Tuesday, December 10, 2019


In a year full of interesting initial public offerings, many of which I have looked at in this blog, it is fitting that the last IPO I value this year will be the most unique, a company that after its offering is likely to be the most valuable company in the world, the instant it is listed. I am talking about Aramco, the Saudi Arabian oil colossus, which after many false starts, filed a prospectus on November 10 and that document, a behemoth weighing in at 658 pages, has triggered the listing clock.

Aramco: History and Set Up
Aramco’s beginnings trace back to 1933, when Standard Oil of California discovered oil in the desert sands of Saudi Arabia. Shortly thereafter, Texaco and Chevron formed the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) to develop oil fields in the country and the company also built the Trans-Arabian pipeline to deliver oil to the Mediterranean Sea. In 1960, the oil producing countries, then primarily concentrated in the Middle East, created OPEC and in the early 1970s, the price of oil rose rapidly, almost quadrupling in 1973. The Saudi Government which had been gradually buying Aramco’s assets, nationalized the company in 1980 and effectively gave it full power over all Saudi reserves and production. The company was renamed Saudi Aramco in 1988.

To understand why Aramco has a shot at becoming the most valuable company in the world, all you have to do is look at its oil reserves. In 2018, it was estimated that Aramco had in excess of 330 billion barrels of oil and gas in its reserves, a quarter of all of the world’s reserves, and almost ten times those of Exxon Mobil, the current leader in market cap, among oil companies. To add to the allure, oil in Saudi Arabia is close to the surface and cheap to extract, making it the most profitable place on oil to own reserves, with production costs low enough to break even at $20-$25 a barrel, well below the $40-$50 break even price that many other conventional oil producers face, and even further below the new entrants into the game. This edge in both quantity and costs plays out in the numbers, and Aramco produced 13.6 million barrels of oil & gas every day in 2018, and reported revenues of $355 billion for the year, on which it generated operating income of $212 billion and net income of $111 billion. In short, if your complaint about the IPOs that you saw this year was that they had little to show in terms of revenues and did not have money-making business models, this company is your antidote.

Aramco, Saudi Arabia and the House of Saud!
The numbers that are laid out in the annual report are impressive, painting a picture of the most profitable company in the world, with almost unassailable competitive advantages, investors need to be clear that even after its listing, Aramco will not be a conventional company, and in fact, it will never be one. The reason is simple. Saudi Arabia is one of the wealthier countries in the world, on a per capital basis, and one of the 20 largest economies, in terms of GDP, but it derives almost 80% of that GDP from oil. Thus, a company that controls those oil spigots is a stand in for the entire country, and over the last few decades, it should not surprise you to learn that the Saudi budget has been largely dependent on the cash flows it collects from Aramco, in royalties and taxes, and that Aramco has also invested extensively in social service projects all over the country. The overlap between company and country becomes even trickier when you bring in the Saudi royal family, and its close to absolute control of the country, which also means that Aramco’s fortunes are tied to the royal family’s fortunes. It is true that there will still be oil under the ground, even if there is a change in regime in Saudi Arabia, but the terms laid out in the prospectus reflect the royal family’s promises and may very well be revisited if control changed. Should this overlap between company, country and family have an effect on how you view Aramco? I don’t see how it cannot and it will play out in many dimensions:
Corporate governance: After the IPO, the company will have all the trappings of a publicly traded company, from a board of directors to annual meetings to the rituals of financial disclosure. These formalities, though, should not obscure the fact that there is no way that this company can or ever will be controlled by shareholders. The Saudi government is open about this, stating in its prospectus that “the Government will continue to own a controlling interest in the Company after the Offering and will be able to control matters requiring shareholder approval. The Government will have veto power with respect to any shareholder action or approval requiring a majority vote, except where it is required by relevant rules for the government.” While one reason is that the majority control will remain with the government, it is that it would be difficult to visualize and perhaps to dangerous to even consider allowing a company that is a proxy for the country to be exposed to corporate control costs. After all, a hostile acquisition of the company would then be the equivalent of an invasion of the country. The bottom line is that if you invest in Aramco, you should recognize that you are more capital provider than shareholder and that you will have little or no say in corporate decision making.
Country risk: Aramco has a few holdings and joint ventures outside Saudi Arabia, but this company is not only almost entirely dependent on Saudi Arabia but its corporate mission will keep it so. Put differently, a conventional oil company that finds itself overdependent on a specific country for its production can try to reduce this risk by exploring for oil or buying reserves in other countries, but Aramco will be limited in doing this, because of its national status.
Political risk: For decades, the Middle East has had more than its fair share of turmoil, terrorism and war, and while Saudi Arabia has been a relatively untouched part, it too is being drawn into the problem. The drone attack on its facilities in Shaybah in August 2019, which not only caused a 54% reduction in oil production, but also cost billions of dollars to the company was just a reminder of how difficult it is to try to be oasis. On an even larger scale, the last decade has seen regime changes in many countries in the Middle East, with some occurring in countries, where the ruling class was viewed as insulated. The Saudi political order seems settled for the moment, with the royal family firmly in control, but that too can change, and quickly.
In short, this is not a conventional company, where shareholders gather at annual meetings, elect boards of directors and the corporate mission is to do whatever is necessary to increase shareholder well being, and it never will be one. For some, that feature alone may be sufficient to take the company off their potential investment list. For others, it will be something that needs to be factored into the pricing and value, but at the right price or value, presumably with a discount built in for the country and political risk overlay, the company can still be a good investment.

IPO Twists
Before we price and value Aramco, there are a few twists to this IPO that should be clarified, since they may affect how much you are willing to pay. The prospectus, filed on November 10, sheds some light:
Dividends: In the ending on September 30, 2019, Aramco paid out an ordinary dividend of $13.4 billion, entirely to the Saudi Government, and it plans to pay an additional interim dividend of at least $9.5 billion to the government, prior to the offering. The company commits to paying at least $75 billion in dividends in 2020, with holders of shares issued in the IPO getting their share, and to maintaining these dividends through 2024. Beyond 2024, dividends will revert back to their normal discretionary status, with the board of directors determining the appropriate amount. As an aside, the dividends to non-government shareholders will be paid in Saudi Riyal and to the government in US dollars.
IPO Proceeds: The prospectus does not specify how many shares will be offered in the initial offering, but it is not expected to be more than a couple of percent of the company. None of the proceeds from the IPO will remain in Aramco. The government will redirect the proceeds elsewhere, in pursuit of its policy of making Saudi Arabia into an economy less dependent on oil.
Trading constraints: Once the offering is complete, the shares will be listed on the Saudi stock exchange and its size will make it the dominant listing overnight, while also subjecting it to the trading restrictions of the exchange, including a limit of a 10% movement in the stock price in a day; trading will be stopped if it hits this limit.
Inducements for Saudi domestic investors: In an attempt to get more domestic investors to hold the stock, the Saudi government will give one bonus share, for every ten shares bought and held for six months, by a Saudi investor, with a cap at a hundred bonus shares.
Royalties & Taxes: In my view, it is this detail that has been responsible for the delay in the IPO process and it is easy to see why. For all of its life, Aramco has been the cash machine that keeps Saudi Arabia running, and the cash flows extracted from the company, whether they were titled royalties, taxes or dividends, were driven by Saudi budget considerations, rather than corporate interests. Investors were wary of buying into a company, where the tax rate and the royalties were fuzzy or unspecified and the prospectus lays out the following. First,  the corporate tax rate will be 20% on downstream taxable income, though tax rates on different income streams can be different. The Saudi government also imposes a Zakat, a levy of 2.5% on assessed income, thus augmenting the tax rate. In sum, these tax rate changes were already in effect in 2018, and the company paid almost 48% of its taxable income in taxes that year. Second, the royalties on oil were reset ahead of the IPO and will vary, depending on the oil price, starting at 15% if oil prices are less than $70/barrel, increasing to 45% of the incremental amount, if they fall between $70 and $100, and becoming 80%, if the oil price exceeds $100/barrel.
A Pricing of Aramco
The initial attempts by the Saudi government to take Aramco public, as long as two years ago, came with an expectation that the company would be “valued” at $2 trillion or more. Since the IPO announcement a few weeks ago, much has been made about the fact that there seem to be wide divergences in how much bankers seem to think Aramco is worth, with numbers ranging from $1.2 billion to $2.3 trillion. Before we take a deep dive into how the initial assessments of value were made and why there might be differences, I think that we should be clear eyed about these numbers. Most of these numbers are not valuations, based upon an assessment of business models, risk and profitability, but instead represent pricing of Aramco, where assessment of price being made by looking at how the market is pricing publicly traded oil companies, relative to a metric, and extending that to Aramco, adjusting (subjectively) for its unique set up in terms of corporate governance, country risk and political risk. In the table below, I look at integrated oil companies, with market caps in excess of $10 billion, in October 2019, and how the market is pricing them relative to a range of metrics, from barrels of oil in reserve, to oil produced, to more conventional financial measures (revenues, earnings, cash flows):

Download spreadsheet
The median oil company equity trades at about 13 times earnings, and was a business, at about the value of its annual revenues, and the market seems to be paying about $23 for every barrel of proven reserves of oil (or equivalent). In the table below, I have priced Aramco, using all of the metrics, and at the median and both the first and third quartiles:

You can already see that if you are looking at how to price Aramco, the metric on which you base it on will make a very large difference:
If you price Aramco based on its revenues of $356 billion or on its book value of equity of $271 billion, its value looks comparable or slightly higher than the value of Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch, the largest of the integrated oil companies.
That pricing, though, is missing Aramco’s immense cost advantage, which allows it to generate much higher earnings from the same revenues. Thus, when you base the pricing on Aramco’s EBITDA of $224 billion, you can see the pricing rise to above a trillion and if you shift to Aramco’s net income of $111 billion, the pricing approaches $1.5 trillion.
The pricing is highest when you focus on Aramco’s most valuable edge, its control of the Saudi oil reserves and its capacity to produce more oil than any other oil company in the world. If you base the pricing on the 10.3 billion barrels of oil that Aramco produced in 2018, Aramco should be priced above $1.5 trillion and perhaps even closer to $2 trillion. If you base the pricing on the 265.9 billion barrels of proven reserves that Aramco controls for the next 40 years, Aramco’s pricing rises to sky high levels.
If you are a potential investor, the pricing range in this table may seem so large, as to make it useless, but it can still provide some useful guidelines. First, you should not be surprised to see the roadshows center on Aramco’s strongest suits, using its huge net income (and PE ratios) as the opening argument to set a base for its pricing, and then using its reserves as a reason to augment that pricing. Second, there is a huge discount on the pricing, if just reserves are used as the basis for pricing, but there are two good reasons why that high pricing will be a reach:
Production limits: Aramco not only does not own its reserves in perpetuity, with the rights reverting back to the Saudi government after 40 years, with the possibility of a 20-year extension, if the government decides to grant it, but it is also restricted in how much oil it can extract from those reserves to a maximum of 12 billion barrels a year.
Governance and Risk: We noted, earlier, that Aramco’s flaws: the government’s absolute control of it, the country risk created by its dependence on domestic production and the political risk emanating from the possibility of regime change. To see how this can affect pricing, consider how the five companies on the integrated oil peer group that are Russian (with Gazprom, Rosneft and Lukoil being the biggest) are priced, relative to the global average:

Russian oil companies are discounted by 50% or more, relative to their peer group, and while Saudi Arabia does not have the same degree of exposure, the market will mete out some punishment.

A Valuation of Aramco
The value of Aramco, like that of any company in any sector, is a function of its cash flows, growth and risk. In fact, the story that underlies the Aramco valuation is that of a mature company, with large cash flows and concentrated country risk. That said, the structuring of the company and the desire of the Saudi government to use its cash flows to diversify the economy play a role in value.

General Assumptions
While I will offer three different approaches to valuing Aramco, they will all be built on a few common components.

First, I will do my valuation in US dollars, rather than Saudi Riyals, since as a commodity company, revenues are in dollars and the company reports its financials in US dollars (as well as Riyal). This will also allow me to evade tricky issues related to the Saudi Riyal being pegged to the US dollar though the reverberations from the peg unraveling will be felt in the operating numbers.
Second, I will use an expected inflation rate of 1.00% in US dollars, representing a rough approximation of the difference between the US treasury bond rate and the US TIPs rate. Third, I will use the equity risk premium of 6.23% for Saudi Arabia, representing about a 0.79% premium over my estimate of a mature market premium of 5.44% at the start of November 2019.
Finally, rather than use the standard perpetual growth model, where cash flows continue forever, I will use a 50-year growth period, representing the fact that the company's primary asset, its oil reserves, are not infinite and will run out at some point in time, even if additional reserves are discovered. In fact, at the current production level, the existing reserves will be exhausted in about 35 years.

Valuation: Promised Dividends
While the dividend discount model is far too restrictive in its assumptions about payout to be used to value most companies, Aramco may be the exception, especially given the promise in the prospectus to pay out at least $75 billion in dividends every year from 2020 and 2024, and the expectation that these dividends will continue and grow after that. There is one additional factor that makes Aramco a good candidate for the dividend discount model and that is the absolute powerlessness that stockholders will have at the company to change how much it returns to shareholders. To complete my valuation of Aramco using the promised dividends, I will make two additional assumptions:

Growth rate: I will assume a long term growth rate in dividends set equal the inflation rate, and since this valuation is in US dollars, that inflation rate will be 1%.
Discount rate: Rather than use a discount rate reflecting the risk of an oil company, I will be one that is closer to that demanded by investors in REITs and oil royalty trusts, investments where the bulk of the returns will be in dividends and those dividends are backed up by asset cash flows.
The valuation picture is below:

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Based upon my assumptions, the value of Aramco is about $1.63 trillion. Seen through these lens, this stock is a dressed-up bond, where dividends will remain the primary form of return and there will be little price appreciation.

Valuation: Potential Dividends
The reason that dividend discount models often fail is because they look at the actual dividends paid and don’t factor in the reality that some companies pay out more than they can afford to do in dividends, in which case they are unsustainable and will fall under that weight, and some companies pay too little, in which case the cash that is paid out accumulates in the firm as a cash balance, and equity investors get a stake in it. While I noted that Aramco has signaled that it will pay at least $75 billion in dividends over the next five years, it has not indicated that it will cease investing and with potential dividends, you value the company based upon its capacity to pay dividends, rather than actual dividends.  In computing the potential dividends, I assumed that the company would be able to grow earnings at 1.80% a year, and be able to do so by continuing to generate sky high returns on equity (its 2018 return on equity was about 41%). However, the shift from promised dividends to potential dividends will also expose investors to more of the risk in an integrated oil company and I adjust the cost of equity accordingly:

Download spreadsheet
The value of equity, using potential dividends, is $1.65 trillion, reflecting not only Aramco’s capacity to pay much higher dividends than promised but also the higher risk in these cash flows.

Valuation: As a Business
When you value a business, you effectively allow for the options that the firm has to make changes to how much and where it invests, how it finances it business and how much it pays in dividends. One reason that this may provide only limited benefits in the Aramco case is that the company is significantly constrained, both because of its ownership and governance structure as well as its mission, on all three dimensions. Thus, it is likely that Aramco will remain predominantly a fossil fuel company, tethered to its roots in Saudi Arabia, is unlikely to alter its policy of being predominantly equity funded and its dividend policy is sticky even at as it starts life as a public company.  Following through with these assumptions, I assumed that the debt ratio for Aramco will stay low at 1.80% of overall capital, as will the cost of debt at 2.70%, in US dollar terms, based upon its bond rating. To get the reinvestment, I switch to using the return on capital of 44.61% that the company generated in 2018, as my base:

Adding the cash and cross holdings and then subtracting out the debt and minority interests in the company yields an equity value of $1.67 trillion, that is close to what we obtained with the FCFE model, but that should not be surprising, given that the company has so little debt in its capital structure.

Final Valuation Adjustments
In summary, what is surprising about the valuations of Aramco, using the three approaches, is how close they are in their final assessments, all yielding values around $1.65 trillion. That said, there are three additional considerations that none of these models have factored in.

Political Risk: While these models adjust for country risk in Saudi Arabia, I have used the default spread of the country as a proxy, but that misses the risk of regime change, a discontinuous risk that will have very large and potentially catastrophic effects on value. While you may believe that this risk is low, it is definitely not zero.
Upside limits: When you invest in any large integrated oil company, you are making a bet on oil prices, with the expectation that higher oil prices will deliver higher income and higher value. While that assumption still holds for Aramco, the royalty structure that the Saudi government has created, where the royalty rate will climb from 40% at current oil prices to 45% if they rise above $ 70 and 80% if they rise above $100/barrel will mean that your share of gains, as an equity investor, on the upside will be capped, dampening the value today.
Price setter/taker: While the largest publicly traded oil companies in the world are still price takers, Aramco has more influence on the oil price than any of them, as a result of Saudi Arabia's role in the oil market. Put simply, while the power of the Saudi government to set oil prices has decreased from the 1970s, it does continue to wield more influence than any other entity in this process.
The first two factors are clear negatives and should lead you to mark down the value of Aramco, but  the third factor may help provide some downside protection. Overall, I would expect the value of equity in Aramco to be closer to $1.5 trillion, after these adjustments are made. (I am assuming a small chance of regime change, but if you attach a much higher probability, the drop off in value will be much higher).

Aramco: To invest or not to?
Over the weekend, we got a little more clarity on the IPO details, with a rumored pricing of $1.7 trillion for the company's equity and a planned offering of 1.5% of the outstanding shares. That price is within shouting distance of my valuation, and my guess is that given the small size of the offering (at least on a percentage basis), it will attract enough investors to be fully subscribed. At this pricing, I think that the company will be more attractive to domestic than international investors, with Saudi investors, in particular, induced to invest by the company's standing in the country. It will be a solid investment, as long as investors recognize what they are getting is more bond than stock, with dividends representing the primary return and limited price appreciation. They will have no say in how the company is run, and if they don't like the way it is run, they will have to vote with their feet. If they are worried about risk, the research they should do is more political than economic, with the primary concerns about regime stability. The one concern that you should have, if you are a Saudi investor, with your human capital and real estate already tied to Saudi Arabia's (and oil's) well being, investing your wealth in Aramco will be doubling down on that dependence.

In case you care about my investment judgment, Aramco is not a stock for me for two reasons. First, I am lucky enough not to be dependent on cash flows from my investment portfolio to meet personal liquidity needs, and have no desire to receive large dividends, just for the sake of reaching them, since they just create concurrent tax burdens. Second, if I were tempted to invest in the company as a play on oil prices, the rising royalty rates, as oil prices go up, imply that my upside will be limited at Aramco.  Finally, it is worth noting that this company will be the ultimate politically incorrect investment, operating both as a long term bet on oil, in a world where people are as dependent as ever on fossil fuels, but seem to be repelled by those who produce it, and as a bet on Saudi royalty, an unpopular institution in many circles. As a consequence, I am willing to bet that not too many college endowments in the United States will be investing in Aramco, and even conventional fund managers may avoid the stock, just to minimize backlash. I don't much care for political correctness nor for investors who seem to believe that the primary purpose of investing is virtue signaling, and I must confess that I am tempted to buy Aramco just to see their heads explode. However, that would be both petty and self-defeating, and I will stay an observer on Aramco, rather than an investor.


The Lesson to Unlearn

18 min

December 2019
The most damaging thing you learned in school wasn't something you learned in any specific class. It was learning to get good grades.
When I was in college, a particularly earnest philosophy grad student once told me that he never cared what grade he got in a class, only what he learned in it. This stuck in my mind because it was the only time I ever heard anyone say such a thing.
For me, as for most students, the measurement of what I was learning completely dominated actual learning in college. I was fairly earnest; I was genuinely interested in most of the classes I took, and I worked hard. And yet I worked by far the hardest when I was studying for a test.
In theory, tests are merely what their name implies: tests of what you've learned in the class. In theory you shouldn't have to prepare for a test in a class any more than you have to prepare for a blood test. In theory you learn from taking the class, from going to the lectures and doing the reading and/or assignments, and the test that comes afterward merely measures how well you learned.
In practice, as almost everyone reading this will know, things are so different that hearing this explanation of how classes and tests are meant to work is like hearing the etymology of a word whose meaning has changed completely. In practice, the phrase "studying for a test" was almost redundant, because that was when one really studied. The difference between diligent and slack students was that the former studied hard for tests and the latter didn't. No one was pulling all-nighters two weeks into the semester.
Even though I was a diligent student, almost all the work I did in school was aimed at getting a good grade on something.
To many people, it would seem strange that the preceding sentence has a "though" in it. Aren't I merely stating a tautology? Isn't that what a diligent student is, a straight-A student? That's how deeply the conflation of learning with grades has infused our culture.
Is it so bad if learning is conflated with grades? Yes, it is bad. And it wasn't till decades after college, when I was running Y Combinator, that I realized how bad it is.
I knew of course when I was a student that studying for a test is far from identical with actual learning. At the very least, you don't retain knowledge you cram into your head the night before an exam. But the problem is worse than that. The real problem is that most tests don't come close to measuring what they're supposed to.
If tests truly were tests of learning, things wouldn't be so bad. Getting good grades and learning would converge, just a little late. The problem is that nearly all tests given to students are terribly hackable. Most people who've gotten good grades know this, and know it so well they've ceased even to question it. You'll see when you realize how naive it sounds to act otherwise.
Suppose you're taking a class on medieval history and the final exam is coming up. The final exam is supposed to be a test of your knowledge of medieval history, right? So if you have a couple days between now and the exam, surely the best way to spend the time, if you want to do well on the exam, is to read the best books you can find about medieval history. Then you'll know a lot about it, and do well on the exam.
No, no, no, experienced students are saying to themselves. If you merely read good books on medieval history, most of the stuff you learned wouldn't be on the test. It's not good books you want to read, but the lecture notes and assigned reading in this class. And even most of that you can ignore, because you only have to worry about the sort of thing that could turn up as a test question. You're looking for sharply-defined chunks of information. If one of the assigned readings has an interesting digression on some subtle point, you can safely ignore that, because it's not the sort of thing that could be turned into a test question. But if the professor tells you that there were three underlying causes of the Schism of 1378, or three main consequences of the Black Death, you'd better know them. And whether they were in fact the causes or consequences is beside the point. For the purposes of this class they are.
At a university there are often copies of old exams floating around, and these narrow still further what you have to learn. As well as learning what kind of questions this professor asks, you'll often get actual exam questions. Many professors re-use them. After teaching a class for 10 years, it would be hard not to, at least inadvertently.
In some classes, your professor will have had some sort of political axe to grind, and if so you'll have to grind it too. The need for this varies. In classes in math or the hard sciences or engineering it's rarely necessary, but at the other end of the spectrum there are classes where you couldn't get a good grade without it.
Getting a good grade in a class on x is so different from learning a lot about x that you have to choose one or the other, and you can't blame students if they choose grades. Everyone judges them by their grades graduate programs, employers, scholarships, even their own parents.
I liked learning, and I really enjoyed some of the papers and programs I wrote in college. But did I ever, after turning in a paper in some class, sit down and write another just for fun? Of course not. I had things due in other classes. If it ever came to a choice of learning or grades, I chose grades. I hadn't come to college to do badly.
Anyone who cares about getting good grades has to play this game, or they'll be surpassed by those who do. And at elite universities, that means nearly everyone, since someone who didn't care about getting good grades probably wouldn't be there in the first place. The result is that students compete to maximize the difference between learning and getting good grades.
Why are tests so bad? More precisely, why are they so hackable? Any experienced programmer could answer that. How hackable is software whose author hasn't paid any attention to preventing it from being hacked? Usually it's as porous as a colander.
Hackable is the default for any test imposed by an authority. The reason the tests you're given are so consistently bad so consistently far from measuring what they're supposed to measure is simply that the people creating them haven't made much effort to prevent them from being hacked.
But you can't blame teachers if their tests are hackable. Their job is to teach, not to create unhackable tests. The real problem is grades, or more precisely, that grades have been overloaded. If grades were merely a way for teachers to tell students what they were doing right and wrong, like a coach giving advice to an athlete, students wouldn't be tempted to hack tests. But unfortunately after a certain age grades become more than advice. After a certain age, whenever you're being taught, you're usually also being judged.
I've used college tests as an example, but those are actually the least hackable. All the tests most students take their whole lives are at least as bad, including, most spectacularly of all, the test that gets them into college. If getting into college were merely a matter of having the quality of one's mind measured by admissions officers the way scientists measure the mass of an object, we could tell teenage kids "learn a lot" and leave it at that. You can tell how bad college admissions are, as a test, from how unlike high school that sounds. In practice, the freakishly specific nature of the stuff ambitious kids have to do in high school is directly proportionate to the hackability of college admissions. The classes you don't care about that are mostly memorization, the random "extracurricular activities" you have to participate in to show you're "well-rounded," the standardized tests as artificial as chess, the "essay" you have to write that's presumably meant to hit some very specific target, but you're not told what.
As well as being bad in what it does to kids, this test is also bad in the sense of being very hackable. So hackable that whole industries have grown up to hack it. This is the explicit purpose of test-prep companies and admissions counsellors, but it's also a significant part of the function of private schools.
Why is this particular test so hackable? I think because of what it's measuring. Although the popular story is that the way to get into a good college is to be really smart, admissions officers at elite colleges neither are, nor claim to be, looking only for that. What are they looking for? They're looking for people who are not simply smart, but admirable in some more general sense. And how is this more general admirableness measured? The admissions officers feel it. In other words, they accept who they like.
So what college admissions is a test of is whether you suit the taste of some group of people. Well, of course a test like that is going to be hackable. And because it's both very hackable and there's (thought to be) a lot at stake, it's hacked like nothing else. That's why it distorts your life so much for so long.
It's no wonder high school students often feel alienated. The shape of their lives is completely artificial.
But wasting your time is not the worst thing the educational system does to you. The worst thing it does is to train you that the way to win is by hacking bad tests. This is a much subtler problem that I didn't recognize until I saw it happening to other people.
When I started advising startup founders at Y Combinator, especially young ones, I was puzzled by the way they always seemed to make things overcomplicated. How, they would ask, do you raise money? What's the trick for making venture capitalists want to invest in you? The best way to make VCs want to invest in you, I would explain, is to actually be a good investment. Even if you could trick VCs into investing in a bad startup, you'd be tricking yourselves too. You're investing time in the same company you're asking them to invest money in. If it's not a good investment, why are you even doing it?
Oh, they'd say, and then after a pause to digest this revelation, they'd ask: What makes a startup a good investment?
So I would explain that what makes a startup promising, not just in the eyes of investors but in fact, is growth. Ideally in revenue, but failing that in usage. What they needed to do was get lots of users.
How does one get lots of users? They had all kinds of ideas about that. They needed to do a big launch that would get them "exposure." They needed influential people to talk about them. They even knew they needed to launch on a tuesday, because that's when one gets the most attention.
No, I would explain, that is not how to get lots of users. The way you get lots of users is to make the product really great. Then people will not only use it but recommend it to their friends, so your growth will be exponential once you get it started.
At this point I've told the founders something you'd think would be completely obvious: that they should make a good company by making a good product. And yet their reaction would be something like the reaction many physicists must have had when they first heard about the theory of relativity: a mixture of astonishment at its apparent genius, combined with a suspicion that anything so weird couldn't possibly be right. Ok, they would say, dutifully. And could you introduce us to such-and-such influential person? And remember, we want to launch on Tuesday.
It would sometimes take founders years to grasp these simple lessons. And not because they were lazy or stupid. They just seemed blind to what was right in front of them.
Why, I would ask myself, do they always make things so complicated? And then one day I realized this was not a rhetorical question.
Why did founders tie themselves in knots doing the wrong things when the answer was right in front of them? Because that was what they'd been trained to do. Their education had taught them that the way to win was to hack the test. And without even telling them they were being trained to do this. The younger ones, the recent graduates, had never faced a non-artificial test. They thought this was just how the world worked: that the first thing you did, when facing any kind of challenge, was to figure out what the trick was for hacking the test. That's why the conversation would always start with how to raise money, because that read as the test. It came at the end of YC. It had numbers attached to it, and higher numbers seemed to be better. It must be the test.
There are certainly big chunks of the world where the way to win is to hack the test. This phenomenon isn't limited to schools. And some people, either due to ideology or ignorance, claim that this is true of startups too. But it isn't. In fact, one of the most striking things about startups is the degree to which you win by simply doing good work. There are edge cases, as there are in anything, but in general you win by getting users, and what users care about is whether the product does what they want.
Why did it take me so long to understand why founders made startups overcomplicated? Because I hadn't realized explicitly that schools train us to win by hacking bad tests. And not just them, but me! I'd been trained to hack bad tests too, and hadn't realized it till decades later.
I had lived as if I realized it, but without knowing why. For example, I had avoided working for big companies. But if you'd asked why, I'd have said it was because they were bogus, or bureaucratic. Or just yuck. I never understood how much of my dislike of big companies was due to the fact that you win by hacking bad tests.
Similarly, the fact that the tests were unhackable was a lot of what attracted me to startups. But again, I hadn't realized that explicitly.
I had in effect achieved by successive approximations something that may have a closed-form solution. I had gradually undone my training in hacking bad tests without knowing I was doing it. Could someone coming out of school banish this demon just by knowing its name, and saying begone? It seems worth trying.
Merely talking explicitly about this phenomenon is likely to make things better, because much of its power comes from the fact that we take it for granted. After you've noticed it, it seems the elephant in the room, but it's a pretty well camouflaged elephant. The phenomenon is so old, and so pervasive. And it's simply the result of neglect. No one meant things to be this way. This is just what happens when you combine learning with grades, competition, and the naive assumption of unhackability.
It was mind-blowing to realize that two of the things I'd puzzled about the most the bogusness of high school, and the difficulty of getting founders to see the obvious both had the same cause. It's rare for such a big block to slide into place so late.
Usually when that happens it has implications in a lot of different areas, and this case seems no exception. For example, it suggests both that education could be done better, and how you might fix it. But it also suggests a potential answer to the question all big companies seem to have: how can we be more like a startup? I'm not going to chase down all the implications now. What I want to focus on here is what it means for individuals.
To start with, it means that most ambitious kids graduating from college have something they may want to unlearn. But it also changes how you look at the world. Instead of looking at all the different kinds of work people do and thinking of them vaguely as more or less appealing, you can now ask a very specific question that will sort them in an interesting way: to what extent do you win at this kind of work by hacking bad tests?
It would help if there was a way to recognize bad tests quickly. Is there a pattern here? It turns out there is.
Tests can be divided into two kinds: those that are imposed by authorities, and those that aren't. Tests that aren't imposed by authorities are inherently unhackable, in the sense that no one is claiming they're tests of anything more than they actually test. A football match, for example, is simply a test of who wins, not which team is better. You can tell that from the fact that commentators sometimes say afterward that the better team won. Whereas tests imposed by authorities are usually proxies for something else. A test in a class is supposed to measure not just how well you did on that particular test, but how much you learned in the class. While tests that aren't imposed by authorities are inherently unhackable, those imposed by authorities have to be made unhackable. Usually they aren't. So as a first approximation, bad tests are roughly equivalent to tests imposed by authorities.
You might actually like to win by hacking bad tests. Presumably some people do. But I bet most people who find themselves doing this kind of work don't like it. They just take it for granted that this is how the world works, unless you want to drop out and be some kind of hippie artisan.
I suspect many people implicitly assume that working in a field with bad tests is the price of making lots of money. But that, I can tell you, is false. It used to be true. In the mid-twentieth century, when the economy was composed of oligopolies, the only way to the top was by playing their game. But it's not true now. There are now ways to get rich by doing good work, and that's part of the reason people are so much more excited about getting rich than they used to be. When I was a kid, you could either become an engineer and make cool things, or make lots of money by becoming an "executive." Now you can make lots of money by making cool things.
Hacking bad tests is becoming less important as the link between work and authority erodes. The erosion of that link is one of the most important trends happening now, and we see its effects in almost every kind of work people do. Startups are one of the most visible examples, but we see much the same thing in writing. Writers no longer have to submit to publishers and editors to reach readers; now they can go direct.
The more I think about this question, the more optimistic I get. This seems one of those situations where we don't realize how much something was holding us back until it's eliminated. And I can foresee the whole bogus edifice crumbling. Imagine what happens as more and more people start to ask themselves if they want to win by hacking bad tests, and decide that they don't. The kinds of work where you win by hacking bad tests will be starved of talent, and the kinds where you win by doing good work will see an influx of the most ambitious people. And as hacking bad tests shrinks in importance, education will evolve to stop training us to do it. Imagine what the world could look like if that happened.
This is not just a lesson for individuals to unlearn, but one for society to unlearn, and we'll be amazed at the energy that's liberated when we do.
[1] If using tests only to measure learning sounds impossibly utopian, that is already the way things work at Lambda School. Lambda School doesn't have grades. You either graduate or you don't. The only purpose of tests is to decide at each stage of the curriculum whether you can continue to the next. So in effect the whole school is pass/fail.
[2] If the final exam consisted of a long conversation with the professor, you could prepare for it by reading good books on medieval history. A lot of the hackability of tests in schools is due to the fact that the same test has to be given to large numbers of students.
[3] Learning is the naive algorithm for getting good grades.
[4] Hacking has multiple senses. There's a narrow sense in which it means to compromise something. That's the sense in which one hacks a bad test. But there's another, more general sense, meaning to find a surprising solution to a problem, often by thinking differently about it. Hacking in this sense is a wonderful thing. And indeed, some of the hacks people use on bad tests are impressively ingenious; the problem is not so much the hacking as that, because the tests are hackable, they don't test what they're meant to.
[5] The people who pick startups at Y Combinator are similar to admissions officers, except that instead of being arbitrary, their acceptance criteria are trained by a very tight feedback loop. If you accept a bad startup or reject a good one, you will usually know it within a year or two at the latest, and often within a month.
[6] I'm sure admissions officers are tired of reading applications from kids who seem to have no personality beyond being willing to seem however they're supposed to seem to get accepted. What they don't realize is that they are, in a sense, looking in a mirror. The lack of authenticity in the applicants is a reflection of the arbitrariness of the application process. A dictator might just as well complain about the lack of authenticity in the people around him.
[7] By good work, I don't mean morally good, but good in the sense in which a good craftsman does good work.
[8] There are borderline cases where it's hard to say which category a test falls in. For example, is raising venture capital like college admissions, or is it like selling to a customer?
[9] Note that a good test is merely one that's unhackable. Good here doesn't mean morally good, but good in the sense of working well. The difference between fields with bad tests and good ones is not that the former are bad and the latter are good, but that the former are bogus and the latter aren't. But those two measures are not unrelated. As Tara Ploughman said, the path from good to evil goes through bogus.
[10] People who think the recent increase in economy inequality is due to changes in tax policy seem very naive to anyone with experience in startups. Different people are getting rich now than used to, and they're getting much richer than mere tax savings could make them.
[11] Note to tiger parents: you may think you're training your kids to win, but if you're training them to win by hacking bad tests, you are, as parents so often do, training them to fight the last war.
Thanks to Austen Allred, Trevor Blackwell, Patrick Collison, Jessica Livingston, Robert Morris, and Harj Taggar for reading drafts of this.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

പച്ചക്കറികളെ നശിപ്പിക്കുന്ന വെള്ളീച്ചയെ തുരത്താം

വേനല്‍ക്കാലങ്ങളില്‍ വിളകളുടെ ഇലകളില്‍ ബാധിച്ച് നീരൂറ്റിക്കുടിക്കുന്ന കീടമാണ്‌ വെള്ളീച്ച അഥവാ White fly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum). ആദ്യകാലങ്ങളില്‍ ഇവ പപ്പായയിലും മരച്ചീനിയിലും മാത്രമാണ് കണ്ടുവന്നിരുന്നത്. പിന്നീട് പച്ചക്കറികളിലേക്കും തെങ്ങ് ഉള്‍പ്പെടെയുള്ള ദീര്‍ഘകാലവിളകളിലേക്കും വ്യാപിച്ചു. കാലാവസ്ഥാവ്യതിയാനമാണ്‌ ഈ കീടം വ്യാപകമാകാന്‍ കാരണമായതെന്ന് കരുതപ്പെടുന്നു.
നീരൂറ്റിക്കുടിക്കുന്നത്തിനൊപ്പം തന്നെ വെള്ളീച്ചകള്‍ ഉൽപാദിപ്പിക്കുന്ന മധുരസ്രവം താഴെയുള്ള ഇലകളില്‍ വീഴുന്നതിനാല്‍ കരിപുരണ്ടതു പോലെയുള്ള കുമിള്‍ (Sooty Mould) വളര്‍ന്ന് ഇലകളില്‍ പ്രകാശസംശ്ലേഷണം തടസപ്പെടുത്തുന്നതും വിളകളുടെ ഉൽപാദനം കുറയ്ക്കും. ഇലകളുടെ അടിവശത്ത് മുട്ടകളും കൃമി(Larva)കളും പ്യൂപ്പ ദശകളും, ആയുസ് വെറും നാലു ദിവസം മാത്രമുള്ള അവസാനദശയായ ഈച്ചകളും ചേര്‍ന്ന് സമൂഹമായി വളരുന്ന ഇവയുടെ നിയന്ത്രിക്കാന്‍ താഴെ കാണുന്ന ഉപാധികള്‍ പ്രയോജനപ്പെടുത്താം. കീടാക്രമണത്തിന്റെ തീവ്രതയനുസരിച്ച് ഒന്നില്‍ക്കൂടുതല്‍ ഉപാധികള്‍ ഒരേസമയം മൂന്നോ നാലോ ദിവസത്തെ ഇടവേളകളില്‍ തവണകളായി പ്രയോഗിക്കേണ്ടിവരും.
  • വേപ്പെണ്ണ വെളുത്തുള്ളി മിശ്രിതം: ഒരു ലിറ്റർ വെള്ളത്തിൽ അഞ്ചു ഗ്രാം സോപ്പ് ലയിപ്പിച്ചശേഷം ഇരുപതു മില്ലി വേപ്പെണ്ണയും ഇരുപതു ഗ്രാം വെളുത്തുള്ളി നന്നായി അരച്ചതും കലര്‍ത്തിച്ചേർക്കുക ഈ മിശ്രിതം ഇലകളുടെ ഇരുവശത്തും തളിക്കണം.
  • കുമിള്‍വര്‍ഗത്തില്‍പ്പെട്ട ലെക്കാനിസില്ലിയം ലക്കാനി (Lecanicillium lecanii), വെര്‍ട്ടിസീലിയം ലക്കാനി ( Verticillium lecanii) എന്നിവയിൽ ഏതെങ്കിലും ജീവാണുകീടനാശിനി 10-20 ഗ്രാം ഒരു ലിറ്റര്‍ വെള്ളത്തില്‍ അഞ്ചു ഗ്രാം ബാര്‍ സോപ്പും കൂടി കലക്കിച്ചേര്‍ത്ത്‌ ഇലകളുടെ അടിവശത്ത് വെയിലാറിയശേഷം തളിക്കുക. മേൽപ്പറഞ്ഞവയിൽ ലെക്കാനിസില്ലിയമാണ് കൂടുതൽ ഫലപ്രദം.
  • മഞ്ഞക്കാർഡ് / മഞ്ഞ ഷീറ്റുകള്‍: കൃഷിമരുന്നുവിപണികളില്‍ ലഭ്യമായ മഞ്ഞക്കാര്‍ഡോ, ആവണക്കെണ്ണ / കട്ടി കുറഞ്ഞ ഗ്രീസ് പുരട്ടിയ മഞ്ഞഷീറ്റുകളോ വിളകളുടെയിടയില്‍ ഇലപ്പടര്‍പ്പിനരികെ സ്ഥാപിക്കുക.
  • Tag Nok എന്ന ജൈവകീടനാശിനി 3-4 മില്ലിമീറ്റര്‍ ഒരു ലിറ്റര്‍ വെള്ളത്തില്‍ കലക്കി ഇലകളുടെ ഇരുവശത്തും സ്പ്രേ ചെയ്യുക. വിപണിയില്‍ ഈ നൂതന ജൈവകീടനാശിനി വെള്ളീച്ചയെ മാത്രമല്ല വാഴയിലെയും പച്ചക്കറികളിലെയും തണ്ടുതുരപ്പന്‍ പുഴു, നീരൂറ്റിക്കുടിക്കുന്ന മറ്റു കീടങ്ങൾ എന്നിവയ്ക്കെതിരേയും ഫലപ്രദമാണ്.
  • വെള്ളീച്ചയുടെ ആക്രമണത്താല്‍ കരിപുരണ്ടതു പോലെയുള്ള കുമിള്‍ (Sooty Mould) വളര്‍ന്ന ഇലകളില്‍ കഞ്ഞിവെള്ളം നേര്‍പ്പിച്ച് തളിക്കുക.
  • മിത്രകീടം: പ്രകൃതിയില്‍ത്തന്നെ രൂപപ്പെട്ട എന്‍കാര്‍സിയ(Encarsia guadeloupae) എന്ന മിത്രകീടം വെള്ളീച്ചകളെ നിയന്ത്രിക്കും. കാസര്‍ഗോഡ് സ്ഥിതിചെയ്യുന്ന കേന്ദ്ര തോട്ടവിള ഗവേഷണസ്ഥാപനത്തിലാണ് ഈ മിത്രകീടത്തെ വംശവര്‍ദ്ധന നടത്തിയശേഷം തെങ്ങ് ഉള്‍പ്പെടെയുള്ള വിളകളില്‍ പരീക്ഷിച്ചു വിജയം കണ്ടത്. നെല്ലിലെ പുഴുക്കളെ നിയന്ത്രിക്കാനായി പ്രസിദ്ധിനേടിയ ട്രൈക്കോ കാര്‍ഡ്‌ പോലെ സമീപഭാവിയില്‍ എന്‍കാര്‍സിയയെന്ന മിത്രകീടവും ലഭ്യമാകുമെന്ന് പ്രതീക്ഷിക്കാം. കൂടാതെ ക്രൈസോപെര്‍ല കാര്‍ണിയേ (Chrysoperla carnea) എന്നറിയപ്പെടുന്ന മറ്റൊരു ചാഴിവര്‍ഗത്തില്‍പ്പെട്ട മിത്രകീടത്തെയും മണ്ണുത്തിയിലെ സംസ്ഥാന ജൈവയന്ത്രണ പരീക്ഷണശാലയില്‍ വികസിപ്പിച്ചെടുത്തിട്ടുണ്ട്.
  • അതിര്‍ത്തികളില്‍ വേലിത്താങ്ങായി നട്ടിരുന്ന കാട്ടുമരച്ചീനിയുടെ ഇലകളില്‍ വെള്ളീച്ചകള്‍ ആദ്യം ആക്രമിക്കുന്നതിനാല്‍ ഈ സസ്യത്തെ ഒരു കെണിവിളയായി വളര്‍ത്താവുന്നതാണ്. ഇതില്‍ വരുന്ന ഈച്ചകളെ മാത്രം ആദ്യമേ നശിപ്പിച്ചാല്‍ വ്യാപനം തടയാം.

Monday, December 02, 2019

https://vimeo.com/375467569 Puts $110 Billion of Wealth in Perspective

This 1-Minute Animation Puts $110 Billion of Wealth in Perspective

Jeff Desjardins
2 min

ഷുക്കൂറേ... കടുപ്പത്തിലൊരു കവിത

പെരുമാൾ മുരുകന്‌ ഷൂക്കൂർ കാപ്പി നൽകുന്നു സമീപം എ വി പവിത്രൻ
പെരുമാൾ മുരുകന്‌ ഷൂക്കൂർ കാപ്പി നൽകുന്നു സമീപം എ വി പവിത്രൻ
എം മുകുന്ദനും എൻ പ്രഭാകരനും എസ് ഹരീഷും മാത്രമല്ല, തമിഴ്‌ എഴുത്തുകാരൻ പെരുമാൾ മുരുകനും കന്നഡ എഴുത്തുകാരൻ വിവേക്‌ ഷാൻബാഗും പോകുന്ന ചായപ്പീടിക. അത്രയ്‌ക്ക്‌ കേമമാണോ അവിടത്തെ ചായ. ചായയുടെ കടുപ്പത്തെക്കുറിച്ചും രുചിയെക്കുറിച്ചും ഭിന്നാഭിപ്രായമുണ്ടാകുമെങ്കിലും ഇവിടത്തെ കവിതയുടെ കടുപ്പം വേറെതന്നെ. ചൂടുചായയും ചൂടുകാപ്പിയും നുണയുമ്പോൾ അടുത്തിരുന്നു ചിരിക്കുന്ന പുസ്‌തകങ്ങൾ ആരുമൊന്ന്‌ മറിച്ചുനോക്കിപ്പോകും. ചായകുടിക്കാനല്ല, ചായക്കൊപ്പം തിളച്ചുമറിയുന്ന സാഹിത്യചർച്ചകൾക്കാണ്‌ ഈ എഴുത്തകാരെല്ലാമെത്തുന്നത്‌.
കണ്ണൂരിലെ ഇരിക്കൂറിനടുത്ത് പെടയങ്ങോട്ടാണ് ഷുക്കൂറിന്റെ ചായപ്പീടിക. ചായമക്കാനിയുടെ പ്രൊപ്രൈറ്റർ ഷുക്കൂർ ചില്ലറക്കാരനല്ല. കവി, നോവലിസ്റ്റ്‌ അതിലപ്പുറം മികച്ച സാഹിത്യാസ്വാദകൻ. തമിഴിലേക്കുവരെ മൊഴിമാറ്റം നടത്തിയിട്ടുണ്ട്‌ ഷൂക്കൂറിന്റെ കവിതകൾ. ഷാർജ പുസ്‌തകോത്സവത്തിൽ പങ്കെടുത്തതിന്റെ അനുഭവവുമുണ്ട്‌. സ്വന്തം ചായപ്പീടികമുറ്റത്ത്‌ വരാന്തയെന്ന പേരിലാണ്‌ പുസ്‌തകചർച്ചയും എഴുത്തുകാരുമായുള്ള മുഖാമുഖവും.
മൂന്നുവർഷമായി മുപ്പത്തിയഞ്ച്‌ വരാന്ത ചർച്ചയ്‌ക്ക്‌ ചായക്കട വേദിയായി. കടയോടുചേർന്ന ബദാംമരച്ചുവട്ടിൽ വി കെ ശ്രീരാമനും റഫീക്ക് അഹമ്മദും സാഹിത്യം പറഞ്ഞിട്ടുണ്ട്‌. പി രാമനും വീരാൻകുട്ടിയും പി പി രാമചന്ദ്രനും കവിത ചൊല്ലിയിട്ടുണ്ട്. വയലാർ അവാർഡ് ജേതാവ്‌ വി ജെ ജയിംസും ഡോ. ഖദീജാ മുംതാസും എസ് ജോസഫും ടി പി രാജീവനും ഷുക്കൂറിന്റെ അതിഥികളായി വന്നുപോയിട്ടുണ്ട്‌. ചായക്കൊപ്പം നിരത്തിവച്ച പുസ്‌തകമെടുക്കാം, വായിക്കാം, താൽപ്പര്യമുണ്ടെങ്കിൽ വിലകൊടുത്തുവാങ്ങാം. വരാന്തയിൽ ഒടുവിലെത്തിയത് പെരുമാൾ മുരുകൻ. പൂനാച്ചി എന്ന പുതിയ പുസ്‌തകവുമായാണ് അദ്ദേഹമെത്തിയത്. പൂനാച്ചി മൊഴിമാറ്റിയ മിനിപ്രിയയും ചർച്ചയ്‌ക്ക്‌ എത്തിയിരുന്നു.

പ്രതിഫലം കട്ടൻകാപ്പി, കപ്പ, മുളക്‌ചമ്മന്തി

2015 -ആഗസ്‌തിലാണ്‌ വരാന്തയുടെ തുടക്കം. വായിക്കാനും പറയാനും ഒരിടം. വായനക്കാർക്ക്‌ എഴുത്തുകാരുമായി സംവദിക്കാനൊരു വേദി. അതായിരുന്നു ലക്ഷ്യം. വരാന്ത എന്ന പേരിൽ ഷുക്കൂറിന്റെ നോവലുണ്ട്‌. ചർച്ചാവേദിക്ക്‌ വരാന്തയെന്ന പേരിടാൻ അതാണ്‌ പ്രേരണ. എൻ പ്രഭാകരനിലൂടെയാണ്‌ തുടക്കം. വിനോയ്‌ തോമസിന്റെ കരിക്കോട്ടക്കരിയാണ്‌ ആദ്യം ചർച്ചചെയ്‌തത്‌. എഴുത്തുകാരനെയും പുസ്‌തകവും നേരത്തെ നിശ്ചയിക്കും. മാസത്തിലൊരു ഞായറാഴ്‌ചയാണ്‌ ചർച്ച. നൂറുസിംഹാസനങ്ങൾ എന്ന നോവലിന്റെ ചർച്ചയ്‌ക്കാണ്‌ ജയമോഹനെത്തിയത്‌.
‘‘എഴുത്തുകാരെ നേരിട്ടങ്ങ്‌ വിളിക്കും. അവര്‌ വരും. നമ്മളൊന്നും കൊടുക്കില്ല. ചായക്കൊപ്പം പുസ്‌തകം വിൽക്കും. വായിച്ച പുസ്‌തകങ്ങൾ ചർച്ചചെയ്യും, വിൽക്കും. അഷ്‌റഫ്‌ മാച്ചേരി, വിനോയ്‌ തോമസ്‌ തുടങ്ങിയ സുഹൃത്തുക്കൾ കൂടെയുണ്ട്‌.’’ ഷുക്കൂർ പറഞ്ഞു.
അടുത്ത ചർച്ച ഡിഐജി കെ പി സേതുരാമന്റെ മലയാളത്തിന്റെ ഭാവി: ഭാഷാ ആസൂത്രണവും മാനവിക വികസനവും എന്ന പുസ്‌തകത്തെക്കുറിച്ചാണ്‌. ചർച്ചയ്‌ക്ക്‌ വരുന്നവർക്ക്‌ കാപ്പി നൽകും. സാഹിത്യത്തിനൊപ്പം തൊട്ടുകൂട്ടാൻ കപ്പയും മുളക്‌ചമ്മന്തിയും. പ്രവേശനഫീസില്ല.

പെരുമാൾ മുരുകനെ വിസ്‌മയിപ്പിച്ച വരാന്ത

ഷുക്കൂറും വരാന്ത ചർച്ചയും തന്നെ വിസ്‌മയിപ്പിച്ചെന്ന്‌ പെരുമാൾ മുരുകൻ. ‘‘തമിഴ്‌നാട്ടിൽ ഇങ്ങനൊന്ന്‌ പ്രതീക്ഷിക്കാനാകില്ല. അസഹിഷ്‌ണുത പെരുകുന്ന കാലമാണിത്‌. എഴുതുന്നതിലും നല്ലത്‌ എഴുതാതിരിക്കലാണ്‌ എന്ന്‌ അധികാരികൾ ഓർമിപ്പിക്കുന്ന കാലത്താണ്‌ മലയാളനാടിനകലെയുള്ള എന്നെയും ജയമോഹനെയുമൊക്കെ വിളിച്ചുവരുത്തി പുസ്‌തകച്ചർച്ച നടത്തുന്നത്‌. കേരളത്തിലേ ഇതൊക്കെ നടക്കൂ. ഈ കൂട്ടായ്‌മ വല്ലാത്ത അനുഭവമായിരുന്നു. ഓർക്കാനിഷ്ടപ്പെടാത്ത കാര്യങ്ങളാണ്‌ കുറച്ചുകാലമായി അനുഭവിക്കേണ്ടിവന്നത്‌. ഷുക്കൂറും വരാന്തയും മനസ്സു നിറച്ചു. ഇതുപോലുള്ള മനുഷ്യരുള്ളിടത്തേ സാഹിത്യവും കലയും വാഴൂ’’–-മുരുകൻ പറഞ്ഞു.

കഥയല്ലിത്‌ ജീവിതം

നോവലിനുള്ള അനുഭവങ്ങളുണ്ട്‌ ഷുക്കൂറിന്റെ ജീവിതത്തിൽ. വരാന്തയിലും ചായക്കടയിലും ഒതുങ്ങുന്നില്ല ആ സാഹിത്യജീവിതം. നാട്ടുപണി, മീൻകച്ചവടം, കല്ലുകൊത്ത്‌, കശുവണ്ടിപെറുക്കൽ തുടങ്ങിയ വേഷങ്ങൾ. ആത്മകഥാംശമുള്ളതാണ്‌ വരാന്തയെന്ന നോവൽ. അത്‌ പ്രസിദ്ധീകരിച്ചതും വരാന്തയെന്ന പ്രസാധകസംരംഭത്തിന്റെ പേരിൽ. നിലവിളികളുടെ ഭാഷ (ചിന്ത പബ്ലിഷേഴ്‌സ്‌), മഴപ്പൊള്ളൽ(വരാന്ത ബുക്‌സ്), ആഴങ്ങളിലെ ജീവിതം(പായൽ ബുക്‌സ്‌) എന്നിവയാണ്‌ കവിതാസമാഹാരങ്ങൾ. ആഴങ്ങളിലെ ജീവിതത്തിന്‌ കൈരളി–- അറ്റലസ്‌ പുരസ്‌കാരം ലഭിച്ചു. കവി സച്ചിദാനന്ദൻ നിർദേശിച്ചതനുസരിച്ചാണ്‌ കേന്ദ്രസാഹിത്യ അക്കാദമി ജീവനക്കാരി കെ ജയന്തി ഈ പുസ്‌തകം തമിഴിലേക്ക്‌ മൊഴിമാറ്റിയത്‌.
വരാന്തയിലെ സാഹിത്യചർച്ചയിൽ പെരുമാൾ മുരുകൻ
വരാന്തയിലെ സാഹിത്യചർച്ചയിൽ പെരുമാൾ മുരുകൻ

കവിതചൊല്ലി മീൻവിൽപ്പന

ഇരിക്കൂർ കമാലിയ സ്‌കൂളിൽ ആറാം ക്ലാസിൽ തീർന്നതാണ്‌ പറമ്പറ വീട്ടിൽ ഷുക്കൂറിന്റെ പഠനം. വിരാജ്‌പേട്ടയിൽ നാടൻപണിക്ക്‌ പോയി. അന്നും കിട്ടുന്നതെന്തും ആർത്തിയോടെ വായിച്ചു. പിന്നീട്‌ മീൻവിൽപ്പന. അപ്പോഴും കവിത വിടാതെ പിടികൂടി. കണ്ണൂർ ആയിക്കര പോയി ഷുക്കൂർ കൊണ്ടുവരുന്ന മീനിന്‌ കവിതയുടെ സുഗന്ധമായിരുന്നു. കൂയ്‌ എന്ന്‌ വിളിച്ചല്ല മീൻവിൽപ്പന. കടമ്മനിട്ടയുടെ കാട്ടാളൻ, കുറത്തി, ബാലചന്ദ്രൻ ചുള്ളിക്കാടിന്റെ സന്ദർശനം, ആനന്ദധാര തുടങ്ങിയവ ഉറക്കെച്ചൊല്ലി മീൻകുട്ട തലയിലേന്തിയുള്ള ഷുക്കൂറിന്റെ നടത്തം ഇരിക്കൂറുകാർ ഓർക്കുന്നു. ഒത്താൽ മീനിനൊപ്പം പുസ്‌തകവും കൈമാറും. വായിച്ച പുസ്‌തകങ്ങൾ വിറ്റ്‌ പുതിയത്‌ വാങ്ങാൻ പണം കണ്ടെത്തും. മീൻകച്ചവടത്തിനിടെയുണ്ടായ അപകടവും രോഗങ്ങളുമാണ്‌ ചായക്കട തുടങ്ങാൻ കാരണം. ബഷീറിനെ വായിച്ച്‌ ഹരം കയറി ബേപ്പൂരിൽച്ചെന്ന്‌ അദ്ദേഹത്തെ കണ്ടു. തുഞ്ചൻപറമ്പിൽ പോയി എം ടിയെയും. സമീപത്തെ സ്‌കൂളുകളിലും കോളേജുകളിലുമെല്ലാം ഷുക്കൂർ പതിവായി പുസ്‌തകവുമായി പോകും. തുഞ്ചൻപറമ്പിലും തിരുവനന്തപുരത്ത്‌ അന്താരാഷ്‌ട്ര ചലച്ചിത്രോത്സവ വേദിയിലുമെത്തും.

പ്രളയം ചതിച്ചു

പ്രളയത്തിൽ മുങ്ങി എല്ലാം നശിച്ച കവിയാണ്‌ ഷുക്കൂർ. ഇത്തവണത്തെ ചായക്കട വെള്ളത്തിലായി. പുസ്‌തകങ്ങൾ നശിച്ചതിലാണ്‌ സങ്കടം. ഇരിക്കൂറിലെ യുവശക്തി പ്രവർത്തകരാണ്‌ കട വീണ്ടും തുടങ്ങാൻ സഹായിച്ചത്‌. കവിതയാണ്‌ തട്ടകമെങ്കിലും ഷുക്കൂറിന്റെ മനസ്സിപ്പോൾ കഥയുടെ കൂടെയാണ്‌. മതിമറന്ന്‌ മലയാളത്തിലിന്ന്‌ വായിക്കാൻ കഥയേയുള്ളൂ. കവിതയിലാകെ നാട്യങ്ങളാണെന്നാണ് ഷുക്കൂറിന്റെ കടുപ്പത്തിലുള്ള വിമർശം.

ഇവിടെയുണ്ട്‌ അറബി പഠിപ്പിച്ച അന്തർജനം

ബനാറസ്‌ ഹിന്ദു സർവകാലാശാലയിലെ  സംസ്‌കൃതം  വിഭാഗത്തിൽ അധ്യാപകനായി ചേർന്ന ഡോ. ഫിറോസ്‌ ഖാനെ പുറത്താക്കണമെന്നാവശ്യപ്പെട്ട്‌ ക്യാന്പസിൽ ചിലർ ഹോമം നടത്തുമ്പോൾ മലപ്പുറം മേലാറ്റൂരിലെ ഒരു റിട്ടയേർഡ്‌ അധ്യാപികയുടെ മനസ്സ്‌ വിങ്ങുകയാണ്‌
 ഡോ. ഫിറോസ്‌ ഖാൻ

മലയാള സിനിമയിലെ ആദ്യ സംസ്‌കൃതഗാനം ധ്വനിയിലേതാണ്‌ജാനകീ ജാനേ എന്നു തുടങ്ങുന്ന  ഭക്തിസാന്ദ്രമായ വരികൾ എഴുതിയത്‌ ഇപ്പോൾ ചിലരൊക്കെ പറയുംപോലെഅന്യമതക്കാരനാണ്‌. യൂസഫലി കേച്ചേരി. ഗാനത്തിന്‌ ഈണം പകർന്നത്‌ നൗഷാദ്‌ അലി. പാടിയത്‌ യേശുദാസ്‌
അതേ യൂസഫലിയുടെ നാടായ കേച്ചേരിക്കടുത്ത്‌ പഴഞ്ഞിഗ്രാമത്തിലാണ് ഗോപാലിക ജനിച്ചത്‌. പത്താം ക്ലാസ്‌ പാസായശേഷം കുന്നംകുളത്തെ ട്യൂട്ടോറിയൽ  കോളേജിൽ അറബി പഠിച്ചു. പിന്നെ അറബി അധ്യാപികയായി. ചില  കേന്ദ്രങ്ങളുടെ സമ്മർദത്തിൽ ജോലി നഷ്ടമായതും പിന്നീട് കോടതി വ്യവഹാരത്തിലൂടെ തിരിച്ചുപിടിച്ചതും ഒക്കെ പഴയ കഥ.   
എൽപി സ്‌കൂളിൽ അറബി പഠിപ്പിച്ച അന്തർജനം ഇവിടെയുണ്ട്‌. മേലാറ്റൂരിലെ ചെമ്മാണിയോടിലെ പനയൂർ മനയിൽ. യുപിയിലെ ബനാറസ്‌ ഹിന്ദു സർവകലാശാലയിൽ പിഎച്ച്‌ഡിക്കാരൻ ഫിറോസ്‌ ഖാൻ തങ്ങളെ സംസ്‌കൃതം പഠിപ്പിക്കേണ്ടതില്ലന്നുപറഞ്ഞ്‌ ചില വിദ്യാർഥികൾ നടത്തുന്ന പ്രതിഷേധം മനസ്സിനെയും വേദനിപ്പിക്കുന്നുണ്ട്‌. ‘ഫിറോസിന്റെ ഉപ്പ സംസ്‌കൃത അധ്യാപകനായിരുന്നത്രെ, എന്താണ് പ്രശ്‌നങ്ങൾക്ക്‌  പിന്നിലെന്ന്‌ മനസ്സിലാകുന്നില്ല. തമ്മിൽ സഹകരിക്കാനല്ലേ  മതങ്ങൾ പഠിപ്പിക്കുന്നത്‌. വിദ്യാഭ്യാസമുണ്ടായിട്ടും വിവേകമുണ്ടാകുന്നില്ല. അതാണ്‌ വിഷമിപ്പിക്കുന്നത്‌.’ മൂന്നു ദശാബ്ദത്തിലധികം അറബി പഠിപ്പിച്ച അധ്യാപികയ്‌ക്ക്‌  ഇന്നും ഭാഷ സ്‌നേഹംതന്നെ

കോടതി വ്യവഹാരംവരെ എത്തിയിട്ടും സ്‌കൂളിലോ സ്‌കൂളിലേക്കുള്ള യാത്രയിലോ ഭീഷണിയോ ദുരനുഭവമോ ഉണ്ടായിട്ടില്ല. സ്വസമുദായത്തിലുള്ളവരും  എതിർത്തിരുന്നില്ല. വിവാദമുണ്ടായപ്പോൾ മുസ്ലിം പണ്ഡിതരടക്കം തന്നെ പിന്തുണച്ചു. സഹ അധ്യാപകർക്കും കുട്ടികൾക്കും  വലിയ കാര്യമായിരുന്നു. ‘ഇന്നാണെങ്കിൽ എന്തു സംഭവിക്കും എന്ന്‌ ഓർക്കുമ്പോൾ ഭയമുണ്ട്‌സമൂഹം അത്രയ്‌ക്ക്‌ മാറി. പൊതു സ്ഥലങ്ങളിലൊ ബസ്‌ യാത്രയിലൊ ഒന്നും നാം പരസ്‌പരം സംസാരിക്കുന്നില്ലഎല്ലാവരും തലകുമ്പിട്ട്‌ മൊബൈൽ ഫോണിലേക്ക്‌ അവനവന്റെ സങ്കുചിത ഇടങ്ങളിലേക്ക്‌ ചുരുങ്ങിമതവും രാഷ്‌ട്രീയവും കൂട്ടിക്കുഴയ്‌ക്കുന്നതിനോടും യോജിപ്പില്ല. ഹിന്ദുമതം എല്ലാ ചിന്തകളെയും സ്വീകരിക്കുന്ന മതമാണ്‌. സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യമാണ്‌ അതിന്റെ കരുത്ത്‌. ’’ –-ടീച്ചർ പറഞ്ഞു

സ്‌ത്രീകൾ പുറത്തിറങ്ങുന്നതും ജോലിചെയ്യുന്നതും അത്ര പതിവല്ലാത്ത കാലത്താണ് ഒരു നമ്പൂതിരി പെൺകുട്ടി   അറബി ടീച്ചറാകുന്നത്‌. ചിലർ കുത്തിത്തിരുപ്പ്‌ ഉണ്ടാക്കിയെങ്കിലും രണ്ട്‌ സമുദായത്തിലെയും പണ്ഡിതരടക്കം ബഹുഭൂരിപക്ഷവും തനിക്കൊപ്പമായിരുന്നുവെന്ന്‌ ഗോപാലിക ഓർത്തുകുടുംബവും ധൈര്യം തന്നു

പഴഞ്ഞി ഭട്ടിതെക്കേടത്ത്‌ ഇല്ലത്ത്‌ നീലകണ്ഠൻ നമ്പൂതിരിയുടെയും ലീല അന്തർജനത്തിന്റെയും മകളാണ് ബി ടി എൻ ഗോപാലികഅഫ്‌സൽ ഉൽ ഉലമ അറബിക്‌ എൻട്രൻസ്‌ കോഴ്‌സിന്‌ അച്ഛൻതന്നെയാണ്‌ ചേർത്തത്‌മുസ്ലിങ്ങളും ക്രൈസ്‌തവരും ഹൈന്ദവരും ഇടപഴകി ജീവിച്ച നാടായതിനാൽ കുന്നംകുളത്ത്‌ ഒരാൾ ഒരന്യഭാഷ പഠിക്കുന്നതും പഠിപ്പിക്കുന്നതൊന്നും പ്രശ്‌നമായില്ല. മാത്രമല്ല, ഇത്തരം കാര്യങ്ങളിൽ അച്ഛനും ഉറച്ച നിലപാടുകളായിരുന്നു. 1982 പനയൂർ മനയിൽ നാരായണൻ നമ്പൂതിരിയെ വിവാഹം കഴിച്ചതോടെ ചെമ്മാണിയോടെത്തി. വർഷംതന്നെ പാണ്ടിക്കാട്‌ സിഎഎം എൽപി സ്‌കൂളിൽ അവധി ഒഴിവിൽ  അധ്യാപികയായിആറു ദിവസത്തെ അധ്യാപന ജോലിക്കിടെ ഒരു ദിവസം ഹെഡ്‌ മാസ്‌റ്റർ മാനേജരെ കണാൻ പറഞ്ഞു. ചെന്നു കണ്ടപ്പോഴാണ്‌ ചില എതിർപ്പുണ്ടെന്നും ഇനിവരേണ്ടന്നും അറിയിച്ചത്‌. അന്തർജനം അറബി പഠിപ്പിക്കണ്ടന്ന്‌  പറഞ്ഞവരുടെ വാദം എന്റെ  ഉച്ചാരണത്തിൽ പിശകുണ്ടന്നായിരുന്നു. വാസ്‌തവത്തിൽ ഞാൻ അവിടെ ഒരു ക്ലാസുപോലും പഠിപ്പിച്ചിട്ടില്ലായിരുന്നു

 ലളിതാംബിക അന്തർജനത്തിന്റെ മകൻ എൻ മോഹനൻ ആണ്‌ ഇതാദ്യം മാധ്യമങ്ങളിലൂടെ പുറത്തെത്തിച്ചത്‌സംഭവം വൻവിവാദമായി. എതിർക്കാനും അനുകൂലിക്കാനും ആളുകൾ. ഭർത്താവ്‌ ജോലിസ്ഥലത്തായതിനാൽ ആഴ്‌ചയിൽ ഒരിക്കലേ വരൂ. ഭർത്താവും അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ അച്ഛൻ നീലകണ്‌ഠൻ നമ്പൂതിരിയും ശക്തമായി പിന്തുണച്ചുകാര്യങ്ങൾ അന്വേഷിക്കാൻ ഇല്ലത്തേക്ക്‌ വന്ന ഉദ്യോഗസ്ഥരോടും മറ്റും ഭർതൃപിതാവാണ്‌  കാര്യങ്ങൾ വിശദീകരിക്കുക. ഒരുവേള നിങ്ങൾക്ക്‌ ബുദ്ധിമുട്ടാണെങ്കിൽ സ്‌കൂൾ ഞാൻ വാങ്ങിക്കൊള്ളാമെന്നുവരെ അദ്ദേഹം പറഞ്ഞു. അതിനിടെ കോഴിക്കാട്ടുകാരനായ അഡ്വ. ശശിധരൻ വിവേചനത്തിനെതിരെ ഹൈക്കോടതിയിൽ പൊതുതാൽപ്പര്യ ഹർജി നൽകി. 1986  അനുകൂല വിധി. എന്നാൽ, അവധിക്കുപോയ  അറബി അധ്യാപകനെ തിരികെ സ്‌കൂളിൽ എത്തിച്ചിരുന്നു.

1986 ജൂണിൽ എടപ്പറ്റ ജിഎൽപിഎസിൽ എംപ്ലോയ്‌മെന്റ്‌ എക്‌സ്‌ചേഞ്ചിലൂടെ പത്തുമാസത്തേക്ക്‌ നിയമിച്ചു. 1987 പൂമുള്ളി നമ്പൂതിരിയുടെ പെരിങ്ങോട്‌ എഎൽപിഎസിൽ. അച്ഛനുമായി അടുത്ത ബന്ധമുണ്ടായിരുന്നു പൂമുള്ളി നമ്പൂതിരിക്ക്‌. 1989 പ്രത്യേക കേസായി പരിഗണിച്ച്‌ തിരുവാലി ജിഎൽപിഎസിൽ നിയമനം. സ്ഥലം മാറ്റമായി എടപ്പറ്റ ജിഎൽപിഎസിലും കുറച്ചുകാലം. 1998 ചെമ്മാണിയോട് ജിഎൽപിഎസിലെത്തി. 2016 വിരമിച്ചു. സഹകരണ ഓഡിറ്റ്‌ വിഭാഗത്തിൽ ഉദ്യോഗസ്ഥനായിരുന്ന ഭർത്താവ്‌ ഒന്നരവർഷംമുമ്പ്‌ മരിച്ചു. വളയപ്പുറം ജിഎൽപിഎസ്‌ അധ്യാപകനായ സനിൽ കുമാറും അനിലയും (ബംഗളൂരു) മക്കളാണ്‌. അറബി അധ്യാപനരംഗത്തെ സ്‌തുത്യർഹ സേവനത്തിന് മലപ്പുറം പാണ്ടിക്കാട് ജാമിയ നൂരിയ കോളേജ് പുരസ്‌കാരം നൽകി. യോഗക്ഷേമസഭ പാലക്കാട് ജില്ലാ കമ്മിറ്റിയും ചെമ്മാണിയോട് ഡിഎഫ്സി ക്ലബ്ബും ആദരിച്ചു. ഗോപാലികയുടെ അനുഭവം ഇതിനിടെ നാരായം എന്ന പേരിൽ സിനിമയായി. 1993 ശശിശങ്കർ സംവിധാനംചെയ്‌ത ചിത്രത്തിന്‌ സാമൂഹ്യപ്രമേയത്തിന്‌ ദേശീയ അവാർഡും ലഭിച്ചു. വിവാദകാലത്തും കുട്ടികളുടെ രക്ഷാകർത്താക്കളടക്കം ആരും എവിടെയും മാറ്റിനിർത്തിയിട്ടില്ലക്ലസ്റ്റർ പരിശീലനത്തിന്‌ പോകുമ്പോഴൊക്കെ മറ്റ്‌ അധ്യാപകർ സഹായിച്ചു. ക്ലാസ്‌ എടുക്കുന്നത്‌ കാണാൻ വന്ന എഇഒയും ഇൻസ്‌പെക്‌ഷന്‌ വന്നവരും ഒക്കെ അഭിനന്ദിച്ചു. അതൊക്കെ സിനിമയിലുമുണ്ട്‌.  

ജോബിൻസ്‌ ഐസക്‌ jobinsdbi@gmail.com
Read more: https://www.deshabhimani.com/special/news-weekendspecial-01-12-2019/837842

ജോബിൻസ്‌ ഐസക്‌ jobinsdbi@gmail.comUpdated: Sunday Dec 1, 2019
Read more: https://www.deshabhimani.com/special/news-weekendspecial-01-12-2019/837842