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My Friend Sancho

My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.

To buy it online from the US, click here.

I am currently on a book tour to promote the book. Please check out our schedule of city launches. India Uncut readers are invited to all of them, no pass required, so do drop in and say hello.

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

Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.

And ah, my posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.

Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Category Archives: Arts and entertainment

Chocolate, Krautrock, a blindfolded rhino

Various writers describe in the Guardian how they get their creative juices flowing.

Chocolates work for Douglas Coupland. Well, I just had a Belgian Chocolate gelato, and have an article to write tonight that I’ve been struggling to begin. Off to work then.

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Kissing Shilpa Shetty


Richard Gere wanted to demonstrate at a recent function, at which he was speaking with Shilpa Shetty, that the HIV virus cannot be spread by kissing, and he decided “to make his point by kissing first Shilpa’s hand, then hugged her, kissed her cheek, and finally bent over the surprised actress to give her a big kiss, Hollywood-style.” The report that excerpt is from finds this flattering, and begins:

We’ve always known Shilpa Shetty is a pretty woman, but now we have an official endorsement from a visibly smitten Richard Gere.

It also makes the valid point: “The curious thing is why Gere would choose to continually, and emphatically, keep kissing the actress in a show of safety—while neither of the two have HIV, to begin with.” Heh.

Meanwhile, in Varanasi, fans of Shilpa “burnt effigies of Gere.”

Members of the Shilpa Shetty Fan Club took to the streets raising anti-Gere slogans. They later burnt an effigy of the actor demanding that Gere either apologise for his indecent conduct or else leave the country immediately.

“Shilpa Shetty conquered all racial swipes to win Big Brother in England, but the Hollywood actor—by unnecessarily planting kisses on Shilpa’s cheek—has not only done disservice to the AIDS campaign but has also blemished the rich Indian culture,” Iqbal, who led the Shilpa Shetty Fan Club, said.

I think they’re jealous. They wish Richard Gere had kissed them instead of Shilpa.

Anyway, Indian culture is blemished now. What a pity. It was fun while it lasted.

(First link via email from Prabhu.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | India

Equality of outcome…

... is deeply undesirable. Check out Kurt Vonnegut’s classic story, “Harrison Bergeron,” which illustrates that beautifully. (Via Cafe Hayek.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Economics

Sona Mohapatra, and tristesse

I’m off to lunch in Bandra, which feels almost like an outstation trip given how little I commute, but before I go, let me leave you with the video of a lovely song by Sona Mohapatra, “Abhi Nahin Aana.”

What an unusual love song, a woman telling her lover not to come to her yet because she is enjoying pining for him. (The spoken bit at the end is outrageously sexy.) It reminds me of an email Sanjeev Naik sent me a few days ago, in response to this post, in which he quoted this excerpt from Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse:

A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow. The idea of sorrow has always appealed to me, but now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I have known boredom, regret, and occasionally remorse, but never sorrow. Today, it envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, and sets me apart from everybody else.

Quite the web Sona spins.

(Comments are open.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

“Would beauty transcend?”

If you haven’t already, do read Gene Weingarten’s superb feature in the Washington Post, “Pearls Before Breakfast,” which details an excellent little experiment the Post carried out. The story begins thus:

He emerged from the metro at the L’Enfant Plaza station and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.

It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work…

What is extraordinary is that the musician was Joshua Bell, one of the most renowned classical violinists in the world. Playing “some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made” on a 1713 Stradivarius, Bell made $32.17. It’s a fascinating story, wonderfully told, read the full thing.

And also, check out this follow-up story by Weingarten that has much chat between him and readers who reacted to the story, as well as “something enlightening about the nature of government bureaucracy versus private industry”, also neatly excerpted by The Mises Blog.

(First WAPO link via separate emails from Priyanka Joseph and Ravages, the other two via email from Ravages.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Miscellaneous

“Old age is… like a semicolon”

Well, Kurt Vonnegut’s got his full stop. RIP, and all that.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

“What I love about floors is that they love feet”

That’s a line I particularly like from a poem by Space Bar, the newest contributor to Rave Out. That section’s coming along rather nicely, I think, and the already-healthy contributors list will have a couple of new additions in the next couple of weeks that will make it rock even more. Watch that space.

And yes, just as floors love feet, my keyboard loves my fingers. Such is the level of obsession there that I fear that such a love affair can only be doomed. Its offspring, of course, exist for your pleasure.

Update: You can pick up RSS feeds from here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Blogging | Personal

Ah, family!

Vinod Nayar, Arun Nayar’s daddy, is upset because Liz Hurley didn’t treat him well during her wedding to Arun, from which he was apparently ‘ejected’. Nayar has been quoted as saying:

May be they didn’t really want my side of the family there. They didn’t even have the manners to invite my 87-year-old mother. I have totally disowned them (his sons). I want nothing more to do with them or their wives. It was important for her (Hurley) to get celebrity faces there.

No matter how much Liz may dislike Arun’s family, she should thank her freakin’ stars that it’s nothing like this one. Indian families contain unspeakable horrors. The only way to put an end to the monstrosity is to ban copulation. You with me on this?

Ok, fine, forget it. Have a good day.

(KSBKBT link via email from reader VatsaL, though not in this gory context.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | India | News

Katrina and the cow

It seems that the cow that Akshay Kumar was shown milking in Namastey London is named Katrina. Can you guess what it would have been called when it was younger?

Katrina Calf.

Ok, sorry! It might be sleep deprivation…

Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Old memes | Cows

Sanjaya Malakar and American Idol

Screaming fans have lined up outside my house demanding that I post about Sanjaya Malakar. Some of them have Mohawk hairstyles, and some are even threatening to start singing. But what to say? Sanjaya’s beyond words, he’s so good and bad, both.

Here’s my theory on why he’s got so far in American Idol and why he won’t go all the way. The format of the show helps a polarising figure like him survive in the early rounds. If the viewers of American Idol had to vote to throw people out instead of to keep them in, he would have been out long ago. People who want him to stay would have faced the task of figuring out which of his opponents was closest to him, and they’d have had to vote in concert for that person. Hardly likely. (That voting mechanism helped the low-key Rahul Roy win Big Boss, as I’d mentioned here.)

Instead, as Sanjaya’s supporters vote to keep him in, people who don’t like him find their votes diffused among his many competitors. But as the show progresses, there will be fewer and fewer contestants left, and the votes of those against Sanjaya won’t be spread so thin. That is why he’s unlikely to go all the way. A similar case that I’d once written about was that of Ravinder Ravi, who, in the first season of Indian Idol, exasperated Anu Malik even more than Sanjaya bugs Simon Cowell. Ravi outlasted many better singers, but lost out in the final five.

Of course, there are other factors at play as well. Sanjaya has the backing of the immensely delightful Howard Stern, who “hopes to turn the talent competition into a farce and destroy its popularity.” The premise there seems to be that the show is popular because of the quality of its singers, which Vote for the Worst disputes by saying that “American Idol is not about singing at all, it’s about making good reality TV and enjoying the cheesy, guilty pleasure of watching bad singing.” They’re also supporting Sanjaya.

If Sanjaya progresses through the show, expect the Indian press to catch on. Right now he’s under the radar: hardly anyone watches Star World, where American Idol is telecast, and the media probably hasn’t gone to town with the story because he’s an object of ridicule for the American press. But if he comes close to winning, it’ll be reported as an “Indian Boy Come Good” story, even though he’s an American boy. Such it goes.

Meanwhile, for a few glimpses of what the American media has to say about Sanjaya, check out Manish’s post on the subject. And below the fold comes a clip of Sanjaya singing the No Doubt song, “Bathwater”: not quite as bad as the hype around him, I’d say. Certainly better than bloody Ravinder Ravi.

(Update: Comments are now open, please leave your thoughts on Sanjaya. Also, Gaurav has a technorati analysis of American Idol contestants here.)


Posted by Amit Varma on 06 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

The Great Indian Soap Opera

A headline on NDTV says: “Chappell unhappy with senior players.” Read the story, worrying stuff.

If this is a leak by Chappell, then I really don’t see how he can continue to play a role in Indian cricket any more. Either you say what you have to say in public, or you deal directly with the board, and keep your report confidential. Playing games through the media is simply not on, especially when it is so blatantly done.

His allegations should be investigated, of course. But the substance in them is a separate matter from the issue of the leak.

The other night I caught a few moments of Viruddh, the much-advertised soap-opera starring Smriti Irani. It was awful: the screenplay was overwrought, the dialogues were cheesy, the characters were caricatures and the acting was hammacious enough to be beyond parody. “It can’t get worse than this,” I thought.

But I’d forgotten about Indian cricket.

Update: Chappell denies it.

Meanwhile, I was watching NDTV a while back and one of their anchors, while chatting with Ajay Jadeja, said: “I can assure you that our source is very reliable.” Hmmm.

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Sport

Piet Hein on Art

This is beautiful:


There is
one art,
no more,
no less:
to do
all things
with art-

You can read more by Piet Hein here, and about him here. I especially liked “Problems,” “Mankind” and “A Toast.”

(Thanks to reader Balkrishna Nadkarni for the link.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

Purple Monkey interviews Cthulhu

I’m not sure one should be so flippant. Unspeakable horrors may await.

(Link via email from Sanjeev Naik.

Previous posts on Eldritch horror: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 31 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

It’s not a zoo, it’s a circus

It feels like a bad dream, it does. Here, below the fold, check out Rakhi Sawant, painted like a tiger, in a cage. Haysoooos!


Posted by Amit Varma on 29 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

Why does Bollywood crave validation from abroad?

Amitabh Bachchan is quoted as saying in the Times of India:

India’s economic progress is largely responsible for the Indian films getting recognised abroad. When the economy is doing well, everything connected with the country, its food, culture, colour, art and films get noticed.

I have a question: Are Indian films getting “recognised abroad?” To the best of my admittedly minuscule knowledge, only the diaspora really cares much for it, and as the diaspora has grown, overseas markets have become prominent. But non-Indians don’t really notice it, and the stories that the international press occasionally does on Bollywood treat it as exotica.

I have another question: Why do Bollywood people crave recognition abroad? Are the millions of Indian who watch their films not validation enough?

Update: DeCruz Pulikottil writes in:

I would have never expected to have been greeted by an African man inside a Costco (huge wholesale store) and asked if I was Indian. When I said yes, he had a broad smile on his face and asked if I like Bollywood movies. Apparently, Bollywood movies are all the rage in Africa. If you google online for Romanian Bollywood dance troupe you’ll find a group of all Romanians who pick up their dance moves from Bollywood movies who dance at weddings and other functions. Bollywood is insanely popular in Eastern Europe. My Cambodian friend tells me how back in the home country, they consistently watch Bollywood movies that do show. Even here, at a private university in Southern California that has one other Indian person that attends here, I popped in a Bollywood movie (Rang de Basanti) and many white people enjoyed it. So yeah, I’m answering your question. Bollywood is becoming immensely popular overseas and not just among the diaspora.

Hmm. And when I was in Singapore a millennium ago for a conference, a local girl sidled up to me and said, “I like Shah Rukh Khan .” Then she fluttered her eyelashes. Ever the naive nerd, I had no idea why she was telling me that. I think I said something to the effect of “Pah!” And then I toodled off to look for a bookshop.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | India

A sort of trivia

Neha Dhupia says about her character in Delhii Heights:

She is stuck in a sort of trivia where she has to balance her personal and professional life.

In case some of you quizzers out there are suddenly excited, calm down: I can only assume she meant “dilemma.” Sigh.

Update: Quizzers Rishi and Quizman write in to inform me that perhaps Ms Dhupia is somewhat erudite, and was making a scholarly reference to a possible origin of the word “trivia”: in Latin, Trivium means “the meeting place of three roads, especially as a place of public resort.” [Source.]

Ya, right!

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

Hiding the author

In a feature in the Guardian by Geraldine Bedell, AL Kennedy is quoted as saying:

The authors I first loved all had initials - JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, E Nesbit, ee cummings - and I actively didn’t want to know who they were or have them get in the way of my enjoying their story and their voice.

Indeed, that is quite the problem with our times, especially in India: too much of the focus is on the author. That’s because most of us don’t read.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism

The palaces of North Calcutta

Stuart Isett has an excellent photo feature in the New York Times, with audio commentary, titled “The Palaces of North Calcutta.” The eighth photograph, of what is left of a palace on Muktarambabu Street, is particularly evocative.

Why does it take a paper based in New York to do a wonderful story like this? What’s our media up to?

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism

Celina Jaitley’s bedsheet

I have concluded that the only way for the Hindustan Times to beat the Times of India is to publish HT Tabloid, a section on their website, in their print edition. Millions will instantly subscribe for the joy of reading such prose early in the morning:

Despite delivering a dud like Red at Box Office, sultry Celina is enjoying a sound sleep at home these days. The lady has apparently found solace in her favourite bed sheet and rolls into her bed whenever she gets time just to get the feel of it.

The actress accepts that she is obsessed with a particular brand of bed sheet. Says the siren- “I can compromise with anything but not my bed sheets”.

Capacious! We are also told that “she even goes to the extent of carrying her favourite bed sheets wherever she goes.” Her bedsheets aren’t the only thing she carries, though. She is quoted as saying:

Yes, it has to be my puppy whom I carry everywhere. I think he gives me the best company. I can’t carry a big dog so I have chosen a puppy who keeps me busy when I am free.

I protest. It is my right as a citizen of India to see Celina Jaitley carry a big dog. A really big dog. A dog bigger than herself, with glasses and manicured paw-nails. Please organise.

(Previous posts with Purplocity/Verniness: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Old memes | Purplocity/Verniness

On love poems

WH Auden once wrote:

The girl whose boyfriend starts writing her love poems should be on her guard. Perhaps he really does love her, but one thing is certain: while he was writing his poems he was not thinking of her but of his own feelings about her and that is suspicious. Let her remember St Augustine’s confession of his feelings after the death of someone he loved very much: “I would rather have been deprived of my friend than of my grief.”

I get this feeling about personal bloggers who bare their passions on their blogs as well: their affection may matter more to them than the object of their affections, and if they write about breaking-up, it is the feeling of loss that is important, and not the loss itself, which shall seem trivial when the next target comes along.

But then, it could be argued that a boyfriend who sends you love poems is better than a boyfriend who doesn’t know what poetry is, and whose idea of romance is running his elbow by your side in a cinema hall, and caressing your soft arm mistaking it for something else. Of course, poets also do that, but at least they can put a sheen to it:

It was your arm, my love, that I touched in the dark
I won’t make this mistake in the park.

(Link via PrufrockTwo.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

The “capri-clad stems” of Katrina Kaif

The colour of the day is purple. I find it hard to believe that the prose below could have been published in all seriousness. It is so monstrous that it is beyond parody.

Today, Katrina Kaif looks like a horse.

No, not a nag but a fine, stunning thoroughbred, of equine grace and striking stature as she perches down from leggy heights and yawns.

It’s been a long, tiring press day, and the gorgeous Katrina canters around to keep herself awake, and insists she must leave. She wraps her plain white shirt tighter around herself, sits down casually crossing those magnificent capri-clad stems, and tosses me a smile. Ah, she’s finally deigned to let me pester. [Link.]

I suppose it takes a special skill to write like this. Perhaps they have tuition classes in the small towns of India for it, conducted in various vernacular languages. Shudder!

But I can imagine why the writer felt the need to go beyond ordinary prose. Katrina Kaif is stunning, in my opinion the hottest lady in Bollywood today. I am utterly baffled why, when she had reportedly begun going around with Salman Khan, Salman was reportedly running after Aishwarya Rai. Dude, there is no comparison. Pah!

(Link via email from reader Annette.

Previous posts with Purplocity/Verniness: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Old memes | Purplocity/Verniness

Anand Jon and euphemisms

We’ll only know if Anand Jon is guilty of the charges against him when the trial is done, but if there was a law against silly euphemisms, his attorney, one Ronald Richards, would be in serious trouble. Consider the gentleman’s defence of Jon:

These girls fly in for model jobs after months of dialogue filled with flirtation, they have sexual interaction and if he doesn’t put them in the show… then sometime later they claim they had unwanted sex.

“Sexual interaction?” “Unwanted sex?” Dude?

And it’s interesting how a section of the Indian media has jumped to Jon’s defence simply because he is an Indian celebrity in the US. So we have stories with quotes from celebs saying things like “Oh, I met him once at a party, and he seemed so polite. I’m sure he couldn’t have done this!” Joy.

Madhur Bhandarkar should make a film on this.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Journalism | News

Rakhi Sawant ke Bouncer?

That, apparently, is the name of a new show featuring Rakhi Sawant. CNN-IBN has a video, which I bring you below the fold, that features a gent named Paras Tomar trying to find out more about the show. At one point, he points out that she is wearing too many clothes, and she replies:

Tho kya bikini pehnu?

Hmm. Judging by the camera angles on that feature, CNN-IBN would no doubt feel even that was too much. Have a look:


Posted by Amit Varma on 17 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Journalism

On heroes

Frank Miller says about his childhood:

This was the era of Ben-Hur and that really captured the country’s imagination. I saw Jason and the Argonauts and the Hercules movies and that sort of thing, and then one weekend my parents took my brother and me to the latest, which was The 300 Spartans.

I learned first that the story of Thermopylae was real, then as the film went on I had to take my father aside and ask him if the good guys were going to lose. I’d never heard of such a thing, and when they fell it was a formative moment for me.

I can’t wait to watch 300. Immense pestilence must be unleashed. Here are some reviews. And the trailer is below the fold.

And have you read Sin City yet? If not you haven’t lived, and arguably don’t deserve to, a matter that must be settled one way or another. Read it!


Posted by Amit Varma on 14 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

What our books say about us

I was browsing through some of my old posts, in sheer disgust, when I came across the book-tag meme. Remember that? It was a meme that demanded that we list down our favourite books and suchlike, and a whole bunch of Indian bloggers, not yet cynical enough at the time, duly did so. A lot of it is fascinating reading, and as I’ve spent the last 40 minutes revisiting those posts, I might as well point you to them as well. Here’s my response to the book tag, and here’s my list of all the other book-taggers.

The dominant meme these days, of course, is the “Ignore All Memes” meme. That works for me!

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Why Liz Hurley is good for India

Because the economy benefits from her marriage to Arun Nayar. Times of India reports:

The hospitality sector estimates that the Jodhpur wedding [between Nayar and Hurley] should cost about Rs 1 crore.

I’m assuming that with so many foreign guests coming down, and some of them perhaps being tempted to return later, the indirect benefits of the wedding will be even greater than that. And much of the money spent may not have been spent within India if not for Liz Hurley. Thus, however much we may envy the rich their ability so spend so ostentatiously, we should actually encourage them to do more of this, because it ends up creating jobs for people at the bottom of the ladder throughout the hospitality industry.

Also read: “Lavish weddings are good for the economy.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Economics | India

On bad writing

Beryl Bainbridge, in the course of a sparkling interview by Sarah Kinson, is asked, “Do you find writing easy?” She replies:

It was easier when I was young because I had no standards - I would just write. It was wonderful. I wouldn’t bother whether it was any good. It gets worse the more you know - your standards go up and up and you realise you can’t reach them.

Indeed, I know many aspiring writers around me, and the ones who find it easiest to write, who turn out thousands of words a week, are invariably the worst. Good writing is not just a question of ability, but of sensibility, and the more you immerse yourself in literature, the more likely you are to be aware of your own shortcomings, and the more critical you will be of your own writing. And I’m not sure which way the causality goes between writers reading little and writing crud. Perhaps they write badly because they are not well-read enough to know what is good; or maybe they do not read much because subconsciously they know that reading good writers could threaten their self-delusion about their own abilities.

Of course, you will be quite justified in asking why I am making such pompous statements: after all, I blog more frequently than most other bloggers, so perhaps I write crud as well. That’s entirely possible (though you can’t compare blogging to literature), but then, I have a question to ask of you in return: why are you reading this? Hmm?

Ok now, I’m off to read something, see ya later. [Aside: where’s today’s Mid-Day?]

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

To pinch bottoms without getting slapped…

... learn the tabla.

Sigh. Celebs can get away with anything. If some humble blogger tried that trick, no doubt he’d find his mugshot here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

Such modesty

Jessica Simpson says:

I’m the kind of girl who always puts my hand between my legs when I’m getting out of a car if I’m wearing a short skirt. I always wear underwear. It’s a personal rule.

Aren’t you relieved? Now you can take her home to momma.

(Link via email from, naturally, Manish Vij.)

Update: It seems underwear isn’t necessary if you know how to get out of a car. Reader Aparna sends me a delightful link to an article titled “How to Get out of a Car Gracefully Without Showing Your Underwear.

I’m so glad men don’t have this problem.

But then again, maybe it’s not a problem.

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 March, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

Loving poetry again

Do you find poetry intimidating? I do. I don’t understand most of the poems I read these days, or the ones I listen to at literary gatherings like the Kitab Fest that I’ve been attending this weekend. Sometimes I feel bewildered, sometimes I feel sleepy, and often I feel inadequate. I’ve told myself that perhaps I just don’t get it, like some people are tone deaf or colour blind.

But some poetry does give me pleasure. The work of Philip Larkin, for example, or Vikram Seth. And at the Jaipur Lit fest last month, I thoroughly enjoyed Jeet Thayil’s reading. I landed up at his reading at Prithvi Theater a few hours ago, thus, duly prepared to shoot it with my cellphone video recorder, and upload it later for your enjoyment. There was no electricity, and the reading happened in torchlight, so my recording hasn’t come out too good. Most importantly, the sound volume is just too low, and I have no idea of how to make it louder. So I won’t upload that, but I’ll simply ask you, if you ever hear that Thayil is reading in your city, to go over and ask for the “how to” poems and the ghazal about Malayalam. Even if you’ve never liked a poem in your life, you’ll love these.

What kind of a scoundrel would I be if I didn’t leave with some nice poetry now? So here, check out Billy Collins reading The Dead:


Posted by Amit Varma on 26 February, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Rakhi Sawant and J LO

Rakhi Sawant cannot be non-entertaining. I was flipping through TV channels yesterday and there she was, speaking about how she saw herself.

You know Jay Low. Jay Low! Woh Jennifer! [Long pause.] Kya hai, log usay Jay Low kehte hai, aur jog mujhe Jhay Low kehte hai. Log usay enjoy karte hai, aur mujhe jhelte hai.

I know it sounds odd, but even her immensely artifical self-deprecation has a candid charm about it. And one knows now: she thinks of J Lo!

And what on earth was she up to here, trying to gift computers to the inmates of some jail with her Bigg Boss prize money? Wouldn’t they be of greater use to poor schoolchildren or something? Immense goofiness.

(More on Rakhi: 1. And some posts on Bigg Boss: 1, 2, 3, 4. And on the Mika/Rakhi episode: 1, 2, 3, 4.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 February, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

On literature and bestsellers

Early this morning when I was creating today’s edition of Extrowords, on The Booker Prize, I took a break in between to read a bit of Fay Weldon’s wonderful book, “What Makes Women Happy.” How apt, then, that I should now stumble upon these words by Weldon:

As the sequels and prequels take over — if they liked that one, surely they’ll like this one — the creative imagination withers. The advent of the Booker, the Whitbread and others was oddly pernicious in the public perception of what the writer does for a living — that the aim of the literary writer is to win the Prize. That the pursuit of excellence is yesterday’s preoccupation: the writer’s skill now lies in how he or she conducts the race to the finish, the race to celebrity. The camera fixes on six faces, and then whips the cheque away from all but one of them.

Indeed, this is especially true in India, where people seem to find it hard to fathom literature outside of commerce. What prizes has a book got? How much advance did the writer get? Which page 3 parties has the writer been seen at with the glitterati? These are the things that decide how many column inches writers get. I suppose that’s fair enough—supply and demand, after all—and we serious readers are just unlucky that there aren’t enough of us.


Posted by Amit Varma on 21 February, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

Anna Nicole Smith and America

Tunku Varadarajan writes in the Wall Street Journal:

[Anna Nicole] Smith was the object of a fierce popular fascination. It could be said—and said not entirely as metaphor—that Anna Nicole Smith embodied America. She embodied its bounty as well as its overabundance; its exploitability, and its propensity to exploit. She embodied, also, its litigiousness, its enterprise, its universal offer of the chance to remake oneself (Gatsby did it one way, Anna Nicole Smith did it another). And to many foreigners—particularly foreign men—she embodied America in a literal way, too: in a brassy blondeness that people in repressed cultures marvel at.

The thing is, the USA stands for a lot of things—you could replace Smith’s name in the above quote with that of vitually any American celebrity, and find that they ‘embody’ their country in as many ways as she does.

And what of India? I’d argue that Mallika Sherawat and Rakhi Sawant embody our country as much as Narendra Modi and Pratibha Naithani do. Do not shudder at the thought—perhaps you embody India too. To use a cliched expression, countries contain multitudes—and so do you.

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 February, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

The magic of Shruti Nelson

The partner, as some of you may know, curates and organises art shows. A show she’s put together is running in New York at the moment, but I’m far more excited about a show that opens today in Mumbai: it features works by Shruti Nelson, a painter from Baroda, and while I’ve long been a fan of hers, some of this work is way beyond even my expectations.

You can check out some of the paintings featured in the exhibition here. My favourites: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Heck, they’re all good, and they’re much better close up, so visit the exhibition if you’re in Mumbai and check them out.

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 February, 2007 in Arts and entertainment

Bollywood hails the free market

A version of my piece below was published on January 19, 2007 in the Wall Street Journal as “Bollywood’s New Capitalist Hero.” (Subscription link.) It was also posted on India Uncut. It isn’t meant to be a review of “Guru”, towards which I have mixed feelings, but a comment on one aspect of it.

Who would ever have thought that one of the villains of a Bollywood film could be import duty? “Guru”, the latest Bollywood blockbuster by the respected director Mani Ratnam, is that rare film—perhaps Bollywood’s first—in which free markets are lauded as a force for good. Aliens emerging from the Taj Mahal would be less surprising.


Posted by Amit Varma on 15 February, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Essays and Op-Eds | WSJ Pieces

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