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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

“Go, go, go, ale, ale, ale”

WTF lines of the day:

“Modern-day pirates can be just as merciless as the Caribbean buccaneers,” Choong told me. He recalled the 13 pirates—12 Chinese and 1 Indonesian—who hijacked the Cheung Son, a Hong Kong-registered cargo ship, off China in 1998. “They blindfolded the 23 crewmembers, beat them to death with clubs and threw their bodies overboard,” he said. Then they sold the vessel to an unknown party for $300,000. But they were caught, convicted of piracy and murder in a Chinese court, and sentenced to death.

On their way to the firing squad, Choong said, the 13 sang Ricky Martin’s bouncy 1998 World Cup soccer theme, “La Copa de la Vida,” jumping up and down in their chains as they bellowed the chorus: “Go, go, go, ale, ale, ale.” (Afterward, Choong said, “the Chinese charged their families the cost of each bullet” used in the executions.)

If I was on my way to a firing squad I’d sing Himesh songs, it would make me fear life more than death. No, but seriously, I can’t decide whether these guys were poor deluded bastards, or whether they were wiser than all of us, and had figured out the futile little game. What do you think?

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 July, 2007 in Personal | Small thoughts | WTF

“Most of it doesn’t matter”

That’s the first item in Adrian Savage’s list of “Things I wish I’d known when I was younger.” So many of them strike a chord!

(Link via Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 July, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal

Who’s got time to cook these days?

This may be useful: “Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less.”

Personally speaking, my core competency in the kitchen is making Maggi. I appreciate the simple pleasures of cooking, but I take vastly more enjoyment from the simpler pleasures of eating.

And no, I’m not going to stop blogging and stick to reading. Why do you ask?

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 July, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal

“I’m sorry. Can I get a hug?”

Why do we do the things that we do? Here’s an answer.

(Link via email from reader Shashank.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 July, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal | Small thoughts

We don’t need T

I have decided that words that begin with the hard, heartless, masculine letter ‘T’ sometimes sound much better without them. For example, such charm would come to sit under a ‘ree’. How nice it would be to ‘ouch’ someone you love on the ‘ummy’. To hear the rain ‘ippetty-ap-ap’ on the roof, indeed, to travel in a ‘rain’, to ‘umble and fall’ after ‘ripping’ on an ‘omato’ that just happens, serendipitously, to be on the floor. Even the ‘Imes of India’ sounds suitably frivolous.

Indulge me—give me some similar examples that come to your mind in the comments, which are open for this post. It seems silly, but life is futile, and none of us have anything better to to do with our ‘ime’ anyway. ‘Rust’ me on that!

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 July, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal

On Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I made a prediction about how the series would end two years ago. And I was right! You can call it magic.

How did I like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Well, as in the rest of the series, I think JK Rowling’s great skill is to keep miniature dramas erupting on the pages so that it becomes impossible to put the damn book down. There’s always some conflict involving these characters that one has grown to care about, however minor, such as the spat between Ron and Hermione, his disappearance and return, and her subsequent sulking. But the larger plot moves slowly, and is poorly constructed. The series ended in a manner too soppy (or is it sappy?) for my liking, so much so that I was glad the book ended and I wouldn’t be reading about these silly people again. But I enjoyed it thoroughly while it was on, and my magical hat is duly doffed to the magnificent lady who could give so much joy to so many people. That’s a big deal.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

On cleavage

Robin Givhan of the Washington Post has written a piece on, of all subjects, Hillary Clinton’s cleavage. An excerpt:

Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a woman is asking to be objectified, but it does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed.

I’m sure feminist bloggers will have a lot to say about this, and I’ll avoid comment simply so that I don’t get into trouble. All I can say is that I’m a huge fan of cleavage, regardless of the motives behind its display. Cleavage makes the world a better place.

And that reminds me of this.

Now just wait for the New York Times to do a story on Barack Obama’s cleavage. The coverage of these elections…

(Link via email from Gautam John, who got there via Daily Kos.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 July, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal | Politics

Tum itna kyun muskura rahe ho?

I may seem to enjoy life rapturously when I am in company. But when I am alone I am so often overcome by mental depression that I never dare carry a penknife.

—Abraham Lincoln, quoted in A History of the American People by Paul Johnson.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 July, 2007 in Personal

I want to be a Swedish woman

This one.

(Link via email from Sanjeev.

I suspect my buddy Manish would also have wanted to be that Swedish woman a few months ago. But he’s in New York now, having escaped India for just one reason: Broadband. Here he explains why that’s one reason Indian start-ups have it hard.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 July, 2007 in India | Personal

Jabberwock on a Water Tank

I had mentioned earlier that Jai Arjun Singh had promised to blog about his water tank, and he has. His second post on the beginning of grihastha ashram is most entertaining, full of water tanks, dead crows and rinches. Indeed, no one in the history of writing—and I say this after exhaustive study—has written about water tanks more eloquently. Consider this paragraph:

[O]ne good thing about marriage is that it has belatedly heightened my awareness of water tanks. I realise now that I have been unpardonably neglectful of these huge black plastic things, considering this is a city where you can’t cast your gaze sky-wards without seeing dozens of them everywhere. Having not thought about water tanks at all for most of my life, I now regularly have nightmares where they gather around and tap-dance, like the penguins in Happy Feet, and then bend forward and tip their lids to show me that they are all empty. Each time I pass a tank on the road I stop and examine it respectfully, even perambulate it a couple of times.

I feel immensely jealous of Jai. The frustrations of my life are all intangible things, hard to pin down or put a shape to, or to explain to others. He has tanks!

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 July, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal

Cthulhu is the new Cow

At a pardy on Saturday night, someone at my table was telling us about a journalist who used to take bribes in the form of bags of cement, and eventually built a house off his corruption. “I dream of a day when girls throw cement panties at me,” I said. No looks of disapproval were hurled at me, so maybe the world is changing for the better.

This was at Jai Arjun Singh‘s post-wedding bash for his friends. Rahul and I had flown down for the event, and it was immense fun, largely because of all the friends I hadn’t met for so long. Nilanjana, DD, Aishwarya, Nikhil, and Chandrahas were most entertaining, as were various other poor souls without blogs.

Chandrahas did some excellent Russian-novelist-at-decadent-party expressions, while DD told me the history of India’s opium trade, informing me that India is the world’s largest exporter of opium. Immense nationalistic pride floated. Kolkata’s “Chhata Wala Gali”, where umbrellas, opium and sexual pleasures are reportedly sold on the first, second and third floors respectively, must be visited. (DD once worked on the fourth floor.)

Elaborate plans were made to pull Jai’s leg, or at least his churidar, but the poor boy looked quite harrowed as the evening went on, and we left him alone. (He reneged on his promise of performing a striptease. Shocking abrogation.) His car was also brutalised at the end of the evening, but to my lasting regret, he didn’t beat anyone up. He has promised to blog about his water tank soon.

Various people came up to me to tell me cow stories. Aishwarya brought an element of merchandising into it, telling me about a pair of boxer shorts she had once seen with a cow on the front. If you squeezed the cow, it went “moo!” (No, there were no udders, thank FSM.) I berated everyone who told me a cow story, telling them that I didn’t like cows. The cow meme on the blog was just an accident, and it’s really dogs and bears that I like. Trying to persuade them that I had moved on, I said, “Cthulhu is the new cow!”

The reason I am quoting only myself is that I had reached there in a sleep-deprived state, and my memory of events is rather fuzzy. (No, the alcohol has nothing to do with it.) I do remember a magnificent conversation I overheard when Rahul and I were at the coffee shop of a five-star hotel after the pardy, waiting out the night before our early morning flight. At an adjoining table, a bunch of young people were arguing with a waiter about some hair they found in their biriyani.

Yuppie 1: This is the third time I have ordered biriyani here, and the third time that I have found hair in it.

Waiter: Sir, that is not possible. We have three waiters in the kitchen, and two of them are bald.

I swear I am not making that up.

Anyway, back in town I slept for two hours and headed over for a BQC quiz where I came second, for the third time in four quizzes this season. Then I returned home and watched Rasmussen, and felt quite as tired as the end as he must have.

In other words, that’s why I didn’t blog all weekend. But I’m back now!

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 July, 2007 in Personal

Harty Potter alerts?

A couple of days back I received this SMS from ‘HarryPotter’:

Who is Harry Potter? Where has he come from? Now know all about Harry Potter & his magical world. Subscribe to Harry Potter alerts. Dial [snip]. Rs30 only.

Being immensely poor, I haven’t bothered to spend Rs30 to find out what these alerts will be like. Will someone speed-read the book when it is released and send updates? Who can tell?

*  *  *

In other news, a good friend told me that on the morning of Harry Potter’s release, two pre-ordered copies of the book will reach her house. Why two? Well, because both she and her sister want to read the book, and they will not tolerate having to wait for it while the sibling reads it.

Immense envy comes for JK Rowling.

*  *  *

How will the series end? I had predicted two years ago that Harry Potter will turn out to be a Horcrux. Let me now elaborate. It will emerge that when Voldemort killed Harry’s parents, he inadvertently made Harry his Horcrux, losing much of his powers in the process. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry will face an existential crisis—the only way for him to kill Voldemort will be to do immense damage to himself, and possibly die in the process. In the face of immense temptation to switch sides, he will choose to kill Voldemort, and will lose all his magical powers as he does so. In other words, he will become a Muggle again. (That will also ensure that Rowling can’t be harassed to create new Harry Potter adventures.)

Given my track record of predictions, it is immensely likely that I am wrong. Perhaps I should subscribe to those Harry Potter alerts after all.

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

“What was that again?”

This is a touching excerpt:

“When my father didn’t hear well, I remember being annoyed at him,” said Don Henke, 57, who spent 33 years as a meat wholesaler around thunderous machinery.

“I regret that now,” Mr. Henke said. “I remember he would say ‘What did you say?’ and we would repeat it again. And he would say ‘What was that again?’ ” Eventually, Mr. Henke would tell him to forget it.

“That was such a terrible thing to do,” said Mr. Henke, who has difficulty hearing conversation in crowded places and who compensates by saying very little. “And now I understand what he was going through and I hope that people don’t do that to me. I’ve already warned my daughter not to do that to me.”

In different ways that don’t have anything to do with hearing, we are all surrounded by the “thunderous machinery” of life. One day we’ll all give up and say, “Never mind, I don’t care. It’s okay. Fuck it.”

(Default mood—cynical.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 July, 2007 in Personal | Small thoughts

Bloggers feeds redirected

When I shifted from my Blogspot site to this one, I was a bit miffed that I couldn’t carry my feed readers with me. At that time, Blogger did not allow users to redirect feeds to their new feed addresses. Well, Amit Agarwal was kind enough to call me yesterday and inform me that this has changed—he has a post up which reveals that Blogger now allows such a redirection. I have set it into motion, but if something goes wrong, please let me know.

Also, the guru behind the design and programming of this site, MadMan, has implemented print style sheets on this blog. To see what that is, go to an individual post, click ‘file’ and ‘print preview.’ It will help you print out any posts you like, so you can now distribute my pieces to all your friends at work who may not like reading things online. (You can also feed the dog, though you must make sure first that the ink is not toxic.)

Again, if something seems improvable, write in.

(If you haven’t subscribed yet to my feeds, here’s the place to pick them up.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 July, 2007 in Personal

A quiz on Indian bloggers

Old pal and one-time colleague Abhirami Arumbakkam (aka Ammani) of ‘Quick Tales’ fame has a quiz up here on Indian bloggers. It is part of a series of contests she is holding on her blog to promote LAFTI. Do check it out—it’s a nice quiz, though it would have been much better if question No. 8 was No. 1.

Having said that, the first word in my first Extrowords, which was themed on Indian bloggers, is the answer to her first question here. Fitting, in a way.

And guess who is 17 down?

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 July, 2007 in Blogging | Personal

Unspeakable beasts

Quote of the day:

I [am] a God of an unknowable evil. There are countless civilizations which have fallen beneath my horrible might. But in all my years I’ve never been so cruel to the universe as to produce an offspring. What unspeakable beasts are you?


And as I sometimes tend to do, let us move from unspeakable horror to sublime beauty in one swoop. Here’s Philip Larkin on the same subject:

This be the Verse—Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Man hands on misery to man/ It deepens like a coastal shelf. Even Cthulhu would be moved! My favourite Larkin poem, though, is probably “The Trees.” Something almost being said…  

(Chthulhu link via Facebook from Aishwarya. Previous posts on Eldritch horror: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 July, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Neha, Akshay, Shez and Saira Bano

Two good friends of mine, one of whom is the self-proclaimed president (and only member) of the India Uncut Fan Club, are on their way through the Himalayas (or suchlike) as I type these words. Neha Dara and Akshay Mahajan have Shez Jifri and Saira Bano for company, and they seem to be having a rocking time. Who Saira Bano? That’s the auto-rickshaw they’re travelling in. They hardly blogged through the first section of the trip—if you’re zooming through the jungles of Nepal in an auto, whaddya expect—but have built up some decent posts by now, and more posts and pictures will surely follow. So far we have:

Shez: Rickshaw Driving 101
Shez: DAY 1 : Biryani and blowing flutes
Shez: Gianni and Maurice : Team KarmaPizza
Shez: Pimp my ride for Pole position!
Neha: Gathering a crowd 101
Shez: Some rabblings over rubble
Neha: To pack a bag is no easy thing
Neha: Team of Four

And Akshay’s pictures are here. His photographs are a joy, check them out!

Let me place it on record here that I’m burning with envy. We all tell ourselves that we shall take off on such an adventure one day, but trapped by the inertia of everyday life, we rarely do. These kids seized the day, and I’m immensely proud of them. The fan club has a fan club now. (Recursive? What’s that?)

So where are you off to this weekend?

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 July, 2007 in Blogging | Miscellaneous | Personal

This Monday is my Sunday

I’m at a conference in Delhi today, and will thus take a holiday from blogging. Rave Out, Extrowords, Workoutable and the India Uncut Blog will all now be updated tomorrow, unless I get unexpected breaks during the day. Sorry for the inconvenience caused. Rukawat ke liye khed hai, and suchlike. Boo hoo, and so on. Refunds will be given, please email your applications in triplicate. Thank you.

(But do come back tomorrow, some wtf action is promised.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 July, 2007 in Personal

The most irritating song ever

“You’re beautiful” by James Blunt, according to this poll.

I rather like that song, but I suppose I haven’t been overexposed to it like the people who voted on that poll. For them, it must be as overplayed as Himesh Reshammiya’s songs are here. (Can you listen to “Aap Ka Surrrroooorrr” 8000 times?) It also depends on which generation you belong to: I’m in my early thirties, and my all-time most irritating songs would be the 70s cliches like “Hotel California” and “Smoke on the Water” that buffoons in college would play all the time (at the start of the 90s!), the kind of chaps who had heard only eight bands in their lives (Eagles, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Led Zep etc etc) and had no time or space for anything else because that made them feel cool. I even remember one of them picking up an album in my hostel room once and wisecracking, “For whom is Tom Waiting?” Pah!

(Link via Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

No jhappis!

Report 1:

Two high schools in Mumbai have banned pupils from holding hands, kissing or touching on campus, warning that they will face disciplinary action if caught, officials said Monday.

The schools justified the move by saying that these acts, which are increasingly being shown by the local entertainment industry and emulated by the students, were contrary to traditional Indian values.

Report 2:

Fairfax County middle school student Hal Beaulieu hopped up from his lunch table one day a few months ago, sat next to his girlfriend and slipped his arm around her shoulder. That landed him a trip to the school office.

Among his crimes: hugging.

All touching—not only fighting or inappropriate touching—is against the rules at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna. Hand-holding, handshakes and high-fives? Banned. The rule has been conveyed to students this way: “NO PHYSICAL CONTACT!!!!!

Hmm. Actually, I would have welcomed such a move when I was in school. You see, I was in a boy’s school, and was deeply envious of all the fun boys in co-ed schools must have been having. “They must be touching girls,” I’d think—and then I’d start bawling. “Ban touching,” I must have demanded of any higher power that had the power.

Hey, but at least I changed! 

(Second link via email from MadMan.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 June, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal

The best novels you’ve never read

The New York Magazine has a list.

I’ve read none of them, which is okay, not disgraceful. But I have four of them and still haven’t read them, which is shameful. Like too many book lovers I know, I buy far more than I actually read, which does afford the serendipitous pleasure of discovering something wonderful in your own cupboard that you’d forgotten you had, but also takes up much space at home, and leads to rather low savings. (“Holiday in Europe? Not this year, darling, I have, um, novels to read.”)

Anyway, no more blogging this evening, I think I’ll go read a book or something. Garrumph.

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Maintenance note

My laptop sort of fell apart and exploded and blew up my building and incinerated me earlier this week, as a result of which I have temporarily lost access to my old crossword files, and also have less time online. The publishing schedules of Extrowords and Rave Out will, thus, suffer this week. But no power on earth can stop the India Uncut Blog from being furiously updated, so keep coming.

Er, you know what I mean.

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 June, 2007 in Personal

What the world eats

Oddly, I find this lovely photo-essay more moving than appetizing. And it’s not because of the food.

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 June, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

The Rickshaw Run!

Two good pals of mine, Neha and Akshay, are planning to participate in the Rickshaw Run later this year. It’s an immensely exciting plan, and they’re both wildly talented in different ways, but they need funds for the trip (which will end up going to charity). In return, sponsors will get karma points and prints of Akshay’s pictures, which are to die for. Do check out Akshay’s post on the subject for details, and offer support if you feel like.

There should also be a Cow Run somewhere. I can’t understand why people prefer rickshaws. Wouldn’t it be so much nicer to flag down cows in Mumbai and go from suburb to suburb. Huh?

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

Amitabh no farmer

Yesterday at the gym, puffing and panting and wondering if fitness was over-rated, I saw on the monitor in front of me a startling revelation. For a full five minutes it flashed again and again, the same caption, the one you see below: “Amitabh no farmer.”


But his daughter-in-law did marry a tree, no?

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 June, 2007 in India | News | Personal

Cricket questions, anyone?

Throughout the last Bombay Quiz Club season, every time a cricket question would be asked, people would look at me expecting me to crack it. I felt like bashing them over the head with a baseball bat. Just because I once worked in Cricinfo does not mean that I know every bit of cricket trivia under the sun, a fact underscored by my knowing hardly any of the answers in a cricket quiz that Jason from Goa has come up with. Why don’t you have a crack at it?

Posted by Amit Varma on 31 May, 2007 in Personal

The India Uncut Chicken Sandwich

I note that NDTV has a recipe section, and if they can, I can. Their latest recipe is for a chicken sandwich, and I’m certain that I can tell you how to make a better chicken sandwich. After all, as the famous saying goes, “It is not chicken that makes the chicken sandwich tasty, but mother’s blogger’s love.” So, without much ado, and with immense warning to read no further if you want your friends to remain your friends, I present the India Uncut Chicken Sandwich!

*  *  *

Amit Varma


Part One


Posted by Amit Varma on 30 May, 2007 in Personal


Mrinal Pande writes in Mint:

That despite their obvious physical attachment to their progeny, all new mothers (both homebodies and working ones) are petrified and exhausted by turns and may undergo periods of depression and murderous rages as a result, is one of the most under-reported facts of human history. And even though most of us remember how we were routinely yelled at, slapped, pinched or punched by hassled mothers when we drove them insane with our childhood antics and public tantrums, a host of unexamined myths about mothers’ great powers of forbearance and motherhood being its own reward continue to be circulated and nursed by families.

It is true that many husbands are sensitive and affectionate, love their children deeply and are even willing to “help out”. But families make it very clear that such an offer of help is an act of generosity and the woman must be grateful for it, because his real job is his professional work, not raising children. In contrast, if the mother of young children goes back to work, she is suspect in all eyes, most of all in her own. Is she being selfish? Is she going against nature and denying her children their natural rights?

Not being a parent, I can’t add personal testimony to this, but observation bears out what Pande writes about: I have never known a mother for whom motherhood hasn’t been excruciatingly difficult and immensely thankless. I’m sure they’d all say that the rewards are worth it, and I won’t be cynical and speculate that some of them might be rationalizing.

As for me, I subscribe to Philip Larkin’s views on this matter.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 May, 2007 in India | Personal

Sex, Amitabh Bachchan and the Iron Pillar

Imagine Amitabh Bachchan standing at the Iron Pillar, trying to put his arms around it and babbling, “I want sexy. Maa, mujhe sexy chahiye. I want sexy.” Even in Hindi films can this not happen, you would imagine. But (spoiler alert) in Cheeni Kum it does. The film has many charming moments, but the bathos in the last one-third of the film destroys it.

The dialogue above sounds ridiculous out of context, but is even more ridiculous in context. Quite as much so as Amitabh’s dialogue earlier in the film about the level of the water rising because the fish are crying. Tabu looks lovely and acts well, but really, her character, what is she thinking? The problem with the character she loves in the film is not that his age is 64, but that his IQ is.

Nobody kicked my chair during this film, sadly. I’m almost beginning to miss it. Some entertainment?

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 May, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish”

I met up with an old college friend a couple of days ago, and he told me that he was planning to shift professions, and leave a mid-to-high-level marketing job to join the film industry as a beginner. (He wants to direct.) He wanted my advice.

Every career move I’ve made has arguably failed in materialistic terms, so I was hardly the right person to ask, but after warning of him of the many pitfalls that awaited him, I foolishly told him that if I was in his place, I’d follow my heart. (As indeed I’m doing in my place.) Then I got home and sent him a link to Steve Jobs’s famous speech at Stanford—cheesy in parts, but marvellously inspiring, and one that I recommend everyone should read.

And though I prefer the written text, here’s the video as well:

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 May, 2007 in Personal

Children and the nouveau riche

Vir Sanghvi is not happy with the way Indian kids behave in public. He writes in Lounge:

A friend of mine was enjoying a quiet dinner with her boyfriend at a Delhi pizza place when the children from the next table began invading their space and wrecking their dinner. Politely but firmly, she asked the mother if she could possibly keep her kids from hassling her table. Rather than offer any apology, the mother turned viciously on her. “I am sure you are the kind of woman who has no children of your own,” she snarled. “That’s why you are complaining.”

What is it with us? Why don’t we recognize that as much as we love Chunnu, Munnu, Pappu, Bunty or Pinky, the rest of the world is under no obligation to regard them with similar indulgence? Worst of all is the feeling of entitlement that prosperous parents have.They believe that because they are rich, their kids have the right to do whatever they feel like. It’s a funny thing but the children of less-wealthy or poor parents never behave quite as badly as the children of the rich.

I face such behaviour all the time. It’s happened in a restaurant, where kids from a neighbouring table have done unspeakable things to my plate, and on my complaining their mother has said to me, “Arrey, bacchay hai, karne do na?” My reply that they are her bacchay and not my bachhay made her furious, as if I was a heartless monster for not allowing her children to wreck my evening.

They are also a nuisance in cinema halls, expecially when they sit behind you and kick your chair repeatedly through the film. Adults do this as well—once, after half-an-hour of being kicked, I turned around to the teenager behind me and made the entirely reasonable request that he stop kicking my chair. “Arrey, humne bhi ticket ke paise diye hai,” he barked. (I have had the same argument offered to me when I asked a gentleman to stop snarling into his mobile phone during a film.)

I have tried various ways of dealing with this, and the most effective one, I have found, is this: Turn to your companion and say, in a voice soft enough to not be a direct insult but loud enough to be heard, “Villagers.” If you’re really angry, say “Bloody villagers.”

See, Sanghvi is entirely right when he says that such intrusive behaviour and the resulting arrogance comes largely from the nouveau riche, whose newfound prosperity may go to their head, but is accompanied by an anxiousness to appear sophisticated. For them, “Villager” is a far greater pejorative than “Bhainchod” or “Maaderchod,” even if those are also somehow accurate. It strikes at the heart of their identity, and also conveys the point that their behaviour is inappropriate. They often shut up after this, though they may kick the chair a couple of times a few minutes later to test the waters. An incredulous glare—as opposed to a merely angry one—is called for here.

Sometimes, of course, they retort. Once a group of teenagers kicked my chair and made much noise throughout a film, despite many pleas not to—there’s safety in numbers—and when the show got over I politely told them that their behaviour was out of place here, and called them villagers. They fell silent, and after I had walked a few feet towards the exit, one of them managed to think of a response. He shouted, “Abey, townie!”

The irony of that will not be lost on those who know me well.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 May, 2007 in India | Personal

Mango for president

It seems that APJ Abdul Kalam is unlikely to be re-elected India’s president, so this is an appropriate time to suggest a successor. My candidate is the Indian Mango.

I ate a Mango a couple of hours ago, and it was immensely refreshing. Most importantly, it did nothing that would be inappropriate for the president’s office. Indeed, the Mango has many qualifications that make it ideal for that exalted post, and I list some of them here:

1. Mangoes do not write poetry.

2. Mangoes do not want to waste taxpayers’ money to put Indians on Mars.

3. Mangoes will not try to keep themselves out of the scope of the RTI, despite getting a salary from taxpayers’ money.

4. Mangoes will not make the news for trivial reasons, and will stay away from celebrityhood.

5. Mangoes will not have hairstyles.

And so on. You do realize that I can keep adding to this list, I’m sure. It is quite clear to me, and I hope you agree, that the Mango should be our next president. What’s that? What did you say?

How dare you? Let me reiterate my motto of the day: Mangoes are people too.

Thank you. Do come for the inauguration.

Update: An anonymous reader writes in:

I disagree with your choice. Amartya Sen would make a better president. How will a mango carry out the duties of the office?

What duties?

Update 2: Jim O’Neil writes in with a dramatic point of view that has made me think again about my endorsement. I reproduce his email below the fold:


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

Workoutable resumes

Workoutable has been on a hiatus for a while, mainly because I was too lazy to solicit contributions. Well, those days are over. Along with my friends Sumant and Rishi, I conducted a quiz on Sunday (report here), and between us we have many, many questions for you. So that section returns to life today—a new question will be posted every weekday from now on.

If you’re interested, you can subscribe to its RSS feed here.

Meanwhile, there is a huge solo, nationwide quiz this Sunday called the Mahaquizzer, and if you enjoy quizzing, or even want to check out what it’s all about, I recommend you take part. Arul Mani has the details here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 May, 2007 in Personal

A blog party in Bombay

Melody and Sakshi, the charming Bombay bloggers, are hosting a blog party on June 9 for anyone interested who happens to be in the city. Melody has promised not to perform a belly dance, which is a huge relief after the last time. Be there—bloggers can have fun too!

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 May, 2007 in Personal


The New York Times reports:

The United States is continuing to make large payments of roughly $1 billion a year to Pakistan for what it calls reimbursements to the country’s military for conducting counterterrorism efforts along the border with Afghanistan, even though Pakistan’s president decided eight months ago to slash patrols through the area where Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are most active.

[...] So far, Pakistan has received more than $5.6 billion under the program over five years, more than half of the total aid the United States has sent to the country since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, not counting covert funds.

As I’d written in my essay, “General Musharraf’s incentives,” the carrots aren’t working. And the US is too scared to try the stick, having bought Musharraf’s bluff of après him le déluge. And so it goes…

(Link via email from Manish Vij, who has recently returned to the US, and after numerous emails about how his broadband is 82 times faster than mine, has started sending me screenshot evidence. Fug you, Mr Vij. Fug you and your broadband. We have culture and family values here in India. You can stig your broadband you know where, and make that broad too. So there.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 May, 2007 in Personal | Politics

Snakey joy

I return to India to find that things have changed for the better in the few days that I have gone. HBO is promoting a series of films under the branding “Reptilian Rhapsody.” Two of them involve anacondas.

Have you ever wanted a pet that could eat your neighbors?

On a tangent, one of my friends happens to live in the same building as Yukta Mookhey, and I am told that her dog keeps peeing outside his door. (My friend’s door, not the dog’s door.) Society meetings on the subject haven’t helped. A solution does come to mind now, actually…

Update: I was kidding, okay? I do not recommend this. (Via Gaspode, who likes the Iliad.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 May, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Regular blogging resumes

I’m back from my hiatus, and regular blogging will now resume at India Uncut. You may breathe again. Slowly. Count to ten.

I hadn’t bothered to activate roaming on my phone, and Hutch hasn’t kept the messages sent to me in this period, so if you messaged me during this period, I wouldn’t have read it. I also have hundreds of unopened emails piled up, so if there’s an important email you sent me that you feel I should read urgently, please do resend. If it has anything to do with penis enlargement or cialis, though, don’t bother. Thanks for the thought, however.

And now onwards to Landmark and the Infinity food court. Life is good!

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 May, 2007 in Personal

A brief hiatus

You need to sit down before you read this.

Thanks. It’s like this: I’m headed out of the country for a few days, and will be back on May 13. I’m off on vacation, and will be blogging very little, if at all, during this time. I have never been off for so long since India Uncut began, but it has to be done. So, for the next few days, my frequency of posts will dip drastically. On some days, I may post nothing!

Calm down, drink some water. Count to ten. Okay, hundred.

During this time, though, other sections of this site will continue getting updated. Rave Out will stick to its new Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule of publishing. Extrowords will appear every weekday. The Linkastic boys will do their bit. And when you least expect it, I’ll show up and surprise you on the India Uncut Blog. There, see, it’s not so bad.

Also, if you haven’t already, now might be a good time to subscribe to my RSS feeds. Click here for a list of all of them.

Be good now.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 May, 2007 in Personal


In response to this post, and previous discussions of Tristesse, Sanjeev send me this magnificent poem by Stephen Dunn:


I’ve learned mine can’t be filled,
only alchemized. Many times
it’s become a paragraph or a page.
But usually I’ve hidden it,
not knowing until too late
how enormous it grows in its dark.
Or how obvious it gets
when I’ve donned, say, my good
cordovans and my fine tweed vest
and walked into a room with a smile.
I might as well have been a man
with a fez and a faux silver cane.

Better, I know now, to dress it plain,
to say out loud
to some right person
in some right place
that there’s something not there
in me, something I can’t name.
That some right person
has just lit a fire under the kettle.
She hasn’t said a word.
Beneath her blue shawl
she, too, conceals a world.

But she’s amazed
how much I seem to need my emptiness,
amazed I won’t let it go.

© Stephen Dunn.
Everything Else In The World.

Ah, alchemy…

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

On men who scratch

Q. Why do men scratch themselves in public.

A. Because it’s impolite to scratch other people.

A friend insisted I post on this subject because a man she happened to meet somewhere kept scratching his balls in public. For some reason, she found this objectionable, and felt that I should write a post advising men against such behaviour if they want to impress women. My response: If you give men a choice between scratching themselves and impressing women, they will scratch. Some things are non-negotiable. Deal with it, dude.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 April, 2007 in Personal | Small thoughts

If there were a sex Olympics…

... India would win the gold medal in all the sprints. The Times of India reports:

A new global sex survey reveals that when it comes to time devoted to the sexual act, Indians get done the fastest — averaging just 13 minutes, foreplay and all. The global average is 18 minutes.


Sexologist Prakash Kothari is not surprised with the survey’s 13-minute finding. “Most Indian men use their wives as sleeping pills. They have never devoted enough time to foreplay, or the act itself.”

You will remember, of course, that Indian men have rather small organs as well. Immense sympathy comes for Indian women. If only they could know the pleasures of being with men such as, um, me. Poor things.

(Link via email from the worried Gautam John. And while searching for my previous post, I had to go through these two pages: 1, 2. Such things I wrote!)

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 April, 2007 in India | Personal

Chocolate, Krautrock, a blindfolded rhino

Various writers describe in the Guardian how they get their creative juices flowing.

Chocolates work for Douglas Coupland. Well, I just had a Belgian Chocolate gelato, and have an article to write tonight that I’ve been struggling to begin. Off to work then.

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Father/husband’s name.

There is much hoo-ha these days about bizarre new government guidelines that make women give details of their menstrual history on appraisal forms. S Mitra Kalita correctly points out in Mint that there is an equally invidious requirement that women in India constantly face on every form that they fill in: Father/husband’s name.

Kalita even spoke to an official in the labour ministry who told her that there is no law that requires such a question to be answered, but that “for 60-80-100 years blindly, we have been asking this question.” Don’t expect that to change. Inertia is a powerful beast.

The one requirement that has irritated me in forms that I’ve had to fill up in Pune and Mumbai is of “Father’s Name.” Why so? Well, in Maharashtra there is a custom of the father’s name being the middle name of a person, and the government here assumes that the custom holds across the country. So, say, if I wrote my father’s name as Cthulhu, my name would automatically go into the records as Amit Cthulhu Varma. Punjus and Bongs—I’m half of each—have no such custom, and I don’t have a middle name, but try explaining that to a ration-card officer.

Or even to Cthulhu.

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 April, 2007 in India | Personal

“What I love about floors is that they love feet”

That’s a line I particularly like from a poem by Space Bar, the newest contributor to Rave Out. That section’s coming along rather nicely, I think, and the already-healthy contributors list will have a couple of new additions in the next couple of weeks that will make it rock even more. Watch that space.

And yes, just as floors love feet, my keyboard loves my fingers. Such is the level of obsession there that I fear that such a love affair can only be doomed. Its offspring, of course, exist for your pleasure.

Update: You can pick up RSS feeds from here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Blogging | Personal

My default state…

... is cynical.

So why am I writing this post?

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 April, 2007 in Personal | Small thoughts

The problem with non-existence

Sometimes I wish I’d never been born. The problem is this: if that were the case, I wouldn’t be around to enjoy it. What would be the point then?

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 April, 2007 in Personal | Small thoughts

I’m on the court

Jimmy Wales is asked, in Time Magazine’s “10 Questions” section, why people contribute to Wikipedia. Is it altruism? He replies:

It’s realizing that doing intellectual things socially is a lot of fun—it makes sense. We don’t plan on paying people, either, to contribute. People don’t ask, “Gosh, why are all these people playing basketball for fun? Some people get paid a lot of money to do that.”

Bang on. Also, please stop asking me if I make any money through this website. Bounce bounce bounce.

Posted by Amit Varma on 31 March, 2007 in Blogging | Personal

The broadband blues

My broadband has been down today, and my productivity, on a terribly slow dial-up, has been about a third of what it should be. I’m off to watch a film in a few minutes, so will come back and finish off the routine India Uncut tasks, like putting up the latest Rave Out, Extrowords and Workoutable posts.

I think of myself as immensely lucky to have been born at the right time to benefit from the internet. Nothing I do today would have been possible before the internet, and you would never have heard of me, leave alone read my writing. And my shift to this new site, from Blogspot, would have been futile if not for broadband: on a dial-up, all my daily tasks would have taken too long. Immense gratitude comes.

Of course, you might look at my condition now and say that I’m enslaved by technology, but this is a temporary lull in the middle of much empowerment. If Tata Indicom doesn’t give me back my broadband by evening, though, violence will ensue!

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 March, 2007 in Personal

Madness and death

There is absolutely no point in sitting down to write a book unless you feel that you must write that book, or else go mad, or die.

That’s Robertson Davies, quoted in an excellent feature on the difficulties of being a first-time novelist by Kate Kellaway, “That Difficult First Novel.”

Madness and death are immensely appealing. I think I need a frappe.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 March, 2007 in Personal

On Extrowords

As many of you have pointed out, I’ve been somewhat infrequent in updating Extrowords over the last couple of weeks. This has happened because I’ve been madly busy: I’ve actually been making two crosswords a day, one for Mint and the other a cricket puzzle for Mid Day that will last the duration of the World Cup. A third one simply got too much for me.

But there was no point in having that section if it wasn’t updated regularly, and Mint has been kind enough to give me permission to run some of the crosswords I do for them on Extrowords. I hadn’t considered it earlier, as the kind of themes I do for them (“Mutual Fund Families” for example) would probably not interest my readers here. But some would, and those will be carried here. The crosswords I’m carrying from there will have “mint” somewhere in the url, which is how you can tell them from the others.

You can browse all the Extrowords so far on the Extrowords homepage. The latest is on “Popular Music”. If you enjoy it, I suggest you also subscribe to the RSS feed, which will give you the theme and some sample clues and help you decide whether you want to solve the full crossword. The feed url is: (Bloglines users, click here.)

You can subscribe to the other RSS feeds for this site here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 March, 2007 in Personal

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