Amadeus

Is it possible to feel such deep anguish

Love so strong that one could perish

And pain that takes one’s breath away

And genius! Music so sublime, it shows me

An untreaded path.. an unknown way…

 

A way to Vienna, into timelessness..centuries old

Where mediocrity absurd gains over genius bold

Bold, so bold, it makes my mind turn and twist

Into little pieces, far into unknown mist..

 

Misty it is, yet so very clear

The brain of the genius, where he abounds without fear

As he plunges into the icy unknown water

Oh! Why is it my lungs that are so devoid of matter

 

Matter, matter that is in my mind

He shows me the truth that I have yearned to find

But the moment I touch it, I lose it, why

Is it that the obvious is so shy…

 

Yet shy away from him it does not

No indeed, with a mind and a soul fraught

With sopranos and vibratos, major truth in minor chords lure

My mind to his symphonies so damningly pure…

 

Why is it that it only occurs to you

Why is it that it only is seen by you

Why is it that I am disturbed, yet feel rested

Only in your vagrancy I feel nested…

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My candle for R K Laxman…

In the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, during the memorial service to Albus Dumbledore… “Harry had a wonderful momentary urge to laugh….Odd words floated back to them over the hundreds of heads. “Nobility of spirit”…”intellectual contribution”…”greatness of heart”…It did not mean very much. It had little to do with Dumbledore as Harry had known him. He suddenly remembered Dumbledore’s idea of a few words, “nitwit,” “oddment,” “blubber,” and “tweak,” and again had to suppress a grin…”

Nitwit. Oddment. Blubber. Tweak. Yep, that is precisely what happened to me when I heard of R K Laxman’s demise today. I know. Its a solemn moment. One in which one prays for the departed soul. But if there is something that this man gave us, it was that smile early in the morning. And distressed as I was on hearing the news, a tiny part of me went back to the good old days in Mumbai when I couldn’t really get started on newspapers…

“Manasi, newspapers are fundamental…helps to better language, general knowledge, news content..I don’t care if you don’t read textbooks. Newspapers are a must.” That was mom, talking to me, all of 12, sulking and not wanting to read boring old Times of India, whilst my brother (who loved seeing such scenes between mom and me) grinned evilly, standing behind her. “But mom, I don’t understand it! I find it boring..” Mom fixed her famous “find yourself another mother, girl” stare on me and reluctantly, I picked up the Times. Headlines. Snippets of news. Something about Rajiv Gandhi. Something about some “balance of payments” thingy (What the hell is that? I remember thinking. Sigh. Such is life)…and then suddenly I saw an eye catching comic strip. A young man twisting in his seat in an office to ask an elderly co-worker “Uncle, what’s nepotism?” And I was baited. For life. Hook, line and sinker.

Oh, I remember so many of those positively delightful ones. A cricket match that India had lost in a most humiliating fashion was followed by a rib tickling visual the next day. The batsman had been given the “Out” verdict by the Umpire and was shaking his bat and fist angrily in the Umpire’s face. The Umpire says, with a rather mild look on his face “Don’t threaten me with that bat. You are incapable of hitting anything with it!” And then, the other one, after some news on major misappropriation of funds came out. There’s this engineer peering over a big construction who is saying “There’s a fundamental mistake with this dam. There is no river here!”

While it made it immensely enjoyable to read him the morning after, to find his take on the big news rocking Indian economy and polity, there is also this other thing that I must mention. Very often, I used to see his cartoon and not follow the jab and then, I’d invariably go back to the earlier day’s papers (that I had missed out of sheer laziness). R K Laxman did more to help mom’s cause of coaxing the reluctant daughter to read the news than any other elite argument about it helping my grammar.

Many a morning did the old man light up with his light hearted humor. Much as there is no hard core literature that I associate with R K Laxman (though there are a few books authored by him), for me, I place him on the same pedestal (and a pretty high one, this) as my other favorites, P. G. Wodehouse, Jerome K. Jerome and George Mikes. Broadcaster and humorist Arthur Marshall said of Wodehouse that he used to read at least a few pages from Wodehouse before sleeping so that if he were to die in his sleep, he would die with a smile on his face. In the innocence of my youth, there were these giants, the great humorists, my best friends, people I literally grew up with, whom I really did not appreciate then but do not know how to thank now. If there was a Wodehouse to gently pat me to sleep in Blandings castle, there was R K Laxman to wake me up to the humorous reality that was India.

And then there was snooty ole Mikes delivering intellectually evil humor in “How to be a Brit”. “An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one” is cult Mikes. Just as when one would think that noone, and I mean, noone can come even close to Mikes, Laxman would deliver his one-liner the next day. The politician’s wife telling her husband agitatedly “You are going to be in trouble. Four people have come to see you claiming they are humble, loyal, disciplined servants of the Congress party!”While it was never titled so, I believe that his columns could have been India’s answer to Mikes on “How to be an Indian”.

I was floored when I read “Three Men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome. Sometimes, authors unwittingly create characters that actually light up the book much more than the central characters. Think of Captain Haddock. Or Peeves (incidentally, my favorite character in the Potter series). Similarly, perhaps the sweetest and funniest characters that Jerome K. Jerome created was Montmorency, the dog. Montmorency’s idea of “life” was “to hang about a stable, and collect a gang of the most disreputable dogs to be found in the town, and lead them out to march round the slums to fight other disreputable dogs.” Much as Montmorency brings that colour to the three men, “the wife” often brought colour to the common man. The fat, aggressive, sari wearing Indian wife with a sharp tongue and even a sharper sense of the situation.

Humor is tough. And gentle humor, the one that warms your heart and sets the world right, is impossibly tough. But with these four guys, life was a laugh. Its only now that I appreciate how safe I was in their world and their word. Dignified, yet making a point, never below the belt, nothing remotely trashy about it, but guaranteed to give you that gurgling smile in the morning. Coffee, with a couple of Parle G biscuits and an R K Laxman. That pretty much was enough to make my day.

Thank you R K Laxman. You created me, the common man. You made me laugh and cry, you painted me with pathos, with charm and with wit. You gave my mundane life an existence. Owe you one, Sir!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, how I hate this: IMF forecast pushes up the Sensex!

Its a classic error, really. And one that is repeated time and again and again. The media reported a couple of days ago the IMF World Economic Outlook (WEO) update that India should be able to grow at 6.5% in 2016-17, thereby outstripping the Chinese growth story, which should be able to clock only around 6.3%. Further, it reported with great gusto how the markets went into a tizzy. The Sensex immediately climbed 1.9% to reach 28,784 and Dalal Street celebrated yet one more day of the bull since the rates were cut by the RBI Governor on Sankranti. There was almost a tone in that whole reporting that nothing can now possibly go wrong; what the IMF has proposed, the markets have seconded. India to topple China. All in a matter of 2 years.

So what is the error, you must be thinking. Its simple. Some things don’t go together. At all. Period. Even if we see them together all the time. Like..ummm…Odie and Garfield. Harry and Sally. Economics and Finance, anyone?

I have always felt upset when the media reports economic parameters and financial markets in the same breath. We have almost always seen the financial markets dance themselves silly on the news of economic parameters like growth and unemployment. But we cannot possibly judge the economic growth story by revelling in that wild optimism that markets are known to create. For heavens’ sake, can we really allow the Sensex to corroborate the IMF forecast? How much water do the forecasts hold anyway?

Forecasting, the most imprecise branch of economics/ econometrics, is obviously the one wherein the interest of the players lies. I often go back to my favourite statement “Weather forecast for tonight: Dark” as a tongue-in-cheek reminder of whether a) a forecast is a formal way of stating the obvious and in fact doesn’t look good till it states…the obvious! and b) the basic ability of anyone to forecast anything at all is always “dark” and suspect.

Didn’t get that? Yeah, thought so. Okay, lets put it simply. The acceptability of a forecast depends on how obvious it is. So, the Modi Sarkar with its bagful of tricks (and treats, which the Obama team will bring in soon) seems to suggest to the aam mind that growth could be well on its way. Also, it is obvious that with the issues that China is facing, they will be forced to deliberately push up the rates, slow down the export rate, increase labor costs internally…hmm, they will have to slow down, right? Now, it does not take a Box and Jenkins to predict that the rates could cross over soon enough. What the market had roughly expected, the forecast stated, sealed, packed and delivered. This forecast is causing excitement, because it is stating the expected.

Second, forecasts are always the dark horses of the economic family. No matter what technique you use, no matter how deeply you understand the non-stationarity in the processes, no matter how you try to arch over the GARCH models, you are taking a view of the future based on stochastic behaviour of the past. Forecast brightness: Dark!

Hmmm…so I come back to my main point: Is the IMF forecast reliable? That’s a different question from: Is the IMF forecast acceptable? Well, now the interesting part is that there is documented proof that the WEO forecasts tend to be …biased, in certain cases and hence, buddy, before you think of buying that stock, please do take a look at this.

A number of studies have been carried out on the efficiency of the IMF WEO forecasts at a formal and informal level. A study that I found particularly interesting was “On the accuracy and efficiency of IMF forecasts: A survey and some extensions” by Hans Genberg and Andrew Martinez. Different papers seem to suggest that there is considerable scope for the forecasts to be biased.

Evidence from papers suggests that IMF growth forecasts are normally optimistic if the country is a program country (India), or is a developing economy (India) or is an Asian economy (India). There also seems to be evidence that the IMF forecasts follow political optimism cycles (India) and that forecast errors seem to be maximal if there is an issue in terms of understanding the fiscal movement of the country (India). More optimistic is the political cycle leading to expectations of low fiscal deficits, more optimistic is the forecast (India). Few papers seem to suggest that the forecast seems to be biased upwards in the short run (2016, India) and especially so in times when certain variables (like oil prices) can turn turbulent for the host country (India).

Do you want me to go on? You get the point, right? There’s way too much optimism in that IMF forecast of 6.5%, if you ask me. The only reason why I don’t have a commanding voice and an unquavering eye is the following: To expect that the IMF forecast is too optimistic for India 2016 is finally a forecast based on my observations of IMF forecast in the past! Help!

So, is it too early to celebrate? Yes. I believe that the next 6 months will give us a true picture of where we are heading. Let the Sensex and the Nifty go any which where; we need to see where the real variables move in the next 6 months. The expenditure program of the Government, fiscal deficits, GDP growth, GFCF, ICOR, employment, credit off-take, poverty ratios…these are the variables to be watched. If these move correctly, then we may have a chance of overtaking that prized opponent (if you will), China, by 2016.

In the meanwhile, let Odie, that jolly and dumb animal, be happy. Just hope Garfield doesn’t transform into Grumpy Cat.

Analysis of the rate cut: What has changed in the past one month?

Wow! Early morning surprise by the RBI Governor: A rate cut of 25 bps on repo, pushing it from 8% to 7.75%. The other key rates and availability of liquidity under other windows such as repo have been kept constant. While I have been rooting for a rate cut for some time now, I must confess that I had thought that the Governor may choose to unveil the same only post-budget.

So, what has changed since December, except that India is now “used to” zero WPI inflation? I think that a big angle is that there is more certainty now, than in December, that the globe will remain a low interest rate place in 2015. So, a reduction in the Indian rates will not pose a threat of us being the only country out of synch with the others, causing pressure on the exchange rates. Here are a few factors that could have finally persuaded the inflation warrior to give a smallish rate cut, if only on repo:

  • The world is confirmedly on a “soft” platform now. Multilateral agencies including the World Bank were looking at a global GDP growth rate of about 3.2%- 3.4% for 2015 and that has since December been revised downwards to 3%. It is, as usual, fruitful to remember that the 3% growth rate has long been a psychological benchmark for gauging “global recessionary” trends. In a soft growth world, there are lesser chances of interest rate hikes by any of the major trade partners of India and hence an interest rate reduction would not really put our monetary stance out of synch with any other banks’ stance.
  • In particular, it is important to look at what Ms. Yellen is thinking if you want to analyze how Dr. Rajan works. In the past 3 months, the US data has been increasingly upbeat. The growth rate has firmed up nicely to about 2.5%, a long cry from the negative growth rates witnessed during the sub-prime. At the same time, the unemployment rate hit a 6-year low of 5.8% and in the month of December, the Fed was quoting that it could go further down to a level of about 5.3% by September 2015. In fact, the UK magazine “The Economist” made a remark tongue-in-cheek that the US seemed to be on a “rude” growth spree, growing at a time when the world was looking forlorn. Based on the growth and labor numbers, the Fed was increasingly hinting at a rate hike that could start in February or March 2015. What was not expected then was the oil could actually fall to $40 in January 2015. Now this fall in oil has had two consequences on the US interest rate prospects. First, of course, it has reduced the inflation levels in the US significantly, cooling the prospects of an immediate rate hike. What is now largely being said by analysts is that Ms. Yellen may now choose to spend the next 6 months “preparing” the markets for higher costs of borrowing. Second, a large chunk of those shale investments that will be hit by the reduction in crude are concentrated in the US. And hence, even as inflation falls, there is a hint that the investments in oil and gas in the US could also take a hit in 2015, thereby supporting the fact that those rate hikes in the US will be postponed some more.
  • In the meanwhile, the East is faltering. China is on a deliberate slowdown mode and is grappling with its internal issues of banking, investments and growth. Japan, which has been frustrated with its deflationary history, is now facing issues as the price indices move predictably downwards with the crude oil softening. The Eurozone too is on the verge of a recession and the falling oil prices mean that the interest rates will stay low.
  • Lets talk about Russia, where the interest rates have been….raised. Now, there is big trouble brewing there. Firstly, there was the issue wherein Crimea, which was a political part of Ukraine was separated and attached to Russia in March 2014 by Putin, a move which the EU has not taken to nicely. This caused the EU and the US to raise sanctions against Russia, which hurts their trade and investment prospects significantly. Secondly, Russia seems to be plagued by the notorious “Dutch disease.” Dutch disease describes a phenomenon wherein a country starts exploiting a natural resource sharply (in the Russian case, oil, which became its “lead” sector) and emerges as a chief seller of that commodity in the international markets. As the oil prices in the world increased from 2010 to early 2014, the Rouble too maintained its levels nicely, making it cheap for Russia to import the “non-oil” or the “lagging” sector commodities. So long as the oil prices were high, Russia had the FOREX to finance imports of the non-oil commodities. It also implies that in an appreciating Rouble phase, Russia would be privy to “cheaper” borrowings from abroad, which would help further the investments in the oil sector. Now with the falling oil prices and the sanctions, the export revenue of the economy stands massively reduced. This would put a pressure on FOREX reserves and/ or the exchange rate, and as we have seen, both the variables have been under significant pressure. The depreciation has meant that the cost of the repayment of the debt and interest has increased manifold. At the same time, the sanctions imply that the lenders are not really in a mood to roll-over any of those fast-maturing debts. Even if Russia increased her interest rates overnight, from 10.5% to 16%, this kind of an interest rate hike is not reflective of any regular monetary policy stance and does not fool anyone at all. In fact, such interest rate hikes are normally subjected to Catch 22 processes- the fact that the rates have been hiked tells everyone loud and clear that there is trouble; capital outflows post-hikes are normally notoriously higher than they were before. Thus, I do not think any Central Banker would be currently worried about being out-of-synch with the already-out-of-synch Russia.
  • And then, there are the domestic factors. The Modi statement that the Government will not interfere with the workings of the banking sector has brought a hitherto unseen warmth in the Central Bank-Central Government relationship. Economically speaking, the fact is that not only the CPI and the WPI, but also the core inflation has shown significant slackening in December. Core inflation, since it removes the effect of food and fuel, is largely indicative of demand conditions in the manufacturing sector. Thus, softness in demand in manufacturing, low crude prices, lower than expected prices of foodgrains, especially cereals, and most interestingly, a reiteration of the commitment by the Modi Sarkar to stick to fiscal discipline, all suggest that price pressures in the immediate 6 months would not be daunting.
  •  A final, and slightly technical point. The reduction of 25 bps in the repo does not really change the dynamics between the call money market rates and the LAF corridor since the call rates have been roughly at 7.50%- 7.60% levels in the past quarter, even when the repo was at 8%. Thus, the repo volumes need not really see a huge jump immediately even if the repo stands slashed to 7.75%.

Nice move, Governor. A signal, that we are looking at a softer interest rate regime in the next 6 months, without really affecting the real dynamics in the market.

Econ-birding and Pareto Optimality

I was on an eco-adventure this weekend. Except that it wasn’t eco-nomy, it was eco-logy..I had taken it on myself to participate in the Bird Fest happening in Pune (thanks to Nature Walk Charitable Trust) this weekend and it was, quite literally, a lark of an event!

The fest started with a photography exhibition, and went on to host 2 birding events, lots of talks by reputed ornithologists and interactions with forest conservation officers. As the first day rolled into the other and as the avian delights opened up in front of my eyes and in my untrained mind, I was experiencing the unrestrained joy that only and only nature in all her splendour can deliver.

Our first birding trip was to humble, good old, plumb-spang in the middle of the city Vetal Hills. Sceptical as I was (“What kind of birds can you observe near Senapati Bapat Road, for heavens’ sake”), I did decide to wake up early on a nippy morning (around 9 degrees is my guess) and fortified with a strong cup of coffee, headed towards where the rendezvous was supposed to begin. I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of around 50 odd people, all age groups, waiting patiently in semi-darkness for our group guide to begin the walk. 50 in a population of about 50 lakhs, my economic instinct came out in the early morning, even as my eyes watered in the cold weather. Okay, given that this is one of the youngest cities in the country, let us assume that about 15% of the population, around 7 lakhs could be less than 15 years old. Another 8 lakhs senior citizens. Another 20 lakhs economically not well-off and hence, not attuned to nature. That still leaves 15 lakh people who must have read all the advertisements and articles about the fest, of which there were 50 people who thought of taking a small hike in the morning. That’s a 50/15,00,000 chances of finding a bird lover in Pune, no wonder the birding population is dwindling…

I was jerked out of my statistical musings when our guide announced that the experts had arrived. Mr. Kiran Purandare and Mr. Girish Jathar were the 2 experts who would literally walk us through the jungle trail, enabling us to understand the sights and sounds that the avian species offered to the Punekars. There were a few basic instructions before beginning the trail. The first was to..just..listen. As we all stopped talking, there was a sudden twittering in the trees above..the call of a fly catcher. I realized for the first time, as our guides talked, that there is a time-table to nature. As the morning dawns, the bats go back to roost before the first bird can twitter. Very often, specific avian species get up before the others do, without the help of the swanky alarms and the snooze option.

We must have walked hardly 30 steps when Dr. Jathar pointed to a completely wilted tree. Humans have often thought that such trees should be immediately utilized towards fuel needs. But birds think differently. At the very top of the tree was a very small hole, out of which was peeping a copper-smith barbett chick, awaiting mommy’s return. And soon enough, hurrah! Mommy returned, with a delicious snack! As she reached inside the hole to her little one, I connected…perhaps, mother to mother. Perhaps, mammalia to aves. I don’t know..but I was filled with a profound sense of happiness, sudden tears of don’t-know-what-or-why forming in my eyes, in the midst of a group of total strangers, who too were looking misty-eyed and awed by what we were witnessing and suddenly didn’t feel like strangers at all. Oh, look, a shikra! Someone said suddenly and we moved, physically and emotionally, from motherhood to…royalty. This magnificent hunter (Accipeter Badius) was perched haughtily in a tree, looking down on us, a motley group of humans…I could almost hear the strains of “The circle of life” as I stared at King Accipeter Mufasa on his throne. A shikra is uniquely adapted to jungle hunting, explained our guides. His wings have a curvature on the ends that allow him to manoeuvre through the jungle trees; the kite, which is regularly sited in the city, can only swoop in the open since his span is bigger and straight. So, this is THE hunter in this forest. As we hiked up the hill trail, which by the way, is bewitching and simply wonderful, the jungle thickened. The twittering and chirping too increased and we could hear several birds having a literal mehfil! We saw a black drongo, shining in the morning sun. The drongo is called as the “kotwal”, which means a police officer, in Marathi. That is because he is so fiercely protective of his nest; he even has been known to take on an eagle at times, just because the fellow dared to swoop in too close to his precious chicks! A lot of smaller birds hence, roost around the drongo…quite a party, this one. Some of the drongo cousins are excellent mimics and with a drongo around, it becomes quite difficult to understand whether the call comes from the real bird, or whether its just a drongo joke on the forest. And then, there was a purple sunbird! With a long beak, it has a tongue that functions like a straw and allows it to suck nectar from the flowers. However, its different from its richer hummingbird cousin…it can hover and suck but is devoid of flying backwards. Another with a long tongue that is curled inside like a chameleon is the woodpecker. Once it pecks through the wood and finds the insects, its tongue is rolled out to devour the snack. And once we had climbed up quite a bit, there was a magnificent peacock pair, roosting in a tree deep down in the valley. There is an old stone quarry which has become a wetland site atop the hill and we could see teals and stilts floating around the place peacefully.

By the time we came back, there was considerable amount of sharing of binocs, cameras, pictures, phone numbers, people slipping and falling over the rocks and others helping them, old people who needed a hand, sassy youngsters comparing notes, Marathi speaking people patiently giving the local names to the non-Marathi ones…there was a lot of bonhomie in what had been a complete group of strangers a couple of hours ago. Of course, the basic bonding was the ones which the birds had given us. Once we all got down safely, we got to interact with the local forest officer who gave us information about the bird racing event that would be flagged off in Pune!

The idea is that wetlands in Pune are favoured breeding destinations for a lot of migratory birds and the forest department came up with the idea of dividing the wetlands into 16-odd areas. Teams would be sent to do a full-day observation at these sites and would literally race to spot more diversity and would try to estimate the numbers of birds that flocked to the sites on that day. (Tougher than the CSO’s job of “imputing” the GDP of India, I thought sympathetically) Over a period of time, this data could perhaps help to gauge the changes in the demography of the migratory birds that visit Pune. How wonderful!

In the evening, we had a superb bird communication session with Kiran Purandare. Difference between calls and songs, superb imitations of many many species, seasons and areas in which the songs can be heard..it was a terrific experience. He also taught us whistling and there I was, in the middle of strangers again, whistling away as loudly as my laughing companions were. There was an extremely sweet presentation by a 12-year old who managed to save some crag martins’ nests in his colony. And then, a wonderful talk by Dr. Yardi on the avian diversity around Jayakwadi and the encroachment issues. Another talk the next day by Dr. Bharadwaj on the bio-diversity issues of the sanctuaries in Rajasthan too was stimulating and breached topics socially and morally difficult to solve.

The population of foxes in Rajasthan is a threat to the seriously endangered Great Indian Bustard. So, can we “move” this population elsewhere? Should we shoot a man-eating leopard or try to save him? The high level of fertilizers in the land that moves into the wetlands causes the hyacinths and mosses to grow more rapidly. This attracts the birds of a particular type to the wetland at the cost of other birds which are divers or prefer clear water habitats. Animal breeding and grazing is a chief occupation of many communities. So can we really enclose grasslands to protect a certain kind of species at the cost of human livelihood?

As an economist, I am trained to understand economic distribution issues through the concept of Pareto optimalities. Simply put, a Pareto optimal outcome is one wherein no one can be made better off without making someone else worse off. When Vilfredo Pareto had broached this issue that the income distribution in Italy could be subjected to a “Pareto improvement” i.e. plenty could be made better off without the others really sacrificing their life-style, the then-on-the-throne Fascists had not taken to it kindly. Pareto vs. The Fascists. Nature vs. Man.

Are we such Homo Fasciens, that we cannot give a better lifestyle, a Pareto improvement to the others such as Pisces and Aves? I somehow went back mentally to my all-time favorite George Orwell. The Orwellian conclusion could well have been that “the avians above looked from Homo Sapiens to Homo Fasciens, and back again, but already it was difficult to say which was which. But despite my fasc-ination for him, I don’t want to be an Orwell tonight. Not after such a wonderful weekend. I am rooting for a Pareto improvement. I hope, Homo Sapiens, you are too.

Music and Maths…

“Are they related?” asked my li’l one. Apparently, his maths teacher had broached the topic in school and being both musical as well as mathematical, it intrigued him immediately. “Ummm, yes..they are”, I began. Even as we spoke, there were so many things, some scientific, some flip episodes from my childhood, some words of wisdom from my music guru, that started coming up in my mind. And then of course, I went back immediately to find out whatever I could on the net…its maddening! From music courses that Maths tutors deliver in reputed schools to Pythagorian notions of “perfect musical numbers” and from Bach’s “Air on the G string” to how Beethoven composed music whilst going deaf using maths, the evidence is staggering. While browsing through the mathematical evidence, I almost had the same goose-bumpy feeling that only Kishori Amonkar rendering Jogiya in sublime form can create.

How can you ignore it? Musicians and mathematicians would need similar types of skillsets: An ability to create a precise output from the abstract, the skill to implement progressions deftly, to create sets and sequences within them. When Fibonacci, perhaps the greatest mathematician that Europe saw, gave those wonderful sequential numbers to the famous rabbit question (If one pair of rabbits is kept in a room and give birth to a young one, then there are potentially two pairs which can now give birth to two rabbits….so the sequence progresses from 2 to 3 to 5…), I wonder if he himself saw what profound truths would stand revealed in those numbers. When Peter Higgs got the Nobel for Physics for the revelation of the nature of the God particle, I had thought about whether the Fibonacci sequence could be re-named the God algorithm. It looks like this is the way nature progresses. Much has been made out of how flowers seem to mostly have petals that are multiples of 3 or 5 (both are Fibonacci numbers), but there are flowers that would also show exactly 34, 55 or 89 petals. And then, there are those superb Fibonacci rectangles. If you draw squares of the Fibonacci number sizes and arrange them to always create rectangles, you will see how these rectangles form the building blocks of the spiral shells of the sea creatures…if the Lord God made them all, Fibonacci saw them all. He saw the pattern, he saw the construction of the underlying nano-processes in a mathematical form.

Music is intrinsic to nature. You know where I am headed, right? Is it possible that the Fibonacci algorithm would not apply to music? Of course not! I mean, you just have to look around and there it is, staring at you in your face. An octave is C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C with 8 notes in it, a Fibonacci number. In Hindustani music, we do talk about the seven swaras or the saptak, but an octave stands defined only with a root and an end…so Sa to Sa is an octave (For the sceptics and outright disbelievers, I offer one more statement…Just like the Fibonacci sequence, you may also want to look up the Lucas sequence, which starts with 2 and1 and then progresses like Fibonacci…2, 1, 3, 4, 7, 11, 18…Now, here is the saptak, which is a derivative of a Fibonacci-like sequence). If you examine the octave from C to C on the keyboard, there are 13 keys, 8 white and 5 black. Pancham or Pa is the 5th note of the major scale and it is incredibly the 8th note of all the 13 notes in the octave. Pancham, that backbone of all Ragas. The check point. Since Pancham is the 8th of the 13 notes, it is actually 8/13 = 0.61538, which is….phi! Phi, the golden number, the golden ratio. If we divide the Fibonacci numbers as in 2/1, 3/2, 5/3…they eventually just move towards….phi. The ultimate truth.

It didn’t sound this mathematical all those years ago when I was learning Hindustani music under Manik Bhide, a very strong exponent of the Jaipur Atrauli gharana. “Please, please teach me Marwa”, I used to ask her, 3 years into learning music. And she would give me the same answer patiently “Marwa is not easy because it doesn’t contain Pancham..you are not ready for it…when the backbone is missing, there is no checkpoint for the swaras. Also, you have to use Shadja i.e. Sa sparingly. Without Sa and Pa, you are in a space where you only have to feel the other swaras and you are not really sure where you are…Only the masters, who can peep into HIS creation can sing it.” His creation, the phi, the Fibonacci. On another occasion, I had asked her to teach me Hansadhwani. It is a Raga containing 5 (Fibonacci number!) swaras- Sa Re Ga Pa Ni..its a very sweet Raga and one of my all time favourites and I was truly excited about learning it. “No Manasi, you are not ready for it” came the answer again. “Why?” I was adamant. “If I can do Bhoop, which is – Sa Re Ga Pa Dha- why can I not do a Hansadhwani- Sa Re Ga Pa Ni?” “Because child, jumping from Pa to Ni is tough, really tough.” Well, I remember thinking that if I could jump from Dha to Sa during Bhoop, why could I possibly not jump the distance from Pa to Ni? “Because musical distances are not uniform”, she had told me. “From Pa, any distance is mighty. Because you are letting go of the anchor. Pancham. The backbone”. Phi.

It all falls into place. As I looked tenderly at my little musician, I wondered how I could even begin to explain this. There was once a mad guy called Fibonacci, I began…