Book Review: Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys is a thriller and thankfully, not a doomsday prophecy

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, picks its name form “Flash Orders” placed by “High Frequency Traders (HFTs) on stock marking using “proprietary algorithms” and using “speed of transaction” (measured in nanoseconds) as a differentiator, Michael Lewis’ nth attempt at explaining the dark side of wall street. This time, he touches the dark pools as well and the victory of the technologists on the street as well. Phew! So much stock market jargon!

Brad Katsuyuma, a reluctant but extremely competent trader with Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), an Asian- Candaian (who doesn’t identity with his Asian identity at all), takes the battle to the Wall Street biggies when his years of understanding the basics of trading are brought to nought by e-trading or HFT. From having a sub-zero understanding of the technology that has changed the rules of the game to the formation of IEX and with a bunch of  unlikely heroes by his side, Michael Lewis travels through the evolution of high frequency trading (and to some extent, the Street itself) and the subversion of investor interest by traders. (The word subversion comes a few times when Michael goes through the story of ace Russian programmer, Serge, of Goldman Sachs).

One can only speculate where the world goes after IEX. My guess is as good as yours. And my guess is that we are just waiting for new inefficiencies to creep in. In a way, it is like Jana Lokpal. Will you expect the police to be the one to setup a policing regime on their own life. Some of the righteous ones may agree. Some may do it to create the aura of being righteous while figure out a way of subverting it. Most, however, would just refuse. In the end, it all boils down to game theory.

Michael puts Brad Katsuyuma and his band of warriors at the center of a right and wrong, good and evil, prey and predator story. The book leaves you with a lot of answered and unanswered questions, especially if you are, like me, an outsider. If you’re one of those who has often wondered about the excessive lifestyles and monies of the investment bankers and traders, and the overall razzmatazz of trading, stock market price fluctuations, options and futures, and what nots, Flash Boys, at the very least, gives you a good ring side view and an access to an exciting commentator of the game. The book also, unlike what you’d expect, is not very judgemental. Brad manages to keep his sanity through till the end, and is able to understand and rationalize the motives, even though he doesn’t always agree with them.

I have had similar predicaments. Not just once. A scenario where an extremely profitable engagement depends on one’s ability to downplay the morality of what is being asked for. There is a certain point in Flash Boys, where an analyst explains how his bosses ‘told’ him to prove that the “dark pools” were benefiting the banks’ customers. As an analyst, he knew it wasn’t true. As an analyst, he managed the numbers in a way that it could be proved true. As an IB analyst, or a consulting analyst, tell me if you haven’t been in a similar situation! Yes. One of those.

Flash Boys runs like a thriller, jumping timelines & story-lines, weaving a tale of greed, deceit and genius, and is well marinated for being converted into a movie right away. The book is absolutely riveting. The concepts and most technicalities/ stock market actions have been explained in layman terms for people like me who haven’t really cared for them all these years. And I am sure, once could have foreseen why this book would be a bestseller.

The way Michael has built each of the key characters is the secret sauce. At the beginning, there were many instances where I could identify with Brad’s inertia or lack of ambition in life a lot. There are also a lot of moments where people would find themselves nodding to certain actions that people like Ronan take. Right down to the defiance and condescence against the apparent ruler and rules of the street. You can’t help but feel a lot of sympathy for Serge, even as you try to wave the corporate ethics and IP protection manual in front of people. I must also confess that I am a little late to the party, and a lot has been written about the book already. However, I do encourage all of you to read the book if you haven’t already. It’s a fascinating read, even though many may consider it a bit one sided, with nothing but Brad’s desire to do right holding him through a lot of those difficult phases. I have no business calling it out as absolutely the unadulterated truth or a blatant lie. Though, I have no qualms in adding that HFTs are supposed to work exactly like they are explained to be in the book. Whether or how it creates a competitive advantage for the one with the best resources, the best access, and the highest level of corporate corruption is something that is and will remain a hypotheses.

So go on then. Enjoy it. A definite 4.5 on a scale of 5 for me. Good story, good story telling, great memorable characters. And off I go to the next one!


A Mandatory Pre-Academy Awards Post

I just want this to be in time before the show begins. I have not watched all, but a few of the oscar nominations. The list is – The Imitation Game, The Theory Of Everything, Foxcatcher, Birdman, American Sniper. And then, the minor contenders like Interstellar, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Dawn Of The Planet of Apes, XMen Days Of Future Past, Gone Girl, etc.

So, I really don’t have a valid opinion on the best movie category. But I definitely have one on the best actor and a couple of other categories. But before that, a quick roundup and opinions about the primary five.

First things first. Mostly, they are all average fair that, even if you’d seen them before the list was announced, you would know straight away that more than honest cinema, they are a well planned attempt to win an oscar. They tick on all the basic parameters… Apparently true or theo-philosophical, perfect use of long silences, a level of darkness or morosity, a fundamentally flawed centerpiece, method acting…

But thats what you come to expect of oscar lists over a period of time. Therre is a patterrn to them. Almost like how Shahrukh Khan gets nominated for most awards even after delivering a Happy New Year. Or how Stardust looks at the last minute attendance confirmation to decide the optimal allocation of the available trophies. Everyone should get a return gift for having attended the ceremony. Even Tiger Shroff. or, Abhishek Bachchan.

Second, four of the movies are based on true stories, and one is a semi tragicomical shoutout to hollywood, with Keaton who played Batman once upon a time taking a dig at the superheroes and the larger than life supermormal hollywoodian personalities like himself and others as they try to discover true art, that is, broadway… And if you extend the logic a bit, Academy awards maybe.

Anyways, I am trying to come across as someone who is contending for the oscars for the best oscar blogppst. Profound and shit like that.

Actors… Redmayne is avearge. For a change, so is Cumberbatch. Cooper doesnt belong. That leaves us with Keaton and Carrell. I want Carrell to win, but I think Keaton has a better chance.

Supporting actor.. Hulk Norton is up against Hulk Ruffalo. I am rooting for Ruffalo. I think Ethan hawke might be the real contender. But I want Ruffalo to win.

Director.. Inarritu for Birdman from my list. Or, maybe Linklater for Boyhood. I have only seen parts of boyhood, and I am impressed. Will wrap it up soon.

And by that logic, the other person or movie could win the best film. It will be too obvious to give the same movie both the awards. And Academy folks hate being seen as Obvious.

For the other categories, I do not have enough data points. I did find Felicity Jones brilliant in The Theory Of Everything. Way better than Redmayne. Definitely better than Rosamund Pike.

I don’t think either Keira Knightley or Emma Stone deserve supporting actress award.

Oh and yes, best visual effects, I am torn between Interstellar and Dawn Of The Planet Of Apes. And for the best makeup, I think Guardians of the Galaxy is what I would vote for.

What do you guys thnk? Who gets your vote?

Books Roundup: Autobiographies

Do you read autobiographies?

तुमको देखा तुमको जाना, आइना अच्छा लगा
आज पहली बार मुझको भी खुदा अच्छा लगा

Tumko dekha, tumko jaana, aaina acha laga…
aaj pehli baar mujhko bhi khuda acha laga

(Meeting you, knowing you, I now appreciate the me some more
Today, for the first time, I, too, appreciate Him some more)

These days my love for autobiographies or self referential literature has grown. I am not exactly sure what exactly I look for in these books, whether I am moved by these stories, whether this fondness is reflective of my current life phase or if my quest for understanding myself has begun a little too late.

I have stared enjoying the tales that are not necessarily heroic, and describe flawed geniuses. They definitely help me understand my flaws better.. And maybe, someday, the cycle will eventually lead to my discovery of the genius within me. That’s optimistic though. The genius part.

My love for sports (watching/ following), on the other hand, has gone down. I still enjoy watching a game or two, cheering for something/ someone, posting status messages, getting into occasional debates. But the interest sustains only for a short while. After the previous world cup, and the wankhede moment, my interest in Cricket also has come down faster than the water slides at Water Kingdom.

Coming back to the books, in the last few months, I read four sports-autobiographical works. Playing It My Way by Sachin Tendulkar, Open by Andre Agassi, Rafa: My Story by Rafael Nadal and The Test of My Life by Yuvraj Singh. Unfortunately for everyone, Tendulkar’s book projects him as a genius, but an unflawed one. He is a well-cut diamond all through. The book is so polite that at the end of it, all you can eat is Parle-G.







The best by a margin is Open. Not for its literary quality, but for the openness with which Agassi bares his soul and his life. It tells you of the funny nature of his success and how his failures to come to terms with his personal life and aspirations occupy the top drawer. And also, his growth. I have been in the Pete Sampras camp all my life, and here I was, rooting for Andre well after his retirement. I relived many of those games, the rivalries, their importance or insignificance. And I learnt that the whiz kid of tennis wasn’t really in love with the game. Or, so it seemed. The book is also a very effective reminder of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

Rafa and Yuvi’s books have a few similarities. In pure literary terms, they both suck. And both of them pick a grand event as an anchor (the Wimbledon final vs the world cup) and run the book around that grand event. Those anchor events serve as benchmark of excellence that the world has come to know these two by. And yet, the preparation, the agony of successes and failures on that path, the physical beatdowns, the personal and the professional – they are fairly insightful. Yet, just to highlight the differences, Rafa’s book is a few miles ahead of Yuvi’s book in overall quality and impact terms. And a lot more honest also, I guess.

I have just about finished reading “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, and for a change, I did not feel like I was being preached to. What a brilliant book to come from a CEO (and not the investor). The book managed to put the mistakes of a decade long career in perspective, without, for a moment, reprimanding me. I strongly recommend the book to everyone out there. Even though most people will consider it a business book, I consider it fairly autobiographical. Especially those who aspire to become a good leader, a good CEO, or to have their own startup someday.

किताबों से कभी गुज़रो तो यूँ किरदार मिलते हैं
गए वक़्तों की ड्योढ़ी पे खड़े कुछ यार मिलते हैं

Kitabon se kabhie guzro to yoon kirdaar milte hain.
Gaye waqton ki dyodhi par khade kuch yaar milte hain

Travelling through books, these characters come and meet you so
In the bylanes of a time gone by, a few friends come and meet you so.

Not Really A Short Story: 20 Years Later

This should fall in the category of valentine’s day posts. But not quite Matru-Pitru posts.

 Anita’s Journal Entry, October 18, 2011. 11:30PM

Dear K,

Have you ever received a gift box, which is this big shiny box that opens up to reveal a smaller shiny box. When you open the second box with great anticipation, what you see is another box, almost as shiny, but a little smaller. Your curiosity gets the better of you. You open that one too. You see another. The process goes on for a while. You start tiring. But there is still that one more box left. Now, if you’re really the never tiring, always positive, and infinitely patient person, then you’d open this box with the same excitement as the previous one. But most people are spent by now. They just want to be done with the ordeal. Usually, they lose their excitement for this gift. The gift seems like a joke which has long since stopped being funny.

This marriage seems a lot like that. A promise that I don’t see being fulfilled. For tonight, we sleep, to wake another day.





October 23, 2011: 7:30AM, Somewhere on Mumbai-Pune Expressway


“Can’t you drive any faster?”

Anita had always felt that the driver, Surinder, preferred driving at speeds befitting bicycles on a highway. Slow to the point of being illegal. Surinder, however, looked at the dashboard, reconfirmed that he was driving at 80, the mentioned speed limit on that signpost he’d just crossed, and continued to ignore madamji.

“I am telling you. Someday, I am going to ask him to stop and get down right in the middle of this highway, and drive myself. It will solve two problems at the same time.”

“Do it.”, Kishore knew he had made the wrong move.


“Do it…”

“Do what?”

“Ask him to stop and get down. Then you can drive us to Pune.”

“You think I’m joking?”

“Naah. Never. My submission though is that it will help us reach at 12:30 instead of 12:45.”

“You go back to doing whatever you were doing. Tweeting. Facebooking. Whatever. Just go to hell.”



The song on radio at that time – Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai


“Saahab. Rukna hai? Cow-fee Day aane wala hai.”, crooned Surinder. Ah, that endearing stress on cow, the sweet smell of the cow-belt accent.


“Nahi. No Need. We are already late. And you should cut down on coffee. Tumhara weight mere marne ke baad hi kam hoga.”, madamji, oops, Anita was on a roll here.

(Nopes. No Need. We are already late. And you should cut down on coffee. You’re going to lose weight only after my death I suppose!)

“Ya shayad tab bhi nahi”. She added as an afterthought. The amusement on her face was irritating Kishore.

( Not even then, maybe.)

“Theek hai Manoj. Pune mein hi dhoondh lenge.” (Its OK Manoj, we will find something in Pune itself)


“By the way, what did you think of my Sari? Am I looking nice? Proper?”


“What hmmm?”

“Sari – good. Loking nice – yes. What do you mean by proper?”

“Arrey.. You know how it is. Riya’s in-laws are so nit-picking. They will keep discussing how I was looking long after we’ve left Pune. And this, when Riya is not even a family member.”



“So what?”

“Is it proper?”

“Ya ya. It is..”

“You don’t give me any compliments anymore?”

“You have never given me any compliment!”

“You don’t do anything worthwhile. You’re useless.”


I had gone back to tweeting about the traffic on the highway, the quality of the road, the ghats, the comparison between this expressway and the Yamuna expressway, and the latest political debate around the prime ministerial candidates.


The road signs had been announcing the latest property coming up in Lonavla, Aundh, Hinjewadi, Kalyani Nagar, Viman Nagar, Magarpatta, and what not. The colors and the words and the names changed. The message barely so. World-class townships or premium apartments or holiday homes.


“You know what? I think we should meet Anjali and her husband too”, Anjali’s said in a thoughtfully lost voice.


You think we will have time?

“I guess..”

“Should I call them?”

“Do you want to finalize it now? Or after we know whether we have the time to meet them or not?”

“See, this is what exactly happens? Now, we won’t commit to a plan. Then we won’t have a plan!”

“Arrey meri maa… All that I am saying is.. “

“I know what you are saying. No need to repeat. This has always been my problem. You just won’t plan anything.”

“… “

“Neither will you plan anything. And you won’t let me plan anything!”


“My life sucks.”


“I want a vacation.”

“Sure. But where did that come from?”

“You won’t let me plan a vacation.”

“No… That’s not true.”

“So can I plan one for November?”

“November? Hmmm.. Let’s do it in the second half. I have a few important meetings in the first half of the month.”

“What dates?”

“Not sure. Will let you know?”

“See?? Again.. You won’t tell me the exact details. We will keep waiting. By then, the flights will be too expensive, or the hotel will be sold out or something or their mother will happen.”

“Calm down yaar”

“What calm down? Tell me. When was the last time we had a planned vacation?”

“3 months back?”

“That wasn’t a planned one. That was a break – yes. But not a planned vacation.”

“So what is a planned vacation?”

“At least one week, and with the plans firmly in place about what all we want to do”


“I know what you’re going to say. But even if you don’t want to do anything, it’s still a part of the plan. The plan is that on day 1 we won’t do anything. We will lie down.”


“And this is exactly what you’d do. Not let me plan a vacation.”




Kishore’s Journal, October 18, 2011,  11:00PM

Dear A,


I wonder where our relationship is headed. It’s like that box we often talk about. Twenty years of marriage, and I still fall in these traps. I hate these arguments.

We have long suspended our own plans to keep up with Zinger’s plans. Now that he is in a hostel, these traps are becoming more frequent. I know I should have seen today’s discussion going in this direction. My mind often switches off when you go in these ten minute ranting modes, the ones you call justified anger. Any attempt to revisit the discussion at a future stage would lead to further ranting (expressing disappointment) about how useless I am, and how this marriage was such a bad idea. So, let’s bury this one too.

I think we are at that point in our marriage. The fatigue seems too high and both of us don’t care about the apparently amazing choice we had made back then – of getting married. Ah. I just read all this again. Profoundness. I have found myself to be profound this time. Profound tumblr is just around the corner.





October 23, 8:15 AM


“Acha suno. Khurana had called.”, Kishore broke the silence

“Who? That… “

“Tarneja Vs. Khurana”

“Tarneja Vs. Khurana”

We both completed the same thought and laughed heartily about that private joke which no one else found funny. Specially, Mr. TV Khurana or Mr. Luv Khurana, as his parents had named him.


“He’d be coming over tomorrow night.”


“Something he wants to discuss. “


“Not sure. I think he just wants a break from his screwed up office life. Last three weeks have been a little nerve wrecking you know”

“Then why don’t you two go out. I don’t want to meet Mrs Khurana who knows the answer to every question”.

“She’s not so bad!”

“She’s worse! You go and meet them. Spare me the trouble.”

“Cmon yaar. They’ve been a lot of help.”

“I know. But I just can’t get to like them.”

“Ok. We will figure out something.”


Another five minutes of silence.


“Say something nice to me”.

“Like what?” Kishore dreaded this question. Like most men do. 

“I don’t know. Something? Anything?”

“Are… but like what?”

“See? Pehle to tum kuch dhoondh hi lete the.” (Earlier, you were always able to find something nice to say)

“Haan.. but purana repeat bhi to nahi kar sakte?” (True, but can’t even repeat the older ones, right?)

“To kuch naya socho. Something new.” (Then find something new!)


“Ditch it.”



“By the way, the sari is actually looking very nice.”

“Thanks. I know.”



By then, both them had started feeling a little sleepy. The eyelids were happy, and the decision to not pick a cup of coffee on the highway was adding salt to the injury. Kishore hated getting up early.


Her head was already looking for a comfortable resting position so that she could sleep. It can be called an old habit, but it probably was also the most comfortable position.



She had put her head on Kishore’s shoulder by then. And was getting somewhat curled up in the back seat of the car.

“I love you.”

“Hmm.. Me too.”

His head was resting lazily on her head by then.


The song had changed by then – Thoda hai thode ki jaroorat hai




Anita’s Journal Entry, October 24, 2013, 11:00PM


Dear K,

Did I tell you this?


The tiny box might just be worth it. So, hang in there.




Short Story: The Tousle

We’ve all seen them. The ones who keep playing with their hair. All the time.

He was one of them. He had the ability to tousle his own hair indefinitely. It was a never ending cycle. The slight tousle. And in about fifteen seconds, a four fingered swipe that pulled the hair mop back. With that a slight jerk of the neck to mark the conclusion of the process. Repeat again in fifteen seconds. Was the ritual irritable? Yes, to start with. Then it became as natural as someone sitting in the room. I had stopped noticing.

As I came to know him better, I understood it to be his reminder to himself. Of the one thing that people had told him many a times over the years – you’ve got beautiful hair dude. In an age where people have started balding earlier than average, hair treatment and transplant clinics have started doing more befores and afters than the weight loss clinics, Salman Khan has become bushier than he ever was, and Harsha Bhogle no longer looks like his cute balding self, having naturally beautiful, strong, bushy hair was God’s way of compensating him for everything else that was wrong with him.

He had deep rooted insecurities. About his abilities. About his success. About what he wanted to become but did not have the right tools, platform, resources to be. About every small thing that went wrong in a day in an average person’s life. And the tousle and swipe helped him deal with life.

When disturbed, he would tousle his hair a few extra times before stopping to pull them back with a fierce swipe. When happy, the neck jerk would stabilize at a 15 degree upward tilt, a sign of pride and happiness with the moment. When thinking, his fingers would alternate between tousling and swiping at slower speeds but at a higher frequency than the usual fifteen second intervals. A pattern for every season. A pattern for every emotion.

When he’d walk into an elevator, his first reaction would be to check if the elevator has a mirror, or a surface so shiny that he could see his reflection. Once spotted, he would first go through a series of double hand swipes, pulling his hair back and then smoothing them over. And he would then end it with a tiny tousling. This was to add the effect of a little side romance to a gory action movie. Just as a Jason Statham would blast an entire den of gun toting villains, and then amble to that damsel (not much in distress) and confess about his hard-on.

If this story were written by Harishankar Parsai, he would talk about the agony of that strand of hair that goes through an abuse worse than a not-so-rich girl in Delhi who has to travel around the city in a DTC bus because she is in a sales job. The constant touches, pokes, forced violations, even as she is sitting petite in a corner, the constant feeling of being checked out, the groping, the molesting, and then at the end of it, getting down with a feeling that she’s been done a favor by not being raped. He might even use the metaphor of a Devadasi, for she exists to please the believers. Or a goalkeeper, who has been given this duty to protect the team. Everyone else may do anything else. But when push comes to shove, the goalkeeper has to stop the ball. Get hit in the process. Stop endless attacks and still get up every time. The only difference would be that the goalkeeper asked for it.

Or, worse still, he could compare it to Rahul Gandhi. Having been made to believe for so many years that you are destined to become something, you lose sight of what you actually are, and start becoming the face of the existing. But the face is the face. The hair can never be the face. Or, a stop gap to compensate for the lack of personality or identity. He could compare the party cadre to the fingers that tousle and swipe this mop of hair and eventually expect it to look pretty to the outsider. And no doubt, there are a few that would not notice anything else but the hair, and assume that the person is as good as the hair itself. And maybe, then, expect Gurudev to write about where the head is without hair, into that future let my country rise. Maybe.


And it all might be true. But I digress.


I met him yesterday. He is thirty years old. He is bald. He had stage three leukemia. Detected five years back. The radiation therapy led to hair loss. I had tried to be by his side through the stages of treatment. He had been strong.

His hand still inadvertently reaches out for the tousle, and his face loses its smile when it finds nothing. I want to tell him that he is looking better now. A stronger version of himself. But I am not sure I would be able to explain.




Book Review: The Love Letter and Other Stories

My review of The Love Letter and Other Stories, written by Buddhadev Bose and translated by Arunava Sinha, is live on The Tales Pensieve.

In short, its a fairly sensitive and poignant  set of short stories, well written and well translated.

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