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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: Old memes

Cows vs Jawans

The Times of India reports:

Animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi has come in the way of our soldiers getting trendy and comfortable leather sports shoes. She says thousands of cows will have to be slaughtered to make sneakers for 1.1 million jawans. But the Army believes that Maneka’s objection is a ploy to “derail the process of procurement”.

Some weeks ago, the central government announced the decision to award contracts for eight lakh pairs of high-quality sneakers replacing the no-frills brown canvas PT shoes that jawans use. [...]

Maneka told TOI that defence minister A K Antony had confirmed in writing that the contract was being cancelled. “It is illegal to use cow leather. Army should be the beacon of law in this country. About four lakh cows could be slaughtered to make eight lakh pairs,” she said.

Our soldiers put themselves in harm’s way to look after our country, and I’d really like them to have the best shoes possible. From what I can make out from this article, it seems to be a choice between leather shoes that are “tough and ideal for the difficult terrains soldiers operate in,” and “old brown canvas PT shoes.” Which would you rather have our soldiers wear?

This does not mean that I do not care about cows. I care about cows very deeply. But I also love beef, from which we can draw the conclusion that I care about cows in the abstract and not in the concrete. My compassion is contingent on convenience, but at least I’m open about this hypocrisy.

Anyway, watch this funky video featuring my favourite kind of cows: the animated ones. I like the whole spider effect—imagine tiny SpiderCows crawling all over the walls of your living room. Life would be so exciting then, even for the lactose intolerant.

(YouTube link via @sanjeevnaik. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 July, 2011 in India | News | Old memes | Cows | Politics | Small thoughts


India’s Second Freedom Struggle

This is the 37th installment of Viewfinder, my weekly column for Yahoo! India. It was published on June 23.

It was both ironic and poignant when, a few days ago, Anna Hazare remarked that his crusade for the Lokpal Bill was akin to a second freedom struggle for India. Hazare is fighting against the right things in the wrong way: as I wrote a few weeks ago, corruption arises from an excess of government power; creating an alternate center of power, as the Lokpal Bill attempts to do, which is neither accountable nor democratically elected, solves nothing. That said, Hazare’s rhetoric, borrowed from the likes of C Rajagopalachari from decades past, was correct: India does need a second freedom struggle.

Every nation is a work in progress, but India is more so because our independence was a job half finished. In 1947, we gained freedom from the British—but not from oppression. As the country heaved a long sigh of relief at gaining political independence, a new set of brown sahibs took over from the white ones. The great hope of this new democracy was that it would lead to a government that would serve us—but we found ourselves with one that continued to rule us, with laws either directly retained from the British, or even more oppressive than those that existed before. We were colonized by our own people, and eventually enslaved by ways of thinking that saw a mai-baap government as the solution to all our problems—even when it was often the source of them.

There is no Mahatma Gandhi to lead this second freedom struggle, and most Indians, complacent with how things are, would not even think it is required. But if it was to take place, what would its aims be? What would it fight to change? The goal of that first freedom struggle was to free ourselves of a colonial power; the aim of this notional second freedom struggle should be to drastically reform the system that denies us freedom in so many areas of our lives. From the classical liberal/libertarian perspective, here are a few things I’d love a second freedom struggle to strive to achieve.

One: Limit the power of government

As things stand, we are ruled by a government as oppressive as the British were. Ideally, the function of governments should be to protect our rights and provide basic services. But our government is a bloated behemoth whose tentacles, like a modern-day Cthulhu, extend into every area of our lives. This is hardly surprising: those in power are always looking for ways to extend their power, and government, if adequate safeguards are not in place, just grows and grows and grows. This is exactly what has happened in India—our government functions like an officially sanctioned mafia, controlling our lives and curtailing our freedom. It’s all a bit of a scam.

Two: Unleash Private Enterprise. Remove the License and Permit Raj

The liberalisation India carried out in 1991 was a half-hearted one, forced upon us by a balance of payments crisis and not out a genuine desire for change. The reforms halted once the crisis eased, and the License and Permit Raj largely remains in place. It has stopped us, in the past, from being the manufacturing superpower we should naturally have been, given the abundance of cheap labour in this country. It continues to act as a huge shackle on private industry: I’ve pointed out earlier the abominable fact that you need 165 licenses to open a hotel in India, including ““a special licence for the vegetable weighing scale in the kitchen and one for each of the bathroom scales put in guest rooms.” Every businessman in India has to go through surreal hurdles to go about his work, and given that businesses exists to fulfil the needs of the people, for how else can they make profits, it is doubly criminal of an inept government to stand in the way of private enterprise. In the areas where it has been allowed to operate, look at the impact private enterprise has had: consider how many years it took to get a telephone from the state-owned MTNL in the 1980s, and how quickly you can get one today. We are a resourceful people, and every problem of India can be solved by private citizens—if they’re allowed that freedom.

Three: Reform the Indian Penal Code

The IPC is an abomination created by the British in the 19th century to make it easier for them to rule us, and to impose their Victorian morality on us. That it still exists is a disgrace. It contains ridiculous laws like Section 295 (a), which makes it a crime to “outrage religious feelings or any class” and Section 153 (a), which criminalizes any act “which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility”: both of these have been used to clamp down on free speech in the country. So has Section 124 (a), which aims to punish anyone who “brings or attempts to bring or provoke a feeling of hatred, contempt or disaffection towards government established by law,” and could be applied to this column, as these laws are open to interpretation and discretion. Section 377, which effectively criminalised homosexuality, has thankfully been overthrown in a court of law, but other archaic laws remain on the books, including some that punish victimless crimes. Many of these threaten our freedom directly.

Four: Ensure Free Speech in India

The IPC alone cannot be blamed for the absence of free speech in India. Our constitution itself does not protect it, and while Article 19 (1) (a) pays lip service to it, Article 19 (2) introduces caveats to it under the guise of “public order” and “decency and morality”. Practically anything one says could be a threat to public order, depending on how it is interpreted, which makes it easy for those in power to clamp down on those without. If we don’t even have freedom of expression, how can we call ourselves a truly free country?

Five: Respect Taxpayer’s Money

I run a series on my blog called “Where Your Taxes Go”, chronicling the various absurd ways in which our tax money is spent by government. These including paying the salaries of 22,800 fake employees of the Delhi Municipality, a Rs 42 crore mansion for Mayawati on “a sprawling 1,00,000 sq foot area”, a school for monkeys, the sponsorship of second honeymoons for people who delay having children, and, most recently, on a newspaper advertisement where the chief minister of Karnataka challenges his predecessor to do ‘God promise’ on certain allegations he made. (Yes, you can’t make this stuff up.) Governments need taxes to exist, but if you strip our government down to its necessary functions, you might find that we will pay a miniscule percentage of what we actually pay now.

It’s ironic that Mahatma Gandhi’s famous Dandi March was held in protest against an unfair tax; most taxes today are far more draconian. Sit down sometime and calculate what percentage of your income goes into taxes: if you pay 33%—chances are you end up paying more, if you include indirect taxation—it means that until the end of April every year, you are effectively earning for the government. This is freedom?

Six: Treat the Right to Property as Sacred

In 1978, the 44th amendment removed the right to property from our list of fundamental rights. Even had this not happened, the poor of India are habituated to having their property snatched from them: eminent domain has long been used by corrupt governments in a crony capitalism system to line their own pockets. One of our biggest problems is that even after so many decades of independence, clear land titles do not exist in many parts of the country. (My fellow columnist, Mohit Satyanand, wrote about this a few weeks ago, as did Devangshu Datta in an old piece.) This makes it ridiculously easy for a ruling government to infringe on the rights of its poor people—and it stands as a huge impediment to economic growth.

Seven: Reform Schooling

The state of education in this country makes for black comedy: the government pours more and more money into education, and after decades of this, the results remain dismal. There are various complex reasons for this government dysfunction, but a huge one is that the private sector is hugely constrained from entering this area. As I wrote in this old piece, even desperately poor people have shown a preference for those low-cost private schools that do manage to exist, despite governmental hurdles, than inefficient government ones. It is ironic and tragic that while private enterprise is allowed to flourish in trivial areas of our lives, like the production of shampoos and potato chips, it is constrained from competing with the government in this most crucial field. I am not recommending that the government stop spending money on education: just allow private enterprise to flourish as well. Consider the cost and quality of air travel in India when we only had Indian Airlines at our service—and look at what it has become today. Isn’t education far more crucial to our progress as a nation?

Eight: Reform Agriculture

We romanticize the farmer, and we want to keep him poor. It is shocking that 60% of our countrymen work in the agricultural sector: the equivalent figure for most developed countries is in single digits. There are various reasons for this, one of many being that farmers are not allowed to sell agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. This prevents an escape route for many farmers, and also hampers industrial growth in many parts of the country, which would automatically provide alternative avenues of employment. More industrialisation would lead to more urbanisation and greater economic growth, but we hamper this process right at the start. It is a vicious circle that traps poor farmers in poverty. As Manmohan Singh once said, “our salvation lies in getting people to move out of agriculture.” He is right, which is ironic, given that he is our prime minister and is doing exactly nothing in terms of reforming that sector. Words come so easy.

I can think of many other worthy aims, such as making government more local and less centrally directed, so that it is more responsive and accountable, and reforming our legal system. I’m sure you can add to this list. But at one level, India’s second freedom struggle remains a pipe dream. We are a nation colonized by the religion of government, and we display a lazy reverence for it. We look for specific quick fixes to problems, instead of recognising that many of them emanate from structural issues with our system of government—and from how we think about it. What is worse is that we largely do not even think of ourselves as unfree—so who needs a freedom movement then? Do we? What do you think?

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Also read: this similar wishlist from another time.

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My thanks to Shruti Rajagopalan, Parth Shah, Arun Simha, Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan, Salil Tripathi, Deepak Shenoy and Gautam John for providing inputs to this piece.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 June, 2011 in Economics | Essays and Op-Eds | Freedom | India | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | Viewfinder


The Godman’s Blessing and the Sportsman’s Curse

This is the 33rd installment of Viewfinder, my weekly column for Yahoo! India. It was published on April 28.

Exhibit A is an international sportsman at the very peak of his career. Exhibit B is a middle-class man who’s been dealt a series of cruel blows, and is beginning to feel that life is not worth living. The sportsman attracts multi-million-dollar endorsements and makes it to the cover of several magazines, including the one he most covets, Sports Illustrated. The middle-class man considers slashing his wrists, but has too many responsibilities to give up so easily. So he makes a journey to an acclaimed godman, whose blessings alone have been known to turn lives around. Sure enough, things take a turn for the better. Meanwhile, the sportsman’s career starts going downhill.

What do these two stories have in common? Plenty. They are, in a statistical sense, the same story. Let me explain.

The sportsman is a victim of The Sports Illustrated Jinx. This is an urban legend based on the observation that a disproportionate number of individuals and teams who appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated subsequently experience a downswing in their careers. Appearing on the cover of that prestigious magazine, it would seem, jinxes you.

There is a simple explanation for the apparent jinx, though. Sportspeople’s careers go through peaks and troughs, with periods of immense success followed by periods of baffling failure. After each peak or trough, there is regression to the mean. They are most likely to be featured on the cover of SI when they are at their peak. A downswing after that is natural. (For someone like Michael Jordan, who was on the cover 49 times, the mean might itself be extraordinary enough for such a regression to make no apparent difference.) And when their performance dips to their normal levels, we mistake correlation for causation, and attribute it to their appearing on the SI cover. But it isn’t a jinx at all.

The godman’s blessing is a similar phenomenon, viewed from the other side. People tend to turn to God and godmen when they are at their lowest ebb. Let’s say the godman blesses them, or gives them vibhuti, or suchlike. Then their lives regress to the mean, their run of bad luck ends, and whoa, they’re devotees for life. Indeed, since they were inclined to be believers to begin with, they are likely to attribute any swing in fortunes to God or the godman, and ignore further downswings as part of their general bad luck. (This is the confirmation bias kicking in.) Or even, if they’re really thick, to karma.

Thus, the belief of many people in godmen and new age gurus is based on false foundations. If they understood the role of luck in our lives, and the randomness of the universe, they would be less inclined to look to divine forces (or charlatans claiming divinity) for answers to their problems. A godman’s blessing should never be more than a source of amusement to you—and if he gives you sacred ash, remember to wash your hands before your next meal.

*  *  *  *

That said, I am not mocking belief. The fundamental truth about human beings is that of our mortality. One day we will die, and that’s it. This is a difficult truth to come to terms with, for it carries at its heart

a message about our utter insignificance, and natural selection has programmed us to regard ourselves fairly highly. (For obvious reasons—otherwise why would we enthusiastically procreate instead of generally moping around?)

For this reason, we tend to seek comfort over truth. Religion and superstition and spirituality give us comfort. Given how harsh life can be, I’m not going to stand around passing judgment over religious people. I understand why they believe—even if what they believe in is mostly utterly ludicrous.

*  *  *  *

And yes, I’m somewhat baffled by the the number of devout followers the late Sathya Sai Baba seemed to have had. It’s one thing to believe in God, and quite another to believe in a man who called himself divine, and would prove this not with miracles of any value, but through cheap conjurer’s tricks that any average stage magician could have pulled off. (There are many YouTube videos about them; check out this one.) There have also been hazaar unsavoury controversies around the man; read Vir Sanghvi’s take on him, as well as

Vishal Arora’s superb feature for Caravan. And yet, presidents and prime ministers have gone to take his blessings, and top sportsmen broke down at his funeral. All this, I suspect, illustrated their frailty more than his divinity. But we are all frail, and deal with it in different ways, so who am I to judge?

*  *  *  *

Also read: An old personal essay by me,

“What’s Consolation For an Atheist?”

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 April, 2011 in Essays and Op-Eds | India | Old memes | Astrology etc | Sport | Viewfinder


Naked Oats and Gujju Cows

Reuters reports:

New diets for cows and sheep could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, research funded by the Department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) shows.

Feeding the animals maize silage, naked oats and higher sugar grasses could reduce the amount of methane they produce, the study by Reading University and the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences showed.

Agriculture accounts for around nine per cent of all British greenhouse gas emissions. Most of this comes from sheep, cows and goats.

I can just about imagine a cow reading this and going, “Naked oats? Mmmm!” and setting off a pleased fart. Also, I would guess that Gujju cows have historically emitted less methane, since they’ve always like sugar in their grass. I wonder if news channel reporters could also be force-fed naked oats and sugar grass.

Yeah, I know this isn’t an astonishingly substantive post, but India Uncut has resumed, so how can I not do a cow post? ;)

(Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113.)

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Aside: What a badly written news article. Just see the first two paras. Jeez…

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 April, 2011 in Old memes | Cows


Dilution

Via readers Pranav, Mayur and Shashank Krishnan, here’s an awesome comic by XKCD on homeopathy:

Also read: My Yahoo! column on the subject, Homeopathic Faith.

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 July, 2010 in Miscellaneous | Old memes | Astrology etc | Science and Technology


Homeopathic Faith

This is the sixth installment of Viewfinder, my weekly column for Yahoo! India.

I was delighted this Monday when my fellow Yahoo! columnist Girish Shahane took on homeopathy in his column ‘Sugar Pills and Skepticism’. It needed to be done, but while I found myself agreeing with much of his piece, I was disappointed by the last paragraph, in which Girish said that he uses homeopathy occasionally, and that it sometimes seemed “to have an effect, particularly with respect to allergies.” This is a fairly common view among many people, who admit that while homeopathy has no scientific foundation, ‘it seems to work’. For many of my friends, this puts homeopathy in the category of things that conventional science can’t explain yet, rather than those that have no scientific basis at all.

I used homeopathy for a few years when I was much younger. I believed then that it worked on me. I still have much fondness for my erstwhile homeopath, who I believe to be neither a fraud nor a fool. And some people close to me still pop sugar pills when they are ill. Yet, I now believe that homeopathy is no less ridiculous than astrology or numerology, and no more scientific than them. I’ve travelled the entire arc of belief when it comes to homeopathy, from an automatic, peer-influenced faith to skepticism to unbelief and contempt—and that is the subject of my column today: why so many people believe in homeopathy even though it is, to put it plainly, nonsense.

I won’t do a detailed debunking of homeopathy here. For that, I refer you to books like Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst’s Trick or Treatment, as well as this classic talk by James Randi. To summarise, the methodology of homeopathy makes no sense whatsoever, and scientific trials, when carried out with proper rigour, have shown homeopathic medicine to be no better than placebo, the standard for judging the efficacy of any new medicine.

The most bizarre thing about its methodology is the composition of the medicine itself. In homeopathic medicine, the substance being used to treat a patient has to be so diluted that there is generally not a chance that a single molecule of the substance remains in the medicine a patient is taking. In Randi’s video, for example, he displays a homeopathic sleeping aid that contains, as its active ingredient, caffeine. (Homeopaths believe that the substances that cause a particular condition should be used to treat it. Go figure.) The dilution of the caffeine in the medicine: “10 to the power of 1500.”

Randi asked the maths writer Martin Gardner if there was a way of explaining to the layman how much that really was. Gardner explained, “That’s equivalent to taking one grain of rice, crushing it to a powder, dissolving it in a sphere of water the size of the solar system, with the sun at the centre and the orbit of Pluto at the outside, and then repeating that process 2 million times.”

In Bad Science, Goldacre offers another analogy: “Imagine a sphere of water with a diameter of 150 million kilometers (the distance from the earth to the sun). It takes light eight minutes to travel that distance. Picture a sphere of water that size, with one molecule of a substance in it: that’s a 30c dilution.”

By these standards, there are so many impurities in regular drinking water that we are probably being treated for every major disease anyway.

Leave aside methodology. Maybe modern science hasn’t advanced enough, and we just don’t get it. Methodology would not matter if homeopathy actually worked. The standard test in medicine for seeing whether a treatment works is a double-blind placebo-controlled test. In this, patients are randomly divided into two groups, one of which is given the treatment being tested, and the other is given placebo—such as pills that look like real ones, but are actually inert. Neither the patients nor the doctors know which group is getting the treatment and which the placebo (that’s why it’s ‘double-blind’), thus eliminating psychological biases on their part. The mere belief that they are being treated often helps patients, so the true test for a treatment is if it can do better than placebo.

Homeopathy has failed such trials consistently. (Bad Science covers this subject in some depth, and also explains why some of the trials homeopaths claim have been successful have had methodological flaws, and suchlike.) There was a time when I wanted to believe the damn thing worked—but there is no evidence of it.

That brings us back to belief. Why do so many immensely smart people around us believe that homeopathy works if it does not? Surely they can’t all be deluded?

One reason why homeopathy seems to work on so many people is the aforementioned placebo effect. This is a remarkably powerful phenomenon, one that medical scientists are still studying with wonder. In Bad Science, Goldacre wrote about Henry Beecher, an American anaesthetist who operated on a soldier with “horrific injuries” during World War 2, using salt water instead of morphine, which was not available. It worked. Similar stories abound through the history of medicine, and the placebo effect is an established part of medical science. If you believe you are taking medicine, that belief itself might help you get better, and you will naturally ascribe the recovery to the medicine you took. This is why, for any medicine to get the approval of the scientific establishment, it has to be shown to be better than placebo—otherwise what’s the point?

There is also a phenomenon called regression to the mean which comes into play. Many diseases or physical conditions have a natural cycle—they get worse, and then they get better, quite on their own. This can be true of backaches, migraines, common colds, stomach upsets, practically anything non-major. If you take homeopathy during the course of this, and you get better, you might well ascribe causation where there is only correlation, and assume the medicine did it. As Simon Singh puts it, you may take homeopathy for a cold or a bruise, and “recover after just seven days instead of taking a whole week.” And there you go, you’re a lifetime fan of Phos 1M right there. (This is known as the Regressive Fallacy.)

I suspect this was one reason homeopathy became popular in the first place. Back in the 19th century, conventional medicine was in its infancy, and as Goldacre wrote in his book, “mainstream medicine consisted of blood-letting, purging and various other ineffective and dangerous evils, when new treatments were conjured up out of thin air by arbitrary authority figures who called themselves ‘doctors’, often with little evidence to support them.”

Indeed, seeing a doctor or visiting a hospital probably increased your chances of dying. Atul Gawande, in his book Better, tells us in another context that in the mid-19th century, at the hospital in Vienna where the doctor Ignac Semmelweis worked, 20% of the mothers who delivered babies in hospitals died. The corresponding figure for mothers who delivered at home: 1%. The culprit: infections carried by doctors who did not wash their hands. (Semmelweis tried to reform the system and was sacked.) This, then, was the state of mainstream medicine when homeopathy began gaining in popularity. In contrast, homeopathy was harmless, would not make you worse or give you an infection and kill you, and if you recovered in the natural course of things, you would give it the credit and tell all your friends about it. The growth of the system, I say with intended irony, was viral.

When it comes to any kind of belief, the confirmation bias comes into play. If we use homeopathy, we do so because we are inclined to believe in it, and our ego gets tied up with that belief. After that, we ignore all evidence that it doesn’t work, and every time we pop a few sugar pills and get better, we give homeopathy the credit. Also, the fact that so many other believers exist reinforces our own belief, for all these people surely can’t be wrong.

In a way, belief in homeopathy is similar to religious belief. (Yes, I’m an atheist as well.) I don’t berate my religious friends for their beliefs, because even though they might be wrong, there is often comfort in that kind of wrongness, especially when dealing with issues of mortality and insignificance. Similarly, if someone I know wants to pop homeopathic pills for a stomach ache or a common cold, I’ll let them be, both because of the power of the placebo effect, and because they’re likely to get better on their own anyway. (Also, I’d rather see them taking sugar pills than, say, antibiotics for something so trivial.)

But just as religious belief can be taken too far, so can homeopathic faith. When people treat serious ailments with sugar pills instead of proper medicine, matters get problematic - especially if they force such treatment on others, such as the Aussie homeopathy lecturer Girish wrote about and I’d blogged about once, who killed his daughter by insisting that her eczema be treated with homeopathy alone. That demonstrates that while blind faith may have its consolations, it can be lethal when taken too far. If only it could be given a homeopathic dilution.

Previously on Viewfinder

Give Me 10,000 Hours

Match ka Mujrim

The Man with the Maruti 800

Internet Hindus and Madrasa Muslims

The Hazards of Writing a Column

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 June, 2010 in Essays and Op-Eds | India | Old memes | Astrology etc | Science and Technology | Viewfinder


The Philosophical Cow

Alex Tabarrok writes:

Suppose that you are a cow philosopher contemplating the welfare of cows.  In the world today there are about 1.3 billion of your compatriots.  It would be a fine thing for cows if all cows were well treated and if none were slaughtered for food.  Nevertheless, being a clever cow, you understand that it’s the demand for beef that brings cows to life.  How do you regard such a trade off?

I predict that any philosophical cow will consider its self-interest first. It might be in the interest of the species for cows to continue to be slaughtered, but it would certainly not be in the interest of this particular cow—so it would be against killing cows. Unless, of course, our philosophical cow is guaranteed immunity from slaughter, which its human overlords might well consider given how few cows tend to be philosophers. In that case our bovine thinker, freed from concerns about its own welfare, might well take the broader view.

Doesn’t this happen with humans as well? I know ‘intellectuals’ who rail against urbanisation and romanticise village life, while themselves living comfortably in cities. I know women who condone the way other women are treated in some cultures by resorting to moral relativism, while themselves enjoying their full human rights. (For instance...) It’s easy to pontificate about matters that don’t immediately concern us—and most pontification is exactly like that. Such it goes.

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I can imagine a philosophical cow deep in thought near an unsuspecting farmer. Suddenly, the cow starts jumping up and down, shouting ‘Eureka, Eureka!’

‘What happened?’ says the farmer. ‘Why’re you so excited?’

‘I just formulated the Cowtegorical Imperative,’ says our philosophical cow.

‘That’s impossible,’ says the farmer. ‘You’re just a cow. You can’t do something like that. You can’t!’

‘That’s right,’ says the philosophical cow. ‘I Kant. But you can call me Immanuel.’

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(Link via email from Prachi Parekh. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 March, 2010 in Old memes | Cows | Small thoughts


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


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


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


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


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


A Cattle-Class Country?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

(Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111.)

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


Where Your Taxes Go: 41

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

Outlook reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Where Your Taxes Go: 40

On bribing people to delay having kids.

This is wrong on three levels:

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

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

Three, that’s our money being spent there.

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

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

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


Cow, Cow, Burning Bright

Whenever I see strangers on the road teasing a cow, I say to them, easy there, never mess with a cow. Sometimes they listen, and all is well. Other times, they don’t—and I never see them again. Cows are dangerous creatures.

Indeed, it is a shame that tigers and lions have such macho reputations. If they’re the kings of the jungle, cows are the serial killers. They look benign and perfectly amiable—but sometimes…

Anyway, here’s a report from the US that indicates how dangerous cows can be. Read it for yourself—and shiver.

My favourite murder described there, which shows the increasing sophistication of their techniques, “resulted from inadvertent injection of the antibiotic Micotil 300 (tilmicosin phosphate) from a syringe in the victim’s pocket when he was knocked down by a cow.” The medicine, I propose, now be renamed tilmicowsin phosphate—or Micowtil 300—which, in Hindi, carries added significance.

(Link via Facebook message from Hari Menon. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 110.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 August, 2009 in Old memes | Cows


Where Your Taxes Go: 39

On a school for monkeys.

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

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

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

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

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


Questioning The Astrologer

Oh man, this is delicious. AFP reports:

Sri Lankan police say they have arrested an astrologer after he predicted serious political and economic problems for the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

[...]

“The CID (Criminal Investigations Department) is questioning the astrologer,” [police spokesman Ranjith] Gunasekara said Friday, adding that they wanted to find out the “basis” for the prediction.

I can just imagine how the dialogue goes.

Astrologer: [Pointing to chart] See, here’s the basis for my prediction. Note where Rahu-Ketu are.

CID officer: We have outlawed Rahu-Ketu.

Astrologer: Eh? When did this happen?

CID officer: Five minutes before this interrogation began. Hehehe. Bet you didn’t see that happening.

No, but seriously, the government is crazy, clamping down on free speech like this, even if it is the free speech of a charlatan. Even charlatans have rights.

(Link via email from Neel. And previously, in Rahu-Ketu news...)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 June, 2009 in Dialogue | Freedom | News | Old memes | Astrology etc | Politics | WTF


Faith And The Monsoon

The Times of India reports:

With the monsoon playing truant, Andhra Pradesh CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy has ordered all temples, mosques and churches in the state to offer special prayers to appease the Rain God. Starting form Wednesday, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams will conduct prayers in all major temples run by it. Special prayers are to be held in mosques and churches for the onset of the elusive monsoon.

And The Hindustan Times:

As strange as it may sound, some organisations and individuals from Andhra Pradesh are taking help of frogs to induce rains.

In Vemulwada town in Karimnagar district, hundreds of people participated in a frog marriage on a dried up tank bed. Reports of similar marriages came in from Kurnool, Adilabad and Anantapur. It is widely believed by rural folk that frog marriages will bring in good rains.

You know where this is headed, don’t you? Hazaar prayers will be conducted across AP, and hazaar frogs will be married off—and then it will rain. And people will conclude that the prayers worked, and getting the frogs married off worked—never mind if the frogs in questions are ignoring their nuptial vows and bonking random other frogs. Post hoc ergo propter hoc—that, and the confirmation bias, explain why we’re still such suckers for superstition of all sorts.

Maybe I should also conduct a ritual of some sort that can later be sanctified after its glorious success. Hmm, let’s see, what can I do? Ah, I have it: A beef burger at Indigo Cafe, medium rare with a fried egg on top, sunny side up. Followed by some liquor chocolate, and maybe coffee at Costa’s. There you go, I’ve sorted it out. Just you watch now, there will be rain.

(My thanks to Sandeip Singh for the ToI link.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 June, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Astrology etc | WTF


The Aryan Toilet Code

Sunil Laxman points me, in a discussion on an email group I’m part of, to the Aryan Code Of Toilets, as prescribed in Manusmriti Vishnupuran. Delightful stuff, especially if one has loose motions and there’s no time for the mantra one is supposed to chant before one, um, finds relief. And the post-toilet routine is also interesting. For example:

* After defecation the “Linga” (generative organ) is to be washed once, “Guda” (anus) to be washed three times, the left hand to be washed ten times, and the right hand seven times, and both the feet to be cleaned with earth and water three times.

* After defecation the water pot was to be held in the right hand and was to be used for cleaning.

* The “Linga” was to be rubbed once with earth and the “Guda” rubbed three times with earth. Then both washed with water. This was to ensure that there is no odour left in the body.

* After this one should pick up water with right hand. One was advised to pick-up fist full of earth. This was to be divided in three parts. With the first part it was laid down that the left hand be cleaned 10 times and the right was to be cleaned with the second part 7 times. The third part was to be used to clean three times the water utensil.

Magnificently elaborate. But I suspect generations of good Aryan boys got a bit carried away by the ritual. They washed the Linga once, and they rubbed it with earth once—and it felt, um, good, so they rinsed and repeated.

And to prove that we are a virtuous, traditional society, they do it to this day.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 June, 2009 in Miscellaneous | Old memes | Astrology etc


Mischa Barton vs Rajan Zed

The WTF report of the day, by ANI, begins:

Actress Mischa Barton has enraged Hindus around the world, after she cribbed on her blog about not getting a sitar teacher in India.

Hindus around the world? That seemed like a tall claim to me, so I read further, expecting details to support this strange assertion. But no, the text then went on to elaborate that Barton’s comments had “enraged leading scholars,” and then quoted exactly one self-styled leading scholar on the subject, “US Hindu statesman Rajan Zed.” Given Zed’s history of seeking publicity (1, 2, for example), I don’t think Barton should worry too much about what Hindus think of her. Hindus around the world are not enraged. In fact, some of them are probably searching for nipslip pictures of her as I type these words.

More Zed: Check out these recent headlines where Zed claims to be speaking out on behalf of Hindus:

Tantra is not just sex: Upset Hindus tell actress Heather Graham
Hindus Consider Worldwide Sony Boycott

The dude who writes his press releases must be quite pleased with himself.

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 June, 2009 in Journalism | Media | Old memes | WTF


Where Your Taxes Go: 38

On gold rings for all children born in city corporation hospitals in Chennai and given Tamil names. This is a move by the Tamil Nadu government to “commemorate the 86th birthday celebrations of chief minister M Karunanidhi,” who has been “working to promote Tamil language for more than 70 years.”

Meanwhile, it seems that since last September, 11000 newborns have been given “dresses, baby soap and baby powder.”

No doubt you are outraged at this use of your taxes. Perhaps you are thinking, Hell, if someone wants to promote Tamil or give baby powder to newborns, let him do so with his own money. Why mine?

I urge you to stop protesting. This is all for the good of society. And I further propose, inspired by the legendary altruist Jonathan Swift, that we take a step further and use these newborns to end all starvation deaths in India. How so? Well, to quote Swift:

A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.

In an Indian context, you could have Tandoori Toddler, Baby Biriyani or Kadai Kiddo with naan. To promote Tamil culture, you could also have Infant Idlis. Boom, no more starvation deaths in India.

Yes, that’s disgusting. No, I’m not serious. But the Tamil Nadu government is, and the cup of the absurd runneth over.

(Link via email from Shyam. More on taxes.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 June, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


Mr Das Munshi’s Medical Expenses

Rediff reports:

In the midst of hectic ministry making, the Congress leadership has taken out time to deliberate on the future of one of its senior most leaders who is ill in hospital, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

Sources confirmed that his wife, first time MP, Deepa Das Munshi who contested and won from the Raiganj constituency in West Bengal is likely to be sworn in as a Minister of State when the Manmohan Singh council of ministers take oath.

An exception is being made for first term MP Deepa to ensure that Munshi is provided with the same level of medical care as he has been receiving for the last many months.

So, according to this report, Mrs Das Munshi is going to be sworn in as minister just so that her husband gets medical care at state expense. This is another illustration of the the party in power treating state resources as their private property, distributing largesse where they wish. Hell, the money being spent on these ministers did not land up from the sky, that is our money, taken from us ostensibly to serve our needs. The vast majority of the people who have coughed up that money—remember, anytime you buy something in India, you are effectively paying taxes—cannot afford the kind of health care Mr Das Munshi is getting. Why should our money pay for his health care?

The report says that “it was Pranab Mukherjee who sought that Deepa be made a minister for the sake of Munshi.” If Mr Mukherjee feels such compassion for Mr Das Munshi, he should pay for the treatment out of his own pocket. Why dig into mine?

(Link via email from Anand Bala. Click here for all my posts on how our taxes are misused.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 May, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


It’s Not Varun Gandhi’s Fault

No, it seems that all the appalling things he said recently can be blamed on Rahu-Ketu.

I can imagine Mayawati’s cops landing up in heaven to arrest Rahu-Ketu under the NSA. Inspector Mishra, leading the police team, finds a boy in pajamas lying on a khatiya. ‘That’s him,’ shouts Mishra, and his men surround the boy.

‘We know who you are,’ says Inspector Mishra, ‘but just for the record, identify yourself.’

‘I’m Rahu,’ says the boy. ‘I had ordered a butter chicken a couple of centuries ago, is it ready yet? Man, service in heaven is so slow, the waiters take everything for granted.’

‘Rahu,’ barks Inspector Mishra, ‘I hereby place you under arrest for instigating Varun Gandhi’s poisonous words. You have a right to remain silent. Until beaten.’

‘Hey, wait a sec,’ says Rahu, ‘that wasn’t me. That was my brother Ketu.’

(Link via email from Girish.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 April, 2009 in Dialogue | India | Old memes | Astrology etc | Politics | WTF


Mai-Baap Circular

Rediff reports:

Sports Minister M S Gill on Thursday flayed the ‘casualness’ of India’s cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh for skipping the Padma Shri function and said the Ministry would soon issue a circular to ensure sportspersons treat national awards with utmost respect.

Dhoni and his India teammate Harbhajan were conspicuous by their absence at the Rashtrapati Bhavan [Images] ceremony, where they were expected to receive the Padma Shri from President Pratibha Patil.

[...] The Sports Minister… said he would not brook such casualness by anyone. [...] And to ensure it does not happen again, the Ministry would issue a new circular soon, he said.

I don’t get this crap about issuing a circular to “ensure it does not happen again”. Gill makes it sound as if Dhoni and Harbhajan thrive under the patronage of the government, and are therefore beholden to it. That is not true. On the contrary, the taxes that Dhoni and Harbhajan and you and I pay are responsible for keeping Gill’s AC running and the fuel tank of his official car full. He talks as if he is our master, but really, a minister is no more than the servant of the people. Our government is notionally there to serve us, but behaves as if it rules us.

In my view, Dhoni and Harbhajan bring honour to the country, and the Padma Shri, like other government awards decided by an essentially political process, do not bring any additional honour to these fine sportsmen. Their fidelity is to their sport, not to the politicians running the government, and that is how it should be. Sure, Gill is entitled to hold the opinion that it was tasteless on the part of these two to not receive the award personally. But a circular? Give me a break.

And do note that these circulars and awards are all paid for by the sacrifices you and I and my maidservant are forced to make. Do you think it’s worth it? I don’t.

PS. In case you’re wondering whether I’m against the government spending taxpayers money on sport, well, I am. The reasons for that are pretty much the ones I’d articulated against government spending on the arts in my piece, Nadiraji Wants Your Money. If you think Padma Shris and sports ministries are a worthy cause, you fund them with your money. Why force me to pay?

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


A Real Bonus Outrage

Writing about the infamous AIG bonuses, Allan Sloan says:

If you want a real bonus outrage, consider this: The operation getting the biggest taxpayer subsidy of all - the federal government - pays bonuses to its employees too. This year it plans to hand out about $1.6 billion of bonuses, despite running more than $1 trillion in the red.

Ironically, many of the people who have cried themselves hoarse about how a private company is misusing taxpayers’ money have nothing to say about the astronomical wastage that takes place of the taxpayers’ money that is actually with the government—in any country. It is almost as if the government has a right to that money, for they are our rulers and we, their subjects—and not the other way around.

And here’s a thought—it’s much harder to bail out a government than an insurance company or two.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 April, 2009 in Economics | Old memes | Taxes | Politics


Rhino Sacrifice In UP

The WTF quote of the day comes from a 30-year-old woman who wanted to “find a match” and went to a tantrik named Farid Shah for help:

Shah said that sacrificing a rhino would remove all obstacles and within a week’s time I’d get married. I paid Rs 2.95 lakh to perform the puja. He told me that he would book air tickets to go to UP to catch a Rhino and will return after completing the puja.

The cops are looking for Shah, and they’ll presumably book him for fraud when they find him—unless he really sacrifices a rhino and the chick hooks up with someone. So he’ll get what he deserves. But what of the woman? She’s apparently the daughter of a retired ACP, and is now a manager in a software company—that means she has a certain minimum level of education. I hope her friends and relatives are kicking her ass bigtime for her stupidity. How could she believe that a rhino sacrifice would help her find a man?

That said, I find her faith no odder than that of anyone who goes to a temple or a church or a masjid and prays for anything at all. Still, we’re all entitled to our beliefs, and the faith of others is none of my business. But I am bemused when they complain about the consequences.

(Link via separate emails from Girish and Doc.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 March, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Astrology etc | Small thoughts | WTF


The Morality Of Zeroes

The WTF line of the day comes from The New York Times:

In a week when Mr. Obama scolded business executives for creating a culture of runaway salaries and bonuses, a disclosure form filed Tuesday showed that he signed a new $500,000 book agreement five days before taking office in January.

Does it even need to be said that the $500k that Obama got in his book deal is not taxpayers’ money? And that the AIG bonuses Obama has been pissed about are just that? The juxtaposition makes absolutely no sense, and I don’t see why Obama’s outrage over AIG even needs to be mentioned in this piece. Seriously, if I was paying anything to read NY Times, I’d want my money back just for this.

*

And while we’re on the subject, I agree with Michael Lewis that as a scandal, the $163 million that AIG paid in bonuses pales before the $173 billion (or $173,000 million, to put it in perspective) bailout that the US government gave AIG to begin with. Such large amounts, and the uses they are put to, boggle the mind, so taxpayers ignore them. Bonuses to fat cat executives are an easier target.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 March, 2009 in Economics | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


Padma Shrimati

Aishwarya Rai, in an interview with CNN-IBN, says:

He [Abhishek Bachchan] is the real ‘Padma Shri’ and I’m his ‘Padma Shrimati’ (giggles).

Immensely cloying cuteness, but they’re a young couple, so fine, we can forgive them that. But if we are to take this line of thinking further, Amitabh is Padma Babuji, Jaya is Padma Mom, and Amar Singh is Padma Uncle. I think all government awards are a waste of taxpayer resources—true achievers hardly need government validation—and this is a perfect opportunity for the government to stop this Padma nonsense. “No more government awards,” the minister in charge should announce. “Our sentiments have been hurt.”

(HT: Nishit.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 March, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Old memes | Taxes | WTF


Now Housewives Want Sops

This is quite the WTF headline of the week:

Kerala housewives demand pay from govt

Actually wait, on second thoughts, what’s so WTF about it? Why is this odder than any damn subsidy that the government of India gives? If the GoI can support failing businesses (for by definition only a failing business needs a subsidy), and pilgrims headed on pilgrimage, and all manners of interest groups, then why not housewives? If you take from Peter to pay Paul, and Prakash, and Pervez, and Pestonjee, then why not also pay Parvati?

Needless to say, that’s our tax money out there, and we’re all Peter. But we’re reconciled to that now, and apathetic towards it, so we’re never going to fight over the way it’s used. Also, some of us are fighting to be Paul and Prakash and Parvati, so there’s that. Maybe I should start a movement to subsidize bloggers?

(Link via separate emails from Shyam and Vineet.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 March, 2009 in Economics | India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


Animal Alchemy

Graeme Wood, in a feature on Lalu Prasad Yadav’s achievements as India’s railways minister, writes:

When Lalu presented his latest budget to Parliament on February 13, he bragged, “Hathi ko cheetah bana diya” (“I have turned an elephant into a cheetah”). What’s his secret?

“Cow dung,” he says. “I have 350 cows, including bulls. Cow dung—no need of gas.”

A few paragraphs later, Wood quotes a civil servant named Sudhir Kumar as saying, “If there is money lying around, we can smell it.” I wish these quotes had been used out of context, they would have made India seem so delightfully exotic: a land where you apply cow dung on an elephant to turn it into a cheetah, and where natives can smell money. Sadly, Wood sticks to responsible journalism and does nothing of the kind.

Still, that cow dung bit isn’t quite explained…

(HT: Arun. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 March, 2009 in India | Old memes | Cows | Politics | WTF


Where Your Taxes Go: 37

Nobody knows.

One day I also want to vanish through the Great Black Hole that our money travels through, and build a life for myself in the parallel universe on the other side. Such affluence must be there, no?

(HT: Neel. For more on how our government loots us, check out my Taxes Archive.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 March, 2009 in Economics | India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


On Cows And Alcohol

Every day, as we go about our mundane tasks, scientists and researchers are engaged in work that increases our understanding of the world in profound ways. Consider the following two studies, for example.

Study One: Cows and Names: In this pathbreaking study, researchers who do not need to get a life, thank you, have discovered that cows with names give more milk than cows without names. The lead researcher has been quoted as saying: “Placing more importance on knowing the individual animals and calling them by name can significantly increase milk production. Just as people respond better to the personal touch, cows also feel happier and more relaxed if given one-to-one attention.”

Study Two: Men and Alcohol: In a revelation that will send the men among you tumbling to the nearest pub, “new research suggests that moderate drinking actually protects against impotence in the long term.” The study finds that “drinkers experienced rates of impotence 25% to 30% below those of teetotallers.” So sweep that glass of fresh-lime soda off the table on your next date, and ask for a beer. “I will take you to heaven,” tell your love, “but first I must drink seven.”

And what is the conclusion from these two studies? Just this: The next time you are dating a cow, have a drink or two; but don’t drink so much that you forget her name.

Isn’t that useful?

(Links via separate emails from Aditya Kuber, Kaushal Desai, Anand Gadiyar (cows) and The Beast (alcohol). Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 January, 2009 in News | Old memes | Cows | Science and Technology


Bribing God With Toy Planes

Outlook reports from Jalandhar:

Want to seek greener pastures abroad? Come to a gurudwara here and offer a plane and who knows your wish might get fulfilled.

This may sound strange but Punjabi youths, especially from the Doaba region, have been thronging the Gurudwara Sant Baba Nihal Singh Ji Shaheedan in Talhan to offer toy planes so that their wishes of going abroad and getting lucrative jobs are fulfilled.

Toy planes, inscribed with names of different carriers, are found in front of the Guru Granth Sahib.

And then, of course, the confirmation bias kicks in. Some of these dudes will go abroad, and will tell all their friends, Hey, that toy-plane offering worked. You try it too. While the dudes who couldn’t go abroad will find other reasonable explanations for their failure, and may actually come back and deposit more toy planes.

Also, there’s self-selection. Outsiders could compare people who offer toy planes to people who don’t, and find that a larger percentage of the former group goes abroad. From this, they will conclude that the offerings work. But the conclusion is wrong because people offering toy planes are likely to be far more eager to go abroad than those who don’t, and that eagerness will get more of them on the plane out of here. The toy planes themselves will obviously have nothing to do with it.

(Indeed, if God existed, She would probably have gone WTF when those offerings were made. I’m God, and you’re trying to bribe me with toy planes? Get outta here!)

To carry this silliness forward, I wonder what these people will offer when they want a new house. A new car. More sex. The mind boggles.

(Hat tip: Aditya Kuber.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 January, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Astrology etc | WTF


“It Would Be Unwise To Invest In Just One Sick Cow”

That’s got to be the line of the day.

Speaking of cows, there’s controversy in America about whether President-elect Barack Obama is going to impose a ‘cow tax’ on farmers because of the greenhouse emissions of their bovine inventory. Maybe farmers will now give their cows Digene to try and earn Methane Credits. If you’re a cow, my sympathies are with you.

(Links via email from Mohit (Dogbert), Mahendra  and Balkrishna Nadkarni (cow tax). Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 December, 2008 in News | Old memes | Cows


Beam Me Up, Tricolour

The WTF line of the day comes from Rediff:

A beaming Tricolour will flutter on the moon now.

I never knew flags could show emotion or something could flutter on the moon, but what would I know, I’ve never been up there with a flag. And this is also very funny.

There will be much celebration this week on India reaching the moon, but I’m not sure if the benefits of getting there are worth the cost to the taxpayer. Unless that flag really is fluttering, and we can be the first nation to open a golf course on the moon.

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 November, 2008 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | WTF


A Shaky Foundation

Rediff reports:

The Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha are usually adjourned because of commotion. But on Thursday the Upper House was forced to adjourn briefly for an interesting reason—malfunctioning of the presiding officer’s seat. [...]

Deputy Chairman K Rahman Khan, who was in the chair, rose to cool tempers. But, when he was about to sit, the back cushion seemed to fall off. [...]

Soon after, Khan adjourned the House for 10 minutes. [...]

But the problem with the seat persisted when the House reassembled at 12:45 pm and Khan adjourned it till 13:30 pm.

There are two things to note here:

1] Parliamentary proceedings cost taxpayers Rs 26,000 a minute, and these dudes showed a remarkably cavalier attitude towards that money. If I was the speaker, I’d just have taken any random chair available and sat on that. Khan’s attitude is of a man who thinks that politicians rule the people, not serve them.

2] If our government can’t maintain a simple thing like the seat of the presiding officer of the upper house of parliament, what chance do you think they have of running the rest of the country well?

Earlier posts on parliament: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

(Link via email from Deepak Iyer.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 October, 2008 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


The Insurgent Cow

This is the headline of the day:

Cow breaks security cordon—Chhattisgarh chief minister attacked during evening event

A naïve commentator would conclude from this that the day is not far when naxalites will use cow suicide bombers. (Cowcide bombers?) But I am not naïve, and I do not conclude. So there.

Obligatory smutty link of the day: Cow porn.

(Links via emails from Scribbler, Scribina and Kunal. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 September, 2008 in Old memes | Cows


Curiosity Trapped The Cow?

ANI reports:

A curious cow got her head stuck in an old washing machine dumped in a field at Higher Fraddon, St Columb, Cornwall.

The animal’s ordeal ended after it was freed by the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)...

The article doesn’t give the full story, which I have found out through my bovine sources. The cow didn’t stick it’s head inside because it was curious, but because there was cold coffee inside.

Aren’t you glad there are blogs that reveal things the mainstream media won’t?

(Link via separate emails from Mahendra Shikaripur and Anitha Murthy. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 September, 2008 in Old memes | Cows


Cows And The Earth’s Magnetic Field

My fondness for cows is well known, especially in steak form, but even I would never contemplate research of this nature:

Cows can sense Earth’s magnetic field, scientists say. German scientists using satellite images posted online by the Google Earth software programme have observed something that has escaped the notice of farmers, herders and hunters—Cattle grazing or at rest tend to orient their bodies in a north-south direction just like a compass needle, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Studying photographs of 8,510 cattle in 308 herds from around the world, zoologists Sabine Begall and Hynek Burda of the University of Duisburg-Essen and their colleagues found that two out of every three animals in the pictures were oriented in a direction roughly pointing to magnetic north.

The resolution of the images was not sufficient to tell which ends of the cows were pointing north, however, the report said.

They even counted how many cows there were. Just think.

(Link via separate emails from Gaurav Sabnis, Nikhil Kulkarni and azyraphale. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104.

Also, via vinjk, bonus cow: Mini-Cow!)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 August, 2008 in Old memes | Cows | WTF


Cow Goes Trekking?

image

Okay, enough, shut your mouth—that’s not a picture of a cow about to go trekking, but of something even more astonishing—a cow with a plastic tank attached to its back that is intended to capture the methane it farts. The Telegraph reports:

Experts said the slow digestive system of cows makes them a key producer of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that gets far less public attention than carbon dioxide.

In a bid to understand the impact of the wind produced by cows on global warming, scientists collected gas from their stomachs in plastic tanks attached to their backs.

The Argentine researchers discovered methane from cows accounts for more than 30 per cent of the country’s total greenhouse emissions.

Personally, I look at cows not as a contributor to our environmental problems but as an answer to our energy needs. I’m off to get me a steak now. Coming?

(Link via email from Sanjeev. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 August, 2008 in Old memes | Cows | WTF


India Doesn’t Need Olympic Pride

A shorter version of this piece was published in Friday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal Asia.

It was a gunshot heard across a subcontinent. On Monday, Abhinav Bindra, a 25-year-old shooter from India, took aim for his final shot in the 10-meter air rifle event at the Olympic Games. The pressure was intense, but Mr Bindra shot an almost-perfect 10.8 to win the gold medal. His fans and supporters jumped up in delight in the stands, as wild celebrations began across the country. India’s 24-hour news channels became 24-hour Bindra channels, and there was much talk of national pride.

Mr Bindra’s achievement warrants such celebration. On a national level, this was, astonishingly, the first gold medal India has won in an individual sport in any Olympics. And on the more important personal level, it was a testament to the years of single-minded hard work Mr Bindra dedicated to his sport. Not surprisingly, the government immediately took credit for his achievement.

India’s sports minister, Manohar Singh Gill, came on television and said, “I congratulate myself and every other Indian.” But while India’s shooting association is better than most of the bodies that run sport in the country, it was Mr Bindra’s family that enabled his success. Mr Bindra was lucky that his father is an industrialist who dipped into his personal wealth to support his son. He built a shooting range for Abhinav in his farmhouse in Punjab, and made sure he never ran out of ammunition, which is not made in India and has to be imported.

India and China are studies in contrast. The full might of the Chinese state goes into creating sportspeople who will bring it pride. The Indian government, on the other hand, does a pathetic job of administering sports in the country. Rent-seeking bureaucrats run the various sporting federations – or ruin them, as some would say. A great illustration of this is hockey, a sport once dominated by India, which failed to qualify for Bejing. Even though there is no Indian hockey team at these Olympics, four hockey coaches have duly made their way to Beijing. Franz Kafka would feel at home as an Indian sports journalist today.

Most of India’s finest sportspeople are self-made athletes who owe nothing to the system – Viswanathan Anand, the world chess champion, is a case in point. The sport where India has been most successful, cricket, is not administered by the government. Surely, nationalists would argue, there is a case to be made for pumping more money into our sport.

Such arguments are wrong. India’s leaders need to have a clear sense of priorities, and there are two things they would do well to consider. One, despite the gains sections of our economy have made since the liberalization of 1991, India remains a desperately poor country. Two, unlike China, India is democratic, and its government thus carries a certain responsibility towards its people, and the taxes it collects from them.

Any money that the government spends on sport could be better spent on building infrastructure: roads, ports, power-generating units etc. It would also do a lot of good simply left in the hand of the taxpayers, who would then spend it according to their own individual priorities. Hundreds of millions of Indians are forced to part with their hard-earned money through direct or indirect taxes, and it is perverse if that money is spent towards something as nebulous as an outdated notion of national pride.

For too long now, India has been an insecure nation craving validation from the West. Even many of us who speak of India as a future superpower have one ear cocked towards the west, straining to hear similar forecasts in a foreign accent, ignoring the condescension that such pronouncements sometimes carry. Similarly, we look to the sporting arena for affirmation of our self-worth. That attitude might have been understandable during the days of the cold war – but it no longer is.

Sport is a zero-sum game – for one nation to win, another must lose. But real life is non-zero-sum, and nothing demonstrates the win-win game of life as well as globalisation, with nations (and individuals) trading with each other to mutual benefit. In these times, it is clear we do not need Olympic medals to be a great nation, but economic progress that all Indians have access to. It is beyond the scope of this piece to spell out the many reforms that are needed for that happen – but spending taxpayers’ money responsibly is a key part of the puzzle.

I shall go against the prevailing wisdom, then, and say that I don’t mind if our government spends less money on sport, or even none. Where will our Olympic medals come from then, you ask (as if the last few decades have brought us a slew of them). Well, lift enough people to prosperity, and the sporting laurels will roll in. Ask Abhinav Bindra.

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 August, 2008 in Economics | Essays and Op-Eds | India | Old memes | Taxes | Sport


Where Your Taxes Go: 36

On a state funeral for a dead singer.

Ishmeet Singh’s death might be a tragedy for his family and his fans, but I don’t see why people who do not fall in either of those categories should have to pay for his funeral—and that chartered flight carrying his body from Ludhiana to New Delhi at taxpayers’ expense. If Parkash Singh Badal feels that Ishmeet deserves a grand funeral, then Parkash Singh Badal should pay for it out of his own pocket. That goes for everyone else who holds that opinion as well. Why should the taxpayer pay?

Yes, yes, Badal is obviously just making a populist gesture here. And it will work, because the people who praise him for it won’t figure that it is their money he is spending. Such it goes…

(For more on how our government loots us, check out my Taxes Archive.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 August, 2008 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics


Where Your Taxes Go: 35

On a statue for a dead farmer in Karnataka.

I’m not kidding you, see the link above. A farmer named Siddalingappa Choori was shot by the cops for no fault of his own, and then:

[...] Choori’s wife, Kusuma, was given an appointment letter to work in the Haveri tehsildar’s office, and the government undertook to pay her children’s school fees and promised to install a statue of Choori in the town.

Compensation and suchlike is fine, but why on earth should my hard-earned tax money go into building a statue for a dead farmer? (Or even a dead politician, but that’s another matter.) If they really need to get rid of that money, just hand it over to Kusuma, it’ll be more use there. Who thought of a statue and why? I want to smoke what he was smoking, I do.

(Link via email from Happy-Go-Lucky. For more on how our government loots us, check out my Taxes Archive.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 July, 2008 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | WTF


‘The Sun and Versatile Mercury in Leo’

Astrologer Bejan Daruwala has some advice for Roger Federer:

He should come more often to the net, because he has the reach, the agility, and the dexterity to volley for an outright winner, or to make a strong opening for it, and with the next volley, finish it. The Sun and versatile Mercury in Leo, is the key to it.

I dispute Daruwala’s contention that Mercury is versatile: it cannot play guitar. It’s mercurial, that’s all.

More Daruwala on India Uncut: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 June, 2008 in Old memes | Astrology etc | Sport | WTF


Where Your Taxes Go: 34

On a bigger statue for Mayawati. The Times of India reports from Lucknow:

A statue of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has been removed from a prominent location by the authorities here barely 45 days after she unveiled it, officials said. She wants a bigger statue of herself in its place.

[...]

Officials said Mayawati was not happy with the quality of the sculpture. She had also expressed her displeasure over the fact that it was smaller than the statue of her political mentor Kanshi Ram.

Now there’ll be anti-incumbency in the next election and Mulayam Singh Yadav will take over and want an even bigger statue than Mayawati’s, and then Mayawati will come back and want one size bigger, and so on until some low-cost airline’s airplane crashes into Mayawati’s nose and there are enquiries and Rajesh Talwar is blamed for that also. I love my India.

(Link via email from Ravikiran. Related posts on taxes in UP: 1, 2. For more on how our government loots us, check out my Taxes Archive.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 June, 2008 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


Where Your Taxes Go: 33

On foreign holidays for our esteemed judges. CNN-IBN reports:

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, KG Balakrishnan, wants judges to be kept out of the purview of the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

Now an RTI application put in by CNN-IBN has thrown up interesting details of how judges have extended their holidays, often for personal purposes, at Government expense.

Ironically, the urge to travel starts at the top. Balakrishnan, after taking over as Chief Justice, made at least seven trips abroad in 2007 traveling First Class with his wife with the air fare alone costing over Rs 39 lakh.

For instance, during his 11-day trip to Pretoria, South Africa in August 2007, the Chief Justice took the following route - Delhi, Dubai, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Capetown, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls, where the judge finally didn’t go and returned via Dubai to Delhi.

Sure, a judge might need to make an official trip to study the judicial system of another country or something, but this is clearly tourist travel happening here, and according to the CNN-IBN reporter, there are “government rules that say judges cannot be accompanied by wives on work tours.” When the law minister HR Bhardwaj was asked about this, he replied:

How can you deprive the wife? You are a woman. You should understand.

I hereby demand that all Indian women be sent to South Africa for a holiday paid for by HR Bhardwaj out of his personal savings account. Thank you.

(Link via email from reader Shyam. For more on how our government loots us, check out my Taxes Archive.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 May, 2008 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


Where Your Taxes Go: 32

On celebrating a mutiny that took place 150 years ago. MSN reports:

India spent Rs 130 crore to celebrate its First War of Independence, 1857 revolt, without constructing a memorial for the martyrs or their directory.

A day after the government officially ended the year-long celebrations, a member of the National Implementation Committee (NIC) on 1857 revolt has termed most of the expenditure as “waste” on a “national tamasha”.

A tamasha it is, and an ironic one at that, for our government is closer in spirit to the British forces of 1857 than to the mutineers—this waste of our money, coercively taken from us, is a great example of that. Will we ever rise up against such theft?

Also read: The Republic of Apathy.

(Link via email from Rajeev Mantri. For more on how our government loots us, check out my Taxes Archive.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 May, 2008 in Economics | India | News | Old memes | Taxes


A Conversation With God

It is redundant to mention WTFness when one speaks of Bejan Daruwalla. Here’s a gem:

One night during my moment of revelations with God, I learnt that ‘devi maa’ will conquer the world through her splendid glory. As I was writing my conversation with God and I wrote Ganeshji will support this year through its turbulent times. Next morning to my surprise the letters changed and it was the Goddess in its place.

If you said something like this in any context besides religion, your loved ones would be calling a psychiatrist. But somehow religion makes it all okay.

And hey, remember Pratibha Patil?

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 May, 2008 in Old memes | Astrology etc | WTF


At Rs 26,000 a Minute…

... ‘Torture Hour’ costs Rs 15.6 lakhs.

That’s your money. And mine.

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 May, 2008 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics


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