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Embracing Mistakes & Maintaining a Quiet Mind: Mohit Satyanand

MOHIT SATYANAND/Substack | 01/01/2024

Courtesy: Mohit Satyanand

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Walking back from the beach this morning, I saw a little girl rattling coins inside a tin box, in a shy appeal for donations. Her cousin stood on the other side of a plastic chair, in which slouched the life-size figure of a skinny old man, dressed in a black suit. 

It’s Old Man - for the Old Year.”

I had neither money to put into her can, nor a camera, but hope I can correct both of these during the day. Back at home, I looked for references to the tradition of the Old Man, and found the lovely farewell for the Old Year which heads this post.

It’s difficult to shed pessimism in light of the situation in both Ukraine and Gaza, with no let-up in blood-letting and violence. But, as one commentator mentioned (and I wish I could find the piece to credit him), the long-term trends of better child health and nutrition across the world continue, even while backsliding in some spots is inevitable.

I promised myself this piece would have no politics in it, so I will talk of some things I learned in 2023.

Stronger Than You Think

Cycling into the Caucasus in Azerbaijan* this April, I was exhausted by early afternoon of our second day on the road. As we neared the pass, the wind built up into a determined foe. When the climb steepened to 12%, I couldn’t pedal any longer. We got off our cycles, and pushed them against the wind, against gravity. Arms ached, legs stiffened; every few minutes, self-pity threatened, and I swatted it down. 

How much longer,” I asked myself, “before I collapse?”

“That is unknown”, I answered, “for nowyou’re still erect. Your mind is still clear. Contemplating defeat adds no value.”

The demon of defeat walked back. I used his retreat to observe my own body, to settle my legs into a pace and rhythm that was steady, even if slow. I monitored my breath, and if it became jagged, I stopped till it calmed. Gavin had found a faster pace, and I could no longer see him, but I didn’t allow that thought to unsettle me. It was clear I had not trained as hard as I should have, but that was behind us. I had to find my peace with that mistake, find my peace with my pace.

Gavin walked back from the top, and hauled my cycle over the pass. Even so, my legs were wobbly, and I didn’t think I would be able to get back onto my bike. 

We don’t have an option”, he said - “it’s still twenty kilometers to our rooms, and it will be dark soon”.

I forced myself back onto the saddle, and within minutes, my heart was soaring with joy, at the speed, the mountain air in my face; above all, with the little dialogue I had with myself, the reminder that a quiet mind is a great source of strength.

Invested in Retirement

I wandered into the world of investing, shortly after the dot-com bust at the turn of the century. The boom years of 2003 to 2007 were kind to my portfolio, and I was also fortunate to anticipate the Global Financial Crisis that followed. I was not as sharp in anticipating the recovery of 2009, but on average, my returns justified the time and attention I paid to managing money, and secured my retirement fund.

Except that I haven’t really defined ‘retirement’. I haven’t held a job or headed a business for most of the last twenty five years; since I can pretty much set my own schedule for the day, you could say I’ve long been retired. I do have some board meetings to attend, or calls with start-ups, but zoom has meant that these engagements are portable, and minimally intrusive.

But I spend several hours a day immersed in the ecosystem of investing - economics, markets, companies, regulations and the business environment. I find it endlessly fascinating. Saturdays are a welcome break from the screen, but by the time Sunday afternoon comes along, I’m looking forward to the adrenalin of Monday morning. 

If this is work, I’m not about to retire in a hurry.

I enjoy the ride of the markets far too much, and in a completely different way, I deeply enjoy working with the young founders I get to meet as an angel investor. I love that they see value in my limited understanding of business, and I love the ringside view of how business is changing.

Does this make me an investing addict? 

Possibly - but I try to contain the contours of that addiction with some ground-rules: no screen at the table, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner; no screen when I have visitors; meetings get first priority, and are not pushed to after-market hours; lunch with old friends beats watching the market, as does the odd afternoon snooze. 

And, though I will answer all calls, nothing is allowed to interrupt my time on the saddle, or in the sea.

Indian Tourism Choked

Last week:

  • there were traffic jams in Sissu - a place most had not heard of even a decade ago. Thanks to the Atal tunnel that was drilled under the Rohtang Pass, visitors to Manali can now cross into the trans-Himalayan region of Lahaul in under an hour, never mind if the pass is buried under rolling banks of snow and ice.

  • Clutch plates burned out on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, as cars leaving the choking confines of Mumbai for some semblance of fresh air slowed each other down to stall speed.

  • Cars with Bangalore number-plates escaped the crawling pace of its narrow streets, sped out onto the Mysore expressway, and piled into two kilometers of tailbacks at the toll plazas.

As urban India chokes on itself, those with money look for escape on long weekends and seasonal breaks. Our infrastructure just can’t cope. And it’s not just the roads, which have improved radically over the last decade, there is a shortage of ‘destinations’, places which boast even the faintest reason to attract tourists. I won’t dwell on the fact that most tourism 

displaces the original attraction, natural beauty with plastic trash, forests with concrete, and silence with bhangra-pop, but posit that the need for escape will outpace our nation’s ability to provide it.

I cannot set myself apart from these crowds, claim I am not part of the problem, disown the city-dweller’s disquiet with the city. Our numbers are the primary polluter, and they’re not going to ease up soon. My need, and ability, to be in nature, will ebb much faster, but still rages strong.

My response, feeble as it is - to travel less, and stay for longer. 

To spend the winter in Goa is a blessing. To whizz up and down the coast, for dinner at one restaurant, and music at another, is an indulgence I will push back on. 

To have a home in the mountains is a benediction from less frenetic times. The slopes around us now host a thousand second homes, which host lunch, high tea and dinner through the season. We didn’t put down roots there to party, and don’t want to add more noise, more kinetic energy to our hills than we absolutely need to. If I have my way - and I usually do - I don’t leave my property for weeks on end, except on two feet.

Nothing I do, or write, is going to impact the march of mass tourism, of travel as consumption. Perhaps we will search for new ‘undiscovered’ places, and thus discover them, find ‘unspoiled’ gems, and in so doing, spoil them. 

Such is the irony of travel, such a major source of my delight in this planet.

Good-bye Grouches, and Grouses

What a lovely resolve for 2024!

Over 67 years, you accumulate an entire menagerie of grouches and grouses. They weigh you down, infest your epidermis, and stiffen your joints. Doctors can’t write prescriptions for them, and in any case, most of us treasure these afflictions like heirlooms.

I thank the fates for the gifts of softness I received last year, for allowing some of these mites to escape into the sunlight, and ease my skin.

I wish that journey into light for myself, and for you.

(This article was first published in Substack). 

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