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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: IU Faves

Natalie Merchant (and Some Forgotten Poets)

This is one of my favourite TED performances: Natalie Merchant singing songs set to the poetry of (more or less) forgotten poets from long ago. I was particularly blown away by “If No One Ever Marries Me.” Here’s the poem—and see what Merchant makes of it.

If you haven’t heard Merchant before, check out her work with 10,000 Maniacs. ‘Verdi Cries’, ‘Like the Weather’, ‘These are Days’, ‘Don’t Talk’, ‘What’s the Matter Here’: some of the greatest songs ever.

(TED link via my friend Shandana Minhas’s FB page.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 April, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

Trouble (and Crystal)

Two of the high points of this year’s American Idol, for me, have been the performances of Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble” by Matt Lawrence and Alex Lambert. What a great song it is; here’s the original:

Yeah, that song’s no lucky omen, and Lawrence and Lambert have both been eliminated long ago. Lawrence went out in the group stage of the Hollywood rounds—a stage I absolutely hate and don’t get the point of. Lambert was one of three shock omissions when the field was cut from 16 to 12. I felt like giving up on the show then, but the amazing Crystal Bowersox is still there, and I’m still watching. If she doesn’t win the show, though, I will kill someone.

If you don’t follow AI, here are some performances by Crystal: 1, 2, 3.

And here’s an original: “Farmer’s Daughter.”

Isn’t she amazing?

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 March, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

It’s Just The Motion

Check out this fine performance of one of my favourite songs, “Just The Motion”, by the great Richard Thompson:

I love Thompson’s guitaring in this, understated but expressive. You can also listen to Linda Thompson sing it here—the song is from their 1982 album, Shoot Out the Lights. Another version I like is by David Byrne in the tribute album Beat The Retreat.

Back to work now. It’s just the motion.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

“The War Is Over”

On an email group I’m part of, Roswitha writes that the recent New York Times hoax reminded her of the gorgeous poem below:

by Julia Vinograd

No blame. Anyone who wrote Howl and Kaddish
earned the right to make any possible mistake
for the rest of his life.
I just wish I hadn’t made this mistake with him.
It was during the Vietnam war
and he was giving a great protest reading
in Washington Square Park
and nobody wanted to leave.
So Ginsberg got the idea, “I’m going to shout
‘the war is over’ as loud as I can,” he said
“and all of you run over the city
in different directions
yelling the war is over, shout it in offices,
shops, everywhere and when enough people
believe the war is over
why, not even the politicians
will be able to keep it going.”
I thought it was a great idea at the time
a truly poetic idea.
So when Ginsberg yelled I ran down the street
and leaned in the doorway
of the sort of respectable down on its luck cafeteria
where librarians and minor clerks have lunch
and I yelled “the war is over.”
And a little old lady looked up
from her cottage cheese and fruit salad.
She was so ordinary she would have been invisible
except for the terrible light
filling her face as she whispered
“My son. My son is coming home.”
I got myself out of there and was sick in some bushes.
That was the first time I believed there was a war.

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 November, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

Free Fallin’

I love this cover—it sounds especially fine at 2 in the morning:

It’s from John Mayer’s “Where The Light Is”.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 September, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves


Here’s the latest short story by Alice Munro.

I’m in awe.



Posted by Amit Varma on 07 September, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves


Via Amitava Kumar, I recently discovered the work of the poet Lorraine Mariner. Here’s a poem I love:

by Lorraine Mariner

Yesterday evening I finished
with my imaginary boyfriend.
He knew what I was going to say
before I said it which was top of my list
of reasons why we should end it.

My other reasons were as follows:
he always does exactly what I tell him;
nothing in our relationship has ever surprised me;
he has no second name.

He took it very well
all things considered.
He told me I was to think of him
as a friend and if I ever need him
I know where he is.

For more, check out “Bye For Now.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 August, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | IU Faves

Miss Sarajevo

With age, I’ve stopped discovering new music, but sometimes I manage to rediscover old favourites. Here’s one:

The original is by U2, but this is George Michael. The album: Songs from the Last Century.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 April, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

Twelve Crabs

I love this bit from ZZ Packer’s interview of Edward P Jones:

ZZP: Do you find that people treat you differently after your having won the Pulitzer?

EPJ: People ask if I’m happy about this and that, especially when they talk about the money. I am happy, but there’s no car in the world I want—I don’t want a car—there are places I want to go, but I’m not hungry to do world travel. There’s no fancy house that I want.

I got some crabs the other day, twelve crabs, and that’s a feast. That’s wonderful. That makes me happy.

I was in graduate school, and I was rooming at this place the first year and we all shared the same bathroom. After I moved I wrote to this one friend of mine, “Finally I got a bathroom all to myself.” He said I’d probably always be happy because there were small things that made me happy.

I remember when that basketball player Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose. Now, he’s from Maryland, he should have gone right down to the crab-house, bought twelve crabs and an orange soda, and that would have fulfilled him. Why didn’t he do that?

This is from “The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers”, which is full of many such gems.

To get a taste of Jones’s work, try his masterful short story, “Old Boys, Old Girls”. I’ve read few stories where time is handled so well, and it’s full of great bits of writing—one that struck me as exceptional was the paragraph about the protagonist’s sister driving him home.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 April, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | IU Faves

Alzheimer’s Tales

The line of the day comes from Jai Arjun Singh, who writes about U, Me aur Hum:

This is two bad movies for the price of one.

Total VFM for Bollywood fans, in other words. Read his full review; I don’t think I’ll be watching the film now.

The greatest narrative involving Alzheimer’s, by the way, surely has to be Alice Munro’s masterpiece, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” I read it for the first time recently in an anthology of love stories put together by Jeffrey Eugenides, and agree with his description of it as “nearly impossibly good.” I’ve never read a short story that has moved me so much—or been so instructive about the art of writing. It’s a pitch-perfect story, right from the way she introduces the characters in that brief first section, to the dialogue-writing and understated story-telling, to the way she wraps it up. (The New Yorker version of the story is subtly, very subtly, different from the one in the book, and even that was instructive for me—one of the things that blew me away when I read it in the book, the absence of quotation marks in just one very apt piece of direct quotation in the story, isn’t there in the magazine version.)

It’s more than 11,000 words, so I suggest you go to it when you have the time, and read it slowly.

PS: And oh, Munro’s story was made into a film. I don’t think that would be up Devgan’s street, though.

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 April, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

Slash Your Tires

Reading Liz Phair’s review of Dean Wareham’s “Black Postcards” reminded me of a song I once used to like, “Slash Your Tires” by Luna. So I shall self-indulge:

This is from their 1992 album, Lunapark. If you like what you hear, I’d also recommend Penthouse.

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 April, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

Fire and Ice

Reading Martin Wolf on Bear Sterns, I rediscovered an old favourite:

Fire and Ice
By Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 March, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

The Small Matter of a Border

Do read Hari Balasubramanian’s fine post, Meelad’s Nationality. For some strange reason, it reminded me of Nissim Ezekiel’s fine poem, “Background, Casually.” There’s no reason for such a connection, but blogs don’t need to follow logical narratives, so here’s the poem in full, below the fold. I love the way it ends…


Posted by Amit Varma on 26 February, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

Ten Nights of Writing

This is a lovely poem:

The Writers
by Amit Chaudhuri

On constantly mishearing ‘rioting’ as ‘writing’ on the BBC

There has been writing for 10 days now
unabated. People are anxious, fed up.
There is writing in Paris, in disaffected suburbs,
but also in small towns, and old ones like Lyon.
The writers have been burning cars; they’ve thrown
homemade Molotov cocktails at policemen.
Contrary to initial reports, the writers belong to several communities: Algerian
and Caribbean, certainly, but also Romanian,
Polish, and even French. Some are incredibly
young: the youngest is 13.
They stand edgily on street corners, hardly
looking at each other. Longstanding neglect
and an absence of both authority and employment
have led to what are now 10 nights of writing.

(First published in the Observer. Link via Salil Tripathi, during an email conversation about writing in Kolkata.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 December, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves | Politics

A Brief History Of Violence

In an exceptional speech, Steven Pinker tells us that “we are probably living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”


This, of course, is a TED Talk. There’s much more brilliant stuff here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 November, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves | Miscellaneous

A Contribution to Statistics

Reader Rachna Shetty brightens up my Monday with a lovely poem I’ll share with you:

A Contribution to Statistics
by Wislawa Szymborska

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better

doubting every step
-nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long
-as high as forty-nine,

always good
because they can’t be otherwise
-four, well maybe five,

able to admire without envy

suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
-sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly
-forty and four,

living in constant fear
of someone or something

capable of happiness
-twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, savage in crowds
-half at least,

when forced by circumstances
-better not to know
even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact
-just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
sooner or later,

-thirty-five, which is a lot,

and understanding

worthy of compassion

-a hundred out of a hundred.
thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 November, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

The Power of Free Markets

Watch Milton Friedman reprise one of my favourite essays, Leonard Read’s “I, Pencil.” Sweet.

Read the full essay here, it’s quite wonderful. At the end, also check out the introduction by Milton Friedman and the afterword by Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek.

(Link via email from Ajoy Philip.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 October, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves | Economics

On Government Spending

The Libertarian Reader is an outstanding collection of essays, and one of my personal favourites is a piece by Russell Roberts (of Cafe Hayek) that appeared 12 years ago in the Wall Street Journal, “If You’re Paying, I’ll Have Top Sirloin.” Here’s an excerpt, in which Roberts describes “a very strange restaurant”:

When you eat there, you usually spend about $6—you have a sandwich, some fries and a drink. Of course you’d also enjoy dessert and a second drink, but that costs an additional $4. The extra food isn’t worth $4 to you, so you stick with the $6 meal.

Sometimes, you go to the same restaurant with three friends. The four of you are in the habit of splitting the check evenly. You realize after a while that the $4 drink and dessert will end up costing you only $1, because the total tab is split four ways. Should you order the drink and dessert? If you’re a nice person, you might want to spare your friends from having to subsidize your extravagance. Then it dawns on you that they may be ordering extras financed out of your pocket. But they’re your friends. They wouldn’t do that to you and you wouldn’t do that to them. And if anyone tries it among the group, social pressure will keep things under control.

But now suppose the tab is split not at each table but across the 100 diners that evening across all the tables. Now adding the $4 drink and dessert costs only 4¢. Splurging is easy to justify now. In fact you won’t just add a drink and dessert; you’ll upgrade to the steak and add a bottle of wine. Suppose you and everyone else each orders $40 worth of food. The tab for the entire restaurant will be $4000. Divided by the 100 diners, your bill comes to $40. Here is the irony. Like my neighbor at the theater, you’ll get your “fair share.” The stranger at the restaurant a few tables over pays for your meal, but you also help subsidize his. It all “evens out.”

But this outcome is a disaster. When you dine alone, you spend $6. The extra $34 of steak and other treats are not worth it. But in competition with the others, you’ve chosen a meal far out of your price range whose enjoyment falls far short of its cost.

Self-restraint goes unrewarded. If you go back to ordering your $6 meal in hopes of saving money, your tab will be close to $40 anyway unless the other 99 diners cut back also. The good citizen feels like a chump.

And so we read of the freshman Congressman who comes to Congress eager to cut pork out of the budget but in trouble back home because local projects will also come under the knife. Instead of being proud to lead the way, he is forced to fight for those projects to make sure his district gets its “fair share.”

Matters get much worse when there are gluttons and drunkards at the restaurant mixing with dieters and teetotalers. The average tab might be $40, but some are eating $80 worth of food while others are stuck with a salad and an iced tea.

Those with modest appetites would like to flee the smorgasbord, but suppose it’s the only restaurant in town and you are forced to eat there every night. Resentment and anger come naturally. And being the only restaurant in town, you can imagine the quality of the service.

That’s government. Read the full essay, it’s a classic. Also, here’s what Don Boudreaux has to say on the subject.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 September, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves | Economics | Politics

Eating History, Writing Sport

This is a such a wonderful paragraph:

After dinner he’s back in his room looking out the window. He’s supposed to be in his room doing his homework and he’s in his room all right but he doesn’t know what his homework is supposed to be. He reads a few pages ahead in his world history book. They made history by the minute in those days. Every sentence there’s another war or tremendous downfall. Memorize the dates. The downfall of the empire and the emergence of detergents. There’s a kid in his class who eats pages from his history books nearly every day. The way he does it, he places the open book under the desk in his crotch and slyly crumples a page, easing it off the spine with the least amount of rustle. Then he has the strategy of wait a while before he brings his fist to his mouth in a sort of muffled cough with the page inside his fist, like whitesy-bitesy. Then he stuffs in the page and the tiny printed ink and the memorized dates, engrossing it quietly. He waits some more. He lets the page idle in his mouth. Then he chews it slowly and carefully and incomplete, damping the sound by making sure his teeth do not meet, and Cotter tries to imagine how it tastes, all the paper points and edges washed in saliva, becoming soft and limp and blottered so you can swallow smooth. He swallows not so smooth. You can see his adam’s apple jerk like he just landed a plane on a foreign shore.

This is from Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which begins with the resonant line, “He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful.” The prologue of the book, also published separately as a novella, recreates ‘The Shot Heard Around The World’ with some of the most evocative sportswriting I have read. Here’s the third para of that prologue, about people gathering for the game:

Longing on a large scale is what makes history. This is just a kid with a local yearning but he is part of an assembling crowd, anonymous thousands off the buses and trams, people in narrow columns tramping over the swing bridge above the river, and even if they are not a migration or a revolution, some vast shaking of the soul, they bring with them the body heat of a great city and their own small reveries and desperations, the unseen something that haunts the day—men in fedoras and sailors on shore leave, the stray tumble of their thoughts, going to a game.

What sentences! If only someone could write on cricket like this…

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 August, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | IU Faves | Sport

The Patriot—Nissim Ezekiel

Reader Rachna Shetty writes in:

A few hours after reading your article, “The Republic of Apathy”, I read Nissim Ezekiel’s poem “The Patriot”. The poem is poignant as India completes 60 years of independence.

Indeed, it is—and it reminds of why I must read more poetry. Here it comes:

The Patriot
by Nissim Ezekiel

I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting-
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.

Other day I’m reading newspaper
(Every day I’m reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming -
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.

You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I’m the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.

What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers -
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.

You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 August, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | IU Faves | India

Madras Central—Vijay Nambisan

One more in my series of old favourites: “Madras Central” by Vijay Nambisan. This poem won a national poetry competition in 1988, one that I had also entered, at the tender age of 14, with poems that I’m sure would make me cringe now. I loved “Madras Central” then, and while my tastes have changed drastically, I am still as moved by the end of the poem as I was when I first read it.

Madras Central
by Vijay Nambisan

The black train pulls in at the platform,
Hissing into silence like hot steel in water.
Tell the porters not to be so precipitate-
It is good, after a desperate journey,
To rest a moment with your perils upon you.

The long rails recline into a distance
Where tomorrow will come before I know it.
I cannot be in two places at once:
That is axiomatic. Come, we will go and drink
A filthy cup of tea in a filthy restaurant.

It is difficult to relax. But my head spins
Slower and slower as the journey recedes.
I do not think I shall smoke a cigarette now.
Time enough for that. Let me make sure first
For the hundredth time, that everything’s complete.

My wallet’s in my pocket; the white nylon bag
With the papers safe in its lining-fine;
The book and my notes are in the outside pocket;
The brown case is here with all its straps secure.
I have everything I began the journey with,

And also a memory of my setting out
When I was confused, so confused. Terrifying
To think we have such power to alter our states,
Order comings and goings: know where we’re not wanted
And carry our unwantedness somewhere else.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 August, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves | Personal

Fade Into You—Mazzy Star

Here’s an old favourite of mine, “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star.  Perfect song for a blue day.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 August, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

38 Ways To Win An Argument—Arthur Schopenhauer

For all of you who have ever been involved in an online debate in any way, Arthur Schopenhauer’s “38 Ways To Win An Argument” is indispensable. Most of these techniques will seem familiar to you, right from questioning the motive of a person making the argument instead of the argument itself (No. 35), exaggerating the propositions stated by the other person (No. 1) , misrepresenting the other person’s words (No. 2) and attacking a straw man instead (No. 3). It’s a full handbook of intellectual dishonesty there. Indeed, I generally avoid online debates because they inevitably degenerate to No. 38.

The full text is below the fold. Many thanks to my friend Nitin Pai for reintroducing me to it.


Posted by Amit Varma on 28 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves | Blogging | Politics

Long Distance II

Here’s an old favourite of mine:

Long Distance II
by Tony Harrison

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in.  You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

You can read more about Harrison here, here and here. And you can read a few more poems by him here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

Beauty, Danger and Dismay

I love this:

Beauty, Danger and Dismay
by James Fenton

Beauty, danger and dismay
Met me on the public way.
Whichever I chose, I chose dismay.

Fenton is an old favourite of mine, and I particularly liked “Nothing” when I was in college. (Click and scroll down.) “Eloquence is a lie. The Truth is trite.”

A couple of other terrific poems by him: “The Ideal.” “In Paris with You.”

Also read: “James Fenton on Love Poetry.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

Maula Mere Maula

My inner voice tells me that I am not self-indulgent enough on this blog, and that I should post more about myself. This is immensely problematic, for my life is filled with boringness, and any more of me would surely mean less of you. Still, inner voices cannot be fought for long, for they are inner, so I’ve decided that from today I’ll post a bit more about the music, films and books that I happen to be enjoying. Much of that will be on Rave Out—which is fortunate to have a new contributor in Salil Tripathi—and some will be here.

Starting now: Below is a superb song I’ve been playing repeatedly over the last couple of days, “Maula Mere Maula,” from the film Anwar. It’s composed by a newcomer named Mithoon (interviewed here), and wonderfully sung by Roop Kumar Rathod. The actors in the video are Siddharth Koirala and Nauheed Cyrusi, who exudes gorgeousity, though I suspect she’d have seemed less attractive if some disco nonsense was playing in the background instead of this lovely song.

A few weeks ago, you might remember, I was into Sona Mohapatra. Ah, what a song that is!

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | IU Faves

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