Welcome to another edition of ‘BCL Interviews’. Today we are sitting down with Major General Anand Saxena. The Major has served in the Indian Army for 32 years and holds 3 masters degrees – in Science, Philosophy, and Management Studies. He is also a helicopter pilot with vast combat flying experience. In addition to all this, the Major has also authored 3 books about personal finance and philosophy, with his latest work being titled ‘Nine Mantras for Happiness and Success’.
Thank you so much sir for joining us today. I would just like to mention that today is also ‘Kargil Vijay Diwas’. We remember the soldiers who sacrificed so much for our country on this day and we would also like to thank you, Major, for your services to our nation. Thank you.
First, I’d like to ask you about your journey towards becoming a bestselling author. Could you please tell us a little bit about your interest in writing and the subject matter that you have written about? (namely finance and self-help philosophy) How has your experience in the army contributed to your writing?
Maj. Gen. Anand Saxena ji –
Actually till the time I joined Army and I joined quite young, I was in Academy when I was 19 years old. Till that time, really, I was not much interested in writing beyond what I had to write for my exams. And once I joined the Army, in the Army, one has to write a lot. And other than clearing a lot of competitive exams and doing a lot of courses, we are given a lot of tasks like writing book reviews, which initiates a young officer into writing, but then it was nothing really very original. And I used to just read a book and write a review and something like that. Right. But two years back, what happened? I got introduced to the audible form of book listening through Audible and I used to listen and I do listen also on YouTube. So I go for long walks in the morning and when I used to go for a walk I used to listen to the audio book for about an hour or thereabouts.
So when I used to come back over a cup of tea, whatever I had listened over last one hour and whatever thoughts that it resonated within me, I used to just put it down on a word document and slowly I realized it is not very important as to what I had heard during that walk through the audible book, but it was the resonation of the thoughts that it evoked in me that started to generate some reflections in me
So that was so far as the writing. So I started writing some blogs and so on and so forth. But your second part of the question, why finance? So again, it’s an interesting story because as you would know, I’m an Army officer. I’m also a helicopter pilot. So there are many things that I’ve learned in the Army, including flying. And a few years back I just did a check of my financial status. And though I was doing alright, I realized that I’m not doing as well as I could have done at that stage so I thought, why?
Why is it so? Why is it that I am not doing something right? And then I started reading about personal finance and I realized certain mistakes that I had made. And the next step, as I thought, Okay, let me now leave some legacy for my children. So that’s a mistake that I have made. At least they don’t end up making the same mistakes I see. So I put down my thoughts on paper. It continued for weeks and months. By the time I finished writing, I realized the material was enough for even a small book and had so published my first book, Musings of a Financially Illiterate Father.
You believe that financial illiteracy is a problem in a country like ours. It most certainly is, India ranks quite low on many metrics (eg. stock market participation). What do you think the reason is? How do we improve this as a society?
Maj. Gen. Anand Saxena ji –
This topic is very close to my heart, Sandeep. And you’re absolutely spot on. And we are talking about stock market where the participation, if I am not wrong, is below 10%, maybe it is below 5%. May not be too far off. And if you look at that, the net per capita income of our country, it is barely one lakh rupees a year that comes to making the average income to just about 8000 rupees a month. And in most of the families the male is earning, and there are three more mouths to feed. When we convert into US dollars, it’s about 3.5 dollars a day. And if you look at the World Bank poverty line, it is 3.5 dollars a day. So we are a poor country, we are barely there so far as the developed countries are concerned. Now, on top of that, if you look at the statistics, the top 10% in our country earn 56% of the income.
Yes. And the bottom are earning really only 3.5% of the total income. So not only that we are a poor country, there is also a huge income mismatch. But while there may be an income mismatch, there is no aspiration mismatch. Because for any parent, they want to give a good education to the children. They want to give them a secure and stable childhood, send them to good schools, good colleges. You know, they want to marry them in a decent manner. They want to give them whatever they can. They want to retire gracefully, want to spend their sunset years with dignity. Now, all this requires money. And talking about children’s education, you would be aware but let me just take the education cost. Today’s cost in a private college an MBBS degree is costing about one Crore over five years. An MBA about 25-30 lahks, B.Tech, about 25-30 lakhs.
Now, when the child is born to a parent, they would not know what he or she would become after 18, 20 years. So even if we average these three most popular courses which are there in our country, you come to a figure of 50 lakhs per child, I’m talking about just the undergraduate education. I’m not even talking about the cost of raising a child till that age. And if you have two children, which is the norm, we are looking at one Crore rupees just for a good, decent education for two children. Now this is a humongous amount and it cannot be built in a day. It requires the power of compounding behind it which means one has to start early, the earlier the better. In fact, if you are starting very early, really, the amounts don’t really matter so long as you keep investing and don’t dip into the corpus in between.
And I have to talk about just one aspect of expenditure, just children’s education. You look at, let’s say daughter’s wedding all said and done in a certain strata of society, a daughter’s wedding costs you a lot of money. So that parent also has to cater for that. So all told you’re very right, the financial illiteracy exists. And yeah, of course, I forgot that the recent COVID which is still on, it has resulted in about 30,000,000 job losses.
I was reading today in an article that 10,000,000 people have gone below the poverty line during the pandemic itself. Things are grim. We are not earning enough money. And when we are earning enough money, we are not doing enough with that money to ensure that money works for us. So there are two full paths that I can suggest. And I’ve talked about it in both of my first two books. First is at the institutional level. At the education level, we have to address this issue. You know, we address all aspects of our child’s education, things which are important for his or her’s growing up years. So we teach them about biology, chemistry, mathematics, and what have you and I’m not saying that they are not important, they are very important.
In my case I am a bio student and though I got selected for medical school I never joined, I joined the army instead, the last 35 years or so I have not used biology in any way in my life. So all the education that I did up to college, was never of use in my practical life. So we find people who are very rich, lets say they are born into very rich families, the turn in to paupers. We have so many examples of celebrities, millionaires who were once rolling in money and thereafter became literally bankrupt. On the other hand we find people who were from very modest background, and they became millionaires over one generation. I’m sure Sandeep that you have read this book called ‘The Millionaire Next Door’, its a must read for everyone. You read that book and it tells you how to slowly and gradually build up this corpus. That is the first part of the prong.
The second part of the prong is the parental education, the education that the child gets at home. As parents we teach our kids everything which is good for them, we teach them how to eat, how to drink, how to talk, how to dress up, everything. The only thing we don’t teach them about is money and money management. In fact in most of the middle class families, it is considered a taboo topic. Either it will not be talked about in front of the children, or it will be one of two extremes. If the parents are very rich, they will give the child whatever they want, or if they are not very well off, then they will say things like ‘Do you think money grows on trees?’ Either way you are not setting a good mindset for the child. In the first case they are not understanding the value of money, in the second they are actually growing scared of money.
I firmly believe that money management of financial management is not about the money itself, but about the mindset that you develop towards money. Money is a commodity that you are getting when you are exchanging your life energy. This is a very important topic that has to be addressed both on the home front and on the education front in a formal manner.
BCL – Your previous book, “The Millionaire Mechanic: Financial Wisdom in the Rann” is about the relationship between travel and financial literacy. Can you tell us a little bit about what you mean by that? What role does travel play in wealth wisdom?
Maj. Gen. Anand Saxena ji – If you look at most of the successful people in life, in all walks of life, they will have two essential qualities, they will be well travelled and they will be well read. Travelling is an essential part of opening the parachute of your mind. We have heard this Hindi phrase called ‘frog in the well’. Lets say you are a billionaires son or daughter, so obviously your neighbourhood is also stinking rich, so you change your iPhone whenever the new model comes out and you go for foreign education, and what have you. If you do those kinds of things, you never understand what is the importance of money, everything has been given to you on a platter. On the other hand if you were born into a very modest kind of a background, again you are living amidst the people who are in a similar type of background, so again you find scarcity all around. Either way your mindset will develop along some predictable lines which will not allow you to break out of the mindset that you were initially born with. When you travel you go to different cities or different countries and you meet different people. You’ll see how they live,how they earn, how they behave.
That resonates certain thoughts in you, you realise something’s can be done differently. Ill tell you my personal example, when I was writing my second book, “The Millionaire Mechanic: Financial Wisdom in the Rann”, actually I had travelled to Rann to just set my book there and I was there for 12-15 days and I went around the entire Rann.
That was the time when Gujurat being what it is, it is full of enterprising people, it is full of small little vyaparis, and the people I used to talk to, I used to get amazed at the kind of skills they possessed in making money. They talked about the days when there was notebandi, they talked about the days when COVID hit and so forth, and they told me about the ways and means in which they survived and not only survived, they thrived. That gave me a lot of insights into how things can be done differently than you are made to believe throughout your formative years. So yes I think travel and reading are two very important parts of a well rounded personality, and if you are well rounded then obviously you are bound to do well in life.
BCL – Your latest book is titled “Nine Mantras for Happiness and Success”. To be able to write such a book, you must certainly have a great deal of knowledge. Can you tell us about the inspiration for your 9 mantras? How did you arrive at this list of 9?
Maj. Gen. Anand Saxena ji – You see, it is we humans who require self-help books. Animals and plants and birds, they don’t require these kind of books, they are intrinsically happy, and whosoever is happy in life, he or she will be successful. Ill give you 2-3 quick examples. You know this Chinese bamboo tree, it takes 5 years from the time the seed is sown till the time it breaks the ground, 5 years, there is nothing visible. After 5 years it comes out as a small sapling, and within the next 5 weeks it grows up to 90 feet tall. Was it a failure for the first 5 years, should it have given up? It perseveres and it succeeds. There is a bird called ‘red knot’, it is 10cm big and 100 grams in weight, every year like clockwork these birds do their migration which is about 15000 km one way from North of Canada to South of Argentina like clockwork, no one teaches them navigation, no one caters for their food, they fly in formation, they reach there, lay their eggs, come back, and every year the cycle is repeated.
Are they not successful by default? We’ve heard and seen winter hibernation of frogs, for months altogether the frogs are hibernating. When they hibernate the body freezes, the blood is not circulating in their bodies. The heart is frozen 7 months in a year, the blood is not pumping. Come spring they come out and they make merry, they eat, they drink, they procreate, successful. But look at humans, what they have done? My army life has given me some perspective, when I used to see my comrades in hostile conditions, facing weather, facing enemy bullets, facing separation from families, facing a lack of financial abundance, and yet people were very cheerful. When I come back home, when I come to metros and I meet my friends and relatives, people who are sipping Scotch, who have just come out of their BMW, living in their plush penthouses, having just returned from a vacation in Switzerland, and they are cribbing about life. ‘Life is not fair yaar’.
I realised that happiness or success has nothing to do with the extrinsic things. We search for it outside, but it resides within us, and I am very fond of reading about religion, I have read the scriptures of all major religions, and I wanted to know what is it that they teach us? I realised that all the religions teach us only one thing, to find the true self which is always happy. Then I did a lot of study of successful people and unsuccessful people, and I realised again that certain traits were running through these life stories. I also looked at my own life of 53 years of which 33 years were in the army, I realised that certain things I have done quite well, and certain things I have been a miserable failure. So looking at all these things, I came to these 9 mantras. There is nothing new in these mantras, everyone knows these mantras, but I just tried to put them together in a readable form, with anecdotes, with scriptural wisdoms, with real life examples, so that a person at any stage of life or at any age can follow them, and he or she can reach the goal that he or she has set for themselves.
BCL – Lastly, I would like to ask you about your next book, if you have one planned. If not, what do you think you will be exploring in the coming years?
Maj. Gen. Anand Saxena ji – I think writing has become a passion and I write regularly, in fact the first draft of my next book, my fourth book is ready. Tentatively I have named it ’30 by 30 Metrics to Redesign Your Life’. Why 30 by 30? And before that what are these metrics to redesign your life? I feel we in life live perpetually in a reactive mode. Things happen to us, we react to it, that creates more situations, and we again react to it. That sort of sets up our life’s path, and we end up wherever we end up, sometimes in good places and sometimes in not too good places but it is a kind of default mode of living.
And sometimes people justify it by saying that this is what is written in scriptures. Now this attitude is not correct, You can always make your destiny, you can change your destiny, You can design your life, or you can redesign your life, so in this way there are 30 small chapters. 30 by 30 means that you spend 30 minutes on each chapter everyday, and you do it over 30 days, in which you’ll finish the book, and there are certain exercises, certain reflections at the end of each chapter, and if you just follow that thread, and by the time you finish this 30 by 30 exercise, maybe your outlook towards life would change, and with that possibly your life will be redesigned.