Story 11: Child’s Play
As a child, Abhaya loved solving puzzles. Every time his father went abroad on a business trip, he had only one demand.
“Baba, just get me a new puzzle…big one, bigger than last time.”
Baba was only too happy to oblige. Each time, the box bearing the puzzle had a more complex picture. A vast blue sky with 300 almost-identical pieces. A pond with light and dark reflections of trees. The more complicated a puzzle, the more Abhaya loved solving it. As the brain made its connections, nimble fingers put pieces into their rightful places.
As he grew older, Abhaya moved on to crosswords and sudoku until, finally, he discovered the joys of algebra. While his friends moaned before the mathematics exam, Abhaya was in a zen-like state. What was so difficult about finding the value of x or y, anyway? Both sides have to balance, that’s all.
“Your boy is very bright,” said his 9th standard teacher. “He can become a great mathematician!”
Abhaya’s heart burst with happiness that day. He dreamt of a day when he would sit in a bare room with white walls, undisturbed by anyone, in the company of his beloved equations.
But life had other plans. When Abhaya completed class 11, the company his father worked for went bust. The newspapers reported there had been a massive fraud, money siphoned off to tax havens. All employees lost their jobs, but Abhaya’s father was implicated in the case. All of the family’s time, energy and savings were now devoted towards fighting for baba’s innocence.
Abhaya gave up his plans to study mathematics in IIT. He enrolled in a local commerce college, which did not require attendance. He needed a job, any job, to support the family. But who would employ an 18 year old matric-pass? As luck would have it Jamanbhai’s stock broking firm was in need of an office boy. And they didn’t care much about qualifications.
“Time pe avjo,” was the only condition which Abhaya had no problem complying with.
In fact, he was the first to reach the office, and the last to leave. The work he did was very basic – fetching tea, making xeroxes, attending to phone calls. But his thirsty mind drank in everything that was happening. Buying long, selling short, margin calls, squaring of positions. After office hours, he would read printouts and reports lying around. Along with his commerce textbook.
One night he printed out the balance sheet of m/s Swansong Exports and studied it carefully. Aha, ab samajh mein aa rahi hai baat. Every day, before leaving office, Abhaya printed out a balance sheet and spent the night poring over it. He circled numbers, made notes. No one could stop him from the pursuit of knowledge.
Goddess Saraswati did not exist only in IIMs, she was everywhere.
One afternoon, Jamanbhai was meeting his brokers. The point of contention was Evergreen Plantations. Maganbhai was of the opinion that the stock was undervalued but Jamanbhai was hesitant to buy. Abhaya had studied this balance sheet just 2 days ago, the numbers were still fresh. As he served a second round of tea, he said, almost to himself, “Look at cash reserves.”
The arrow found its mark. Something had been bothering Jamanbhai but he hadn’t been able to pinpoint it. He looked at Abhaya in amazement… who was this kal ka chhokra?
A diamond in the rough.
Abhaya sits in a bare room with white walls, undisturbed by anyone, in the company of his beloved equations. The only person allowed to enter is his trusted lieutenant, Jamanbhai.
“Abhaya, CNBC wants to do an interview with you about short-selling in the time of coronavirus.”
Not interested. It was far more important to do the work. To expose the frauds committed by companies which thought they could get away with it. Besides, what would he really say?
“It’s a bit like solving a puzzle… it’s child’s play.”