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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

Marriage and Rape

HT reports that a couple of army jawans have been arrested in Pune for gangraping a woman. At the end of that report is the following line:

The incident comes days after a married woman was gangraped in the city.

Why does that sentence need to have the word ‘married’ in it? Does the inclusion of that word change either the impact on the reader or the perceived gravity of the crime?

If so, isn’t that disturbing?

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 April, 2010 in India | Journalism | Media | News | Small thoughts | WTF


Bata Shoes and the Crow Pujari

I love local city news. Mumbai Mirror has a couple of stories today with absolutely killer quotes. The first is about a dude named Nitin Bhende, who nabbed a man who used to steal shoes from his building. His chief motivation: to get back a beloved pair of Bata shoes that he had bought “for Rs 999 at a discounted rate - the original price was Rs 1300.“Here’s what the delightfully named police inspector, Maruti Rathod, has to say on the matter:

We have arrested Hussain and have recovered Bhende’s no 10 Bata shoes. Bhende was asking us to hand over the shoes to him directly, but we have asked him to approach a court and seek permission for doing so.

So Bhende’s got to wait for his shoes while government machinery creaks into action.

The other story is about a dude named Apoorva Chakravorty who claims that a pujari he fought with “has been manipulating my brain and spoiling my deals by visiting my house in the form of a pigeon or a crow.” He has even given pictures of these crows and pigeons in his house to the police, who “are utterly baffled about how to deal with this case.” In the face of police inaction, he has evoked the RTI. The following quote is from the state information commissioner, Suresh Joshi:

There is no logic to his assumption that someone is taking the form of a crow or pigeon and harassing him. It does not amount to a cognizable offence.

Maybe the cops should just go arrest the damn crow—and then see if they can get the pujari in the same room. Eh?

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 April, 2010 in India | News | WTF


A Picture of You

The Times of India reports on the Shoaib Malik controversy:

Shoaib’s brother-in-law Imran Zafar, who was shopping in Lahore for the wedding slated for April 15 in Hyderabad, said the family was unfazed by Ayesha’s claims. “Shoaib was duped and shown pictures of another girl as Ayesha. We have pictures of the girl who posed as Ayesha and which were sent from Ayesha’s email ID,’’ he said.

Imran said Shoaib had fallen madly in love with the girl whose pictures were sent to him. “But that girl was not Ayesha. Shoaib was trapped. Ayesha would tutor him online and have him parrot the line that they were married at select interviews,’’ the brother-in-law said.

Go figure. This dude claims that he fell in live with a girl, and wanted to marry her, on the basis of a photograph. And then the actual girl turned out to be someone else. The thing is, if you fall for a freakin’ photograph, the actual girl is always going to be someone else. Incredible WTFness.

As for the girl, she either married or wanted to get married to a guy she clearly didn’t know at all, and had perhaps never even met. Regardless of whose story is true, she doesn’t get my sympathy. She’s as much of an idiot as Shoaib is.

Indeed, their story illustrates why Nigerian scamsters are so successful. I wonder what Sania Mirza dreams about.

*

Saamna gets into the act. Heh.

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 April, 2010 in India | News | WTF


The Provocative Sherlyn Chopra

Aarushi points me via email to a couple of blog posts by Sherlyn Chopra. In one, Sherlyn says:

For quite sometime, I’ve secretly wished for a bigger butt.  Guess, my mind strongly believes that my bum is petite. Hopefully, in early 2010 I shall fly to the US and meet some highly skilled surgeons and get their first hand opinion about whether or not butt implants are safe to acquire my desired result.

And in the other:

All through my teenage life, I’ve had a flat chest. Sometimes, I wondered if God had forgotten to give me breasts. It was only recently, a couple of years ago, that I had decided to get surgically enhanced breasts.

I know readers who would find this funny; and others who would say that Sherlyn is just trying to be provocative. But consider where the provocation lies—in honesty. She is sharing desires that many, many women have; she actually has the courage to act on those desires; and she is telling a repressed readership, which has been programmed into believing that talking openly about sexual matters is somehow wrong, about her boobs and her butt. I admire that.

But what does it say about us that such honesty can seem so scandalous?

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 March, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | India | Small thoughts


Feudal India

Check out this headline:

Karunanidhi praises Stalin, doesn’t mention Azagiri

What does it say about the state of our country that petty family politics is national news? And it’s not one state, it’s the whole damn country. We are ruled by families.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 March, 2010 in India | News | Politics | Small thoughts | WTF


Headline Material

I’m baffled by this Mid Day headline:

Oshiwara gay teen killed

The headline makes it seem that the victim was killed for being gay. But on reading the piece, you’ll find that his sexual orientation had nothing to do with his death. He saw someone getting mugged, tried to help him, and got fatally wounded in the process. That’s all.

So why mention his being gay in the headline?

*

Imagine the following headline: ‘Left-handed teen stabbed in Lokhandwala.’ WTF, no?

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 March, 2010 in India | Journalism | Media | News | WTF


News Read at Slow Speed

What an absolutely lovely essay by Kai Friese.

(Link via email from Peter.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 March, 2010 in India | Miscellaneous


Geopolitical Irony

AP reports:

For nearly 30 years, India and Bangladesh have argued over control of a tiny rock island in the Bay of Bengal. Now rising sea levels have resolved the dispute for them: the island’s gone.

There is a lesson in this for all disputes, not just geopolitical ones: One day, that island will disappear. So just chill, no.

(Link via email from Godhuli.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 March, 2010 in India | News | Politics | Small thoughts


Exploding Breasts

Rediff reports:

The British Intelligence Agency recently said the latest weapon of Al Qaeda is to use female suicide bombers with explosive breast implants, thus making it impossible to detect at security check-points.

[...]

The British Intelligence MI5 had stated that the Al Qaeda has a dedicated set of doctors to implant the explosives. They have been doing it with so much expertise that once the bomb is implanted it would be virtually impossible to detect.

This underscores how the only way to stop terrorism is through intelligence gathering. Fighting terrorism is all about infiltrating networks, finding out where the money comes from, stopping the flow, stopping the foot soldiers from entering your borders (if that’s possible), and dealing with terrorists before they get a chance to attack you. If your intelligence is messed up, you’re massively vulnerable. We have so many soft targets that they can pretty much strike at will. And yeah, their methods get more and more innovative.

That said, imagine a major terrorist strike getting foiled because a drunk Indian gentleman molests a pretty chica just before she boards a plane, and has his hand blown off. Just think, he wakes up in hospital minus hand, his wife glaring at him from his bedside, and a government official in a safari suit waiting patiently to tell him about the bravery award the government has given him. He still has one hand left, and perverse incentives regarding what to do with it.

*

While on Indian intelligence gathering, Nitin Pai makes some good points here.

Rediff link via email from Jenson Davis.

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 March, 2010 in India | News


A Police Complaint

ToI has a report on a Maharashtra minister beating up an “alleged party worker” in public. The minister in question is a gent named Abdul Sattar, who “engaged in verbal duel” with a chap named Mohammad Nisar. Then:

Food & civil supplies MoS Abdul Sattar kicked the alleged Congress worker Nisar in full public view. The minister’s bodyguards first assaulted Nisar and then the minister allegedly kicked him in the stomach. Mohammad Nisar has been admitted to hospital after allegedly being hit the abdomen by minister Abdul Sattar.

Sattar later denied knowing Nisar. He said:

I do not know the man either. He is not a Congress activist and I am going to lodge a police complaint against him.

That’s right—the kicker is going to lodge a complaint against the kickee. And it makes perfect sense, because the police is likely to act on behalf of whoever is more powerful, and that’s clearly Sattar. So what does it matter who did the kicking?

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 March, 2010 in India | News | WTF


The Drain

In Thomas Friedman’s latest column, I come across the following names:

Sunanda Sharma, Arjun Ranganath Puranik, Raman Venkat Nelakant, Akhil Mathew, Paul Masih Das, Namrata Anand.

And a thought strikes me: They could have been Indian—but we fucked up.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 March, 2010 in Freedom | India | Small thoughts


In India, Adults aren’t Adults

My friend Rahul Bhatia has a fine story in Open about Dibakar Banerjee’s experience with the censor board during the evaluation of Love, Sex aur Dhokha. Not that there’s anything new about censorship in India, but Dibakar wanted an ‘A’ certificate for his film, and still had to make cuts and compromises. Why do adults need to be protected from sex and bad language? How effing condescending is that? Disgraceful.

Thank goodness I’ve chosen to be a novelist. Imagine if a committee had told me to cut the orgasm from MFS.

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 March, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | WTF


Woman in the News

Here’s the WTF headline of the day:

Woman co-pilot lands jet solo

If that was a man, this wouldn’t be news. I find that hugely offensive. Don’t you?

*

Tomorrow’s headline: Male Airhostess Fondled on Plane.

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 March, 2010 in India | Journalism | Media | News | WTF


A Garland for the Queen

image

Heard about the recent furore over the garland of thousand-rupee notes that was presented to her Royal Majesty, Mayawati, by her party workers? One of her cronies has now come out and said that the media reports got it all wrong, and the value of the garland was “only Rs.21 lakh,” and not the Rs 5 crore that some people reported. (The rally at which it was presented reportedly cost Rs 200 crore, though the crony denied that figure as well.) Since then, the IT department has ordered a probe into Mayawati’s funds, while Her Highness has gotten herself another garland of notes. (Only Rs 18 lakh this time.)

Now, really, as long as it isn’t our taxes being spent, this should not bother me. But this kind of behaviour demonstrates, yet again, how our politicians believe that they are our rulers, and not our servants. This seems to be an attitude shared by most voters as well. Sure, many of them don’t like Mayawati, and would rather have a tribal leader of their choice on the throne, but you get what I’m saying.

Also, I have to say that a garland of currency notes is more honest and apt for the times we live in than one of dead flowers. Such it goes.

(First link via email from Maria Thomas.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 March, 2010 in India | News | Politics | WTF


Prodigy

I feel hugely sorry for this kid. In her world, it might be a huge deal to become “the youngest girl to ever write the Intermediate or plus two examination in Andhra Pradesh.” (She’s nine or ten; the article states both.) But the pressure on her must be immense, and such ‘achievements’ are not the stuff of life. She’s obviously enormously smart and talented, but I’m sure there’s much parental expectation pushing her, and that isn’t good. Childhood should be chilled out and as stress-free as possible.

I hope she’s doing okay 15 years from now.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 March, 2010 in India | News | Small thoughts


Topless Women and the Indian Government

The Times of India reports:

The government has banned Fashion TV for nine days after finding a program it aired offended good taste and decency by showing women partially nude.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry statement said FTV channel would go off the air later Thursday until March 21. The statement cited an unnamed FTV program aired in September that showed women with nude upper bodies.

It’s immensely WTF that someone should think that topless women offend “good taste and decency.” Women have breasts. Straight men are attracted to them. These are just ho-hum facts of biology. Only massively repressed and resentful men and women would find partial nudity offensive—and one factor in their repression, certainly, would be this attitude against anything sexual. It’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop—the more you repress, the more repressed they get, the more you find reason to repress them further. In the 21st century, its all a bit bizarre.

What is even weirder is that the continuing spread of the internet threatens to make all this moot. Far wilder things than mere toplessness are a Google search away, and its practically impossible to filter all of that out. And why would you want to do that anyway? Sex is healthy, so let’s be open about it, and not whisper while talking about it or blush when the subject comes up. Or censor boobs.

*

Earlier posts on the subject:

‘A Trial Balloon’.
The Ministry of Wet Dreams.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 March, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | Politics | WTF


The Empire Strikes Back

Daniel Pepper of CMS has a worrying story up on how RTI activists in India are increasingly facing a backlash from the people they are trying to expose. He tells us about Ajay Kumar, who questioned “why a local politician had authorized the construction of private houses and shops on public land.” Consequently, Kumar was “attacked by a mob of two dozen” and “beaten in the head repeatedly by an iron rod, leaving him unconscious and bleeding profusely.”

At least he lived. On Valentine’s Day in Bihar, “well-known RTI activist Shashidhar Mishra was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on motorcycles at the entrance of his home.” And in Pune, “another activist, Satish Shetty, was killed while on his morning walk.” I have no doubt that other RTI activists who are trying to expose the rot in the system must also be dealing with immense intimidation.

Shailesh Gandhi, once an RTI activist and now a commissioner with the CIC, hits the nail on the head:

It tells me that the rule of law is almost absent. The truth is that powerful people feel there is no law.

I’ve often argued that the rule of law is effectively absent in India for those without money, power or connections. But there’s more to this than even that. In most scams of the kind that these brave activists are trying to expose, private parties are actually in collusion with government authorities. Most mafias in the country are public-private partnerships, and the incentives of the men in power are obviously tailored to keeping these partnerships going. Thus, not only is the rule of law absent for the hapless RTI worker who chooses to challenge the system, the government is likely to actively work against him. The machinery he turns to for help generally has every reason to thwart him—and to look the other way when he’s beaten on the head with an iron rod.

That said, the RTI is a powerful tool, and it is precisely because of its power that there is such a backlash against those who use it. If the RTI was ineffectual, this backlash would not exist. These attacks, thus, demonstrate how much the RTI is capable of enabling. That leaves me both hopeful and worried. Perhaps a change is gonna come—but there will be a cost.

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 March, 2010 in India | News | Politics


When the Marshalls Go Marching In

This sentence says so much about the level of parliamentary debate in India today:

Finally, marshals were called in to remove the unruly MPs.

Who elected these dudes and put them in parliament? We did. I would hang my head in shame if that didn’t mean I’d be staring at my paunch.

*

I have mixed feelings on the larger issue of women’s reservation. If I was a woman, I’d find it offensive. Implying that women can’t rise in politics on their own is terribly condescending, especially when so many counter-examples exist—strong women like Uma Bharti, Sushma Swaraj, Renuka Chowdhury and, um, Pratibha Patil. (And Sonia Gandhi, who may be at the top because of her last name, but then, so are so many male politicians.)

Also, it implies that there are fewer women MPs because women are discriminated against by political parties. I’m sure there is some discrimination, but it is not the sole factor. My hunch is that people enter politics because of their lust for power, and that men are biologically programmed to seek power actively, while women aren’t—at least not to the same extent. Thus, there are fewer women who seek validation in how much control they have over other people, and fewer women who are attracted to politics. (In saying this, by the way, I am dissing men and complimenting women, though Renuka Chowdhury, on an episode of We The People where I stated this opinion, attacked me because she thought I was disrespecting women. Quite the opposite.)

Having said that, I think the bill may have some positive unintended consequences. At the very least, parliamentary decorum is likely to improve, and MPs are likely to behave with somewhat more dignity. There might even be fewer instances of marshalls being called in to control unruly MPs. Who can complain about that?

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 March, 2010 in India | News | Politics | WTF


Mahalaxmi, the Goddess of Wealth

Heh.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 February, 2010 in India | Politics


The Elegant Hindu

The WTF Q&A of the day comes from a WSJ interview of Sonia Dara, the first model of South Asian descent to make it to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue:

WSJ: During your shoot in Rajasthan, you posed with some local women who cover their heads, as is local tradition. Did you feel it made them uncomfortable to pose with you in a bikini?

Dara: To be completely honest, I was the one who felt the most uneasy because I thought I was putting the women in a potentially uncomfortable situation. At first glance, the concept of a Hindu girl in Sports Illustrated might seem contradictory. With that in mind, I posed as elegantly as possible, in order to never undermine my Hindu upbringing. I really hope this is made clear in my photos.

Yes, it’s clear. Her pout is Vedic, and her slim figure is surely the result of righteous fasting. Happy now, foreigners?

*

And really, who finds such slimness attractive? At best I’d imagine it’s a niche taste. If I was ever to spend quality time with someone so slim, I’d want to feed her, not do naughty-naughty. This is one fad that totally befuddles me.

*

On the off chance that you were wondering, this is how she looks without makeup on.

(Links via email from Arun and Madhu.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 February, 2010 in India | Journalism | Media | WTF


The Lady With the Handbag

Revelation of the day: All of Mayawati’s statues in UP have a handbag included.

This via my friend Anand, who loves making up stuff but insists this is true. And I believe him. It’s too far out to be made up.

Update: This one cracks me up.

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 February, 2010 in India | Politics | WTF


Sisters in the Kitchen

The Times of India reports:

Most young people may have got all romantic this Valentine’s Day, but for this technical institute it was all about brotherly and sisterly love. In what can probably be described as a celebration of V-Day in the spirit of Bhai Dooj, the Ishan Institute of Management and Technology asked its girl students to prepare food for the boys to mark the day.

The underlying motto, as institute chairman DK Garg told the media, was to promote “a culture of knowledge where brothers and sisters could stay together’‘. Students said the institute, which believes in strict discipline, had warned them not to get ``carried away’’ on Valentine’s Day.

Well, full marks for being WTF in multiple ways. This is an institute of “management and technology” implying that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Welcome to the 21st century, and all that.

On another note, given the wisdom of the old adage that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, this plan of promoting “brotherly and sisterly love” might well have backfired. I can imagine one of the boys, Romeo, eating the best mutter-paneer of his life and asking the girl who served him, Juliet, if she made it. ‘Yes,’ she admits, and blushes. He asks her out; they get married; and on the first night after they’re back from the honeymoon, he asks for mutter-paneer. She makes mutter-paneer. He tastes it, and his expression changes. ‘But this is crap,’ he says. ‘You had made it so well on that Valentine’s Day in college.’ And she says, ‘Mutter-paneer? Me? There must be a misunderstanding, I made the palak-paneer. It was Maya who made the mutter-paneer. The pretty girl with the big boobs.’

Anyway, I hope you had a good time yesterday.

(Link via email from Aparna.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 February, 2010 in Dialogue | India | News | WTF


Priorities

Mohit sent me an SMS a couple of hours ago informing me that this year’s edition of Gladrags Mrs India is sponsored by Unwanted 72. Isn’t that just delicious?

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 February, 2010 in India | Miscellaneous


Welcome to the 19th Century

Ah, modern times. Check out these two amazing news headlines:

Community ostracises woman touched by outsider
Muslims on social networks are sinners

Such stories they contain. It’s bewildering to be a writer of fiction sometimes, when the real world is so very far out and strange.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 February, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF


The IPL Auction Hoo-Ha

Hindustan Times reports the WTF news of the day:

A Pakistani parliamentary delegation has cancelled its visit to India after none of the country’s cricketers found any takers at an auction for the third edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza made the announcement in the House on Wednesday after opposition members raised the issue, terming it a “planned conspiracy” to prevent Pakistani players from featuring in the cash-rich series.

Now, really, if you were in charge of an IPL franchise, what would you do? Your resources are limited, and you want to make sure that every player you bid for and buy actually turns up and plays. If there is a no-show, even if you don’t have to pay the player, you incur an opportunity cost, and there’s a gap in your team. And with India-Pakistan relations being the way they are, it’s quite possible that, like last season, there may be no Pakistan players. All it takes is one more terrorist attack like 26/11.

The rational thing to do—indeed, the responsible thing to do, from your shareholders’ point of view—is to play it safe and not bid for any of Pakistan’s players. As a cricket fan, I find this tragic, because I love watching Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi and Sohail Tanvir in action. But from a business point of view, there was really nothing else the franchises could have done.

All this speculation about government directives and collusion between teams is, thus, pointless. Each franchise looked to its self-interest and made a perfectly rational decision. Such it goes.

As for the anger in Pakistan about their players not playing in the IPL, it is entirely justified. But it should be directed at the Lashkar, not at the IPL franchises.

*

And I don’t get this whole business of auctioning players. Why can’t the franchises just negotiate with players on their own? Why do we need the BCCI in the middle, distorting price signals?

If I remember correctly, Lalit Modi had once argued that the auction system and the spending caps in place are necessary so that a franchise like the Mumbai Indians, flush with Mukesh Ambani’s money, can’t buy out all the good players, thus killing the competition. But such a state would be unsustainable—consider these two scenarios:

1. Assume that Ambani has way more money than anyone and can conceivably buy off all the good players. But once he has an XI full of superstars, the attraction of being part of his franchise diminishes for the others. No up-and-coming star will want to be part of his team because they need the exposure more than the extra money—that is where their long-term equity lies. And established stars not guaranteed a place in the XI will also have an issue with the tradeoffs involved, because their long-term brand value can only go down, not up, if they don’t play.

2] Make the far-fetched assumption that Ambani somehow pulls it off, and his team is by far the strongest, and is thrashing everyone else. What happens? Because the matches are one-sided, the crowds lose interest, ratings fall, revenues go down, and it is no longer sustainable for Ambani to be spending those big bucks. He scales down, the players drift to other teams, and we move towards an equilibrium again.

Also, the auctions harm the players more than they help them. A franchise may be willing to pay, say, US$80,000 for a player, but the base price set for him is $100,000. So they don’t bid for him, and both the franchise and the player suffer—after all, where he could have been earning 80k, he’s earning nothing. (At this point, you might want to listen to Milton Friedman on the minimum wage. Here’s the transcript.)

And this affects the superstar players as well, who might command much higher prices than the franchises are allowed to pay. In other words, players and franchises are all made worse off by this auction system—so what’s the point of it at all?

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 January, 2010 in India | News | Politics | Sport


A Dress Code For Mannequins

The WTF statement of the day is the warning given by Chandra Shekhar, a politician in Bhopal, to local shopkeepers:

Your mannequins should wear sarees, not underwear. From now on, keep all undergarments inside. Show it to the customer when he or she asks for it. Five days from now if undergarments are still hanging outside, we will light a bonfire of the lingerie.

Yes, the culture police is protesting against the public display of lingerie now. In a country in which there are so many serious issues to tackle, this is getting surreal. But why, it must be asked, are they doing this? Is there actually a constituency that approves of this kind of behaviour?

My answer: Yes, there is. We are a country that contains around half-a-billion sexually repressed men. Many of these dudes, who don’t get the kind of action they desire, resent anything that reminds them of this. Like lingerie on mannequins. Like advertisements for coffee-flavoured condoms (another target of these thugs). Like the ubiquitous bogeyman of ‘Western Culture.’

And where there is widespread resentment, there will be a political party tapping into it. Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 January, 2010 in India | News | Politics | Small thoughts | WTF


Five Monkeys

On a mailing list I’m part of, I came across this wonderful excerpt from a book called Thinkertoys:

Imagine a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb toward the banana. As soon as he touches the stair, spray all the monkeys with ice-cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the monkeys are sprayed with ice-cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and will want to climb the stairs. To his surprise, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third monkey with new one. The new one goes to the stairs and is attacked. Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth monkeys with new ones, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with ice-cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here.

I have a feeling that this is the problem with Indian television programming and Indian newspapers. Hardly anyone thinks outside the box. And the box is old. There’s a great opportunity not being taken here because no one has courage and imagination. Pity.

*

On a related note, check out Michael Kinsley’s recent essay on what’s wrong with newspapers today. (Link via Peter Griffin.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 January, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | Small thoughts


The Free Speech Cop-Out

The Times of India reports:

In a significant ruling, a three-judge bench of the Bombay high court has held that in India criticism of any religion is permissible under the fundamental right of freedom of speech, be it Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or any other religion, and a book cannot be banned for that reason alone. But the criticism must be bona fide or academic, said the court as it upheld a ban issued in 2007 by the Maharashtra government on a book titled Islam—A Concept of Political World Invasion by Muslims.

Aah, that first line sounds so nice, gives so much hope. And then the second one makes it meaningless. Why should only “bona fide or academic” criticism be allowed? Who decides if a particular critique is “bona fide or academic”? The judges there paid lip service to free speech—and in the very next sentence, added caveats that took the ‘free’ out of it.

It could be argued, of course, that the bench merely followed a precedent already set by the framers of our constitution. They too, in Article 19 (1) (a), paid lip service to free speech. And in article 19 (2), allowed restraints on it on grounds such as “public order” and “decency and morality” that are open to interpretation, and make it easy for those in power to stifle free expression. Such it goes.

Also read: Don’t Insult Pasta.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 January, 2010 in Freedom | India | News | WTF


Is India’s National Dish…

... pork?

Hindustan Times reports:

The Bombay High Court has stayed the disbursal of Rs 1,000 crore of the taxpayers’ money — in the form of subsidy by the Maharashtra government — to distilleries that make alcohol using foodgrains.

The subsidy is applicable to 21 distilleries, many of which are controlled by politicians.

Questioning the state’s policy, the court on Wednesday asked: “What is essential commodity — foodgrains or wine?”

[...]

The beneficiaries include former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s son Amit and Nationalist Congress Party leader Govindrao Aadik.

That last line I quoted is the killer, isn’t it? What’s the point of power, a politician might argue rationally, if you can’t enjoy its spoils?

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

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 January, 2010 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


Bulls and Bears

The Sensex has just touched “a 23-month high.” This will, I have no doubt, make many investors feel bullish. And yet, that is an absolutely inappropriate response. If I had money in the stock market, I’d be bearish right now.

Call me a fool—but watch that space.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 January, 2010 in Economics | India | Small thoughts


The Lion in Winter

Much amusement comes from the news of the sex tapes that allegedly show ND Tiwari “in a compromising position with three women.” The guy is 86. I didn’t even know you could get it up at that age. What a man.

I can imagine him being confronted by the president:

Pratibha Patil: Mr Tiwari, I have seen these sex tapes of yours. Amazing. I mean, disgusting. You are a governer, how could you do this?

ND Tiwari: He he he. Is that a rhetorical question?

PP: No, I mean, yes. But tell me, why three women? That is so perverse!

NDT: Well, I was told once that I should only be sleeping with girls my age. Or, at least, not more than 20 years younger than me. And the three of them put together…

PP: Oh, you are so disgusting.

NDT: Thank you.

*

Well, Tiwari’s lost his job. Fair enough. But, as Prem Panicker tweeted, in this context,  a few hours ago:

Strange: so NDT’s bedroom antics bother us. But not the corruption? Strange sense of priorities.

Quite.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 December, 2009 in India | News | Politics


Keep Praying

The WTF statement of the day comes from Sheila Dikshit with regard to the Commonwealth Games:

I only keep praying that we won’t let the country down.

Pray?

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


Shakti Kapoor Bites Anil Kapoor

I’m assuming this is a publicity stunt. But even then, there is the question, who think of such stunts?

And while on PR, remember the khakras?

(Link via Mudra Mehta.)

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


Human Sperm and Bobilli Vijay Kumar

This is surely the sentence of the year:

My friends waved at me from the buffet counter not knowing what the human sperms did to me during those fifteen minutes.

This is Sherlyn Chopra writing about… well, I really can’t summarize on a family blog such as this what she is writing about. Read it for yourself.

Her post also contains the magnificent line, ‘A tall white hunk dressed in a black suit walked up to me.’ But just when you think this is like some nice, romantic Yashraj film, there’s a touch of Bunuel. Masterful.

*

That said, I have more respect for Sherlyn Chopra’s writing skills than Bobilli Vijay Kumar’s. This is the man who once wrote, as my friend Prem Panicker pointed out, that Raj Singh Dungarpur is the ‘uncrowned grandfather of Indian cricket’. Week after week, he writes columns that mangle metaphors, torture idioms, and in general try too hard to show his mastery of the language. But just when you thought you’d seen it all, he comes up with this gem:

Tiger Woods is finally realising that life is not always a bed of roses. He has slept in so many, anyway, that he would have known that a prickly one was just a birdie away.

However, even in his wildest dreams (and as we know now he does have wild dreams, even if you don’t count kinky sex or foursomes), he wouldn’t have expected that he would end paying such a heavy price. Will he really need to put away his club to save the marriage?

Tiger is, of course, not the first person to fish in muddied waters; nor will he be the last high-profile athlete to play the field so well. The only reason he has become the butt of all jokes is because, ironically, he is Tiger Woods.

Mind you, this is the sports editor of the Times of India writing. When his reporters write like this, he probably pats them on the back proudly instead of making them stand in a murga pose outside the ToI office for six hours, which is the only apt punishment.

Oh wait… (via Prem, again.)

*

And I must say here that I’ve known both Bobilli and Shriniwas during my years in cricket journalism, and they’re both nice guys. But they really need to stop messing with the language like this.

I must also say that I don’t know Sherlyn personally. But FSM bless her, because I read her post after reading Bobilli’s, and the laughter lessened the pain.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 December, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Journalism | Media | Sport | WTF


Dear P Chidambaram

Dear P Chidambaram

A newspaper report today states that you are willing “to drop all cases against Telangana activists booked since November 29.” Many of these ‘activists’ were booked for rioting and damaging public and private property. Now, for political purposes, you wish to drop charges.

I don’t get it. For the rule of law to mean anything, surely the law must take its course. Even you, as the home minister, cannot be above the constitution. How then can you justify this move?

I’m not even getting into the bad precedent set by your succumbing to blackmail and gundagardi. Already the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has announced “an indefinite hunger strike.” Who knows where this will end?

Regards

Amit Varma

*

More open letters here. Also read: “Mobs are Above the Law.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 December, 2009 in India | Letters | News | Politics | WTF


All Work Will be Confidential

If you go to Vile Parle station, you will come across the following sign stuck between two ticket windows:

image

There is much to admire here, but I am particularly intrigued by “mobile bill queries.” Imagine the following scenario: A wife notices a suspicious number on her husband’s mobile bill. She hands it over to Prakash and Sunil to investigate who the number belongs to. Prakash delegates the job to Sunil, who calls up the number and says, ‘Madam, you have won a free Videocon Washing Machine! Please give me your name and address and I shall send it to you.’ The name and address is duly handed over to the client, who discovers that hubby dearest has been surreptitiously calling his mother.

One week later, the mother calls up Sunil and says, ‘Ok, where the fug is my washing machine? I fired the maid because you told me I’d get a free washing machine.’

The maid, meanwhile, is sitting with Prakash in a seedy cafe. She asks him, ‘Do you mean everything you say, my love? Can I really trust you?’ Prakash smiles. ‘Of course I do, dear. Why don’t you hire a private detective to find out all about me. He he he.’

(Picture via Mudra Mehta, who graciously blanked out Prakash and Sunil’s numbers so that they aren’t swamped with queries. You lot are a sordid bunch, I know.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 December, 2009 in Dialogue | India | Miscellaneous


‘They Did Not Have Any Purdahs Inside Their Body’

As I blogged a few days ago, the TED Talk at TED India that most moved me was by a lady named Sunitha Krishnan, about trafficking and sex slavery. That talk is now online. Watch:

Also, check out this follow-up interview with Krishnan.

*

When Krishnan’s talk was over, and the standing ovation subsided, a woman in the audience stood up and said that she would donate US$10,000 to Krishnan’s organisation if ten other people would make the same commitment. Within moments, 10 other hands were raised. These weren’t empty promises. Krishnan says in her interview that she has received around US$200,000 so far, but because she “did not bribe an income tax official”, has been asked to pay taxes of around half that amount. Go figure.

*

Also, here’s Sunitha Krishnan’s blog.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 December, 2009 in Freedom | India


Bald and Toothless

Mumbai Mirror reports:

When Byculla girl Afasha Sheikh first met her fiancé Abdullah Sayed, it didn’t take her long to agree to the marriage. By all accounts Sayed was a good catch-he was young, with average if unexceptional looks and to boot, he was an NRI who worked with Emirates Airlines.

But the image of her groom unravelled-quite literally-on the wedding night. As Afasha, 25, waited with breathless anxiety turn to and anticipation, she saw her husband leisurely sit on the bed and proceed to take off his wig and then to her utter horror, his dentures.

Confronted with this metamorphosis, she did a quick transformation herself from coy bride to avenging angel: she packed her bags and then lodged a complaint against Sayed for cheating and impersonation.

This story seems incomplete to me. What should have happened is this: after Sayed takes off his dentures, Afasha should stand up, shocked, ready to storm out. Then Sayed says, through his toothless mouth, “Wait, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

He takes off one arm and puts it on the table. Then he takes of his legs and folds them away. Finally, with his only functioning limb, he removes his head and puts it on the bed. Then his head says:

“What are you so pissed about? From this whole damn planet, I picked you. You should be so proud.”

*

No, but really, this right here is the story of all relationships. We can never completely know another human being—and whenever we go into a relationship, we generally do so with an idealised version of this person in our heads. Our expectations are based, out of necessity, on a sort of fiction. And generally, as new facts come to light, we fit them into the narrative in our heads, and we get by. Most people, in terms of what their new romantic partners know about them, are far worse than bald and toothless. Afasha is shocked because these revelations came upon her so suddenly. Poor girl.

And also, stupid girl. Marriage is a huge commitment, and it’s foolish to get married without knowing your partner well enough. Would you buy a new car without taking it for a test drive? Isn’t marriage a far bigger deal than a new car? Does it make any damn sense to get married to someone without living with that person for a year or two first, giving it a spin to see if it can work?

Of course it doesn’t. But people do it nevertheless, and then expect others to feel sorry for them when it doesn’t work out. Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 December, 2009 in India | News | Small thoughts


Censors and Psychotics

Here’s David Cronenberg, in Cronenberg on Cronenberg, talking about censorship:

When I had to deal with the Toronto Censor Board over The Brood, the experience was so unexpectedly personal and intimate, it really shocked me; pain, anguish, the sense of humiliation, degradation, violation. Now I do have a conditioned reflex! I can only explain the feeling by analogy. You send your beautiful kid to school and he comes back with one hand missing. Just a bandaged stump. You phone the school and they say that they really thought, all things considered, the child would be more socially acceptable without that hand, which was a rather naughty hand. Everyone was better off with it removed. It was for everyone’s good. That’s exactly how it felt to me.

Censors tend to do what only psychotics do: they confuse reality with illusion. People worry about the effects on children of two thousand acts of murder on TV every half hour. You have to point out that they have seen a representation of murder. They have not seen murder. It’s the real stumbling-block.

Charles Manson found a message in a Beatles song that told him what he must do and why he must kill. Suppressing everything one might think of as potentially dangerous, explosive or provocative would not prevent a true psychotic from finding something that will trigger his own particular psychosis. For those of us who are normal, and who understand the difference between reality and fantasy, play, illusion—as most children most readily do—there is enough distance and balance. It’s innate.

Besides the consequentialist argument, there’s the small matter of censorship being morally wrong. But leave that aside. In times like these, when images of sex and violence are practically ubiquitous, censorship fails even in its own aims. Indeed, in another couple of decades, it will be as impotent as it is redundant. Censor boards will still continue to exist, of course, like the telegram-wallahs who ring the bell every Diwali to ask for bakshish. Such it goes.

*

And really, all actors or filmmakers or artists of any kind who have ever been part of a censor board should be ashamed of themselves. Check out the disgraceful Sharmila Tagore, head of India’s censor board, talking about how she believes that “censorship must go. But I firmly believe the time hasn’t come yet for India.” Such condescension.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 December, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Freedom | India


We Are All Bhopalis

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the tragedy in Bhopal. My friend Peter Griffin has a post on this subject that I urge you to read. Also, check out the blog he’s started on this subject, I’m a Bhopali. Here’s the Facebook page.

I was also moved by Lekhni’s post, “Remembering Bhopal, and trying to forget.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 December, 2009 in India


Fasting Unto Death

Mahatma Gandhi’s use of this particular tactic might have sanctified it, but in my opinion, threatening to fast unto death until your demand is met is a crude form of blackmail. Take K Chandrasekhar Rao, for example, the president of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, who recently announced that he would fast until he was given a separate Telengana state. In a democracy, there are constitutional ways to raise such issues—fasting unto death is just crude blackmail, and one that the state should not give in to. Rao was administered saline forcibly at a government hospital, an action that I consider a violation of his rights. If the man wants to fast unto death, let him fast unto death. It’s his life, his choice.

The TRS isn’t just about blackmail, of course—they’re also using standard political gundagardi. I find it delightfully ironical that after Rao broke his fast by having orange juice for health reasons, the “students who had attacked policemen and public and private property for two days to support Mr Rao did not take kindly to this sudden decision.” They might have suspected that Rao was not sufficiently dedicated to their cause, to which I’d respond that no politician is devoted to any cause other than himself. That’s human nature. Orange juice zindabad.

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 December, 2009 in India | News | Politics | Small thoughts


Casinos and Temples

PTI reports on an interesting little controversy in Goa, where some police officers visited an offshore casino. This drew criticism, and Goa’s police chief BS Bassi duly defended his men:

Offshore casinos are not illegal here. What is the problem with police officers going to offshore casinos when they are not on duty? Many people go to temples, churches, on fishing trips…

As you’d expect, the religious loons jumped on Bassi, whose statement “drew strong criticism from officials of churches, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the main opposition BJP.”

“I was very much shocked to see the statement coming from a person who is supposed to be the guardian of law and order,” Father Francisco Caldeira, director of the Diocesan Centre for Social Communications Media of the archdiocese of Goa and Daman, said. “It is a blasphemous statement to compare casino with temples and churches.” He said that Bassi does not understand what religion is and what casino is.

I agree with Caldeira that comparing a casino to a temple or a church is pointless. But I come to that view from a different perspective.

Consider this: In a casino, a gambler looks at the odds available to him, figures out the amount of risk he is willing to take, and makes his investments accordingly. He takes his chances; and takes responsibility for the consequences. That is the stuff of life itself.

In a temple or a church or any other place of worship, on the other hand, the worshipper engages in an escapist fantasy, that there is a greater power out there that can solve his problems. He nurtures delusion and often avoids responsibility. He tries to evade the inescapable truths of the human condition: especially our mortality and ultimate helplessness. He is living a fantasy.

Which man would I trust more: the gambling man or the religious man? (FSM forbid they are the same man, for then he is truly fucked.) You know my answer.

*

On a tangent, not every game in a casino is a game of chance. Poker, for example, is a magnificent game of skill—even more so, in my opinion, than bridge.  It requires not just a mathematical ability to work out odds and suchlike, but also the ability to read human nature. I was a competitive chess player in my youth, but I consider poker a far greater game. In chess, there is always a right answer, and it is always on the board in front of you. In poker, the variables that determine the right way to act are the people in the game with you, and not just the cards on the table. This makes it a far richer game than any I have played.

*

On another tangent, every decision we make in our lives is essentially a gamble. There is some risk involved, a subconscious weighing of odds, a decision taken. From an investment at the stock market to a real estate purchase to the decision to ask someone out on a date to taking the stairs instead of the elevator. There are different levels of risk attached to each of these, but fundamentally, whenever we make a choice, we are gambling. The world is a casino.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 November, 2009 in India | News | Small thoughts


Where Your Taxes Go: 44

On paying the salaries of 22,800 fake employees of the Delhi municipality.

That’s right: it’s been discovered that 22,800 of the 127,094 employees on the rolls of the municipal corporation of Delhi do not exist. These non-existent employees get a salary of Rs 17 crore per month. Guess who pays their salary.

There’s an ecosystem of ghosts out there that you and I are funding. At night, while the city sleeps, they get to work. They deliver mail that was never sent, sweep streets that were never paved, file applications that will never be read. When morning comes they’re gone, giving way to a government that is not much better.

(For more on how our government loots us, click here.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 November, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | WTF


Complicity—and a Bond

Yesterday, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, I read a short story by Julian Barnes on my e71 in which I rather liked the following paragraph:

I used the word “complicity” a bit ago. I like the word. To me, it indicates an unspoken understanding between two people, a kind of pre-sense, if you like. The first hint that you may be suited, before the nervous trudgery of finding out whether you “share the same interests,” or have the same metabolism, or are sexually compatible, or both want children, or however it is that we argue consciously about our unconscious decisions. Later, looking back, we will fetishize and celebrate the first date, the first kiss, the first holiday together, but what really counts is what happened before this public story: that moment, more of pulse than of thought, which goes, Yes, perhaps her, and Yes, perhaps him.

As I read, an incoming SMS made my phone beep. I ignored it till I finished the story, and then I opened the SMS that I reproduce for you here:

From VM 53131

Will your Friendship turn into Love? To know the answer Sms BOND (Ur Friends Name) to 53131 e.g. BOND RANI. Rs.3/Sms

Isn’t it just horrible that more people read VM 53131 than Barnes?

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 November, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India


A Bad Name For The Family

The Times of India has a news report up about a 12-year-old-girl raped in a moving car. This happened in Palam, near the IGI airport in Delhi, where this seventh-standard girl was taken for a drive by her neighbours. “The car had tinted dark windows and I couldn’t see anything,” the girl said. She was raped by both men. A senior cop has been quoted as saying, “The accused threatened the girl not to report the matter to the police.”

And then:

The girl, however, recounted her ordeal to her parents who landed up at the Palam Village police station to lodge a case. The police initially refused to treat the complaint seriously as “that would bring a bad name to the family”, said the girl’s father, who works as a clerk in a private firm. [...]

It was not until the media intervened and senior officials were sounded that the arrests were carried out.

In an earlier post on a similar subject, I wrote that “our cops are generally an apathetic lot” and that they weren’t too responsive to people who weren’t “well heeled or well connected.” I then received disapproving emails from people, presumably connected to the internet, obviously writing in English, who insisted that from their personal experience, this was not so. The police had always helped them out. Well, duh.

Let me reiterate: for the vast majority of people in this country, the rule of law is notional. If you live in a slum and your rights are infringed by some local gangster, you’d have to be damn lucky to get any kind of justice. This is especially true for women. Indeed, out of the context of this particular case, imagine how hard it would be to be a single mother in a slum bringing up a couple of daughters. Think of the daily stress.

And think of the bad name your family could get.

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 November, 2009 in India | News


Solid Waste Management

This is quite the quote of the day:

The accidents are not my responsibility as I am not in charge of solid waste management.

Here’s the context.

I’m not trying to make a point here—the quote, by itself, just seems to capture something of our zeitgeist. Doesn’t it?

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 November, 2009 in India | News | Small thoughts


Where Your Taxes Go: 43

On doing up BS Yeddyurappa’s home. The Times of India reports:

An RTI reply has revealed that Yeddyurappa has [...] spent a staggering Rs 1.7 crore to renovate his bungalow, Rs 35 lakh of which went into redoing his bedroom. [...] Renovation and fittings of the master bedroom cost Rs 34.55 lakh. This includes toilet works and interiors at Rs 10 lakh, marble flooring at Rs 10 lakh, a false ceiling and wall designs at Rs 4.40 lakh and Rs 10.15 lakh for gypsum board and wall panelling.

Since that’s our money, that’s our bedroom, and we should all be allowed access. How would you like to spend a night in Yeddyurappa’s bed? I’m sure he has silk sheets.

Somewhere, though, Mayawati is snortling.

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

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 November, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics


Naxalism and the Jagannath Turtle

Reuters reports:

Hundreds of poor Hindu villagers in eastern India have refused to hand over a rare turtle to authorities, saying it is an incarnation of God, officials said on Tuesday.

Villagers chanting hymns and carrying garlands, bowls of rice and fruits are pouring in from remote villages to a temple in Kendrapara, a coastal district in eastern Orissa state.

[...]

“Lord Jagannath has visited our village in the form of a turtle. We will not allow anybody to take the turtle away,” said Ramesh Mishra, a priest of the temple.

Ok, my question to you: What does the Jagannath Turtle have in common with Naxalism?

Answer: They are both indicators of the fucked-up lives of so many of the people of rural India. There is no development, there is little chance of upward mobility, there is often no law and order. Their lives are so screwed that they actually derive hope from a turtle that they think is Lord Jagannath. How sad is that?

And Naxalism is born in that same well of despair and anger.

Needless to say, the state of these people justifies neither Naxalism (or Maoism, or whatever you want to call it) or such stupid superstition. Anyone who resorts to the kind of violence the Maoists have taken up must be crushed. Equally, a belief that a turtle is a reincarnation of a deity should be given no respect whatsoever. (Leave the turtle aside, anyone who believes in a deity to begin with… never mind.)

But while we crush the Naxalites and go WTF over the turtle worship, it makes sense to remember why people give in to such madness. It is because of how abject their lives are. And if we don’t sort that out, we’ll have more batches of Naxalites after this one is dealt with, and more turtle gods. (A leech deity makes much more symbolic sense, actually.) There’s no point boasting of our ‘soft power’ and our IT revolution while 60% of the population survives on agriculture. (The figure in developed countries is around 5%.) It’s like showing off a gym-toned body with much muscle while there’s a cancer in the liver and a farm of worms in the intestines. That’s fool’s vanity.

No?

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 November, 2009 in Economics | India | Politics | Small thoughts


Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again

image

Where there is tragedy, art follows. 9/11 sparked off much post-9/11 art and literature, as it changed the way many artists viewed the world. 26/11 may not seem that big a deal for India, but it did affect many of us in Mumbai quite deeply. The partner, Jasmine Shah Varma, who is an art curator, decided last year to explore how different artists would react to it. She got in touch with 13 artists she admired and asked them to contribute to an exhibition she was putting together—the one line theme she gave them: “Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again.”

The exhibition opened at the Hirjee Gallery (on the first floor of Jehangir Art Gallery) on Tuesday, and runs until November 16. The work on display is fascinating. Some of the artists have engaged directly with 26/11, while others have explored broader concerns sparked by the central theme of the show. You can check out some of the work here; and here are a couple of media reports about the show: 1, 2. And here’s the Facebook page.

image

The work is much more powerful than these photographs indicate, so I suggest that if you happen to be in South Bombay, drop in and check out the work. The image at the start of this post is a stunning 45” by 77” work called “LoveToLive” by Pradeep Mishra, while the painting above is “Mock Practice” by Prasanta Sahu, and the one below is “In Transit - 5” by Malvika Andrew. But there’s a lot else that’s worth seeing.

image

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 November, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India


Mohan Bhagwat and the Political Marketplace

In a column in The Hindustan Times, Pankaj Vohra writes that Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the RSS, is making sure that the next leader of the BJP sticks to the RSS’s agenda. Vohra writes that “the RSS wants the BJP to return to its basic ideology,” and is “keen that a younger leader who works closely with the Sangh to further its ideology heads the party.”

What Bhagwat doesn’t get is that unlike the RSS, which doesn’t stand for elections or care about validation from anywhere other than its internal echo chambers, the BJP doesn’t function in a vacuum. The BJP is (like, duh) a political party. It is part of a political marketplace where its survival depends on getting the support of the people. Judging by recent events, voters across the country have rejected Hindutva. Indeed, most people seem to intuitively understand that Hindutva, a dangerous, divisive ideology, is not equal to Hinduism, an open-source religion.

What the BJP needs to do to survive, thus, is figure out gaps in the marketplace and cater to those needs. The Hindutva card only works for an increasingly small niche—and even in that virulent, nationalistic niche, there are local competitors everywhere, like the MNS and Pramod Muthalik’s goons.

What should their new direction be? I have no idea. I’d personally love to see them transformed into a secular-right party, but I don’t think that would work in the political marketplace either. Politics in India is mostly identity politics, and ideas have little place in it. Also, all politics is local, and the BJP would perhaps be best served by encouraging internal democracy and more importance on grassroots social work rather than elitist baithaks to discuss grand ideas. The question of who should be the next leader of the BJP should be a no-brainer: let the party workers decide that through secret ballot.

*

Bhagwat would no doubt argue that the BJP lost because their Hindutva wasn’t pure enough, and they should now get back to the basics. That is rubbish. In people’s minds, the BJP brand stands for just one thing—Hindutva. And that isn’t working any more. Smell the coffee, guys—and while you’re at it, please also ditch those embarrassing half-pants. Really, WTF?

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 November, 2009 in India | Politics


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