Mutual Funds in India – Resources on the Net

Every brokerage firm wants to sell , sell and sell. So they just want you to buy ,buy and buy.  Advertisement for a financial product is just as for any other product in the market. However, there is one big difference; In a financial product, there is no tyre to kick; there is no hardware. Then there is the disclaimer “Mutual Funds are subject to market risks blah blah blah” . So, it is very easy to mis-sell Schemes with fancy names like Guaranteed Income Scheme. How can you expect any guarantee when “ Mutual Funds are subject to market risks …..” ?

In the MF industry , there are three main players; AMC, Distributors and investors. The Distributors are paid by the AMCs commission for every unit of a Scheme sold and the investors bear these costs irrespective of profit or loss they incur. Who bears the cost of running the AMCs ? It is investors again. How do the AMCs charge  after all Investors don’t write out a cheque, as fees? The charges are deducted from the NAV (Net asset value) of a unit in the name of expense ratio , the charges for running a MF . An innocuous looking 1.5 % expense ratio can make a significant dent in your returns. For example, Rs 1 lakh over 10 years at the rate of 15 per cent will grow to Rs 4.05 lakh. But if we consider an expense ratio of 1.5 per cent, your actual total returns would be Rs 3.55 lakh, nearly 14 per cent less than what would have been achieved without any expense charge.

  An innocuous looking 1.5 % expense ratio can make a significant dent in your returns. For example, Rs 1 lakh over 10 years at the rate of 15 per cent will grow to Rs 4.05 lakh. But if we consider an expense ratio of 1.5 per cent, your actual total returns would be Rs 3.55 lakh, nearly 14 per cent less than what would have been achieved without any expense charge.

An equity MF can charge upto 2.5 % and a debt fund can charge upto 2.25 %. In effect , once a product is sold, for a distributor an one time  return is guaranteed and for an AMC, an annual return is guaranteed and only the investors return is subject to market risks !!

With assured outgo of 1 – 2.5 % per annum from your investment, wouldn’t it be prudent to do some check before buying ?

The Net is a boon as well as a bane.

The Net is teeming with analysts and advisors on Mutual Funds. I am wary of clichés like “There’s no free lunch”. Actually in the digital world , there is free lunch with dessert included provided one is careful about his surfing habits and sources. I don’t mean piracy, but legitimate sources of information and data. Generally there is no dearth of places for Gyaan starting from the American “Investopaedia” to our own start up from Bengaluru zerodha . They are excellent free sources if only one is prepared to read. But who wants to read. ? We often hear “yeh sab chhod , batao kaunsa fund thik hai” . People just want the proceeds rather than the process. Just give me a list of stocks or funds to invest in.  That’s understandable; perfectly okay. There are places to get such lists also.

Though most of the brokerages publish their general recommendations and bring out free newsletters, the specific recommendations are restricted to paid subscribers. So, to begin with one should study the website of your own brokerage company thoroughly.

Here , I am giving some screen-shots from ICICI Direct Brokerage . I hope it is not an infringement on IP  rights. Most of it is in public domain anyway.

Specific Recommendations
A Model Portfolio Pick one as per your temperament

General Recommendations – Different types.

Then there is outlook money magazine which brings out a list of Funds every year as OLM 50. Here’s a snap shot .

Picks from Outlook Money – OLM 50

 

After investing , unlike Stocks, there is no need to monitor on daily basis as that is what the Fund manager and his team are paid for. However, at-least every quarter one should have a look at the portfolio to decide on ” buy , hold or sell”. If due diligence  is done before buying, there would be no need to churn the portfolio too often.

The least one should do is the have a look at the last column of portfolio details on the web site . You won’t be very wrong even if you just follow the recommendations in the remarks columns.

 

To summarize, firstly, one should avoid falling prey to mis-selling by distributors . Secondly, a little bit of study will help to build a balanced portfolio for growth and stability.

SIP will require a separate post by itself.

A list of links to study for Mutual Funds Pick

Moneycontrol Zerodha Mutual Funds of India Value research online AMFI (Association of Mutual Funds of India) Outlook Money – OLM 50

Investment in Mutualfunds

Saving and investing through Mutual Funds

Traditionally , Indians invest in real estate , gold and fixed deposits and it is only in the recent years that Equities and Mutual Funds have attracted the investors’ attention. Our pension funds have just started investing in the Stock Market. Still there is a long way to go before every investor has a stake in some mutual fund or the other, directly or indirectly.

Year after year MF AUM (Asset Under Management) is increasing 20-30 percent. I am not an expert on Investments or Mutual Funds but I am trying to learn the ropes as I go along , over the past 10-12 years. This just an attempt to share my experiences for investors starting out now; a primer in Mutual Fund Investing.

Why Mutual Funds

Everybody hears stories of people having got excellent returns from investment in the share markets. But unfortunately they also hear stories of the big crashes in the stock markets and crores of rupees being wiped out in a day. There are people whose life times savings have shrunk to one fifth or one sixth of the original capital. Is it worth the risk ? Investing in mutual funds helps to mitigate the risks involved in direct investment in equities.

If you need to cross a lake, you may just  put on a life jacket , pack something to eat and drink , and set about to “row row , row the boat ,gently down the lake” . But if you need to go into a sea , where there are too many unknowns and too many risks like winds and waves, hurricanes and Icebergs , it is better to look for a ship equipped to negotiate through all kinds of obstacles. Also you need an astute Skipper and a navigator.

While an investor can easily understand financial instruments like fixed deposits and bonds to invest on their own , Equity is a different kettle of fish. If one is not careful, a financial tsunami can wipe out the entire capital. So you need a qualified fund manager backed up by a battery of research assistants with all technical and tactical tools they can muster.

So, if you want to undertake a voyage you need to find a good ship and a good skipper. The Mutual Fund Scheme is the Ship and the Fund manager is the captain of that ship and there is a qualified and experienced crew to assist him.

Next question is how do you select one or two out of the myriad number of schemes in the market. Every day there are new schemes and offers announced to attract investors. Here, we need to understand the idea of risk reward chart.

Risks and Rewards

Higher the risk, higher the reward. Debt funds are like open ended fixed deposits . They give a low return but always a positive one. The Debt / Liquid MFs invest in Govt bonds and such instruments which give fixed returns.

The next in order is Hybrid Funds that invest in Equities and Bonds in a fixed ratio. Depending on the ratio they could be equity heavy or Bonds heavy. Suffice to say that equity oriented Hybrid funds carry higher risks and they also offer higher rewards.

Next we have diversified , large caps followed by diversified mid cap funds. There are also multicap mutual funds which fall somewhere in between. Lastly, we have the sector specific mutual funds. There are times when investors are bullish on a particular sector like technology, pharma or say banking , AMCs(Asset management Companies) launch sector specific schemes to take advantage. But when the tide turns, these happen to be the most affected schemes. To give an example, in 2005-6 bull run, IT funds gave more than 100 % returns in a year and in the crash of 2008, it is the power and infrastructure MFs which saw a huge downturn. You can see the chart of reliance power and infrastructure MF. The scheme was sold with a lot of promise in 2008 and crashed with every dip in the market. An investor who had entered in 2008 would have hardly seen any gain till 2016. This may be compared to the performance of a typical diversified equity MF. HDFC top 100. It can be seen from the chart that from Rs 10/ in 1998, it has steadily rose to Rs 540 in 2018; a return of 50 times in 20 years.

Reliance Power and Infrastructure Fund

HDFC Top 100 MF

It doesn’t mean that sector funds are to be avoided altogether. The risk must be understood correctly and a small percentage of the total capital , say 10% can be invested in such schemes.

How is MF Scheme judged ?

Primarily , a scheme is nothing but the composition of underlying equity assets. A  scheme buying risky equities is risky and one buying stocks of a solid company like blue chips are safer.  The performance of a Scheme is judged against its bench mark index . It could be Nifty 50 or BSE 100 or banking Index etc. That’s why a Scheme is said to be performing well even when it gives negative returns. It may have given a return of -5 % when its bench mark index , say Nifty 50 has given -10%. So if you are buying  a Pharma  MF, you should compare it with the NSE Pharma Index to track it’s performance.

New Fund Offers (NFOs)

Earlier the new schemes were called IPOs. People went for these “IPOs” as they cost only rs 10/ per unit compared to older schemes which cost anything like 500-600 rs per unit. The irony is that people never seem to understand that 10 X 500 and 500 X 10 gives the same result. If anything, the Rs 500 per unit scheme just shows that it has multiplied 50 times since inception. Now they are called NFOs as per directions of SEBI.

Why do AMCs come up with NFOs ? There may be a genuine reason or a necessity to exploit some opportunity in the stock market like arbitrage Fund. But mostly NFOs are ploys to attract more investors. Sometimes an AMC has to float a scheme just to match the competitors who have launched a new thematic fund. Theoretically, there are enough schemes in the market to cater for all kinds of investors. Before going for an NFO, one should be aware that the company is planning to start building his “ship” only with the money collected from the investors like you. Then it takes time to deploy the money. So, initially the Rs 10/ will dip to 9.xx before any gains. It is always better to wait for a Scheme to deploy the money and see how the underlying stocks perform.

Steps to Invest in MF.

How to identifies the schemes most suitable to you. Here I make an assumption that the money set aside for investment should be locked in for atleast three years if not more. Unlike premature withdrwal of Fds, premature selling of MFs can prove very costly.

Top Down Approach

Supposing we have 10 L for investment, it would be a good idea to decide how the risk / reard is to be spread. It would depend on your own temperament and appetite for risk. Normally midcaps and sector funds provide growth to the portfolio while balanced MFs and bluechip MFs provide stability. The debt/liquid funds are equally important. Liquid funds are used for temporary parking of money and also as a reserve to be deployed during market downturns. The ratio could be as under :

Sector Funds – 10%

Midcap Funds – 30%

Largecap diversified funds – 30%

balanced funds – 15 %

Liquid funds – 15%

Bottom up Approach

There are a number of organizations that evaluates the MFs and rate them as three star, five star etc. The details are also available on their web sites. Some of these sites are valueresearch org , mutual funds of india etc. They  can be accessed at my web site  under the menu Money —> Investments.

Of course , one gets lots of tips from people dealing in MFs.  But one has to be aware of the fact that there is more mis-selling than genuine ,free, financial advice. So, it is worth checking back from a second source.

Whichever way , first individual Schemes can be  picked and a portfolio be built , keeping in mind the aspect of Risk – Reward.

In the next part , we’ll go about on-line platforms and SIP mode for investments.

 

Secularism: A perspective

In our country, today, if you ask me for one most misused / abused word, I would say ,it is the word “secularism” . It is closely followed by communal-ism.

The word secular originated from Latin saecularis or Old French seculer, meaning a generation or an age used to mean this world as different from Spiritual world.  

Today, as defined by any dictionary , say wictionary, it means

Not connected with religious or spiritual matters . Some of the synonyms are non-religious,non-church,temporal,worldly,earthly etc. Some examples are Secular music, secular books, secular building etc.

A secular person is a non-religious person (definitely not someone who attends every iftar and Christmas gathering)

A secular state is a non-religious state . Ancient India did not have a concept of a religious state, so one needs to look at European history to understand what a religious state is. As it happens , even in the present day there are many modern Western States who are bound by constitution / laws to promote a particular faith.    A case in point is the composition of the House of Lords wherein Up to 12 Church of England bishops may sit in the house as ex officio “Lords Spiritual”. (Only the Church of England, mind you, not any riff-raff denomination like Catholic or Presbyterian) In our country, the liberals are up in arms , even when a  person gets duly elected to the parliament or the assembly, if he is religious.

Now , let us see how the religious states evolved to delink religion from state affairs, and in the process “discovered secularism in politics”.

There was a time when the Church was very powerful, more powerful than the kings. It had its own army and a hierarchy of officials for implementing the Lord’s will across the length and breadth of its domain , which was striving to expand forever.

Being  a chess enthusiast, as a child I often wondered what a bishop had to do on  the battle field . Chaturang (the four arms , infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots  under the king and prime minister ) in Europe , had become Chess .( pawns,bishops , knights and rooks under the King and Queen) . Later , I realized , If the Pope had to wield political power, the cardinals and bishops had to go  into the battle along with the Knights. Even now when I look at a chess board I can visualize the Bishops and Knights criss crossing ‘battlefield Spain’ under the directions of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella enforcing the Spanish Inquisition.

The Catholic Church was all Powerful in 11the Century
The Church During the period of Papal Wars. 15th century when the church fought a series of battles to expand its domain.
After French Revolution , for the first time Church was stripped of Political Powers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, let us have a look at the History of India , Ancient or medieval. Buddha or Shankaracharya or any other religious leader did not have  armies like the ones Caliphs and the Popes had. So the idea of a Secular State was inherent in any Hindu Kingdom. Each dynasty had a favorite sect or God , keeping with the idea of Ishta devata. Ups and downs in popularity of a particular sect were more fluid and least violent. While  Mahendra Pallava patronized the Jains more, his son Narasimha Pallava patronized the Shaivites more; but by and large all faiths were promoted and none were persecuted.

The only exception was the Sikhs under Guru Gobind Singh  ; but this army was born to fight oppression rather than for persecution of heretics/ kafirs like the armies raised for crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. Still , a religious army has no place in a modern state and the country has already paid a heavy price  in the effort to contain Khalisthan movement.

We come to 1948.  The Indian Constitution was being drafted ,and  it was proposed by KT Shah  to include the word “Secular ” in the preamble,  and it was Dr BR Ambedkar , who vehemently opposed it. He opposed it, not because he wanted a religious state(opposite of secular is religious , not communal ,we’ll come to it later) , but just found the word superfluous.  Jawaharlal Nehru, who was keen on a socialist state was also happy  omitting ‘secular’  and ‘socialist’.

It was left to his daughter Indira Gandhi to introduce the word in the preamble , that too during the Emergency period ,in 1976.  Why was it introduced ? It was part of the 42nd amendment in a bid to retain power with herself  and her party. The amendment was also called mini constitution as it was quite exhaustive in changes across the board. Mainly, she went after curbing the powers of Judiciary. Clauses like ‘anti national activities ‘ were introduced so that any one questioning her could be booked. The word ‘secular’ was introduced to beat the RW parties with , but even she would never have imagined as to what degree that word would be misused as it is being done today.

Suffice to say that the Amendment was unpopular and was forced down the throat of the nation, under emergency conditions.  As it happens, some of the States who use the word Secular frequently did not ratify the 42nd Amendment; to name a few,  J & K, Kerala and Tamilnadu.

Another joke is that opposite of “secular” is “communal”. Communal society is defined as a society in which everyone lives and works together and property and possessions are shared rather than being owned by a particular person. The community can be based on religion , ethnicity or any other factor.  Living as a non religious community is actually called  secular communalism. Now, try chewing on it.

How do we differentiate  secular from communal in modern India ? A tall order indeed.

To simplify the process, RW community is called communal society while other religious communities are secular communities !!!

Now for some light hearted diversion ……

here’s an article calling bharathanatyam as cutural nationalism

https://thewire.in/books/from-national-culture-to-cultural-nationalism-an-extract-from-on-nationalism

The day when rasam (mulagutawny soup) became brahminical

Brahminical Tyranyny : Rasam

 

 

 

 

Can wearing a saree make you communal ? may be it can, as Asgar Qadri in Ny times says it is a symbol of hindu nationalism.

secular dress and communal dress

 

 

 

 

Is bindi secular ? Christian educational institutions don’t think so . They do not let the children sport bindi.  However, for Rana Ayub , a bindi is mandatory to prove her secular credentials.

Bindi , religious or secular ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many more questions one finds on  the social media platforms .Just posting a random tweet to have an idea of  the  the line of thinking… There are others tweets debating if idli is secular food  or if  a game of chess is secular ? Then we have a you know who , with a long secular beard lecturing on   the kind of emoticons the secular community can use. As per him,

or 

are  haram , thereby meaning not secular.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, a picture which all “secular people” generally agree to be a  truly secular image. Obviously , there seems to be Nothing Religious about it .

Truly secular; nothing religious about it.

Whatsapp Warriors and Face-book Philosophers

It has been learnt from a survey conducted by Harvard University in Collaboration with Fox TV Network that on an average a mobile phone user spends 90% of the air time on Whatsapp or Face-book. Don’t ask me where I got this figure from ; I just thought of it. No worries; just spin it around through Social media apps .Our Whatsapp Warriors (WW) and Face-book Philosophers would forward it on so enthusiastically that it might become true now even if there had been a  doubt earlier.

What would happen if that little curved arrow is not available on Whatsapp ? Well, the traffic on the app will be down by 90%. How can people forward stuff without reading ? How can people pass judgments on stuff they are clueless about ? Why do people forward stuff in languages , they don’t even recognize , leave alone understand ?

Well, to ‘like’ is twice blessed and to ‘forward’  divine.

So much is conveyed with so little vocabulary. The entire vocabulary of a WW is restricted to just two actions; a long press and short press. With this limited vocabulary, you can even  send a plethora of emojis to express yourself. How exciting !

The social media is here to stay. It requires a great degree of patience and detachment to go through others’ posts and sometimes post your own views without the post-delivery pains.

Real World and Virtual World

What you see is not What is there.

The first time I learnt about the term ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ was in high school physics . When light rays actually meet, it is a real image and when they appear to come from a point, it is a virtual image. An image is an image; what difference does it make if you see it in a concave mirror or a convex mirror. Well we can leave that to the physicists .

The next time I came across the term was in the context of computer gaming,”Virtual Reality” . The term is even more confusing.  After years of involvement in a VR Project I learnt that VR simulates experience through senses and perception. You ‘see’ things which are not there, feel a hit when no one has hit you and so on.

Nowadays one hears a plethora of terms “Perception management” , “Image Projection”, “Optics”, “Image building” and so on. Doesn’t it all amount to creation of a simple Virtual Image or may be an ant throwing up a shadow the size of an elephant ?

Sometimes, I feel , the Real World we live in full of virtual images, where everyone is practicing their own version of perception management in personal and professional Spheres.

Recently, while talking to a finance professional about IPOs, I was amazed to learn about the extent companies  go to ,to project the desired image for success of an IPO. They need to manage ‘TV Channels, Web portals, independent finance consultants, HNIs and so many entities to project a favorable image. This of course is in addition to window dressing of balance sheets  and cooking up of accounts through highly paid bean counters.

Cinema is the domain of dream merchants selling virtual images , but they too resort to image projection to sell the make-believe world they produce.  And publicity tours by stars have reached absurd levels. Simply can’t imagine Rajesh Khanna or Hema malini doing a blitz tour of schools and colleges to promote their movies. Nor can one imagine writers Kalki or RK Narayanan bombarding the world with Tweets and face-book posts to promote their books.  It is not just actors  and writers who need image projection, but even doctors,lawyers and teachers need to project their images and these are professions where ethics forbid any advertisements.

The matrimonial columns in newspapers and matrimony platforms on visual media are the ultimate exercises in maximum image building at minimum costs. The stakes are also high here.

So, be it TV, Newspapers, Social media friends and the ‘real’ people around , all seem so virtual.

Ironically, it is only during interaction with  on-line strangers that I get a feel of interacting with real people.  The financial transactions on-line are so real and honest, though money doesn’t really change hands in the literal sense. While playing chess online with absolute strangers, I can sense the feelings of triumph or frustration of  my opponent. Even the Google translated chats in a foreign language appear more real than interactions with some friends on the face book. What is social media but ultimate form of Narcissism and playing to the gallery.

When the real world is saturated with virtual images, one looks to the virtual world for some reality.

 

 

 

 

 

The Road Less Travelled :Where Science meets Mysticism

Dr Scott M Peck

When a scientist explores mysticism or when a Mystic contemplates a science laboratory, it produces astounding results. Though to a western trained mind it might sound rather strange , Science and Religion or Mysticism need not be mutually exclusive. After all where Physics ends where   Metaphysics starts and   Psychology and Parapsychology do overlap. So it is natural that many scientists stray into the zone of philosophy and vice versa. The fourteenth Dalailama is a passionate student of Science and Technology. He has initiated a number  of studies to explore Buddhist methods on training of mind through the prism of Science. Some of the other books where Science and Mysticism overlap are :

  •         The Tao of Physics by  Fritjof Capre
  •          Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance by Robert Pirsig
  •          Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body By Daniel Goleman
Pic Courtesy :Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

These days, some of the top bestsellers are books on self-improvement. At some stage , everyone gets motivated to read books on self improvement and a good number of people do try and practice what these books advocate. Most of these books talk of positive thinking and positive attitude. It’s like a magic wand. Believe it can be done and it is done. Phew, easy does it. Anyone can. Be a winner. In this group what stands out is one book which started simply with a sentence  “Life is difficult” . It is a paragraph by itself. It is not a book that says think strong and you will be strong , think you are rich and wealth will follow. It is a kind of admission that life was indeed difficult and one had to face it. That was the first step to relief or Nirvana.

The New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth

The book is  “The Road Less Traveled by Dr Scott M Peck. When I started reading ,it proved to be an unputdownable book. Later , I learnt that, the first paragraph was taken from Buddhist philosophy , the first of the four noble truths ‘reality of suffering’”. You can find the influence of Zen Buddhism as well as ideas of Christian Philosophy through out this book and other books by the author.

Dr Peck was trained in Psychology and he did a stint with US Army for 9 years rising to the rank of a Lt Col. Later he practiced as a psychiatrist at Connecticut (USA).Though he was born in a protestant  family, he had a secular upbringing. Later, he developed interest in Zen Buddhism and Islamic Mysticism before he was drawn to Christianity. He was Baptized at the age of 43, in the year 1980. to hear it in his own words

……..Even though I was raised in an extremely secular home, as I look back on it, I was a freakishly religious kid, although not specifically Christian. And always I felt God to be in the background, always benign, never paid him or her that much attention, specifically, but felt him or her very much there. Christianity meant nothing to me as an adolescent, but in adolescence I fell in love with Eastern mystical writings, and then very gradually evolved from them to more attention to the Jewish and Muslim mystics, and then only finally to Jesus making more sense as I was moving toward writing The Road Less Traveled, when I was about 35 or so. I was a mystic first, and a Christian second. And I entered the Christian church through the back door of Christian mysticism, or maybe the top door, whichever way you want to look at it.

My baptism was in a number of ways a real kind of death for me, as it is supposed to be. And one of the reasons it was a death for me was that by declaring myself a Christian, I was declaring myself not to be Buddhist, not be Jewish, not be Hindu, not be Muslim, and as if I was casting disparagement upon traditions that had deeply nurtured me. So that was just one way in which my baptism represented a death in that I declared myself and regretfully in many ways. …..

Naturally , his first book was a on Psychology liberally  laced with the idea of faith, goodness, evil , God, religion and such terms not normally associated with Psychology as a Science. Random House, where the then little-known psychiatrist first tried to publish his original manuscript, turned him down, saying the final section was “too Christ-y.”

When finally published, it was was an instant hit. So what is this book about ?

The book consists of four parts. In the first part Peck examines the notion of discipline, which he considers essential for emotional, spiritual, and psychological health, and which he describes as “the means of spiritual evolution”. The elements of discipline that make for such health include the ability to delay gratification, accepting responsibility for oneself and one’s actions, a dedication to truth, and “balancing”. “Balancing” refers to the problem of reconciling multiple, complex, possibly conflicting factors that impact on an important decision—on one’s own behalf or on behalf of another. The discipline here is quite different from army discipline where it is all about appearance and obedience. To Dr Peck, Discipline is only about how you keep the promises you made to yourself.

In the second part, Dr Peck talks of ‘Love;. First he follows the Indian idea of ‘Neti Neti’(not this, not this) ; a process of examining various theories and eliminating them one by one in search of Truth. He eliminates certain popular conceptions of ‘what is love’ to label them as ‘romantic love’ , ‘dependency’ and so on. Then he tries to list down the  attributes of Love; devoting a chapter for each attribute , illustrating with case studies.

Dr Peck argues that “true” love is rather an action that one undertakes consciously in order to extend one’s ego boundaries by including others or humanity, and is therefore the spiritual nurturing—which can be directed toward oneself, as well as toward one’s beloved.

In the third part Peck deals with religion, and the commonly accepted views and misconceptions concerning religion. He recounts experiences from several patient case histories, and the evolution of the patients’ notion of God, religion, atheism—especially of their own “religiosity” or atheism—as their therapy with Peck progressed.

The fourth and final part concerns “grace“, the powerful force originating outside human consciousness that nurtures spiritual growth in human beings. In order to focus on the topic, he describes the miracles of health, the unconscious, and serendipity—phenomena which Peck says:

  •  nurture human life and spiritual growth,
  • are incompletely understood by scientific thinking,
  • are commonplace among humanity,
  • originate outside the conscious human will.

He concludes that “the miracles described indicate that our growth as human beings is being assisted by a force other than our conscious will”

Overall, the book gives no shortcuts to success. In fact  even the word ‘success’ is conspicuous by its absence.  What he aims at is to attain more efficiency, balance, better productivity, emotional stability , better inter personal relationships and spiritual development. If all these can be achieved, I suppose success as commonly understood should follow.

Mental Health : The India Story

Which way to go when you need a shrink for growth !

Mental health is not just about abnormal psychology, but it covers the whole gamut of issues that makes a person happy and productive. I remember reading a Tamil book on psychology the title of which roughly translates to “Some are inside; some outside” . The book is a series of case studies, where the first part deals with patients in a lunatic asylum and the second part about socially acceptable people from all walks of life. The studies goes on to show that people from the latter category are as abnormal as the former the only difference being that their peculiarities are dismissed as harmless idiosyncrasies.

India is no place for people needing  mental health-care. Any violent cases are physically retrained and kept away from the eyes of the society. People with mild to serious problems not leading to violence  are considered absolutely normal and they go about their day to day life, as long as they can fulfill certain criteria. A child is OK as long as he or she gets good marks(or grades as called in the West) in school. Habitual lying, extreme laziness, reluctance to interact with other kids or whatever other abnormalities would be condoned as long as the marks keep coming. In fact the parents find ingenious ways to defend every shortcoming. A child scared of jumping into a swimming pool or riding  a bicycle would be called a cautious type and the kid who wouldn’t talk to other kids, a reserved type. So is it with adults. A man who can earn a livelihood, and a woman who can keep a job or run a household may be absolved of any form of mental illness.

Can we define a mentally normal person ? Very subjective definition it would be. An adult should be able to develop himself or herself to be fully self-dependent physically, mentally and financially. The person should be in a position to realize  her full potential or for self-actualization as in Maslow’s theory of hierarchy. Most importantly he  should not be emotionally dependent on others for his very survival. Loneliness is a legitimate and socially acceptable ruse to become an emotional parasite on parents ,spouse or children.  I don’t suggest that  everyone should stay alone , but I feel one should develop such a capacity for self dependence that would lead to healthy inter-dependence  and a win-win situation in a relationship. Lastly , one should be mentally strong enough to face the myriad challenges that life throws at you in personal and professional fields.

In the West people are generally encouraged to get out of harmful relationships or work environment. By harmful, I mean not very conducive to physical or  mental health. Here, most people are virtually locked into an environment at home or the work-place.  Till the last generation, one joined a profession or a company to retire from that profession or organization at 60. Job hopping was generally looked down upon.  At home, not one or two, but three generations lived together , be it a nurturing or abusive relationship.

I am reminded of kahil Gibran’s words

Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

In India , we don’t talk about Oak and Cypress but a family or a clan is likened to a clump of banana trees , one taking root from the other and feeding on the other and has just one identity as a clump.

Now that clump is falling apart and the individual identities are being recognized , the warts are  also show up. It is only recently that terms like depression, OCD and neurosis are being talked about. Obviously, it does not mean that people did not suffer from these maladies earlier.

So how did people cope up ? Going to a psychiatrist was neither a socially accepted option nor was it financially viable. One just looked to friends and religion for solace. May be that is the reason every part of the country had a place for all kinds of religious figures. (God-men somehow does not feel right). In a way, these holy men and women , though not trained for this role had some sort of  ability to identify mental problems and provide some comfort to the troubled souls. Of course , in an unregulated field there is bound to be exploitation  of  the willing victims.

Depression and Neurosis apart, , mental well being should be seen as , not just staying away from trouble, but to consistently evolve into a better person, to grow mentally and spiritually. We see many children and adults stuck in such environment at home and at work place where their spirits are constantly under assault, their talents are not allowed to bloom and fun goes out of their lives. Their lives are spent in monotony and mediocrity.

It is only of late , we have counselors appointed at schools for advising students and parents. This  is prompted by the spate of suicides by students failing in exams., rather than to help good students perform better. There is such a stigma attached to being counseled that no student wants to be seen outside the counselor’s room.

Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experience mental illness in a given year. For details click here. That’s an alarming figure.  From the data one  can either deduce that , it was indeed  a mentally sick society,  or one can also  see it  as a society that caters to the needs of mental health care for all to live  a happy and productive life; a society not willing to accept mediocrity.  Here again , welfare states spend more time, effort and money on preemptive health care. That is where  rights of children assume great significance.

Today, we are moving towards the West in every aspect ; language , food, clothing, music and so on. Oats and orange juice are replacing the traditional puri or idli for breakfast. Parents actually restrain  children from speaking in an Indian language; sadly so. Why can’t we get something good from the west ? Why can’t we look at mental health care as a need for overall development of a child or an adult , with no stigma attached to psychotherapy ?

 

 

 

How I met Chess

I saw Chess for the first time when I was around six, at a neighbour’s place, during a summer vacation. It was another board game, but unlike droughts or ludo, it had so many different ‘characters’ queen, king, horse, elephant, camel and what not ? Each piece was different in the way it moved about . How exciting ?

My brother, two years elder to me, and I were so excited about the ‘new’ game that we had to try it out at home. Like a ‘Dhayakkattam’ (or Chaupad as it is called in the North) we drew the board on the floor. Since every piece was different we had to make card board pieces with names written on top like king ,queen etc. We just knew how they moved and nothing else. Most of the board games had a start point and a finish point . This board had neither. So we assumed that the aim was to just go about killing the pieces of the opponent left and right and whosoever had some piece left on the board won. We played all afternoon with  these rudimentary rules , but thoroughly enjoyed it.

When appa came home from office we were still at it moving the pieces about chasing, killing , threatening and parrying. He thought it was another of those nameless, spontaneously improvised games that kids play, until we told him proudly that we were playing ‘Chess’. He didn’t say anything, then. But the next day when he came home he had brought real Chessboard and Chessmen. As he took out the packet, when asked what it was, I remember him telling in his characteristic way “ vazaikkai bajji “ (Some eatable) . I can still recall the sight and smell of the new plastic set.

The rest of the vacation was just chess ,chess and chess. Our neighborhood kids were not much interested, one reason being that we beat them hollow from the first day. So most of the time we played against each other. In the evening, when appa came home, we took turns to play with him. Before long we started beating him . On Sundays he got books from the public library to learn the theory systematically.

The books were in English , so appa had to read . As a matter of fact , I learnt chess notations before I could read English. It was so fascinating . I particularly remember one game by Adolf Anderson that changed our outlook towards chess forever.

It is also called the immortal game. (Anderssen,A – Kieseritzky,L London 1851)

We always played to kill as many of the pieces of the opponent and bigger the kill , better it was. Here was a game in which Black has all his pieces, Major and Minor, intact while white is left with just two Knights and a Bishop. Yet it was the three lowly minor pieces that checkmates the Black King and none of his own Maharathis (Warriors) are able to come to the defence of Black King.

Chess meant tactics, Chess meant strategy Chess meant winning the game even while losing the pieces.

Then I remember following the Boris Spassky – Bobby Fischer World Championship Match , through Newspapers. The Hindu used to give a four column coverage on the Sports page with Manual Aaron, India’s first International Master covering the event.

When I was nine, I joined a boarding school where boys played more of Football, Hockey and Kabbadi rather than chess or Carom Board. After Joining the NDA and later Army , I drifted further and further away from the world of Chess, though I always had a chess set with me , even in field area.

Now after retirement, thanks to on-line chess, I get to play quality chess whenever I want to. It is like a great home-coming to pleasures of Chess.

Here’s the whole game “The Immortal game”

Bharathiyaar’s Poem : ஆசை முகம் மறந்து போச்சே

Continuing from where my previous post;

For some reason Bharathiyaar has not been given his due place in Tamilnadu as, someone like  Gurudev Tagore has been given in West Bengal. The school children’s exposure to the great poet probably starts and ends in fancy dress competitions and a few songs sung in the annual day functions. There is not much effort to study his works either for moral values or for the sheer beauty of the verses.

Be that as it may, in the digital age , it is You-tube which is the ultimate teacher. The ‘lessons’ from the You-tube are spread about by Whatsapp and Facebook. Unfortunately, here too the wind conditions are not favourable to Bharathi as he is neither a hindutva icon nor a dalit icon. Nor does he appeal to the cool dudes by his looks or the language he wrote in. It is becoming fashionable even in Tamilnadu to not to speak in Tamil leave alone read or write.

So be it.

While his patriotic songs are more popular (particularly for school annual day functions) his philosophical works are not so well known. His major works were Kannan Paattu, Kuyil Paattu and Panchali Sabatham. . Once he is said to have offered  that he would give away an English booklet he wrote , a parody on Theosophical Society , (The Fox with a Golden Tail) to anyone who buys his “Panchali Sabatham” .

Some the most beautiful verses of Bharathi can be found in his book ‘ Kannan Paattu’.

This is a collection of 23 poems wherein the poet looks at Kannan / Kannamma as his mother, father, child, friend, sweetheart, king, his guru, servant and the family deity. Of course the most popular compositions are those depicting  Krishna as a lover.

It is said that this song was composed by the great poet when he had misplaced the only photo he had of his mother who had passed away when he was barely five years old. As such it was a black and white faded picture and He had only a vague memory of his mother and now with that photograph gone he feels utterly helpless.

One of the verses brings out the total purposelessness of his life by comparing himself to a bee which has forgotten honey !

The lyrics are captivating. Unfortunately , most singers prefer to include only three or four stanzas out of the  six .

for the lyrics and translation  see here

The pain he feels is expressed as the pain of a girl who is in love with the eternal lover Krishna and has lost all memory of how he looked.

While many of his popular poems have been picturised in Tamil Cinema, this one   has hardly been sung even in carnatic music concerts.

Courtesy You-tube, today, one can hear different versions of the song.

Every famous artist has come out with his / her own version.  The list of artists include Sowmya, Nithyashree, Priya Sisters, Karthik Iyer, Maharajapuram Santhanam Sikkil Gurcharan, Suchitra Karthik and Mahathi. Sometime in 2011, An Album  was released by Shankar Tucker , Struti Box on you tube . It is the absolute pathos of the situation that stands out. Every singer tries to bring out the feeling with the  gamakams , so characteristic to carnatic music. Maharajapuram Santhanam sings it in a fast tempo , unusual for a sad song; yet the feeling is perceptible though in a kind of detached way.

The music composed and  produced by Shankar Tucker , sung by Vidhya Iyer and Vandana Iyer was an instant hit and at the time of writing this piece, it had crossed 4 million views. It captures the mood of the song beautifully. Maharajapuram Santhanam sings it in a fast tempo , unusual for a sad song; yet the feeling is perceptible though in a kind of detached way.  To his credit he covers the all the six stanzas. Karthik’s version sounds modernistic may be because of the accompaniments.

Choose your pick  and enjoy.  The video gallery also includes a wonderful dance performance by Pooja Unni

 

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Bharathiyaar

 

I have always been fascinated by Bharathiyaar’s
songs. My father had most of the songs learnt by-heart and had a habit of singing out loudly at home. So ,in the pre-radio days that is the only channel we grew up listening to.
Over the years ,with more and more resources available on the Internet, I have readup the songs, commentaries and have listened to various versions of the songs rendered by celebrity singers and commoners alike. Every
time I listened to a song, it has been absolutely amazing to note that the great poet’s songs sound as captivating in every avtar, every form at any part of the day.
Recently, I listened to , or I should say ,saw a video version of a song on the you tube presented by the Indian Raga group. It is a channel I follow regularly  and it is heartening to note that the current generation loves the poet as much as we did.  Here it is .
What I liked was the way, the artists moved seamlessly from a classic style to a folk style on the same song, with the same instruments. The words are so beautiful; sound so great, yet so simple to understand, and the flow is so smooth adapting to every style or raagam it is sung in. Tamil being an ancient language, many poets are tempted to use high-flown words to show off their learning. But Bharathiyaar’s songs are so contemporary in style that even though many of the words are hardly ever used in spoken Tamil, every word hits home as if it is your mother speaking.

 

It is not just the beauty of the words, the meaning conveyed is so sublime that every time you hear a song it is so much more inspiring !
Just to appreciate his writings , one feels, a life time is not enough you wonder how on earth did he compose so much in a short span of twenty odd years !
to listen to  Bharathiyaar’s songs  ….  Click