My investing style – avoid bad things!

In investing, I’ve always had some clarity about *what to avoid*. Can’t say that about *what to buy*. If a bunch of companies look good, selectively zeroing down is always difficult and has too many variables not in your control.

Future is always unknown and surprises come out of nowhere. Even in my own business, visibility beyond a period is non-existent. Experience has taught me to respect that.

When buying, there’s always confusion and self-doubt. It is exaggerated when other skilled people “seem” to have that ability which evades you. Experience, again, has taught me that they too are going through the same thoughts themselves.

After a while, it’s a leap of faith. You have a thesis and you buy based on that. It can turn out great, or fail. Being open about it and training yourself to average on *way up* and exiting early in case of mistakes has helped me quite a bit.

All said and done, I’ve realised I’m an average investor with a *good ability to avoid bad things* – and that is good enough to have an above average investing career. I avoid bad things and for the rest, I take help from good minds I know. Almost never do the “buy” research myself these days. Pay for those reports by talented people.

Being a nobody

If you’re a somebody, it means you are defined by that ‘something’. An entrepreneur? Then your business defines you. VP of a company? Your position defines you. Proud of your multi-crore assets? Your money defines you. Or you’re the Chief Minister of the state? Your power defines you. Celebrated intellectual? Your intellect defines you.

Often, the definition is also a signalling device. You’re better than the lowly clerk (you assume). Why? Because he’s just a clerk and you’re “the CM”.

The problem is, such identities are double-edged swords. They are external validations. Any external validation is just that – external, and can be taken away at a moment’s notice from you. You become a prisoner of others opinion of you. When the going is good, you feel fulfilled and happy. When things go awry, the same things weigh upon you and make you insecure and depressed. If you place your self-worthiness at the altar of external validation, be prepared to experience emptiness when that is taken away from you.

Instead, be a nobody. One who gives importance to inner peace and doesn’t attach himself to any identity or external validation. Unbound and free of definitions, both yours and that of others, you’re free! To do anything as the situation demands of you.

When you succeed at some work, you simply succeed at the task. It makes you happy, but doesn’t drive your ego and pride. “You” are not a “success”. When you fail at something, you allow yourself to experience the disappointment, but don’t linger and brood. You move on fairly quickly. Success or failure are tags that are attached to your work, and not on you. There is a separation. Or detachment, rather, like a dewdrop on a lotus leaf.


Life has no meaning. The universe owes you nothing. We come. We go. That’s it. We simply can’t deal with it and keep running endlessly.

Unfortunately or fortunately, we’ve been blessed with a “thinking” brain. One that adds meaning to where none need exist.

We have to explain things or else our brains will go mad. So, we explain! We create meaning to living, we create a god, we explain why we are here and why we should have a purpose. We create goals and once we reach there, we create some more.

We are not going to arrive at answers by questioning more. Live in the moment, let life embrace you – and perhaps allow the questions to self-destruct.

18avadhu atchakodu

18avadhu atchakodu (18th latitude) is an interesting book by Ashokamitran. There’s hardly any ‘story’ and it feels like you’re simply observing the life of a young man over a few months. Those few months, it turns out, are historically important in the formation of a new nation – India. 

Does he belong to India? Or to the Nizam state of Hyderabad, and in some way, Pakistan? This dilemma is accentuated further by lack of proper information – would the Indian army march to Hyderabad and subdue the Nizam? Or would the Razakkars sway it in favour of Pakistan?

Ashokamitran is unique. I can’t think of any other author who has this style of writing. Written in a very casual and underplayed tone, often laced with wry humour, the book seems like a light read to breeze through. At some point, you suddenly realise it is anything but that. In the background, slowly things unfold. Diaspora lifestyles, the Indian freedom, Razakkars uprising, Nizam’s flip-flops from Pakistan to sovereignty to India, Gandhi’s death, the annexations protests and riots – and finally, the plight of those who pay the price for these political games. 

Ashokamitran’s handling of the tension between the Hindu-Muslim neighbours is unique. There’s no chauvinistic nationalism – just a play of emotions between people who belong to different religions at a time of conflict. What he leaves unsaid is what makes you think.

Another special mention is his ability to bring the landmarks, streets and lanes of Hyderabad / Secunderabad of 1947/48 to life as if it’s unfolding in front of your eyes.

I enjoyed reading the book. The English translation by Gomathi is supposed to be good too, and is available on Kindle.

Kidai by Ki.Rajanarayan

Kidai – what a lovely little book!

In just 60 pages, Ki. Rajanarayanan has spun a simple tale that not only is narrated beautifully, but is also a commentary on the lifestyle and culture of herdsmen in rural Tamilnadu, their beliefs, prejudices, superstitions and importantly, how the same incident impacts a man and a woman differently, just because the society treats them differently based on their gender, caste and financial position.

I’m in awe of the quality of writing here and want to read more of Ki.Ra. 

Another note about the publisher – Kalachuvadu publications. The book is beautifully done – lovely cover, good quality bright paper and good fonts. That makes the reading experience pleasurable. All for 75 rupees. Something I’ve not been happy about with many English books – even popular publishers like Penguin sometimes outsource printing to 3rd parties like Repro India and the quality is sub-par, spoiling the reading experience. Poor font sizes, thin paper, higher lignin content, etc can spoil a great book. So far, simply holding all these Kalachuvadu books (bought quite a few) in hand has made me happy! Thumbs up to Kalachuvadu.


Piqued by Perarivalan’s news during lockdown, a casual google search on Srilankan civil war snowballed into a month long affair, watching / reading multiple books and documentaries. Read these 4 books in that period. 

‘This divided island’ offers a macro perspective of the war and is well researched, offering perspectives of people from both sides. ‘Seasons of trouble’ offers a micro view, telling the story of the war through the experiences of 2 families. ‘Koorvaalin nizhalil (In the shadow of a sword is the English version) is Tamizhini’s (she was a top political leader inside LTTE) personal view of the activities of the Tigers – largely laced with criticisms and despair that such a costly battle brought their people nothing in the end. She admires Prabhakaran, but makes it clear that he was not capable of a complete solution for her people. There is a chapter on peace talks and that alone is worth reading the book for – and you can see how Tigers messed things up for themselves post 2000. All these 3 are well written books, and Tamizhini’s book is my favourite in this lot, though it could’ve done with better editing. English translation is good too, I believe. The last book is the story of a refugee who escaped to India in 1990 and had no less of a struggle in the politicised refugee camps. Written like a self-pitying sob story, I didn’t like it much, but nevertheless appreciate the author’s honesty and is useful in understanding life in those camps. 

I was less interested in politics (who was right, did one party commit more atrocities than other, etc) of the struggle, but more on the human side. What makes an individual cling to an assumed identity (esp religion, language or region based)? What drives one to claim his identity is superior/original to that of others? What pushes the other to fight back? Are we innately insecure beings, with an innate inability to appreciate differences in people who assume a different identity, the ones who we see as “others”? Is this a nature-equipped mechanism in all of us? Why do so many people struggle with conflict resolution? Did evolution miss a trick by not naturally equipping us with such a skill? Are humans not really designed to live in peaceful societies for too long? Will there always be groups, and with groups, an “us vs them” narrative? These are questions that come to mind.

With an “us vs them” narrative, it becomes all too easy to shrink the humanity of “them” and turn them into enemies – and hence, making punishing such groups a justifiable act. This I suppose is ingrained in societies collectively and will probably never end. Genocides, civil wars, capitalism driven economic sanctions… it goes on. Saying this matter of factly. It is hard to judge this with black and white viewpoints – world is grey!

My go-to black tea: Winter frost

Couple of years ago, I cut down my coffee and tea consumption. I didn’t want to quit. I simply wanted to control how many cups I had – largely that meant 2 cups a day.

Since I cut down on quantity, I started focusing on quality. That opened up a world of coffees and teas I would otherwise not have experimented with. One such being the winter frost teas from Nilgiris.

These winter frost teas are plucked in the dew laden early mornings of December, January and February in Nilgiris. The leaves take longer to grow in winter and that allows it more opportunity to absorb the ambient flavours – thereby making it very aromatic and flavourful. Several estates like Chamraj and Havukal make these winter frost teas.

My go-to black these days is the Winter frost from Chamraj estate. Has a floral aroma that is reminiscent of being in the proximity of a jasmine, and an after-taste that is very peach-fruity in a clean manner. Mildly astringent when steeped right (my preference is about 175-190F water for 3-3.5 mins). A good technique to identify right temperature for this is to take water off boil when you notice several small bubbles at the bottom (don’t let the water boil, it will make this tea bitter – it’s better to let it cool off for a minute or so in such cases before pouring it on tea leaves).

This tea is also great for cold brewing. Just add to water and leave it in fridge for 8 hours or so. That’s it.

Best served plain. No sugar, no milk, not even lemon. Doesn’t have the body to accommodate those.

Fixed deposit options

My dad is 80. Not the most financially savvy person I know of.

Last year, when I took a look at my dad’s finances, I noticed deposits in small and cooperative banks.

Why? Because he’s treated like a person there. With higher automation (and hence, more DIY) and retirement of people he knew at the banks, places like SBI are uncomfortable. It has pushed him more into places like the co-op.

Also, the 1-2% higher interest rate is a good bait.

He doesn’t realise the risks:

  • a less reliable, less compliant bank
  • carrying most of his savings

This is for those who have money in such small banks. Not all are bad, not all are mismanaged. But banks are highly leveraged businesses that a few bad mistakes can cause a run on the bank. So, it is better to go with the conservative banks that are also large. Why go through all the pain for just a small incremental gain?

Personally, if I invest for less than 10% returns, I look first for safety – return of capital with absolutely lowest risk. A safe bank at 5% is any day better than a so-so bank offering 8%. Especially if that money is hard to earn back (esp retirees).

Personally, as of today, I’d keep FDs only in these banks – SBI and HDFC. If you still need to diversify, maybe Kotak and ICICI. That’s it.

As for making banking easier for senior citizens… I feel sorry for them. The best I could do for my dad was to enable internet banking and do it on his behalf. Every now and then, he sees that as loss of control over his money, but quickly gets over it. Until the day we squabble, at least 🙂.

EDIT: I am aware of post office schemes such as SCSS and POMIS. They don’t suit his needs – he needs a good place to park funds for liquidity. Should be available immediately when needed for exigencies. For monthly expenses, he uses his pension. The post office term deposit is an option too – but unless the online facilities are good enough, won’t use them. Also, there’s a limit of 15 lakhs on it as of today.