My thoughts and experiences about the nuances and hazards of dealing with money

Of all the factors that has divided and fragmented society, money has risen to top that list. Now money is not the same as wealth. It is commonly said that someone is wealthy and prosperous. Wealthy denotes someone who possesses wealth but there is no similar word to someone who possesses money. It is never mentioned as rich and prosperous and there is a reason to it. Wealth adds value to our lives in many different forms and that is how we become prosperous. Money only helps us to buy things and every one of those things are perishable. This is why money does not add value to our lives which in turn never makes our lives prosperous.

Back in 2008 when it was supposedly my “peak age” for marriage, my parents wanted me to buy an apartment in Bangalore where I was working at that time. I was aghast. There was no point in buying an apartment under the assumption that my marriage was going to happen. Then there was the demon of the housing loan to reckon with. I am bemused by how people queue up to take housing loans to buy apartments and houses, especially in burgeoning cities like Bangalore and in exhausted cities like Mumbai. Now let’s say I take up a housing loan for 20 years. I am effectively committing myself to paying back the EMIs every month without a break for 20 years. And how can I be so sure that I am going to be alive and healthy for the next 20 years? The funny part is, people look to reducing the monthly EMI amount by extending loan repayment period. Banks are all the more happy because they know they will end up getting back more money. The sinister thought behind it is, the longer the repayment period, the less likely it is of a proper full repayment which means when borrowers default, banks can easily take over the properties. The ideal way of repayment is to pay almost double of monthly EMIs and close the loan as quickly as possible. The advantage here is, even if we default on payments for a few months, banks will not proceed with any sort of action. But the catch here is, if we try to close off a loan faster, we have to pay some extra money as penalty on foreclosure. This is the best indicator that banks are more interested in what the borrowers have given as security to the bank than the money they have lent.

In cities, parking space for cars are available only in apartment buildings. This means to own a car, we need an apartment that costs may be 5-10 times or even more that of the car. This is how money lures us in into it’s honey trap. The education system trains us to become employees in the corporate world. Then everything that is associated with money takes over our lives. Then social status comes into the picture and social status rises when we start “owning” things. This perception pushes our needs to ridiculously high levels. Own a house, own a car, the list goes on and we embark on our Sindbad journey in the pursuit of more and more money, with little realization that we are being turned into money churning machines. We are simply working hard and enslaving ourselves to the banks to hold on to the things we have bought with money. Add to this the fact that everything we have bought is perishable and may need to be replaced anytime means even more money required.

Money never makes us prosperous because it does not allow us to add value to our lives and without adding value to our own lives, we cannot add value to other’s lives. How Antilla, the mansion of India’s business tycoon Anil Ambani stands out in the extremely crowded and tough living conditions of Mumbai is the shining example. Prosperity reflects on us only when our surroundings are also prosperous. Money keeps us locked to the extent that we actually stop noticing the value of everything else in the world. I was deep in my search for employment in 2013 after completing my MBA when my dad went down with a cardiac arrest. Because he is physically very strong, the experience did not shake him even though he had reached the brink of death. But taking the advice of reducing salt intake too seriously, he literally stopped taking salt. After a few days I noticed strange changes in his mannerism and behavior. On a Sunday evening I insisted and dragged the doctor into the hospital for dad’s check up and that was when we found out that his sodium level was fast declining and he would have had possibly gone into a coma in the next couple of days.

Now what if I had been employed at that time? First of all I would have had been working in a city away from my parents. My mom would have had never noticed the changes I saw in dad. He would have had most likely ended up in coma and I would have had spent almost all the money I was earning on his treatment and my travel. It was a massive learning curve. My keen sense and better understanding of human anatomy made sure I did not have to spend money when I was not earning. If there is a way to earn money there will always be ways to spend the money as well. We can never hold on to money. In a place like India with ever rising inflation and decreasing value of money, the concept of “owning” a house, having a “decent” bank balance and living a “retired” life has taken the biggest hit. We have evolved into a situation similar to that of animals and birds in the wild. They have to seek out their food each and every day regardless of all difficult situations or they will die. If they stop trying they will die. We have also reached that critical state where we have to find ways to earn money till we die. Ironically, as per the Bible, when the “Gods” created us, we were created as beings that were meant to lord over the animals and not live like them.

Now here is what I have learnt through these experiences. First of all, we need to find our balance with nature again. No living being has the ability to destroy nature for it’s own needs except us. We cannot cut the same branch of the tree we are sitting on. The branch will take us on it’s way down. More money is alarmingly proportionate to more destruction of nature now. Bangalore’s geography is dotted with numerous lakes. Almost all the small lakes have been covered up for construction and many of the bigger lakes are being openly used to drain human waste. Then people keep complaining about lack of drinking water. Why? Bangalore has been taken over by the migrant community from all over India who come in search of jobs in the IT industry. Now these people are in Bangalore to make a living and have no time to understand and solve environmental issues of the city. The result is, as per reports, Bangalore is set to become the first unlivable city in India very soon. When we make nature unstable for our needs, nature will take course corrective action to bring back it’s stability and the consequences can be disastrous as we found out with the recent floods in Kerala. More people move into cities like Bangalore every year, creating more need for living spaces and water further depleting the city’s already stretched and dwindling natural resources. We have to stop our war with nature because we can never win it and will only lead to our own destruction.

It is funny how so much is spoken about finding work-life balance without any proper understanding of it. We wake up in the morning at a particular time so that we can finish n number of chores and activities and leave for work at a particular time so that we can reach our work place at a particular time. In the night, we sleep at a particular time so that we can wake up at a particular time next morning. So essentially when we become corporate employees, the corporate takes possession of our lives and time. Our entire 24 hours gets sucked up into our jobs and we get paid only for 8 hours. The balance we need to find is not in work and life but in our need for money. If we learn to find contentment in what we have and look at our needs sensibly, our need for money will decrease considerably. This, in turn, will free our time and energy and help us to focus on creating value in our lives. IT industry in India is notorious for the fact that as employees gain more experience their value decreases. Plenty of IT professionals have become stagnant in their jobs or have lost jobs and are not able to find employment again because they simply do not know anything else to do and did not consider learning and mastering new skills.

It no longer makes sense to “own” anything. This has given rise to business opportunities like renting cars, bikes and even household items. The amount we spend on renting a house or apartment will invariably match up to the amount we spend on maintaining our own. Back in 2008, a colleague in the Netherlands was refusing to own a car because of traffic and parking space issues. Our population has only increased in 10 years. From owning a house the challenge has shifted to living in a decent neighborhood with the availability of drinking water and proximity to essential outlets and services. But paramount now is to not get stuck in a single source of income. Develop skills that would open up potential opportunities for several streams of money. Chasing money should be just like how our body reduces fat when we start working out. Our body instinctively knows how much fat we need based on our daily requirements and burns only what it understands is excess fat. Similarly, if we have a fine understanding of how to simplify our life, we will automatically seek only the money we need to live that life.

I never chase money because money destroys human values and relationships and maroons us in our own little islands. Money clouds our judgement and makes us take wrong decisions. I make sure not to judge anyone in terms of money. It only takes an hour of madness in the stock market for a millionaire to become a pauper. Not having to focus on the money I was earning was what helped me focus on my dad and save him. I seek skill development, self improvement and building good relationships with people. Money, wealth, prosperity, everything will come but there is one question that always keeps bothering me. When all of it comes, will I be ready to use it in the best possible ways? This is what keeps me on my toes and always alert to every potential opportunity. Understanding the nuances of money and it’s potential hazards is the only way to not get enslaved to it.

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Another scam in India: why it should and doesn’t matter

Indian economy has been limping after the twin strikes of Demonetization and GST implementation which came on top of sluggish economic growth and ever rising inflation. The economy did not take that hard a beating as most of the other countries in the wake of the financial meltdown of 2008 because the RBI had smartly manipulated the value of the Rupee. But I realized our currency is not so robust after all when I read about how a change in the value of the government bonds in the US had triggered tremors in the value of the Rupee. To add to all of this, two diseases have been plaguing the Indian economy and have prevented it from growing to the levels it should have long back. Black money and scams.
Tax evasion is a part of daily life in India and all that money goes underground immediately which then flows out to bank accounts in countries like Switzerland and Monaco. There is a reality check that can be done with regards to tax payment in India and it can throw up staggering details. The agricultural class and religious centers do not have to pay taxes, business class evades tax as much as they can and unemployed people and people below the poverty line cannot pay tax. So where does the majority of tax money come from? Just the working middle class. What is their % in the total population of India? 20% max. So taxes from 20% people run the entire country and also supports the rest 80% of the population. There is another catch here. There is no country in the world that is free of corruption. In developed countries, 80% of taxpayer’s money goes back into the development and maintenance of the infrastructure and 20% goes into corruption which happens at the highest levels. In India, the percentages are just the opposite. 80% of the money goes into corruption from the grass root to the highest levels and with 20% of the money we have still developed so much. Imagine where 80% could have taken us. The black money ends up in the black hole which is lost forever. Some of it is being speculated to be flowing back into the country as FDI.

 
Scam is like a fashion statement now. Everyone is trying to pull off scams in their own ways. Nigerian scamsters are constantly sending spam mails to trick unsuspecting victims. One reason why the erstwhile Congress government fell away in the 2014 elections was because many of the scams that happened under the noses during their 10 year regime were brought to light. But no political party can wash their hands off and plead innocence here. For a big scam to succeed, the entire system has to be corrupt and corruption can nurture where there is unaccounted money. So it all ties together. The recession of 2008 was completely scam driven. Just like black money fraudsters, these scamsters find loopholes in the banking and financial systems to avail massive loans and get away from paying them back resulting in financial collapses of banks and other lenders. Vijay Mallya is the biggest fish under the scanner now and now a new one called Nirav Modi has leapt into limelight in the past week.
Banks in India are struggling to contain loans of all categories from becoming NPAs. Most of their pain is because of business loans that become NPAs and they are simply not able to get even their principal amounts back. This is how the corrupt system rears up it’s ugly head here. All loans are disbursed through one of the branches of the banks. For normal loans, branches initiate strict checks and ensure that either through timely repayment or recovery procedures, loans can be closed. But business loans never go through the same channel of verification. The top level executives of the banks are connected to the political and business class so they ensure that loans are disbursed without enough verification because it is common knowledge that such loans will never pass a thorough verification. No business deals are completely clean and transparent so business loans will also have a dark side to it. Vijay Mallya reportedly told the lending banks that Kingfisher airlines was running on losses and there was no way he could turn it around but the lenders kept pumping in more cash with the hope of making it profitable again. I am not aware of Nirav Modi’s background yet, if dug deep enough, he may be connected or related to the top 1% of the population who call themselves the elitists who control all the major businesses and financial institutions in their countries. Without such connections it is impossible to pull off such big scams and escape from the country so easily.
Now what is the impact of black money and scams on the country’s economy? If the GDP numbers are good, it indicates a thriving economy where people are earning and spending more and this translates to substantial cash flow in the system. The central banks increase the quantity of currency based primarily on 3 critical factors:

1. GDP growth rate

2. Bullion reserves

3. Foreign exchange (FOREX) reserves
When GDP growth rate is good, central banks get enough cash flow to buy gold and silver and expand their bullion reserves. When international trade is on the upswing, FOREX reserves will grow. Central banks use bullion reserves to settle international debt and also lends to bullion banks which in turn does trading in the precious metals market thereby generating cash flow. This entire cash flow gets adversely affected when money goes missing through laundering and scams. Central banks will have to lend out more from it’s bullion reserves to stimulate cash flow thereby shrinking the bullion reserves. Reduced cash flow will affect trade and stall the growth of FOREX reserves. All of this will decrease GDP growth rate and reduce the value of the currency which in turn will shrink the FOREX reserves. Central banks cannot simply print more currency notes because it will lead to inflation.
Back in 2014 during the heat and din of the general elections, when the present PM was claiming to bring back all the laundered black money stashed away in foreign banks, the present CM of Delhi had let out pearls of wisdom to the people and to the media which no one had cared to even hear. He had said that the need of the hour was to first stop any further laundering of black money. There are banks in India that aid the flow of laundered money to foreign banks. These banks have to be neutralized first and their operations have to be decapacitated. Going after stashed money is the next step. The system we are all in is a Matrix and no one bothers about anyone who goes against the system. So a Vijay Mallya or a Nirav Modi will be in the limelight time and again. I am sure there are gigantic fishes with billions or trillions of dollars in debts to banks but are happily living their lives because they are well protected by the system. This is where the imbalance in the economic structure of capitalism has taken the world to. Nothing exemplifies this better than a palatial mansion in Mumbai right in the middle of a large slum area.
Now how does any of all of these matter to the common people? It does but no one has time to know about it or ask questions. A struggling economy fraught with inflation and unemployment means people are having to constantly and tirelessly work to find ways to make their ends meet and find even an ounce of prosperity. This effectively neutralises the educated middle class, the ones who are most likely to understand what is going on and ask questions. Questions are the biggest threat to the system so engage people to a level where they do not even have time to understand what is going on. Use the media to blank out truth and reality from the public. Keep the rural population largely illiterate and maintain unemployment and BPL levels. Politicians effectively secure their vote banks and the elitists have total control over the system. 

Is this the rise of Hindu fascism?

There is a super hit Bollywood movie that was released a few years back in which the entire story of the movie is shown as being narrated by one of the protagonists. He is born into a Muslim family and moments after his birth, he is shown lying in the cradle and wailing while his father and relatives are all around him. At that moment, his father decides that he is going to be an engineer when he grows up. From the moment I was born, I started belonging to a certain religion, caste and sub caste. I am supposed to go to temples, marry a Hindu woman and there is an endless list of things that associates me to the religion and it is this association that connects me to the society. Seems I was safer in my mother’s womb. How I wish all of us are able to communicate with one another from the time we are in our respective mother’s wombs.

The society we live in is fraught with divisions and divided mindsets. Divisions based on religions, caste, color, we just keep inventing new ways to create new divides. Money or wealth has been a major dividing factor for thousands of years but we have managed to create innovative divides with that as well. If it was the affluent, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class and below poverty line in the 20th century, the divide is becoming broader as haves and have-nots in the 21st century. The problem is actually not with the divides or boundaries but the conflicts they are triggering. Be it with religion, caste, color or money, one-upmanship creeps in everywhere. We are craving for domination, even among our own kind. The biggest business tycoon in India built the biggest house in the country right in the middle of one of the poorest slums in the most thriving city. Is this because being the most intelligent beings on the planet, our domination over other species is complete but our need to dominate isn’t subsiding? Is this why it is mentioned that the Gods forbade knowledge and intelligence to be passed on to us?

These divides are at work, at every moment of our lives. When those 7 Hindu pilgrims were killed on their way to a renowned Himalayan temple, fingers quickly turned to Muslims. Why? Is it because it happened in a region where Muslim population is in dominance? There is a separatist movement going on in the region and the attack on pilgrims has been attributed as an act of terror by the separatists. It is universally accepted that anyone who indulges in acts of terror does not have any association with any religion because all religions forbid violence and taking lives of fellow beings. All Muslims visit Mecca so they understand the importance of visiting a holy shrine, regardless of religion. I do not and will never believe that a true Muslim would have ordered an attack on the pilgrims. Every act of terrorism has political and/or religious reasons behind them. People’s lives are sacrificed and gets termed as collateral damage to further the wicked and vicious agenda. Terrorism is subjugation and domination through violence and it cannot survive without motive and adequate support.

There is something unique about India that everyone needs to remember at all times. When Christianity and Islam spread to other parts of the world, they were adopted by either nomads with no religion or by nature worshipers. But when these religions came to India, they were adopted by Hindus who were already part of a religious and social structure. Hindus chose to break away from both to welcome and adopt new ideas. Every culture in the world has been welcomed with open arms in India. They have all integrated into Indian society and this has given rise to India’s spectacular religious tolerance and diversity. So when certain Hindus start hate mongering and spewing venom against other religions in the name of protecting Hinduism, let them remember that there are no aliens in India. In the tree of religious tolerance and diversity, all of us have roots in nature worship, the trunk is made of Hinduism and branches are of different religions.

If what is happening now is the rise of Hindu fascism in the name of creating a Hindu exclusive country (Hindu Rashtra) , it is never going to succeed. During the partition of India in 1947, even when a separate country was carved out for Muslims, not all Muslims in India migrated to Pakistan. Many chose to stay back and they were protected from being massacred or forcefully migrated by none other than Hindus. Social media is rife with attempts to divide people in the name of language and geography. Every state in India has it’s own language, culture, food, clothes and even in the way how people look. We all exist together as a country by choice, not by force. There is simply no point in trying to divide the people into north and south Indians. Hindi is the most popular language of the country rather than being the national language and people learn to speak Hindi by choice and circumstances not by coercion. No attempts to change the food habits of people by force is going to succeed. There is a reason why Indians do not rise up in protest together. Through thousands of years, we have endured so much violence, we decided to adapt to changes and become tolerant rather than become resistant. But we did stand up together, when the head of colonialism turned ugly. The intolerance towards divides in the society is growing and if pushed to the tipping point, it won’t be long before the next struggle for freedom begins.

DEMONetization – “Good Times” amidst “surgical” economic destruction

In a previous blog, I had raised my doubts about the true objectives of the sudden and unexpected demonetization initiative by the Government of India. The Government has been veering off course from its initial agenda of targeting black money hoarders and now it is riding on the agenda of cashless economy and this was one of the hidden motives I had mentioned in my blog. Now this is extremely ironical especially because India is a predominantly currency based economy as the majority of the country’s population resides in her rural areas. When questioned about the veil of secrecy behind the initiative, the response given was that it was a surgical strike against black money hoarders. But an initiative of this enormity may have taken months if not years of planning and it is common knowledge that the corporate elite controls the government machinery of almost all countries in the world, so this would never have come through without their knowledge and approval. The corporate elite of the country and their slaves in the government and political establishments are the biggest hoarders of black money so they must have rowed their boats to safety a long time back. I believe finding these elusive creatures is quite easy. Take the list of the top 100 people who provide funding to political parties during general elections and elections in each state and those are the true scamsters. This is why political parties will give an arm and a leg to not reveal the names of the biggest contributors towards their party coffers. Take this group of people out of the scenario and there would be less than a % of people who would be hoarding black money on a significant scale. So it is quite evident that this was not a bugle call to square up against the black money menace. All of this is commonsense and that is why the alarm bell went off in my brain as soon as it became apparent that cash was being taken out of the system. I kept telling my dad this will all unravel with time.

The government is claiming that demonetization will bring in benefits in the longer span of time, but in an economy comprised of more than 50% agriculture, increasing unemployment and inflation and a huge part of the population living below the poverty line, any benefits should be provided immediately simply because there are no guarantees even on the longevity of people’s lifespan. So what are the visible effects of demonetization?

  1. No one saw the demon coming. One fine day, people found out that the higher currency notes have all been declared as invalid and the onus was put on them to get these notes they had in their possession into the banks within a specified period of time. It immediately triggered panic and long, winding queues materialized before each and every bank in no time. The problem with this was, people living in cities have no time to spend in such queues and people in rural areas will not understand a dime about any of this. Adding to the woes was the fact that all ATMs got closed quickly because enough new valid currency notes were not issued to replace the invalid ones, so people had to stand in 3 queues in the banks, first to hand over invalid notes, next to withdraw money and the last one to send money to their beloved and near ones. In the country’s tropical weather conditions, this was nothing less than arduous and excruciating, especially for the older people who are staying on their own.
  1. The impact of the cash crunch on the people in the rural areas has not become evident primarily because mainstream media which has been playing mistress to the government is keeping the truth locked up in its vaults. But a report saying that people have resorted to barter system reveals their plight in entirety.
  1. Online transactions were working without any glitch or disruption during the entire time which led me to suspect that there is lot more going on behind the scene. People in the corporate world who are already knee deep into online transactions have now been pushed neck deep. No cash to shop? No cash to pay bills? No cash to pay in buses? E-commerce websites and e-wallets solve all these artificially created inconveniences for people and are the biggest beneficiaries here.

But the effects that are yet to become completely visible are the worrisome ones.

  1. Reports have come in about tomatoes being sold at 50 paise per kilo in places where they are cultivated. But I bought tomatoes a day back at Rs. 20 for a kilo. There are retail stores that are buying agricultural products directly from the farmers. They must be making a windfall out of this. Not only must they be selling on their own, the cheap prices at which they are buying must be allowing them to buy larger quantities and become dealers for other retailers and small to medium traders.
  1. Pushing people more into online transactions actually has the effect of making them spend more and that is being reflected in the way online retailers are advertising themselves more aggressively on all media platforms. There is an increasing trend of people taking loans to celebrate festivals and that propensity gets extended to online shopping for the entire family on credit simply because societal customs have to be followed which is just showing off in reality. E-commerce websites are making a windfall out of this.
  1. Cash deposits into bank accounts beyond a certain value will now attract more taxes and hefty fines which clearly means that the system does not want ordinary people to have money with them. Estimates say about 1.25 lakh people from the working class form the crux of the tax payers with zero benefits in return primarily because of increasing population and rampant corruption. Pay taxes right from the toothbrush to the houses to the income, zero social security in return, then have money for health insurance, family expenses, children’s education, repay loan EMIs and top all of this by finding more money to save. All of this has to come out from people’s salaries which increase once in 3-4 years in a country of high inflation where prices of even essential commodities can go up anytime. Every single penny is being squeezed out of the working class.
  1. There is an ulterior motive behind making live currency notes invalid out of the blue. Banks were all dried up of cash, bad loans had spiraled out of control and their financial statements had become sordid. So where is all the money? Most of it has either been funneled out of the country as black money or is stuck with the corporate borrowers who only borrow but never pay back because of the clout they exercise over the system. Banks have no way to squeeze borrowed money out of them and to add to their woes, they have to relegate existing loans to the status of bad loans and keep lending more money to the same defaulters. A case in point here is the story of Vijay Mallya and his now defunct Kingfisher airlines. Banks kept pumping more money into the business in spite of seeing mounting operating losses year on year. So where is the rest of the money? With ordinary working class people. How to get the money out of them? Make their money invalid and tell them to return it to the banks. Now that the bank coffers are full, bad loans will be wiped off and banks will be able to lend more money to fuel corporate ambitions.

All of these are clear indicators that the corporate elite in alliance with the political class is taking complete control of the society, subjugating people slowly but surely and creating a societal divide based on haves and have-nots. This can be best personified by a 127 floor residential complex right in the middle of a slum area in the most thriving metro city in India. Owned by one of the most powerful businessmen in the country, the stark contrast between that building and its surrounding area is a clear example that prosperity in the country is meant only for the elite ones. Add to this the fact that the government is pushing for a cashless economy when the entire world knows 90% of the country’s transactions run on hard currency and clearly indicates that the government machinery does not even care about the hardships people have to face. Using the media to infuse patriotic overtones into people’s psyche to garner their support is another lame game the government is playing and it has worked to an extent as well. First was the so called surgical attack on terrorism across the border which was inflated and presented before the country by the media to stoke patriotism and on its heels came the so called surgical attack on black money and people lamely connected it to patriotism which was clearly the objective of the government. I am not surprised by any of this. This is a country where people exchange their voting cards for blankets and sell their votes for liquor. People choose to stay poor, illiterate and ignorant and the system does its bit to keep them that way so that voting is done based on money, liquor and caste rather than growth and development of the country. Autocracy or dictatorship from here will not be enough to surprise me.