Archive

Monthly Archives: October 2012

“The good shine from afar 
Like the snowy Himalayas.
The bad don’t appear,
Even when near,
Like arrows shot into the night.”

– Siddharta Gautama

The Himalayan region has inspired many a man for millennia, including the illustrious Buddha. It was in a similar vein that 4 idiots, yearning for truth, purpose and salvation, headed there…

Four young, eager, strapping products of Rajasthan, reached Ladakh in early July 2010, determined to explore the lofty peaks nestling the magnificent Markha Valley. Bubbling with enthusiasm and the vigour of youth, they ignored the obvious omens, repeatedly trying to warn them of the impending perils. In the final run up to their trip, political tension gripped Jammu and Kashmir. Ominous shadows loomed. Their soaring spirits were subdued, but their determination refused to budge. Fortunately for them, the fields of friction were hundreds of kilometres away from the valley- all iz well, thus far, they thought. But then they missed their flight to Leh, Ladakh’s metropolis. Despite the imminent parental frenzy, they refused to give up hope. Their bequeathed Marwari bartering genes, found them on the following flight for a mere Rupees 500 per head.

The flight was both literally and lyrically, a transcendental experience. They soared over the heart of the Himalayas and were awed by the sheer magnitude of the arduous mountain terrain. The ethereal sights left them utterly overwhelmed; the eloquence of Cambridge Medic Mukund Kanoria instantly diagnosed, “This place is sick.”

They acclimatised in Leh for only two days, a fact which they later learned to regret. A range of activities including visits to local Buddhist Monasteries; networking with American Monks and extensive self-enquiry attuned them with the profound sanctity of the Himalayas. Unfortunately their sensual indulgence in Ladakhi cuisine marred their Spiritual prospects!

The 4 idiots: (From left to right)
Shubham Saraf (London- 18 years), Siddhant More (Calcutta – 19 years), Dhrupad Karwa (Yorkshire- 18 years), Mukund Kanoria (London- 21 years)

On the infamous third day, their trek commenced. Their guide, a small, wiry, effortlessly cool Ladakhi man with the attitude of a Ray Ban model, accompanied them.

Their trek was short-lived. They soon succumbed to the merciless heights. Never had they thought that air could betray. They were in the clutches of altitude sickness. Reeling heads and regurgitating insides had to make a decision as time was of crucial importance.  Their determination wavered, their confidence plummeted but their intellect still made sense and they abided by it. With heavy hearts, they unanimously agreed that descend they must.  Back in Leh they reminisced and recuperated. They visited the world-renowned Hemis Monastery. After climbing Hemis Hill they meditated atop the cove of the legendary Dorje, an enlightened monk said to have spent years in meditation.

Over the centuries, many a poet has derived inspiration, empowerment and emancipation from this Shangri La. And here is Dhrupad Karwa’s attempt at the same:

From the capital Delhi this saga takes flight,
We head to the airport at first light,
At once the omens point their fingers of fate,
Towards a direction, foreign till late,
But let’s not dwell on retrospections,
Here are the chronicles, the uncensored collections.

Kingfisher’s efficiency caved,
Hence the flight we missed, but we were saved,
For Rupees 500 per head ensured
The next morning flight; we returned inured.
We reached Ladakh, mouths ajar,
Inimitable beauty we had seen thus far,
The magnitude of the Himalayan range,
Left us beset, beguiled, strange,
Sentient of this ultimate scene,
We probed ruminations less supreme:
Whammy-Bars and misspelled words,
Aviators and local birds,
Chatur’s sycophantisms,
Bollywood prose and political schisms.

All in all two days of this,
Tibetan splendour; Momo-bliss,
But now it was time to trek,
Calcutta sensed imminent heck,
Nevertheless we began the ascent,
Quickly, Strongly but we couldn’t prevent
The Northerner’s headaches and chunder,
Calcutta, exhausted couldn’t help but wonder

Whether he was in over his head,
He missed the comforts of Bengal, he said,
Needless to say, we carried on,
But even our guide, Leh’s ‘Don Juan’,
Sensed our fears,
Of altitude sickness and letting down peers.

The Londoners lasted till that last meal,
Till then, some blisters but nothing of real
Concern or stress,
But that fateful night at thousands of feet,
We regurgitated and could not compete
With the thinning air and altitude
Headaches here, dizziness there,
The moonscape laughed, though fully aware.

Next morning we chose to desist and cease,
For to continue on would breach the peace
In both camp, body and mind,
Our footprints were to rewind
Back down the rocky mountain way,
To the place we started, the city of Leh.

En route we photographed many a scene,
To later revel in nostalgic dream
Of Monasteries and Buddhist groves,
Himalayan dawns and pious coves.

So there we are,
The tale’s complete,
This was but a tribute
To that lovely week.
In pictures:

“…But that fateful night at thousands of feet,
We regurgitated and could not compete…”

“…With the thinning air and altitude
Headaches here, dizziness there,
The moonscape laughed, though fully aware…”

In reference to the poem, ‘Misspelled words’ – the notorious spelling on the menu of our favourite Ladakhi eatery, ‘Happy World’!

“…En route we photographed many a scene,
To later revel in nostalgic dream
Of Monasteries and Buddhist groves,
Himalayan dawns and pious coves…”

“…So there we are,
The tale’s complete,
This was but a tribute
To that lovely week…”

Advertisements

Mankind has been using money for thousands of years. Yet money is still a nebulous concept. The word itself comes from a title of the Roman deity Juno – Juno Moneta – the goddess of warning and advice, which seems uncannily appropriate, given the state of current affairs. However, I do not intend to embark upon an acute inquiry into the nature of money; rather, the purpose of this post is to share my perspective on the state of the world and the cyclical reincarnation of its problems.

Philip Coggan’s recent book, “Paper Promises: Money, Debt and the New World Order”, shares a number of tremendously insightful case studies. One of which is the story of John Law (1671-1729): the Scottish mathematician, gambler and early economist who left his homeland, and moved to France, after killing a man in a duel. Law was the first economist to implement ‘monetary easing’ as a way of boosting the economy (and paying off the French monarchy’s gargantuan debts). The bottom line was that Law’s scheme spectacularly failed. The credit he created did not get used to create new businesses or trade; instead, the money was diverted to speculation. Law could not stop the inflationary impact of the extra money he created without also destroying the speculative frenzy that supported his system. When his central bank collapsed, he was dismissed from royal service and eventually died in poverty.

John Law’s experiment was, in essence, an attempt to redefine money. The recent Masters of the Universe- the Finance dons- have done the very same. Once upon a time, money took the sole form of gold and silver coins. Now, it has evolved (or perhaps mutated, depending on your beliefs) into fast-moving digital entries on Bloomberg screens. Now I am not demonising modern finance, as it is crucial to material development. However we cannot afford to ignore the ominous historic parallels: John Law’s 18th century experiment was conceptually equivalent to the 21st century financial experiments that led to the current crisis. In both situations, money was redefined: In the Law case, a system of paper currency was introduced, replacing commodity money; in the current era, financial instruments became more intricate and complex, such as Over-The-Counter Derivatives.  Both of these new systems created tangible material gains, but then they both overindulged and crashed: “Wall Street got drunk… and now it’s got a hangover,” as former President George Bush eloquently summarised.

Questions loom large: Are we, the human race, truly developing? Are we fostering sustainable long run living? Or is the long run simply the reincarnation of the volatile short run? Will society be forever trapped in immortal cycles of creative destruction?

I recently met Bob Padron at my hall of residence, Netherhall House, in London. He was invited to deliver a presentation on the recent financial crises. Bob is an Economist who was trained at the University of California, Berkley and University of Navarra. He has worked in a number of research roles at academic institutions, including Yale University and also at Investment Banks. His talk was very well researched and he concluded somewhat philosophically. Bob believes that there is no miraculous mechanical cure to the world’s financial problems. Due to the disharmony between Mr. Economics and Mrs. Politics (as validated by the Eurozone fiasco), such a cure is a utopian ideology. But there is perhaps a way out of the medium of gloom. And this is through a shift in expectations. Expectations reduce joy. We, as a society, need to expect less (in material terms). We need to be more grateful for what we have in our lives as opposed to shedding tears over what we do not have. After all there is no limit to material desires. Someone will always have a larger house, a faster car, a sharper suit… If society liberates itself from this material matrix, then perhaps the vociferous circle of destruction can be squared.   No doubt, there will be many who scorn such an ideological solution- even Bob himself recognised the near-impossibility of such a scenario. But it is certainly a notion worth meditating upon.

Through my Ethics in Applied Economics module this year, I came across Michael Sandel’s book, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.” Sandel argues that we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society; in recent times, market values have crowded out nonmarket norms in almost every aspect of life. The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were of market triumphalism. They began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their convictions that markets, not governments held the key to prosperity and freedom. However the glory years are over. The financial crisis serves as testament to the market’s inability to allocate risk efficiently. Many also feel that markets have become detached from morals and it is crucial that the nexus between the two is (re)established. Michael Sandel feels that greed only played a partial role in the financial crisis; the main cause was the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don’t belong. Market values have crowded out nonmarket values worth caring about.

So this begs the question, do we need to embrace an alternative notion of ‘value’ in society, in order for a sustainable future? I enjoyed a 5-hour tea session with my close friend Neer Sharma, at Yumchaa on Goodge Street, a few weeks ago, and we discussed much of the above. As with most amateur philosophical musings, we were unable to offer constructive solutions but we were happy to pose plenty of problems!

The Economist, Joseph Schumpeter, believed that economic recessions are transition states from one stable economy to another. As changes and errors accumulate in a stable economy, it becomes unstable; a shift occurs, and the economy leaps into a new stable order. Physicist, Max Planck once said that science advances “one funeral at a time”. Perhaps this is the way of the world. And perhaps the reincarnation of crises is inevitable. Yet we must never give up on the quest for sustainable growth. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Ambition is the germ from which all growth of nobleness proceeds.”

– Dhrupad Karwa