That Madras irreverance
Investing needs a good bullshit detector. Madras provides it, with style.
Mariyaadhaiyae illai inga (No respect here).
That was the first description of Madras I heard from my parents’ generation, who had grown up in more polite parts of Tamil Nadu. This was typically expressed after some street vendor told a family member Moonja paru (literally ‘look at your face’, figuratively ‘Take your face elsewhere’) for haggling too hard.
Madras has zero tolerance for bullshit, backed by snappy lingo to send bullshitters scrambling. It’s been over two decades since I left Madras. While you can take the man out of Madras, you can’t take the Madras out of the man. And that Madras irreverence has been invaluable in the investing world, or as I call it, Bullshit Central.
First part of Madras irreverence is bluntness. Radical transparency, if you like Dalio gibberish. See it as it is and say it as it is (pattunu podu, as we say). My city can’t stand thirty seconds of Tharoor-esque pontification before going Ippo ennaangarai (what’s your point). Another thirty seconds and it’s Adi seruppaala (slap you with a slipper). There’s zero tolerance for wishy washy language and beating around the bush.
Second part is wit. The real role models for my generation were SV Shekher and Crazy Mohan, iconic comics. They made Larry David seem mild. I remember a joke about a deaf person’s ears being useful only for wearing specs. Or an ugly face described as a kozhakattai (modak) made in the dark. Crazy Mohan’s movie dialogues were our Seinfeld references. Guiding principle in any situation was “What would Crazy Mohan say”.
When my son asks me how I spent my childhood, I lie. I talk about cricket, Doordarshan, comics and Maths. Sure, I did those too. But I’m too embarrassed to tell him that my single largest pursuit was mocking the world. We spent most of our free time sitting around a well mocking everyone we knew and many we didn’t. The joke hitting home was the only thing that counted. From today’s PC lens, we’d have been cancelled in five minutes. My main job as a dad is to pass on this spirit of irreverence to my son, without him getting kicked out of school.
Why bring up Madras irreverence in a series of essays supposedly about investing. Because that’s the only reason I’m still sane, as far as I can tell, after 17 years of investing. I make it appear like it’s all about good business, good promoter, good judgment. But that’s 0.1% of my world. 99.9% is a shitshow of talking heads, macrostrology, mis-selling, chori, panic porn and pompous people like me knowing the answers to all world problems.
When I reminisce, everything I’ve experienced feels ridiculous. Outrageous banker pitches in 2005-07. Reliance Power IPO. Educomp & Everonn. Real estate crooks with telecom licenses. Yes Bank analyst meet with giant cut-out of rocket. Jibba wearing microfinancier posing as love-child of Gandhi & Goldman. Anna Hazare circus. Snapdeal’s 14th pivot. Shitticorn making six acquisitions before breakfast. Masa & Tiger. Hypocrite VC pontificating about governance and cash-flow after funding bacchanalian orgy across portfolio. Toasty scooters. Fintwit. Cathie & Chamath. Crypto bros. 14,000 economists telling RBI governor what to do. Fund managers telling companies how to run their business on earnings calls. My world isn’t buggy and messy, it’s batshit crazy.
Handling crap without losing it is a much bigger problem than finding good. Madras bashai (lingo) is tailormade for this sort of thing. When someone’s trying to con me, appropriate reference is thalaiyila molagai araikkarai (trying to grind green chilies on my scalp). For analysts, who suck at predicting Asian Paints next year, trying to predict Zomato in FY41, Madras asks “if you can’t spot a cow during the day, how will you spot a buffalo at night”. There’s nothing like blunt, vivid language for calling out bullshit.
Maybe twice a year, I have to apply my mind to something serious. Rest of the time, my job is about handling nonsense with the silliness it deserves. Madras irreverence is my way of achieving this. I go through the day seeking punchlines, not answers. In meetings and concalls, when I’m not quietly swearing in Tamil, I’m thinking up comedy references. When I get carried away with my own gyan, I stare at a pic of Ackman. Joking at work might seem frivolous but does less harm than the alternative: action. This way, I can be inactive for prolonged periods, while keeping my mind active.
Sure, Intelligent Investor and Security Analysis have helped. But, Ippo ennaangarai and Adi seruppaala helped more. I doubt if my essays will make you wiser, but I hope my silly Madras irreverence will make you more of a wise ass.
PS. This is the 2nd essay of my Connecting The Dots series, where I write a bit more about my background and connect (or force-fit) it to my investing. I’ve covered a summer internship short thesis and the awesome city I grew up in. I hope to get to more boring parts as well: engineering, MBA, consulting, private equity, my Nalanda origin story.