Madras Muggers

I blame my upbringing in the city of chennai for my woes today. I am studying (or atleast starring furiously at the pages) for my level 3 of CFA. This is a three-year course where one exam happens every year (You will understand what it means if you have seen 36 chambers of shaolin. In one grueling test they decide whether to let you go to the next level or not). It is highly recommended for every budding investment banker/trader/financial analyst working in the U.S. I am a corporate banker in India. The most advanced financial wizardry I have done so far is calculate the equivalent front ended interest rate from a back ended one. However for the last three years I have been indulging myself in an expensive course with no payback visible in the horizon. The only conclusion I have reached is that I am a closet student.

It is not like I have been a steady topper (I have had my moments, but given the amount of time I had spent writing one exam or the other, probability must have ensured I did alright in a few). But nothing to indicate I derived sustenance from knowing I was studying for something.

I think this phenomenon started quite early in life when I chose to do commerce instead of science. I had already signed up for the course chosen by losers in Tamil Nadu. Now the rest of my life would be an endless endeavour to set this right. Which meant when I was filling my admission forms for B Com, I had already gone through the brochures of ICWA, ACS, CA. So I could fruitfully spend extra time ‘adding value’ to myself. In my first year, I had finished a certified course from NIIT (To this day, I wonder when I will get to use my strong foundation in DOS. So far I see it when my computer starts up and feel happy momentarily that I recognize C:/). In the beginning of my second year, I had passed my C.A. Foundation course. The whole of second year and most of third year was spent in clearing exams for the C.A. Intermediate course. This could have gone on an infinite period of time, had I not started a MBA. There were temptations (do I write my C.A. Intermediate and then maybe finish the final after B-School…?). Luckily since enough people told me that MBA would be tough by itself, after a long time there was only one thing I was doing. After two relatively ‘extra course free’ years, I thought I had finally exorcised the ghost of Madras Muggers (The ‘mug’ as in study, not ‘mug’ as in steal.). Infact joining work seemed to have been a reasonably good indicator that I had been saved from me and there would be no more attempts at trying to string more degrees to my name.

Sadly, I was mistaken. One year went by in peace and harmony and at the end of it had signed for the ‘U.S Recognised’ CFA course. I once again attacked my books with a vengeance. And realized I had signed up for another three years of feeling guilty about spending free time on movies or books or dining out (not that it stopped me from doing all the above). And feeling really noble if I restrained and instead starred at my books while all my worthy compatriots were not utilizing their time in toil. Again I plunged into questions on the sanity of studying given a lot of people in the world got on all right without it. The torment of realizing in the nth hour that you still have 50% of the stuff to cram. The resolve to drop out of the course at the end of 1st year no matter whether I passed or failed. The usual pre-exam melodrama.

I passed the first year and in a happy daze had already paid the USD 500 fee for the second year before I could recollect all the trauma of studying the previous year. Infact, by the time I recollected, it was already finals time for the second year and there was a fresh set of trauma to grapple with. The second year exams finally got over too. Collapsed into a chair outside the exam hall with a worthy co-masochist friend. Who had suffered more than me clearly going by the number of cigarettes he was smoking and the look of hopelessness in his eyes. And listened to some serious soul searching. ‘What is it with us that makes us write more and more exams and collect more degrees even though we are not really getting anything out of it’. Not surprising coming from a guy who was working in Infosys in software and had bid goodbye to finance after just a year in it. I, of course felt smug in comparison since I was alteast in banking which qualified as ‘finance’. And then continued ‘I think it must be the tam in us’. Voila! How right was he! It was not the commerce degree that was propelling me to fall deeper into the pit. After all this guy was an engineer, and really by Indian standards he had nothing more to prove. And in all honesty, after an IIM MBA, I could at least state I had reached a bit of an academic pinnacle in India (never mind people who were in with you know how much of a pinnacle it is). Yet we were both spending hours making notes on heteroskedascity and delta hedging.

It figures. Any good Tamilian is told that the only way to come up in life is to study hard. A constant background noise throughout childhood on the importance of education had left a deep unerasable scar in our heads. Now there was nothing to do but to study more. Possibly through the rest of our lives (shudder). My friend took a last drag and said ‘so let me know by when we have to pay the fees for our third level’ I nodded in understanding.
It is not almost time for level 3. A sense of déjà vu fills me again as I open the portfolio management book. My friend called to say he is definitely going to flunk this year and he cant understand why he threw away good money on a stupid course etc etc. I listen and agree wholeheartedly and add some good criticism of my own. He is also planning to write his GMAT in October. God save us.

p.s. Two years have passed since this was written. I am happy to announce that I am yet to start another course.


Archana said...

Ha, don't blame the Tam blood in you. I am sure I can pull out scores of Tamilians who are happy with their Bachelors degree and scores more (like me) who think that having a postgraduate degree is all that is needed to attain education moksha!!

Bharathi said...

I am just registering my comment to show you that I read your blogs:-)Good work. Keep it up!