Saboot aur Gawaah

“Tamam gawahon ke bayaanat aur sabooton ko madde nazar rakhte hue” started Jigneshbhai in a very filmy mood when we met this weekend for coffee. “Isn’t that how that dialogue went in the old Hindi movies?”

Swami, a big fan of Hindi movies completed the dialogue that my broker friend had started. “Yeh adalat is natije pe pohochi hain ki, Mulzim bekasoor hain. Lehaza Mulzim ko ba-izzat bari kiya jaata hain.”

And we had a big hearty laugh remembering the troubled judge banging “Order, Order!” in God knows how many old Hindi movies.


My broker friend said “One of my friends, an ardent non-believer in God, has this habit of asking for evidence every time any of us remotely talks about anything suggestive of religious, spiritual or ritualistic things.”

Jigneshbhai seemed to be in his story telling mode today, so Swami and I were all ears. Specially when it comes to proof and evidence, Swami is always attentive.

“And as you know, no one has been able to conclusively prove the existence of God so far.”

“So every time after presentation of tamam gawaah aur saboot, the ‘mulzim’ gets baizzat buried!!” Our broker friend broke into a laugh.

Swami and I were not quite sure why he was laughing so much, specially about touchy matters like proof of God.

After a while, realizing that he was laughing all alone, he stopped.

With a twinkle in his eye, he said “By the way, we believe in God with no evidence, but nowadays, ask for evidence about everything else, right?”

Swami and I got an inkling that Jigneshbhai was probably referring to the demands of proof for the surgical strikes that the Indian Army had done a few days back.

All government actions require documentation and process.

We have to submit proof of identity, proof of residence, proof of domicile, proof of income for so many things like Aadhaar card, admission to government colleges, loan applications, etc. Even to get bills passed in parliament, there is ‘kanooni process’. Audits happen to establish ‘saboot’ of corruption happening or not happening.

So it is natural that in a country that goes so much by ‘gawaah aur saboot’, the Army also needs to provide proof of a surgical strike it performed on the enemy.

I wonder whether it would have been a good idea for our Army to have submitted all the right documents at all the government offices and followed all processes, before performing the surgical strikes.

Maybe that would have left ‘tamaam gawaah aur saboot’.

While we were lost in figuring out what would be the best documentation to ensure that there is enough proof before the next surgical strike by the Army, Jigneshbhai broke that chain of thought.

“So we ask for proof from the Army, but where there is proof and ‘after tamaam gawaah aur saboot’, the judge has given his verdict, we don’t follow it, and evoke emotion!”

Swami and I were again left wondering what Jigneshbhai was talking about, but quickly realized that he was probably referring to the verdicts in the Cauvery Water case and the BCCI Lodha committee.

“Sharing water and establishing corruption and shady cricket deals where there is ‘tamaam gawaahon ke bayanaat aur saboot’, we invoke emotion, and from the Army, where we need a bit of faith, we ask for proof.” Jigneshbhai clarified.

Clearly, in a rational world, evidence and data are paramount, Swami and I thought. But our broker friend was perhaps right in suggesting that there is a place for rationality and there is a place for faith.

While we were musing over this, the wealthy man in the sprawling bungalow, who had been listening to our talk (mainly Jigneshbhai’s today), walked over to our table. He sat for a while today and left us with more food for thought.

“For the Army and government, it is rational to not provide “gawaah aur saboot”. And for the enemy and politicians, it is rational to demand for it. For you, it is wise to determine who to place your faith on! Because Koi saboot nahi, toh Koi gunehgaar nahi!”

Angry Young Country

While the world and capital markets lament the slowing growth of China, it is easy to forget that – in the last 37 years – maybe from 1979-80 or so – China grew consistently at a rate of growth that got jobs for a significant proportion of their young labour force and pulled many families out of abject poverty. China is still not a developed country – and one can argue about the freedom of expression and all that. But one can’t argue with the fact that when you have well over a billion people, it is inevitable, and there may still be a lot to do. Nevertheless, the quality of life of their people has vastly changed.

The reasons for this transformation have been largely political and economic, driven by the large desire for a better life by the people themselves.

It has been the world’s hope that India is moving in that direction. The basis for that has been that the youth of this country – whether urban or rural, whether north or south Indian, whether Hindu, Muslim or whatever – is desperate for a better life. The hypothesis being that they no longer tolerate corrupt, slow movement, and that they have a desire for accountability. The youth of this country was apparently angry. This was a ‘angry young country’ that threw out a non-performing government lock, stock and barrel in 2014, and brought in place a leader whom they thought will deliver the goods.

What a waste that this ‘angry young country’ is now getting angry about none of those things like development, governance, inflation, jobs, corruption, and losing their head over useless things like caste, religion, intolerance, secularism, freedom of expression and nationalism!

With a desperate opposition, whose salaries and careers more or less depend on the youth thinking of themselves not as Indian, but as Yadav or a Muslim or a Dalit or a whatever, and even the party in government reminding them that they are nationalist Hindus or whatever, we seem to have lost our ability to get angry on the things that matter.

Why, of all things, should a youth get angry about secularism vs. nationalism and all these things? Wouldn’t it be better for the youngster to get angry with these political leaders if he is not a getting a decent job beyond agriculture to make a decent living?

Why, of all things, should a youth get angry about who their V-C or Dean is, and whether or not the flag is hoisted in his campus? Wouldn’t it be better if he asks these Deans and the ones who appoint them how he can start a company for his idea easily and get financed for it?

Why, of all things, should a youth get angry about issues like caste oppression and cuddle up to opposition leaders on campus? Wouldn’t it be better for him to tell those leaders to spend more time in parliament to get things done rather than on campus?

Why, of all things, should a youth get angry if the government doesn’t given him reservation? Wouldn’t it be better for him to ask the government where are the roads, power and railway stations that were promised in the name of development?

Why, of all things, should a youth get angry about this intolerance and cultural stuff? Wouldn’t it better if he gets a bit intolerant of the performance of the government and the opposition benches in parliament?

It is amusing, to say the best, and frustrating, to say the worst, to note that this ‘angry young country’ is getting angry for all these useless things leading to noise.

It is happening because it is easy to provoke – both for the opposition and the government. Politicians around the world are the same – they want only votes. If they can get the votes and get to power, and get away with doing nothing, they would be happy.

Some want to get votes in the name of caste, religion, secularism and tolerance; some want to grab votes in the name of nationalism, hindutva and development. Some others want them in the name of socialism and ideology. Eventually these are all good to provoke for votes and easy to escape from when in power. And the media is a happy partner in that – they get paid when there is noise – the more the better, whatever the issue.

What is tougher to be accountable for is real performance that matters.

If this angry young country starts getting angry with the political class – both with the government and the opposition and all others and at all levels – on the things that really matter and that they can’t escape from, by asking them both what they have done on those counts relentlessly, without these distractions – we have some hope of seeing transformation in this country over the next generation.

Else we keep doing this secular, intolerance, nationalist ideological nonsense. We keep getting angry over the wrong things and keep staying happy over the right things. And that would be quite a wasted opportunity.

As You Sow, So Shall You Reap

Invest in businesses as if you are investing in farmland.

Look at the earning capability of the asset and how that will increase consistently over time, and hold it for decades.

This, or something to that effect, is what Warren Buffett said in his latest shareholder letter – drawing parallels with his own investment in farmland over 30 years back and how it has grown without his knowing anything about farming. Except that he knew that earnings yields were decent and crop prices grew over years, he had a son who knew a thing or two about corn and soybean farming, and he made no attempts to sell it for 30 years.

And hence, he says – evaluate businesses as if you are buying farmland.

Nice advice – with a big underlying assumption. That buying farmland to do farming is a great business.

Given the current state of agriculture in India, it doesn’t take much to conclude that it doesn’t pay to be a farmer in India. Buying farmland to do farming is not a great business as of now in India.

It may not be strictly because farming as such is a non-profitable business fundamentally. But it is more because – in its current form and state – if one makes a simple evaluation of farming as a profession, it is virtually impossible to make a serious living out of it. Specially for someone who has any aspiration of a good life.

To begin with – Firstly, is the capacity of the asset itself. Most owners of farmland don’t own the 400 acres that Buffett bought in 1986. It is more like half an acre to two acres, perhaps a bit more if you are a bit better off. Whatever capital investments  are needed to get output from such a small piece of land are more or less fixed and will likely not be affordable. It is like starting a textile factory with one machine producing 50 shirts. So whatever you do in such small land, it is not going to be great sizable output.

Second, farming is capital-intensive. The farmer needs to invest first and then wait. At least 75% of his expenses like seeds, fertilizers, water are recurring for every crop. He needs money to even start expecting any output.

Thirdly, whether the crop will actually come out safe and sound is largely dependent on the rain gods. Well – not just whether rains happen in general – but in most cases, the rains need to be in the right quantity (not too less or not too much) and at the right time (when the crop needs it – not in April when he is waiting for it in July). He doesn’t have an easy ‘insurance’ against these vagaries.

Finally, last but not the least, if and when the output comes, he has little control over the selling price. Part of it is because of the vagaries of food demand and supply, but a significant part is due to affordability and reach issues.

He must sell his produce within a short period of time else it will perish as he can’t afford storage or further processing. He has no access to markets that will give him the best price, and no ability to afford things like transport even if he has access. To this desperate situation, add the multiple layers of middlemen distributors, and he ends up being at the receiving end of all price negotiations. In short, the selling price of his output is not in his control – very often ending up lower than his wildest expectation.

So those are the realities of the business of farming – in India. Some of them are fixable, many of them are not trivial problems to solve.

Now add to that, the complexities and costs of financing farming – both operating costs and capital costs – and you have a lethal combination of a capital intensive, not-so-profitable, highly unpredictable business financed regularly at high interest rates. In short, a high risk venture financed by high cost capital with direct personal liability.

Is it any surprise that the ‘farming entrepreneur’ (I would call it that – rather than the farmer) is facing such desperate times – year after year?

Which farming entrepreneur can seriously make a living out of just farming? I heard that survey after survey says hardly 1 in 5 farmers are dependent only on farming. Perhaps less than 20% of farmers want their children to do it. Perhaps the land can be used for another purpose, if it is available.

It is quite clear that they have evaluated the facts and are fending for themselves. People, by and large, are logical when thinking individually for themselves.

Well – that’s the logic part. And that’s where the analysis of farming as a business ends.

The problem is when emotion gets mixed with it. And human beings, by and large, aren’t driven by logic, specially in groups. They are driven by emotion.

And it is the job of politicians to provoke it and use it to their advantage.

No one loves farming – but everyone wants to love the farmer. Because the farmer votes. That’s the logic.

The rush to love the farmer without fixing his farming problem is currently on. Every political party, in its own way, is part of that rush. And if you can find a twisted way of linking it to some legislation or rich vs poor debate, even better. I am not hopeful that will change. And I will never be able to figure out who is right and who is wrong.

In the Chronicles of Narnia, there is a wonderful piece on logic.

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

The truth is – in this mad rush to love the farmer, I can’t figure out who is right, who is mad and who is telling lies. But I can figure out that unless some of the things change, I don’t want my son to be a farmer in India.

And I am sure, most farmers would figure that out too. The problem is – if not a farmer, then what? Well – that is again not a trivial problem with easy answers. But at least it is a question that deserves to be asked.

Therefore, make no mistake – the farmer is not a fool. If he uses his logic and demands solutions to his real problems, he will ask the right questions and get the right answers. If he doesn’t, well – he will not – all he will get is emotional rants that lead nowhere.

But I am hopeful that the farmer will use his logic dispassionately – for his own good. After all – who knows it better? As you sow, so shall you reap.

When David beats Goliath: Crossing the Chasm

This weekend was memorable for a number of events. While at a personal level, it was memorable for my son getting his Karate Black Belt, for many it was memorable probably due to another famous Indian victory over Pakistan at the World Cup, and for some it was memorable due to Valentine Day.

But the one event that will probably have a much larger long term impact is the installation of the AAP government in Delhi. For a party less than 2 years old based on an anti-corruption movement of 3 years or so, and which, after showing early promise had almost messed it up last year, to come back to power with such a stunning majority, albeit in one city state, is nothing short of miraculous. Even David beating Goliath seems like an understatement.

My articles on AAP started with my initial thinking that AAP had reached a tipping point after its surprise 28 seats in Delhi, then moved to realizing that I was probably an early adopter of an uncommon man’s agenda, and finally, after a chain of events, theorizing that perhaps, AAP was a disruptive innovation that was getting stuck in the proverbial ‘chasm’ quite similar to how so many innovative products end up in technology marketing.

But the kind of sweeping victory that the AAP saw in Delhi is, perhaps, not possible unless it has moved out from being an ‘early adopters’ phenomenon stuck in the chasm (which it was thought to be) to at the very least ‘an early majority’ phenomenon (which it seems like now).

At the early adopter phase, an offering holds promise due to its disruptive idea, but it is backed largely by a smaller group which backs it based on mainly emotional or idealistic principles. Whereas in the ‘early majority’ phase, the offerings’ buyers consists of a pragmatic adopter base which is more solid because that group makes a rational choice after seeing the cost benefits and decides to give it a chance.

In a technology product marketing life cycle, generally after the early adopters have taken an innovative product up, there is huge ‘principles-based aspirational marketing’ based on superiority of the offering and bad mouthing the competition, which the AAP did early next year.

imagesUnfortunately, while this attracts the early adopters, it doesn’t work to convince the early or late majority who are looking for concrete reasons to make any changes to the status quo. Lack of such reasons is also why lots of products end up in a chasm which not many can easily come out of. Till the early majority sees some benefits compared to status quo, and decide rationally to give it a chance, they stay there, often forever.

The AAP with its disruptive idea of honest politics has definitely and quickly moved from the early adopter to the early majority stage.

And if this is true then it is bad news for people in power – who themselves capitalized on the promise of a credible alternative.

But the good news for the same people is – bear in mind – it is still a chance though a very rational one – meaning the disruptive innovation has moved a few steps forward in being mainstream but is still not mainstream.

The next stage in AAP’s emergence is typically adoption by the late majority which can make it completely mainstream.

If one goes back to the technology adoption life cycle, this typically happens when the early majority sees proven benefits for specific use cases after using the product for a while, the perceived risk and costs of adopting it go down, and the early adopters become the biggest influencer for starting adoption by the late majority.

And that is what is likely to happen with the AAP as well. At this stage is also when most of the competition starts to take notice of what was initially dismissed as something that doesn’t work.

Hence, from here on, it is simply a race between the incumbent and the disruptor – because neither has the luxury of the laurels of the past or the promises of the future.

We have seen this play out every time a new innovation comes in the market.

Success that leads to mainstream adoption depends largely on the ability of the disruptor to fulfil its original promise without the risks of disruption, as well as the approach of the incumbent to reinvent itself to compete on the new innovator’s standards without the arrogance of resorting to past laurels.

A famous example of an incumbent leader losing out over a prolonged period of time is how Kodak (a leader in films and film cameras) lost out to Canon when the digital camera slowly replaced film-based cameras with Kodak continuously resisting the shift, even after it was evident that the new technology had moved beyond early adopters.

Another recent and more drastic example of disruption is how Nokia and Blackberry who were undisputed mobile leaders lost out completely to Apple and Samsung in the mobile market in a space of just about 3 years due to the smartphone innovation which they didn’t see coming. We see Nokia coming back in its new Windows avatar largely due to a re-invention.

A famous example where a disruptive innovation did not quite replace the incumbent is how IBM embraced the PC even when it was a highly successful mainframe leader, had grown based on it and at that time could have easily resisted the PC and dismissed it as a fad (which it initially did).

Another similar example is how electric cars somehow never managed to replace fuel-based vehicles despite clear innovation as they got stuck in the chasm after early adoption due to the risks of adoption by the majority.

A number of times the best thing for an incumbent to do is to embrace the disruptive innovation rather than to resist and fight it. It needs a proactive action to address a market that it has never addressed directly. Resistance often leads to further erosion till it reaches a point of no return.

In the fight for political space with the AAP, the worst thing for the BJP and other parties to do would be to resist it, have an obstructionist, elitist approach or to constantly communicate that they don’t believe in AAP’s ability or intention to deliver on its promises.

Due to the massive mandate AAP got in Delhi based on its disruptive idea, that kind of resistance is likely to work against BJP and turn the perception against them in the battle for the early majority in political space. While it is to be seen whether the AAP disruption spreads beyond Delhi, resisting it further will definitely not provide any benefits to the BJP – as the battle for early adopters and the early majority (in Delhi) has already been lost.

In order to stop the spread to the rest of the majority, embracing the idea of honest politics, reaching out to the new markets being captured by AAP and continuing to deliver on its own promises is what will help the BJP. So while it works on delivering its national agenda for development, it is important to be seen to be proactively constructive for Delhi, especially for the segment that has clearly moved to AAP.

It is a race. For the incumbent BJP, it is a race to hold on to its turf by delivering its original national promises and embrace the new disruptive idea constructively, and for the challenger AAP, it is a race to deliver on its Delhi agenda so that it does not remain an experiment and edges forward as a mainstream player with its national ambitions.

At the end of the day, it does look like the voter is the smartest of all. It has left both with little option but to deliver.

Of Black and White and Shades of Grey

“Thank God for the Supreme Court – now the government has to catch all the black money holders with Swiss Bank accounts” exclaimed my friend Swami while we were having our coffee this week.

My broker friend Jigneshbhai was unmoved and kept sipping his coffee waiting for Swami to continue.

As usual, nothing irritates Swami more than my broker friend’s silence in response to his exasperation. So his questions were bound to come.

“So on this at least, you must agree with me, isn’t it?”

My broker friend was listening, but was silent for a while.

“Well, it is making a mountain out of a molehill. A disproportionate waste of energy” he finally spoke.

Nothing confuses Swami more than my broker friend’s speech. Very often, after goading Jigneshbhai to speak, Swami has often wondered if his silence was better. This occasion was no different.

“What do you mean? Aren’t you interested in getting back the black money that the rich crooks put in their swiss bank accounts?” protested Swami.

“I am told it will add 10% to our foreign exchange reserves” he boasted. “And here you are saying it is a waste. As if you know more than everyone else” Swami continued, now almost impolite.

I looked at Jigneshbhai to check if he was perturbed after this onslaught of brashness from Swami. But my broker friend was quietly sipping his coffee. There was an eerie silence as I waited for something to happen.

My broker friend finally broke his silence.

“Well, I said it is a disproportionate waste, not a total waste. There are better things to do for the government” Jigneshbhai asserted this time. “It is not as if black money is stored in mattresses or transferred in suitcases like the olden times, and all you have to do is simply raid their houses and seize it.”

Swami was a bit surprised on hearing this. His tone got less aggressive but he was a bit confused with my broker friend’s nonchalance. As usual he demanded an explanation.

“It may not be as simple. But we have to get the black money back. The government promised it” Swami argued.

Jigneshbhai now looked up and decided to talk.

“First of all, not everyone having a foreign account is a criminal on paper” he started.

“That is fine. But for the ones who are criminals, we have to get the money back from their Swiss accounts” Swami protested, not yet ready to give up.

“Secondly, the crime can be simply tax avoidance on well-earned money, or it could be ill-gotten hidden income through corruption or illegal methods” my broker friend clarified.

“Ok. So what? It is still money on which tax is evaded” Swami said, still not convinced.

“Thirdly, the ones who really want to evade big-time tax are likely to use structures and methods that are smart enough to either go undetected or uncharged.”

“Hmm..” mused Swami, getting a bit of the complexity of what my broker friend was saying.

“Finally” continued Jigneshbhai, “for the ones who will end up being charged, the process of proving their crime and recovering the money is likely to be long drawn in the courts.”

Now, Swami and I were listening intently, more or less understanding the difficulties.

“At the end of it, there will be political posturing, media discussions and lots of legal tangling and efforts, and the money eventually India gets, if at all, may really not be worth it” claimed Jigneshbhai.

We felt that perhaps our broker friend’s views may not be fully misplaced. But Swami was still not ready to give up.

“Well but we have to do something about the black money lying abroad!” he exclaimed, by now clearly frustrated.

“Well – yes, we have to, to a certain extent. But we have to do much more about the black money lying right here, under our feet in India” retorted my broker friend. “Most people don’t pay taxes on their incomes, and those who do, convert their white to black by investing it in gold and property, and selling in cash” asserted Jigneshbhai confidently.

Swami looked at me to check if I had given up on him. But I was a spectator as usual, watching my friends argue.

“So what’s the problem? We have to get the black money abroad, and we also have to get the black money here!” Swami was incensed now, sounding almost like the TV anchors demanding an answer.

“Well, the problem is most of these people vote” said my broker friend with a sly smile on his face.

Things were clearly not simple, when it came to black money.

Just as we were trying to digest all of what our broker friend had said, we noticed that the wealthy man in the sprawling bungalow was sitting at the table next to us. He had been hearing our conversation, and walked up to us.

While we walked out finishing our coffee, he had words of wisdom for us. “In matters of money, specially big money, things are almost never black or white. There are many shades of grey.”

छप्पर फाड़ कर

Till the morning of May 16th, nobody was sure, but India finally has a government, and how!

The people have delivered a verdict that leaves no excuses for performance, and have put a man who promised that at the helm.

No more whining about coalition compulsions and dual power centers with no will or abilities for the job and all the other non-sense related to governance that we saw over the past 5 years. For the past 5 years and to a large extent over close to 20 years, we have been told that for a country ‘as diverse as India’ and with ‘compulsions of democracy’, this is our fate.

But now there is hope – no guarantees, but surely and truly, fresh hope based on an electorate’s collective mandate.

Of course, nothing as far as the situation on the ground is concerned has changed immediately. But the biggest and weakest link in India’s growth – that of government – seems to have been unchained by the people themselves.

The overwhelming numbers along with the people who got them provide that hope, though their tasks especially over the next few months will not be easy. But one can expect a firm will in operation and a resolute hand in action, that will be well supported by the electoral numbers that enable them to move forward.

But along with this hope, this mandate has also provided existential threats to a number of people and various power centers in politics and thereabouts, whose bread depended on caste, religion and division.

Simple mathematics of votes suggests that a number of people made their living by catering to, or pretending to cater to specific segments within the electorate, and that made sense for a long time in the political scenarios then.

Now their survival is in jeopardy, and they won’t give up in a hurry. So expect a lot of communal vs secular arguments, caste based disturbances and even unexpected shocks over the coming months as the euphoria regarding this government settles down.

Markets and investments are not always rational so there are never any guarantees, and hence there is no need for drastic changes in investing strategy as such. But suffice it to say that Mr Market is likely to be in a good mood for a while, and it will take a lot of doing to depress him over the next few weeks and months at least.

But that is only one part of this story and its impact, and there will be occasions to make one’s own assessments on that from time to time.

Be that as it may, but for now, the probabilities of a new dawn increase from here.

The people have given themselves a fresh lease of life and a hope of a better future, and now it is up to the government to play its part and enable it. Its time starts now!!

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

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