Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Me, Myself and Money management

I like to tell myself that I am not completely financially challenged like the conventional stereotype of females.

'After all’ I say to myself ‘I got along just fine managing my hard earned apology-for-money for close on four or five years before Mr .Finance Planner entered my life and I didn’t do too badly’.

Like I said, I think so. Mr. FP (in non-financial times known as the spouse) begs to disagree and does so far too vocally if you ask me.

But let’s backtrack a bit and cast an eye on my Money philosophy (well I never knew I had one, was supposed to have one, until I was asked by the self same FP). Money was something one earned. And then a little of it was spent. And some was kept snugly in a place one could keep a close jealous eye on it – viz. in a savings account .if I had my way I would have kept it somewhere even closer – under my pillow perhaps. But as a concession to the fact that we are living in modern, educated times, and banks have assured me that they are safe, I settled on a savings account. I even chose the one with an auto sweep to the fixed deposit, so that I earned some interest on it.

This pattern would more or less continue till the middle of January or the gentle investment-proof-reminder mail from office, whichever was earlier. Then there would be some frantic calls to investment feller to beg him to meet me. And my sad little savings were further depleted and channelled into worthy tax saving bonds and some solid life insurance.

The investment feller would preface the conversation each year with questions on what are my ‘future financial plans’. But as I was wont to tell him, my future vision stopped at about four weeks, sometimes it stopped at four days.So all his grand plans of forty years and retirement were light years away from anykindofvision I had. Heck, even four years lock in periods scared the bejesus out of me.

So he would sigh like a steam engine, pocket my cheques and walk away into the sunset with my commission money (and leave me forlorn and considerably poorer)).

A couple of times he DID bring up the topic of Mutual Funds. I don’t like Mutual Funds I told him. Every time he told me about money doubling in five years I retorted with US64. After a point he gave up trying to convince me. And that was that.

And then Mr. Financial Planner happened.

One day he asked me about my money philosophy. And I chanted the flippant money philosophy I had outlined above. Suddenly, the even tempered, equable man metamorphosed before my eyes into this rather wild eyed evangelist. Fidelity, Franklin, SIP, Growth saver, Blue chip, Mid-cap, NAV– an avalanche of terms swept over me.

How can you not invest he raved . When I bleated about US64 he brushed it away impatiently and told me that I was behaving in a manner completely unworthy of my education and intelligence (!) and if I continued with this fixed deposit rubbish( and this accompanied by a beautiful sneer) I would be sure to die in penury and servitude.

Now that I have pledged to honour and serve this bloke (hahahahha ok, I couldn’t help that), I decided that I WOULD invest in mutual funds – besides if I lost my money, he has pretty much vowed to support the wife of his heart ( hahahahha ok, I couldn’t resist that either) in sickness and health and richness and poverty .

So I have.

Now every time I get a mail saying statement I eagerly open it thinking that my money would have doubled or done something dramatic like that (actually this is an unfortunate optimism I haven’t succeeded in curing myself of. Every salary slip, I open with an heightened anticipation and beating heart thinking that SOMEHOW my salary will have magically increased that month. Every month for the last I-don’t-know-how-many-years-I-have-been-disappointed. Only once the salary slip did show a spike and I was happy for half an hour until I figured out that it was the yearly bonus. Sigh.) .

Nothing has happened. The money is stuck in the same damn place for ages now. And I am beginning to lose my faith.

Mutual Fund Gods, are you listening??

P.S. Okay My January investment post is not linking so I shall recycle it . I should anyways since that is one of my personal favourite posts.

P.P.S. It IS my blog no? I can recycle whatever I want. Bah!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Unrequited friendship

The other day one chap I knew buzzed me on IM. We spoke for about five minutes and then I was desperately grasping at conversational straws punctuated with a whole lot of “What else is happening?” from his side. (WHY do people keep on prolonging conversations with ‘what else’s’ and ‘aur kyas’. There should be a statute on the number of “what else’s” that can be spoken in any one conversation).

And I realized with a slight shock, how little we really had to talk about anymore. Three lines, five minutes and that was pretty much the sum of it. Beyond that, it was agonizing, but there was this sense of obligation, almost like I owed it to him, or owed it to the memory of some good times we HAD shared, to have a chat which was more meaningful than just the perfunctory inanities we had swapped.

This was a person, a colleague; I was reasonably friendly with about six- seven years ago. We met at one of those office conferences (we were from different cities).He is a terribly (and I use the word terribly intentionally) nice guy who had lent many sympathetic ears when I was going through a particularly nasty patch (life, heart, and work – mostly work) in my life.

So we used to exchange mails, text messages and phone calls once in a while, where I would whine, crib and rant as I did with other friends. But the strangest thing happened, the minute I left that particular job (and life went somewhat back on track), I suddenly and quite completely ran out of things to say to him. And I am very ashamed to admit it, but I completely ran out of the desire to talk to him as well. (In my defence, the conversations tended to revolve only around the ex-job and how much fun we had at the conference. The former I didn’t want to speak about and the latter had pretty much outlived its shelf life.)

And now, six years down the line, he still talks about that job and that conference. And I have moved on, had many more ‘fun’ experiences, changed some, learnt some, forgotten some. I am sure he has changed too. But somehow, our conversations don’t seem to be able to take that leap and transition beyond those not-so-wonder-years as I have done with other friends or even acquaintances from that era and other eras.

The odd meetings which we have had have been excruciating – with these vast voids of silences which are awkward as hell.

So that brings me to the question of what to do with this, or should I do anything at all? A friendship based on the foundation of force majeure is hardly good news. But then I think that he DID listen to me rant ad nausea so I should have the decency to talk to him. And then I think again, that how long I will keep on paying the price for the support which he gave me and that I owe it to myself to stop prolonging something which I don’t enjoy anymore.

Whichever conclusion I land on, I end up not liking him too much, and myself, even less.

The truth is friendships like love, can grow yes, but it can also grow apart. Some stand the test of time – from the initial euphoria of getting to ‘fall in kinship’ with someone to a more mature, stable, relationship which has morphed, moved, grown and solidified as the two individuals have changed

Some unfortunately don’t survive this – falling out of friendship as it were. Usually when that happens, the two individuals will gradually and naturally fade out of each other’s life and meet after a period of time and wonder about how they were friends. A sense of wistfulness sometimes, but very little regret. Other times, there are circumstances which force two people apart (travel, marriage, vastly divergent monetary and intellectual attainments – where it becomes very difficult for one to catch up with the other). And some just sour – a fight, a misunderstanding and that irrevocably ends it for once and for all.

But its cases like this. When there is very little left in common, but there are some memories of a relationship that was. Where one person has fallen out of kinship and the other has not, this strange state of 'unrequited friendship'. How long can one flog the memories and when should honesty come in?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Red tapestry

The other day some vendor bills which I had given to Finance for processing came back to me with a post it which said “please complete the purchase order” on this. I was mildly surprised – I used to input autographed bills to the concerned chap in commercials and sooner or later (usually later, after a couple of weeks or stalking and dire threats) he would produce a cheque which I paid to the vendor. There had been no post it’s with unfamiliar terms like purchase orders and requisitions before.

I went to the boss to make inquiries – he said “I’ve got a flood of mails with attachments which I have not read. There was something about purchase orders – that’s probably what they are talking about”

Then he has a happy notion of forwarding these mails to me.

So far, so good.

However, on further investigation, it is revealed that these mails have five attachments in excel and word outlining new “processes” for the payment of bills. These processes include a multistage complex choreography of activities which involve the participation of people who have absolutely NO connection to
a) My division
b) To the finance department
c) The senior management /signatories
d) The Business vertical which is initiating the project

These people were apparently hired to some software development for our associate company in Singapore and in other words, are completely and absolutely as de-linked from the work (and consequently the vendors) as it is possible to be in a moderately large organization.

But, for some reason, the Gods –that –sit-in-the-boardrooms have ordained them as the people who will decide the fate of my poor suppliers.
Unusual perhaps, but still acceptable.

The killer requirement however, is the footnote that hits you if you have managed to wade through the document “Please provide all copies in triplicate. Original copy goes to X, first copy to Y and third copy to Z”.

Incidentally, the company prides itself on its cutting edge technology. The factory has the state of the art – minimal human interaction – robotized machines. It is completely wi-fi enabled and even the lowliest flunky is given a fancy laptop and absolute connectivity (the fact that a lot of the people can barely open word is a different story altogether).

But yet, they are pleased to inform us that fifty page documents need to be photocopies in triplicates and attached with PR and directed through three levels of bureaucracy before a simple bill can be processed.

A further twist in the tale happens when one after a laborious process, somehow manage to get the bills out through these faceless chaps – lets call them Mr. X ( bill is kept on X’s desk, after about fifteen mails exchanges where one is forced to submit the most trivial and inane data as supporting evidence.).

Then we go to round 2 where we need to deal with Y. Y who was born Mr. Doubtfire in earlier janam. He has been hired for the sole purpose of being suspicious. He views everyone sceptically and is labours under the absolutely unshakable conviction that they are out to swindle the company of the hard earned (sic!) monies. Getting the forms through him is like living through the Spanish Inquisition. He stalks. He eyes you suspiciously. He whispers things to the finance department while all the time glowering at you.

By the time you actually manage to convince him that the bills ARE genuine for services rendered, your insides have been converted into a state of quivering mush.
(As an aside in one of the companies I have haunted, one of the Mr. Y’s had a profound objection to people making STD phone calls even if it was work. So after a particularly acrimonious tete-a-tete where he asked me whether I wanted to call a client in Delhi for WORK or other reasons. I told him I wanted to call him to send him my shaadi ka card. Quite a clever repartee I thought at that time. This would be a good time to applaud by the way)

And the final task is to get the signatures from the Man-who-never-was. He has a cubicle, he has a secretary, and he has a couple of phones and blackberrys (blackberries?) But rather like the Yeti and Nessie, while people know he exists, no one has actually seen him. Thus it means oozing out whatever little charm is left (after Mr Y has put one through the wringer) to get his all-important secretary to get the signatures.


Mind you, our mission statement has been bursting at the seams with words like nimble and cutting edge and progressive. I wonder whether they see the irony of it. Hmm.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Swan song

I had a strange whimsical fancy the yesterday as I hovered in the indeterminate trance state between sleep and wakefulness.

I felt like I was walking through a beach, going towards, unsure and hesitant about my destination and as I progressed, my steps faltered, my heart felt leaden and it became more difficult to stay focused and keep going on.

And then I paused as something cut my foot, struggling like a swimmer battling the current, against some unseen force inexorably thrusting me forward, and I turned to look back and I saw the beach littered with the debris of broken hopes, of unfulfilled dreams and of sharp-edged slivers of a thousand disappointments.

And I asked myself, at this stage in life, nearing the end of my youth, within knocking distance of middle age that if I was to live my life again, would I do so differently? Would I have made other choices? Would I do it again in another way?

And I look back at the crossroads I have traversed, and I know, if I had to decide once more, given the same set of circumstances, I would have chosen the exact same road, I opted for so long ago.

Then why does my soul feel haunted with this constant sense of wistfulness? Of being cheated of something so fleeting and magical, that can never be recalled again?

I wish I had been freer, I wish my hopes had stayed younger, and yes, I wish I had had more whole-hearted, carefree happiness. But how could I have had it? How would I have done it? Life thrust the mantle of adulthood on me, and the choice was to either don it or disintegrate under its weight? And where and how would I get happiness on call? After all, it isn’t a ready-to-consume two minute packet which one can pick up from the supermarket.

Why do I feel like I am desperately clawing and grasping and reaching for something which is always tantalizingly elusive, just out of my reach?

Why am I weighed down by a sense of apprehension, not anticipation? Of helplessness, not hope? Of being rudderless and being swept along. A mute witness as life passes me by.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Strip Club

The other day I happened to catch a new (in India) reality show called the Moment of Truth. And yet again, I was amazed at how people are willingly to ruthlessly sacrifice everything - their self respect, relationships, dignity in the quest of big bucks.

To give a brief background, the contestant is strapped to a polygraph and asked a series of personal question in escalating order of repercussions ( from a relatively innocuous quirks to potentially life altering ones), for increasing sums of money. The polygraph evaluates whether the person has responded truthfully and accordingly he/she can progress to the next level.

And here is the beauty of it, even if the contestant has won x-amount of money, it can be wiped away at the blink of an eye if a false answer is detected by the polygraph. So essentially one is not only gambling the deepest, murkiest aspects of one's life for money, sometimes one is risking it for nothing at all. Not to mention any future monetary implications (a physical trainer being asked whether he had “touched his female clients more than strictly necessary” –heck, who is going to get trained by him after that?)

To give a flavour of the kind of stuff we are talking about, the episode I watched, One man was asked questions in this vein "Have you done anything after marriage which might make your wife stop trusting you anymore - if she knew about it" and the even more brutal, " Is it true that you have delayed having kids so far because you’re not sure whether your wife is going to be your life partner for the long haul" and the wife who had come in looking all bubbly and ebullient, well you could see her face transforming and wilting and getting that tightly controlled, wounded look of hurt and mortification and yes,the humiliation.

Which brings me to the million dollar question, how much are these, the non tangible, aspects of your life worth anyways? For how much money, is one willing to potentially incurably damage your relationships, one’s position in the social circle? Is there a price one can put on a bond one has with siblings, with parents, with kids? Is there a value one can put on peace of mind? What is the 'market rate' for self esteem?

One could argue that if a relationship or a position is based on a foundation of lies and half truths, it is not real at all, and is bound to burst sooner or later. Perhaps that is true.

But let’s face it, in most cases; what are thoughts cannot be necessarily called “truths” - whether it’s a fairly harmless passing attraction to a hot colleague, or a thought in the tune of I-should-have-married-my-old-fiancĂ© or even a I-had-to-give-up-a-flourishing-career-because-I-had-a-kid. Most of the times they are just that. Random thoughts which cross the mind in a moment of pique, or anxiety, or worry, or frustration. Most of the time its just confusion. And even assuming they ARE inalterable realities, and often, hurtful realities, how right is it to expose them in such a contrived situation for the world to watch?

I used to wonder, if I ever watched an Oprah-type show, that this particular brand of voyeurism was the effect of a capitalistic society – where the value one placed on money was higher than the price on placed on honour. I used to think that the older cultures, the respect and standing was desperately held on to even after the monies were long gone ( which was that Hindi short story one studied in school – “Parda”?) Not any more. After the gamut of reality shows where it’s fashionable to let “all hang” literally and figuratively and self respect can pretty much go out of the window.

I can’t make up my mind whether it’s myopia which drives these people or is it a completely different set of priorities. If it is the latter, than how does one establish a price for it? “For X money, I am willing to stake my marriage, for Y money, I will sacrifice my kids love and respect... “

Hmm. Maybe I am just old fashioned.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Twinkle toes.

Every time I come to work, I pass this advertisement for a “Dance Studio” which I am seriously contemplating joining.

People who know me in offline life and are reading this, will probably be falling off chairs and breaking bones after reading this earth shattering revelation (serves you right, you scoffers) or maybe calling each other up to discuss what has brought about this metamorphosis in me (Hmm. Probably not) .

Well, maybe they have a point. For a greater part of my young adult life (say between the age of 18-23, (round about the time I accumulated these scoffers), I excelled so much in wall flowering that I almost made it an art form. I had a problem for every solution they offered on dancing (I can feel my spinal disc slipping, angan tedha hai, I don’t dance to Hindi flllum music, my shoes- they, bite like the serpent and sting like the adder)

The reality was that all these people I used to fraternize with seemed to be the direct descendents of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Or Hrithik and Madhuri) – all sinuous moves and grace and light toes. I on the other hand, well, let’s say if you wanted to be kind, you could have compared me to a left-footed, coordination-challenged china-shop-Bull, high on fevicol, let loose amongst these graceful gazelles and dewy-eyed-does.

At 22-23, round about the time I started working, I improved slightly. It could be attributed to the fact that my then-super boss threatened to sack me if I didn’t get myself on to the dance floor. They told me I wasn’t half bad. It was probably all those nerves twitching at the prospect of no money, which they mistook for jazzy dance moves.

Fortunately I quit and ended up at a places where the bosses were male and more interested in making us dance through hoops IN the office (Boss No.2) or in the mythology of dance ( hyuk, hyuk, this last one is such a GOOD pot-shot at my erstwhile (unloved and unlovable) Boss No. 3. Such a pity no one will see it)

Then I got married. Husband dearest has a well, rhythm-sense, which seems to be operating on a frequency known only to him. So while he DOES dance well enough, he dances to a beat is in his brain, which is usually not even remotely in sync with the tone actually playing outside it.

So one COULD be forgiven for thinking one was watching a drunken rout of some sailors on an unsteady ship in a storm, if they happened to see us boogieing together.

So anyways, coming back to what I was saying. What has brought about this metamorphosis? This complete volte-face? This turnaround in principles dearly adhered to, most of my life?

Trigger number 1 – at the sister in law’s wedding party – there was this razzmatazz-type-thingummy where the dratted video camera has caught enough footage to make an Ashutosh Gowariker length movie of S trying to get me on the dance floor and me sneaking away from it. All it needs are some background tracks from Aaja Nachle and me yodelling ‘na, na, na, na, na, na. Dancing like a drunken sailor with friends is one thing, but to do it with a posse of in laws, not to mention a video camera, is something which I would gladly pass.

Trigger number 2- We were dragged kicking and screaming to some party where even the doddering centurions were waving their walking sticks in accompaniment to the beats while I was quietly (and unsuccessfully) trying to merge with the woodwork.

This stain on the reputation of the valiant descendents of la Cynique de Wonderlande cannot continue I have decided. So I shall either conquer dance, or dance shall conquer me.

(If I don’t come back with another post, chances are dance MIGHT have conquered me)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The dark side

I have been reading Guy De Maupassant's "The dark side" these days. As idle minds are wont to do, I started musing on what would be the supernatural forces that could affect our lives - the contemporary chill-inducers as it were, and from there it was but a short step to wondering what would be the scary, terribly scary, spectres that haunt a blogger's life.

One of the most terrifying beasts in blogdom is the Comment Box Hijacker. The otherwise innocuous looking chap who ambushes your post and seduces your reader with the sharp scalpel of his wit and insight. He leaves comments which are as long as your post and much better written.The appearance of one such, is enough to cause a heightened heartbeat and palpitations.

The Raving Raconteur also has a predilection for long comments but typically, unlike the Comment Box Hijacker, writes about things which are completely irrelevant to the post at hand. Also found often in real life, ( the person who will suddenly say "When I was in the army we used to blah blah blah" when the conversation is actually about a shoe sale).

The Phantom Readers: As is the case with their more metaphysical counterparts - there is no way of establishing their presence or whether they are just figments of an overactive imagination. Even if one assumes they exist, one is never quite sure how many actually lurk in one's vicinity. Is it just a handful? Or is entire armies that are roving through the unknown mists of cyberspace? And there is always the nagging question in one's mind about their intent - are they like the friendly neighbourhood Casper or are they much more malignant? Occasionally one catches fleeting glimpse out of the corner of the eye - a comment lost amongst a host of others, then one wonders - were they there? or were they not?

The Stalking Exes: Typically these could be one's ex's significant half or the significant half's exes. They stalk from a sense of voyeuristic curiosity to investigate and dissect the blog. They come, they see, they occasionally chortle and say "My GOD, what was he/she thinking to go out ( or as the case maybe, get married) to THIS?" Their presence, like the sword of Damocles is a unseen but weighty burden on the poor blogger's head.

The Humour Slayers: Just when one is feeling quietly pleased at a post with a particularly witty turn of phrase, they will come and write comments like "Quite an amusing attempt actually" or "Heh. Passably funny". Suddenly the writer will be drenched in cold clammy perspiration. There will be icy chills running up and down the spine. Should one edit the post? What did that person mean? What wasn't funny? Was that contrived? Ohmygod,ohmygod! Should one delete the post?

The Typo Nazi - a mutant variant of the Humour slayer. Blog hops for the sole purpose of detecting grammatical errors. Will send long mails detailing out why the use of an apostrophe is wrong in a particular post. Is obsessed with commas and typographical errors. Rumoured to have been taken over by the ghost of English school teachers.

To be continued...

Note to dear readers. This post is got nothing to do with you at all. This is for other bloggers. I love you all very much. Please dont stop reading this?