Tuesday, May 24, 2011


For years now, US dollar has lived a decorated life. It has been the globe’s reserve currency and nearly the whole world has had tremendous faith in the value of the US dollar. It has been considered a powerful currency to possess and its demand has always been very high. But the latest financial crisis has struck the dollar a devastating blow and has sent it on a downward spiral. The US debt scenario doesn’t help the cause either. The government has to borrow about half of what it spends. And printing more money is definitely not the solution even if policy makers manage to find fancy names like “Quantitative Easing”. As a result, over the last 4 years, dollar has been slowly but steadily depreciating against many currencies and hence faces the predicament of losing its cult status.

You may ask: “How does that matter to me?” Well, if you are earning in dollars or any of the other depreciating currencies, then it does! As dollar depreciates your purchasing power becomes lesser and lesser and so does the value of your savings. What can you do? One solution is you can identify stronger currencies and starting investing in them.

Now this leads us to the interesting concept of anti-dollar. These are currencies that are stronger and are going up in value while the dollar depreciates. For long, gold has been considered an anti-dollar as it has a value trajectory exactly opposite to the dollar. But gold is a low risk and more importantly low return investment. It is just for the safety lockers and fancy weddings.

Naturally you will instantly think about the world’s second largest economy. China! The Chinese might not even know that the world is coming out of a recession. Such is the growth of this country. But sadly this growth doesn’t show up in its currency. The Chinese have defied laws of monetary physics and have smartly managed to peg their currency to the dollar and have managed to keep American imports of Chinese goods relatively cheap. Alas, this is bad news to you as an investor because you have just lost the biggest potential anti-dollar. The Swiss Franc comes to my mind next. It has been a steady and safe currency for years. No wonder Swiss banks are so famous (notoriously!) But I feel that it has lived its upside potential and hence can be a safe investment but not a highly profitable one.

That brings me to the Singaporean dollar. This is a currency that has steadily and stealthily appreciated against the dollar significantly over the last 5 years and is going strong. If you don’t believe me take a look at the chart below which shows SD’s appreciation against USD over time! 1 Singapore dollar has appreciated from $0.59 in 2004 to $0.81 in 2010.

Well, how is this possible? One word: Governance! Singapore has an open business environment, is relatively corruption free and has one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. It has a highly developed state capitalist mixed economy (famously known as “Singapore Model”) that combines economic planning with a free market to position Singapore as the fastest growing economy in the world. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Singapore grew by 22.5% in the first quarter of 2011 over the previous quarter in stark contrast to America’s 2.3%. It easily surpassed China’s impressive GDP growth of 9.7% too. From 2007 until 2010, Singapore's average quarterly GDP Growth was 6.09% reaching an historical high of 44.50% in March of 2010.

With its challenges as one the smallest sovereigns in terms of the area and lack of natural resources, Singapore relies on something called “Entrepot” trade: purchase raw goods and refine them for re-export (wafer fabrication and oil refining). Having the busiest port in the world and a skilled workforce form the icing on the cake! And who can forget that Singapore is becoming the Financial hub of the world. The business supportive environment and political stability has attracted many multi-national banking and investment firms and almost all of these have their Asian headquarters in Singapore.

Singapore is also a country that lives within its means with the Government promoting high levels of savings and investment. If the US is characterized by borrowing and spending, then Singapore with earning and saving is its polar opposite. A wonderful measure to consider is the current account balance. It is the difference between the country’s savings and its investment. Singapore has a current account surplus of $26 billion while US has a deficit of $420 billion. Now you know why the US debt crisis is not a far-fetched thought! Singapore on the contrary has very low debt, high government revenues and its foreign exchange reserves work out to approximately $40,000 for every person which is a pretty good piggy bank for a rainy day.

But beyond all this, Singapore’s biggest advantage is that it sits in the middle of the busiest shipping lane in the world: Asia which has many many years of rapid economic growth ahead of it. All this means that the Singapore dollar would continue to gain value against the US dollar and hence promises to be a wonderful currency to invest in. And who knows, it might soon take its place as the elusive “Anti-Dollar”!

Friday, May 13, 2011


In the last 2 years of my MBA life, I have had the good fortune of having so many wonderful friends and I won’t even attempt to count the number of times we have gotten together and have had an absolute blast. But food and games are always at the center of every such fun evening. (Arpana and Abhijit would want to include gossip as well though!). Several games come to my mind: Taboo has always been a favorite (especially after Manny gave it a cult status); Mafia has recently become popular (with Ayushman’s basic instincts, Abhijit’s persuasion skills and Shalini’s silent killer cameo); and who can forget Garima’s obsession (and Sid’s helpless look) with Truth or Dare and Ganesh’s proposal to Ayushman. But one game has become a rage off late and has aroused the gambler in all of us: POKER.

When we got the poker set, we had no idea it would become such a hit. We started playing it on random occasions and with all our amateurish inputs we customized it into good evening fun. Shine then gave some final touches to it (well he basically corrected some of the rules which I had made of my own) and it has now turned into an addiction which keeps us awake at nights providing us with moments which we will all remember for a very long long time.  

Poker has created some interesting characters among us. Introducing Mr.Ayushman Dutta aka James Bond. Nowadays he is seen walking with the poker brief case and is even pursuing alternative careers in Bollywood. Don-3 might see a new star! He is the official dealer and is more often not, cursed by Swati for bad if not horrible cards. Swati is the “chupa rustam” who is expert in silently accumulating wealth while she is busy killing pigs simultaneously!

Shine comes in as the official Poker expert. He knows every nuance of the game and is extremely canny. Sometimes he too succumbs to the daredevil risk takers we have in our group. But he is the master enticer who quietly folds most of the time and focuses all his energy into coaxing people to go ALL-IN and in the process manages to create Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers out of Chases and Bank of Americas.  

Shalini is the surprise package in every game. She is the ultimate risk taker who can even bet on nothing and manages to catch many a bluff in the process. She can be a Brazil in a recession and at the very next moment do a Greece too!  But beware: Don’t give your money to her after dinner as she believes in wealth redistribution if you know what I mean.

Arpana adds a new dimension to the game with a complete grasp of all the rules! She is the one who refused to look at her own cards because she thought it was a new rule that Shine suggested. She can fold when she is the little blind and do check when the person before had bet a 100. She also takes a long look at the rule book to check the best winning combinations and then think for long before eventually saying: “I fold”. Alas, everyone just thought you had a straight flush!

Monica will be remembered as the one who only deals in 100s even if she was the big blind and the minimum bet was 20. Who else will raise bets by 50 in first 2 rounds and fold in the third? She is the self-proclaimed confidence player!

Neha and Abhijit complete the pack as the “UNPREDICTABLES” and add to the excitement of the game. They bluff with ease and play high stakes. Abhijit has the proverbial “bring it on” look and he gets into interesting duels with Neha who always thinks he is bluffing! Neha also has the Poker best line (To Abhijit of course) till date to her credit: “I will do a 9/11 on your Poker chip towers”! That is some serious threat! Poker is so much fun when you have such diverse skillsets on the table. All in all, it is Paisa Vasool!

But the best part is that we are always treated to some mouth-watering delicacies by Neha or Monica. Ayushman chips in with his delicious cakes. This last time, Abhijit’s mom was the co-conspirer in giving us all a food coma. We hog and then we go again. Of course, food calms some nerves while it pushes the adrenalin levels high in others who end up losing not only their money but also others’. But whether someone gets a straight or a flush, it is always a FULL HOUSE!

Starring in Alphabetical Order: Abhijit, Arpana, Ayushman, Monica, Neha, Shalini, Shine, Swati et Moi (Raj).

Cameos (not in any order): Wake up Sid, Garima, Abhijit’s mom, Mani Singh

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


My graduation cap and gown are here but it still hasn’t sunk in. I don’t know if and when it will happen. But while I was ruminating about the past 2 years of my MBA life, my memory pushed the rewind button a little further and took me to a time that could probably be called as the best phase in most of our lives: COLLEGE DAYS. There are some moments that remain in our hearts forever and there are a few people who however distant they are will still be part of our lives. This post is about one such happy bunch of friends.

Almost 12 years ago (seems like yesterday), we came to BITS Pilani with different motives, ambitions and dreams but with an anxiety and excitement deep inside. We were all put to test immediately in different ways: some missed their loved ones, some cracked to ragging, some couldn’t take the heat of classes and others couldn’t stand the cold outside. But all of us responded in our own unique ways: some made 2 phone calls a day to their moms, while others switched to gate-calls. Some did night outs and others skipped classes for a chai. Some bathed at 6 in the morning while others went 31 days without a shower. Some fell in love, some thought they were in love and others didn’t know Meera Bhavan existed. But one thing we all did: we made friends; we all came together. We bunked classes together, we tried to study together, couldn’t and hence ended up crashing together. We sledged each other in a game of cricket and then bonded over a “sam-chat”. Classes were empty while ANC’s cash registers and Nagar Redi’s account receivables shot up thanks to us. We became friends for life. We became inseparable.

About 10 years ago, we decided to call ourselves: “XMU3 PSPICE”. That might be the geekiest name you would have ever heard, but we are still the coolest bunch you could ever imagine. We had cricket stars, a rock star, sheer entertainers, a could have been politician, an electrician, an artist, an architect, a compere, a director, an orator, some prolific singers, many bathroom singers, geniuses and an Albert Einstein. And all of us had the time of our life. 4 years flew by and there was never a dull moment. Well, all good things come to an end. Words cannot describe the emotions that engulfed me when we parted. I wondered will life ever be the same again.

All of us left college to make a mark in this world and are still at it. Some became what they wanted to be and others loved what they became. Some settled down, some are still looking to mingle while others prefer to keep their status top secret. Spread all over the world, we do different things and have different lives, but not a single day goes by without a small thought or a quick chat or a long yap with one another. And every time we meet, we reminisce and relive those wonderful days of our lives all over again. Life is not the same anymore and it won’t be. But I am sure we will all have time to share each other’s little moments of joy or grief, chat on a Saturday afternoon about the ridiculous things we did in college or catch a movie together. That is all we need to take a trip down memory lane!

Ant, Bogsie, Chicken, Dino, Dipon, Dobhi, Ganda, Harish, Jaggi, Jty, Kaluvi, Karadi, Kath, Keetu, Kela, Kuja, Malli, Pku, Rangu, Rbha, Rod, Saip, Sesh, Shaathu, Shanki, Sprayee, SSS, Truc – This is for you guys. Love you all!


Monday, May 2, 2011


What does rain mean to us? Well, different things to different people and nothing to a select few. I think rain reminds us of our very existence. No, I am not trying to be dramatic or poetic here. It detaches us from our frenzy lives and makes us enjoy the smaller joys in life to which we have become ignorant of. It makes some of us bunk school or work to sit next to the window and gaze for hours. It makes a few of us (the crazier bunch) go out in the rain, come back absolutely drenched, change and then head out again.

I knew I was missing something. Filter coffee! (Okay… the not so lucky ones can go to Coffee Day or Starbucks). Sipping filter coffee on a rainy day is pure bliss. And it is damn simple. All you need is a coffee filter and some finely ground fresh coffee roast (45% chicory!). Put 3 spoons of coffee powder into the filter and add 1 glass of hot boiling water to it. Once it filters, add the decoction to a cup of milk and throw in a generous dose of sugar. (Diet watchers use sugar free and diabetics make sure that your spouse is not around!) And voila! Elixir for a rainy morning is ready. For people in love: make one cup, head to your balcony, hold hands, sip some coffee, experience rain and celebrate life!

When rain comes, the earth wears cologne, sun takes a nap, clouds clap to celebrate and trees dance in joy to a composition of the wind. A rabbit makes a run to its hole. Then it changes its mind and slowly pops its head out to enjoy the rain in installations. A peacock shows its moves. The deer looks impressed. Flowers turn greedy and try to collect as many rain drops as possible. Leaves beneath them take the left overs. Everybody seems to want a piece of rain. So, why exactly do you hide in your living room or run for an umbrella? Come out and watch the leaves share a kiss with the rain drops.

I cannot tell you enough about rain. Nobody can. But I just have a few parting words:
Rain lovers, have you tried having ice cream in rain? It is divine. Try it the next time Mr.Rain comes to visit.
And skeptics, try the 1 minute rule! Shed your fears or inhibitions or whatever it is, go out in the rain, close your eyes, spread your arms and let the water droplets shower you with kisses for a minute. I am sure you will thank me after that. You may think it is insanity. I agree. But trust me; it is the most beautiful form of insanity you could ever imagine!
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