Kshatriya tradition) and become a Vaishya (i.e. follow the tradition of business) for the sake of prosperity of his people. She asked him to establish a new kingdom and promised that she would bless his descendants with prosperity and wealth.

The reason I started digging into the history of my origin is precisely here. Sometimes when I feel lost in this fast paced world, I ask myself the questions of who I am and what I am. More often than not, I have found answers to such questions burried in history. Being a descendant of Maharaja Agrasen, I hail from a family who has never known what working for somebody means. From my knowledge of my great grandfather to my father, all have been businessmen. They have traded goods, employed people and created wealth for themselves and the society. During my growing up days, I have assisted the family in doing so. My generation across most of the Agarwal families, if I may say so, is trying to break this family tradition and do something different on their own. They are trying to create a mark in the service sector instead of taking up business. To challenge yourself by doing something which is not a proven path can mystify you at times.

My digging the history also comes timely when the big verdict on Ayodhya has just been declared by the High Court in India. I have heard the youth in India saying that there are bigger problems to take care of, let’s keep history behind and move on. Does it really matter whether there was a temple or a mosque or does it really matter if there now should be a temple or a mosque in that place? I agree that this does not matter. But what matters is that this problem exists in the society and just like any other problem it needs to be taken care of. Ignoring a problem cannot be a solution to it.

I have been so irregular with my blogging in the recent times that I can imagine to have lost the regulars. However, for those who still have been checking my blogs once in a while, hope you have liked the new look.

Source: Wikipedia for information on the origin of Agarwals.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A letter to myself

You know dear, there used to be a time in my life where I would just not care about earning money. I did not want to earn money as I used to think that it is not money which brings happiness but love. A lady in a stock trading training presentation said that people are shy about earning money; they feel that it is evil to earn a lot of money – it actually was true for me. I actually was somebody who used to feel that earning lot of money changes people and they become unsocial. Their perspective towards life change, therefore their priorities. That was the reason I joined the NGO for street kids as a teacher because I thought earning money and giving them money is not going to help – rather teaching them and interacting with them is going to.

Those days while I was teaching them, I was also lecturing at St. Stephen’s. I would wear very simple clothes when I would go to teach – a cotton kurti with churidaar, a pair of chappals and a little hand bag, that’s it. No ostentation. I was getting Government scholarship for PhD and some money from Stephen’s teaching, and that was more than enough for me to live an adequate life.

Dear, I believed that teaching is the best job to do as you are enlightening people with your knowledge. It’s a noble job. While I was teaching the SBT kids, I realised that I was helping them dream. Can you imagine such a big responsibility that is? It can hurt them so much if I showed them dreams they will not be able to achieve, so I had to be very careful in everything I said. They shared with me how they ran away from their families. I felt like crying. They were so talented but with no resources to do anything with their talent. It was summers when I was teaching them, and the room where I would teach them hardly had one fan. It used to be hot. I used to enjoy eating a lot of mangoes during summers and one day I felt like buying lots of mangoes for everybody at SBT. That was the first time when I realised that I was not earning enough to be able to do so freely. I had to think twice before I could do something like this on my own.

This is the point where the enlightenment came to me that if I have the opportunities and the talent to earn money, I should do that. Not everybody gets such opportunities just like those kids. And this way I will be able to help them achieve their dreams and not just give them some knowledge about some examination subject. That day I told myself that earning money is not a bad thing. Those who are earning money are creating wealth in the economy which in turn helps everybody.

Today when I look back, I feel I have come a long way. The person I am today, I was not so a few years back. I don’t know if this transition is for my own good or bad, but I can definitely see that it will help me achieve the goal of helping those kids better this way than merely teaching Mathematics to five Class-X students at the shelter home in a big hot room with one fan. My charity here acts as Friends of SBT and helps raise funds and awareness for various projects that SBT undertakes to facilitate the kids in getting closer to their dreams in whatever way possible.

Every little that we do really helps.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

My sports diary

I have never been a sportsperson in my life- the only times I remember playing sports formally was in seventh grade in school annual sports day (I won second prize in some event I can't remember) and the last time as a post-graduate student (I won a second prize again, in shot-put). Unofficially I used to play terrace-cricket with my younger brother as a kid and he would invariably bowl me out on the first ball to my utter diaappointment.

Nevertheless, I have always thoroughly enjoyed watching sports. Sitting in my relaxed couch watching people sweat it out probably gave me a lot of pleasure-more than actually going and doing it myself.

Probably like any other Indian kid and specially any other Bengali kid, I grew up watching lots of cricket. Be it exams or the earth quake, nothing could me from watching it (exception being the amazing 2002 world cup where I promised myself to study harder than ever. It paid off well as I got the best marks, but it was the toughest sacrifice given than India reached so close to the dream). I wrote in my earlier post the overwhelming experience I had the day I visited Oval (and Lords thereafter) for the 2020 world cup cricket matchs.

The sporting experience in the UK is not complete without some tryst with football and this encouraged me to go for an Arsenal match(I was living at a five minutes walk from the stadium, so can call it my 'home team'). It was the most exciting match I had experienced, so much of energy - both on field and on the stands. I then also got an opportunity to see another England's football match with a guest appearance play from David Beckam (that's what he does in matches - comes and goes, wonder how he affords to be so stylish with such performances).

One other thing that I have grown up watching has been lawn tennis. Childhood was spent in the era of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras and my youth is enjoying the thrills of watching Roger Federrer and Rafael Nadal. I am excited that I have managed to secure the live match tickets of the ATP world tour final match which I am hoping would be between the two of them!

That's it! This is all that I have done in my sports life yet. A small blogpost is all that is required to cover it. Some dog racing and horse racing here and there to add some bit of spice. I am however anticipating some marathons, treks or hiking this year or the following years. My relaxed life on the couch or on the stadium stands will now get replaced by running around the shops to buy running shoes / trekking shoes. Am I excited? Sure I am.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

All about Hinduism

Four years ago, I was flying from JFK NY Airport to SFO to attend a meeting at Monterey , CA. An American girl was sitting on the right side, near window seat. It indeed was a long journey - it would take nearly seven hours. I was surprised to see the young girl reading a Bible unusual of young Americans. After some time she smiled and we had few acquaintances talk. I told her that I am from India

Then suddenly the girl asked: 'What's your faith?' 'What?' I didn't understand the question.

'I mean, what's your religion? Are you a Christian? Or a Muslim?'

'No!' I replied, 'I am neither Christian nor Muslim'. Apparently she appeared shocked to listen to that. 'Then who are you?' 'I am Hindu’, I said. She looked at me as if she was seeing a caged animal. She could not understand what I was talking about. A common man in Europe or US knows about Christianity and Islam, as they are the leading religions of the world today.

But a Hindu, what?

I explained to her - I am born to a Hindu father and Hindu mother. Therefore, I am a Hindu by birth.

'Who is your prophet?' she asked.

'We don't have a prophet,' I replied.

What's your Holy Book? 'We don't have a single Holy Book, but we have hundreds and thousands of philosophical and sacred scriptures,' I replied.

Oh, come on at least tell me who is your God?

What do you mean by that?

Like we have Jesus and Muslims have Allah - don't you have a God?

I thought for a moment. Muslims and Christians believe one God (Male God) who created the world and takes an interest in the humans who inhabit it. Her mind is conditioned with that kind of belief.

According to her (or anybody who doesn't know about Hinduism), a religion needs to have one Prophet, one Holy book and one God. The mind is so conditioned and rigidly narrowed down to such a notion that anything else is not acceptable. I understood her perception and concept about faith.

You can't compare Hinduism with any of the present leading religions where you have to believe in one concept of god.

I tried to explain to her: 'You can believe in one god and he can be a Hindu. You may believe in multiple deities and still you can be a Hindu. What's more - you may not believe in god at all, still you can be a Hindu. An atheist can also be a Hindu.'

This sounded very crazy to her. She couldn't imagine a religion so unorganized, still surviving for thousands of years, even after onslaught from foreign forces.

I don't understand but it seems very interesting. Are you religious?
What can I tell to this American girl? I said: 'I do not go to temple regularly. I do not make any regular rituals. I have learned some of the rituals in my younger days. I still enjoy doing it sometimes...

Enjoy? Are you not afraid of God?
God is a friend. No- I am not afraid of God. Nobody has made any compulsions on me to perform these rituals regularly.

She thought for a while and then asked: 'Have you ever thought of converting to any other religion?

Why should I?. Even if I challenge some of the rituals and faith in Hinduism, nobody can convert me from Hinduism. Because, being a Hindu allows me to think independently and objectively, without conditioning. I remain as a Hindu never by force, but choice. I told her that Hinduism is not a religion, but a set of beliefs and practices. It is not a religion like Christianity or Islam because it is not founded by any one person or does not have an organized controlling body like the Church or the Order, I added. There is no institution or authority.

So, you don't believe in God?' she wanted everything in black and white.
I didn't say that. I do not discard the divine reality. Our scripture, or Sruthis or Smrithis - Vedas and Upanishads or the Gita - say God might be there or he might not be there. But we pray to that supreme abstract authority (Para Brahma) that is the creator of this universe.

Why can't you believe in one personal God?

We have a concept - abstract - not a personal god. The concept or notion of a personal God, hiding behind the clouds of secrecy, telling us irrational stories through few men whom he sends as messengers, demanding us to worship him or punish us, does not make sense. I don't think that God is as silly as an autocratic emperor who wants others to respect him or fear him.

I told her that such notions are just fancies of less educated human imagination and fallacies, adding that generally ethnic religious practitioners in Hinduism believe in personal gods. The entry level Hinduism has over-whelming superstitions too. The philosophical side of Hinduism negates all superstitions.

Good that you agree God might exist. You told that you pray. What is your prayer then? she asked.

Loka Samastha Suk ino Bhavantu. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,

'Funny,' she laughed, 'What does it mean?'
May all the beings in all the worlds be happy. Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

Hmm... very interesting.. I want to learn more about this religion. It is so democratic, broa.d-minded and free' she exclaimed.

The fact is Hinduism is a religion of the individual, for the individual and by the individual with its roots in the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita. It is all about an individual approaching a personal God in an individual way according to his temperament and inner evolution - it is as simple as that.

How does anybody convert to Hinduism?

Nobody can convert you to Hinduism, because it is not a religion, but a set of beliefs, practices and a way of life and culture. Everything is acceptable in Hinduism because there is no single authority or organization either to accept it or to reject it or to oppose it on behalf of Hinduism.

For a real seeker, I told her, the Bible itself gives guidelines when it says Kingdom of God is within you. I reminded her of Christ's teaching about the love that we have for each other. That is where you can find the meaning of life.

Loving each and every creation of the God is absolute and real. Isavasyam idam sarvam Isam - (the God) is present (inhabits) here everywhere – nothing exists separate from the God, because God is present everywhere. Respect every living being and non-living things as God. That's what Hinduism teaches you.

Hinduism is referred to as Sanathana Dharma, the eternal faith. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. The most important aspect of Hinduism is being truthful to oneself. Hinduism has no monopoly on ideas - It is open to all. Hindus believe in one God (not a personal one) expressed in different forms. For them, God is timeless and formless entity.

Ancestors of today's Hindus believe in eternal truths and cosmic laws and these truths are opened to anyone who seeks them. But there is a section of Hindus who are either superstitious or turned fanatic to make this an organized religion like others. The British coin the word 'Hindu' and considered it as a religion.

I said: 'Religions have become an MLM (multi-level-marketing) industry that has been trying to expand the market share by conversion. The biggest business in today's world is Spirituality. Hinduism is no exception'.

I am a Hindu primarily because it professes Non-violence - 'Ahimsa Paramo Dharma' - Non violence is the highest duty. I am a Hindu because it doesn't condition my mind with any faith system.

A man/ woman who change's his/her birth religion to another religion is a fake and does not value his/her morals, culture and values in life. Hinduism was the first religion originated. Be proud of your religion and be proud of who you are.
Om Namo shivaya, Om Namo Narayanaya Namaha.

**Courtesy - a forwarded email

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Reflections

Whenever I get time, I tend to stop, sit back and think about life. And again and again one thought keeps coming back to me – the uncertainty of life. Everything that we do is uncertain. Think of a stochastic programming problem in optimisation with multiple objectives and numerous constraints – phew! Unsolvable – nobody has got around finding a closed form solution to it. Similar is life, and there exists no closed solution.

Take this mundane example – by chance for the first time you found the cheapest coach ticket online that you have ever seen. You are ecstatic. You have been using the website for 2 years now and never have you got any such offer. This time while you are booking the ticket, you think that finally your loyalty is being paid off. You tell people around while you are booking about the special offer and if they also might want to try. You make the payment and finalise the plans of what you will do with the money that you have just saved in that ticket. And lo! The website throws an error message – “It has taken unusually longer to process the transaction and hence it has been aborted. Please close the page and start afresh. No payment has been taken and no tickets booked”. Dejected you start the process all over again only to find that the website does not show the same prices anymore.

The morale of the story is – never take anything for granted. Anything – be it health, beauty, relationship, love, work, studies, knowledge, wisdom. There is nothing that you can really boast of is yours. Life is a learning experience which is as uncertain as the shape of an amoeba. It can change anytime. Therefore, do not boast of what you have and do not feel bad for what you don’t have. It is all a matter of chance, a matter of time and a matter of the dynamics of life!

All that we have is a sham, and all that we don’t have is an illusion. Hinduism says that the only thing that is true in this universe is soul. Everything else is an overlay and is subject to variability. Love the reality and not the plasticity. Love the soul.

Watching the movie Dhan Dana Dhan Goal, it’s about an Indian player waiting to get into an English football club. I have just seen 15 minutes or so, and the movie makes no sense to me. The more I watch it, the more I dislike it. Absolutely mindless. Can’t stand it any more, I am going to switch it off, what a mockery!

Happy Women’s Day to all the women who are walking in their lives with their heads held high. Those who are still struggling just remember one thing, you are the best thing that God could have created, and those who do not have respect for you, does not have respect for God and hence no respect for their own self. So somebody who does not respect oneself, cannot respect you, so simply ignore and move on. Open your arms, embrace the life and keep a smile!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Risk & the Financial Crisis


As promised, I have been dwelling over the idea to come up with a post on the financial crisis which has gripped us all - the effects still noticeable like the cracks in the castles which are always visible and incur huge monies in repairs.

I conducted this small poll to test how much people know about it - statistically insignificant dataset to infer any meaningful conclusions from the results. Distribution skewed to the left by which I mean 'somewhat' knowledgeable population. Just an idea for you - while conducting polls never give odd number of options for responses as in such cases most of the responses would tend to be the median value. Try to give even number of options to choose from as it then forces the responder to choose one direction, thereby resulting into a decisive mandate.

Well, I just drifted away a bit. Coming back, what has this financial crisis done to people – everybody knows. But what has it done to the bankers – nobody wants to know. In one of the informal discussions at work, I heard a colleague of mine complaining – “I have stopped telling people when asked what I do, that I am a banker. I just say I am a modeller”. Leave it to them to understand what that means, because if you make it easy for them to understand, you get the reaction.

I am not going to bore you with what caused the crisis (as most of us already know that - courtesy my polls). To be honest, I did not get any time to draft a detailed post to write down the whole story. Just Google for words like financial crisis / credit crunch / subprime crisis and you get loads of websites talking about them. So I am not going to bore you with any more of techy information. What it definitely has resulted in is an increased attention to risk management in banks.

Before the crisis dawned upon us, I was somebody who could have become an investment banker but landed up becoming a risk modeller. I was not sure that time if I wanted to remain in the same profile for long, but now I am so sure. Risk management in banks have picked up momentum. It is a field where you can show your flair - not much done in the field and hence you constantly research and improvise. Risk systems are getting more capital allocations and risk reports are now coffee table discussions. With Obama overhauling the regulatory systems in the US and the world following suit, the day is not far off when CEOs of banks would be people with extensive experience in risk.

I think it is very important to be risk conscious. That does not mean that I suggest going to an extent of becoming risk averse (no risk means no return), but do not become irresponsible that you forget what the stakes are. Exactly knowing your risk appetite is the way forward!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

YO! Weekends

I hope I will not be charged for copyright infringement by YO! Shushi. The reason I took the name is not because I had a Japanese dinner this weekend, but because I have started getting the YO! feeling for weekends. You know, there used to be a time when I would find it hard to understand why people crave for weekends so much. In fact to an extent, it used to be the other way round where I would feel like HUH! Weekends.

You may want to pop up and conclude that this clearly means a) I used to enjoy my weekdays i.e., work then much more than I do now, or b) I enjoy my weekends now much more than I used to then. No, don't jump guns, it's neither - because I enjoy my work now and I enjoyed my weekends then. Then, what is it??

It's an anticipation. Anticipation of a fun-filled weekend. A weekend that will make me forget who I am or who you are. Somewhere in an unexplored island with nothing. The anticipation of experiencing a complete vacuum or may be an emotional over-fill; of experiencing the extreme. Does it sound vague? If you understand it, please help me understand.

On another topic, I feel a blog post on the financial crisis is long over due. I have been thinking of writing my opinions / take on it, but before that thought of conducting this poll to gauze the level at which I should project the content. Please leave your views.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Am back

The last few months that I have been away have been very eventful with some good and some not-so-good experiences.

Anyways, this blogpost is not going to be about me, it's going to be about you. You as in you who read it, you as in for whom I write it. I know by now, you must have blown away like the wind that keeps tapping at the window hoping that one would open it after getting annoyed by the disturbance, but alas! You must have waited and waited - may be on Diwali - nothing! then may be about London's Christmas celebration - nothing yet again, oh may be on the New Year for sure. Hmmm... nothing again. No posts, no news, no updates... You say - I waited and waited and then I looked away.

But hey, look I am back now. Please don't look away as I am back. I am back with my small posts on what I see, observe, feel and think. I have changed the template of my blog! I have changed the tempo of my blog - now I will talk directly to you in my posts. You and I - first and second person, no third person allowed! What I will not change is that I welcome change. Read On!