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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: Astrology etc

The Godman’s Blessing and the Sportsman’s Curse

This is the 33rd installment of Viewfinder, my weekly column for Yahoo! India. It was published on April 28.

Exhibit A is an international sportsman at the very peak of his career. Exhibit B is a middle-class man who’s been dealt a series of cruel blows, and is beginning to feel that life is not worth living. The sportsman attracts multi-million-dollar endorsements and makes it to the cover of several magazines, including the one he most covets, Sports Illustrated. The middle-class man considers slashing his wrists, but has too many responsibilities to give up so easily. So he makes a journey to an acclaimed godman, whose blessings alone have been known to turn lives around. Sure enough, things take a turn for the better. Meanwhile, the sportsman’s career starts going downhill.

What do these two stories have in common? Plenty. They are, in a statistical sense, the same story. Let me explain.

The sportsman is a victim of The Sports Illustrated Jinx. This is an urban legend based on the observation that a disproportionate number of individuals and teams who appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated subsequently experience a downswing in their careers. Appearing on the cover of that prestigious magazine, it would seem, jinxes you.

There is a simple explanation for the apparent jinx, though. Sportspeople’s careers go through peaks and troughs, with periods of immense success followed by periods of baffling failure. After each peak or trough, there is regression to the mean. They are most likely to be featured on the cover of SI when they are at their peak. A downswing after that is natural. (For someone like Michael Jordan, who was on the cover 49 times, the mean might itself be extraordinary enough for such a regression to make no apparent difference.) And when their performance dips to their normal levels, we mistake correlation for causation, and attribute it to their appearing on the SI cover. But it isn’t a jinx at all.

The godman’s blessing is a similar phenomenon, viewed from the other side. People tend to turn to God and godmen when they are at their lowest ebb. Let’s say the godman blesses them, or gives them vibhuti, or suchlike. Then their lives regress to the mean, their run of bad luck ends, and whoa, they’re devotees for life. Indeed, since they were inclined to be believers to begin with, they are likely to attribute any swing in fortunes to God or the godman, and ignore further downswings as part of their general bad luck. (This is the confirmation bias kicking in.) Or even, if they’re really thick, to karma.

Thus, the belief of many people in godmen and new age gurus is based on false foundations. If they understood the role of luck in our lives, and the randomness of the universe, they would be less inclined to look to divine forces (or charlatans claiming divinity) for answers to their problems. A godman’s blessing should never be more than a source of amusement to you—and if he gives you sacred ash, remember to wash your hands before your next meal.

*  *  *  *

That said, I am not mocking belief. The fundamental truth about human beings is that of our mortality. One day we will die, and that’s it. This is a difficult truth to come to terms with, for it carries at its heart

a message about our utter insignificance, and natural selection has programmed us to regard ourselves fairly highly. (For obvious reasons—otherwise why would we enthusiastically procreate instead of generally moping around?)

For this reason, we tend to seek comfort over truth. Religion and superstition and spirituality give us comfort. Given how harsh life can be, I’m not going to stand around passing judgment over religious people. I understand why they believe—even if what they believe in is mostly utterly ludicrous.

*  *  *  *

And yes, I’m somewhat baffled by the the number of devout followers the late Sathya Sai Baba seemed to have had. It’s one thing to believe in God, and quite another to believe in a man who called himself divine, and would prove this not with miracles of any value, but through cheap conjurer’s tricks that any average stage magician could have pulled off. (There are many YouTube videos about them; check out this one.) There have also been hazaar unsavoury controversies around the man; read Vir Sanghvi’s take on him, as well as

Vishal Arora’s superb feature for Caravan. And yet, presidents and prime ministers have gone to take his blessings, and top sportsmen broke down at his funeral. All this, I suspect, illustrated their frailty more than his divinity. But we are all frail, and deal with it in different ways, so who am I to judge?

*  *  *  *

Also read: An old personal essay by me,

“What’s Consolation For an Atheist?”

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 April, 2011 in Essays and Op-Eds | India | Old memes | Astrology etc | Sport | Viewfinder


Dilution

Via readers Pranav, Mayur and Shashank Krishnan, here’s an awesome comic by XKCD on homeopathy:

Also read: My Yahoo! column on the subject, Homeopathic Faith.

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 July, 2010 in Miscellaneous | Old memes | Astrology etc | Science and Technology


Homeopathic Faith

This is the sixth installment of Viewfinder, my weekly column for Yahoo! India.

I was delighted this Monday when my fellow Yahoo! columnist Girish Shahane took on homeopathy in his column ‘Sugar Pills and Skepticism’. It needed to be done, but while I found myself agreeing with much of his piece, I was disappointed by the last paragraph, in which Girish said that he uses homeopathy occasionally, and that it sometimes seemed “to have an effect, particularly with respect to allergies.” This is a fairly common view among many people, who admit that while homeopathy has no scientific foundation, ‘it seems to work’. For many of my friends, this puts homeopathy in the category of things that conventional science can’t explain yet, rather than those that have no scientific basis at all.

I used homeopathy for a few years when I was much younger. I believed then that it worked on me. I still have much fondness for my erstwhile homeopath, who I believe to be neither a fraud nor a fool. And some people close to me still pop sugar pills when they are ill. Yet, I now believe that homeopathy is no less ridiculous than astrology or numerology, and no more scientific than them. I’ve travelled the entire arc of belief when it comes to homeopathy, from an automatic, peer-influenced faith to skepticism to unbelief and contempt—and that is the subject of my column today: why so many people believe in homeopathy even though it is, to put it plainly, nonsense.

I won’t do a detailed debunking of homeopathy here. For that, I refer you to books like Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst’s Trick or Treatment, as well as this classic talk by James Randi. To summarise, the methodology of homeopathy makes no sense whatsoever, and scientific trials, when carried out with proper rigour, have shown homeopathic medicine to be no better than placebo, the standard for judging the efficacy of any new medicine.

The most bizarre thing about its methodology is the composition of the medicine itself. In homeopathic medicine, the substance being used to treat a patient has to be so diluted that there is generally not a chance that a single molecule of the substance remains in the medicine a patient is taking. In Randi’s video, for example, he displays a homeopathic sleeping aid that contains, as its active ingredient, caffeine. (Homeopaths believe that the substances that cause a particular condition should be used to treat it. Go figure.) The dilution of the caffeine in the medicine: “10 to the power of 1500.”

Randi asked the maths writer Martin Gardner if there was a way of explaining to the layman how much that really was. Gardner explained, “That’s equivalent to taking one grain of rice, crushing it to a powder, dissolving it in a sphere of water the size of the solar system, with the sun at the centre and the orbit of Pluto at the outside, and then repeating that process 2 million times.”

In Bad Science, Goldacre offers another analogy: “Imagine a sphere of water with a diameter of 150 million kilometers (the distance from the earth to the sun). It takes light eight minutes to travel that distance. Picture a sphere of water that size, with one molecule of a substance in it: that’s a 30c dilution.”

By these standards, there are so many impurities in regular drinking water that we are probably being treated for every major disease anyway.

Leave aside methodology. Maybe modern science hasn’t advanced enough, and we just don’t get it. Methodology would not matter if homeopathy actually worked. The standard test in medicine for seeing whether a treatment works is a double-blind placebo-controlled test. In this, patients are randomly divided into two groups, one of which is given the treatment being tested, and the other is given placebo—such as pills that look like real ones, but are actually inert. Neither the patients nor the doctors know which group is getting the treatment and which the placebo (that’s why it’s ‘double-blind’), thus eliminating psychological biases on their part. The mere belief that they are being treated often helps patients, so the true test for a treatment is if it can do better than placebo.

Homeopathy has failed such trials consistently. (Bad Science covers this subject in some depth, and also explains why some of the trials homeopaths claim have been successful have had methodological flaws, and suchlike.) There was a time when I wanted to believe the damn thing worked—but there is no evidence of it.

That brings us back to belief. Why do so many immensely smart people around us believe that homeopathy works if it does not? Surely they can’t all be deluded?

One reason why homeopathy seems to work on so many people is the aforementioned placebo effect. This is a remarkably powerful phenomenon, one that medical scientists are still studying with wonder. In Bad Science, Goldacre wrote about Henry Beecher, an American anaesthetist who operated on a soldier with “horrific injuries” during World War 2, using salt water instead of morphine, which was not available. It worked. Similar stories abound through the history of medicine, and the placebo effect is an established part of medical science. If you believe you are taking medicine, that belief itself might help you get better, and you will naturally ascribe the recovery to the medicine you took. This is why, for any medicine to get the approval of the scientific establishment, it has to be shown to be better than placebo—otherwise what’s the point?

There is also a phenomenon called regression to the mean which comes into play. Many diseases or physical conditions have a natural cycle—they get worse, and then they get better, quite on their own. This can be true of backaches, migraines, common colds, stomach upsets, practically anything non-major. If you take homeopathy during the course of this, and you get better, you might well ascribe causation where there is only correlation, and assume the medicine did it. As Simon Singh puts it, you may take homeopathy for a cold or a bruise, and “recover after just seven days instead of taking a whole week.” And there you go, you’re a lifetime fan of Phos 1M right there. (This is known as the Regressive Fallacy.)

I suspect this was one reason homeopathy became popular in the first place. Back in the 19th century, conventional medicine was in its infancy, and as Goldacre wrote in his book, “mainstream medicine consisted of blood-letting, purging and various other ineffective and dangerous evils, when new treatments were conjured up out of thin air by arbitrary authority figures who called themselves ‘doctors’, often with little evidence to support them.”

Indeed, seeing a doctor or visiting a hospital probably increased your chances of dying. Atul Gawande, in his book Better, tells us in another context that in the mid-19th century, at the hospital in Vienna where the doctor Ignac Semmelweis worked, 20% of the mothers who delivered babies in hospitals died. The corresponding figure for mothers who delivered at home: 1%. The culprit: infections carried by doctors who did not wash their hands. (Semmelweis tried to reform the system and was sacked.) This, then, was the state of mainstream medicine when homeopathy began gaining in popularity. In contrast, homeopathy was harmless, would not make you worse or give you an infection and kill you, and if you recovered in the natural course of things, you would give it the credit and tell all your friends about it. The growth of the system, I say with intended irony, was viral.

When it comes to any kind of belief, the confirmation bias comes into play. If we use homeopathy, we do so because we are inclined to believe in it, and our ego gets tied up with that belief. After that, we ignore all evidence that it doesn’t work, and every time we pop a few sugar pills and get better, we give homeopathy the credit. Also, the fact that so many other believers exist reinforces our own belief, for all these people surely can’t be wrong.

In a way, belief in homeopathy is similar to religious belief. (Yes, I’m an atheist as well.) I don’t berate my religious friends for their beliefs, because even though they might be wrong, there is often comfort in that kind of wrongness, especially when dealing with issues of mortality and insignificance. Similarly, if someone I know wants to pop homeopathic pills for a stomach ache or a common cold, I’ll let them be, both because of the power of the placebo effect, and because they’re likely to get better on their own anyway. (Also, I’d rather see them taking sugar pills than, say, antibiotics for something so trivial.)

But just as religious belief can be taken too far, so can homeopathic faith. When people treat serious ailments with sugar pills instead of proper medicine, matters get problematic - especially if they force such treatment on others, such as the Aussie homeopathy lecturer Girish wrote about and I’d blogged about once, who killed his daughter by insisting that her eczema be treated with homeopathy alone. That demonstrates that while blind faith may have its consolations, it can be lethal when taken too far. If only it could be given a homeopathic dilution.

Previously on Viewfinder

Give Me 10,000 Hours

Match ka Mujrim

The Man with the Maruti 800

Internet Hindus and Madrasa Muslims

The Hazards of Writing a Column

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 June, 2010 in Essays and Op-Eds | India | Old memes | Astrology etc | Science and Technology | Viewfinder


Questioning The Astrologer

Oh man, this is delicious. AFP reports:

Sri Lankan police say they have arrested an astrologer after he predicted serious political and economic problems for the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

[...]

“The CID (Criminal Investigations Department) is questioning the astrologer,” [police spokesman Ranjith] Gunasekara said Friday, adding that they wanted to find out the “basis” for the prediction.

I can just imagine how the dialogue goes.

Astrologer: [Pointing to chart] See, here’s the basis for my prediction. Note where Rahu-Ketu are.

CID officer: We have outlawed Rahu-Ketu.

Astrologer: Eh? When did this happen?

CID officer: Five minutes before this interrogation began. Hehehe. Bet you didn’t see that happening.

No, but seriously, the government is crazy, clamping down on free speech like this, even if it is the free speech of a charlatan. Even charlatans have rights.

(Link via email from Neel. And previously, in Rahu-Ketu news...)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 June, 2009 in Dialogue | Freedom | News | Old memes | Astrology etc | Politics | WTF


Faith And The Monsoon

The Times of India reports:

With the monsoon playing truant, Andhra Pradesh CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy has ordered all temples, mosques and churches in the state to offer special prayers to appease the Rain God. Starting form Wednesday, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams will conduct prayers in all major temples run by it. Special prayers are to be held in mosques and churches for the onset of the elusive monsoon.

And The Hindustan Times:

As strange as it may sound, some organisations and individuals from Andhra Pradesh are taking help of frogs to induce rains.

In Vemulwada town in Karimnagar district, hundreds of people participated in a frog marriage on a dried up tank bed. Reports of similar marriages came in from Kurnool, Adilabad and Anantapur. It is widely believed by rural folk that frog marriages will bring in good rains.

You know where this is headed, don’t you? Hazaar prayers will be conducted across AP, and hazaar frogs will be married off—and then it will rain. And people will conclude that the prayers worked, and getting the frogs married off worked—never mind if the frogs in questions are ignoring their nuptial vows and bonking random other frogs. Post hoc ergo propter hoc—that, and the confirmation bias, explain why we’re still such suckers for superstition of all sorts.

Maybe I should also conduct a ritual of some sort that can later be sanctified after its glorious success. Hmm, let’s see, what can I do? Ah, I have it: A beef burger at Indigo Cafe, medium rare with a fried egg on top, sunny side up. Followed by some liquor chocolate, and maybe coffee at Costa’s. There you go, I’ve sorted it out. Just you watch now, there will be rain.

(My thanks to Sandeip Singh for the ToI link.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 June, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Astrology etc | WTF


The Aryan Toilet Code

Sunil Laxman points me, in a discussion on an email group I’m part of, to the Aryan Code Of Toilets, as prescribed in Manusmriti Vishnupuran. Delightful stuff, especially if one has loose motions and there’s no time for the mantra one is supposed to chant before one, um, finds relief. And the post-toilet routine is also interesting. For example:

* After defecation the “Linga” (generative organ) is to be washed once, “Guda” (anus) to be washed three times, the left hand to be washed ten times, and the right hand seven times, and both the feet to be cleaned with earth and water three times.

* After defecation the water pot was to be held in the right hand and was to be used for cleaning.

* The “Linga” was to be rubbed once with earth and the “Guda” rubbed three times with earth. Then both washed with water. This was to ensure that there is no odour left in the body.

* After this one should pick up water with right hand. One was advised to pick-up fist full of earth. This was to be divided in three parts. With the first part it was laid down that the left hand be cleaned 10 times and the right was to be cleaned with the second part 7 times. The third part was to be used to clean three times the water utensil.

Magnificently elaborate. But I suspect generations of good Aryan boys got a bit carried away by the ritual. They washed the Linga once, and they rubbed it with earth once—and it felt, um, good, so they rinsed and repeated.

And to prove that we are a virtuous, traditional society, they do it to this day.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 June, 2009 in Miscellaneous | Old memes | Astrology etc


It’s Not Varun Gandhi’s Fault

No, it seems that all the appalling things he said recently can be blamed on Rahu-Ketu.

I can imagine Mayawati’s cops landing up in heaven to arrest Rahu-Ketu under the NSA. Inspector Mishra, leading the police team, finds a boy in pajamas lying on a khatiya. ‘That’s him,’ shouts Mishra, and his men surround the boy.

‘We know who you are,’ says Inspector Mishra, ‘but just for the record, identify yourself.’

‘I’m Rahu,’ says the boy. ‘I had ordered a butter chicken a couple of centuries ago, is it ready yet? Man, service in heaven is so slow, the waiters take everything for granted.’

‘Rahu,’ barks Inspector Mishra, ‘I hereby place you under arrest for instigating Varun Gandhi’s poisonous words. You have a right to remain silent. Until beaten.’

‘Hey, wait a sec,’ says Rahu, ‘that wasn’t me. That was my brother Ketu.’

(Link via email from Girish.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 April, 2009 in Dialogue | India | Old memes | Astrology etc | Politics | WTF


Rhino Sacrifice In UP

The WTF quote of the day comes from a 30-year-old woman who wanted to “find a match” and went to a tantrik named Farid Shah for help:

Shah said that sacrificing a rhino would remove all obstacles and within a week’s time I’d get married. I paid Rs 2.95 lakh to perform the puja. He told me that he would book air tickets to go to UP to catch a Rhino and will return after completing the puja.

The cops are looking for Shah, and they’ll presumably book him for fraud when they find him—unless he really sacrifices a rhino and the chick hooks up with someone. So he’ll get what he deserves. But what of the woman? She’s apparently the daughter of a retired ACP, and is now a manager in a software company—that means she has a certain minimum level of education. I hope her friends and relatives are kicking her ass bigtime for her stupidity. How could she believe that a rhino sacrifice would help her find a man?

That said, I find her faith no odder than that of anyone who goes to a temple or a church or a masjid and prays for anything at all. Still, we’re all entitled to our beliefs, and the faith of others is none of my business. But I am bemused when they complain about the consequences.

(Link via separate emails from Girish and Doc.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 March, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Astrology etc | Small thoughts | WTF


Bribing God With Toy Planes

Outlook reports from Jalandhar:

Want to seek greener pastures abroad? Come to a gurudwara here and offer a plane and who knows your wish might get fulfilled.

This may sound strange but Punjabi youths, especially from the Doaba region, have been thronging the Gurudwara Sant Baba Nihal Singh Ji Shaheedan in Talhan to offer toy planes so that their wishes of going abroad and getting lucrative jobs are fulfilled.

Toy planes, inscribed with names of different carriers, are found in front of the Guru Granth Sahib.

And then, of course, the confirmation bias kicks in. Some of these dudes will go abroad, and will tell all their friends, Hey, that toy-plane offering worked. You try it too. While the dudes who couldn’t go abroad will find other reasonable explanations for their failure, and may actually come back and deposit more toy planes.

Also, there’s self-selection. Outsiders could compare people who offer toy planes to people who don’t, and find that a larger percentage of the former group goes abroad. From this, they will conclude that the offerings work. But the conclusion is wrong because people offering toy planes are likely to be far more eager to go abroad than those who don’t, and that eagerness will get more of them on the plane out of here. The toy planes themselves will obviously have nothing to do with it.

(Indeed, if God existed, She would probably have gone WTF when those offerings were made. I’m God, and you’re trying to bribe me with toy planes? Get outta here!)

To carry this silliness forward, I wonder what these people will offer when they want a new house. A new car. More sex. The mind boggles.

(Hat tip: Aditya Kuber.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 January, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Astrology etc | WTF


‘The Sun and Versatile Mercury in Leo’

Astrologer Bejan Daruwala has some advice for Roger Federer:

He should come more often to the net, because he has the reach, the agility, and the dexterity to volley for an outright winner, or to make a strong opening for it, and with the next volley, finish it. The Sun and versatile Mercury in Leo, is the key to it.

I dispute Daruwala’s contention that Mercury is versatile: it cannot play guitar. It’s mercurial, that’s all.

More Daruwala on India Uncut: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 June, 2008 in Old memes | Astrology etc | Sport | WTF


A Conversation With God

It is redundant to mention WTFness when one speaks of Bejan Daruwalla. Here’s a gem:

One night during my moment of revelations with God, I learnt that ‘devi maa’ will conquer the world through her splendid glory. As I was writing my conversation with God and I wrote Ganeshji will support this year through its turbulent times. Next morning to my surprise the letters changed and it was the Goddess in its place.

If you said something like this in any context besides religion, your loved ones would be calling a psychiatrist. But somehow religion makes it all okay.

And hey, remember Pratibha Patil?

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 May, 2008 in Old memes | Astrology etc | WTF


The Great Tantra Challenge

This is hilarious:

On 3 March 2008, in a popular TV show, Sanal Edamaruku, the president of Rationalist International, challenged India’s most “powerful” tantrik (black magician) to demonstrate his powers on him. That was the beginning of an unprecedented experiment. After all his chanting of mantra (magic words) and ceremonies of tantra failed, the tantrik decided to kill Sanal Edamaruku with the “ultimate destruction ceremony” on live TV.

[...]

India TV, one of India’s major Hindi channels with national outreach, invited Sanal Edamaruku for a discussion on “Tantrik power versus Science”. Pandit Surinder Sharma, who claims to be the tantrik of top politicians and is well known from his TV shows, represented the other side. During the discussion, the tantrik showed a small human shape of wheat flour dough, laid a thread around it like a noose and tightened it. He claimed that he was able to kill any person he wanted within three minutes by using black magic. Sanal challenged him to try and kill him.

The tantrik tried. He chanted his mantras (magic words): “Om lingalingalinalinga, kilikili….” But his efforts did not show any impact on Sanal – not after three minutes, and not after five. The time was extended and extended again. The original discussion program should have ended here, but the “breaking news” of the ongoing great tantra challenge was overrunning all program schedules.

Now the tantrik changed his technique. He started sprinkling water on Sanal and brandishing a knife in front of him. Sometimes he moved the blade all over his body. Sanal did not flinch. Then he touched Sanal’s head with his hand, rubbing and rumpling up his hair, pressing his forehead, laying his hand over his eyes, pressing his fingers against his temples. When he pressed harder and harder, Sanal reminded him that he was supposed to use black magic only, not forceful attacks to bring him down. The tantrik took a new run: water, knife, fingers, mantras. But Sanal kept looking very healthy and even amused.

After this the tantrik dude “tried to save his face by claiming that there was a never-failing special black magic for ultimate destruction, which could, however, only been done at night.” The channel called his bluff and kept him on air. Edamaruku survived, and seemed mighty amused at the end of it.

The irony here is that many tantra believers, far from reevaluating their faith after this incident, will instead be outraged that this faith was questioned in the first place. They will rationalize away Sharma’s failure, and might even stick small pins into a TV made of wheat flour dough that has “India TV” written on it. And then, when that channel’s TRPs fall…

(Link via email from Anil Gulecha.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 March, 2008 in India | News | Old memes | Astrology etc


Written in the Stars?

This surely has to be the line of the day:

We regret to announce that due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, the publication of The Astrological Magazine will cease with the December 2007 issue.

I have never before been so tempted to put a smiley on my blog!

(Link via email from Narasimha Shastri. Earlier posts on superstitious nonsense: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 January, 2008 in Old memes | Astrology etc


Sachin Tendulkar is a Buffalo

In the WTF story of the day, Bejan Daruwala, speaking to Rajesh Pansare of DNA, suggests a cure for Sachin Tendulkar’s “nervous 90s”:

It’s well known amongst the astrology community that Sachin Tendulkar is a Taurus and that numbers 3, 6 and 9 apply to him.

But according to Chinese astrology, Tendulkar is also a Buffalo, a cousin of the bull — and these two systems combined make him a Double Bull.

The Bull is steadfast, a sign of strength and consistency. The weakness of Bulls and Buffalos is that they get into a rut and often cannot think out of the box, something which applies to Tendulkar. [...]

Because he is a loving and faithful husband, to get out of his nervous 90s, I would suggest that Tendulkar follow four steps:

1. Sleep in the lap of his wife and tell her to love him sweetly and gently

2. Cook his own mutton cheese burgers and eat them

3. Have a terrific bath

4. Jump in his Ferrari and go for a drive

There is no indication on that page that this is a joke of some sort. It reads like a parody, but Daruwala always reads like a parody of himself. Anjali Tendulkar, of course, must be befuddled at what Sachin means when he asks her to love him “sweetly and gently.”

“What do you mean, sweetly and gently,” she could respond. “How else have I been loving you all these years? You can cook your own damn mutton burgers from now on. And take a bath, you’re stinking—now wonder Dada likes to run you out.”

(Link via email from reader Gokul. Earlier posts on superstitious nonsense: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 November, 2007 in Old memes | Astrology etc | Sport | WTF


“Metaphysical activities increase”

Trust the nation’s biggest English-language newspaper to cover this immensely important story, with global, even galactic, consequences: “Saturn makes a move on Leo!”

Apparently, Saturn entered Leo last night, hopefully with Leo’s consent, and the Times of India is at hand to advise us how to deal with it. An excerpt:

For those whose names start with chu, ch, che, cho, la, li, lu, le, lo, aa, ee, u, a, ee, u, ae:

Your health will suffer, so avoid eating out. Long journeys will be gainful, metaphysical activities increase. Prone to theft while travelling . Work pressure will be very high, you may have problems from superiors. Loss of money is seen, so keep away from the stock market. Friendships may break due to ego. Partnership will not be suitable. Plenty of travel, but no time for family.

For those whose names start with o, ba, vi, vu, ka, ki, ve, vo:

You will recover from a prolonged illness. Promotions with financial gains and favours from seniors is seen. Investments will bring good gains. Business tours will be profitable. Favours from the opposite sex will also come your way. A good time to buy property and save money. Job changes shall be favourable.

And so on. Needless to say, people who believe in this rubbish will ignore the bits that don’t fit, and dwell on the ones that do. If their name begins with “o, ba, vi, vu, ka, ki, ve, vo,” they will overlook the absence of a prolonged illness in their recent past, and focus on the bit about “favours from the opposite sex,” possibly on a “profitable” business trip. (Indeed, the secret to much belief is wishful thinking.) It depresses me that there is a market for this crap—though almost everything depresses me these days, so maybe the problem is me.

(Some earlier posts on superstitious nonsense: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 July, 2007 in India | Old memes | Astrology etc


Technique and attitude…

... are irrelevant in the case of Virender Sehwag’s loss of form, according to one group of people. The problem might just be evil spirits. MSN reports:

An interesting Tantrik Pooja was held at the banks of Yamuna near Delhi’s Kalindi Kunj to bring Virender Sehwag back to form.

According to an India TV report, the Mahakali Pooja was allegedly organised by the dashing batsman’s relatives and implemented by a distant relative, but there was no quote or evidence to suggest their involvement. Probably, it was a fan’s idea, masquerading as a distant relative.

However, the visuals did show Havan fire, two pair of stumps - one on each side, some statues, a photograph of Sehwag and a bat with which “he had been dismissed without scoring.”

So the next time Viru swishes outside the off stump, the evil spirits that made sure it hit the edge of the bat will stay away, and good spirits will probably make sure he middles the ball and it goes for a boundary. Why didn’t we think of this earlier? Can we have a “Tantrik Pooja” for the entire team, please? And one for this blog also, so no one is ever displeased by what I write!

And while checking my earlier posts on superstition, I came across this one on the predictions made by astrologers before the World Cup. Heh.

Now I’m off to get me some spirits.

(Link via email from Ullas Marar.

Some earlier posts on superstitious nonsense: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 May, 2007 in India | Old memes | Astrology etc


Astrologers, dead men and the World Cup

given their predictions for the World Cup. Daruwalla says:

In 1983, the combination in the Indian team was that of Capricorn (Kapil Dev), Cancer (Sunil Gavaskar) and Libra (Mohinder Amarnath), which worked wonders. Even this time, captain Rahul Dravid (Capricorn), Sourav Ganguly (Cancerian) and Virender Sehwag (Libran), may repeat the success story.

With 15 guys in each squad, you can probably get any combination of sun signs that you desire, and it is not unlikely that all the squads may contain a Capricorn, Cancer and Libra. Note that both gentlemen are being cautious, though Jumaaaaaaani more or less counts Australia out of the running. No matter what happens, though, I’m sure believers will note only the parts of their prediction where they seemed to have got it right. Always, the confirmation bias.

(Some earlier posts on astrology etc: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19.)

My take on the World Cup: After a close perusal of some fine coffee beans (followed by their consumption, as is necessary for the ritual to be successful), I have come to the conclusion that my earlier post on this subject, written months ago, was somewhat off target. To my list of seven favourites, I add an eighth: New Zealand. I don’t think I can get any more precise than that.

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 March, 2007 in India | Old memes | Astrology etc | Sport


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