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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.


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And ah, my posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.


Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Category Archives: Letters

Dear Shah Rukh Khan

Dear Shah Rukh Khan

A recent tweet of yours recycles Pascal’s Wager as a joke. I would urge you to read this response to it. And this one.

You might say in reply that hey, you pray, and consequently many good things have happened to you. But the causation is flawed. Your success is a combination of luck and hard work—as all success is. Other people also pray as much as you, and have achieved nowhere near your level of success. Indeed, poor people probably pray more than rich dudes. But if there is a god, she clearly doesn’t believe in bribery and ass-licking.

Regards

Amit Varma

*

Link via a tweet from @Twivani. More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 January, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Letters


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


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

*

More open letters here.

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


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


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

*

Link via @iyerdeepak. More open letters here.

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


Dear VS Ugrappa

Dear VS Ugrappa

Deccan Herald reports that, in your capacity as leader of the Opposition in Karnataka’s Legislative Council, you have demanded that the government provides you with a Nissan X-Trail car for your use, which will cost the taxpayers Rs 25 lakhs. To justify this demand, you have said: “All I want is a diesel car which gives maximum mileage so that I can save on fuel.”

Sir, I applaud your sentiment, and I have a suggestion for you: ask for a Tata Indica instead. Diesel is there, and mileage is better.

Regards

Amit Varma

*

Link via email from Sreekanth Menon. More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 June, 2009 in India | Letters | News | Politics | WTF


Dear Priyanka Gandhi

Dear Priyanka Gandhi

You have been quoted as saying today, “My brother is a capable and responsible representative of Congress and has every qualification of becoming the prime minister.”

Besides the family name, what other qualification does he have? Much curiosity comes.

Regards

Amit Varma

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More open letters here. Also see: The Nehru-Gandhi legacy of shame.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 April, 2009 in India | Letters | News | Politics | WTF


Dear Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan

Dear Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan

BBC reports that you have recently called on women in Saudi Arabia to “wear a full veil, or niqab, that reveals only one eye.” You say that “showing both eyes encourage[s] women to use eye make-up to look seductive.”

I believe, sir, that showing only one eye will make matters worse. You see, whenever a woman and a man are together and the woman blinks, the man might think that she is winking. Is the hidden eye open or closed? If it is assumed to be normally open, then a momentary closing of the visible eye could be assumed to be a wink. If it is assumed to be normally closed, then the woman may be considered to be perpetually winking, which is equally problematic.

I have an alternative solution to your problem. I suggest that you introduce veils for men that cover both their eyes. That way it will make no difference if the women are winking, blinking or, heaven forbid, naked.

Good idea, no? You’re welcome.

Regards

Amit Varma

*

Link via email from Chandoo. More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 October, 2008 in Letters | News | WTF


Dear Sachin Pilot

Dear Sachin Pilot

DNA has quoted you today as saying that Rahul Gandhi will be prime minister of India “sooner or later.” In the same article, you have spoken of how, under Gandhi’s leadership, the Youth Congress and the NSUI have become “professionally-run organisations where merit will count.” You have said, “There are no favourites in this system.”

Are you familiar with the term ‘cognitive dissonance’?

Regards

Amit Varma

*

More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 September, 2008 in Letters | News | Politics | WTF


Dear Mumbai Malls

Dear Mumbai Malls

I enjoy visiting you, and I support your new initiatives to tighten security in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. I don’t mind being frisked or having my bag checked: the few extra seconds we all wait individually are worth the collective safety we gain.

But why do you think that terrorists enter only from front entrances?

If someone drives into the parking lot and takes the lift up to the mall, there is no check on him at all. He could walk in holding a bazooka, with bombs strapped to his body and grenades in all his pockets. All the security guards are busy at the front entrance.

I know even a pretense of security can act as a deterrent. But terrorists aren’t stupid, and there’s no pretense in the destruction they try to cause. So, as Amitabh Bachchan would say on KBC, ‘please take good care of yourself’.

Regards

Amit Varma

*

Hat tip for this observation: Ulrik. More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 September, 2008 in India | Letters


Dear Amitabh Bachchan

Dear Amitabh Bachchan

In the context of the recent attacks by Raj Thackeray on you, DNA has reported that you and your family are “willing to face any punishment if found guilty.”

Guilty for what? For hurting Marathi pride? However tasteless you or Raj may find it, do you see it as a crime that deserves ‘punishment’?

That is what your statement implies, and it does a disservice to your fellow citizens and to the cause of free speech.

Also, it actually furthers Raj Thackeray’s agenda. I hope you sleep well at night now.

Regards

Amit Varma

*

More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 September, 2008 in Freedom | India | Letters | Politics | WTF


The Bare-Breasted Virgins Of Swaziland

Dear Reuters

I was thrilled today to see the headline on your site, ‘Bare-breasted virgins compete for Swaziland king’. I clicked on it furiously, hoping for a picture, maybe even a slideshow. And see what I got:

A picture of bare-breasted male warriors.

I am aware that your website is free. However, I want my money back.

Regards

Amit Varma

*

More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 September, 2008 in Letters


Dear LK Advani

Dear LK Advani

The Hindustan Times reports today that you recently “slammed the SP and Congress for their ‘opportunistic alliance’.”

Quick question: Has there ever been a political alliance that is not opportunistic?

Also, what exactly is wrong with being opportunistic? Do you promise not to do anything opportunistic after the next general elections?

Regards

Amit Varma

*

More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 July, 2008 in India | Letters | News | Politics


Dear Ajay Devgan

Dear Ajay Devgan

I wish you had slapped him.

Regards

S Sreesanth

Ok, fine—Amit

Posted by Amit Varma on 31 May, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | Letters | News | WTF


Dear Ravi Shastri

Dear Ravi Shastri

Have you ever seen a tracer bullet? Do you even know what a tracer bullet is?

Regards

Amit Varma

*

More open letters here. And earlier…

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 May, 2008 in Letters | Media | Sport


Dear Mitra Kalita

Dear Mitra

You write in your column today that your support of reservations “is not a socialist stance.” Quick question: Are you aware of the meaning of the word ‘socialist’?

A socialist society typically redistributes wealth—reservations redistribute opportunities. Same difference.

You speak about “universities (and eventually the private sector, I hope)” being “forced” to implement reservations. Forced? So you see coercion as the basis of social justice? That sounds familiar.

You write at the end of your piece: “[A] day might come in the rest of India where you ask two young men on a college campus what caste the other is—and each will say he doesn’t even know.” Well, I wasn’t aware of my caste in my college years, or that of my friends. With prosperity and an open economy, barriers of caste gradually erode. Yes, India has a long, long way to go before we’re prosperous enough and open enough, but consider that reservations actually increase one’s awareness of caste, and exacerbate tensions between them. You cannot fight injustice with injustice.

Warm regards

Amit

*

Link via email from Nitin Pai. More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 April, 2008 in Freedom | India | Letters | Politics | WTF


Dear Harlan Coben

Dear Harlan Coben

Don’t be silly. Kids tend to be smarter than their parents think they are. If you put spyware on your children’s computers, two things will happen. One, they will detect it—and perhaps put malware on your machine. Two, they will resent your intrusion for the rest of their lives.

Sure, I understand your desire to protect them. But before thinking of the damage the rest of the world might do to them, think of the damage you would cause by betraying their trust.

Regards

Amit Varma

*

More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 March, 2008 in Letters | Miscellaneous


Dear Salman Khan

Dear Salman Khan

You can either take a stand or not take a stand. But how silly is it to take a stand and then demand that it be kept secret?

Regards

Amit Varma

PS: For the record, here’s my take on the issue.

More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 March, 2008 in Freedom | Letters | Politics


Dear Purba Dutt

Dear Purba Dutt

In a feature in the Sunday Times today, you refer to the IPL auctions as “human auctions”, and compare it to the slave trade. You invoke Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and speak of indentured labourers being sold in “a heartless transaction.” You miss something here.

Contrary to rhetoric, the cricketers were not on sale during the IPL auctions—their services were. The eight IPL franchises were effectively bidding for the services of the players as per contracts enabled by the BCCI that the players had willingly signed. This is quite unlike slavery—indeed, it is how you and me get by.

If you choose to leave the Times someday and look for a job, you will effectively put yourself on the market just as these cricketers did. You will evaluate prospective employers, and go to whoever makes you the most appealing offer. There may not be a formal auction setup for it, but it will effectively be just that: your services will be on offer, and different employers will bid for them.

So please, please, don’t compare this with the slave trade. Thank you.

Regards

Amit Varma

Ps. You might also want to read this.

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 March, 2008 in Economics | Letters | Sport


Dear Arvind Swaminathan

Dear Arvind Swaminathan

Assuming there is no coercion, what’s wrong with prostitution?

Regards

Amit Varma

(Link via Smoke Signals.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 February, 2008 in Economics | Letters | Sport


Dear Abheek Barman

Dear Abheek Barman

In an editorial article in the Times of India today, justifying Indira Gandhi’s centralization of power in the 1960s, you ask: “How would Indian politics - indeed, the Indian nation - look like today, if say, Morarjibhai or Nijalingappa had become prime ministers in the late-1960s?”

Allow me present to you a list of some of Indira’s achievements. 1969: Nationalization of banks. 1976: Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. 1976: Urban Land Ceiling Act. 1976 and 1982: amendments to the Industrial Disputes Act. 1975: The Emergency. And so on.

Mr Barman, surely you’re aware of the massive cost that these measures inflicted on our poor country. If so, let me ask you just one question: How on earth could anyone have been worse?

Regards

Amit Varma

*  *  *

PS: The Nehru-Gandhi Legacy of Shame.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 December, 2007 in Economics | Letters | Politics | WTF


Dear Pratibha Patil

Dear Pratibha Patil

I read in DNA today that 400 trees have been chopped off in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as preparation for your visit there. The report says that some of these were cut “since they blocked the view of the beach from where the President would be sitting.”

I hope you enjoy your stay there. Have a great 2008.

Regards

Amit Varma

*  *  *

Previously…

*  *  *

Update: Reader Rex Mathew draws my attention to what Ms Patil’s predecessor did in a similar situation.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 December, 2007 in India | Letters | News | Politics | WTF


Dear Cynthia Mort

Dear Cynthia Mort

In a recent story in the New York Observer, you’ve been quoted as saying, “A guy’s penis is the same as a woman’s breast or vagina. I don’t understand the difference in respect to showing something.”

Here’s the difference: Breasts are beautiful. Penises are ugly. I can barely stand to look at mine, in fact, despite the huge amounts of pleasure it has given me. I’m sure most men share my feelings—especially those whose paunch obstructs the view. And for the opposite sex, it is simply not as much of an object of desire as breasts are, which is why there is no such thing as a penis cleavage.

Also, for sound evolutionary reasons, there is a far greater market for shots of bare breasts than of uncovered penises. It’s your prerogative to show what you want on your show, of course, and I respect your view that actors should be “honest and authentic in every way.” But please don’t say there is no difference between the two.

Regards

Amit Varma

*  *  *

Link via email from Sanjeev.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 December, 2007 in Letters | Miscellaneous


Dear Karan Thapar

Dear Karan Thapar

You write in your latest column: “If it turns out that LK Advani and Manmohan Singh will be the principal contenders for the prime ministership at the next polls I, for one, will feel reassured.”

Advani is 80 years old. Manmohan is 75. Did you really mean “reassured”?

Regards

Amit Varma

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 December, 2007 in India | Letters | Politics


Dear Vir Sanghvi

Dear Vir Sanghvi

You write in your column today: “Better for the Congress to lose an election than to lose its soul.”

What soul?

Regards

Amit Varma

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 December, 2007 in India | Letters | Politics | WTF


Dear Sitaram Yechuri

Dear Sitaram Yechuri

In an article today in the Hindustan Times, you state that those who “compare Nandigram with Gujarat are not only belittling the tragedy of the 2002 carnage but are, in fact, extending support to Modi and giving a degree of legitimacy to the communal carnage.”

I fail to see how you can come to this remarkable conclusion. It is like saying that those who compare Stalin’s murder of millions to Hitler’s murder of millions are “extending support” to Hitler and “giving a degree of legitimacy” to him.

It may be difficult for you to fathom, but it is possible to be against both Nandigram 2007 and Gujarat 2002. In both events, the state allowed the law-and-order machinery to stand by as their own goons took matters into their own hands. In both cases, people were raped and murdered. The details may differ, but there is no moral difference between what the governments of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Narendra Modi did. Both deserve our highest contempt.

Equally, it is possible to feel contempt for both the Hindutva Right and the Communist Left. In different ways, both deny individual rights and freedoms. And contrary to what you would like us to believe, there is a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In the rest of your piece, you take task with the BJP for being hypocrites when it comes to free speech. I agree with you there. But after your party’s hypocrisy on Nandigram, you can hardly claim the moral high ground.

Regards

Amit Varma

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 November, 2007 in Freedom | India | Letters | Politics | WTF


Dear VK Malhotra

Dear VK Malhotra

In your official capacity as deputy leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha, and its parliamentary party spokesperson, you recently made a demand that Taslima Nasreen “be given full protection and citizenship.” You also said, “India believes in freedom of speech.”

I would like to applaud your sentiment. I have just one question for you: Does this mean you no longer have a problem with MF Hussain?

Regards

Amit Varma

*  *  *

Link via email from BV Harish Kumar.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 November, 2007 in Freedom | India | Letters | News | Politics | WTF


Nalanda

Dear Jeffrey Garten

Nalanda is in Bihar.

Regards

Amit Varma

*  *  *

Link via email from Arjun Swarup.

*  *  *

Update: I would normally never bother to actually explain a quip, but at least 15 readers have written in assuming that I implied in this post that Garten said that Nalanda is not in Bihar. Nothing of the sort. I was simply making the point that Nalanda happens to be in a state where the rule of law is absent, and therefore it is strange to think of building a world-class university there. I wasn’t clear enough, I guess, so mea culpa!

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 November, 2007 in India | Letters


Dear Jack Welch

Dear Jack Welch

I am a great admirer of yours, and love reading the column you write with your wife Suzy, The Welchway. But I have a request: please stop podcasting it.

I just downloaded your latest podcast, and your voice, my God! You sound as if you were dying when that podcast was recorded. You moan and groan in the background when Suzy speaks, and wheeze and croak when your turn comes, as if to say, “They’ve taken my life support off, I have 10 seconds to give you this advice before, gasp, splutter…”

You have built a powerful brand for yourself over an illustrious career. If enough people listen to your podcasting, you’ll damage it. Please stick to what you’re good at.

Isn’t that advice you would give?

Regards

Amit Varma

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 November, 2007 in Letters | Miscellaneous


Dear Rahul Gandhi

This is the 36th installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

Dear Rahul

Congratulations on your recent elevation as general secretary of the Congress party. Yes, I know, it was just a formality, and there’s more to come. Still, it’s a start, and one that you used to make a statement.

Shortly after getting this post, you took a delegation to Manmohan Singh and asked for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) to be extended to all 593 districts of this country. A couple of days later, the Prime Minister announced that extension. With this, you demonstrated your clout in the party, and you also made a gesture of commitment towards the poor people of this country.

I have a question, though. Have you had a chance to look at the reports evaluating the NREGS that have been released recently? One of them, by the Society for Participatory Research in Asia, found that just 6% of the households registered under the scheme actually got 100 days of employment in 2006-07. Another, carried out by the Centre of Environment and Food Security (CEFS) a few months ago, is even more worrying.

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 October, 2007 in Economics | Essays and Op-Eds | India | Letters | Politics | Thinking it Through


Dear Pankaj Vohra

Dear Pankaj Vohra

In a recent column in the Hindustan Times, you wrote that Rahul Gandhi should “look into who among his colleagues were engaged in politics for their own narrow ends, and who were the ones who kept the party and the country in mind.”

I have a request for you: Could you please name three Indian politicians who keep the interests of their party and country above their self-interest?

Just three.

Thank you for your time, and warm regards

Amit Varma

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 October, 2007 in India | Letters | Politics


Dear Navjot Sidhu and Hu Jintao

This is the 28th installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

Dear Navjot Sidhu

Recently on a television show, I am told, you criticised the Indian Cricket League (ICL), and the players signing up with it, on the grounds that “they are in it for the money.” You found this reprehensible, clearly feeling that the profit motive was a bad thing. I wish to congratulate you on your beliefs. They were once shared by no less than Jawaharlal Nehru, who described “profit” as “a dirty word.” Indeed, I have heard that when he got angry at someone, he would abuse him or her by shouting, “You, you… you Profit!” But that could be apocryphal.

Mr Sidhu, allow me to express how much I admire your values. Shunning profit, as you surely do if your actions mirror your words, takes immense fortitude. You are always smartly dressed, with your turban matching your tie, despite buying clothes only from people who manufacture and sell them as a social service. When you eat out with your better half, who is also named Navjot and is therefore the better Navjot, you only eat at restaurants that were not begun to make a profit, but to help needy diners like yourself. Indeed, you buy no goods or services manufactured with the profit motive, and I really must ask you sometime where you shop. You also clearly accept absolutely no money for the entertainment you provide us on television, which is very kind of you. Your magnanimity has moved me.

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 August, 2007 in Economics | Essays and Op-Eds | Freedom | Letters | Sport | Thinking it Through


Dear Mrinal Pande

Dear Mrinal Pande

In your column today you insinuate that all opposition to Pratibha Patil is based on her gender. That is unfair. Some of us are opposing Ms Patil not because we’re worried about the empowerment of women, but because of personal flaws that have nothing to do with her gender. Allow me to ask you two questions.

One, are you comfortable with a president who claims that she can converse with spirits? To me, this would indicate a mental health problem, and I hope you would agree with me that our president needs to be of sound mind.

Two, Ms Patil had once expressed her support for forcible sterilization of people with hereditary diseases. Is it not fair to ask that she at least indicates that she has changed her mind on the subject, even if she doesn’t actually apologize for it? Ms Patil supported Indira Gandhi during and after the Emergency, and surely it is fair to worry that she might still represent those values.

Please note that I am not expressing my support for Bhairon Singh Shekhawat by opposing Ms Patil. I am merely bemoaning the fact that the UPA did not choose a better candidate. I would have been delighted if that candidate was a woman, as long as she had the character and intellect that the office of president deserves.

If you would care to stand for the post, Ms Pande, I would support you wholeheartedly. But not Pratibha Patil.

Regards

Amit Varma

*  *  *

Previous posts on Pratibha Patil: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 July, 2007 in India | Letters | Politics


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