The year 1994! I had just joined the largest circulating pink paper. But, in the previous pink paper I worked for, I was on the markets beat.
And my first, and last news byline story ( news pieces were called stories at the news desk, because reporters routinely made things up), was with a peculiar market trade which though banned by the newly constituted SEBI, was what traders used, to book forward off-market hours trades.
So, here I was, no longer on the beat, the editor of the pink daily, had expressly told me not to write on the markets because the bureau chief was a veteran and he would have been threatened by a young twenty- something hungry for news and bylines (those days, bylines were only given to reporters willing to go beyond press release copy and those the news editors thought were worthy of seeing their names in print).
And what I saw at the trading floor will stay with me for the rest of my life.
The electronic trading systems were still being put in place. BOLT and COLT ( Bombay Online Trading System) and Calcutta were still WIP. A decade later, I met the geeks who designed and coded the system for trading on smartphones, and I remembered the day when a stock market trading floor resembled a Diwali Puja.
I was invited by the chairman of the stock exchange, a privilege I later gathered. And at the appointed hour, after the customary Lakshmi and Ganesha Puja, the men- stock brokers, not their usual substitutes, moved to the trading floor below while the women folk ( mostly, wives, sisters and mothers) dressed in bridal finery, showered rose and marigold petals from the visitors gallery above.
The men, some of whom, were personal friends, followed the ‘outcry’ system, which I had decoded with a lot of help from all of them- as they used English, Hindi and Marwari slang to book trades.
Those days, Marwari brokers held sway over Calcutta Stock Exchange, while Gujarati traders dominated BSE.
And as the session went through, with loud calls for Bank (SBI- State Bank of India), Lever (later to become Hindustan Unilever), Motor ( Hindustan Motors), I glanced at the watchers from the gallery showering flower petals.
And that was my epiphany moment: the Muhurat Trade on Diwali isn’t done for gain, it’s a bring-your-family-to-work date!
When I looked below, I noted all my sources and contacts, were yelling at the top of their voices, not to win the trade, but to impress on the watchers- this is what we do!
Outcry trades have long been replaced by software and code, but am sure somewhere, some trader is still wanting to do a show and tell for their loved ones, on what they do, when they are away at work.
Here’s to all of you!
Happy Diwali 😊🙏