The stock market was in turmoil again. It had dropped a hundred points without warning and no one had any clue about what to expect next. All attention, as usual, turned to The Sage.
“It was the bad forecast for China’s manufacturing that was responsible for the fall,” said The Sage, “And unless the situation in the Ukraine changes significantly, we can expect further reaction.”
I was open-jawed in my amazement. “You know EVERYTHING!” I gushed and The Sage smiled modestly.
I had run into him in the course of my journalistic duties. That in itself was unusual because my specialty is – used to be, I should say – ferreting out and reporting catfights among actresses, and high finance is as far away from my beat as reading papers on Fermat’s Last Theorem is from Rahulji’s. However, circumstances had brought this about, more about which later. And I knew The Sage from my childhood.
He was much older than us kids, of course, but even then, we knew he was special. He could rationalise anything. Whatever happened anywhere in the world, HE would have an explanation for it.
There were a few naysayers, it is true, who would contemptuously dismiss him with “He just gives gyaan, yaar,” but our whole apartment complex was in awe of him.
I was unsure if he would remember me – I was meeting him after decades after all – but he did, and straight away! With an avuncular pinch on the cheek, asked me to join him for a coffee, ignoring a few clamouring senior financial reporters who wanted to know if the Alaskan gas find would impact Brazilian coffee exports.
We exchanged pleasantries and banter about what happened to such auntie and the other but by the time the lattes arrived, I could hold it in no longer
“How do you do it?”
“Make these amazingly accurate prophecies of course.”
“Ah, those! Glad you think they’re amazingly accurate.”
“My dear fellow, I say the first thing that comes into my head and these people just lap it up.”
“But surely, the Ukraine situation and the Chinese manufacturing outlook are topics of serious analysis?”
“They must be, for some people, not me. I just link things and leave them for people to draw conclusions from. Also, I only explain what HAS happened. As to what WILL happen, I make only the haziest predictions.”
It was time for him to go on air again for some quick analysis of currency futures.
“Wait here for me. I will be done in a jiffy,” he told me, and disappeared into a studio.
“There,” he beamed as he emerged from the session “Wasn’t that quick? Tell me, what brings you to these parts?”
“I got married last year,” I told him, and thanking him for his congratulations, narrated how the wife was dissatisfied with my strategy for managing savings, namely to ensure that they remained zero.
“She wants me to invest in the stock market and multiply my money,” I told him, “And I thought I’d change my beat from warring actresses, fascinating though it is, to financial journalism. Hoping I’ll learn something, I mean.”
“That was the wife’s idea?”
“Yes.” I admitted sheepishly.
“I don’t blame her. Women are like that. Innocent, completely lacking in duplicity and hence incapable of seeing dishonesty in others.”
I let this pass. Women are no such thing, of course.
“The fact is, nobody knows why stock prices go up or down. Everyone knows the mechanistic cause of course but the teleological cause,” he saw the look on my face and apologised.
“Sorry, was giving gyaan again. Old habit, won’t happen. As I was saying, people just HAVE to know why things happen, even if it is all wrong.”
“I can relate to that,” I said. “In my line, there is, for example, Ekta Kapoor who believes that numerology is a far greater determinant of a film’s or serial’s success than story, acting and direction. And, judging from her movies and serials, she’s quite accurate in that assessment.”
“Exactly,” said The Sage. “And when I tell you that the financial world makes Ekta Kapoor look like Master Shifu, compared to some of the leading investment decision makers, you will know what you are up against.”
“So, you’re saying…”
“Yes. I’m saying forget shares. Forget mutual funds. Forget even bank deposits because most of these guys are skating on such thin ice, it’s scary.”
“But what do I invest my money on, then?”
The plaintiveness in my voice must have been apparent because The Sage spoke in his kindliest voice.
“Spend it all, my dear fellow. Better YOU squander it than bankers and asset management company heads. If you MUST, put it on horse races. Just stay far away from the stock market!”
I returned home in a pensive mood. The old helpmeet ran up and hugged me.
“So! Did you meet him?”
“Meet him? He remembered me straight away and shooed away a gaggle of financial bigwigs just to have coffee with me!”
“Brilliant! Did he tell you what to invest on?”
I paused. Krishna – or possibly the Buddha or Jesus, I forget which – said that it is better to say a lie to make someone you love happy, than the truth to make them sad, or words to that effect.
I took a deep breath and apologising to the inner god in me I told her.
“He advised me to buy as many shares of Infosys and ONGC as I can.”
An edited version of this story appeared in Pagalguy.com on March 21, 2014. A version of this article also appeared in the weekly YSeeker e-magazine in 2014.