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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: Personal

Amit Agarwal Blogs, Honda CR-V Comes

“Google AdSense and Blogging Brought Me This Car,” reveals Amit Agarwal. It’s a Honda CR-V. It couldn’t be more well-deserved, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Congrats, Amit.

And why is this other Amit still a pauper? I can rationalize. Boo hoo.

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 April, 2008 in Blogging | Personal


Dementia? Not me!

It turns out that coffee is good for you because it “may cut the risk of dementia by blocking the damage cholesterol can inflict on the body.” Joy. I can rationalize my addiction now.

(Link via Instapundit.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 April, 2008 in Miscellaneous | Personal


Hiatus

A sudden unplanned blogging hiatus has formed itself over the last couple of days, and it will continue until Wednesday, April 2. I have loads of things to blog about, but am busy working on something I hadn’t planned, and will be travelling on April 1 as well. (I can imagine getting to the airport and the airlines people telling me: Yes, we know you have a ticket for today, but… April Fool!)

I’ll have plenty to blog about when I return, so hang in there and don’t be naughty.

Posted by Amit Varma on 31 March, 2008 in Personal


The Two Ways of Loving a Book

The greatest happiness, even greater than sex, is reading a good book. I’ve got lucky the last couple of days with Anne Fadiman, whose “At Large and At Small” was kindly gifted to me by Nilanjana a few days ago. It’s a book of familiar essays, and I derived great consolation from her essays on coffee and circadian rhythms, instantly losing my guilt at staying up every night drinking coffee by the barrel. I demand you go out and grab it and devour every word.

The excerpt below, though, is from “Ex Libris,” her book on the joys of reading. Here you go:

When I was eleven and my brother was thirteen, our parents took us to Europe. At the Hôtel d’Angleterre in Copenhagen, as he had done virtually every night of his literate life, Kim left a book facedown on the bedside table. The next afternoon, he returned to find the book closed, a piece of paper inserted to mark the page, and the following note, signed by the chambermaid, resting on its cover:

SIR, YOU MUST NEVER DO THAT TO A BOOK.

My brother was stunned. How could it have come to pass that he—a reader so devoted that he’d sneaked a book and a flashlight under the covers at his boarding school every night after lights-out, a crime punishable by a swat with a wooden paddle—had been branded as someone who didn’t love books? I shared his mortification. I could not imagine a more bibliolatrous family than the Fadimans. Yet, with the exception of my mother, in the eyes of the young Danish maid we would all have been found guilty of rampant book abuse.

During the next thirty years I came to realize that just as there is more than one way to love a person, so there is more than one way to love a book. The chambermaid believed in courtly love. A book’s physical self was sacrosanct to her, its form inseparable from its content; her duty as a lover was Platonic adoration, a noble but doomed attempt to conserve forever the state of perfect chastity in which it had left the bookseller. The Fadiman family believed in carnal love. To us, a book’s words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated. Hard use was a sign not of disrespect but of intimacy.

Even better, if I may add to that, one does not need to expend energy seducing a book, for it is always compliant and often, if the writer is skillful enough, enthusiastic.

I was a courtly lover as a child, and my father, a devout collector of books, instilled in me a sort of reverence for them. In India, of course, it is considered disrespectful to touch a book with your feet, as if it is an idol—and I don’t anymore believe in idle worship. Now I am carnal, happily writing notes in the margins of books, leaving them facedown, reading them while eating and allowing my gravy-stained fingers to turn the pages, as if to leave a mark that says You are part of me now, and here, I am part of you as well.

“Ex Libris” is a beautiful book: if you love books, or are “bibliolatrous” like the Fadimans (what a charming word!), you will love every essay in it. I hope that love is carnal.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 March, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Personal


Not Used To A Plan B

The reason the Australian cricket team has floundered a few times in the recent past, writes Harsha Bhogle, is because they’re not used to being under pressure, and are thus not good at dealing with it.

It has long been my view that Australia are awesome when they are front runners, a great and often elusive quality in itself, but get a bit confused when they fall behind.

That will happen more often now that Adam Gilchrist, one of the greatest rescuers of cricket matches in history, joins Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in retirement. Plan B will need to be pressed into service more often and opposing teams will be looking to see if that is an indicator of weakness.

[...] It reminds me of what Ian Chappell, a fine and astute observer, said some years ago. “I’d love to see these guys field against Kanhai and Sobers when not only are the wickets difficult to come by but the bowlers are getting a bit of a pasting”, he said.

Sobers and Kanhai were geniuses, of course, and to push these Aussies at their peak, nothing less than genius would suffice. (Think Laxman and Harbhajan, 2001.) Now, however, with their best players retiring one-by-one, a good team can push them into Plan B by just playing consistently well, without needing to play out of their skins. That makes the next couple of years very interesting.

Harsha has some kind words for me and my piece yesterday towards the end of his article. I’m always flattered to read such praise, though I think Rohit Brijnath and Prem Panicker will no doubt be pissed at Harsha for taking my name in the same breath as theirs. Don’t worry, boys, I know my place!

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 March, 2008 in Personal | Sport


Inertia

AP reports:

Authorities are considering charges in the bizarre case of a woman who sat on her boyfriend’s toilet for two years — so long that her body was stuck to the seat by the time the boyfriend finally called police.

Ness County Sheriff Bryan Whipple said it appeared the 35-year-old Ness City woman’s skin had grown around the seat. She initially refused emergency medical services but was finally convinced by responders and her boyfriend that she needed to be checked out at a hospital.

Strange as this particular case is, it feels like life itself. Happenstance places us in a particular situation, or we make a careless choice—and then we remain stuck, even though we can leave at any time, until we can no longer leave. It could be a bad job, an unhappy marriage, even a lifestyle that produces a paunch and a stoop: we become victims of inertia.

So really, how many of us are stuck on a seat?

(Link via email from Gautam.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 March, 2008 in News | Personal | Small thoughts


We The People, Redux

I was a panelist on NDTV’s We the People a few weeks ago, when they discussed national symbols, and they’ve invited me over again to discuss Women’s Day with them. I’ll be flying out in a couple of hours for the shoot at 4, and will return tomorrow evening.

You can watch me make a fool of myself this evening at 8pm. I think there’s a repeat sometime after midnight. And no, I have no idea why they invited me for a show on this subject, as I’m neither a woman nor an expert on women’s rights. But I’ll put up a brave front, I will.

Note: Women’s Day was actually yesterday, and it was horrible for me. My laptop broke down, and now refuses to start. This means email access and blogging will be limited during my Delhi trip. Hang in there.

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 March, 2008 in Personal


The Pubic Domain

The apology of the day comes from the Island:

Our main headline yesterday should have read ‘Robbers of public money will end up in hell—Chief Justice’. Due to an inadvertent error the word ‘pubic’ had crept in instead of ‘public’. We tender an unqualified apology to Chief Justice Sarath N Silva.

This reminds me of an incident from my callow youth that happened around 12 or 13 years ago. I worked in Channel [V] then, and despite being a scriptwriter for them, did not have a computer to myself at work. Their public relations department had a computer that was mostly free, but the two ladies who worked there would act immensely pricey about letting me use what I considered an office resource. The screensaver on their computer read “We Are Proud Of Being Channel [V]‘s Public Relations”, and in a fit of youthful pique, I removed the ‘l’ from ‘public.’

Exactly 41 days later—I counted—they noticed and changed it back. I could have changed it again, of course, but I didn’t, so that I would have the pleasure of watching them wait in front of their machine every morning till the screensaver came on just to see if it had been changed. Cheap thrills.

Update: Via Groundviews, here’s a screenshot of the headline as it appeared:

(Groundviews link via email from Deane.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 March, 2008 in Journalism | Media | Personal


Notes After Another Journey

Economics seeks to explain human behaviour, and it is about time economists and game theorists come together to create a new branch of it called “elbow economics”. Elbow Economics would deal with the interactions between two strangers on an airplane or train as they struggle to gain control of the single armrest between them. They don’t know each other, and have no need to cultivate the other’s affection or respect. But they don’t want to fight too hard over elbow space, as that might appear petty, and no one likes to come across that way, even to strangers. But then, there’s the ego.

The tussle for elbow space is a game of cat and mouse. If the other person occupies the armrest, you wait for him to fidget, to reach out for a magazine in front of him, to pick his nose, or suchlike. Then your elbow swoops into place. His elbow returns, is surprised to find its space occupied, and settles down, uncomfortably, on its owners lap. It waits. You need to reach out and get your bottle of water. But you wait. And so on.

Sometimes two elbows manage an uneasy compromise in that space, one in front, the other behind. Sometimes, a fight breaks out. That happened to me once, but my latest trip to Delhi and back was peaceful. On the return trip, a lady sat besides me, and women never ever fight over elbow space. That is the second-most important reason why I like women.

*

While passing CP, I noticed that the legendary Kake Da Dhaba was now Kake Da Hotel. Why would they do this? Any clues? Is it a misguided attempt to be modern? Are they escaping some new regulation that applies only to dhabas? Whatever their reason is, some charm has certainly vanished.

*

In Delhi, I stayed overnight at DD and Nilanjana‘s place. They were most hospitable, as were their stately cats, Tiggy and Pantha (picture below). When I was being put to bed, I was warned that at some point during the night, Pantha would get into bed with me and snuggle up. This worried me, as I have never had a cat on my bed before. “What should I do if that happens?”

“If you don’t want her on your bed,” said Nilanjana, “just raise your leg and say HOOT!”

“Ok.”

I woke up a couple of times during the night. No cat. Once, just to be on the safe side, I raised my leg and said HONK!

The next morning, as I was wolfing down sausages, I was informed by Nilanjana that when she woke up and came into the hall, she found Pantha sleeping on my butt. “She has scaled Everest.”

“Grmmph,” I said. “She scaled Everest when Everest was sleeping. If Everest was awake…”

image

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 February, 2008 in Personal


This Unbearable Lightness of Blogging…

... is easily explained. I was travelling, heading to Delhi and back for reasons of immense dubiousness, and thus had to take an uncharacteristic Monday break from blogging. Regular service shall resume tomorrow. Your patience is appreciated.

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 February, 2008 in Personal


Office Warfare

Damn. Why weren’t there USB Rocket Launchers in my time?

(Link via email from Scribbler.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 February, 2008 in Miscellaneous | Personal


Notes After a Journey

Yes, yes, I haven’t posted for more than 36 hours—so sue me, dawgs. I’ve been travelling, escaping to Chandigarh for reasons unrelated to Raj Thackeray’s warning to North Indians to clear out of Mumbai. Such a darling he is.

And hell, seeing how cold it is up North, I’d say Raj picked the wrong season to ask North-Indian migrants to return home. In this winter, no thank you. What’s a lathi or two?

*

I’m known to get up to comical misadventures when it gets too cold, and the first thing I did on arriving here was jump in front of the heater in the mom’s room. I extended my hands next to the radiator, and a blissful expression covered my face. Such warmth!

Then my father told me that the electricity had gone, and the heater was off. The heat was psychological. Pah.

*

One of the worst things about the cold is taking a bath. How to be naked? This is not the developed world, where homes are centrally heated, and the upstairs of my house here can get rather freezing. Also, I’ve got a bout of loosies, and my switch has been going toggle on/off/on/off. (Dependol should be renamed Undependol.) That means many encounters with cold water.

A hundred years later, my great-great-grand nephews will sit on my knee and listen to such stories with incredulity. “Cold water?” they’ll remark. “Now that’s a tall story. We all know there’s no such thing. Tell us about Santa Claus again.”

*

Speaking of golden ages, I was surfing TV, and hit upon NDTV Imagine. There was a mythological serial going on, and some dude with long white hair and beard was spouting wisdom. And I thought to myself: Wait, it couldn’t have been quite as good as they show it. They didn’t have shampoo!

*

Actually, I could have put this post up yesterday, but the internet was acting funny. Every site I went to opened easily except my own. At one point, MadMan, who built this website and otherwise runs the universe, told me that perhaps the government has blocked it. We were running traceroutes and all.

I looked up at the sky where no higher being exists and promised: Please FSM, if my site comes back, I will only blog about arty things. No politics, no economics. Nothing to piss governments off.

But now the site is back, and I’ve forgotten my promise. May I choke on pasta.

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 February, 2008 in Personal


Onwards To Kala Ghoda

If you happen to be in Mumbai, I recommend you check out some of the events at the ongoing Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. Many interesting workshops, discussions, film viewings and art exhibitions are taking place, and the street food at Kala Ghoda is quite rocking—especially the mutton dhansak at the Joss stall, which I shall attack again sometime this evening.

I’m supposed to be part of a panel discussion or two, and I’m also one of the judges of the Flash Essay competition. It’s quite a neat idea, and I hope it catches on—if you feel inclined to enter, please do so.

Also, here’s an exhibition I rather enjoyed. I would obviously be biased about it, but some of Haren Vakil’s art in this is quite stunning, and the pictures on the website don’t do it justice.

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 February, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | Personal


Having A Bad Day At Work?

You really must see this!

I work from home, and my bad days have nothing to do with coworkers —I have none—and are generally due to my broadband going on the blink. Or maybe I forget to shut the windows before dusk, and mosquitoes come in. Immensely mundane.

But I’ve been there and felt that, and this video certainly made me feel like destroying something.

(Link via email from Arzan Sam Wadia.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 February, 2008 in Miscellaneous | Personal


Me the Person on We the People

I’ll be appearing as a panelist on tonight’s episode of We the People, which telecasts on NDTV 24x7 at 8pm, and then at half an hour past midnight. The subject under discussion was whether we take national symbols —like the flag and the anthem—too seriously, and whether the state should use coercion to disallow disrespect of those symbols.

Other panelists included, in alphabetical order of last name so that no one’s national honour is offended, Bharat Bala, Sarnath Bannerjee, General Cordoza, Smriti Irani, Jaideep Sahni, Harish Salve and Shiv Viswanathan. Good fun came, so do watch me make a fool of myself, and note that my core competency is writing, not speaking. That’s the only excuse I can offer in advance!

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 January, 2008 in Freedom | India | Personal


Going to the Gym

Sigh. This video hurts, it does. Watch:

This is by a chappie named somegreybloke, and I strongly recommend you check out the rest of his videos here. Some more favourites: Jesus Loves You; Light Bulb Joke; New Year’s Resolutions.

(Link via email from JSV.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 January, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | Miscellaneous | Personal


I Am Two Japanese Prodigies

Mid Day and HT City both run a an excellent daily comic strip by Rajneesh Kapoor called “This is Our Life”. Today’s strip in Mid-Day, to my surprise, reveals the truth about me. Here it is (click on the image for a bigger picture if it isn’t clear enough):

image

Sigh. Now everyone knows…

(Thanks to Ulrik for informing me that my cover is busted. Pah.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 January, 2008 in Personal


It’s Thursday Again…

... but unlike every Thursday for almost a year now, I don’t have a column to upload. I have discontinued writing my weekly column, Thinking It Through, for Mint, due to recent disagreements. They wanted me to write exclusively for them (even on cricket!), and I felt the terms they offered didn’t justify such an expectation. So we parted ways.

I’m quite certain it’s my loss. Mint is an excellent paper with high editorial standards, and will no doubt find a better replacement. I shall remain a loyal reader.

I did 48 installments of the column, all of which you can read in my Thinking It Through archives. I worked quite hard on them, and became a better writer as the months went by, even if I’m still not as good as I’d like to be. Some bits of writing in there make me twinge—but I’m rather proud of some of those pieces. I also managed to win the Bastiat Prize in that time, which I put down more to good fortune than to my work being particularly mind-blowing—all awards have an element of the lottery to them.

While some nostalgia will no doubt come, I’m relieved that I will no longer be getting all stressed out every Tuesday and Wednesday over the impending deadline. This also frees up the mindspace I need to get down to doing certain other things that will require time and discipline, which I’ve delayed long enough. So wish me luck…

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 January, 2008 in Personal


This Irish Band

We were out at dinner earlier tonight with Devangshu and Sumant, and as we got up to leave, Devangshu passed a table with two smartly dressed ladies. He heard one of them lean forward and ask the other:

Have you heard of this Irish band called U2?

Sadly, he did not stick around for the answer. And now forever I will wonder.

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 January, 2008 in Personal


Hey, I Could Win One Of Those

NYC couch potato contest lasts 29 hours.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 January, 2008 in News | Personal


My New Year’s Resolution…

... is to break it.

Meanwhile, Justin Wolfers takes an economist’s view.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 December, 2007 in Economics | Personal


“John Berger and French Fries”

I’m 99% sure I overheard someone say that at a fast-food joint an hour ago.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 December, 2007 in Personal


Why Whistling Matters

WTF headline of the day:

Gulshan whistles at Shilpa.

I must now confess that I have never learned to whistle. As I do not have any dogs, and am too much of a gentleman to whistle at passing nymphets, it is not a great loss to me. However, it does mean that in future, there is one way in which I will not be able to make the headlines. My sorrow knows no bounds, and I will soon be moistening my fingers by blowing on them. Pah.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 December, 2007 in Journalism | Media | News | Personal | WTF


On The Road

I’m flying to Baroda in a couple of hours, and then to Chandigarh via Delhi tomorrow. I probably won’t have internet access until tomorrow (Monday) night, so don’t get all upset and hysterical if India Uncut has no new posts until then. You can manage. You’re a survivor. You must be brave.

Sigh. Did you really have to do that to the keyboard?

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 December, 2007 in Personal


Do Not Mess With MadMan

My good friend Madhu ‘MadMan’ Menon, the phenomenally talented restaurant owner and chef who has designed this website, speaks to Lounge about why he shifted from IT to food—and why others shouldn’t! Check it out, and if you’re in Bangalore anytime, visit Shiok—his Drunken Beef is a masterpiece.

Personally, I think his two great talents, which most of the world does not yet know about, are opera singing and martial arts. Sadly, I do not have an audio file of his singing that I can upload right away. But I do have a story about his martial arts.

About a year ago, I went and stayed at his flat in Bangalore while he designed this website. Our rooms were at different ends of his apartment, separated by a large living room and a kitchen. So one morning, after a latish night arguing over backgrounds and fonts, I woke up and groggily made my way towards the kitchen. Madhu was pacing up and down in the living room.

“Where are you going?” he barked.

“I’m going to the kitchen to make some coffee.”

“Do you realise that you could be attacked?” he said. “Someone could come and put their hands around your neck and try to strangle you.”

“Huh?”

“I will show you how to fight them off. Come and try to strangle me.”

“What?”

“Come, come, you must learn these things. Come here and put your hands on my neck. Pretend you are choking me.”

“Uh, whatever.” I went and held his throat.

“No, you fool, not like that. Press hard. Pretend you are strangling me.”

I pressed lightly, and the next thing I knew, I was flying through the air, and then I was flat on my back on the living room*.

“Huh,” I said, too stunned to slip into my normal alpha male mode, the one that all the girls flip for.

“See,” he said. “That’s what you need to do when someone tries to strangle you. But what will you do if someone gets you in a headlock? I will show you. Stand up and get me in a headlock.”

And so it went, for half an hour, before I finally reached the kitchen. I then made, I am proud to inform you, the greatest coffee ever.

So that’s MadMan. You never know what he’s going to be world famous for, but you sure don’t want to get him in a headlock.

*  *  *

*Madhu claims that I exaggerate this story, and that I was never actually literally flat on my back. That is possible. Indeed, via Chinese whispers, the story has travelled and gotten back to me with details that even I never knew in the first place. But the details don’t matter, the essence does. And if communicating the essence of it requires me to be flat on my back, that is a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 December, 2007 in Personal


Laminated Bamboo Laptop

Such an innovation. So the next time your broadband’s down, you can eat your laptop in frustration.

Grrr…

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 December, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal


w00t!

I am pleased to inform my readers that Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2007 is w00t. I hadn’t even heard of this word until a few months ago. I am, thus, reminded of how old I am, and consequently, of my mortality. This is most depressing—though the word is rather nice, and I am even contemplating making it a category of this site, much like WTF. Yes, that’s a good idea—things that make me happy shall be filed under w00t.

Given my morbid disposition, of course, it is quite possible that I shall not have occasion anytime soon to begin posting in this category. Still, it opens up a possibility.

And no doubt you will agree with me that w00t is a far better choice than The New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2006. Boring, that one, and certainly not category material.

(Links via email from the indefatigable Sanjeev Naik.)

Morose update: The two central characters of the word this post is about are zeros, and are supposed to appear larger than the ‘w’ and the ‘t’. However, the font on this darned blog of mine is such that the zero (0) appears as small as a small ‘o’. When I saw that, I changed the zeros to capital Os (so 0 became O and w00t became wOOt), which looked right, but would offend any pedant, because it was wrong. I have now changed it back, so it is right, but looks wrong.

These are the kind of trivial matters that cause me sleepless nights. Does anyone know the antonym of

wOOt

w00t?

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 December, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal


The Broadband Blues…

... have struck again. My broadband’s been down all day, and my Hutch GPRS is about as fast as a roshogolla rolling uphill. Blogging is, thus, exceedingly painful. I shall resume regular service as soon as my connection is back—until then, let me leave you with something to do.

(Link via email from the clearly degenerate Sanjeev Naik.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 December, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal


Why Bloggers Blog

In an excellent interview, Tyler Cowen is asked about blogging:

Knowlege@Wharton: You are a writer and co-founder of the popular economics blog MarginalRevolution.com. How does your inner economist explain blogging? What is the incentive for people like yourself to offer high-quality goods and services online for free? 

Tyler Cowen: Blogging is fun. I’ve made friends through blogging, but most of all I have learned a lot. I think it has made me a better economist. I would also say it’s helped me to discover my inner economist. Because when you are blogging for real people, they don’t want techno babble. They don’t want jargon. They’re like, “What can you tell me that I actually care about?” Most of the ideas in this book, in one way or another, came out of blogging.

Knowlege@Wharton: So we can be motivated to do a lot of work, even highly skilled work, just because it’s fun?

Cowen: Absolutely. A lot of science works on the same basis. It’s true that scientists get paid, but typically they don’t get paid more, or much more, for discovering something that will make them famous. They do it because they love science, or because they want the recognition or because they just stumble upon it. Einstein was never a wealthy man but he worked very hard. So blogging is a new form of an old idea: that people do great things for free. Adam Smith didn’t get paid much for writing Wealth of Nations, even though it’s a long book that required a lot of work. He had an inner drive to get his ideas out there.

I’ve often been asked, and have often asked myself, why I blog. I spend more time on it than any other productive activity, and make only a small fraction of an anyway-insignificant income from it. The above excerpt answers the question rather well.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 December, 2007 in Blogging | Personal


Should You Save or Should You Spend?

Tim Harford has the answer.

Besides, shopping is therapy. Nothing beats the feeling of well-being that comes from handing over that credit card and receiving your goodies in a nice, bulky packet. King of the world, and all that. And then sitting in the food court, nursing a frappe or a sinfully unhealthy snack. That’s the life—or at least the anasthesia.

On that note, it’s been a long time since I visited Landmark. At least a day…

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 December, 2007 in Economics | Personal


India Uncut = Junior High School

A number of readers over the last couple of weeks have drawn my attention to The Blog Readability Test, which claims to measure the level of education required to understand a blog. I’m delighted to announce that India Uncut can be understood by anyone who has gone to junior high school. I’ve always aimed to keep it simple, and to avoid jargon and obfuscatory words like ‘obfuscatory’. I’m glad that it seems to be working.

Of course, you can argue with the substance of what I write, but as long as the style has clarity…

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 December, 2007 in Blogging | Personal


Water, Water Everywhere…

Yesterday, my doctor was telling me about how important antibiotics were to India. “If there were no antibiotics,” he said, “India’s population would be half of what it is.”

Later, I mused to the partner that I’d rather have enjoyed that. “Men are weaker when it comes to disease,” I said, “so obviously the men would be bumped off first. I’d then be living in an India with half a billion women and me. What fun!”

Well, on a much smaller scale, a young man named Mohammad Usman is having just that kind of fun. The Boston Globe reports:

To many women, he is simply “the boy.” They know who he is, even if they do not know his name. They know his story, even if they have never spoken to him.
more stories like this

In the small, all-female world of Wellesley College, Mohammad Usman is famous in this way. He is literally a man among women - about 2,300 women. Usman, 19, is the only man attending Wellesley College this fall.

[...]

But do not get the wrong idea here: Wellesley College, known for educating such top female minds as presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, is not allowing men to become full-time students like many other local women’s colleges. Usman, who grew up in Bronx, N.Y., has come to Wellesley on a semester-long exchange program, and he maintains his motives for wanting to be here are pure.

This reminds me of my own college days. After my tenth standard, I went to Fergusson College in Pune to do my junior college, and opted for arts. On my first day there, I founds myself in a class of 105 girls and 14 other boys. You might imagine I would revel in such surroundings, but I had just emerged from a boys school, and was painfully shy. I had no idea how to behave around other people, leave alone girls. (I wouldn’t even look at my chica classmates, I was so awed and terrified.)

Much to my retrospective regret, I knew no economics then, or how I was perfectly positioned to exploit the scarcity of boys that the girls had to contend with. Wisdom, sadly, comes when one is too old to make use of it.

(Link via email from Aditya Kuber.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 December, 2007 in Economics | Miscellaneous | Personal


Illness at the Break of Dawn

I’m not going to Delhi as planned today for the book launch I’d earlier blogged about. I’ve suddenly fallen rather ill, and had to cancel my flight. Massive bummer, as I was looking forward to it, and had even prepared what I fancied was a somewhat witty speech. Damn.

I doubt I’ll be able to blog much today either. Be good. I’ll be back. I hope…

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 December, 2007 in Personal


The Essential Frédéric Bastiat

On Monday, December 3, the Liberty Institute in Delhi is going to release their latest publication: The Essential Frédéric Bastiat, edited by Sauvik Chakraverti. I will be part of the panel for the book launch, and any India Uncut readers who wish to turn up are invited. The details, copy-pasted from the invite I’ve received:

Venue: Somany Hall, ASSOCHAM House, 47 Prithvi Raj Road, (Opp. Safdarjung Tomb), New Delhi 110011

Date: Monday, December 3, 2007

Event Schedule: 6.15 pm 
Tea and Coffee
6.30 pm
Introductory remarks – Dr René Klaff, FNSt
Comments – Sauvik Chakraverti, columnist, and author of Antidote
Remarks – Sharad Joshi, MP
Comments – Amit Varma, columnist and blogger IndiaUncut.com
Open Discussions
Vote of thanks – Barun Mitra, Liberty Institute
8.00 pm
Dinner

I’ve been invited, needless to say, because I’m the latest winner of the Frédéric Bastiat Prize for Journalism. Sauvik, who has edited the book, is the only other Indian to win it: he was joint winner in 2002. His speech at the award ceremony that year was quite delightful, and I share all his sentiments, though unfortunately not his optimism.

Also read: Remembering Frédéric Bastiat.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 November, 2007 in Personal


What Large Breasts Can Do

The Daily Mail embarks on some investigative journalism.

Many years ago, a friend and I were discussing what size of breasts we liked. “A breast should be big enough to fit snugly in the palm of my hand,” he told me, “and no more.” I haven’t chatted with him for years, though I meet him occasionally at Infinity mall, his hand twitching as he eyes passing women. I know: Ew!

Anyway, where did that come from? This is a family blog.

(Link via email from Gautam. Previous posts on breasts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 November, 2007 in Journalism | Media | Miscellaneous | Personal


Take It Easy

The anecdote of the day comes from Roger Cohen in the IHT:

When Stanley Cohen, the close friend and attorney to the artist Alexander Calder, moved to Paris in the 1960s, he ordered The Sunday New York Times. It would arrive the following Wednesday. He would take the paper and store it unread until Saturday night. Then he would place it outside his door so that, on Sunday morning, he had the illusion of finding his beloved paper waiting for him.

I like that story. It’s a reminder of how to control rather than be a slave to time, of the need to be imaginative and humble in our thankfulness, and of the fact news can wait a week.

And on that note, I’m off for the weekend guiltlessly. I’ll be in Poona, with only Hutch GPRS at hand, which is to internet access what tricycles are to intercontinental travel. Blogging may therefore be sparse. And I am certain I will get all stressed out trying to unwind furiously before there is no time left to unwind anymore. Sigh.

(Link via Silk-list.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 November, 2007 in Personal


Are You Lonesome Today?

Madhu Jain writes in DNA that loneliness is “the scourge of our times”:

For GenNow a façade of bravado is increasingly being used to hide the voids within. A 20-something niece who lives in Mumbai tells me that many of her friends now do this.

“They have become experts in putting up facades to show how happy they are. Some of them feel lonely in their marriages, while others are not doing well. A friend compliments himself, saying so and so said I have lost so much weight…they feel isolated inside and are desperate for attention.”

The absence of a meaningful relationship makes them clutch at the straws of trivial comment. [...]

And then there are the gods to keep you company, if everything else fails. I will never forget the image of the wife of well-known film director who spent hours washing and cleaning myriad deities in her puja room every day. It took care of empty time till lunch.

Empty time can especially be a problem if you work from home, and don’t have office colleagues to bitch with at the water cooler. It can get oppressive just sitting at home all the time, so almost every day I head over to the nearby Landmark bookstore, and then snack or have some coffee at the food court outside. (The partner calls it “walking the dog.”) This is immensely hard on my wallet, as going to Landmark and not buying something is almost impossible for me, and I’m willing to bet that my privilege card has a greater balance on it than any other in Mumbai. Buying books are my greatest weakness—though not reading many of the books I buy comes a close second.

Speaking of second, I need to check out Second Life one of these days…

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 November, 2007 in India | Personal


A Clarification

The “Amit Verma” mentioned at the bottom of this story is not me. I have no idea who the reporter in question spoke to. I would never say something like that!

(Patrix, who is genuinely quoted in that story, pointed me to it.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 November, 2007 in Personal


Bloggers Will Meet (and Quizzers Will Quiz)

The perky tots from BuHu (Bandra + Juhu) are organising yet another of their legendary blogger meets on Sunday, November 18. It’s a Blog Brunch, and will take place between 11am and 3pm in a restaurant in Tardeo. Young Sakshi has the details here.

I’m 40% sure of being there (39.6, actually, but I’m rounding up): I get back into Mumbai the previous evening, and am not sure if I can wake up on time. In fact, the pardy will probably be more fun if I’m not there, as I’m generally one of the only people at these gigs older than 30, and they treat me like a grandfather and act all well-behaved and all. No hedonism, no flung undies, nothing—some tots just bounce up and down near my knees and demand stories. (“Tell us a story with a moral, uncle.” “Er, can I tell you that story about incentives?”)

But if you blog and are in Mumbai, be there. I’ll try to come too—er, I mean, I’ll try to be there.

Quizzes, of course, are held in the afternoon, so I will certainly be present at the BQC quiz being conducted that afternoon by Arvind Krishnaswamy. I won the last quiz—Rishi has a report here—which was a pleasant surprise after six second places this season (and a solitary win before this). Who can stop me now? I want names, and I want addresses.

(My reports of two earlier blogger meets organised by the BuHu girls:

Bloggers, Pran and Milind Soman
“I want to be eaten now”

I also did a Google search for BuHu, to see if I am the first to coin this portmanteau. It seems that way. Google also ventured to ask: “Did you mean: bahu?” Not till Melody and Sakshi get hitched, no?)

Update: Here’s Melody’s invitation. Mel From Hell, all the Bandra Macs call her. None of them dream of heaven.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 November, 2007 in Personal


Want to Write? Learn to Read

Andrew Kidd of Picador writes:

How do you measure writing talent anyway? It’s probably impossible to do so. The one constant I have observed though – in every successful writer I’ve had contact with – is that, before they began to learn how to write, they learned how to read. Wonderful writers they all may be, but they first became the world’s best readers. When I meet would-be writers and ask them about their reading, it is their answer that most reveals their chances.

Whatever one decides – to keep pursuing the dream, or to embrace, and be liberated by, the fact that you probably don’t have a book in you – what we can all become, and what we always need more of, is great readers. And that’s something that is its own reward.

I couldn’t agree more. And honestly, why do so many of the wannabe writers I meet around me not read books? Some even look upon reading with disdain, which is actually understandable: self-delusion is easier to nurture if you insulate yourself from the real world.

Having said that…

(Link via Amitava Kumar. Previous posts on writing: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 November, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal


Resumptions (and Loins of Punjab Presents)

After much half-Bengali procrastination, I’ve finally brought the comatose sections of this site to live. Extrowords resumes today; so does Workoutable; and Amitava Kumar does a Diwali review of Loins of Punjab Presents for Rave Out.

I watched the film a month or so ago, and loved it. Misled by the schoolboy pun in the title, I’d expected a film full of stale jokes and lame gags. But it turned out to an utterly charming film, with all the stuff of our lives affectionately presented: ambition, greed, envy, despair, parochialism and, of course, romance—lots of it. Manish Acharya, unlike so many debutant directors, didn’t let the film-making overwhelm the storytelling, and his acting was spot on for the character he played. (I loved the walk down the corridor!)

The film is written by a pal of mine, Anuvab Pal, who’s always the funniest guy in any room he’s in—unless I’m also there. I was delighted to find that his writing is as funny as the man himself. The next time the partner suggests inviting him to dinner or something, I’ll say, “Arre why bother yaar, we’ll just play a DVD of Loins of Punjab Presents. That’s him only.”

(He’s going to fug me for this now, and tell ribald stories about me the next time he’s the funniest guy in the room. Damn.)

Okay, go watch the film now, if you haven’t already. If you have, solve a crossword or something.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 November, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal


On Bare Backs and Mothering Devices

Responding to my post, Look Ma, Vertebra, Sumana Roy writes in to point me to an essay she wrote a while back on Bollywood’s “fetish for lingering on the woman’s uncovered back.” In it, she writes:

[W]hy this tendency of the camera in Indian films and television commercials to focus on the woman’s back? Quite simply, the back is the front’s other. While the woman’s front, with all its various devices of mothering, is exactly what males lack, the back is everything that the front is not. With its apparent unisexuality, the back would appear to be a most unlikely place for ‘provocation’. Nonetheless, as plenty of evidence on the ground can attest to, this is exactly what has taken place in India.

I love the phrase devices of mothering. Men love devices. I take issue, however, with Sumana’s reference to the “apparent unisexuality” of the back, though—there is a vast difference between a woman’s back and a man’s back, and there is no way that the backs of Madhuri Dixit and Salman Khan could be mistaken for belonging to someone of the other gender. A woman’s back is, well, feminine, a term I can’t quite expand upon or define—but I know it when I see it.

Much of the eroticism in a female back, in my view, comes from what lies on the other side. The real joy in caressing a back lies in gradually slipping over to the front, where heaving devices await. Also, beginning an amorous advance from the back has tactical value for a man with bad breath: by the time the woman smells him, she’s too aroused to stop.

That last observation does not come from personal experience, of course. I love toothpaste.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 November, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal


Bhagat Singh on Atheism and Death

The other day, chatting about atheism with a friend, I said that the hardest part of being an atheist was coming to terms with your own mortality. An atheist has to accept that death is the end: there is no afterlife, no rebirth, no greater meaning to live towards. Just that thought makes it so tempting to believe in God—one reason, no doubt, why so many people who don’t think of God for much of their lives turn to religion towards the end of it. How else to cope?

Well, reader Amit Panhale wrote in today to point me to a fascinating piece by Bhagat Singh on why he is an atheist. It contained the following excerpt, written while he was awaiting his judgment, knowing that he’d be put to death:

Judgment is already too well known. Within a week it is to be pronounced. What is the consolation with the exception of the idea that I am going to sacrifice my life for a cause? A God-believing Hindu might be expecting to be reborn as a king, a Muslim or a Christian might dream of the luxuries to be enjoyed in paradise and the reward he is to get for his suffering and sacrifices. But, what am I to expect? I know the moment the rope is fitted round my neck and rafters removed from under my feet, that will be the final moment – that will be the last moment. I, or to be more precise, my soul as interpreted in the metaphysical terminology, shall all be finished there. Nothing further. A short life of struggle with no such magnificent end shall in itself be the reward, if I have the courage to take it in that light…. I know in the present circumstances my faith in God would have made my life easier, my burden lighter, and my disbelief in Him has turned all the circumstances too dry, and the situation may assume too harsh a shape. A little bit of mysticism can make it poetical. But I do not want the help of any intoxication to meet my fate. I am a realist.

I don’t know much about Singh apart from what one reads in school history books and Amar Chitra Katha, but I suddenly want to find out more about the man. Many martyrs are driven by self-delusion—from this piece, Singh seems to have more clarity than that.

Earlier on atheism: Atheism as the Absence of Belief.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 November, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal


Coffee and Half-Naked Women

Why has no one thought of sexpresso cafes before, I wonder.

The quote that sums the story up comes from Sarah Araujo, owner of a sexpresso cafe named The Sweet Spot:

Our customers may be half-asleep when they get here, but we do what it takes to wake them up.

Meanwhile, I note that it’s almost 7am, which is to me what 4am is to a normal person. I’ve woken up way too early, but there’s no point going back to sleep now, so maybe I’ll go get myself a coffee. Yawwwn!

(Link via email from Hareesh Sarnam.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 November, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal


Politics and The Middle Class

Sagarika Ghose writes:

“Why don’t you all join politics,” Sonia Gandhi asked the genteel and educated audience at the Hindustan Times leadership summit. “Politics is not that bad.” The educated middle class certainly does need to join politics, but not join politics to work antiseptically on laptops, use snobbish words like “synergy” and worry about getting their hands dirty. Politicians instead must revel in the political process. They must adore people, jump into crowds, pump hands, kiss babies, travel by train to remotest corners, walk where there are no roads, speak a language that touches hearts, causes tears to flow and raises a million cheers.

I agree with Ghose’s sentiment, and wish that instead of merely writing columns about what’s wrong with India, I could jump into the fray myself, and “adore people, jump into crowds, pump hands etc.” But that isn’t a realistic prospect for someone like me. Why so? Because my first language is English, and I am not proficient enough in any of the Indian languages to make speeches in them, or convince people of whatever my vision is. If my Hindi was as good as my English, I could think of politics seriously, and trust in the power of ideas and my passion for change. But given that I can only find eloquence in the language of the elite, I wouldn’t stand a chance in Indian politics.

Ah, you say, but look at all the urbane young politicians out there in a similar position: Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, et al. My reply: look at their last names. Their political equity comes from the family they were born into. Indeed, Sonia Gandhi may say that politics “is not that bad,” but had she married a Chopra and not a Gandhi, she wouldn’t even consider it as an option.

Of course, most Indians are bilingual, at least, and much of the “educated middle class” Ghose exhorts to join politics is probably not as handicapped as I am. To them I say: Jump in if you want to make a difference. Our politicians may be venal, but politics itself need not be so, and is the surest route to changing the world.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 November, 2007 in India | Personal | Politics | Small thoughts


Mobile Phone Note

When I went to New York recently, I hired a local sim card, and my India phone was off all that time. All the messages and missed calls I received during those ten days are effectively lost to me. So in case you sent me any messages during that time, I did not receive them. If it was important, I apologize—I’ll be grateful if you send it again.

Also, for some weird reason that has nothing to do with its settings, my Nokia E70 has stopped giving me SMS notifications. So when a message comes, there’s no beep, no notification on the screen. The message sits in my inbox, though, which I check every few hours. No doubt all my friends are upset with me for my non-prompt replies, but the upside is that I’m not disturbed every 14 minutes by SMS spam urging me to check my horoscope online or download the latest Himesh Reshammiya ringtone. I can take it.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 November, 2007 in Personal


Bras Like London Bridge

Belinda Luscombe writes an open letter to Warren Buffet, asking him to build a better bra. It’s a terrific letter, with much historical perspective:

About 120 years ago, Mme. Cadolle figured out that it made more sense for women’s breasts to be suspended from above than cantilevered from beneath. That is, she invented bra straps. So instead of walking around wearing the lingerie equivalent of the London Bridge, women could slide themselves into a Golden Gate. This was a huge relief—as anyone who has worn a strapless bra can tell you—because the London Bridge pretty much always falls down.

Frankly, I’m a huge fan of London Bridge, as this old confession of mine indicates. As a good bridge should, it brings people together.

(Link via email from Shruti.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 November, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal


Free is Complicated

Scott Adams writes in the Wall Street Journal:

A few years ago I tried an experiment where I put the entire text of my book, “God’s Debris,” on the Internet for free, after sales of the hard copy and its sequel, “The Religion War” slowed. My hope was that the people who liked the free e-book would buy the sequel. According to my fan mail, people loved the free book. I know they loved it because they emailed to ask when the sequel would also be available for free. For readers of my non-Dilbert books, I inadvertently set the market value for my work at zero. Oops.

So I’ve been watching with great interest as the band “Radiohead” pursues its experiment with pay-what-you-want downloads on the Internet. In the near term, the goodwill has inspired lots of people to pay. But I suspect many of them are placing a bet that paying a few bucks now will inspire all of their favorite bands to offer similar deals. That’s when the market value of music will approach zero.

That’s my guess. Free is more complicated than you’d think.

The irony is that free isn’t free. You might think that you’re reading India Uncut content for free, but actually you’re paying a price for it: The price of your time. Every second you spend reading India Uncut, you could be doing something else, and that opportunity cost indicates the value you place on my content. Sadly, there is no mechanism yet by which I can benefit from that, which is why we bloggers are so impoverished.

Except Scott Adams, of course. Sigh.

(Link via email from Manish Vij.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 November, 2007 in Blogging | Economics | Personal


Movember Ka Mahina

Arzan Sam Wadia informs us about “Movember (the month formally known as November), .... a moustache growing charity event held during November each year.” Apparently you start the month clean-shaven and end it with a moustache, raising “money and awareness about male health issues” on the way.

Apropos of nothing, I’ve been told three times in the last month that I’ve lost weight, and my face looks leaner. Each time, it’s been soon after I’ve shaved. I must try shaving the rest of my body one of these days and seeing if that works.

“Hey, dude, blogger, where’s the paunch?”

“I shaved.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 November, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal


Notes After a Journey

I arrived back in Bombay about 24 hours ago, wide awake until the sun came out, asleep all day, and then awake again into the late hours. Jet lag, you might say, but this was pretty much my schedule before I left for the US. Still, I need to move to a normal routine soon.

Below, some quick notes in lieu of many posts…

*  *  *

The Incomparable Mr Vij

One of the great pleasures of my stay in NYC was hanging out with Manish Vij of Ultrabrown fame. I had a place to stay for just half my trip, and asked Manish if he knew of any cheap hotels where the partner and I could spend the remaining four days. Manish insisted that we stay at his place, a compact flat in Harlem. He left the bedroom to us, slummed out in the tiny hall, and took us around his city. No doubt it affected his work—he stayed up late finishing pending tasks, some of which have turned out ultracool.

Manish had spent a few months in India earlier this year, and my first impression of the guy when I met him in Bandra was of a dude who went around clicking pictures everywhere in a touristy way. But as time went by I realized that his interest in his surroundings went much below the skin. Manish has this fabulous skill of immersing himself in the local culture of wherever he is without being judgmental or cynical, and that native enthusiasm shows through on his blog. Spending time with him was most rewarding, even if his taste in movies differs rather drastically from mine. (He loves Devdas and hates Dor. Pah!)

So my deepest thanks to Manish, and here’s a picture of us below, taken by the partner. I’m presumably doing something disgusting with myself, while Manish looks on in bemused disapproval…

image

*  *  *

On Tehelka and Gujarat

Tehelka‘s powerful expose on Gujarat broke while I was in NYC, and I simply didn’t have enough time to read up on it, and see the clips, and blog about it. A couple of things struck me early on:

1. We already knew what had happened in Gujarat—there was enough credible journalism on the subject. Tehelka‘s story gave us proof, and added details, and that will be valuable for historians at a later point in time. But I don’t expect it to change India’s politics, or change the way the Gujarat riots are perceived at large. People have already taken their positions on Gujarat, and expecting a BJP supporter to say “Oh my goodness, this has opened my eyes” is unrealistic.

2. I am cynical about the rule of law in India. In my eyes, it works only for the powerful, not for the common Indian. And just as justice has been hard to come by for the 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi, and the Bombay riots, justice may never be fully done in Gujarat—even if a few foot-soldiers get punished here and there.

I hope I’m wrong on both the above points, needless to say.

Also, I share the outrage expressed by Shoma Chaudhury in this piece, where she speaks of how so many people are speculating on Tehelka‘s motives rather than focussing on their journalism. “We can be shown a man gloating over a foetus ripped out of a mother’s womb,” she writes, “but we would rather embroider why we are being shown this than react with honest emotion to the fact.”

*  *  *

It’s November? Really?

I walked a lot in New York, and it was a pleasure. Back in Mumbai, the weather is insanely hot, and such walking simply isn’t viable. And so the tummy will grow again.

Really, this is November, for FSM’s sake. Where’s winter?

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 November, 2007 in India | Personal | Politics


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