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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

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.

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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


Third-Party Dynamism

Ross Douthat, in an excellent piece in The New York Times, argues that America needs more third-party dynamism, particularly at the local level. During his argument, he writes:

Imagine if California’s famously polarized legislature included several smaller parties — Libertarians, Socialists, Social Conservatives — capable of forming coalitions with either the left or the right, so that every budgetary debate didn’t pit a bloated Democratic majority against an intransigent Republican rump.

I have just one word for Douthat: India. Sometimes a dynamic political marketplace leads to less things getting done, not more, negating the benefits of less polarisation. The UPA’s last term at the center, especially when they still depended on the support of the Left Front to stay in power, is a classic case of how a splintered parliament can lead to a logjam. Given human nature, there is no reason why a similarly fractured legislature would work better anywhere.

That minor quibble aside, I agree with Douthat’s argument—especially with regard to more local parties fulfilling “the promise of federalism.”

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It might seem that India’s politics is much more dynamic than America’s, with so many local parties in action, but that is a bit of an illusion. India’s parties are mostly feudal and/or undemocratic, ruled by a small elite. The Democrats and the Republicans, on the other hand, have vibrant inner-party democracy, with much lower entry barriers for new politicians. (Case in point: Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency. Can any Indian who is not part of a political family rise so fast in our system?) It is common for a successful professional in the USA, say a lawyer or an MBA, to switch to a career in politics. In India, politics has become so dirty that an Indian Obama would never contemplate moving to politics to begin with.

And yes, that renders that common talk-show question from a few months ago, ‘Who is India’s Obama?’, completely moot.

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 November, 2009 in India | Politics


Capital Gains

Ashok Malik writes in The Hindustan Times that the BJP has hurt itself by chasing “straightforward capital gains” in a few states. He is right—but this is true of all parties in all states. People join the pursuit of power because they want the spoils of power. I would wager that not a single prominent politician in the country today gives a damn about public service.

This is not a problem by itself. We are all driven by self-interest, and that’s worked well for us. Human progress is based on individuals serving the needs of others for their own profit. In politics, this would work just fine if we held our politicians accountable for not serving us.

Sadly, in India we have retained the feudal mindset that our governments are there to rule us, not to serve us. With our apathy, we allow them to loot us—for their capital gains are really our capital to begin with. Our political parties are nothing more than competing mafia clans. If the BJP is down right now, it’s not because they are crooked, but because they’re not as smart as the other crooked players in the game. Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 October, 2009 in Economics | India | Politics | Small thoughts


Caveat Emptor

It seems that Elesh Parujanwala, the ‘winner’ of Rakhi Ka Swayamwar, is “deeply hurt and angered” by the things his supposed fiance, Rakhi Sawant, has been saying about him. Among other things, he feels her comments about him not being rich enough were “stupid and unnecessary”. Quite.

In other news, we are told that nine female inmates of the Bhopal Central Jail have applied to take part in Rahul Dulhania Le Jaayega. Amazingly, 16746 other women are also keen to marry Rahul Mahajan. WTF indeed.

To all these ladies, I’d like to offer the advice Elesh should have gotten before he embarked on his adventure: Don’t. Crib. Later.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | WTF


Jagdish Tytler Writes In

Earlier today, in reference to this old post of mine, Jagdish Tytler wrote to me:

Dear Amit,

The news is incorrect and giving wrong information to the public. Congress never dropped me, I myself stepped down. Kindly make correction because incorrect information can do lot of damage to my reputation.

Journalism should always be backed by evidence. You can even ask the Party president Mrs. Sonia Gandhi about your article and even she will be surprised.

I hope you will understand my concern and will communicate with me in case you want any proof of my non-involvement in 1984 riots.

Regards,

Jagdish Tytler

Intrigued by the last line, I wrote back and asked for the proof he offered. His response:

Dear Amit,

First I will reply about 1984, I have published quite a few proofs in my own website and blog regarding the conspiracy and concocted stories against me. Kindly go through them and feel free to ask for other documents. I hope you will publish those too.

My websites and blogs:
www.jagdishtytler.com
http://jagdish-tytler.blogspot.com
http://jagdish-tytler-the-truth.blogspot.com

Now coming back to the second issue that is either I have withdrawn myself or party told me to step down, I have never got any official order from the party to step down. It was my own decision because I was upset the way opposition tried to use me as scapegoat in order to target my party. Like I did before, I stepped down from union minister post myself, I did this time too. You can find my letter to the PM in one of my blogs.

I hope, you will change the headline of the article and will also make some adjustments in the article so that people can get the true information.

With warm regards,

Jadgish Tytler

Both these letters are published here with Mr Tytler’s permission, and I leave it to my readers to browse through the links he has offered and make up their own minds. My original post on the subject was written on the basis of reports such as this one. I shall update that post to direct readers to this one, so they can read Mr Tytler’s clarification.

For what it’s worth, my comment on the Congress remains the same: If the party believes Mr Tytler to be guilty, it should never have made him a candidate in the first place; and if it believes him to be innocent, it should have stood by him through that crisis.

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


Patient Needs Surgery, Says Pathogen

This is hilarious.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 October, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


‘The Epics are For Everyone’

So says Amitava Kumar in his Rave Out of Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues.

The wonderful thing about our epics is how open-source they are. Over the centuries, people have been free to remix them and interpret them as they like. Indeed, Hinduism itself has been open-source, to the extent that you can be an atheist and still be a Hindu. Pwnage, no?

Sadly, in recent times, pseudo-fundamentalist forces have tried to reshape Hinduism as a static, puritanical religion—the same kind of people who protest at Paley’s film, and who object to all kinds of things in the name of Hinduism. They have been strident and militant, and their claims to standing for Hinduism are taken more and more seriously because the counter-claims are too muted. Indeed, the finest counter to the likes of the BJP and the RSS is perhaps not from a standpoint of liberalism or secularism or anything like that, but from a standpoint of Hinduism itself. The intolerance of Hindutva is anti-Hindu—that is a potent case to make, because it strikes at their very raison d’etre.

Having said that, if recent election results are anything to go by, most people get that intuitively anyway.

In related reading, check out this superb interview of Wendy Doniger, on similar lines to the subject of this post. And also my friend Prem Panicker‘s Bhimsen (pdf link), a retelling of the Mahabharata from Bhim’s point of view.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | Small thoughts


Dear Bal Thackeray

Dear Bal Thackeray

I read your diatribe against “the Marathi manoos” yesterday with great interest. I have two points to make:

One: You say that the Marathi manoos stabbed you in the back. You are wrong. They stabbed you in the front. Could the election results be any clearer?

Two: Has it ever struck you how limiting the term ‘Marathi manoos’ is? There are many markers of identity for a Maharashtrian person, and Marathiness is just one of them. A Marathi person could also be a cosmopolitan Indian, a secular humanist, a death-metal fan and an India Uncut reader. We all contain multitudes. By trying to reduce people to just one of these, or by insisting on its primacy, you insult them. You might be hurt that so many Marathi people have not voted for you—but I am surprised that so many have.

That said, even if your party has lost ground, your brand of politics is still alive and kicking. Many of the manoos who stabbed you in the front went and embraced your nephew Raj, who is a true heir to the Shiv Sena’s divisive legacy. Congratulations.

Regards

Amit Varma

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More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 October, 2009 in India | Letters | News | Politics


Bad Vibrations

The WTF sentence of the day is a classic case of trying too damn hard. Mumbai Mirror, while reporting how Sanjay Leela Kempinski lost his temper of the sets of a film he’s shooting, tells us:

On seeing Bhansali’s fit of rage, the entire unit trembled with fright.

The entire unit trembled with fright? That must have been quite a sight. Really, now, is it asking too much to actually sit back and read one’s copy after it has been written?

And don’t get me started on that headline.

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


Dear Kapil Sibal

Dear Mr Sibal

I have always thought that the IITs are the glowing successes of India’s educational system. Equally, I believe that the regular schooling system, including the Class X and Class XII boards, are #FAIL.

That is why I am rather surprised at your ministry’s proposal that it be mandatory for IIT entrants to score at least 80% in their Class XII board exams. They already have to work hard enough for the JEE, which seems to have served its purpose for generations now. Why add to their stress?

It’s been reported that your reason for doing this is “to squeeze out the hundreds of coaching institutes who thrive by selling hope to unrealistic aspirants.” But why do those coaching institutes exist in the first place? It is because students find the existing education system to be inadequate. So why not fix that first? The coaching institutes won’t have a reason to exist then.

You must have heard of that old cliché, If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Mr Sibal, what you’re trying to fix ain’t broken. Yet.

Regards

Amit Varma

*

More open letters here. And some essays by me on our education system:

Our Unlucky Children.
Fund Schooling, Not Schools.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 October, 2009 in India | Letters | News | Politics


Jackwa aur Jillwa

I’ve been tweeting on and off about Bigg Boss 3, which I’m totally hooked to, and for those of you still immune to its charms, I present a clip that might persuade you to give it a shot. Check out Raju Srivastava’s magnificent Bhojpuri version of “Jack and Jill”—it starts at about 3:20 in the video below:

Raju is totally my favourite to win Bigg Boss this season. Did you see him with Sher Chops in the pool the other day?

Update: And ah, here’s how NDTV would report the whole Jack & Jill episode. Marvellous.

(Via @calamur.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India


Those Magnificent Men In Their Driving Machines

Mid Day reports:

Three men holding key positions in one of India’s biggest private sector companies were on their way to a party at their boss’s swanky Cuffe Parade home, when driver Goverdhan Vaidya, who is in his mid fifties, suffered a cardiac arrest.

The men asked him to stop the car, which was at Cooperage, helped him out and sat him down on the pavement.

Then, they got back in the car and drove off to the party, leaving a breathless Vaidya holding his chest in excruciating pain.

Luckily, a passerby took Vaidya to hospital and he was saved. But here’s my question: nowhere in Mid Day’s article are the names of the three men in the car mentioned, or of the company they work for. Why?

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 October, 2009 in India | Journalism | Media | News | WTF


Progress

Here’s the difference between a backward country and a developed country. In a backward country, kids skip meals because they don’t have a choice. In a developed country, kids skip meals out of choice.

India, for what it’s worth, is both these countries. Just yesterday, a friend was telling me about how weight-conscious his school-going niece has become because of peer pressure. Their maidservant’s kid, I could bet, is the weight she aspires to be—by default. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

(NYT link via email from Sunil Laxman.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 October, 2009 in India | Small thoughts


Uddhav Thackeray Shoots a Tiger

It’s hard to capture the essence of a man in just one sentence, but Aakar Patel does just that for Uddhav Thackeray here:

There’s a terrific picture of him shooting close-ups of a tiger that his chamchas are holding down with ropes.

Aakar’s piece is about Bal Thackeray, whom he’s going to miss because the guy provided entertainment. Okay.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 October, 2009 in India | Politics


Murder? None Of Our Business

Remember my recent post about how cops in Delhi argued over jurisdiction while a woman was being gang-raped? How do you satirize something like that? Here’s one way: You have a man walk into a police station and confess to murdering his wife—only to be turned away by the police, and directed to go to another police station, because the scene of the crime does not come under their jurisdiction.

Wait—is that too unbelievable?

You know what I’m getting at. It really happened.

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


The Englishman’s Cameo

All India Uncut readers are hereby invited to the Mumbai launch of The Englishman’s Cameo, Madhulika Liddle’s debut novel. I will be in conversation with the author. Details:

Event: Launch of The Englishman’s Cameo by Madhulika Liddle.
More: Liddle will read from her book and then be in conversation with Amit Varma, followed by audience Q&A.
And?: And high tea after that.
Ooh! Venue?: Oxford Bookstore, 3, Dinshaw Vachha Road, Mumbai.
When is this?: 6.30 to 7.30pm, Saturday, October 10.

The Facebook page for the event is here; and here’s the Facebook page for the book.

Regardless of whether you can make it for the event, I recommend you check out the book. It’s being slotted as “a Mughal murder mystery”, and is set in 1656, in Shahjahan’s Delhi.
It is wonderfully evocative, and makes you feel you’re actually in that time and place: during a break from reading the book, I found myself reaching for the paandaan, reminding myself not to stain my choga this time. More importantly, it’s a wonderful read, and hard to put down once you’ve started.

It stars Muzaffar Jang, a maverick minor nobleman of Shahjahan’s court who unwittingly begins to do detective work when one of his friends is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. One thing leads to another, more murders take place, and a minor character, bemused by Muzaffar’s passion for the strange bitter brew called coffee, hits upon the idea of diluting it with milk. It’s terrific fun, and I hope it’s just the first of a series.

Anyway, be there, meet the author, ask her questions, get the book signed by her, and have high tea. And just think, later you can act all snobbish and tell your friends that you went to a literary launch. Much pomposity is possible!

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Personal


Dear Rahul Gandhi

Dear Rahul Gandhi

You have been quoted today as saying that you don’t believe in caste. Bravo. That is a position I applaud.

May I then assume that you don’t believe in reservations also? After all, by discriminating on the basis of caste, reservations perpetuate the same kind of divisive thinking that the caste system did. They don’t solve the problem—they make it worse.

Regards

Amit Varma

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Link via @iyerdeepak. More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 October, 2009 in Freedom | India | Letters | Politics | Small thoughts


A Dispute Over Jurisdiction

DNA has a story today about an incident that took place last evening in Delhi. At about 8.30pm, two teachers, a man and a woman, stepped out of a computer training institute in Sultanpuri in West Delhi. Three ruffians started eve-teasing harassing the woman. The man with her, named Prakash, protested, and got beaten up. And the woman was dragged away. Here’s the next line of the news report:

Although Prakash was quick to alert the police, tracing the victim took time because of a dispute over jurisdiction between officers of Nangloi and Sultanpuri police stations. When finally the girl was found, it was too late. She was lying near the tracks in a bruised condition.

Naturally, she had been gang-raped. All while the cops were busy in “a dispute over jurisdiction”.

This is hardly an unusual story. Such petty bureaucracy is common in India, and our cops are generally an apathetic lot. Indeed, if you’re not well heeled or well connected, you’d be lucky getting any help from them at all. They are tenured and unaccountable, and I guarantee you that no action will be taken against the policemen who argued about technicalities yesterday while a woman was being raped down by the railway tracks.

So why would they care?

Update: I’ve replaced the phrase ‘eve-teasing’ in the post with ‘harassing’ because of the following email I received from my friend Nilanjana Roy (quoted with permission):

I’m not usually an advocate of politically correct speech, but shouldn’t we reconsider using terms like eve-teasing? I know we all do, this is India, but I have hated that term for years for its inaccuracy. Having been at the receiving end of “eve-teasing”, I’d say it’s a combination of verbal abuse and physical assault, and that even “molestation” doesn’t cover the actual effects that kind of aggression has on the victim. “Harassing”, “threatening” or “assaulting” might be better equivalents.

Dead right. We use the term out of habit, but it’s imprecise—and I’m hardly surprised that a lit critic was the one to point out this imprecision to me! Another word I can think of that gives an innocuous tinge to a major social problem: ‘Ragging’.

Update 2: Thanks to Twitter, I’ve discovered that the “dispute over jurisdiction” was actually against the rules. @gkjohn’s query about this was answered by @mumbaicentral thus: (1, 2):

1. ... one Police Station can go wherever it wants to nab a suspect. Here any PS could have lodged FIR and caught the guys.

2. 5(c), FIR Format “In case occurrence outside limit of this PS”. Such situations have been envisaged: these guys were just assholes.

So there you have it.

And Twitter rocks. You guys following me yet?

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 October, 2009 in India | News


“When Hands Are To Be Used Differently”

Barkha Dutt tweets that she thinks Uddhav Thackeray is trying to refashion the Shiv Sena. Perhaps she is being misled by his cultured way of talking, because this recent interview of his does not indicate that his vision for the Sena is any different from his dad’s. Consider, in particular, this bit:

Mid Day: Has MNS hijacked Sena’s aggressive, street-smart agenda?

Uddhav: Sena believes where one needs to be aggressive, one must be aggressive. Where we need to request with folded hands, we will. When hands are to be used differently, we will use them differently.

That, of course, renders the folded hands pointless in the first place. It’s like saying, Please do as I say—or my thugs will thrash you and trash your office. Why even bother with the polite facade then?

Later in the interview, we discover Uddhav’s fondness for Boney M. One more reason not to vote for him.

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


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

image

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.)

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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.)

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


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