Month: September 2016

The Dream

She sighed as she saw the three musketeers sleep. They were her lifeline – her husband, son and daughter. To watch them snore now, felt exhilarating. After a torturous day, the night seemed to bring some respite. It had been a Sunday and they had given her the hardest of times. Their levels of menace had been exactly in descending order of their ages – the maximum came from the ‘laat-sahab’ (the mental term she often used to refer to her forty-year old husband, Karan) and the least from her two-year old daughter Dhwani. The seven-year old son Rohan had been somewhere in between, shaking hands with his dad every time he succeeded in compelling Shruti to raise her voice in irritation or worse, whispering something in his baby sister’s ears every time she acted obedient to Shruti, as if in an attempt to instigate her into rebellion. Their collective strength reminded her of a team, of which she was the only opponent. All said and done, both the team and the opponent had no existence without each other.

She climbed on to her king-size bed, where she could see three open-mouthed beasts, snoring at different sound levels. She sneaked in like a thief, next to Rohan, who slept on the side of the bed. Next to him, on the other side was Dhwani, with her face cupped by Karan, as if in protection. Shruti was scared on waking up any or all of these demons, in the fear of having a night as disastrous as the day.

Like every other Indian home-maker, she too dreaded Sundays and public holidays. Those were the days when even the luxury of an afternoon nap seemed rare. The Laat-Sahab would be at his laziest best and compete with his kids on that front. While kids would throw toffee wrappers around, he would throw wet towels and used clothes on the bed, hurling loud instructions to Shruti, to pick them up and do whatever she had to with them. She would completely lose her mind when he climbed on to the bed, with his footwear on. She would almost throw a fit, much to the amusement of the Laat Sahab and his toddler team. After every screaming-yelling-exploding session, all three would look at her with amazement in their eyes and a smile on their lips – as if witnessing a mad woman pelt stones on the road. It was those moments that made her realise that it was best to shut up with these folks, than argue.

Being at home with Karan for a full day, involved lot of effort, most of which was directed towards running away from him, from his rather naughty displays of affection, which he called ‘love’. ‘This is not love!’, she would yell and he would giggle at the top of his voice. ‘You can never understand what a woman needs – all she wants is you and your time’, she would say, to which he would immediately jump to a sitting position, with one knee on the floor, hold her hand and say, as if in jest, ‘I’m your slave Madam. Thou haseth all my time’. At this rather mocking interpretation of her feelings, which she strongly believed represented those of other women as well, her face would go red and eyes, wild. Only worse, she would then hear the giggles of her children, as they would come out clapping from some corner of the house, giving her the impression of a drama staged against her and her alone.

Despite all this jeer and jest, the Laat Sahab was the man she loved, the man who knew her, the man who understood things that she understood. Only after several years of marriage had she come to realise that ‘love’ meant different things to different genders. That was the way people had been wired. Thus, most of her earlier displays of anger and frustration for her husband’s so-called indifference to her feelings, were now merely angry displays of love, humour and togetherness, something she believed the children enjoyed and Karan savoured. It was something no Sunday was complete without.

To her, Karan represented yet another child, in a man’s body. He was moody, naughty, carefree and an extremely impulsive being. This coupled with his madness for his wife and the respect for her choices, had reduced their relationship to a more fundamental level, when they did not even require a word from each other to understand that they were and were always meant to be, with each other. Not only a fierce lover, he was a passionate father too, of the kinds who would stand before his children like an armour, before even the air could brush against them. The children were so dependent on his protectiveness for them and the fervour with which he was ready to fight the world for them. In fact, the way he slept with Dhwani now, also represented his own insecurities, his fear of the world and the delicateness of his daughter.

And all this, when Dhwani was not their biological child.

She had been borne to Shruti’s younger sister two years ago, and rendered orphan nearly ten months ago, when her parents had succumbed to injuries after a road accident. With the unflinching support of Karan and her own agenda of protecting her from blood-thirsty relatives, Shruti had brought the child home. Since her entry into the house, Karan had turned a new leaf. While he had been in the habit of inculcating toughness in his son (thanks to the macho-ness he often associated with himself), the gentleness with which he treated the little girl was unparalleled. They ate together, slept together and were virtually inseparable. That had been one thing that had brought about a complete image makeover for Karan, in his wife’s mind. ‘How selfless a man!’ she would think, every time Karan spoke to her about how complete their family was and that they should never think of any more children. It was a kind of selflessness she had only heard of, before Dhwani had walked into their lives, slowly, softly and permanently.

She chuckled as she saw Dhwani turn to Karan’s side and slide her tiny, white arm under his shirt collar. That’s the way they usually slept.

Shruti did not realise when and how the tireness of the day pulled her into the dark and soothing abyss of sleep. As her mind relaxed, her eyeballs began to roll from one corner of the eye to another and thus, began the dream.

They were on a beautiful sea, on a small wooden boat on bright, blue waters. The air was cold, and felt almost surreal as it hit their cheeks in specks. The sun was hidden behind the large white clouds, which looked like low-hanging giant heaps of white cotton candy. No matter which direction one looked in, all one could see were beautiful cone-laden pine trees, lush tall grass and brightly coloured, innocuously large flowers. The air hushed in their ears, and so did the gentle waves. Every now and then, the humming of some bee would break their spell of admiration of the surroundings.

The wooden boat they were on, floated on the vast sea, like a lifeless, empty plastic bottle. The old boatman put in all his strength to propel the boat forward with every movement of the oar. Probably in an attempt to break through the drudgery and boredom in his own life, he would, every now and then, turn around to witness the flamboyant displays of affection the four-member family seated in his boat shared. On some occasions, he would witness Shruti, shyly holding Karan’s hand and on some others, Karan signalling naughty things to Shruti, with his round, expressive eyes, who in turn, giggled like a teenager in love.

Karan sat with Rohan in his arms, while Shruti tightly held Dhwani, who was too engrossed playing with the black plastic beaded eyes of the pink teddy bear she held in her hands. It was a beautiful family – a happy family that needed no one else.

Shruti smiled in her sleep as the dream continued.

As if in a haze, things began to change course. Suddenly, the bright-day sky began to darken. White cotton candy was dispelled forcefully by black, scary-looking clouds that stared at the sea in revenge. The humming of bees was replaced by strange noises – of fishermen shouting, the ringing of death bells, of warnings alarms. 

‘The time is not right’, said the boatman, as he turned around this time. Karan could sense fear in those tired and wrinkled eyes, the fear of a watery death.

‘What do you mean?’ Karan started.

Even before the old man could get a chance to answer, may be even before the words could reach his ears, a giant wave of dark blue deathly water began to engulf the little boat from all sides. The boat dwindled and rocked and propped aimlessly under the influence of the tide. Karan and Shruti held hands, as they clutched the children in their arms, more tightly in a protective reflex.

‘It’s probably time to go, Karan’, she said, as she tightly squeezed his fingers, as if for the last time.

‘Not yet’, said the boatman. ‘We can be saved….’

‘But how? What are you waiting for? Tell us – what should we do?’, said a panicked female voice.

‘We can survive only if we manage to reduce the load on the boat. That’s the only way out now…Hurry’, came the even more panicked reply.

‘What do you mean?’ yelled Shruti., when she heard a frantic voice shouting ‘Throw her out!’.

She looked at the boatman in confusion, only to realise that the words had come from Karan. She directed her attention to him, in horror.

‘What the hell do you mean Karan? Who are you referring to?’

‘Throw Dhwani out. She’s the only one we can afford to lose’, came Karan’s reply.

Even before Shruti could raise her hands to nudge him on the shoulders, she felt strong finger nails gouging her arms, as Karan tried to pull Dhwani from Shruti’s lap.

There was a scuffle and a sound – a dreadful melody of Dhwani’s cries, Shruti’s curses and Rohan’s horror. After nearly two minutes, there came complete silence.

The tide has receded, the sun shone again and the sea lookrd calm and friendly again. There was however, once difference – Dhwani was absent.

Shruti looked around the boat. She could see Karan and Rohan to her left and the freckled boatman moving the oars. And yes, a pink one-eyed teddy-bear in the water, not too far from the boat.

‘Aaaaaarghhh’, she shouted in horror, as the dream came to an end. Her shriek was shrill enough to rouse the other three occupants on her king-size bed.

She suddenly grew conscious of three pairs of curious eyes looking at her, not in surprise, but in disgust.

‘Not again Mom’, said Rohan. ‘Why don’t you sleep in another room’ he said, as he turned to his father’s side.

‘The same boat dream again, is it?’ asked Karan, in concern.

‘You keep quiet! How dare you throw her in the water? You loser!’ she said in uncontrollable rage, that caused her mouth to foam as she spoke.

‘Who did Papa throw in the water Mamma’, asked a long-lashed, big-eyed Dhwani, still unable to imagine what could have happened at that hour of the night.

Dhwani’s question suddenly made Shruti feel foolish.

‘I am sorry bhaiya’, said he, with his hands folded before his chest, in his usual manner of mischief. Next time, when you must reduce the load off the boat, throw me in the water instead and sail ashore safely with your kids. OK?’

She didn’t realise when she was giggling, and so was he.

Image taken from Google images.

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Lesson #5: The why’s and how’s of Savings

So far, we spoke a great deal about incomes and expenses, their types and other accounting jargon. Not a very pleasant read for sure. For a change, let me talk to you about something that sounds much better than ‘Income’ and way better than ‘Expenses’. Something that assures us of a better future, of a much more secure environment – yes, it is Savings.

Now that you’ve finished reading the first four lines of this post, you are very likely to read through the whole thing. For that favour, let me express my gratitude by admitting to you that the title of this post ‘The why’s and how’s of Savings’ is rather misleading. I call it misleading because no one, including myself, can tell you ‘how’ to save. At most, people with some financial knowledge can guide you through channels of investing, which begins only after you gave managed to save.

For better understanding, let me divide this post into three sections:

  1. Why to save?
  2. How to save?
  3. What to do with your savings?: The Investment process

1.Why to Save?

Some may find this question rather oxymoronic in the sense that isn’t it obvious that we should save? Haven’t be been taught to stash away small coins and notes in piggy banks even as children?

While most of us may agree that saving is a good habit, very few of us look at the explanation to the phenomenon in a logical manner. Think about this – we save because we must live a long (plus uncertain) life. Really? But doesn’t that make human life sound rather depressing?

Well, even if it does sound that way, it is the sad truth. All our problems relating to savings and investments would have come to an end, had we been born to live a short life, the duration of which was known to us at birth. But the reality is way different. Not only is an average human expected to live for decades, his problems are compounded by uncertainty – uncertainty as to when he may fall sick, when he may break a leg, when there may be a medical emergency in the family, when he may die and so forth. At the grass-root level, it is uncertainty makes a man save. By saving, what we are essentially doing is that we are sacrificing a portion of our current consumption for future consumption, i.e. curbing a little pleasure today to gain much more pleasure tomorrow.

We are being conservative in providing for something that could go wrong in the future. Do you now understand why we insure our lives and property? For the same reason – uncertainty.

Now think of this – if I were born for a month, which was also something I knew, wouldn’t I spend everything I earned in that period in living the best life possible? I would spend on luxuries and all-the-nice things in the world without any desire to save. By the way, why should I save when I know I shall live no more? However, this argument misses something crucial to our existence – emotions. We save and insure our lives, not only to provide for ourselves, but to secure the future of those we love, our family and our dependents, even after we may not be around. All said and done, it all boils down to uncertainty.

I hope that through these lines I have been able to provide you a psychological (philosophical too perhaps!) explanation to the need to save.

2.How to save?

‘How to save’ is entirely an individual’s business, which involves no rocket science at all. Let’s look back at whatever we read so far. Savings is simply the difference between Income and Expenses. In other words, it represents that portion of our Income which we ‘did not choose’ to spend in this period.

Putting it rather simplistically,

Savings = Income – Expenses

Given the equation above, we clearly know that savings directly depend upon two things – Income and Expenses. Therefore, to be able to change the volume of our current saving levels, we must change either Income or Expenses or both.

To put things even more lucidly, I claim that one cannot increase Savings unless she:

  • Increases her level of Income OR
  • Decreases her level of Expenses OR
  • Increases her level of Income AND decreases her level of Expenses

Unfortunately, the truth remains that we cannot bring significant changes to our Income levels, unless over a long period of time. This leaves us with very little choice. All we can do is to endeavour to increase our saving levels through reduction in expenses. And which expense group should we target – discretionary and variable expenses, i.e. those which remain within our control.

3.What to do with the savings?: The Investment Process

This is by far the most important question for any saver. While cutting down expenses and generating savings is only nearly thirty percent of the task, the fruit from the act of saving remains un-reaped till the amounts have been invested carefully and meaningfully.

What does this mean?

Do you remember the lesson on Basic Building Blocks? We talked about the difference between Assets and Expenses? While both involve outflow of money, Assets represents possessions which are expected to generate future benefits for us, Expenses generate utility only in the period in which they are incurred. When we talk about saving money and investing it, we are talking about creation of Assets. By parking our saved funds into sound investment vehicles, we convert Income into Assets. How?

Remember that Savings are ultimately left-over portions of Income. By putting them in saving instruments such as fixed deposits or mutual funds or elsewhere, we are creating Assets that shall be with us in times of need in the future. Not only this, an investment of Rs. 10 in a good saving vehicle will come back to us as may be Rs. 14 after ten years. (This is because of the power of compounding, which we shall talk about in subsequent posts). This means that saving any amount today gives you benefits in the future, of an amount significantly larger than what you had originally saved. Isn’t that like a lottery? It is – because saving has done no one any harm. It won’t harm you too!

Investing your funds:

The act of putting your savings into carefully-selected financial instruments is referred to as Investing. Similarly, the vehicles you have parked your funds into are called your Investments. You may be pleased to know that for any individual as well as companies and partnerships, Investments comprise Assets. (You’re right – companies save too!).

Before one gets into the where’s and how’s of Investing, let’s talk about something much more fundamentally important – your risk appetite.

Now what is that?

Risk appetite or risk preferences refer to the risk-taking ability of an individual, which are shaped by his individual circumstances such as age, family size, family composition etc. Since every human being is unique, so are his risk preferences.

Theoretically speaking, on the basis of risk preferences, an individual may fall into any of the three classes – risk averse, risk-neutral and risk-loving. A knowledge of one’s risk type is the key to understanding what type of financial instruments fits us. Let’s quickly understand what each type means:

Risk averse: These represent conservative investors, who would much rather have security of their money, rather than high returns. They are OK doing with lower returns, as long as the total risk to their funds remains low. Typical investment choices for risk-averse investors are fixed deposits with bank, post-office deposits, precious metals, etc. A typical example of a risk-averse investor is one of a sole bread winner in a family of six dependents or may be that of a fifty-six year old Central Government employee, due for retirement in the next four years. People close to retirement usually prefer to park their savings in low-risk instruments which can assure of a fixed cash flow every month after they retire. On the other hand, people with high incomes, a safe future in terms of a well-diversified investment portfolio, may not hesitate from parking a certain portion of their savings in risky instruments.

Risk-loving: These represent investors with a very high risk appetite. Their focus remains single – high returns on investment. To be able to attain that objective, they do not mind taking on very high risk. Typical instruments for this class represent equity markets, shares and scrips, futures and currency markets etc.

Risk-neutral: This is the residual category, representing investors who remain largely indifferent, and fall somewhere in between risk-averse and risk-loving investors.  

Anyway, your task till the next post is to think of your risk-type: are you risk-averse, risk-neutral or risk-loving? Once you know your risk type, understanding the most suitable investment opportunities available out there becomes much easier.

In the next post, we talk about the several different investment options (I had thought of discussing it here, but then the post would be too word-heavy) based on risk preferences.

Thank you for reading and have a nice week!

Image taken from Google Images

Euro: 10/10/2009 – 21/9/2016

Tears trickle down my eyes as I write this, but write I must.

My pug Euro passed away today evening. It is the time to grieve perhaps, but memories keep haunting me. No sooner than I wipe one set of tears, another set is on its way. Has to be right, he taught me what noone else could – selflessness. Here’s how he came into our lives:

I was twenty three years old and badly needed company. I was on the lookout for a pet who could provide me with unlimited companionship, uninterrupted time and almost round-the-clock willingness to sleep, which happened to be my favourite ‘hobby’ back then. Vaibhav, my husband now and good friend then suggested buying a pug. I still remember his words “Get a pug AJ! These guys are too lazy to even bark. Just the perfect fit for you.” I trusted Vaibhav enough to contest his suggestion. After approvals were denied in the family, matters got stuck at finances. A pug puppy back then cost nearly twenty-five thousand rupees and luckily my savings were almost greater than equal to that amount.

Side-stepping sanctions has always given me a kick of an unexplained kind- something I have wanted to do again and again. This time was no exception. Thus came Euro, a three-month old pug baby then. He was, however, the exact opposite of why I had decided to get him – hyper-active, naughty and ego-centric. His energy levels often made me think of an aircraft engine fitted into a Tata Nano car. His use of mental faculties, calculated jumps and spots of urine and defecation made him notorious within a month of his arrival.

The notoreity, however, didn’s last long. Expectations take very little time to change, all it takes is a jolt. Gradually people had begun to acknowledge his presence, his ways and the fact that he was a member of the family. Even people who at first had chosen to resent him or ensure that he never come in the first place were head over heels in love with him. The biggest spat between all family members would start in the evening and coins were tossed to decide who would get to sleep with him that night. Having him sleep on the same bed felt like having a snuggly teddy bear, who snored and purred, just in the right rhythms to arouse your adoration for him.

He was almost eight months old when I had to leave the city for a Ph.D. The object of visiting Mom’s place henceforth, became – to meet Euro. He represented a baby in a family that for long, hadn’t had one. People went to shop for themselves, but ended up buying things for him – clothes, accessories, bowls, candies and what not. We often joked about him being a hard-core Marwari – he loved papads, savouries and even the signature curries we cooked at home. We always took great pride in telling others who came to meet us, that we had never fed him any food that did not befit humans – he ate what we did, in our plates.

He was almost two when we found out that he was epileptic. Just like him, even we, members of the family, had accepted the fact in our own ways. We would no longer panic when he had a seizure, give him the necessary first aid and then wait for him to get back to consciousness. Till today, when he left us, he was on anti-convulsants.

Last couple of months had been rough for him – he was old (six plus dog-years), obese and unusually lethargic. There was, however, no abatement in his mischief. He left not, the slightest opportunity to make us smile, to grab all eye balls and to attract our attention to what he believed to be the centre of the universe – himself.

I was not with him as he breathed his last today evening. The dampness in my eyes is not because I grieve, it is for my helplessness of not being able to feel him, his hands, his tiny, leathery nose and pull the folds on his cheeks, as he leaves us for a new world. His earthly journeys are over and so is the suffering. Some part of me is relieved and that probbaly has to do with the fact that I’m reasonably sure (and yes I am) that his body was only an impediment to his goals in life- it constrained him and now that he has left its confines, he moves on to the expanses he has always deserved, open grasslands and vast skies where there are no walls he might end up bumping into as he jumps like a rabbit. He leaves behind humanly machinations to experience the bliss of being in the company of beings who can understand the selflessness with which he made us smile, the loyalty with which he gave us company and the limitless love, lessons of which he leaves behind.

I love you Euro and we shall surely meet again. If our paths have crossed once, they shall again. For sure.

Image: The first time I held him (December 2009)

 

 

The Girl behind the Wheel

Unlike hilariously unique family members or disastrous security guards,  this post is something that helps me pour my heart out, as I write each word. It’s something I have been thinking about a million times a day and will continue to, till I pen it down and press the ‘publish’ button on my blog.

I have always wanted to drive a car. As a young girl, driving was not really about reaching my destination on my own, in my own vehicle, but an attempt to assure myself of my own coolness. Most importantly, as a child, I have associated being in the driver’s seat with a position of power. It’s like feeling ‘The car is in MY control. I can steer it out of a mess or drag it into one.’ In short, it’s the classic I’m-the-one type of feeling. However, everything we aspire to do or like for that matter, may not come so easily. Let me tell you how.

Till the age of about twenty-five or so, I have had very limited faith in myself. My rationality clouded by self-questioning and confidence inhibited by the fear of being mocked, has manifested itself in what people call ‘low self-esteem’. In fact, I didn’t know I suffered from it, till the time I managed to pull myself out. Those times remind me of assuming things that were never really said, jokes that were never cracked, and situations that always appeared to be so negative and intimidating. It’s like viewing the world and the people around you with a coloured glass on your eyes. It’s only when you remove the tint, that you realise how mistaken you’ve been.

The self-esteem issue does not spare us even in the simplest of things – in situations with people we love, with people we call family. Trust me, in those times, even the minutest of things could reinforce my belief that all I was and could ever be was  – a good-for-nothing!

As a young teenager who always envied her elder sister for her immaculate sense of the cars she drove, the speed with which she could overtake bigger vehicles and not to mention, the confident races she won over random hooligans, driving their Dad’s hugely expensive cars, on the streets of Kanpur. She would compete with these young boys with me on the seat beside her, accelerating the vehicle till the engines were almost ready to give up, through the meandering, obscure roads of the bowels of the city. I, like a helpless fool (that is how I thought of myself back then), would sit on the front seat, trying to figure out how and what she did to manoeuvre the car so well, as my body turned with every steep turn she took and jerked forward with every sudden push of the brake. In the end, after the race was won and the losers disappeared, she would halt the car, remove her Cartier sunglasses and wink at me, in serious anticipation of a pat on the back. While I often gave her the necessary pat, it made me feel like loser, bigger than what I had felt the last time she had won the race.

It’s not that I did not try to learn how to drive. I did and did so, with complete dedication. I was ‘told’ which driving agency in Kanpur to learn from and I did attend my classes regularly. Except that after twenty classes (most people complete by ten classes, the instructor had told me!), the instructor gave up on me. He very politely told my mother (an earlier student of his, for she too had been ‘told’ about the agency) that it wasn’t really my cup of tea. My world had come crashing down. It felt like a personal defeat – not because I cared about what the instructor thought of me, but because it made me feel small in my own eyes. I felt that the sister I so admired was made of a fabric entirely different from mine, something I could never imitate or even get close to. Somewhere, deep in the abyss of my mind, this is what my ambition to drive was all about. This is what low self-esteem can do to you – push you into races that are barely worth the effort.

I did not, however, stop trying. By the way, by this time, I (my road-unworthy self!) already had a permanent driving license, thanks to the clout my family held in that city.

Informally, I cajoled a driver who worked for my father and drove us around, to train me to drive when he came to pick me up from school. He gladly complied in anticipation of some extra brownie points. Poor fellow, he must have thought that one fine day, I shall drive well too and my father, proud of my driving skills then, shall reward him with a bag of gold coins.

The secret classes began. All was well, it had to be, since I practised in a football field near my house. It was a huge stretch of land, composed entirely of red mud, dry and dusty on hot days and damp and marshy on the days it rained. We were careful enough to schedule our driving sessions only on dry, hot days when excess use of either brake or accelerator had the same effect – of brewing up the red dust like a storm. Nothing more, nothing less. After nearly a thousand circles in that field, we finally decided to give the rough, harsh roads a real try. I felt like a champion as I pulled out the white automatic vehicle out of the field, into the road that lay ahead. One minute, two minutes – all fine. Suddenly I saw an overloaded truck (I could guess because of the angle at which it was tilted) approach my car in full speed. I blinked my eyes and it appeared closer than before. Drivers pride themselves on their reflexes, their ability to decide on the spot, the best course of action. I had decided mine too. I lifted my feet off the brake, clutch and accelerator, raised my arms above my head and closed my eyes.

I opened my eyes only after about two minutes, only to realise that the truck was gone but we were exactly where we had been – in the same spot in the middle of the road. The driver, however, was missing from the car. I saw him standing outside, to my right. As our eyes met, he joined his hands together, as if in supplication, and requested me to get out of the car. I quietly complied. He drove me home safely and as I disembarked from the car, we had entered into an unsaid agreement of not mentioning anything to anyone about these driving classes. They could cost him his job and me, my life.

Today, as I write, it’s been nearly twelve years since all of that. My life, now significantly different than what it used to be back then, necessitate that I acquire driving skills. Trust me, not knowing how to drive had begun to appear like an impediment in the way of my independence, a blot on my pride in myself and I therefore, decided to revisit my old fear – fear of the roads. I read and read, till I shortlisted on my new driving agency and the process began. When they asked me to apply for a Learner’s license, I said “But I have a permanent one!”. The two men at the reception looked at each other and smirked, as if thinking “Then why the hell are you here, miss jerk!”

Anyway. The new school taught me about the anatomy of a car – something I loved to know, since the bridge in my brain prohibits practical knowledge till I have had complete grip over the what’s and why’s of something. After theory, came practical sessions on the road. After my second practical session yesterday, something began to bother me. As I sat on the driver’s seat, I felt in complete control of myself and of the vehicle that I was supposedly controlling. Buses came and trucks went. I blinked, sighed (but didn’t abuse!) and stopped jerkily. I did all of that. But something seemed to look different from last time.

In fact, even as I write this post, I lend myself to potential mockery, in the sense that I cannot say how effective a driver I will turn out to be or that I will drive safely or that I will not collide into a vehicle that stands next to me on the road. All that is in the future and shall be taken care of, as and when it comes. My point here is much subtler – it feels rather weird to think of what could have been different this time than the last. I analyse, think and think and I think I have the answer.

Is it the car – no! The kind of roads – not at all! The instructor’s ability – no!

Let me tell you what is different this time – it is THE GIRL BEHIND THE WHEEL.

Image taken from Google images.

Lesson #4: Analyse your expenditure

I hope that you could both relate to and find useful, the previous post on analysis of one’s income. While that is necessary, analysis of one’s expenditure is rather indispensable. I say this based on two things:

  1. While our incomes are relatively fixed in the short run, our expenditures remain largely under our control. For instance, we may choose not to spend on movie tickets in a particular month, while we cannot do much to increase our salaries in that month.
  2. A careful analysis of our spending patterns gives us immense knowledge of our risk type, i.e. whether we like to save before spending or spend before saving. Knowing oneself is the last thing we end up doing, isn’t it?

Just like the several income classifications discussed in the earlier post, this one divides expenditure into several meaningful categories too. Trust me, the way your treat your spending will change after you read this. While you may not realise it until after careful self-analysis, these principles will remain at the back of your mind at all times, every day, every week and every month. So here we go!

Types of expenses:

Variable expenditure: As the name suggests, variable expenditure represents those expenses that are ever-changing in nature. And why do they change? They change because of changes in our choices and consumption patterns. Examples include expenditure on food, clothing, groceries, movies, home decoration and the like. If in a particular month, you choose to buy extra virgin olive oil instead of ordinary refined oil for cooking, your variable expenditure goes up.  Similarly, if you take a bus to work instead of an app-based taxi, your variable expenditure comes down. In other words, such type of expenditure remains largely under your control. So if you’re thinking of getting richer by cutting costs, this is the category you should target.

Fixed expenditure: Fixed costs represent costs that are relatively fixed every month. Think of a situation such as this: you must go out of town for say, a month. You lock your house and step out. When you return, as you unlock your main door, you find bills under the door, staring at your face. Can you think of some such expenses which must be paid even when you’re not really living where you do? Or payments required to be made even when you think you haven’t really consumed anything? Some examples are that of electricity (minimum bills for the refrigerator that must have been left in the working mode), monthly rent payments/ maintenance charges for your house property, salary to maids (who you cannot sack for a mere one month!) etc. We call them ‘fixed’ costs for two primary reasons: One, you have very little control over these and therefore, no matter how stripped for cash you may be in a given month, cutting down on these, will be practically impossible. Second and the most important thing is that these are ‘unavoidable’, i.e. cannot be avoided even if you have no money at all!

Examples of fixed costs:

  • Rent payments to landlord
  • Maintenance charges for self-owned property
  • Insurance premiums
  • Equal Monthly Instalments (EMIs) for assets such as car, television, etc.
  • Salary to domestic helps
  • Monthly payment for internet connection

Periodic expenditure: These, unlike classic fixed and variable expenses, need not be incurred each month. They are need-based and may fall in any category – fixed or variable. Examples include:

  • Cost of petrol (incurred only when the fuel tank is close to empty)
  • Purchase of a two-wheeler or any other asset (incurred barely once in several years)
  • Payments made at a beauty salon (incurred as and when necessary)
  • Payments for repair and maintenance of car (incurred once every six months on average)
  • Dry-cleaning expenses

From the perspective of planning your expenses, this category offers some respite. In particularly cash-tight months, one may want to defer or postpone some of these expenses and rather spend that amount on items that sit higher on our priority list.

Bottom line: Earn at least as much as your fixed costs. Whatever is left can be used for meeting variable and periodic expenses.

Practical Example:

Consider a real-life situation. Malini is a software engineer based out of Pune. She is employed with a large multinational firm, which pays her a fixed salary every month. Malini is single and lives in a rented apartment in Pune, for which she is required to make monthly rent payments. She has employed two maids – one for the morning and the other for the evening, after Malini is back from work. In terms of assets owned, Malini has a car, which she had purchased from a second-hand car dealer about a year ago, a television set and a refrigerator. Here is a statement of her income and expenses for the months of May and June 2016:

Statement of Income and Expenses for Malini – May and June 2016
May June
Particulars Amount (Rs.) Amount (Rs.)
Income from salary                             60,000
Less: Tax deducted at source (TDS)                    (6,000)
Disposable Income (A)                       54,000                        54,000
Expenditure:
Rent to landlord 12,000 12,000
Salary to maids 8,000 8,000
Grocery items 3,600 2,300
Outside food 8,900 6,200
Fuel for car 7,000 5,000
Insurance premium to LIC 1,000 1,000
Electricity payments 2,600 1,200
Entertainment (movies and theatre tickets) 5,700 3,900
Ironing expenses 600 400
Total expenses (B) 49,400 40,000
Net Savings (A – B) 4,600 14,000

After you have had the chance to glance through the numbers in the table above, can you quickly think to yourself, which expenditure above falls in which category of expenses – fixed, variable or periodic? After you’re done, you might want to look at the table below.

Statement of Income and Expenses for Malini – May and June 2016
May June
Particulars Amount (Rs.) Amount (Rs.) Type
Income from salary  60,000 60,000
Less: Tax deducted at source (TDS)                    (6,000)
Net Income(A) 54,000 54,000
Expenditure:
Rent to landlord 12,000 12,000 Fixed
Salary to maids 8,000 8,000 Fixed
Grocery items 3,600 2,300 Variable
Outside food 8,900 6,200 Variable
Fuel for car 7,000 0 Periodic
Insurance premium to LIC 1,000 1,000 Fixed
Electricity payments 2,600 1,200 Variable
Entertainment (movies and theatre tickets) 5,700 3,900 Variable
Ironing expenses 600 400 Variable
Six-monthly car service 0 2,000 Periodic
Total expenses (B) 49,400 37,000
Net Savings (A – B) 4,600 17,000

Discussion:

Care for some discussion?

Think of the following:

  1. Out of her hard work and time, Malini manages to earn Rs. 60,000 every month. Out of this, Rs. 6,000 is deducted by her employer every month towards income taxes (called Tax Deducted at Source or simply, TDS). Since the amount is already deducted from her salary, she never receives it. The company she works for directly deposits this amount directly with the tax authorities on her behalf. After TDS, she is left with Rs. 54,000 (Rs. 60,000 – 6,000) to spend on her needs. This is her Disposable income – a term used to describe the final amount we are left with, out of which we are free to spend.
  2. An analysis of her expenses reveals that she spends Rs. 21,000 on fixed expenses each month. As mentioned earlier, these expenses are fixed every period and therefore, rather unavoidable in nature. An amount of Rs. 21,000 implies that Malini spends nearly 39% of her disposable income (21,000/ 54,000) each month on fixed expenses. Does this sound high or low? One cannot say. However. The higher the proportion of fixed expenses in our total expenditure, the worse off we are. All this means is that we have relatively little control in reducing our expenses and also that we are much more likely to be hit in periods of little or no income.
  3. The proportion of Malini’s variable (or controllable) expenses to disposable income happens to be nearly 40% in May and 26% in June. This clearly indicates that her overall consumption levels have been lower in June than in May. If we look at specific items in her list of variable expenses, we find that she has managed to spend lower on almost all categories such as electricity, grocery payments, outside food and ironing expenses. With constant income, lower expenses imply higher savings (remember: Income – Expenses = Savings?).
  4. Malini incurs periodic expenses on car fuel in May and car service in June. Given the ‘periodic’ nature of these expenses, we see that these are incurred only in one month and not in the other.
  5. Given that on average, Malini’s total expenses are lower in June than in May, she managed to save a higher proportion of her disposable income in June. Her savings percentage goes up from 9 to nearly 31% of disposable income. These savings can be used by her for either investment or for purchase of other fixed assets, which can be purchased only in periods when other expenses are lower.
Crucial ratios of Income and Expenses for Malini – May and June 2016
May June May June
Particulars Amount (Rs.) Amount (Rs.) % to Disposal Income
Income from salary                                            60,000
Less: Tax deducted at source (TDS)                    (6,000)
Disposable Income (A) 54,000 54,000
Expenditure:
Variable (V) 21,400 14,000 0.40 0.26
Fixed (F) 21,000 21,000 0.39 0.39
Periodic (P) 7,000 2,000 0.13 0.04
Total Expenses ( E) = (V) + (F) + (P) 49,400 37,000
Savings (A – E) 4,600 17,000 0.09 0.31

Take-away from the above experiment:

  1. Though you may postpone it for as long as possible, you cannot completely avoid analysing your income. And step one to go about it is by maintaining a dedicated notebook or diary to be able to note down all your expenses – big and small, every month. Once you have been able to have monthly records for at least six months, looking at the composite picture will give you a bird’s eye view of your income-expense-saving status.
  2. Your income each month should be at least as much as your total fixed costs for that period. High fixed costs can lead to disasters in months of lean cash inflows.

Hope you found the discussion useful. Till you read the next thread on Savings next Tuesday, keep thinking about what you just read. And remember, if it’s your money, you choose how to spend it. Only through an understanding of patterns in your own spending behaviour can you eliminate unnecessary financial uncertainty in your life.

Keep reading and have a nice week!

Image taken from Google images

Lesson #3: Analyse your own Income

Before one begins with the third lesson, let’s quickly recapitulate what the previous lesson was all about. It talked to you about the basic building blocks of Finance – assets, liabilities, incomes and expenses. It presented to you the simple relationship between Income, Expenses and Savings and highlighted the fact that wealth accumulation over time depends upon the quantum of savings generated in every period.

Now that we know what incomes are, let’s discuss why understanding the nature of one’s income is crucial to financial planning and how it can be accomplished with the understanding of merely the basic principles in Finance.

As mentioned earlier, Income refers to the relatively regular inflow of resources every period. In simple terms, it represents your pool of resources every month, out of which you spend on your needs and save the rest. The concept of Income merits careful attention since both Expenses and Savings must happen out of this number. This implies that a miscalculation of your income number can not only make it difficult for you to meet your monthly expenses, it can also can throw your saving plans out of gear.

Now think of a situation – you are a doting father (or mother) to your daughter, who, after completing her education has consented to get married. Like any other concerned parent, you want the best groom for her – good-looking, well-educated and well-settled. While the former two may be comparatively easy to observe, the ‘well-settled’ part requires careful attention and scrutiny. Assuming that you have the profiles of two grooms, who satisfy the first two criteria and in making a final choice, you must compare them along the ‘well-settled’ dimension, what factors do you consider?

– That his income number (the amount he earns month on month) is relatively high. High enough to enable him to indulge in the luxuries of life, rather than the satisfaction of mere necessities such as food, clothing and shelter.

– That his standard of living is high. This standard is often representative of the amounts spent on luxuries such as a lavish house, extravagant dinners, expensive clothes and the like.

– That he has assets such as a house and car, in his own name.

– That there is certainty in his income – it is reasonably certain that the amount he earns today will continue to be earned in the future.

– That he has enough money saved and parked aside to meet unforeseen contingencies such as medical emergencies as well as to honor social commitments such as marriages and child-birth.

The good part is that almost all of these things can be ascertained (at least guessed to a reasonable degree of accuracy) from the prospective groom’s income numbers.

Now forget the groom and your marriageable daughter and come face-to-face with reality. It is you who earns or even if you don’t, you may receive a fixed amount of money at the start of every month from your spouse or other members of your family, for meeting day-to-day expenses. How about some assessment of your own income numbers? How about a detailed understanding of how you would be affected if you suddenly lose your job or may be your employer delays paying your salary for a couple of months? This post may help you.

Let me take you through some classifications that are commonly used in Finance, Accounting and Economics. Though they are extremely academic in nature, you cannot believe how useful they can be in daily management of one’s money, if understood in the right manner.

1. Active vs. Passive Income:

Active Income refers to the income that YOU earn month on month, through your own effort and involvement. For instance, income from salaries or professional fees. This generally constitutes the greatest fraction of whatever money we earn every month. Take the example of a doctor. His active income comes out of the fees he receives from consulting in hospitals and fees received out of private practice. Now think of this – the doctor is a specialist in his field and one of the best-known experts in the city in which he practices. Things have been fortunate for him over the last ten years or so in terms of his ability to earn and save. He leads a luxurious life and expects a jump in fees levels in the coming year, owing to a competitor leaving the city. One day disaster strikes and he meets with an accident. He can no longer go to work or even get out of bed. All of his Active Income is gone! Gone because he is no longer able to report to work, the very requirement for earning this type of income.

Passive Income refers to that part of one’s income that is earned without one’s active involvement. These usually result from past savings that have been invested in income-generating assets. Whether one remembers these investments or not, they continue to generate money for the saver/ investor. Think of receipts such as interest on fixed deposits, dividends on shares purchased etc. While for an average individual, these may not constitute a significant chunk of one’s total income, their presence gives us financial security, assuring you of a minimum level of income and consumption even if you were not able to earn any active income in a certain period. For the elderly and retired, pensions constitute passive income.

 2. Certain vs. Uncertain Income:

This classification of income enables you to ascertain the element of ‘certainty’ in your income flows. Certainty in income can relate to two things – certainty in receipt of cash (incidence) and certainty as to the amount. The most certain income flows are those that provide assurance both in terms of incidence and amount.

Just as a shareholder in a company is interested in knowing how regular his company is or will be in the payment of dividends, even you as an individual should be aware of how sure you can be of earning in the next month, an amount greater than or equal to the amount last earned. After all, we all want more every month, right?

Within the certain vs. uncertain income category, there can be four sub-classifications:

a. Certainty as to both incidence and amount: This income represents cash flows such as salary income, pension, interest on bank deposits, which, in the absence of any major changes to one’s employment status or otherwise, will not change over time. This means that there is almost complete certainty as to both their receipt as well as the amount.

b. Certainty as to incidence but not amount: These generally represent cash flows from business, profession or investing, which by the nature of such incomes, are uncertain. While it may be certain that they will be received, the amount earned cannot be predicted with certainty. Examples include commission or brokerage income, fees from consulting, sale of merchandise for shopkeepers etc.

c. Certainty as to amount but not incidence: This is technically not possible, since if the amount is fixed, the incidence is also almost sure.

d. Uncertainty as to both incidence and amount: These represent incomes such as winnings from lottery, prize money, dividends from investment in shares etc. From an analysis point of view, these incomes should be excluded while planning one’s budget for subsequent periods, since they may never recur.

An income snapshot: An overview

Consider the following income statement for Mr. X, an architect for the month of August 2016:

Income statement for Mr. X for August 2016
Source of income Amount (Rs.)
Fees from consulting 6,00,000
Interest on bank fixed deposits 72,000
Dividends 3,200
Gift from mother (in cash) 10,000
Total Income         6,85,200

If we were to apply whatever we know about the classification of income, the same income statement would look like this:

Income statement for Mr. X for August 2016
Source of income Amount (Rs.) Active? Certain? Comments
Fees from consulting 6,00,000 Yes Yes The amount is certain as to incidence but not amount.
Interest on bank fixed deposits 72,000 No Yes The amount is certain as to both incidence and amount.
Dividends 3,200 No No The amount is uncertain as to both incidence and amount.
Gift from mother (in cash) 10,000 No No Gifts and gratuities may never happen again.
Total Income 6,85,200

I hope that this exercise, though long (though not boring I hope!), was helpful to you in understanding the nitty-gritties of your income and its decomposition into several income streams, each of a different nature and type.

Thank you for reading. While you take a week to digest what you just read, the next post on next Tuesday will take you through a similar analysis of your expenses.

Thanks again!

Image taken from Google images.

 

 

Lesson #2: The Basic Building Blocks

As the name suggests, this article runs you through concepts you might have heard of several times in different contexts, but may have ended paying little attention to. Even if you think you know these, it’s always worth one’s time to think them through the lens of another person. All in all, a worthwhile read for you. Please note that as you read through the article, you may feel that it’s more Accounting and less Finance. Well, you’re right. But then, why did I have to give you that scary lecture on Economics then? What do I want?

Let me explain. Economics is where it all started, with the objective of assisting in household management. Finance took it one step further, to manage one’s funds, in the most efficient manner. Accounting, on the other hand, concerns itself with the recording of whatever monetary transactions have happened. The sadder bit is, to understand personal financial management, you need to know a little of all three. So here we go!

Four important concepts for you to acquire:

1. Assets: These are things under your control (often because you own them) which help you generate benefits in the future. The future benefits may come in the form of money (think of bank deposits that generate interest income) or mere daily conveniences. Think of items such as computers, furniture, silk sarees or may be, a mixer grinder. These are articles you may have purchased in the past but continue to benefit from.

However, for you to be able to call something an ‘asset’, you must in a position to control it. Even when your neighbour’s Mercedes may appear like an asset to you, the unfortunate truth is that it’s not YOUR asset, since you cannot decide how and when to use it.

All of us spend on purchase of assets all the time, ranging from small items like laptop bags and electric blenders, to larger and more expensive ones such as cars and houses. Please note that amounts spent on the purchase of assets are referred to as Investments, since the benefits from such spending are expected to be reaped for a long period in the future.

2. Liabilities: These are amounts which are expected to result in the payment of cash in the future. Think of this: you approached a bank for a car loan. The bank looks at your salary slips and grants you the loan. The terms are such that there are no EMIs, only a full and final payment, along with interest, after ten years. This amount (principal plus interest) which must be paid back to the bank after ten years is a liability for you, till the time you have repaid it in full. It is a liability because today (when the loan has been granted), you know for sure that this amount has to be paid in ten years’ time.

So what does one do when he knows he has a liability to take care of? Simple, we provide for it through careful financial planning, so that when the amount becomes due, we have enough resources to settle it. Examples of liabilities are bank loans, credit card bills, pending EMIs for gadgets purchased, etc.

3. Income: This refers to a reasonably regular inflow of cash for an individual. This could come from salary or profession, interest income, rent from property let out, etc. It is believed that higher the income, richer the individual. I will discuss with you, how wrong this notion is, by the end of this article.

4. Expenses: These are outflows of cash out of income earned. Some people explain it this way – these are outflows of cash for the purpose of earning income. Does it make sense? Think of this. You are a well-paid professional, say an engineer. You bring home a hefty salary each month. Your expenses (largely) will constitute those on food, clothes, rent payments and recreation. Right? But then to be able to maintain your efficiency at work, to be able to bring in money even in the future, you need the basic necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter and of course some recreation to keep you going. Whichever way, one may look at it, expenses involve cash outflows out of income.

But purchase of assets also involve cash outflows, right? Then what’s the difference between the expenses and assets?

The difference is in the time period over which the benefits of these outflows is expected to be realised. While outflows on expenses result in temporary benefits (temporary implying no future benefits), assets result in benefits for a considerably long period in the future.

Does it now make sense to you why you think and research so hard before buying a computer, than a burger at Mc Donald’s? Because one incorrect investment can make you regret for years altogether, while an expense loses its utility in the same period in which it is made.

Coming to the point

Enough definitions for now. Let me bring you where the crux of today’s article lies – the relationship between three extremely crucial variables – income, expenses and savings.

Tell me if the following makes sense to you:

Income – Expenses = Savings

The above equation presents to you, rather simplistically, the relationship between your income, level of expenditure and your savings.

Now think about the following scenarios (however dumb they may seem to you) and assess where you may fall on an average:

a. Income > Expenses: This is the desirable case wherein income exceeds the level of expenses, resulting in some savings every period.

b. Income < Expenses: Technically impossible, since one cannot spend more than what one has. But thankfully, even this case is made possible by the use of credit cards which allow you to spend first and pay (i.e. earn) later.

c. Income = Expenses: You end up spending every penny earned, resulting in no savings at all.

Now time for some assessment:

If you are:

(a) You are in the best position possible, given that you generate savings every period, on an average. Savings, or the excess of income over expenditure is what makes you rich over time. If you continue to save and invest your funds wisely, you will end up accumulating an even larger pool of wealth over time (we will talk about the Time Value of Money or the power of compounding) in subsequent articles).

(b) You are in for big trouble because most of your newly-earned income is exhausted in settling credit card and other bills, leaving you with fewer funds to spend with, throughout the month. Though this strategy of yours may work itself out for the next couple of years (or may be just months), you will eventually burn all your cash out.

(c) If you’re not the saver types, you are certainly a spendthrift. Though the no-saving strategy may work for you for the next couple of years when you are at your best earning potential, you may find yourself in trouble in a rainy day, i.e. during an unforeseen contingency such as a medical emergency, where large sums of money may be required.

Now it’s time to wrap up. One things remains: I had mentioned to you about the common belief that people who earn more are richer. Well, that’s only a half-truth. It is true for individuals, as well as corporations and anyone else, that richness or wealth is generally thought of in the sense of an accumulated pool of money, over time. Accumulation can happen only when some amount of income in the current period is kept aside for future use or in other words, saved. Savings lead to investments (have you heard of stock markets, bonds and mutual funds?), which in turn result in income (interests and dividends) and add to your existing pool of savings. You keep saving every period (month or year) and it keeps generating more interest income for you and you keep getting richer and richer, even when you do not think about the performance of your investments on a daily basis. This is where careful and wise financial planning comes in.

Coming to the ‘rich people’ question, I would prefer to call those people rich, who satisfy two conditions at the same time – earn a good amount every month and save an even better amount every month. Remember: the rich would not have been rich had they burnt all their cash. They are rich because they have money working for them, generating income month on month, even when they would choose not to work. Therefore, nothing can underplay the role of savings in the financial management game.

Thanks for reading!

Please write to me if you would like to see a particular topic covered. Feedback is welcome.

Image taken from Google images.

The Selfish Race

I sweat profusely as I run,

And my muscles turn sore.

This is MY race against time,

An exhilarating experience to the core.

It’s been a selfish race from the start,

Winning is all I care about.

I have left my family behind,

Without guilt or self-doubt.

I see millions running around me,

Who shout, push and swear.

It’s our excitement that keeps us going,

Even as our cracked heels begin to tear.

I see children wail and weep,

As they watch their parents get out of sight.

They cling on to unknown women,

Who hush them with all their might.

My eyes fall on one such care-taker woman,

I see her sliding money in her blouse.

She pulls the toddler by his finger,

And drags him towards her house.

As I get nearer and nearer,

I hear painfully unpleasant sounds.

Of people wailing and beating their chests,

In their search for loved ones around.

I feel these are people who’ve won the race,

Only to realise that they’ve actually lost.

They may have filled their coffers in gold,

But have ended up paying a hefty cost.

They stand there puffing and panting,

Urging the other racers to go back.

The rowdy racers push their tired bodies,

Towards the other corpses on the racing track.

The bodies rot over time,

But the track continues to shine.

My eyes fall on a dying young man who mutters in a whisper,

“If only this track came with a warning sign”

Image taken from Google images.

The two eternal friends

“You always take me lightly,” she said as she twisted her lips to one side, in disdain.

“Oh come on Krishnaa,” said he, as he gently stroked her hair, like a parent. “You know how I am.”

“I know how you are, and that’s what baffles me all the time. People say you are some God of some kind. Is that true?”

“Who told you that? May I know?”

“No. You may not.” she retorted.

“Krishnaa! Your tongue will land you in deep trouble someday. Why do you lose control of yourself all the time?”

“You say I will land myself in trouble? Is that a prophecy of some kind, given that people say you are God. Or are you cursing me?”

“You’re my buddy Krishnaa, I feel for you like a parent. How can you even think that I can curse you?”

“Anyway, don’t talk emotional stuff to me. First tell me how you claim we are buddies? We’ve hardly known each other for a couple of years.”

“Do you even know what you’re talking?”

“Yes I do. Ultimately you’re the cousin of my husbands, right? So technically, my brother-in-law. Do you agree?”

“I’ve known you even when you weren’t born.” Before she could cajole him into explaining what he had just happened to say, he began again. “This reminds me, have you ever heard of how you came to the earth?”

“Out of fire, right? I have heard about it a million times. What do you have to say about that, Mr. God?”

“Don’t tease me Krishnaa, I’m no God. But I am certainly the God of my own mind and senses. Are you?”

“Stop confusing me with your riddles again, get it? I am not God, but certainly a powerful princess – the owner of my own palace, of which I am Queen!”

“Your palace? You think you own it?”

“Of course! My husbands built it and I run it.”

“So you’re saying your husbands own it? Looks like they’re really powerful. Are they?”

“Of course they are. Our kingdom has risen to a never-seen-before position in Bharat. No one can beat Yushishthira in wisdom, Arjuna in his archery, Bheem in his valour, Nakul in his beauty and Sahadev in his sense of the future. My husbands are invincible.”

“Undoubtedly. I am proud of my cousins, but I have my own apprehensions about how invincible they may be in times of need.”

“What do you mean? Do you know who you are doubting? Unless you are really God, I don’t think I should take you very seriously.”

“I know what I am saying. You’ll know one day too. Anyway, coming to your birth-by-fire thing, you really rocked it Krishnaa.” he said jokingly, as he poked her arm with his elbow.

“Stop teasing me. You know what my father has been telling me since I gained senses?”

“What?”

“That I have been born to change the course of history. How can a girl born out of fire bring about any serious change to the way things have been happening for centuries? Even when I know myself to be not a weak, powerless woman, I cannot relate to my father’s words. What do you think?”

“Well, I have no doubt about the history part your father has been telling you. But that you, or for that matter any other woman, is not capable of changing tradition does not go down well with me.”

“That means I will be famous someday, won’t I? People will think of me as the Great Queen who was born out of fire and who brought about serious change, right?”

“You and your over-confidence Krishnaa. Understand this – if it’s not wise to be sad about trivial matters, it is also important to be balanced in good times. Why do you think you deserve to be given so much credit? You are all but an instrument, my girl!”

“Instrument! What do you mean? So you mean that there’s nothing about me that I can feel great about or no special quality that makes me who I am?” she said as she jerked her face to one side in anger. “How many girls or princesses for that matter emerge out of fire in a man’s world, to change the course of history? You can never see any merit in me, you chauvinist of a person!”

“Me and chauvinist? I am a woman’s man to the core” he said as he parted his lips in a smile. His enigmatic smile had flummoxed her right from the time she had been introduced to him as her husbands’ cousin. It was so calming, it could mesmerise anyone who watched him smile for more than a couple of seconds. In fact, the way he was now speaking sent a wave of guilt running down her mind.

“I didn’t mean to say that Keshav. All I meant was…”

“Don’t be sorry. I know what you mean. But I fear for you, you see.” he said rubbing his smooth chin as if in great thought. “Your aggressive behaviour and the sharpness of your tongue will bring you the biggest humiliation known to mankind” he said, as he wiped a small tear that had emerged in the corner of his eye.

“Humiliation? And mine? Have you forgotten that you are talking to the to-be Queen of Hastinapur?”

“Again your obsession with palaces and dynasties. Think beyond it for once. The world is illusory my darling, what you see is not even a fragment of reality.”

“You won’t get it, Mr. Small king of Dwarka” she said in a tone of made-up contempt.

“Krishnaa Krishnaa Krishnaa! I give up before thee” he said, his hands folded in complete surrender, as he smiled in his usual deceptive manner.

Draupadi (fondly addressed as Krishnaa by Krishna himself) had won the argument. It was enough to make her happy.

P.S. This is a work of fiction.

Credit to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and her heart-touching book “The Palace of Illusions”.

Image taken from Google images.