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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

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?

Cthulhu.

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.”

image

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!

*  *  *

Chef

Amit Varma

Ingredients
Chicken
Bread

Method
Part One

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 May, 2007 in Personal


Motherhood

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:

Read more...

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


Suckers!

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


Emptiness

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

Emptiness

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: http://feeds.feedburner.com/extrowords. (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


Girls without nipples, and ding-dong disease

Check out I Used to Believe, an awesome site that collects silly beliefs that people had as children. A few examples:

Quarter of an hour is 25 minutes.

If you don’t hold your breath as you pass a cemetery you will die or become possessed.

You can get pregnant from kissing.

You must marry someone with the same surname as you.

Oral sex is talking about sex.

Chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

Great delight. Should I confess? Okay, a couple of mine:

1] When I was a kid, certainly years before puberty, a school friend asked me what women’s breasts looked like. “They’re like balloons,” I informed him. “Girls don’t have nipples.”

2] As time went by, I discovered that women had nipples. One day a classmate asked me how girls masturbated. I wanted to appear knowledgeable, so I quickly improvised and said, “They play with their nipples.” (I was in a boys school, naturally.)

3] For a few weeks after I discovered erections, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I’d seen my ding-dong in two states, but in all the pictures I saw of statues of naked men, there was only one kind of ding-dong depicted. I thought I might have a ding-dong disease.

4] At different stages in my childhood, I have even believed in God and palmistry and benevolent government. I also believed in the concept of soul mates. The horror!

Enough! No more! It’s your turn now, comments are open, do share your silly childhood beliefs. And don’t comment on mine, please. Thank you.

(Link via Marginal Revolution.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 March, 2007 in Personal


Unemployed

In 2001 when I took up a job at Wisden, I told myself that this would be the last job of my life, I’d become a full-time writer after this. Well, that gig lasted a bit longer than I’d expected, as Wisden bought Cricinfo and I was its managing editor for a while in India, but I finally managed to break loose late last year. Immense relief came. Vast quantities of freedom unleashed itself upon me.

This does present a problem, though. Every once in a while people ask me what I do, and will not be satisfied with any answer I give. If I say I’m a blogger, they look at me as if I’m mad. If I say I’m a writer, they look at me as if I’m crazy. If I say I make crosswords for a living, they check my temperature, their clammy palm trembling on my sensuous forehead.

So I simply say I’m unemployed, and smile widely. I tried this at a quiz at NMIMS a few days ago (report here), when the finalists were announced. It was an open quiz, and all the other teams were from corporations or colleges. When our turn came to introduce ourselves, the quizmaster, a Kolkata veteran named Gautam Ghosh (not the blogger), asked me where we were from.

“We’re from nowhere,” I said. “At least I’m not. I’m unemployed.”

Mr Ghosh’s mouth fell open. “You are what?” he asked, his voice tinged with obvious concern.

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 March, 2007 in Personal


The thing with comments

I have often explained why I don’t open comments on the blog, but, on the urging of many readers and friends, I’ve decided to try it out on select posts on this blog—not all of them. Be good.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 March, 2007 in Personal


On golf, and writing

In a wonderful series where masters and their protégés talk about each other, the young golfer Henrietta Brockway says:

Golf is pretty addictive. You hit 20 bad shots, then you hit one good one. You want to hit that good one again and again so you just keep trying and trying and trying.

I think that’s true of writing as well. But here’s the problem: in golf, you know when you hit a bad shot, because it hits a bunker or goes into the woods or misses the green by a long way. In writing, it’s not so clear, and depends on an individual’s judgement. Some writers could think that every shot is a good shot, and fool themselves into easy satisfaction. Others could set their bar too high, and be forever scared to write because their definition of a good shot is one that Calvino or Kundera played, and no beginning writer can compete against those. I think the ones that make it minimise the self-delusion, but have the courage to persevere even when they are racked with self-doubt, as all good writers inevitably are at some point.

Needless to say, writing about writing is easier than the writing itself. Pah.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 March, 2007 in Personal | Small thoughts


What our books say about us

I was browsing through some of my old posts, in sheer disgust, when I came across the book-tag meme. Remember that? It was a meme that demanded that we list down our favourite books and suchlike, and a whole bunch of Indian bloggers, not yet cynical enough at the time, duly did so. A lot of it is fascinating reading, and as I’ve spent the last 40 minutes revisiting those posts, I might as well point you to them as well. Here’s my response to the book tag, and here’s my list of all the other book-taggers.

The dominant meme these days, of course, is the “Ignore All Memes” meme. That works for me!

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


On internet connections

Dear readers

For your enjoyment, an email conversation is reproduced below, between me and my kind friend Manish Vij, who has consented to the publication of this most-enlightening exchange. Please read from the top. As I am blogging this via broadband, the grain of rice in front of me lies unsullied.

Warm regards and Happy Holi

Amit

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 March, 2007 in India | Personal


Guilt. Despair! Panic!

So much to do, so little time. On a regular basis these days, I go through the cycle mentioned in the headline of this post. I wake up in the morning (somehow!), get to work, and soon fall behind schedule. Sometimes non-IU work does not allow me to post on this blog until lunch: immense guilt then comes. (As I mentioned here, guilt is a key reason for the frequency of my posts.) If, FSM forbid, I cannot blog by evening, despair sets it. And if the sun sets and the blog is still showing yesterday’s post, panic happens. I go on the internet then, and feel paralysed. What to blog? How can I make up for an entire day gone by?

Pretty much the same phenomenon happens with email as well. Often, when I am travelling, even if it is for a day, the emails pile up. So I use the immensely useful functionality that Gmail has, of starring a mail. The action is supposed to be my way of telling myself, “This is important and I will reply to this email later.” But the message that effectively gets communicated is, “You don’t have to worry about this right now. Chill. Do something else. You can come back to this.”

And, of course, I never do. If fact, the starred mails are so many, and so guilt-inducing, that I’m in denial much of the time. I do not dare to click on the folder. Panic arises at the thought, and alternates with resignation. No doubt I have lost many friends in this way, and upset many readers. Sigh. Weep. Wail.

It has to be said, though, that readers of my blog have less cause for complaint than those who correspond with me. I am, after all, writing a post now—not an email.

Also see: An earlier post on this predicament.

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 March, 2007 in Blogging | Personal


Blowjob Nation

Caitlin Flanagan writes in the Atlantic Monthly:

The moms in my set are convinced—they’re certain; they know for a fact—that all over the city, in the very best schools, in the nicest families, in the leafiest neighborhoods, twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls are performing oral sex on as many boys as they can. They’re ducking into janitors’ closets between classes to do it; they’re doing it on school buses, and in bathrooms, libraries, and stairwells. They’re making bar mitzvah presents of the act, and performing it at “train parties”: boys lined up on one side of the room, girls working their way down the row. The circle jerk of old—shivering Boy Scouts huddled together in the forest primeval, desperately trying to spank out the first few drops of their own manhood—has apparently moved indoors, and now (death knell of the Eagle Scout?) there’s a bevy of willing girls to do the work.

In her piece, Flanagan tells us about how the nature of teenage sexuality has changed in her lifetime. She is horrified by what she calls “Blowjob Nation,” and believes that we are “raising children in a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape in which no forces beyond individual households—individual mothers and fathers—are protecting children from pornography and violent entertainment.”

Read more...

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 February, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Personal


Full RSS feeds and email subscription now available

India Uncut is a work in progress, and we take feedback very seriously. Many readers wrote in to me complaining about partial RSS feeds, so I’m pleased to announce that every section of this site now has its own RSS feed, which will carry posts in toto. (The Extrowords crossword cannot be replicated in a feed, so that will have a few sample clues to give you a taste of what to expect.)

So, to get to the point, here come the feeds. Please copy the urls below and paste them into whichever feed reader you use. If you use Bloglines, that subscription link is provided, simply open it in a new window.

The India Uncut Blog: http://feeds.feedburner.com/IUB. (Bloglines users, click here.)

Linkastic: http://feeds.feedburner.com/linkastic. (Bloglines.)

Rave Out: http://feeds.feedburner.com/raveout. (Bloglines.)

Workoutable: http://feeds.feedburner.com/workoutable. (Bloglines.)

Extrowords: http://feeds.feedburner.com/extrowords. (Bloglines.)

There is also a combined India Uncut feed you can subscribe to, which carries content from all these sections except Linkastic. (The volume of posts there would overwhelm the rest of the content.) That feed is here:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/indiauncut-full. (Bloglines.)

If you want to subscribe to the content of the above feed by email, you’ll find a place to leave your email ID on the right column.

In spite of all this, I hope you continue coming to the site itself. We’ve worked very hard to make it look good and function well, and will be introducing new features, and maybe sections, as time goes by. Also, you can only play the Extrowords crossword on the site. Have you had a crack at it yet?

I also get asked about comments. Well, comments are open on Rave Out, and will be opened once in a while for selected posts on the India Uncut Blog.

Please keep the feedback coming, either by using the contact form here, or by emailing me directly. I often fail to reply to all the emails I get, because of the sheer volume of them, but I take all feedback seriously, and I thank you in advance!

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 February, 2007 in Personal


La Sania

Yesterday I was at dinner with some friends at a restaurant, and there was a television set near us showing some tennis. One of us looked at the menu and, making her mind up about what to eat, said, “Lasagna!”

Another friend, gazing at the TV screen, remarked, “Yes, she’s winning.”

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 February, 2007 in Personal | Sport


Loving poetry again

Do you find poetry intimidating? I do. I don’t understand most of the poems I read these days, or the ones I listen to at literary gatherings like the Kitab Fest that I’ve been attending this weekend. Sometimes I feel bewildered, sometimes I feel sleepy, and often I feel inadequate. I’ve told myself that perhaps I just don’t get it, like some people are tone deaf or colour blind.

But some poetry does give me pleasure. The work of Philip Larkin, for example, or Vikram Seth. And at the Jaipur Lit fest last month, I thoroughly enjoyed Jeet Thayil’s reading. I landed up at his reading at Prithvi Theater a few hours ago, thus, duly prepared to shoot it with my cellphone video recorder, and upload it later for your enjoyment. There was no electricity, and the reading happened in torchlight, so my recording hasn’t come out too good. Most importantly, the sound volume is just too low, and I have no idea of how to make it louder. So I won’t upload that, but I’ll simply ask you, if you ever hear that Thayil is reading in your city, to go over and ask for the “how to” poems and the ghazal about Malayalam. Even if you’ve never liked a poem in your life, you’ll love these.

What kind of a scoundrel would I be if I didn’t leave with some nice poetry now? So here, check out Billy Collins reading The Dead:

Read more...

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


Last chance to vote in the Indibloggies

Today is the last day of voting in the Indibloggies. If you feel India Uncut deserves to win Indiblog of the Year, please do vote. I suspect it’s going to be a close contest this time, and every vote counts.

You do not need to have a blog to vote—that field is optional. A valid email ID is enough. And voting is optional in all categories, so you can vote in as few or as many of them as you wish.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 February, 2007 in Personal


“He’s not Mallu. He’s Cthulhu”

These were the very words uttered by a certain Koch-head friend earlier today about the noble Ravikiran Rao. Pestilential quantities of joy exploded, quite apt before a Roger Waters concert with a giant flying pig.

Previous posts on Eldritch horror: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 February, 2007 in Personal


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