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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: News

Garbage In

image

There is something terribly poignant about a man trying to commit suicide by jumping off a ninth-floor window but being saved by an uncollected heap of garbage that lies below. His self esteem is obviously low, he feels discarded by the world, but, like the garbage that eventually saves him, not yet dispatched. So he jumps, and wakes up not in an afterlife like heaven or hell or suchlike, but in a hospital, all bandaged up, tubes entering and exiting his body like the world refusing to let go. It makes me wonder what is the greater tragedy for him: feeling the need to let go, or not being able to do so.

There’s the seed of a short story here, but I feel too lazy to write it. Such it goes.

*  *  *

On another note, if someone asked me to guess where this happened, I’d think of garbage and I’d immediately rule out New York. Instead, my guess would be Andheri East.

*  *  *

(Pic courtesy Reuters.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 January, 2011 in News | Small thoughts


The Mystery of the Lewd SMS

From Shane Warne to PSR Anjaneyulu (allegedly), the sending of lewd SMSs is a common complaint against many high-profile men, especially those intoxicated by power. Now, here are two contradictory notions I am wrestling with:

1. Most women are turned off by lewd SMSs.

2. No rational man would indulge in an act again and again unless it paid off at least some of the time, thus compensating for the many times it didn’t.

I have never sent a lewd SMS in my life, and thus have a sample size of zero to attempt to resolve this from personal experience. So I wonder: Are lewd SMSes positive EV? Or, in non poker terms, do lewd SMSs work often enough to justify their downside?

My theory is that sending a lewd SMS in either like surfing porn—gratification from a distance, without the slightest chance of actual contact—or a form of release, and that a man doesn’t need to find takers for his lewd SMSes to keep sending them. It is also possible that a lewd SMS would work with women already interested in you. But then, any SMS would work with those women. If you send a lewd one, though, and the woman responds, you could mistake correlation for causation. Maybe that’s why…

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 January, 2011 in Miscellaneous | News | Small thoughts


The Cockroach Party of India (Marxist)

Mamata Banerjee is a riot. But her allegations are borderline plausible. Tells you a lot about the CPI(M), eh?

(Via @geetharamc.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 July, 2010 in India | News | Politics | WTF


Anticipating Schadenfreude

At least the guy is being honest. Where do you get that in Politics?

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 July, 2010 in India | News | Politics | Sport | WTF


Divine Demat

This is a remarkable opening sentence for a news report:

Can Hindu deities have demat accounts to enable them transact in shares and debentures on the stock market?

Before you snort out whichever beverage you are currently consuming, consider that the IT department has already issued PAN cards to the deities in question. Go figure.

(Link via Marginal Revolution.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 July, 2010 in India | News | WTF


IPL Pipeline

I misread this headline, and thought that the IPL authorities are talking with Iran about a feeder system for young Iranian cricketers. Wouldn’t that have totally outdone anything Lalit Modi has done in the past?

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 July, 2010 in Miscellaneous | News | Sport


Grab-and-Run Granny

Reuters, in a story headlined ‘Russian fraud police track down grab-and-run granny’, tells us about a “71-year-old Russian grandmother” who swindled Moscow businessmen out of “more than half a million dollars.” She allegedly “posed as an influential lobbyist with close ties to Moscow’s City Hall,” and “promised to deliver the swindled sum of 16.4 million roubles ($531,200) to her alleged contacts within the authorities as a bribe on behalf of clients keen to purchase prime real estate in the heart of the capital.” Then she disappeared.

Frankly, I think she’s a stud. Her alleged crime is that she promised to commit a crime and reneged on her promise. She out-crooked a crooked system. I’m sure she can bake some pretty mean cookies as well. Grab-and-Run Granny, you’re my hero.

Aside: Wouldn’t this be a great plot for Rajkumar Hirani’s next film? Munnabhai goes after Grab-and-Run Granny to bring her to justice, and grows inordinately fond of her when they meet. Hell, maybe he even falls in love with her. Given Sanjay Dutt’s age, that’s plausible.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 June, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | News


‘Dalit set afire over phone’

When I first saw this headline, I did a double take. I thought, What? Someone was set on fire via a telephone call? Then I read on and found that the phone in question was merely the object of dispute that led to the crime. A dalit man was accused by five people, “said to be from the upper caste,” of stealing a mobile phone. When he denied it, they set him on fire.

That explains the headline. So it’s just a normal incident then. No need to be shocked.

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 June, 2010 in India | News


Rakhi the Gun

“Item girl Rakhi Sawant,” Mid Day informs us, “denies charges of owning pistol which two arrested UP criminals claim to have stolen from her. [sic.]” The quote of the day from Rakhi:

I can take care of myself as I am a gun myself.

No jokes about double barrels will be made on this family blog. No, really, I like her spirit. If only Sanjay Dutt also thought he was a gun.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 May, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | News | WTF


The Wire

I thought I’m inured to shock and horror, but this story made even me gasp:

In a hair-raising incident, a husband stitched the private parts of his wife with wire in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad city after her request to visit her parents enraged him, police said Friday.

[...]

Munda became angry when Sabitri said Wednesday that she wanted to go to her parents’ home and charged her with having an extra-marital relationship, Dhanbad Deputy Superintendent of Police Rajiv Ranjan said.

Their quarrel took a vicious turn when Munda tied his 21-year-old wife’s hands and legs and stitched her private parts with “iron wire”, Ranjan said. After committing the ghastly act, he locked her up in a room.

From one point of view, this guy is an outlier, a complete freak show, a madman.

From another, he’s the typical Indian male. He treats his wife as his property, and is sexually insecure. The manifestation of that is unusual—but the sentiment, alas, all too common.

Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 May, 2010 in India | News | Small thoughts


Passport

This is quite the WTF headline of the day:

Passport office doesn’t accept passport as ID proof

Quite magnificent—you can’t parody this stuff. The government has a monopoly on even that.

(Link via email from @Shefaly.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 April, 2010 in India | News | WTF


The Trials of Khushboo

ToI reports that the Supreme Court has “quashed 22 criminal cases filed against South Indian actress Khushboo for her remarks in various magazines allegedly endorsing pre-marital sex.” This is an encouraging judgement—especially the following words from the bench:

When two adults want to live together, what is the offence? Does it amount to an offence? Living together is not an offence. It cannot be an offence.

Well put. And extending that further, if two adults want to do anything together, by mutual consent, without harming or involving anyone else, what is the offence? Should there be an offence? No freaking way.

And yet, such “offences” are to be found all over the Indian Penal Code. I hope one day they are scrapped.

*

The cases against Khushboo were filed in 2005. It took five years for this trivial matter to be sorted out. Imagine the state of someone spending years living through the tension of more serious cases. In our legal system, the process can be the punishment.

And oh, while confirming when the cases against Khushboo were filed, I came across this masterful headline:

‘Kushboo enlarged on bail’

One can only presume she had a really good meal when she was released.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 April, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | Small thoughts


Nailed to a Wall

The Times of India reports:

Two teenagers aged 14 and 15 years allegedly strangled their 13-year-old friend with a copper wire and then pinned his body to a wall using iron nails.The children were paid Rs 20,000 by a 35-year-old woman, Sabroon,to commit the murder.She was angry with the victim as she suspected he was stealing from her shop and wanted to get rid of him.

Pretty horrific. And I don’t know why, but I read that and thought of Lalit Modi. How strange.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 April, 2010 in India | News | Sport


After an Extra-Marital Bang, Ask Your Lover…

... Did the earth move for you as well?

(Link via separate emails from readers Arshdeep Singh Wahan and Tejaswini.)

*

On a serious note, if we’re into confusing correlation with causation, we could make a case for anything causing anything. Exactly one week ago, for example, I had a cup of tea when I woke up in the morning instead of my usual black coffee. And lo and behold, Eyjafjallajökull explodes. It would be remiss of me to ignore the manifest connection between these two events, and I have decided never to drink tea again.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 April, 2010 in News | WTF


Marriage and Rape

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

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

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

If so, isn’t that disturbing?

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


Bata Shoes and the Crow Pujari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Picture of You

The Times of India reports on the Shoaib Malik controversy:

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

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

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

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

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

*

Saamna gets into the act. Heh.

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


Feudal India

Check out this headline:

Karunanidhi praises Stalin, doesn’t mention Azagiri

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

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


Headline Material

I’m baffled by this Mid Day headline:

Oshiwara gay teen killed

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

So why mention his being gay in the headline?

*

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

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


Geopolitical Irony

AP reports:

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

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

(Link via email from Godhuli.)

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


Exploding Breasts

Rediff reports:

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

[...]

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

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

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

*

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

Rediff link via email from Jenson Davis.

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


A Police Complaint

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

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

Sattar later denied knowing Nisar. He said:

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

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

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


The Nanny Effect

The WTF claim of the day is that “baby boys who have a nanny ‘turn into womanisers’”:

In the book The Unsolicited Gift, Dr Dennis Friedman said delegating child-rearing responsibilities too soon risks equipping your son with life-long double standards when it comes to women.

This means that even though he could go on to be married he will always have the feeling that another women could cater for all his basic needs.

“It introduces him to the concept of The Other Woman,” said Dr Friedman who is 85.

I’d be impressed if this was intended as a parody of how people so often mistake correlation for causation. But such WTFness cannot be manufactured, and Friedman seems to be serious. Ah well.

On another note, I wonder if there were nannies in prehistory. I can imagine the following scene:

Interior of cave. Occupants: Daddy Savage, a bearded man in loin cloth with large wooden club; Mommy Savage, a topless woman with leaves covering her pubic region; Baby Savage, a baby with a baby beard just like Daddy Savage’s; and Nanny Savage, also a topless woman with leaves covering her pubic region, bought from a discount store.

Daddy Savage: Grunt. Right, people, I gotta go and hunt a mastodon for dinner. And kill them cheetahs that’s been eating our stored carcasses. Be back by evening.

Mommy Savage: See ya. I’m also off to look after my vegetable patch in the valley. Mastodon meat needs garnishing. Nanny Savage, you look after Baby Savage.

Daddy Savage: Heh. Baby Savage has a nanny. He’ll grow up to be a womanizer then. Just like his daddy. I’m so proud! (Squeezes Nanny Savage’s left breast affectionately.)

Baby Savage: Daddy, leave that alone. It’s lunchtime!

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 March, 2010 in Dialogue | News | WTF


Performance Evaluation

BBC informs us that scientists have now found a way to genetically engineer glowing sperms so they can “track the seed’s progress inside the female, in real time.” Sperms that fail to make it to their destination will be given the pink slip.

(Link via email from Manish Vij.)

*

While on sperm…

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 March, 2010 in News | Science and Technology


Woman in the News

Here’s the WTF headline of the day:

Woman co-pilot lands jet solo

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

*

Tomorrow’s headline: Male Airhostess Fondled on Plane.

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


The Curse of Vikram Bhatt

Speaking about his new film Shaapit, Vikram Bhatt says:

I did some research and a very important fact emerged. It was how a curse actually functions. The person who has cursed and the person who has been cursed may no longer be there but the curse remains on their family for generations. [...]

Before starting this film, I did a course of psychic meditation. By psychic meditation we can speak to spirits. With constant meditation you can avoid that too. I have seen spirits.

I hope the dude is just saying this to promote the movie, and doesn’t actually believe in this nonsense. And really, how does one research curses anyway? I can imagine the following scene:

Vikram Bhatt knocks on a door. The door opens. An old man stands there, unkempt and grouchy.

Old Man: Yes?

Vikram Bhatt: Sir, my name is Vikram Bhatt. I am researching curses. I hear that you have been cursed. May I come in so we can talk more about it?

Old Man: Ok. Whatever. Come in.

The old man and Vikram Bhatt walk to a table on which lie six bottles of vodka, two of them empty.

OM: I had just begun my drinking session for the night. Wanna join in?

VB: Sure. (Takes a glass from the old man.) So tell me, what’s your curse?

OM: I have been cursed to talk to spirits every day.

VB: Wow. You can talk to spirits? That’s so cool. I’d love to do that.

OM: It’s very easy. Watch. (Starts talking to a bottle of vodka.) Hello, sweety. How are you today sweety? Can I drink you, sweety? Without any mixer, just you and me.

VB: Neat. I like that. Hey, talking to spirits is easy.

*

What do you mean, that’s not plausible? Have you seen the dude’s films?

(Link via email from Kundan.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 March, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | Dialogue | News | WTF


Every Dog Has Its Bath

The Indian Express informs us of the invention of a washing machine for pets, which “gives pets an automatic drenching with warm water and a blow-dry. The 33-minute process includes a shampoo, a rinse and a dry.”

They should so put Menaka Gandhi in one of those, no? L’that only.

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 March, 2010 in News


Until Death Etc Etc

The WTF opening sentence of the day comes from a Rediff report:

According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) one married man commits suicide every nine minutes in India.

That sentence makes it sound as if marriage is the cause of these suicides, which is surely unjust to the 57,639 wives whose husbands offed themselves. Causation is often complex and not easy to pin down when it comes to suicide, and the following sentence would make quite as much sense: “According to Cricinfo, 13 married men have made scores of 250+ in Test cricket in the last 10 years.” Huh, no?

Given that life is a fatal disease, it’s not unnatural for some of us to want to get it over with quickly. Marriage, like most of what we seek in life, is a palliative. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it can’t cure nothin’, and it ain’t the cause.

(Link via email from Poornima.)

Update: Here’s the NCRB report (pdf link).

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 March, 2010 in News | Small thoughts | WTF


A Garland for the Queen

image

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

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

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

(First link via email from Maria Thomas.)

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


Prodigy

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

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

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


Topless Women and the Indian Government

The Times of India reports:

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

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

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

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

*

Earlier posts on the subject:

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

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


The Empire Strikes Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

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


When the Marshalls Go Marching In

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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


Scheming Brides and Underhand Tactics

The WTF news report of the day surely has to be this one:

Six in ten scheming brides force men to go down on their knees by resorting to underhand tactics, suggests a survey.

[...]

While 32 per cent bullied their partner into proposing by threatening to leave him, 17 per cent sent themselves flowers from a fake admirer to stir up their lover’s jealousy.

It seems this survey was conducted by a British TV channel called Really. See the fun.

*

I can’t say why, but I suddenly remembered “The Gift”, the Velvet Underground song. Check it out.

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 February, 2010 in News | WTF


Sisters in the Kitchen

The Times of India reports:

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

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

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

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

Anyway, I hope you had a good time yesterday.

(Link via email from Aparna.)

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


Welcome to the 19th Century

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

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

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

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


Why Australia? Why Not Dubai?

Reader Ruchir Khare writes in to point me to this passage from the Johann Hari piece on Dubai that I linked to in my last post:

A Human Rights Watch study found there is a “cover-up of the true extent” of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.

Ruchir’s questions: What has the Indian government done about this? What has the media done about this? These figures, after all, are greater than those coming out of Australia.

*

Oh, and my buddy Madhu pointed me this morning to the WTF headline of the day: “Aussies celebrate R-Day by racially assaulting 2 Indians.”

This is not on some random blog somewhere, it’s from The Economic Times. Some editor actually approved this. Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 January, 2010 in News | WTF


An Offence That Cannot Be Ignored

The WTF statement of the week comes from a Dubai cop:

The woman confessed that she had sexual intercourse with her fiancé and that she had alcohol. We cannot just ignore such an offence.

The woman is question is a British tourist who complained on New Year’s Day that she had been raped by a waiter the previous evening. The cops “arrested her after she revealed during questioning that she had drunk alcohol and had sex with her fiancé, with whom she was on holiday.”

As for the waiter, he’s presumably still on the loose, still waiting.

*

And while on Dubai, check out this superb article by Johann Hari: “The dark side of Dubai.” (Link via Sonia Gupta.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 January, 2010 in Freedom | News | WTF


Modern Warfare

The US Army has killer robots. The Lashkar has para-gliders. I’d love to watch the movie—but I’m scared about the real world.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 January, 2010 in News


Scientific Consensus

The tastiest bit of the recent controversy over the IPCC’s mistake is this nugget:

Interestingly, the IPCC study is reported to have taken the deadline on the melting of the Himalayas from a Russian study, which predicted the melting of the glaciers by 2350. IPCC changed it to 2035, making it a ‘Himalayan’ blunder.

If you’re predisposed to reaching a particular conclusion, and all your incentives are tailored towards it, then such mistakes become inevitable. It doesn’t help that RK Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, calls himself “unsinkable”. Mr Pachauri, remember the Titanic, for which that term was also used? There’s an iceberg of truth heading your way.

Also, Pachauri really does owe VK Raina an apology. Maybe, following the example of David Frith, he should literally eat up all the IPCC reports. That would make for a good YouTube video.

(I got some of these links via an online discussion involving Mohit Satyanand, Barun Mitra, Yazad Jal and Sruthijith KK, among others.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 January, 2010 in News | Science and Technology


Fat Man Flying

Reuters informs us that Air France has denied that it plans to charge overweight passengers extra. There had earlier been speculation that they could “bar obese passengers from flying.” Well, that’s been clarified.

Here’s the interesting thing, though: fat passengers do cost more for the airline to fly then thin passengers, as greater weight leads to more fuel consumption. It would politically incorrect and logistically impractical to charge passengers according to weight, of course, so the airlines don’t make that a factor in their pricing. As a result, thin passengers end up subsidizing fat ones.

I would have complained about this bitterly in my college days, when I was slim like a male Kate Moss. But I couldn’t afford to fly in those days, and had no stake in the matter. Today, I’m probably one of those benefiting from the subsidy, so you won’t find me complaining anytime soon. It’s all worked out well.

(NDTV link via email from Sudipta.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 January, 2010 in Economics | News


The IPL Auction Hoo-Ha

Hindustan Times reports the WTF news of the day:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


It Must Be Terribly Lonely…

... to be the only hippo in Montenegro.

Not as bad as it must be for the only pig in Afghanistan, but still.

And imagine being the only human in a country full of hippos. I can see you in a cage in a zoo, mournfully contemplating what might have been if humans were the dominant species, when the zookeeper hippo and his hippo girlfriend put on some music and start dancing outside your cage.

‘What are you doing?’ you ask.

‘It’s called the Hippo Hippo Shake.’

image

(Pic courtesy Reuters)

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 January, 2010 in Miscellaneous | News


A Dress Code For Mannequins

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Free Speech Cop-Out

The Times of India reports:

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

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

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

Also read: Don’t Insult Pasta.

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


Is India’s National Dish…

... pork?

Hindustan Times reports:

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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


You Want Credit For That?

One of the first things I did on getting back to Bombay after a wonderful vacation in Goa was go to watch 3 Idiots. I’d been following the controversy on Twitter for a week: Chetan Bhagat’s aggrieved post about how he wuz robbed, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s rejoinder, the contract between Bhagat and the film-makers which Chopra uploaded on his site, Vir Sanghvi’s spot-on comment on the fracas, and the opinions of Twitterverse. Damn, I thought, the film must be something special if there’s such a fight to take credit for it.

Well, well.

I enjoyed watching the film, but if there was one thing about it that truly sucked, it was the story. Even accounting for the necessary suspension of disbelief while watching a Bollywood film, the story was ludicrously bad. Everything else about the film was excellent: the screenplay was immaculately crafted, the dialogues were easy and natural, the acting was delightful. Even though Aamir Khan’s lecturebaazi about something everybody already knows got occasionally tiresome, I enjoyed the film. But think about it, what a silly story. And they’re fighting for credit.

*

Regardless of whether the story was good or bad, I think Bhagat is right to feel hard done by. While much of what made the film so entertaining was not in the book, that is the case with many adaptations—Slumdog Millionaire being a case in point. The genesis of the story was certainly the book, and by having a story credit at the start of the film that did not include Bhagat’s name, the film-makers were being intellectually dishonest. Hell, what would it have cost them to put Bhagat’s name there, along with Abhijat Joshi and Raju Hirani? It was silly on their part not to do that—though I’d say that the resultant publicity has done everyone involved a world of good. Bhagat’s books must be flying off the shelves, and I don’t imagine he will be pissed for long.

*

Also, the contract itself is ridiculous. Bhagat actually signed his film rights away in perpetuity. This is crazy. A standard clause in most adaptation rights in the West is that if the film isn’t on the floors within a particular period, the rights revert to the author. What if Chopra’s team lost interest in this film, moved on to other projects, and Danny Boyle came to Bhagat and said he wanted to make a film on his book? Bhagat would be helpless, because the rights would be with VVC, who could either be churlish and refuse to part with them, or could benefit from the resultant windfall without Bhagat seeing any share of it.

The clause about discretionary payment is also most WTF. It didn’t hurt Bhagat in the end, but still…

Admittedly, Bhagat was probably not in a strong bargaining position at the time the contract was signed. But this should serve as a cautionary tale to any other novelist today selling film rights to Bollywood.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 January, 2010 in Arts and entertainment | News


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


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