The Doomed Love Life of Mr & Mrs Jinnah
For one who has written three biographies in the past decade, I have grappled with the acute shortage of source materials that provide evidence for not just the narrative of the life one is reconstructing but also the social and political issues of the times the person lived in. The book by Sheela Reddy is evidence of how rich and credible the narrative can be if such resources were available. However, it is not just access to the resources that makes her book unputdownable, it is her intensive and meticulous research, based on first-person accounts as well as secondary sources, that makes the nearly 50 pages of notes (of the 421-page book) as interesting and engaging as the story of the ‘marriage that shook India’. I did miss an index, though.
 
There is no shortage of drama to the story of this marriage, especially when the protagonists are MA Jinnah and Ruttie Petit. Twenty-four years older to her and a friend of her father (Sir Dinshaw Petit, a fabulously rich baronet and a prominent Parsi mill-owner), Jinnah was a leading Muslim barrister in Bombay and, by then, already a powerful politician. The only daughter of Sir Petit, Ruttie was a girl of 16 when they fell in love, so pretty, vivacious and fashionable that she was known as the ‘flower of Bombay’.
 
The story started as a fairy tale: Sir Petit not just spurning Jinnah’s offer but getting a court order barring them from meeting; the two-year wait until Ruttie turned 18 during which they would manage to converse only at political meetings because Jinnah was too ‘correct’ to do otherwise and go against the court orders; their  steadfast devotion to each other during this ‘blackout period’ and his meticulous plan for Ruttie’s conversion to Islam a day before the wedding (because without it the mullahs would not perform the wedding rites; she was formally renamed Mariam—a name that would only be used on her tombstone), her eloping from the Petit house ‘with her dog and an umbrella’; Jinnah forgetting to bring a ring to the wedding ceremony; her father fainting when he read the wedding announcement in the paper and slapping a charge on Jinnah for kidnapping his daughter, prompting Ruttie to stand up in court and tell the judge that “Mr Jinnah has not abducted me: in fact, I have abducted him” (p131). 
 
But, despite their love and devotion to each other, it ended up as one of the gloomiest love stories ever.
 
The book is based on a bunch of private letters preserved by Padmaja and Leilamani Naidu, daughters of Sarojini Naidu, who was a close family friend of the Petits and later Ruttie’s role model and confidante. Ruttie was a prolific letter writer and Sarojini and her daughters were the recipients. Apparently, the author stumbled upon them in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML). Padmaja “had the foresight and imagination to collect and preserve her family’s vast and lively correspondence... and put it at the disposal of the curious in the NMML archives.” 
 
What the author has done remarkably well is interpreting the content of the letters, bringing the solitary, misunderstood Jinnah and the lonely, wistful Ruttie to life, weaving deftly the social and political ethos and issues of the times. Some examples of such observations are: the impact of this Muslim-Parsi marriage on the education and upbringing of Parsi women; the kind of parenting—or rather the lack of it among the upper strata of society—where children were left to the care of ‘governesses’; the discovery of barbiturates in the 1920s and its popularity among the idle rich women driven by ennui and depression; atheism being a popular trend in the 1910s and 1920s; the emergence of Paris as the cultural and intellectual centre of the world, especially after the end of World War I... the list is endless. And these observations are completely unobtrusive to the main narrative. In fact, I was impressed with the fact that, despite the tumultuous events, the ferment of ideologies and ideas, and the number of important and interesting people that criss-crossed the lives of this star-crossed couple, the author does not lose her focus on the main narrative.
 
Sheela gives a glimpse of how the politics of the times as well as his personal life gradually transformed Jinnah from being a liberal Muslim (and a ham-eating, cigar smoking, alcohol-drinking one to boot,  who sent his sister to a missionary school, where she was the first Muslim girl to be admitted), to a more staunch and conservative individual.
 
Sheela narrates an incident which brings alive not just his chivalry and tenderness for Ruttie but also his belief in women’s right to dress as they pleased. The Jinnahs had been invited for dinner to the Bombay Governor’s residence. Their hostess, Lady Willingdon, asked an ADC to bring Ruttie a shawl “in case she felt cold.” It was a slim excuse to cover a blouse which the governor’s prim wife felt was too low-cut (and perhaps she was not too pleased that an Indian woman was the object of many admiring English eyes!). At that, Jinnah rose from his seat and told the governor’s wife that “When Mrs Jinnah feels cold, she will say so, and ask for a wrap herself.” After which he led his wife out of the dinner and, post the incident, refused all other invitations to Government House (p149).
 
Perhaps the romance, and the marriage, was doomed because of the huge age difference between them. She was vivacious, full of energy to explore and live life to the full, while he was seriously involved in the politics of the times. She wanted to be by his side and participate in his life to the fullest—something that was not viewed kindly by the Muslim community that gradually became Jinnah’s main constituency as the Home Rule Movement and then the Indian National Congress changed gears, after Gandhi’s emergence on the Indian political scene. Unused to playing second fiddle, Jinnah became more and more involved in strategising with the Muslims, to the exclusion of Ruttie. So, in this triangular love story, she lost out to her competitors—politics and Jinnah’s overarching ambition. 
 
Even as she appeared outwardly to be settling into her role as a dutiful wife and homemaker “as thousands of modern young women like her were doing all around her, unable to resolve their dilemma of what to do with this new freedom that an English education had given them,” her persona was withering. Even the birth of their daughter could not bridge the chasm that had grown between them. The couple so neglected the child that, as Leilamani wrote to her sister Padmaja, she was not named even though she was six years old.
 
To get over the disappointment with life, Ruttie experimented with séances, with drugs ‘from the long needle’, social work for women from the red light areas with Jinnah’s friend Kanji Dwarkadas, short encounters with theosophy, none of which got her out of the gloom. A decade after they got married, she mustered the courage to break out of the cycle of love and guilt to tell J—as she used to call him—that it was finally over. “She told him to his face, in their first-class coupé, on the train... On 4 January 1928, they parted wordlessly at Victoria Station, she going to the Taj with Sarojini (which had a room permanently reserved for her), who had been on the same train, while he went home alone, too proud and hurt to stop her. He had not seen it coming.” Their meteor of love had extinguished itself.
 
Ruttie died on 20 February 1929, her 29th birthday, alone in a house where she stayed after moving out from the Jinnah residence, consuming an overdose of sleeping pills, leaving behind her daughter, Dina, and her inconsolable husband, who never married again.
 
A must-read for all those interested in politics, history and the power of an unforgettable love story. 
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How To Persuade Others 2.0
Influencing others to do something that you want them to do has been an art which only a few realise, focus their energies on, and manage to master. Apart from selling, marketing and advertising, this art is at the core of all human interactions such as interrogation, diplomacy, teaching, parenting, religion and politics. One of the best-known exponents of the art was Dale Carnegie whose book, How to win friends and influence people, has been translated into several languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide. The Dale Carnegie Institute claims to be able to codify the art into a learnable skill. In the late 1980s, when social psychology started to morph into behavioural science, and hundreds of experiments startlingly drove home the fact that human beings are fundamentally irrational when they make decisions, the science of persuasion started to gain ascendancy. 
 
Robert Cialdini was one of the earliest exponents of this new evidence-based approach. His first book, simply called Influence, was launched in 1984 but remained unknown. But, a decade later, when behavioural science became mainstream, the book became a best-seller. A big area of application of this newly acquired insight into human decision-making is in financial matters. We now know from the periodic market booms and busts, to regular buying and selling of stocks, that irrationality is pervasive—invariably, to the detriment of our investment. Those who know this, and are able to control it, do well with their money. 
 
Cialidini is back with another book, this time called Pre-suasion. In this book, he argues that successful influencers “spent more time crafting what they did and said before making a request. They set about their mission as skilled gardeners who know that even the finest seeds will not take root in stony soil or bear fullest fruit in poorly prepared ground.” They do something that gives them “a singular kind of persuasive traction: before introducing their message, they arranged to make their audience sympathetic to it.” In other words, here is the critical insight for those of us who want to learn to be more influential: the best persuaders become the best through, what Cialdini calls, ‘pre-suasion’—the process of preparing recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it. Here are a few of the many examples cited in the book that prove why this is true. 
 
The amount of money people said they would be willing to spend on dinner went up when the restaurant was named Studio 97, as opposed to Studio17. 
The price individuals would pay for a box of Belgian chocolates rose after they had been asked to write down a pair of high (versus low) digits from their Social Security numbers. 
Participants in a study of work performance predicted their effort and output would be better when the study happened to be labelled Experiment Twenty-seven (versus Experiment Nine). 
Observers’ estimates of an athlete’s performance increased if he wore a high (versus low) number on his jersey. 
Just after drawing a set of long lines on a sheet of paper, college students estimated the length of the Mississippi River as much greater than those who had drawn a set of short lines. 
Customers in a wine shop were more likely to purchase a German vintage if, before their choice, they had heard a German song playing in the shop.
 
The answer to these and numerous other studies involves an “essential but poorly appreciated tenet of all communication: what we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next,” points out the author.  
 
The starting point of the business of persuasion is drawing attention. This works best if one can identify ‘privileged moments’—points in time when individuals are particularly receptive to the message. These are described in chapter 2. Cialidini calls it ‘channeled attention’ which he argues, are central to any attempt to persuade. Here is a startling example. 
 
When San Bolkan and Peter Andersen approached people and made a request for assistance with a survey, only 29% consented. This is the typical experience of all surveyors. The conventional answer is to ‘bribe’ the strangers with something, to open up. Bolkan and Andersen tried a different strategy. They began a second sample of individuals with a pre-suasive opener: “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” Nearly everyone answered ‘yes’. In that ‘privileged moment’, the researchers pounced, requesting help with their survey. The number of those who consented now leapt to 77.3%. 
 
Chapter 3 offers insights into what happens after the privileged moments are seized. Human beings attach undue levels of importance to an idea as soon as one’s attention is turned to it. You can then influence them with enough of foreground and background cues. Two marketing professors, Naomi Mandel and Eric Johnson, have described how they were able to draw website visitors’ attention to the goal of comfort merely by placing fluffy clouds on the site’s landing page. This led those visitors to assign higher importance to comfort when asked what they were looking for in a sofa. “The visitors also became more likely to search the site for information about the comfort features of the sofas in stock and, most notably, to choose a more comfortable (and more costly) sofa as their preferred purchase. To make sure their results were due to the landing page wallpaper and not to some general human preference for comfort, Mandel and Johnson reversed their procedure for other visitors, who saw an image that pulled their 
attention to the goal of economy by depicting pennies instead of clouds. These visitors assigned greater levels of importance to price.” 
 
Chapter 4 explains the principle that “what is focal is causal”—that is, if you are focused on something, you think it is the cause of something that happens thereafter. “If people see themselves giving special attention to some factor, they become more likely to think of it as a cause.” 
 
The subsequent chapters offer known ideas—from the role of sex and violence in automatically inviting attention, to the impact of metaphors and words. As an example of the second, consider the technique of Ben Feldman, who worked only within a 60-mile radius of his little hometown of East Liverpool (Ohio) but became the greatest life insurance salesman of his time (and perhaps of all time). At his peak, he sold more life insurance by himself than 1,500 of the 1,800 insurance agencies in the US. In 1992, after he had been admitted to a hospital, his employer, New York Life, decided to honour the great salesman’s 50 years with the company by declaring “Feldman February”—a month when its agents would compete to notch up the highest new sales. Who won? Ben Feldman. How? By calling prospects from his hospital bed, closing $15 million in new contracts in 28 days. Among the many special skills of Feldman, one was his mastery of metaphor. In his portrayal of life’s end, for instance, people didn’t die, they ‘walked o
ut’ of life. “When you walk out,” he would say, “your insurance money walks in.” Many customers walked right into his proposal. 
 
This is a fascinating book but only in parts. Unfortunately, in large parts, the book gets into issues of public interest, such as how the media is co-opted into setting the government’s agenda (such as US’s war in Iraq). Or a 12-page-long discussion on how innocent people confess to crimes they did not commit under the pressure of interrogation. Of those who retract their confession, 81% still get convicted because the camera during the interrogation is focused on the accused. This acts against them when a jury watches the recording later because “what is focal is causal.” 
 
The other problem of the book is its loose and rambling prose which makes the book too long and boring. Finally, here is the irony about a book on pre-suasion. The main text is of 233 pages while the whole book is 413 pages long! It has 90 pages of references and 67 pages of notes all printed in the same large fonts as the main text, which makes this book unnecessarily voluminous, daunting and dissuading! 
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A New Stock-picking Formula
For the patient do-it-yourself investor, High Returns from Low Risk by Pim Van Vliet is a breakthrough book, in the same league as The Little Book that Beats the Market. In that book, Joel Greenblatt explained how ranking stocks on the basis of high return on capital and low valuation does the job of picking long-term winners. This book, too, offers a quantitative formula. Van Vliet demonstrates that ranking stocks on three filters—low volatility, high dividend yield and rising momentum —yields terrific market-beating results. He shares the excellent back-tested results of this formula. 
 
Van Vliet shows the impact of progressively adding one filter at a time on the same set of US stocks, going back all the way to 1929. He starts with volatility. He took the monthly closing prices of US traded stocks from January 1926 to December 2014, a period of more than 80 years—through the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II, the prosperous 1950s, the swinging 1960s, multiple recessions, the oil crisis of the 1970s and market excesses like the Dotcom bubble of the 1990s. Any results obtained over such a long period are “unlikely to be the result of pure luck or temporary effects that might disappear at some point in the future.” 
 
To keep things simple, the author picked the 1,000 largest companies by market-capitalisation and excluded penny stocks (less than $1 in price). He ranked these 1,000 stocks, by the volatility of monthly return over the previous three years. He then created two portfolios, one containing 100 stocks with the lowest volatility (low-risk portfolio) and the other with highest volatility (high-risk portfolio). But volatility changes, over time. To ensure that the portfolio retains the initial character, Van Vliet rebalanced the portfolio every quarter. If a stock in one of the portfolios no longer qualified to be there, he just exited that holding and replaced it with a new stock. What were the returns of the two portfolios?
 
Assuming that you put $100 into both of the portfolios on New Year’s Day 1929 and re-invested any capital gains for 86 years until New Year’s Day 2015, the low volatility group yielded a return of $395,000 (compounded annual growth rate of 10.1%), while the high volatility portfolio’s return was only $21,000 (6.3%). High risk does not equate with high returns. Low-risk stocks beat high-risk stocks by 18 times!
 
So why not just buy the top low-risk stocks? Because we can do even better with two more filters. As the author puts it, “If you could choose between two stocks with exactly the same low risk characteristics but one was very expensive and the other was very cheap, chances are you’d opt for the cheap one… like a lot of other things in life, it pays to focus not only on what you buy, but also on the price you are to pay for it. This idea of buying cheap stocks is a popular and well-known investment strategy, applied by many investors all over the world.” 
 
This is popularly known as value investing. One of the ways value is expressed is dividend yield (dividing the dividend declared by market price). But some companies prefer not to pay dividends; they would rather buy back shares. So, Van Vliet ranked stocks by dividends plus buybacks, calling this filter ‘income’. If a stock becomes expensive, the income yield will fall and vice versa. At this stage in the process, we have low volatility stocks with high income yield. We need a third filter. Why? Some low-priced stocks may offer a high income yield but may face poor business prospects which is why they are inexpensive. If so, the stock will languish and even decline—value trap. How to filter these? Enter momentum, the third factor. 
 
There are many ways of measuring momentum, the most common of which is to filter stocks on the basis of their returns over the previous 12 months. The assumption is that strong momentum usually continues. This list of high-momentum stocks was then combined with the other two filters. In practical terms, Van Vliet picked 500 lowest-volatility stocks. He then ranked them on income and 12-month momentum. Each stock got a score between 1 and 500, based on these two factors; these scores were simply added together. Then, he combined these two lists and picked the top-100 stocks. This shortlist now would have a stock with low volatility, high income, and good momentum. With this approach, the average compounded return since 1929 gets bumped up, from 10.1% to 15% per annum. Quite impressive. 
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COMMENTS

Mitesh Shah

2 years ago

i would be pleased to see the stocks in indian context ?

Abhijit Gosavi

2 years ago

Very interesting.

MURALI MOHAN

2 years ago

Impressive study/research by Pim Van Vliet. And very nicely summarised. Thank you.

Sandeep Reddy

2 years ago

but indian market dont have such history...1926.

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