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My Friend Sancho

My first book, My Friend Sancho, was published in May 2009, and went on to become the biggest selling debut novel released that year in India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and had earlier been longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.


If you're interested, do join the Facebook group for My Friend Sancho


Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.


My posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.



Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

28 August, 2016

Usain Bolt vs Mrs Patel

This is the 13th installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page

RUN

Usain Bolt was sprinting like a gale
When he was passed by Mrs Patel.
The crowd was entertained.
Mrs Patel explained,
‘Haven’t you heard? Zara has a sale!’

JUNKET

Once there was a minister of sport
Who loved using his pretty passport.
He went on pilgrimage
To the Olympic village.
What a superb holiday resort!

Posted at 9:09 AM by Amit Varma in Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes | Sport

21 August, 2016

Sindhu and Sakshi

This is the 12th installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page

SINDHU

There was a young girl who was told
Girls should be demure, never bold.
She gave a sharp retort
On the badminton court,
And almost won Olympic gold.

SAKSHI

Once there was a Haryanvi lass
Who would never let a problem pass.
She’d fling it to the ground,
Expertly pin it down
Because desi girls can kick ass.

Posted at 8:53 AM by Amit Varma in India | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes | Sport

14 August, 2016

Atheism and Shopping

This is the 11th installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page

ATHEIST

One day God came to me, full of grief.
‘I’m distraught,’ she said, ‘I need relief.
Whatever I decree,
No one listens to me,
And now I’m losing my self-belief.’

SHOPPING

There was a girl who loved to buy shoes,
Whether from Kolhapur or Toulouse.
She bought very many,
But never wore any
Because she wasn’t able to choose.

Posted at 10:44 AM by Amit Varma in Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

05 August, 2016

The Adventures of Isabgol

This is the 29th installment of Lighthouse, my monthly column for BLink, a supplement of the Hindu Business Line. Note for foreign readers: Isabgol is a legendary health supplement used to treat constipation.

It was 11pm at the end of a long day. A weary Donald Trump undressed in his hotel room. He had a habit of looking at the ceiling whenever he undressed, so that he wouldn’t catch a glimpse of his hands. He had such tiny hands! To see his hands take off his designer shirt (he had the best shirt!) and his manly trousers (he had seen a lot of trousers, and let me tell you, these trousers were really good!) made him sad. It made him want to cry, and because real men don’t cry, that then made him really angry. It started with the hands, though.

He flopped down on the bed. He was naked now, and had one more reason to not look down. He was worried. This was his fifth consecutive day without satisfactory bowel movement. He was full of shit. This made him irritable. In the last three days, he had a) lashed out at the mother of a soldier killed in combat, b) thrown a baby out of an election rally, and c) picked up a kitten at a townhall meeting and thrown it at a grandmother who was having a heart attack. The grandmother had immediately recovered, but the kitten had a heart attack, and the media was now saying vicious things about him, being really mean to him, very unfair. What was he supposed to do, throw the grandmother at the kitten?

He really needed to shit.

Just then, he saw something move at the end of the bed. He looked across, making sure not to get his tiny hands in the way. There was a little boy there. A little green boy. Trump couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He rubbed his eyes, which took a long time because of his really tiny hands. But the boy was still there. Was he imagining the boy? Should he speak to him? What if someone sees him speaking to an imaginary green boy? The New York Times would go crazy. Why were they so nasty with him?

‘Who are you?’ he finally asked.

‘My name is Isabgol,’ the boy said. ‘Gosh, you have such small hands.’

‘No I don’t, I have really big hands,’ said Trump. ‘I’ve seen a lot of hands, and let me tell you, my hands are the biggest. They’re huge!’ He covered his hands and something else with the bedsheet. ‘What are you doing here? What do you want?’

‘I have been sent to this planet with one mission,’ said Isabgol. ‘And that is to get rid of excess shit. There is too much shit in the world. And so, here I am.’

Trump stared at Isabgol in astonishment. It was true that the last five days had been hard because of the absence of motions. Could he really be the leader of the free world when he was thus constrained?

‘How do you do that? And wait, before you do any of that, are you an immigrant? Are you a Muslim? Are you a Muslim from Mexico? Because, you know, I’m building this wall…’

Isabgol sighed. ‘I was warned about this. So much shit. Listen, first, not only am I not from America, I’m not even from Earth. I come from a faraway planet called Bengal. And second, when I speak of clearing up shit, I’m speaking metaphorically. I couldn’t care less about your bowel movements. No, I’m going to spin my magic on you, and when I’m done, there’ll be no more shit in your head. Oh no, babumoshai, you’ll actually be a good, decent human being then. You’ll be respectful to your opponents. You’ll start treating women as real people. Why, you’ll even learn to like your hands.’

Trump jumped up and backed away. ‘Don’t come near me,’ he squealed. He had been terrified many times in his life—fear is all you see behind every bully’s mask—but this was something else. A little green kid was going to make him a good person?

Isabgol advanced, repulsed by the task but excited by the challenge. Trump shrank away. Isabgol moved forward. Trump withdrew. Isabgol was almost there. Trump was in a foetal position. And then, Trump felt something right next to his tiny, miniscule, almost invisible hands. It was a glass of water. His last line of defence!

With all the strength he could muster from his alleged hands, for one couldn’t quite see them, Trump threw the water at Isabgol. Water, water everywhere. Isabgol was covered in the water. He looked at Trump with a glimmer in his eyes. Trump shivered. He knew that he had made a grave mistake.

Isabgol began to expand.

*

At the press conference the next day, everyone was rubbing their eyes except Trump.

‘Hillary is such a fine lady,’ he said. ‘I remember, she came to one of my weddings. Many people come to my weddings. But she was the best. Just perfect.’

‘What about Obama?’ a brave cub reporter asked.

‘He is a great American,’ said Trump. ‘I may disagree with him on some issues, though I wouldn’t know which because I’m not well-informed enough to have meaningful opinions, but he is a decent man. And Michelle is such a charming lady. I tell Ivanka, when you grow up, I want you to be like that. You hear me? Just like Michelle!’

Meanwhile, backstage, two of Trump’s campaign managers looked at each in bewilderment.

‘What happened to the boss?’ one of them said. ‘He’s so full of shit today.’

Posted at 2:09 PM by Amit Varma in Lighthouse | Politics

02 August, 2016

Two Essays

It’s been a long time since I wrote something substantive on sport, so here are two recent essays I’ve written that scratched my itch. The first, published in The Cricket Monthly, is a 4000-word longread titled ‘What Cricket Can Learn From Poker’. It basically talks about the importance of probabilistic thinking, not just in poker and cricket but also in life in general. In what is a cricket magazine, I get in thoughts on poker, probability, football, the free-will-vs-determinism debate and even the Bhagawad Gita. An excerpt:

One way to think about probability is to imagine parallel universes. You flip an evenly weighted coin, and instantly the world splits into 1000 parallel worlds, and the coin falls heads in 500 of them and tails in the other 500. You flip again and these universes are split into units of 250, each showing sequences of HH, HT, TH and TT. You keep flipping.

This is true for everything that happens. Every single thing that happens in this world (or may happen) has a probability attached to it. These probabilities change at every instant, affected by all other events to some degree or the other. So imagine, in every single moment, for every single event, the parallel universes multiplying. You can increase or decrease the number of hypothetical parallel universes depending on how granular you wish to make the thought experiment, but there are basically infinite parallel universes, each of them containing unique outcomes. And the world that you are in right now is just one of trillions of trillions of freakin’ gazillions. Imagine the level of randomness, then, of this world being what it is.

*

My other essay, ‘The Tamilian Gentleman Who Took On The World’, was part of ESPN.in’s series of The Top 20 Moments in Indian Sport. Vishy Anand winning the undisputed chess world championship in 2007 was ranked No. 4 by ESPN, though I would place it at the top. Being a chess lover, I’m obviously biased, but I’d hope that after reading my piece, which is about the context of Anand’s remarkable achievement, you will agree with me!

Posted at 4:29 PM by Amit Varma in Essays and Op-Eds | Poker | Sport

24 July, 2016

Good Night, Pappu

This is the second of two limericks in the 10th installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page

image

BEDTIME

Pappu woke to slaps from his mama.
He explained why he caused such drama.
‘Parliament is a bore
I was tired. What’s more,
I was already in my pajama.’

Posted at 11:05 AM by Amit Varma in India | News | Politics | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

Mosquitoes As Big As A Bus

This is the first of two limericks in the 10th installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page

GAME

Once mosquitoes as big as a bus
Attacked me with a great deal of fuss.
They chased me around,
And now I have found
They’re playing Pokemon Go with us.

Posted at 10:56 AM by Amit Varma in Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

17 July, 2016

Two States

This is the 9th installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page

UTTAR PRADESH

Once the Congress seemed rather smug.
‘Gandhi’ was their designer drug.
Do they now realise
That the Gandhi franchise
Is not a feature but a bug?


KASHMIR

A wise man said, ‘An eye for an eye
Makes the whole world blind.’ Those who decry
This circle of violence
Must speak through the silence.
We’ll fall too far if we don’t aim high.

Posted at 9:29 AM by Amit Varma in Freedom | India | Politics | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

10 July, 2016

The Impresario and the Intellectual

This is the 8th installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page

IMPRESARIO

There was a man with a giant belly
Who sat all day glued to his telly.
Then he died. He was gone,
But the belly lived on.
Now it throws great parties in New Delhi.


INTELLECTUAL

There was a man with a giant head
Who told us where the future led.
His brain was so loaded,
One day it exploded
And now he’s confined to his bed.

Posted at 8:05 AM by Amit Varma in Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

08 July, 2016

That Gender Card Again

Swarajya plays the gender card on behalf of Smriti Irani:

The jokes on Smriti being handed textiles ministry, misunderstanding it for a ministry of ‘texting’, or the beti being given a sewing machine instead of education, have come from even the most feminist of women, all with unbridled glee at seeing a woman fail.

The cherry-picking of a women to be slammed in a manner that is degrading and humiliating of the person, and not their work, must rankle anyone.

Indeed, I had reacted to Irani’s transfer with this limerick, which I presume is the joke being referred to above. I’ve been a critic of Irani for a long time, and the reason for that is not her gender, but her “ignorance and arrogance”, as Ram Guha put it so aptly. The cabinet reshuffle indicates that even Narendra Modi agrees with Ram Guha and me on this matter, and it might well be a first that the three of us are lined up on the same side of an issue.

The Swarajya piece also indulges in a bit of Whataboutery, implying that men don’t get criticized in this manner. Speaking for myself, I’ve lampooned Rahul ‘Pappu’ Gandhi (Recent examples: 1,2) and Modi (1, 2, 3) far more than I’ve criticized Irani. To the best of my knowledge, they are not women at this point in time. But even if I wasn’t an equal opportunity satirist, the Whataboutery would have been uncalled for.

This is not to say that there hasn’t been some disgusting sexism directed at Irani, or that we aren’t a country of sexists. Those are true, but to imply that the very act of criticizing Irani is sexist simply because she is a woman is absurd. All political discourse will end if we take that line: You won’t be able to criticize any woman because someone will call it sexist, or any Muslim because you’ll be labelled Islamophobic, or any government minister because you’ll be called anti-national. There is no end of cards to play.

In an essay I wrote a few weeks ago, ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Politics’, I described how so much political discourse ends up as attacks on the person making the argument instead of the argument itself. I outlined three ways in which that happens. Swarajya’s article is a perfect illustration of that, as it covers all three of those. So you lampooned Irani? Well, that reveals three things about you. One, you’re a hypocrite, because you didn’t lampoon Kapil Sibal earlier. Two, you’re sexist, and your intention is to demean women. Three, you’re part of the ‘liberal brigade’.

It is almost as if this piece was written to illustrate my point, so thank you for that, Swarajya!

Posted at 4:10 PM by Amit Varma in India | News | Politics | WTF

05 July, 2016

Reshuffle

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RESHUFFLE

Smriti Irani spent quite a while
Sending messages on her mobile
Putting callers on hold
Until she was told
Her job wasn’t texting, but textile.

Posted at 11:21 PM by Amit Varma in India | News | Politics | Rhymes

03 July, 2016

Politics and Money

This is the second of two limericks from the 7th installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page.

POLITICS

A neta who loves currency notes
Told me what his line of work denotes.
‘It is kind of funny.
We steal people’s money
And use some of it to buy their votes.’

Posted at 9:23 AM by Amit Varma in Freedom | India | Politics | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

Donald Trump and Immigration

This is the first of two limericks from the 7th installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page.

NATIVIST

Donald Trump was full of indignation.
He wanted to undo immigration.
God granted his prayer,
Made the US all bare,
And once more a Red Indian nation.

Posted at 9:15 AM by Amit Varma in Politics | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

26 June, 2016

A Nation With A Glorious Past

This is the sixth installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page.

CIVILIZATION

A man said to me on the Virar Fast,
‘We’re a nation with a glorious past.
In both science and art,
Our ancients were smart.
Oh, by the way, what is your caste?’

PRIDE

Once I had a patriotic guest
Who told me, ‘Indians are the best.
Yes, inflation is dicey,
Tomatoes are pricey,
But our PM has a 56-inch chest!’

Posted at 8:51 AM by Amit Varma in India | Politics | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

21 June, 2016

Sloth

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SLOTH

I woke up in the morning with a sense of dread.
There was a righteous voice inside my head
Saying, ‘Get up and play!
It’s World Yoga Day!’
So I yawned and did some asanas in bed.

Posted at 1:55 PM by Amit Varma in India | Politics | Rhymes

19 June, 2016

Modi’s Boudi, and Obama’s Pajama

This is the fifth installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page.

MISHTI DOI

Once there was a man named Modi
Who fell in love with a Bengali boudi.
He had such a huge crush
That he would copiously blush
At the very thought of sitting in her godi.


SECOND LADY

There was a man named Barack Obama
Who one day misplaced his pajama,
So he said, “All righty,
I’ll just sleep in a nightie.
Hey Michelle, tonight I’m the hot mamma!”

Posted at 11:01 AM by Amit Varma in Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

12 June, 2016

The King of Hearts

This is the second of two limericks in the fourth installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page.

MACROCRUSH

An army of ladies stormed the RBI Gate
To meet Raghu, and set the record straight.
They said, ‘If you gotta go,
Then you oughta know
That you will never, ever lower our interest rate.’

Posted at 9:46 AM by Amit Varma in India | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

Pappu the Prince

This is the first of two limericks in the fourth installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page.

CORONATION

‘Mommy, Mommy, throw me a party,’
Said Pappu the Prince, all hale and hearty.
Mommy said, ‘Fine.
The Congress was mine.
Now it’s yours, my cute little smarty!’

Posted at 9:38 AM by Amit Varma in India | Politics | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

10 June, 2016

Black Man Rising

This is the 28th installment of Lighthouse, my monthly column for BLink, a supplement of the Hindu Business Line.

How do we choose our sporting heroes? I believe they are born in three ways. One, at a primal level, we pick them on the basis of tribalism. We support someone because they are doing well for the club or country we support, and that is reason enough. Two, we like them for their specific skills in a game that we love. The elegance of a Federer, the technical finesse of a Dravid, and so on. Three, we like them for reasons that go beyond the sport. Maybe their story evokes something personal in us. Maybe we are drawn to them because we are a species that understands the world through stories, and there is something universal about their journey that goes beyond the sport.

Muhammad Ali, who died a few days ago, transcended boxing. His life was so deeply intertwined with American history in the 1960s and ‘70s that to immerse yourself in the story of the man would be to understand the history of the nation. His journey encapsulated the essential conflicts of his times to such a degree that his sporting achievements almost didn’t matter.

Ali was born Cassius Clay, named after a 19th century abolitionist who defied the dominant narratives of his times. So did Ali. He did this, first, with regard to the way he boxed. Heavyweight boxers were supposed to be men of heft and power, but Ali subverted expectations by being a big man who danced around the ring with balletic grace, who could turn a brawl into an artistic display. His model was the welterweight (and later middleweight) Sugar Ray Robinson, a much smaller man. Boxing pundits didn’t take the young Clay seriously. The iconic sports writer AJ Liebling described him after his Olympic Gold win in Rome 1960 as ‘attractive but not probative’, and later dissed him as ‘Mr Swellhead Bigmouth Poet’. He was such an underdog in his first World Championship match against Sonny Liston in 1964 that his team found out which hospital had the best emergency room and mapped out the quickest route there from the venue. They thought Liston might kill him.

But the narratives that really mattered had nothing to do with boxing style, and he subverted them too. Boxing was a gladiatorial sport in America in the 50s and 60s, run by the mob, and many top boxers, usually black, like Liston, were virtually owned by the mob. Audiences needed palatable, simple narratives as packaging for the sport: Liston vs Patterson, for example, was sold as a fight between ‘Bad Negro’ and ‘Good Negro’, with one man (Liston) an uncivilised brute, feeding into racist fears of the archetypal black savage, and the other (Patterson) a sophisticated ‘liberal’s liberal’, as the novelist James Baldwin called him. (Both portraits were unfair.) But Ali would not allow others to shape his story.

Soon after his shock win over Liston in 1964, Ali further shocked America by announcing that he had joined the Nation of Islam, and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Many resisted this, and as if to remind him of who he really was, kept calling him by his ‘slave name’ of Cassius Clay. But Ali fought back. In 1967, he got into the ring against Ernie Terrell, a black heavyweight who refused to address him by his chosen name, and kept taunting him as he jabbed him repeatedly, ‘What’s my name, Uncle Tom? What’s my name?’

His bravest act, with which he lifted himself above his sport, was refusing to be drafted. Conscription is a form of slavery, and Ali refused to be a slave again. He was stripped of his title, and lost almost four years and tens of millions of notional dollars for his act, but he would not waver or compromise. In the magisterial biography ‘King of the World’, David Remnick quotes Gerald Early, a literature professor, describing what Ali’s action meant to him as a teenager: ‘When he refused, I felt something greater than pride: I felt as though my honour as a black boy had been defended, my honour as a human being.’

Ali came back into the sport and won the heavyweight title again, and achieved much glory in boxing. Not all of his story is uplifting. He often went overboard with hate-filled rhetoric, especially in his early days with the Nation of Islam, and his disrespect of his opponents, and his trash talk, often crossed the line. This is particularly so with Joe Frazier, who had helped Ali get his boxing license back after his suspension was over, but then became roadkill on Ali’s journey. In the words of the writer William Nack, Ali ‘humiliated and enraged and ultimately isolated Frazier, casting him as a shuffling and mumbling Uncle Tom, an ugly and ignorant errand boy for white America.’ He called him ‘an ugly gorilla’ among other things, building a mythology around himself that was as false as the racist narratives he had earlier rebelled against. (He justified it as good marketing for the fight, but Frazier carried the scars forever. Nack memorably wrote later that Ali had been ‘living rent-free for Frazier’s head for more than 25 years.’)

As much as Ali transcended the sport, he was also a creature of the sport, and the sport is essentially barbaric: one man beating another man, ideally causing brain damage (for the knockout is the ideal end to all fights), a negative-sum game where in the end both men lose. The accumulated blows that Ali took were a likely cause of his Parkinson’s, and as his legend grew over the decades, the man himself faded.

But the ways in which boxing diminished him—and before that he diminished himself—should not affect his legacy. All human beings are frail and weak and flawed in countless public and private ways—but very few people rise above themselves, and their sport, and their times, to the extent that Ali did. He meant so much to so many. As Kareem Abdul Jabbar wrote in a recent tribute: ‘I may be 7’2”, but I never felt taller than when standing in his shadow.’

More than the shadow, though, it was the light.

Posted at 12:59 PM by Amit Varma in Essays and Op-Eds | Lighthouse | Sport

08 June, 2016

Prime Hugger

JHAPPI DIN

Some people called the PM a thug.
Mr Modi replied with a shrug,
‘I’m not sophisticated,
It is true that I am hated,
But hey, I really like to hug!

image

Posted at 11:55 AM by Amit Varma in India | Politics | Rhymes

07 June, 2016

Parsis and Cows

Here’s a classic illustration of unintended consequences: Parsis are being cremated now, instead of being fed to vultures, because of an anti-inflammatory drug given to cattle in the 1990s.

And somewhere a butterfly flaps its wings.

Posted at 10:46 AM by Amit Varma in India | News

Hillary’s Biggest Helper

MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE

Hillary let off a joyous scream
She said, ‘This is such a dream.
That fellow Trump
Who I’m gonna thump
Behaves like he is on my team.’

Posted at 8:10 AM by Amit Varma in Politics | Rhymes

06 June, 2016

Swamy vs God

This is the third installment of Rhyme and Reason, my weekly set of limericks for the Sunday Times of India edit page

FIGHTER

There was a man named Subramanian Swamy
Who was known to be kind of barmy.
PM Modi put him right.
He said, ‘I know you like to fight,
So why don’t you join the bloody army?’

HEY BHAGWAN

Subbu Swamy filed a case against God.
Subbu Swamy accused God of fraud.
Much thunder was heard.
God said, ‘How absurd!
Such chutzpah I really must applaud.’

Posted at 8:05 AM by Amit Varma in India | Politics | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

31 May, 2016

In Defence of Tanmay Bhat

I have four quick comments to make on the Tanmay Bhat controversy. (The first two are trivial but need to be repeated, I think.)

One: Our laws are still screwed up. The repeal of 66(a) of the IT Act was rightly celebrated as a win for freedom, but there are already laws in the IPC, like 295(a) and 153(a), which can also be used to strike out against Free Speech. (Here’s an ancient piece of mine on the subject: Don’t Insult Pasta.) The last I heard, people were planning to file a case against Bhat using those laws. I hope they don’t. And those laws should really not exist. As long as he is not directly inciting violence, Bhat should have the right to say whatever he wants, however offensive, however obnoxious.

Two: By the same token, others have a right to react to his comedy in whatever way they please, as long as they’re not trying to force him to shut up. So someone who says his comedy is disgusting is not attacking Bhat’s right to free speech unless he follows up by filing a case or trying to get him banned or whatever. And we can react to their reactions in the same way, and so on recursively. That’s what social media is for, isn’t it?

Three: The quality of Tanmay’s humour is less important to me than the context of it. Standup comedy in India is relatively young. (We have a great, centuries old tradition of humour, actually, but not this specific form, so don’t hit me with history and tradition, please.) And we are too quick to get offended. So it’s important to keep pushing the envelope, to keep stretching those boundaries. Nothing should be sacred. No holy cows.

Now, because our standup ecosystem is nascent, all the stuff that floats to the top won’t be of the highest quality. But that doesn’t matter. I didn’t enjoy all the humour in the AIB Roast, but boy, am I glad they did it. These guys are putting themselves out there, unlike many of us armchair observers. That is admirable in itself. And while doing it, they’re also taking giant steps forward for Indian standup comedy. (In these early days, all steps are giant steps.) That, in itself, deserves applause.

Four: Sit back and think for a moment about the nature of comedy itself. When Bhat says that Mangeshkar’s face looks like it has been kept in water for eight days, or he invokes the bitterness of a notional Sachin Tendulkar, is he really talking about just them? I don’t know Bhat personally, but I’m pretty sure he is under no illusion about his own good looks, or his mortality, or his importance to this world. Very few comedians are. If anything, comedians are people who’ve realised the essential tragic nature of the world, and certain fundamental truths about the human condition, such as a) our mortality, b) the huge role of dumb luck in our lives and c) the self-delusions which we need to survive, and with which we convince ourselves of our own importance. (I’m sure Bhat doesn’t think about it in these precise terms, but you get the drift.) Once you figure this out, the only appropriate reaction is laughter.

So when Bhat subverts the notion of Sachin and Lata as hallowed figures who cannot be made fun of, he is really just telling us to laugh at ourselves. ‘Look at us, we’re so funny and pathetic. Hahaha.’ I think he does it really well—that Mangeshkar ‘face in water’ joke is observational genius—but even if you don’t, it should not matter. More power to him regardless.

I just hope, after all this, he doesn’t end up apologizing.

Posted at 3:03 PM by Amit Varma in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News

29 May, 2016

Gandhi and the Troll

Every Sunday, two of my limericks appear on the edit page of the Sunday Times of India. Here’s today’s installment.

QUIT INDIA

Once there was an airport named Gandhi
Where all flights were grounded in an aandhi.
So with a laugh and a cough,
The airport flew off,
Now all the pilots are sitting drinking brandy.

FLUSH

Once there was an internet troll
Who was pushed into a toilet bowl
By his dad, who decreed,
‘Having seen your twitter feed,
I hereby perform delayed birth control.’

Posted at 8:33 AM by Amit Varma in India | Politics | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes

27 May, 2016

Train

Mid Day reports:

Talk about catching a lucky break. A 60-year-old woman at Ghatkopar station yesterday sauntered onto the platform, got down on the tracks and lay down on them just as a local train arrived.

At least two bogies passed over her before the driver applied the brakes. She came out almost unscathed, with just an injury on a toe on the left foot.

One moment she is lying down on the railway tracks, a train heading towards her, and she feels this terrible, unspeakable sadness. A few seconds later, the train has gone over her, and she’s still alive. What do you think she feels then?

There’s no similarity in the plot, but I thought of Jean-Paul Sartre’s great short story, ‘The Wall’ (pdf link) when I read this.

Posted at 5:43 PM by Amit Varma in News | Small thoughts

Sandy the Dandy

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Once there was a guy called Sandy
Who behaved all macho and randy,
But guys who flex their pecs
Usually have a complex:
He might well be an impotent dandy.

(Pic courtesy Veena Venugopal on Twitter.)

Posted at 4:44 PM by Amit Varma in India | News | Rhymes

Jawaharlal Nehru: Not a Saint, Not a Sinner

It is ironic that one of the great unifying forces in Indian history has become such a polarising figure decades after his death. The ‘Sanghis’ lambast Jawaharlal Nehru as a pseudo-secularist, anti-religion, anti-sangh socialist demon, and the ‘Congressis’ have already lifted him into sainthood. But these binaries are misleading.

Nehru was neither a saint nor a sinner. In my view, he was a great man who has great achievements to his name, as well as a few giant missteps. I admire him for keeping India together in those early years, when that wasn’t as much of a given as it now seems, for keeping us secular, for building great institutions, and for setting standards of behaviour in public life. Equally, I think his Fabian Socialism kept India poor for decades longer than it should have, with an incalculable cost in terms of lives and living standards. His economic policies were misguided, though, not malicious. He really did believe that was the way forward, and it was in keeping with the intellectual fashion of the times. Maybe he could have had less certitude in his beliefs and been more open to criticism—from the likes of the sidelined Rajaji, for example—but hey, hindsight is 20-20, and I know that I for one could never have walked in those shoes.

It’s ironic and sad, as I mentioned in my last post, that his great opponents in the Hindutva right are not just following him in many respects, but they are following all the wrong aspects of his legacy. They’re perpetuating big-state, mai-baap economics while they try to polarise the country with their divisive, communal rhetoric. They’re embracing the worst of Nehru while discarding the best of him.

This post was sparked, btw, by an editorial in Mint today titled ‘In defence of Jawaharlal Nehru.’ I disagree with the manner and focus of their defence, though. They write:

The Nehruvian project was part of the wider liberal nationalist project—to begin the overdue economic regeneration of India through industrialization led by the state, to seek strategic autonomy in a Cold War world through the principle of non-alignment, to build a new nation-state within a constitutional framework, and to create new institutions for a modern India emerging from several centuries of foreign rule.

It is far easier to attack Nehru for specific policy errors than it is to question his overarching concerns.

This is true: but it is also true that just as we judge policies by their outcomes and not their intentions, we should do the same when we talk of leaders. Nehru’s intentions were certainly noble: but so were those of Mao, Pol Pot and the Soviets. Intentions stand for nothing. It is actions and their outcomes that matter. In that, Nehru has a mixed record, and there is much to praise. Those should be the focus of any defence of Nehru.

Ps. For what it’s worth, my feelings on Indira Gandhi are very different. There is nothing redeeming about her record, and she was truly a vile, evil woman. If Kamala Nehru had had a headache for all of 1917, the world would have been a better place. But one can’t blame Jawaharlal for that!

Posted at 4:08 PM by Amit Varma in India | News | Politics

The Pandit and the Bovine God

Mr Modi said, ‘I won’t allow
A sale of the public sector now.’
Well, I have to agree
With Mr Shourie:
Modi = Nehru + cow.

*

Vivek Kaul has a response to this that I agree with entirely.

And oh, I’ve written multiple times in the past that Modi is, in different ways, a legatee of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. (I mean that as harsh criticism.) Those pieces:

The Fatal Conceit of the Indian Politician
Looking Beyond Left and Right
Lessons From 1975

Posted at 3:14 PM by Amit Varma in India | News | Politics | Rhymes

22 May, 2016

A Wrestler Sweats in the Summer

Starting today, two of my limericks will appear every Sunday on the edit page of the Sunday Times of India. This is the first installment.

CULPABLE

Once there was a problem of water
Summer was hot and getting hotter
A politician explained,
‘Our hands are blood-stained.
Bad governance is equal to manslaughter.’

LITIGATION

Once a wrestler tried to move a building
Muscular Sushil grunting and pushing
When chastised,
He said, ‘I was advised
To move court, so that’s what I’m doing.’

Posted at 11:19 AM by Amit Varma in India | News | Politics | Rhyme and Reason | Rhymes | Sport

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