June 21, 2007

CA = Complete Aaram?

I was privy to an interesting conversation between two gentlemen in the train today. They were discussing about Chartered Accountants (CAs).

I did not bother to catch up with their conversation till the time I realized that they were discussing about me and my professional colleagues. Hence, I missed the context in which this conversation came up. Nevertheless, it still remains interesting. One of the two people was a global gyaani – a genre of people you would always find in Mumbai who believe they are on top of everything that happens in this mother earth… or perhaps in Mars, Venus and Saturn too. He opined that CAs are too many - too much these days. Or to put it in his own words, aaj kal CA kachre ke jaise mil jaate hai. Aisa hi chalta raha to paanch saalon mein yeh log raste mein bhatak rahe honge!

No, if you are thinking that I would have pounced on him and beaten him blue and black, you are completely wrong. I am not such a person at all. I am kind at heart and ever forgiving even in such situations. I am not an egoist to feel offended about these remarks. Considering all this, it is almost irrelevant that the global gyaani had an enviable giant frame - bulky and not shorter than 6’2. :)

Coming back to their conversation, it had not ended. The not-so-global gyaani was visibly surprised. He had thought, like me, that clearing CA is not that easy and so how could the number increase in such proportion. To this the global gyaani had an instant answer. He explained that the passing rates of the examinations have increased and aaj kal koi bhi CA ban sakta hai. He added, more importantly these CAs have no knowledge at all. They just have to sit in an air conditioned office and could earn Rs.1 lac per month for doing nothing! I wanted to intervene and ask the address of this office to apply for a job. ;)

On a serious note, there was some truth in what the global gyaani was saying. It is a fact that the passing rates of CA examinations have improved significantly. And I do not think that is because of improvement in the quality of candidates. I have been teaching CA students for about three years now and I can say this from my experience that the quality is visibly deteriorating. Perhaps it is unfair to pass such remarks on the batches that succeeded mine. But I would be lying if I say that I have not experienced deterioration in quality.

The proportion of quality students in a batch that I teach has more or less remained constant over the years. But the number of students who pass out has increased, and within them the quality is mixed. And this is not necessarily because these students are not good, but purely because the yardstick has been lowered. Presumably, this has been done to cater to the increasing demand for CAs. Whether this is the right approach or not is an entirely different realm for debating.

Whilst it is incorrect that all CAs go on to earn Rs.1 lac per month for doing nothing, people who have passed out in the last 5 years (and includes me) has never had it better in terms of the career opportunities. The pay scales have also improved significantly. Simple economics would suggest that a sharp fall in the pay packages of CAs should precede a scenario that our global gyaani envisaged – that CAs would have no work at all.

June 20, 2007

What if you knew you were gonna die today!

An extract from the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories. (I'm sharing just the third story here. The entire text is readily available in the web. Just google for the same if you are interested in reading the entire speech)

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.


Personally, I could not have read this piece at a more apt time in my life.

June 19, 2007

Unsung superhero...

My driver’s eldest son is eight years old. That sentence doesn’t tell the full story. It is true that he is eight years old and that he is the eldest of the three children in the house but he is not quite my driver’s son.

During the floods that raged last year, one of the casualties was 36-year-old Zaigham Ali, an autorickshaw driver. Ali hailed from the same village as my driver. Mishra certainly had done a lot better for himself than Ali. Mishra had a house - it was a shanty, but in Mumbai it was worth a palace.

Mishra worked as a driver, and his wife contributed a small income as a seamstress. Together, they could be described as one of the unseen upwardly mobile couples of Mumbai - their life was circumscribed by the slum, but their lot was far better than that of their kin in the village.

Ali lived as Mishra’s paying guest. Ali’s son lived with him, his wife had passed away a long time ago, and there was nobody in the village to look after him. Life seemed satisfactory enough. The slum was small and space scarce, but life didn’t seem so bad; the children played and fought on the street alongside, and went to the municipal school close by, where they failed most of their examinations together.

Then the rains came and the waters rose and wouldn’t stop rising. Ali didn’t return the next day or the next; so Mishra went looking for him in the hospitals - he didn’t find Ali, he found his body instead; nobody seemed to know how he had died.

He was buried in the Muslim cemetery, and then a group of elders (a system that could only be described as a slum panchayat) met to decide what would happen to the boy. Mishra told them not to worry about that.

Sometimes, a hero doesn’t always wear a cape. He doesn’t always save the world from intruders who come from outer space. Sometimes a superhero is a quiet, self-effacing, down-to-earth man, who works as a driver, lives in a slum and raises the child of his friend as his own.

- Published in The Times of India

June 7, 2007

SIP in life!

In the world of investments, there is this very popular concept known as the Systematic Investment Plan (SIP). The basic idea behind SIP is that over a long period of time, investments made in the equity markets on a periodic, systematic basis helps in smoothening the impact of excess volatility that equity markets are bound to witness in the short run. In other words, SIP encourages building an investment portfolio by investing small amounts over a long period, rather than waiting to invest in lump sum amount on an irregular basis. (Apologies to my friends from non-finance backgrounds for making this sound like rocket science)

Can’t this concept of SIP be applied to life? Here’s how I think we can:

Over the lifetime of an average person, there are only a few potential momentous/devastating events or experiences. Death of a parent, winning a lottery of few millions, getting married, meeting with an accident, etc are some of the instances you could include under this. Now, what events hold what degree of relevance in one’s life is obviously subjective. Also, some of these events/experiences are certain and many are uncertain. I am referring to the certain ones here. For instance, death of a loved one - a parent. This is the most devastating one I can think of.

One may call me a sadist for visualizing such unpleasant things. But this is where the SIP comes into picture. What if we were to experience such an unpleasant event in installments! What if I imagine a life without my father around me! Obviously, I would be really upset thinking about it now. If I do this for 100 times over the next many years, would the situation be easier to handle when the event actually happens? Would the loss be more bearable since I’ve already ‘experienced’ that many times before?

The same logic (if I may use this word) could be applied in case of extremely happy events also. If the theory that all great things are created twice, one in mind and then in real, the excitement on witnessing these great events could also be ‘smoothened’. The reality is no one would want to be happy in only a controlled manner on blissful moments of life, everyone would want to exult.

A case in point is the character of Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountain Head’. If that character seems too fictional to be in existence in this world, think of ace tennis player Roger Federer. I have not seen Federer displaying extreme reactions in either emphatic victories or crushing defeats. Is he a live example of the SIP theory? In a sense that his mind so strong that any event does not trigger too much of a reaction from him.

The flip side to this SIP theory is that there would be nothing that would ‘turn us on’ then.

Does all this sound like a piece of crap! Hope no one calls me up and advises me to see a psychiatrist :)

June 6, 2007


I went on a very short trip to Ahmedabad, a vibrant city in the western state of Gujarat, over the weekend. That also explains the small break in my blog postings, not that it matters in any way whatsoever.

The trip was really satisfying for reasons more than one. For one, it provided a much needed break (and relief) from the daily routine life of Mumbai. Had a jolly good time there at my cousin sis' place. The trip was too short not to start getting bored, but long enough to get back the energy and mood. Returning home, however, was still a little painful!

Apart from some memorable moments, the trip has left back few features of the city. Well maintained and cleaner roads than Mumbai, sparkling new developing pockets of real estate (at very affordable rates relative to Mumbai - though the two cities are not comparable), insane traffic sense, absence of traffic controls.. all these come to my mind instantly. But the best part of the city, from whatever I have managed to see, is the IIM. Lovely place.. love the main building and the adjoining convocation lawn.

Without taking the efforts to explain the context (and deliberately so), seems that my visits to the city will increase in the coming years.