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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: India

A Domestic Matter

The Times of India has a report on a bizarre fight that broke out between a couple in Kolkata airport:

The woman, a South African, had married an NRI from Kolkata in Cape Town recently. She arrived in the city on Sunday morning, her first trip to visit her in-laws. But within hours, a quarrel broke out and she decided to leave the city.

She was booked on the 3.45 pm Jet Airways flight to Mumbai, but her husband and in-laws caught up with her before she could check in.

The couple then fought for hours, which led to the woman missing her flight. At one point, the woman threw her bags at her hubby, who responded by slapping her.

That’s right, this man slapped her in a public place, presumably with hazaar onlookers. And the airport security simply escorted them out. In my view, the slap was reason enough to call the cops immediately and get the guy arrested—as might well have happened if he had hit someone other than his wife. But because it’s his wife, he can do what he wants, ghar ka maamla hai. Shameful—both his behaviour and our attitude.

(Link via email from Vivek.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 October, 2009 in India | News

Like a Government Department

In an excellent column, Vir Sanghvi looks at all the reasons why Air India is run so badly. To sum it up:

If you run your country’s flag carrier like a government department, a decline is inevitable.

His remedy, which flows naturally from this, is to privatize Air India. I agree with him. But here’s a question:

If Air India should be privatized because it is run like a government department, what about government departments?

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 October, 2009 in Economics | India | Politics | Small thoughts

Preemptive Censorship

HT reports that the I&B ministry has just given the go-ahead to the producers of a film called The Indian Summer to shoot in India. However, after going through the script, it wants four scenes deleted from the film—these show “a kiss between Nehru and Edwina; a dancing scene; one where Nehru says ‘I Love You’; and a scene showing them in bed.”

Normally, when two people have an affair, there is kissing, there are confessions of love (or lust), and there is carnal action. I don’t see the point of pussyfooting around all this—an affair without these would not be an affair, so why should a film about an affair have to avoid these?

The government also insists that the film carry a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction. Why not keep those scenes then?

The ministry says it is doing this because it doesn’t want anyone to “show Nehru in a poor light.” That is bizarre: I don’t think his alleged affair with Edwina shows him in a poor light—the guy was human, after all. (Most Indian men would probably think more highly of him because he scored with a white chick, but leave that aside.)

And even if it did show Nehru in a poor light, so what?

Anyway, as revenge on the Indian government for this preemptive censorship, I suggest that the producers get Salman Khan to play Nehru, and have him sing a Himesh song as Edwina runs around a tree. That will show them.


And for what I think of the I&B ministry, see point 3 of this old wishlist of mine.

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | Politics | WTF

Phul Singh vs State of Haryana (and the State of Indian English)

Oh boy, this Supreme Court judgment, excerpted on his blog by Imam Wapsoro, is masterful. Presenting Phul Singh vs State of Haryana, AIR 1980 SC 249:

A philanderer of 22, appellant Phul Singh, overpowered by sex stress in excess, hoisted himself into his cousin’s house next door, and in broad day-light, overpowered the temptingly lonely prosecutrix of twenty four, Pushpa, raped her in hurried heat and made an urgent exit having fulfilled his erotic sortie.


A hyper-sexed homo sapiens cannot be habilitated by humiliating or harsh treatment, but that is precisely the perversion of unreformed Jail Justice which some criminologists have described as the crime of punishment.

It may be marginally extenuatory to mention that modern Indian conditions are drifting into societal permissiveness on the carnal front promoting proneness to pornos in life, what with libidinous ‘brahmacharis’, womanising public men, lascivious dating and mating by unwed students, sex explosion in celluloid and book stalls and corrupt morals reaching a new ‘high’ in high places. The unconvicted deviants in society are demoralisingly large and the State has, as yet, no convincing national policy on female flesh and sex sanity. We hope, at this belated hour, the Central Government will defend Indian Womanhood by stamping out voluptuous meat markets by merciless criminal action.

The gentleman who wrote this is Justice Krishna Iyer. One can only assume that he proposed to his wife in some other language. Or maybe he spoke like this, and she went, Enough, enough, I’ll marry you, but please don’t go on and on in English. You libidinous brahmachari, you!


The larger issue here is why Justice Iyer waxed so purplacious. I blame colonialism. Even after the Brits left, English remained a marker of class in India. The better your English, the more highly you were regarded (even by yourself). This led to a tendency of showing off how fluent you were in the language, and from there, to this kind of overkill. For Justice Iyer, the language he used was as much a signal as a tool: It signalled his sophistication and his class. Or so the poor fellow thought.

I believe this is also partly responsible for why style overwhelms content in so much Indian writing in English. As kids, we’re too used to parents and teachers and peers telling us, Wow, this is so well-written, your English is so good. (As opposed to Wow, your narrative was compelling, I lost myself in the story, I couldn’t put it down.) So they end up giving more importance to the language they use rather than the narrative they’re building, while the former should really be slave to the latter. Pity.

And we also see this a lot in our local trains. Two random people will be arguing over something, and then one of them will break into bad English, as if to say, I"m superior to you, I know English. You lout! And then the other guy will say something to the effect of Hey, I know English too. Only you can speak or what? Bastard! And so on.

I’d like to see Justice Iyer get into one those local train fights, actually…

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Old memes | Purplocity/Verniness | Small thoughts | WTF

What the Peon Dreams About

Rekha Nigam has some wonderful advice on advertising:

I don’t know about advice, but I would ask aspirants to join advertising only if they were truly interested in people. Because that is what it’s all about. I see too many people who are too self-centered, too wrapped up in their own world in advertising today. It’s not about a great felicity with words or magic with visuals at all. It’s about being interested in what the peon who brings your tea dreams about. Ask yourself, do you really care about the fantasies of a housewife who does not have a life so the others in her family can? Do you know what a rainbow tastes like to a little street child? Do you really understand what a cell-phone means to an illiterate woman in Balia whose husband works as a vegetable vendor in Mumbai? If you don’t give a damn, please stay away from advertising. Write a book, paint a masterpiece, make a movie that wins at every international festival, but DO NOT join advertising.

I’d modify that a bit and say that in my opinion, this advice holds true for literature and cinema as well. So if you don’t care what the peon dreams, don’t write a book or make a film either. You can go paint a masterpiece, though.

And really, speaking about writing, there are too many books written these days by writers who stick their heads up their own arseholes and describe what they see. That reflects in their sales as well—who besides friends and family can tolerate the view up there? A little less self-indulgence, and some looking around at the fascinating world around them, would help.

And no, duh, do you really expect me to take names here? I’m not getting into no lit controversy, ever!

(Link via @bhatnaturally, via @rjauhari.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Media | Personal | Small thoughts

Politics & Religion


Sure, there’s a Dussehra context to it, but even then I find the picture above most WTF. Such it goes.

(Pic courtesy HT)

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 September, 2009 in India | Small thoughts

Who is the Indian Lion?

Mark Sarvas’s excellent blog, The Elegant Variation, features a guest essay by Jon Meacham, the author of American Lion, on Andrew Jackson. It begins:

He was a brawler and a courtier, a duelist and a conciliator, a warrior and a lover, a hothead and a cool calculator. Five summers ago, when I started reading deeply in the life of Andrew Jackson, I was struck by a seeming contradiction: he was at once the most remote of heroes and the most modern of men. He was the first truly self-made man to rise to the White House, the architect of the presidency as we know it and champion of democracy in an age of elites. Scarred and bloodied, wounded physically and emotionally, he carried two (that’s right, two) bullets in his body for much of his life; wracked by pain, he nevertheless persevered, enduring much in order to make America work for the good of the many. He was a candidate of change, and his White House—riven by passion, sexual scandal, political intrigue and fears of secession—was the first we would recognize as a presidency in action. But I should not have thought Jackson ’s complexities surprising: America is complex, too, and he was the consummate American. Not to be too grand about it, but if you want to understand America , you have to understand Andrew Jackson.

So here is my question to you—about whom could we say the following words?

India is complex, too, and X was the consummate Indian. Not to be too grand about it, but if you want to understand India, you have to understand X.

Well, yes, India is too varied for anyone to be a “consummate Indian”—but who comes closest? In my view, it isn’t Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi, LK Advani or Prakash Karat, even Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi. Instead, I’d say the two politicians who come the closest are Mayawati and Narendra Modi.

IU readers know the contempt I hold both leaders in (most Indian politicians, in fact, but these two especially), but Mayawati and Modi embody the attitudes and aspirations of millions. They are both genuine grassroots leaders, and they’re chief ministers of their states because millions of people see in them the kind of India they want. Neither of them is a “consummate Indian”, for they are too divisive for that, but if you want to understand the India of 2009, you have to understand Mayawati and Modi.

You can’t say that about Sonia or Manmohan.

And to state the obvious, this post is not an endorsement, it is a lament.

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 September, 2009 in India | Politics | Small thoughts

Where Your Taxes Go: 42

On golf buggies for the army.

I’m actually okay with that—if you want to attract good people to join the army and defend the country, one of the few functions of a government that I consider legitimate, then you should give them their perks. But what is WTF about this whole thing is that the army claimed it had spent this money on “silent reconnaissance vehicles for missions beyond enemy lines.”

I can totally imagine a Pakistani military convoy cruising outside Islamabad and suddenly coming across a golf buggy with an Indian general in it. They stop it immediately, and the Pak commanding officer asks the Indian, ‘WTF are you doing here?’ And the reply comes:

‘Have you seen the 18th hole? I think I’ve lost my way.’

(Link via email from Anand Bala. For more posts on taxes, click here.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 September, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | WTF

Leave Global Capitalism Alone!

On the subject of mass protests, the world’s most famous community organizer has this to say:

I was always a big believer in - when I was doing organizing before I went to law school - that focusing on concrete, local, immediate issues that have an impact on people’s lives is what really makes a difference and that having protests about abstractions [such] as global capitalism or something, generally, is not really going to make much of a difference.

I’d say that applies to candlelight vigils and online petitions as well, two forms of protest that more and more urban, middle-class Indians seem to be taking to. In general, they’re useful only as far as they make the participants feel good about themselves—and give randy young men a chance to hook up with pretty Leftist chicas. Apart from that, if you really want to be useful, get the municipal corporation to clear up the garbage outside your housing society. I doubt lighting candles will achieve that.

(Link via Kartikeya Date‘s Facebook status.)


An example of an online petition that does address a specific local issue is Vishal Dadlani’s petition against the new Shivaji statue. The petition states that the statue, “estimated to cost Rs.350 crores, is an unnecessary expense for the exchequer of the Government of Maharashtra.” This is a very good reason, but I’m sure that Ashok Chavan, our chief minister, travels economy class, just as his boss Sonia Gandhi does. Honestly, that’s all the austerity you can expect from them.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 September, 2009 in India | Miscellaneous | Politics

‘Tweet is a Very Lonely Man’

I was on Times Now yesterday defending Shashi Tharoor in this ridiculous Twitter controversy, going over pretty much the same points I’d made in my post, “A Cattle-Class Country?” The videos of that debate are embedded below the fold. I didn’t get too many chances to speak, but that’s okay, because Tom Vadakkan, the Congress spokesman, did—and he was hilarious. Check out this bit, which comes in the third video clip below:

Let me tell you something: I did a little research after you phoned me, to find out what is the basic cause for this tweet business. Some of the survey reports that I received was Tweet is a very lonely man, and he needs counselling.

There was much else that was WTF about the discussion, and I leave you to discover the rest of that for yourself! (Videos below the fold.)


Posted by Amit Varma on 18 September, 2009 in Freedom | India | Politics | WTF

‘Other Top Stories’

A few moments ago, this is what a section of the ToI homepage looked like:


For a moment, I almost thought “Lenovo G550 Notebook” was a ToI headline—sure, it does say “ads by Google” below, but that’s small and you see it later. The font and the bullet point make it seem like it’s just another of the top stories on the site. Such it goes.


And in case you’re wondering what Ayesha Takia has lashed out at Baba Ramdev for, well, the dude apparently said that all actors were “characterless”. Some actors complain about that themselves when they’re not getting any roles, but that’s not what the good Baba meant. Ah, well, whaddya expect?

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 September, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | News | WTF

A Cattle-Class Country?

This is a bizarre controversy. A couple of days ago, in response to a question about whether he would be travelling economy class, Shashi Tharoor tweeted:

... absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!

It’s always nice to see a minister be light-hearted. Sadly, his party isn’t. He’s been rapped on the knuckles for this act, and the party spokesman, Jayanti Natarajan, said:

We totally condemn it (Tharoor’s comments). The statement is not in sync with our political culture. His remarks are not acceptable given the sensitivity of all Indians.

Certainly the party does not endorse it. It is absolutely insensitive. We find it unacceptable and totally insensitive.

We do not approve of this articulation. Thousands of people travel in economy class.

Firstly, the lady desperately needs a thesaurus. She is being insensitive to her readers/listeners by going on and on about ‘sensivity’ and how ‘insensitive’ it all is. Once was enough, no?

Secondly, her party needs a dictionary. The term ‘cattle class’ has not been coined by Tharoor, but is a commonly used term for economy class. If it is derogatory to anyone, it is to the airlines that give their customers so little space, and not to the customers themselves. So whose sensitivity are we talking about here? Air India and Jet?

I’m a bit bemused, actually, by what the Congress is up to these days. An austerity drive means nothing when the government continues wasting our taxes on the scale it is. And berating someone for using the term ‘cattle class’ is needlessly sanctimonious when, after six decades of mostly Congress governance, we have hundreds of millions of people who cannot afford the basic necessities of life. Hell, most people in this country live cattle-class. And here we have the Congress strutting around and talking the talk.

Oh, and showing rare unity in WTFness, the BJP’s also condemned Tharoor’s tweet. Is there not one political party in this country that understands English and can take a joke?


On another note, Times Now has asked me to appear on their show, “Newshour”, to chat about this topic. It’s supposed to be tonight, and while the show runs from 9pm to 10pm, I’m told this segment starts at 9.30. They said it’s titled “A Tweet Too Far”, and if they imply that Tharoor should not be tweeting, I will defend him with as much gusto as I can manage. We all ask for transparency in government, and here you have a minister who’s actually in direct contact with so many of his countrymen, and everyone’s getting all het up. If I was in the Congress, I’d recognise this as a good thing, and encourage more of my ministers to go online. Anyway, such it goes.

(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, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 September, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Cows | Personal | Politics | Small thoughts | WTF


A couple of weeks ago, when news spread of people dying of shock or killing themselves after YSR’s death, I wrote:

It’s quite possible that many of these deaths, if not all, randomly happened around that time, and YSR’s people are building this narrative around them to embellish his legend. Why would a 19-year-old, with his whole life in front of him, kill himself because a political leader is dead? Fishy.

This could be the subject of a great farce. Imagine a novel that begins with the death of a political giant. His successors want to ensure that more people die on hearing this news than did for his predecessor. So they use the government machinery to set each district a target. Officials in those districts fan out looking for random deaths. [etc]

And today, Stochastix points me to this news:

Andhra Pradesh CM Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s death earlier this month sent shock waves across the state that reportedly claimed lives of
457 people, including 40 who committed suicide. Now, what appears to be macabre “dead body politics’‘, overzealous Congress workers are allegedly offering money to the families of the dead many of whom died natural deaths or committed suicides for other reasons to claim that YSR’s death pushed them into taking their lives.

Rule of thumb: any farce that appears too outlandish to be true probably is. Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 September, 2009 in India | News | Politics

Man Rapes Dog

It’s a tabloid dream, this one. A taxi driver in Mumbai was caught doing zabardasti with a bitch, and duly arrested. In the masterful clip below, a Mid Day reporter asks a bemused policeman the details of the case. Her theory—he must have been missing his wife. Immensely WTF, all of it:

And here’s another clip where the lady who chased and caught the alleged rapist enthusiastically gives details of what she witnessed. Note the dog barking in the background.

And here’s a Punjab Kesari report of it, in which the policeman with the culprit seems to be doing strange things to his nostril. Or is he thinking of the dude who once had section 377 slapped on him because he copulated with a buffalo’s nostril?

(Links via email from Sanjeev Naik.)


On a more serious note, the question here, of whether the guy’s act should be a crime, depends on what rights you’re willing to grant a dog. (And how you ascertain its volition, for that matter.) There’s this famous ethics thought experiment where a guy buys a live chicken, takes it home, copulates with it, and then kills it, cleans it and eats it. Sure, it’s yucky—but is it immoral? If killing the chicken and eating it is acceptable, you have already stripped the chicken of any rights—so why should that other thing matter?

One easy answer in this case is that if the dog in question belonged to someone else, then the rapist was infringing on that person’s property rights. But what if the dog had belonged to the rapist? Building the grounds for prosecuting him would then lead us into pretty thorny philosophical terrain.

I don’t think Mid Day would be too concerned about that, though. The dude was missing his wife, and that’s that.


Update: I just came across this fine quote by Charles de Gaulle: “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 September, 2009 in India | News | Small thoughts | WTF

Two-Headed Snakes (and the BJP)

The Telegraph tells us about two-headed snakes:

Such animals are often caught and preserved as lucky tokens but have very little chance of surviving in the wild anyway, especially as the heads have a tendency to attack each other.

And I straightaway thought of the BJP.


On another note, Mumbai Mirror tells us that Sonia Gandhi recently inaugurated a Congress office in Mumbai that is “neither legal nor austere.” It’s been named Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan.

(Snake link, in another context, via email from Aadisht.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 September, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF

Beer is Against Indian Culture?

That, at least, seems to be the implication of the BJP’s recent behaviour in Jaipur. Apparently, a minister attended a “beer-promotion party”, and the ‘BJP Women Front’ protested. Their president was quoted as saying:

This is a shame for the minister who being a lady and holding portfolio of woman and child development attended the beer promotion party.

This reflects why the BJP is losing support everywhere. The constituency of anti-beer people isn’t very big, and most people reading this news will surely go ‘WTF?’ Sure, many women have problems with alcoholic husbands, but a beer promotion bash at what was reportedly a “posh hotel” has nothing to do with that. If the BJP Women Front wants to take up issues that matter to women, surely there are a hazaar other things at the grassroots they could focus on.


On a broader note, much politics in India is, unfortunately, the politics of resentment. All identity politics is based on this—‘the other castes or communities have gotten ahead, vote for me, I’ll look after our interests.’ So is the communal politics the BJP exploits—there are, sadly, enough Hindus in India who resent Muslims for the BJP to have a vote bank there. And moral policing—if you’re not getting much action, you’ll resent anyone who is, and moral policing plays nicely to that constituency.

But beer? Who resents beer or beer drinkers?

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 September, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF

Man vs Cockroach

The age-old battle now finds a fertile battlefield, where both man and cockroach can be captive for up to 10 minutes at a time—Mumbai’s local trains. Mumbai Mirror has a story on how commuters have started carrying insecticide with them to battle them pests. I particularly enjoyed this quote in the piece, from a chap named Amit Khosla:

While travelling on a Kalyan-CST local, I saw that somebody had stuck a piece of bread inside the light fittings. Several cockroaches were trying to get to it and, in the bargain, some fell in the lap of a senior citizen who was napping near the window seat. He woke up with a start.

The sudden movement startled the cockroaches, which ran helter-skelter. All the commuters nearby started jumping here and there to evade the roaches. There was complete chaos. It was several minutes before order was restored.

Much fun. In a rush-hour Virar fast, though, there would be no space to move, let alone jump here and there. Indeed, if two cockroaches landed on your head and then started copulating under your left nostril, you wouldn’t be able to move your hand enough to brush them away. At most, you could request the cockroaches telepathically to move, at which they’d probably reply, ‘Hey, dude, kindly adjust.’ Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 September, 2009 in India | Miscellaneous | News

Baba Ramdev Teaches Yogic Jogging

After I tweeted earlier today about Baba Ramdev being invited to take part in Bigg Boss, my friend Anand Ramachandran asked me to check out his (Ramdev’s, not Anand’s) instructional video on Yogic Jogging on YouTube. Anand and I raided Landmark after that—their big annual sale is on—and over coffee, he described it in some detail for me. ‘No way, man,’ I dismissed him, ‘you’re exaggerating.’

He was understating.

I now urge you to watch Baba Ramdev teach Yogic Jogging:

The shots of the crowd doing Yogic Jogging in the middle are marvellously WTF. And look at the Baba himself—especially when he’s doing those high kicks and his dress is riding up. He’s already barechested—and hell, isn’t that a family audience out there?

This is the same guy, by the way, who claims to be able to “cure” homosexuality. I wonder if doing PT is part of the treatment.


And imagine if Baba Ramdev starts teaching Yogic Jogging on Bigg Boss. I’m hoping he does end up as part of the show, and that they manage to get the likes of Sherlyn Chopra and (even better!) Mallika Sherawat on there as well. It sure would be fun to watch them, um, stay fit.


Update: Via Nitya Pillai, here’s Baba Ramdev on how homosexuality is a disease. He sure can work a crowd—and his opposition in the debate in this particular clip is rather inept. It makes the blood boil, listening to this dude…

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 September, 2009 in India | WTF

Nigerian Scamster Pwns Indian Customs Official

You can’t make this shit up. Mumbai Mirror reports that the superintendent of Customs Intelligence has been scammed by a Nigerian scamster, and has “lost Rs 7.5 lakh to the racket that had declared him the winner of $1 million through a ‘lucky dip’ contest, which was organised by a certain Orange Communications Pvt Ltd.” The report adds:

The customs officer - whom we can’t name because he still hasn’t made an official statement - has now asked the police for a few more days before he believes that he has actually been cheated.

“He asks, ‘how can such a well-drafted email with the logo of Orange Communications be fake?’ He believes Orange Communications is the parent company of Vodafone, and since he has a Vodafone number, he is a natural beneficiary,” an officer with the JJ Marg Police Station disclosed.

“He even argued that the mail has a logo of the renowned Natwest Bank.”

My theory—he’s incredulous that an entity other than the government could possibly rob people on such a scale. The nerve!

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 September, 2009 in India | News | WTF

Who’s More Primitive?

Exhibit one:

Early humans may have taken a detour into Eurasia before embarking on their epic journey out of Africa, according to new fossil evidence.

Palaeontologists in Georgia have unearthed remains of five primitive humans that date back to 1.8m years ago, suggesting some of our oldest ancestors lived in the region at the time.

Exhibit two:

Squatting on his haunches, dhoti-clad and bare-chested, Mahendra Singh Tikait declares: “We live by a moral code where honour has to be protected at any cost.’’

As the chaudhary of the Baliyan khap, the 79-year-old farmer’s views matter. He presides over a system of justice that is almost medieval and disdains the laws of the Indian state.

Tikait’s moral code is simple. In his own words: [...] “Love marriages are dirty, I don’t even want to repeat the word… Only whores can choose their partners.”

To think this guy was once a politician with significant clout. Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 September, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF

Where Your Taxes Go: 41

On a Rs 42 crore mansion, on “a sprawling 1,00,000 sq ft area”, for Mayawati.

Outlook reports:

Mayawati’s latest mansion is to be seen to be believed. With 18-ft high stone walls and matching copper and brass gates, it looks more like a fortress on Mall Avenue, the most prized address in Lucknow. With every second house here having been taken over directly or indirectly by Mayawati—be it in the name of the Bahujan Trust or the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) office—her detractors, including Mulayam Yadav, have taken to calling the street ‘Maya Avenue’.

The chateau-like bungalow betrays Mayawati’s weakness for pink Dholpur stone and expensive granite.

‘Maya Avenue’ is a suitable name in more ways than one. The nugget I found most delicious in the report was that to make room for her bungalow, “Behenji ordered that the Sugarcane Commissioner’s office shift out from next door.” A sugarcane commissioner? Why the fug do we need a sugarcane commissioner anyway?

Mayawati has featured in the Where Your Taxes Go series before, here and here. I’m no longer surprised at the scale of her excesses, though. The way our political system is structured, it is entirely rational to enjoy the spoils of power after you get to such a post. We elect governments not to serve us, but to rule us. As long as that is so, our rulers will take full advantage.

(Link via email from Noor. For more on how our government loots us, click here.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 September, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF

YSR Shock

The Times of India reports:

Shocked by the sudden and tragic end of their leader, 14 people died in different parts of Andhra Pradesh on Thursday. Six people died in East Godavari, five in Chittoor, while another YSR fan got a cardiac arrest in Vishakhapatnam. Two others died in Vizianagaram and Srikakulam.


A farmer from Kadapa, Narsaiah (75), who came to Piler on personal work along with his wife and children two days ago, died of cardiac arrest after hearing the tragic news. In Durgasamudram, Shankaramma (37), a daily wage labourer, who recently underwent a heart surgery under Arogyasri, died at around 6 pm.

A degree student, Laxminarayana (19), studying in Chittoor Government Degree College, consumed pesticide. “My son could not take the sad news and resorted to the extreme step,’’ his weeping mother C Lakshmamma said.

Quite bizarre. YSR was no MGR that people would kill himself over his death. It’s quite possible that many of these deaths, if not all, randomly happened around that time, and YSR’s people are building this narrative around them to embellish his legend. Why would a 19-year-old, with his whole life in front of him, kill himself because a political leader is dead? Fishy.

This could be the subject of a great farce. Imagine a novel that begins with the death of a political giant. His successors want to ensure that more people die on hearing this news than did for his predecessor. So they use the government machinery to set each district a target. Officials in those districts fan out looking for random deaths. Except in one thinly-populated district where everyone is in the pink of health. But the targets have to be met. So what to do?

Someday if I have the time…


On another note, the eulogizing of YSR feels a bit weird. Listen, he was a top political leader who rose from the grassroots. Given the political system in this country, there is no way he could be anything but a thuggish megalomaniac. (Check out this old article by Swaminathan Aiyar about YSR’s rise to power.) Still, that’s how it goes.

(Links via Gaurav and Atanu respectively.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 September, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF

Where Your Taxes Go: 40

On bribing people to delay having kids.

This is wrong on three levels:

One, the premise that population growth is a problem is mistaken. Malthus is dead in more ways than one.

Two, such social engineering is unethical. What business does the government have influencing the personal choices of people in this manner?

Three, that’s our money being spent there.

Coming to think of it, this whole business is a bit perverse even from the government’s point of view. They’re spending taxpayers’ money to ensure that there are less taxpayers in the future. WTF?

(For more on how our taxes are misused, click here.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 August, 2009 in Freedom | India | News | Old memes | Taxes | WTF

The Swine and Shah Rukh

Drama, drama, drama—that’s all our newspapers want. The Indian media’s been full of two overblown stories in the last few days, so much so that I feel I need to wear a mask before I pick up a damn newspaper. First up, there’s swine flu. Swaminathan Aiyar examines some numbers and finds:

[In India] 1.37 million people die annually of respiratory diseases and infections, 7,20,000 of diarrhea, and 5,40,000 of tuberculosis. These are staggering numbers. They imply that on an average day, 3,753 people die of respiratory diseases and infections, 1,973 of diarrhea, and 1,479 of tuberculosis.

Seen in this light, 20-odd swine flu deaths are almost laughably trivial.

If there is an epidemic in India, it’s the hysteria over swine flu, not swine flu itself. I’m not complaining, because for the last few days, the places where I usually hang out have been less crowded than usual. Things are getting back to normal though, but with narrative-hungry journalists all around, other infections will no doubt pop up.


Like Shah Rukh Khan. The outrage over Khan’s detention at a US airport is most silly. Our media, if you go to the heart of it, is not outraged because of the racial profiling in play—that’s old hat, at least eight-years-old in the context of the US, and I didn’t see Bombay Times cry a river when Rohinton Mistry had to cancel a US book tour because he was fed up of being questioned at airports, or when hazaar random Indians have been questioned over the years. Racial profiling story—not pushed before because there’s limited masala.

Shah Rukh spices it up. Our media’s on this story because of the celebrity angle. How dare they mess with Shah Rukh? Don’t we fawn over Brad Pitt when he comes to India? India has arrived, Slumdog won Oscars, Shah Rukh is loved by hundreds of millions, Madonna wears only a bindi to bed, blah blah blah. How could they not have recognised our hero? That’s what the outrage comes from, the celebrity angle with a pinch of nationalism thrown in—and it makes me want to barf.

If the cops threatened to slap section 377 on Shah Rukh and Karan Johar, you can bet there would be outrage about that as well, because the guys are celebs. But it’s been happening to ordinary people for decades, and the media hasn’t given a damn. It’s the celeb angle that makes stories here, ordinary people don’t count.


All this in a week when Bob Dylan was also detained for suspicious loitering. I don’t see him weeping and wailing about that.


There is a theory that all this is a publicity stunt for Shah Rukh’s forthcoming film, My Name is Khan, which is supposedly about racial profiling. I find it hard to believe that he can get US authorities to cooperate with him on a publicity stunt, so that’s a bit beyond the pale. But it is entirely possible that after the incident happened, he decided to milk it in the media. But that’s the game, and I wouldn’t blame him for that. I’d blame the media for making such a fuss about it.

Or maybe it’s our fault, because the media only gives us what we want? As it is, we are to blame for Shah Rukh being a star in the first place. A curse upon us.


How many of you think Shah Rukh should be locked up in Guantanamo for his bad acting alone? Hmm, I thought so.

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 August, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | News

Exploring Rakhi’s Cleavage (And Babies For Rent)

India can’t get enough of Rakhi Sawant. After the swayamwar where she found herself a fiancee, she is now going to simulate being a parent on a reality show. Along with her man, Elesh Parujanwala, who was named by a Canadian Bong after his favourite fish, she is taking part in a show in which five celeb couples will spend time bringing up borrowed children on television. Check out this snippet from the news item:

Rakhi and the audience may be used to her infamous low-cut blouses, but obviously, the bachchas aren’t. And, as a source present at the launch of the programme told us, one baby couldn’t help but explore the territory! Embarrassing? You bet!

If the kid becomes a techie when he grows up, he’ll at least have prior work experience in silicon valley. And think of the TRPs of the show now, as millions of Indians tune in to live vicariously through a baby’s exploration.


Ribald jokes apart, this is one reality show concept that I find appalling. Are the parents of these kids actually renting their babies out? Other reality shows feature adults being placed in situations of their own volition—but babies? How could someone do that?

Parenthood is a massive responsibility, and it’s irresponsible to become a parent if you can’t live up to that. I see too many parents around me who are simply not ready for that role, who have unfairly screwed with their kids by bringing them on the planet. This is a fine illustration of that.

(Link via Arnab’s Facebook status message.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 August, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Media | News | Small thoughts | WTF

There’s a Tsunami Alert on the East Coast…

... and, at the time of posting this, most of the major Indian news sites have nothing on it. Twitter and Facebook are abuzz, but Rediff, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times and Indian Express are silent about it. The Hindu has breaking news updates on top, and credit to them for that.

Really, I can’t imagine this happening with the websites of The New York Times or The Guardian, if something comparable affected their countries. In India, our MSM outlets just don’t take their websites seriously enough. They make fun of Twitter and blogging every now and then, but aren’t on the ball themselves for something so important. What’s the point of having a website then?

(That’s a rhetorical question. I know the point is this. I’m just ranting.)

I hope this isn’t like 2004. I saw some of the aftermath, and some memories remain more vivid than I’d like. This earthquake is reportedly 7.6 on the Richter Scale, much less than the one in 2004—but you never know. People on the coast will obviously not get news of the alert from websites and TVs, and in any case, it’s the middle of the night. The government said, after the last one, that they have emergency plans in place for just such a contingency. Regardless of whether a tsunami actually strikes or not, it should be clear in the next few hours how nimble the machinery can be at a time like this.

Update (3.50am): ToI now has a headline on their homepage about it, so they’ve jumped into action as well.

Meanwhile, a couple of Pacific typhoons are also causing much havoc. Not a good day for the continent.

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 August, 2009 in India | Journalism | Media | WTF

A Happy Accident

The Times of India reports:

Booze flowed free for over 100 villagers, including women, who partied hard after a truck carrying foreign liquor overturned on NH-5 in Jajpur district.

Most of the villagers, who are daily labourers, had not tasted foreign liquor and the orgy left them intoxicated. While several people skipped work the next day to sleep it off, as many as 10 villagers were admitted to a hospital after suffering severe hangovers. They were discharged after preliminary treatment.

I have no idea why ToI is describing what seems to just have been a drinking binge as an orgy—but never mind. Apparently, the truck “was loaded with 1080 cartons, each of which was packed with 750 ml bottles of whiskey and vodka.” No mixers. Imagine the fun.

I wonder if some of the people who got drunk silly actually didn’t like the booze much—so much booze is an acquired taste, after all—and forced themselves to drink because it was foreign booze, and so it must be good, and they didn’t want to waste this opportunity. I had that experience as a kid when I tasted champagne for the first time. I hated it, but was trying to psyche myself to enjoy it because it was, after all, champagne. I have also never quite developed a taste for whisky, and the expensive Scotches that my good friend Prem Panicker offers me when I’m over at his place are, well, wasted on me. All I know about single malts is that they’re not ready for commitment yet.

But anyway, what a fascinating story. And what a great premise for a novel. A truck full of foreign booze overturns in rural India. Villagers gather, much drunkenness and catharsis ensues, their lives change. If I had had unlimited time and unlimited energy, I’d certainly write this one. Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 August, 2009 in India | News | Personal

General Bob And The Arrest Of Bhagat

The WTF report of the day is about one of the most delightful cons ever. Apparently, this dude named Aijaz Mehboob Khan convinced a bunch of people that he had been a buddy of Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose and, having thus established his credentials, hoodwinked them of substantial sums of money. The dude is 29 years old, so how did he convince them? By showing them the newspaper report below:


In the case you find the print too small, the date reads “July 12, 1945.” And the caption says:

Mumbai: Congress President Mahatma Gandhi and the president of Azad Hind Party Aijaz Khan together in the rally at Mumbai Azad Maidan. And after the rally they went to meet General Bob for discussing about the arrest of Bhagat.

And yes, 10 people fell for this and gave the fellow Rs 50 lakh between them. Life is beautiful.


Imagine it’s true and Mahatma Gandhi and Aijaz Khan land up at General Bob’s office.

‘We have come to talk about the arrest of Bhagat,’ barks Aijaz.

‘Oh, Bhagat died 14 years ago,’ says General Bob. ‘But have a seat, have some tea with me.’ Then he shouts, ‘Bahadur, chai lao!’

General Bob now beams at Gandhiji. ‘You should meet Bahadur,’ he says. ’ He’s the last Mughal.’

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 August, 2009 in India | News | WTF

Court Ka Saamna

A few days ago, discussing an MP who wanted Sach Ka Saamna to be banned, I wrote:

If [Samajwadi Party MP Kamal] Akhtar is so disturbed by Sach Ka Saamna, I have a suggestion for him—change the channel.

And today, Indian Express reports:

Delhi High Court today threw out two petitions against the game show Sach ka Saamna, saying “moral policing” was not its job, and advised those offended by the show to turn off their TVs.

The judgment, ruling on a PIL against the show, is just as I’d have it:

There are far more serious problems in this country which we have to settle… Our culture is not so fragile that it would be affected by one TV programme.

I am not sure whether the show has brought out the truth of many people but it is certain that it has brought out the hypocrisy of various ministers and parliamentarians.

Bravo. Given that the recent landmark judgment to decriminalize homosexuality was also delivered by the Delhi High Court, much admiration comes. Would it be self-aggrandizement to call those judgments wise and enlightened simply because I agree with them? I’ll take that risk.

(IE link via separate emails from Aadisht and Sidved.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 July, 2009 in Freedom | India | News

Prime Time Pogromming

Ramesh Srivats imagines a joint venture between Narendra Modi and Lalit Modi. Quite a riot.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 July, 2009 in India | Politics | Sport

Where Your Taxes Go: 39

On a school for monkeys.

No, no, I’m not being rude, I mean that literally. The Punjab government has sanctioned Rs 1 crore “to set up an ultra-modern facility to tame, train, rehabilitate and teach manners to rogue monkeys.”

I agree that rogue monkeys are a problem—no Varun Gandhi jokes here, please—but I don’t see why so much of my taxes should go towards teaching them manners. What next, finishing schools for stray dogs? Reservations for all of them in government posts?

That said, I wouldn’t have minded it if they’d started this school a couple of years ago. They could then have sent a graduate or two to Rakhi Ka Swayamwar.

(Link via email from Varun. For more posts on how our taxes are misused, click here.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 July, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF

You Gotta Do Sach Ka Saamna

Here’s the WTF headline of the day:

Politicians want ban on Sach Ka Saamna

Sach Ka Saamna is the recently started Hindi version of The Moment of Truth, and is riveting once you start watching it—even if it does overlap with that other reality show, Is Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao. So what problem do our politicians have with it? Well, Kamal Akhtar, a Samajwadi Party MP, doesn’t like it that “obscene questions are asked by the anchor of the programme.”

“The host asked a woman in the presence of her husband if she would have physical contacts with another person to which she said no,” he said. “But her polygraph test said the answer was wrong. What kind of impression would it have created?” He sought a complete ban on the show.

I don’t get it—on whose behalf is Akhtar complaining? The participants of the show take part in full knowledge of the risks they incur, and that’s a choice for them to make. As for viewers, well, Akhtar is being hugely condescending when he assumes that we impressionable folks will be swayed by the show into infidelity, or suchlike. Listen, we already know what the world is like; we already know what human beings are like; we understand our urges, and know the consequences of giving in to them. Akhtar may want to foist a fantasy world upon us where nobody has anything to hide and everybody speaks only the truth—but that world does not exist, and is faker than the fakest Ekta Kapoor serial.

If anything, Sach Ka Saamna drives home the truth that most human relations contain some element of deception. In a viscerally direct way, it reveals the human condition. That can only help us become better human beings—to begin with, it might make us a little less sanctimonious.

That’s a matter of opinion, of course. Some people may hate the show, and are entitled to do so. But that is where the matter should end—not in calls for a ban. If Akhtar is so disturbed by Sach Ka Saamna, I have a suggestion for him—change the channel.

Or actually, no. He might then catch Is Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao and demand a ban on that because it reminds him of parliament.

(Link via email from Arshdeep.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | Politics | Small thoughts | WTF

The Cheats

Today’s Mumbai Mirror carries this magnificent headline:

Man’s 6th marriage to woman who had 11 husbands foiled by 5th wife.

The absence of clarifying commas makes that headline slightly misleading, but it’s a hell of a story either way. Basically, this dude named Mohammed Sayeed wants to divorce his fifth wife, Subina, who gets pissed off and allegedly tips off the cops to some business hera-pheri he is doing. He’s arrested, just as he’s planning marriage to a woman whose bail he organised. And what a woman!

Sayeed’s love interest is Kausar Begum alias Umme Kausar, 26, who had married 11 men from various parts of the country and abroad. Each time she claimed that it was her first marriage.

“She would then foist dowry charges against her husband him and fleece him [sic]. Police said marriage was just a medium for Kausar and her sister to cheat rich men.”

It’s a fascinating story. I wonder, did Sayeed know about Kausar’s past and fall in love and want to marry her regardless? What kind of feelings did she actually have for the men she married? What would she have done if she fell in love with one of them? What if this realisation struck her after she’d duped him? What if one of the men she duped loved her even after being duped? Questions, questions: there’s much scope for something novelistic to come out of this—though this particular novelist has other things on his plate for now. Such stories there are around us!

(Link via email from Krishna Warrier.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News

‘A Whole New World Of Khakras’

Chandni Parekh recently forwarded me a hilarious press release she received on behalf of the actor Purab Kohli. Given that press releases are intended for the public domain, I’m reproducing it in full here, typos, spellos and grocers’ apostrophes intact, for the charm of it:


Please find below a small snippet on Purab Kolhi. He is currently shooting in Ahmedabd

Fun time khakra time.

Do you know that Purab is a big fan of: khakra’s. He always has them on shoots. He’s even got his regular supplier in Bombay who he keeps getting refills from.

But now in the heart of Gujarat he is discovering a whole new world of khakra’s. He just can’t stop eating them on the sets of Hide and seek Apurva lakhia’s co production with Moser Baer. Purab has been shooting in a farm house where he is finishing the family’s stock for the year. “They have hidden secrets here, have you tried the muthiya khakra’s” says Purab over the phone.

Looks like he’s going to come back with excess baggage.

I wonder if poor Kohli knows what his PR man is up to? Really, is this what we’ve come down to when it comes to promoting films? Khakras? (Or even khakra’s?)


In more serious news, The Times of India asks: Will Sonam Kapoor wear a bikini?


Who knows, one day all this may come together in the headline, “Will Purab Kohli wear a bikini?” (Or “Will Sonam Kapoor wear a Khakra?”) Today’s parody is tomorrow’s headline, so don’t laugh, who knows?


Update (July 23): ToI carries the khakra story. Wow.

(Via Chandni, again.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | News | WTF

Sikhs In Hindi Cinema

Charan Singh Sapra, the president of the Punjabi Cultural and Heritage Board, is upset with “the continuing demeaning portrayal of the Sikh character in Hindi cinema.” ToI reports:

If a script demands a character to be a Sikh, then the community is more than willing to help filmmakers, Sapra adds. “We will guide them exactly how to portray a Sikh. Thus, they won’t end up hurting sentiments.”

Immense goofiness. All good storytelling is about flawed characters—so why should every Sikh in a film be a perfect Sikh? Mr Sapra doesn’t understand that films are about individuals, that a Sikh character in a film doesn’t represent all of Sikhdom, and is not meant to be representative. If Ranbir Kapoor plays a Sikh in a film, he is not implying that all Sikhs are like that character, any more than The Godfather implies that all Italians are gangsters or Borat implies that everyone from Kazakhstan wears a mankini to the beach.

And really, what is all this talk of ‘hurting sentiments’? I think most Sikhs are too sensible and mature to be hurt by something they see in a film, and sensitive Mr Sapra is probably not representative of his community. Maybe someone should guide him on ‘how to portray a Sikh’?


That said, Sapra is right when he says that Bollywood often stereotypes Sikhs. But mainstream Hindi cinema stereotypes almost everything, and Bollywood stereotypes of Sikhs, from what I can recall right now, seem to be largely positive, portraying them as robust, jovial and kind-hearted folk. What’s the problem with that?

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF

‘Just Remain Bais’

Gangubai Hangal:

If a male musician is a Muslim, he becomes an Ustad. If he is a Hindu, he becomes a Pandit. But women like Kesarbai and Mogubai just remain Bais.


(Churumuri link via Arun.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News


That’s probably the most disturbing word in this story. And in so many others, over the years.

Do you think it’s an apt word to describe our system of justice itself?

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 July, 2009 in India | News | Small thoughts

‘The Process Of Population Growth’

Speaking of euphemisms, here’s a masterful one from a WTF quote by India’s health and family welfare minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad:

Electricity in our villages can help control population growth. Electricity will lead to television in houses, which will lead to population control. When there is no light, people get engaged in the process of population growth.

So the next time you want to ask someone to get in bed with you, don’t be crude, don’t say something like Let’s bonk or I want to get into your pants or Let’s make laowe, baybeh, or suchlike. No, just look serious and wonkish and say, Would you like to engage in the process of population growth with me?

Doesn’t that sound much classier? No? Okay, never mind.


And while on Azad’s quote, it’s WTF for two reasons:

One, the government has no business regulating what consenting adults do in their bedrooms, whether this relates to sexual practices or procreative choices. How many kids a couple wants to have should be that couple’s decision alone. Anything else is a violation.

Two, despite what we’re taught in school, India’s problem is not its population. Every new child born anywhere is an invaluable resource, and in the right sort of environment, this resource produces more than it consumes. We don’t need to control population growth; instead, we need to work at creating an environment where every person has the scope to unleash his or her full potential.

For an elaboration on this, do read this old piece by me, The Population Myth.

(Link via separate emails from Ganesh Hegde, WrestlingMind and Luv.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 July, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF

Boob Euphemisms and Nip Slips Without Nips

A few days ago, readers Anoop Bhat and Kaushal Desai separately emailed me to point me to this marvellous gallery by The Times of India:

Biggest assets in Hollywood.

It’s a gallery about big breasts in Hollywood, and the captions are quite hilarious. Note the many euphemisms for boobs that they use, clichés and variations on clichés, all of them: ‘steaming big naturals’; ‘twin assets’ (three times); ‘busty bosom’; ‘hot twin peaks’; ‘accentuating curves’; ‘enhanced fuller twins’; ‘real nice set of bombs’; and so on. I wonder if copy editors are trained in this kind of writing—I’d really like to see the manual.


And today, I came across a completely WTF gallery:

Celebs Peek-A-Boo Moments.

This is a gallery of ostensible nip slips—with ToI blurring out the nips when they slip. Given that this is an internet gallery, and that the uncovered nips are a search away, this is most bizarre. Why have a gallery of nip slips and cover the nips? What’s the point?

(Note that I noticed the gallery only due to my purely academic interest in WTFness. That’s not the kind of headline you expect to see on India’s No. 1 newspaper site. I have no interest in nips or twin assets. Really.)


ToI‘s galleries are rather interesting from a sociological perspective, actually. Here’s another one:

B’wood’s desirable bed partners.

The captions, the captions…

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | WTF

‘Aggressive By Nature’

Via Dilip, I come across this astonishing statement made by Shiney Ahuja’s lawyer, Shrikant Shivde, about the girl he is alleged to have raped:

She belongs to a lower caste, which is aggressive by nature, and she wouldn’t have submitted herself so easily. They are known for being aggressive.

You know, I don’t care now whether Ahuja is guilty or he’s being framed. A side that makes an argument like this deserves to get its ass kicked. They should lock Ahuja up and throw away the key—and if he feels horny all alone in his cell, throw in Shivde.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF

Yoga’s Greatest Challenge

Can it cure Baba Ramdev?

(Link via email from Mahendra Shikaripur.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 July, 2009 in Freedom | India | News | WTF

Indians Are Human Too

Aakar Patel writes in Mint:

Some characteristics unite Indians. The most visible is our opportunism. One good way to judge a society is to see it in motion. On the road, we observe the opportunism in the behaviour of the Indian driver. Where traffic halts on one side of the road in India, motorists will encroach the oncoming side because there is space available there. If that leads to both sides being blocked, that is fine, as long as we maintain our advantage over people behind us or next to us. This is because the other man cannot be trusted to stay in his place.

But the point is, when these same Indians go abroad, they’re following the traffic rules, not cutting lanes and so on. The behaviour isn’t ingrained into us—it’s contextual. Break rule in India, where sab chalta hai; be a model citizen in Singapore, where you’ll get into trouble otherwise.

Equally, everyone’s opportunistic. It’s a human characteristic, not an Indian one. How much we follow rules depends on the incentives offered. Abroad, as in Singapore, the laws of littering may be strict; or your peers may frown upon loutish behaviour, which is disincentive enough. In India, laws, where they exist, aren’t implemented; and littering and jumping lanes in traffic is normal, not deviant, behaviour.

Aakar speculates that many of the aspects in our culture might have come from our religion. For example, he says that “the Hindu gets his world view—which is zero-sum,” from Hinduism’s recognition that “the world is irredeemable.” In my view, you’d find that kind of zero-sumness in every developing society, where most people are poor, and accessible resources are relatively scarce. It has more to do with economics than religion. (And some might argue, biology, as our genes were shaped in pre-historic times when life must have seemed zero-sum, in addition to nasty, brutish and short.) But as societies progress, they grow more and more aware of the non-zero-sumness of life, and cultural change happens. So give it a couple of decades and then see.

(Link via email from Rohan D’Sa.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 July, 2009 in Economics | India

Another Independence Day

July 2, 2009—mark this day. It’s a big day in the history of independent India because today the Delhi High Court effectively decriminalized homosexuality. As of today, it is no longer illegal to be gay in India.

I’ve often written about how India gained its independence in 1947, but Indians weren’t free in some many different ways. Well, notch one up for individual freedom. There will be no more Matunga Rackets, no more harassment of gay people by cops, no more busting of gay parties. (And I’m sure there will be some mighty spirited ones tonight.)

Also, see item no. 5 of my wishlist for 2008. It wasn’t all wishful thinking!

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have suddenly become an enlightened society. There will still be much homophobia, stereotypes of gay people will abound in popular culture, and many young people, discovering that their sexual orientation doesn’t conform to the approved norm, will still feel confused and lonely and angry.

But at least it isn’t illegal any more. How big is that?


To clarify, the ruling decriminalizes consensual homosexual sex between adults. Section 377 can still be used to prosecute coercive sex or sex with a minor. And that’s just fine. As long as consenting adults can do what they want.


And hey, of course there’s a backlash. Religious leaders have already spoken out against this ruling, citing worries like “the culture of Indian society.” And a representative of the Church has expressed a worry that “such practice will increase paedophilia [sic].” Heh. (Via Mohit.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 July, 2009 in Freedom | India | News

Savita Bhabhi Fights Censorship

A dull government office. A pot-bellied bureaucrat in a safari suit sits behind a table on which many dusty files are gathered. Sweat gathers on his upper lip; he is too lazy to wipe it off. There is a knock on the door. ‘Come in,’ he says.

The door opens, and the bureaucrat gasps. A stunning young woman, bootilicious, bodacious, mammacious, walks into the room, in a red chiffon saree on which the palloo seems an inadequate afterthought, wearing a low-cut blouse that almost need not be there.

‘Good morning,’ she says. ‘Are you the Chief Secretary of Internet Banning in India?’

‘Yes. Yes, yes, yes! But who are you?’

‘I am Savita Bhabhi. I believe you have banned me. I thought I should pay you a personal visit to ask you why you have done such a thing.’

‘Savita Bhabhi? Wow! My God! Er, sorry, what was your question again?’

‘Why have you banned me?’

‘Er, you see, actually, Indian culture, our traditions…’

‘Oh, I am so sorry,’ says Savita Bhabhi. ‘You are my elder, and tradition says I should touch your feet.’

She goes up to him—he is standing, in his excitement, pun intended—and bends down to touch his feet. Her tender caress of his toe is unbearably erotic. Her palloo falls. An expanse of the most beautiful, bountiful flesh rises up to meet him—and brushes for the briefest moment against a certain nameless appendage. Her lips, broad, red, inviting, open up seductively just in front of him, as she moves in closer, and he feels like he will explode. And then she says:

‘So, once again, what are your reasons for banning me?’


Right, you get where I’m coming from. India Uncut is a fan of Savita Bhabhi, as my many posts on that fine lady indicate (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.). And I’m appalled that she has been banned. And the chief reason that I’m appalled is that we don’t know why she has been banned.

If the government takes any action against an individual or an entity, there should be due process. If the government wants to ban a website, it should clearly state why it is doing so, and what provisions of the law make it possible. And the owners of that website should have a right of appeal.

That is not the case here: Deshmukh, who runs the Savita Bhabhi site, does not know why it has been banned, and has no means of appeal. This is arbitary, this is wrong—and it could happen to any of us tomorrow.

On that note, do read this excellent piece by Sevanti Ninan on Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, which should worry anyone who cares about free speech in India. Savita Bhabhi should drop in and say hi to A Raja, you think?


And in some WTF coverage of this, click here, scroll down and read what “cyber law expert” Mukesh Goyal has to say on the matter. Especially his third and fourth paras. I’m speechless!

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 July, 2009 in Freedom | India | News | WTF

‘My Mother’s Fault’

My friend Salil Tripathi was in Bombay this week to promote his marvellous new book, “Offence: The Hindu Case.” This is part of a series that examines the growing intolerance around us in the name of religion: Kamila Shamsie looks at the Muslim case, Brian Klug at Judaism and Irena Maryniak at Christianity. Regular readers of IU will know that this is a subject close to my heart: I’ve unleashed countless rants on how giving offence is treated as a crime in India, and of the consequences of that for free speech. Salil’s book lays out the case for free speech wonderfully well, and if the subject interests you, I recommend you buy it. (You can pre-order it here or here, and it will also be on the stands soon.)

But this post isn’t just a plug: one of my favourite parts of the book is a poem Salil wrote for his mother, Harsha Tripathi, dedicating the book to her. I was quite moved by it, and with Salil’s permission, I’m reproducing it here:

My Mother’s Fault
by Salil Tripathi

You marched with other seven-year-old girls,
Singing songs of freedom at dawn in rural Gujarat,
Believing that would shame the British and they would leave India.

Five years later, they did.

You smiled,
When you first saw Maqbool Fida Husain’s nude sketches of Hindu goddesses,
And laughed,
When I told you that some people wanted to burn his art.

‘Have those people seen any of our ancient sculptures? Those are far naughtier,’
You said.

Your voice broke,
On December 6, 1992,
As you called me at my office in Singapore,
When they destroyed the Babri Masjid.

‘We have just killed Gandhi again,’ you said.

We had.

Aavu te karaay koi divas (Can anyone do such a thing any time?)
You asked, aghast,
Staring at the television,
As Hindu mobs went, house-to-house,
Looking for Muslims to kill,
After a train compartment in Godhra burned,
Killing 58 Hindus in February 2002.

You were right, each time.

After reading what I’ve been writing over the years,
Some folks have complained that I just don’t get it.

I live abroad: what do I know of India?

But I knew you; that was enough.

And that’s why I turned out this way.

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Freedom | India

Bollywood Crimes

The Hindustan Times reports:

Varun Gandhi’s infamous hate speech and journalist Soumya Vishwanathan’s murder will be made into a film titled Ganatantra, being directed by JP Dutta’s assistant Surender Suri.

Rajan Verma, who essayed the role of Kasab in Total Ten, a film on the 26/11 terror attacks, is now playing Varun Gandhi. He says, “The film shows Gandhi in positive light.. as an able man, not given the place he deserves in the political party. The film will also depict a love story between the characters played by Varun and Soumya.”

The only thing not WTF about the above excerpt is that the actor who played Kasab is now playing Varun Gandhi. The rest of it leaves me speechless. I especially wonder what poor Soumya’s friends and family feel about this. Who thinks up these storylines?


That isn’t the only WTFness in that article. A gentleman named Kanti Shah is quoted as saying:

Yes, I am making a film on the Shiney Ahuja rape case. Shooting will begin soon. It is titled Rape and newcomers Imran and Sapna will play the characters of Shiney and the maid. Although the film will be based on true events and there will be no fictitious details added, there will be song and dance sequences.

Go figure. ‘Tasteless’ doesn’t begin to describe these guys. I need a plastic bag.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Media | News | 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

Of Axes And Landmines

The WTF quote of the day comes from Chhatradhar Mahato, the head of a tribal organisation in Lalgarh, PCAPA:

If you take a close look at the PCAPA’s ‘warriors’, they carry traditional arms like axes, spears, bows and arrows etc, whereas Maoists use landmines and other sophisticated weapons—there is hardly any similarity between the two.

Ah, well. The PCAPA, by the way, stands for the noble-sounding People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities. And on the subject of the police, Mahato had this to say:

Should they arrest me, Lalgarh will be torn apart by violence, hitherto unseen and unheard of.

If India had a language police, and I was in charge, I’d arrest him just for using the word ‘hitherto’. So there.

(Link via Jasmine.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 June, 2009 in India | News | WTF

Shiney And His Maid

Talking to friends about the rape allegations against Shiney Ahuja, I find many of them surprised not because Ahuja allegedly raped someone, but because the victim was his maid. This is a class thing here; had he raped a Bollywood starlet who went to night clubs in mini skirts, it would have been explicable, but his maid? What was he thinking?

So rationally they condemn the act, but instinctively they’re baffled about his choice of victim. Is their reaction of WTF itself WTF?


I have been endlessly refreshing this news item on the case over the last couple of days. It is not because the page is being updated by Rediff’s staffers or something, but because each new batch of comments is remarkable. If our country’s average IQ is 100, there must be some seriously smart outliers making up for the commenters you find on Rediff. My favourite in that series is this one, but open any article and browse the comments, and you find gems.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 June, 2009 in India | News | Small thoughts

Ode To A Bengali Paunch

In response to a friend’s comment on Facebook that Bengali paunches are holy, I offer you this little rhyme:

Ode to a Bengali Paunch
by Amit Varma

A Bengali paunch may be roly-poly,
But I deny rumours that it’s holy.
It is the center of base desire,
The origin of a Bong’s carnal fire.
We get turned on by mastaard feesh,
By paabda, rohu and illeesh.
Porn for you is chingri for me,
It’s divine, but not holy, you see.
Would you like a Lobongolotika?


Also see: Farmers are Dying in Vidarbha.


Update: Subrata Majumdar has a rejoinder:

The New Erection
by Subrata Majumdar

Would you like a lobongolotika?
Or some other form of aphro-desi-ka?
The holy paunch faces serious threats
From Gold’s Gym and such bourgeois outlets
Preserve our bhuri, we Bengalis must
A symbol of our glory, about to bite the dust
Let the paunch be the new erection
To show young bongs the right direction
I propose a paunchy statue as public art
To grace the crossing at Gariahat.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Personal

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