The Uncertainty of a Sure Thing

My friend Swami was quite cheerful a few days back when we met. “Finally the markets are going up – now that Modi is sure to become the Prime Minister.”

“There is no such thing as a sure thing” said my broker friend Jigneshbhai, putting brakes on Swami’s enthusiasm, as he sipped coffee during our weekend meet.

Looking up from a book of poems he was reading, he said “It says here that Robert Burns the famous Scottish poet said ‘There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing’.”

“I am not saying it, great people have said it” said Jigneshbhai, with a twinkle in his eye.

There is something about Swami and Jigneshbhai that makes them want to irritate each other. And this kind of skepticism in an apparently rare good mood was enough to set them off.

“He is such a spoiler. Everyone wants Modi for PM and here is your broker friend spoiling the party.” Swami looked at me and said, as if I was responsible for it.

I gave him a confused look back.

With no clear response from me, he looked at Jigneshbhai. “So you don’t think Modi will be PM? You don’t want markets to go up?” he said, almost angrily.

Jigneshbhai looked up at Swami nonchalantly. “I did not say that. I just said there is no such thing as a sure thing.”

“You seem to be the only one not believing that. The whole country seems to be in the midst of a Modi wave, and so the markets are happy about it.” Swami said, mockingly this time.

“Well maybe that is true. But there is no such thing as a sure thing. Robert Burns said that.” Jigneshbhai responded, with even greater nonchalance this time.

“He is such a disappointment” Swami complained, again looking at me.

My broker friend looked up from his book of poems and quoted again “Robert Burns also says here ‘Suspense is worse than Disappointment.'”

That got Swami a bit more irritated. “So what are you saying now? Will Modi not become PM?” Swami finally confronted Jigneshbhai.

Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “People have already started talking of expectations from his government, who will get which cabinet berth and plum posts, FIIs have started investing again, and the US has also said how it will impact Indo-US ties, and here is your friend still not sure.”

That was a long list of people who were sure and taking action based on Modi becoming PM.

I waited for my broker or my friend to say something, but no one said anything for a while.

Finally, Swami pushed for an answer again, and my broker friend obliged.

“Well those are a lot of people counting their chickens before they are hatched, in some cases, even before they are conceived” he shrugged off.

As I watched Swami flare up and Jigneshbhai cool down, I realised this wasn’t getting anywhere, and decided to change the topic.

“So what’s happening in the IPL? Are you keeping track?” I opened up.

Almost immediately, Swami retorted, “Forget the IPL. For the first time in a long time, I am so sure of the markets, and your friend is just throwing cold water over my hopes.” Again he looked at me as if I was responsible for it.

I stayed silent, as usual caught in the cross fire between my friends.

Just then, the wealthy man in the sprawling bungalow, who had been listening to our conversation, dropped by and sat near Swami.

Almost with a saintly grin, he looked at Swami and started talking.

“Mr Market will keep getting sure of uncertain things from time to time. But if you can manage to remain unsure in the face of his exuberant moods, you are certain to be successful in investing, time and again. A healthy uncertainty is better than false certainty.”

As Swami and I were trying to grasp what the wealthy man in the sprawling bungalow had said, he got up and started leaving.

On his way out, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “There is value in not being sure!”

Click here to read ‘The Value of Not Being Sure by Seth Klarman

4 Responses to The Uncertainty of a Sure Thing

  1. Prashant Sant says:

    Ranjit, I was wondering if Swami represents the quintessential Mr Market. In the middle of narrative when You do mention Mr Market. You try and model Swami as Mr Market most of the times?

  2. Open to interpretation! But in my mind, Swami is someone who often falls prey to the moods of the quintessential Mr Market!

  3. Kimi says:

    The best piece I have read on your blog so far.

  4. Thanks Kimi – that means a lot!

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