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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

A Night Owl’s Lament

Balzac may have worked through the night, “fueled by innumerable cups of black coffee,” but night owls are frowned upon at large. As Anne Fadiman wrote in “At Large and At Small”:

The owl’s reputation may be beyond salvation. Who gets up early? Farmers, bakers, doctors. Who stays up late? Muggers, streetwalkers, cat burglars. It’s assumed that if you’re sneaking around after midnight, you must have something to hide. Night is the time of goblins, ghouls, vampires, zombies, witches, warlocks, demons, wraiths, fiends, banshees, poltergeists, werefolk, bogeymen, and things that go bump. (It is also the time of fairies and angels, but, like many comforting things, they are all too easily crowded out of the imagination. The nightmare trumps the pleasant dream.) Night, like winter, is a metaphor for death: one does not say “the dead of morning” or “the dead of spring.” In a strange and tenebrous book called “Night” (which every lark should be forced to read, preferably by moonlight), the British cynic A Alvarez (an owl) points out, glumly, that Christ is known as the Light of the World and Satan as the Prince of Darkness. With such a powerful pro-lark tradition arrayed against us, must we owls be forever condemned to the infernal regions—which, despite their inextinguishable flames, are always described as dark?

I was reminded of Fadiman’s essay when I read Deepa Ranganathan’s piece in Slate, “Can a Night Owl Become a Morning Person?” In my case, the answer would be a resolute no. If I need to be awake at seven in the morning, I stay up, for that is easier than waking up at that undemonly hour, and I find that my best work, such as it pitifully is, is done at night. Like now, when it’s almost 2 am.

So what am I doing writing this post? Bye.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 June, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Personal

How The Internet Has Changed My Life

I had a lousy cold a couple of days ago, and was hunting in my medicine drawer for Wikoryl. The partner asked me what I was searching for. Absentmindedly, I replied:

“AVG Anti-Virus.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 June, 2008 in Personal

Chess Without The Dice

The WTF quote of the moment comes from Germany’s football star Lukas Podolski:

Football is like chess, only without the dice.

A decade-and-a-half ago, I represented Maharashtra in under-19 chess. No dice was used. Perhaps that makes me a national level football player.

(Link via separate messages from Devangshu Datta and Krishna Prasad.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 June, 2008 in Personal | Sport | WTF

Writing Is Work; Reading Should Not Be

This is a great motto for a writer to have:

It’s up to me, not the reader, to do the work.

That’s Lee Child speaking in an article by Charles McGrath. I know literary types who would disagree with the sentiment—Let the readers do some work, they will say, it’s rewarding for them—but if reading feels like work, then it should not be done.

I’m not as good a writer as I’d like to be, so I do the smart thing and stick to short posts on India Uncut—by the time you get tired of them, they’re over.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 June, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | Miscellaneous | Personal

Elephants Like Us

Jai Arjun Singh presents pictures of elephants that reveal the human condition. Consider the picture below, with its accompanying caption:

Lady elephants are better at public displays of affection, much the same way it is with humans. This one kept nuzzling her husband’s belly with her trunk. He seemed to enjoy it but he didn’t reciprocate - looked straight ahead.

I suppose he wanted his space. Maybe he’ll regret it some day.

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 June, 2008 in Miscellaneous | Personal | Small thoughts

Time Off

There’s been a death in the family and blogging will be infrequent over the next few days. Until then, three links sent to me by readers to help you through these difficult days:

1] A Gaybombay survey reveals the hottest players in the IPL. When I received Vikram Doctor’s SMS about it, I tried to guess, through my straight lens, who would top the poll. I was way off: Shane Watson figured low down in the list. Now you guess who won.

2] Jonathan Leake of The Sunday Times explains why “txting mks u clvr.” Do you think it could be said that txting is the Twenty20 of writing? If so, I guess I’m Aakash Chopra—and willfully so. (Link via email from VatsaL.)

3] And this is just Dam Funny. (Link via email from Mohit.)

Shabba khair now, and take good care of yourself.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 May, 2008 in Miscellaneous | Personal

All Hail Icelandic Sagas

Responding to my post about Icelandic happiness, Devangshu Datta writes in:

Iceland has 7 GMs and 14 IMs in a population of 3 lakhs, which makes it by far the best chess playing nation per capita. It also has a high percentage of tall blond women and sexy sagas, which generally involve burning people alive.

I should emigrate there, I think. I’m not a tall blond woman, but my chess is decent and I can burn. So there.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 May, 2008 in Miscellaneous | Personal | Sport

Goya’s Dark Nightmare World Is A Happy Place

Responding to my post “We Should Celebrate Rising Divorce Rates”, Krishna Prasad writes in to point me to this piece: No wonder Iceland has the happiest people on earth.

Looking away from the now-tiresome subject of divorce, here’s a paragraph from the piece that rather intrigued me:

Why is there such an abundance of artists in Iceland? What drives them? ‘We do it so as not to become mad,’ replied Haraldur, who is tall, nervy and thin with eyes that have the concentrated energy of a laser beam. Not to become mad? ‘Yes, to keep the beast at bay.’ The beast? ‘The beast is Iceland, this island on which we live with its terrifyingly harsh nature, its bitter ever-changing weather. It’s Goya’s dark nightmare world, beautiful but grotesque. This is the moody beast of Iceland. We cannot escape it. So we find ways to live with it, to tame it. I do it through my art,’ said Haraldur, whose attempts to pacify the monster have also included the writing of three books in which ‘there are no animals, no trees. We have to have a rich internal life to fill the empty spaces, to fill the silence with our own noise.’

Meanwhile the sapping heat of Mumbai prevents me from writing as productively as I’d like to. What to do about this beast?

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 May, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | Miscellaneous | Personal

Signs Of Life…

... are apparent in Rave Out and Workoutable, both of which opened their eyes and looked around a few hours ago. Amitava Kumar sent in “One Chai and a Wills Navy Cut”, an appreciation of Pablo Bartholomew’s recent work. And I had a few questions lying around from a recent quiz I conducted, so I figured this would be a good day to start uploading them.

I cannot promise that Rave Out will not slip back into coma. I don’t like to harangue contributors, and I’ve been too lazy to write stuff for it myself, though I’ve been intending to do so for a while now. Workoutable will continue on a regular basis, though. As for Extrowords, I have about 100 old crosswords that I was too lazy to upload, but they’re all on the hard drive of an old laptop whose motherboard crashed. So I need to get an external casing for that hard drive, retrieve the data, and then I’ll be ready to roll. Sadly, lassitude is the driving force of my life, and I cannot promise when this will happen.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 May, 2008 in Personal

Marvel vs DC

Jonathan Lethem says in an interview with Powell’

The other thing about Marvel superheroes, as opposed to DC, is that when Superman is Superman, that’s who he really is; Clark Kent is a pretense. When he’s Superman, he’s fulfilled; he’s in his right place. And Batman is really Batman; Bruce Wayne is the disguise. With the Marvel superheroes, it’s the other way: When they put on their costume, they’re pretending. Despite their powers, they have massive imposter syndrome.

I was a huge Marvel fan as a kid in the 80s, and I hated DC, but I never thought of it this way. To me, the Marvel superheroes just had more complexity—even more humanity, if I may put it like that. There was much more gray. (This was before Frank Miller reinvigorated DC’s Batman franchise.) And I liked Spiderman the least of the Marvel superheroes.

That reminds me, I need to go watch Iron Man today.

PS: Powell’s has some great author interviews, look on the left panel of the Lethem interview for more.

Update: In separate emails, Rahul Gupta, Gaurav Sabnis and Abhishek Mehrotra quote this excerpt from Kill Bill 2:

As you know, l’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating. Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology… The mythology is not only great, it’s unique. Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.

Ya, whatever. I still think Superman is the suckiest, most simplistic superhero. If boredom was my Kryptonite, Superman would have killed me by now.

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 May, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Somebody Take This Sinus Away

I won’t be blogging any more for most of today: my sinus has exploded, my throat has imploded, and there’s an elephant on my head. My laptop screen is swimming in front of me, and the only person who gives me TLC and treats me like a baby is half a continent away till Monday. So you’ll just have to manage without India Uncut updates for a while.

Note: Also, allow me to inform you that none of my photographs look like me. None at all. It’s most inexplicable.

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 May, 2008 in Personal

The Bastiat Prize for Journalism 2008…

... is now open for entries.

Yes, I know, they picked an unworthy winner last year, but it’s still a hell of a prize, and I enjoy reading their shortlisted writers every year. Past winners can’t take part for three years after their win, so I’m not in the hunt this year, which is a bummer because I could have sent much better entries this time. (I’d have picked three out of these six pieces: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.) But if you fit the participation criteria, do enter, and if you know someone who could win, let them know.

To repeat what the prize is about:

The prize was developed to encourage and reward writers whose published works promote the institutions of a free society: limited government, rule of law brokered by an independent judiciary, protection of private property, free markets, free speech, and sound science.

The prize fund amounts to US$15,000—the first prize was worth US$10,000 last year, which has been quite handy for an otherwise impoverished writer. The heavyweight contenders this year, as always, will probably be American, but the Indians I’d put my money on are Salil Tripathi and Bloomberg’s Andy Mukherjee. Enter, boys!

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 May, 2008 in Journalism | Media | Personal

“Porn For Book Nerds”

This has me all excited; there’s no better way to spend those lonely nights.

(Link via email from Manish Vij, who found it over at Andrew Sullivan’s.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 April, 2008 in Arts and entertainment | 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


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:


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


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!”


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…”


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):


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.”


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


“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.


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


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



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 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
Open Discussions
Vote of thanks – Barun Mitra, Liberty Institute
8.00 pm

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

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