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 of the diaspora 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 sloganeering or 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. This adds a certain sense of nostalgic value to the days of yore.

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.

Conflict!

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!

Letters from a self-made merchant to his son – 2

This is the 2nd part of my notes from the book “Letters from a self-made merchant to his son”. You could read the first part here.

Graham on the art of selling:

A salesman has to talk, but before that he ought to know when to talk.

A real salesman is one-part talk and nine-parts judgment; and he uses the nine-parts of judgment to tell when to use the one-part of talk.”

Never badmouth competition, never give up your dignity. Yet, be humble enough to sell.

Never run down your competitor’s brand to them, and never let them run down yours. Don’t get on your knees for business, but don’t hold your nose so high in the air that an order can travel under it without your seeing it. You’ll meet a good many people on the road that you won’t like, but the house needs their business.”

3 steps to making it big in sales.

First—Send us Orders. Second—More Orders. Third—Big Orders.

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Letters from a self-made merchant to his son – 1

Recently, I casually picked up a free Kindle copy of “Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son” when I was feeling bored. Boy, I kept it down only after I finished it.

It’s a brilliant book – witty, simple, wordly advice from a wealthy father (Howard Graham of Graham & co, a meat packing company) to his son Pierrepont. It covers nearly everything that a man goes through in his life – management, business, money, education, college, women, love, work, speculation, etc. Most of it is solid advice applicable even today.

I realized late that this was actually written by George Horace Lorimer and there never was any Howard Graham. Still, every page is realistic and on the money.

Must read!

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Money, banking & economy

Of late, I have been reading quite a bit on economics, inflation, banking, etc. Am listing out a few that I found useful.

1. The mystery of banking

A good resource I recently found also happens to be free (which makes us value it lesser – I have read only 1 book and few other, I just scraped through).  Those are the ones from the Ludwig Von Mises institute – which is a strong proponent of the Austrian school of economics.

Amongst a pile of free books there, I enjoyed reading Murray N Rothbald’s book – The mystery of banking. And I recommend it highly.

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Books I’ve liked: Personal finance, investing & entrepreneurship

Every now and then, a friend asks me for a book recommendation, especially on personal finance, entrepreneurship and investing. Not because am an investing guru (which I am not), but because I read a ton of them!

I thought I will note it down here as well.

All these are books that I have read and liked a lot.

Few like One up on Wall street gave me the confidence that I too can be an investor in the stock market, which until then was crocodile infested space to me. Few like Intelligent Investor have been a huge huge help on almost everything finance. Few like Where are the customers yachts? changed my opinion on the stock market quite abruptly and changed my style of investing drastically.

And yet, few like Richest man in Babylon made me realize that simplicity and a principled method matters. A few like Extraordinary popular delusions helped me stay away from making costly mistakes.

Perhaps, there have been a few that have led me astray as well. Rich dad poor dad? Could be!

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The richest man in Babylon

I am reading the 1920s classic, “The richest man in Babylon“. I liked the book. It is full of simple wisdom that is so difficult to notice these days. I liked the simplicity of the book. I would recommend this book to anyone.

In fact, I think this book could have been the inspiration for books like “The wealthy barber” and “Rich dad poor dad”.

Here are excerpts from 2 of my favorite chapters.

Seven cures for a lean purse

Step 1: Start Thy Purse to Fattening.
For each ten coins you earn, spend only nine.

Step 2: Control Thy Expenditures
Budget your expenses that you may have coins to pay for your necessities, pay foryour enjoyments and gratify your worthwhile desires without spending more thannine-tenths of your earnings.

Step 3: Make Thy Gold Multiply
Put each coin to labor so that it may reproduce its kind.

Step 4: Guard Thy Treasures from Loss
Guard your treasures from loss by investing only where the principal is safe, where itmay be reclaimed if you desire so, and where you will not fail to collect a fair rental.

Step 5: Make of Thy Dwelling a Profitable Investment
Own your own home.

Step 6: Insure a Future Income
Provide in advance for the needs of your growing age and the needs of your family.

Step 7: Increase Thy Ability to Earn
Cultivate your own powers, study and become wiser, become more skillful, andrespect yourself.

The five laws of gold

1. The First Law of Gold
“Gold cometh gladly and in increasing quantity to any man who will put by not lessthan one-tenth of his earnings to create an estate for his future and that of his family.”

2. The Second Law of Gold
“Gold laboreth diligently and contentedly for the wise owner who finds for it profitableemployment, multiplying even as the flocks of the field.”

3. The Third Law of Gold
“Gold clingeth to the protection of the cautious owner who invests it under the adviceof men in its handling.”

4. The Fourth Law of Gold
“Gold slippeth away from the man who invests it in businesses or purposes with which he is not familiar or which are not approved by those skilled in its keep.”

5. The Fifth Law of Gold
“Gold flees the man who would force it to impossible earnings or who followeth thealluring advice of tricksters and schemers or who trusts it to this own inexperienceand romantic desires in investment.”

Conservative investors sleep well !! Good book!!!

I just finished “Conservative Investors sleep well”  by Phil Fisher. (It is also sold as part of “Common Stocks and uncommon profits”). Its really very good and I enjoyed it a lot. Here is a brief on it.

Fisher talks about Four dimensions of conservative investing.

1. First dimension

Excellence in the following activities

A. Low cost operation. (High profit margins)

B. Stong marketing organisation.

C. Strong research and technical efforts.

D. Good financial skills.

And of course the skill to integrate all of this in the right mix.

2. Second dimension.

This is the people factor. Competent management and good labour force make all the difference. Fisher also talks about 3 elements needed with regards to this dimension. They are

1. Managements need to realize that the world is changing fast.

2. Take efforts to make the employees feel that their co is a good place to work for.

3. Orientation towards sound & long range growth.

3. Third dimension

These are the characteristics that make the business favorable as a conservative investment. They are

1. Profitability.

This can be expressed in ROIC and OPM. But also the sales turnover is also an important consideration.

2. Economies of scale.

3. Market leader in sales and high OPM

4. Multidisciplinary technology development

5. Well marketed products that have become habit buying now

6. Extremely high ROIC is also a danger, says Fisher as it might attract a lot of new people to start business thereby reducing profits.

4. Fourth dimension.

This dimension talks about how the Financial community

1. values an industry

2. values a company

3. values stocks in general.

A stock price is not only what the financial community thinks of the company, but also of the industry and also of stock picking in general. During a time when the industry is viewed negatively, even a good company would be valued low. And during times when stocks as a whole are considered as bad investments, again, stocks of such companies would be cheap.

This is only a very brief gist. Please do take the time to read this fantastic book.