Book review: The Financial Expert by RK Narayan

A friend Shrikanth pointed to this book by the legend RK Narayan and I was just hooked. A typical plot by RK Narayan based in Malgudi with a financial wizard – Margayya – as the key protagonist. Apart from the usual finance books, one actually learns more abot finance and humility from such books. But hardly anyone recommends this book for a finance course. Though, there are some who recommend works like Reminiscences of stock operator, A fool and his money  for a reading in finance.

The Financial Expert isn’t a finance focused book but still leaves the main message – money and its proclaimed masters better be humble. Your mastership is valid only till money lasts and there is no guarantee over the last outcome. Money is as mercurial as the metal.

Margayya is a complex and entrancing character with a flair for those fabulously involved minor financial transactions which are an integral part of Indian life. We first meet him sitting in the shade of a banyan tree, advising the people of Malgudi how to extract loans from the Co-operative Bank. A brush with the Secretary of the Bank, and an accident in which his spoilt son Balu throws his account book down a drain, cut short his career as a financier; but after a series of amusing incidents Margayya grows rich and reverts to financial wizardry.

The book gives great insights on how the mango man struggled to get loans from the coop bank, the bank they partly owned! The similar issues of filling forms, information asymmetry, prolonged dependence on debt, the vicious cycle of debt etc are supebrly etched. How Margayya is like this self-appointed business correspondent of the coop bank and tries to help the villagers. Though he does not like the job and wants to grow bigger. This is where the fun and the journey of Margayya starts. He eventually goes onto make a fortune selling an erotica book. Then he sells his stake in the book and becomes what he knew best – a banker.

He becomes like this big moneylender in the town and then piles on large deposits from the village. This makes his aura rise in the village to the top and he emerges as the guy of Malgudi. One It just takes one rumor for all the deposits to be called back leading to shocking decline. From king to pauper overnight. How his son has to leave a house Margayya had given to him as property was attached is just an amazing turnaround.

This is how the world of banking is till date. It is just so mercurial and those who rule at the top are usually found struggling towards their end years. Some or the other accusations and bad events flow which moves the career to the mean.

If the book had a little more on finance and say explained how the coop bank worked and so on, it would have been a finance classic. But still the basic ingredients are there and is worthy of a light & quick  read.

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