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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

The Indibloggies Are On

Being a three-time winner, I was inducted into the Indibloggies Hall of Fame this year, which means that I don’t get to take part from now onwards. But I can still vote! So here are the blogs I voted for, all of which I recommend highly:

Best Indiblog: Smoke Signals by Prem Panicker.
Best New Indiblog: Let’s Put Da by Ramesh Srivats.
Best New Indi Microblog: Prem Panicker, again.
Best Humanities Indiblog: Jabberwock by Jai Arjun Singh.
Most Humorous Indiblog: Son of Bosey by the brilliant Anand Ramachandran.
Best Science/Technology Indiblog: Digital Inspiration by Amit Agarwal.

There are other nominees worth checking out, but these are my personal favourites. Do check them out and vote for them if you feel like. You don’t need to vote in every category, by the way, just the ones you’re familiar with.

I totally feel like Sonia Gandhi right now. Like, where’s my starched sari?

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 December, 2009 in Personal

My Friend the Fanatic

I’ll be at Crossword bookstore at Kemps Corner this evening, in conversation with Sadanand Dhume at the launch of his book, My Friend the Fanatic. India Uncut readers are invited to attend. Here’s the Facebook event page. The details:

What: Launch of My Friend the Fanatic by Sadanand Dhume. The author will read from the book, followed by a conversation with Amit Varma, and then a session of audience Q&A.

Where: Crossword Bookstore, Kemps Corner, Mumbai.

When: 7pm, November 27, 2009.

Dhume is a former WSJ and FEER writer who left journalism a few years ago to write a nonfiction book tracing the rise of Islamism in Indonesia. I loved the book, and will write about it again later. The subjects I’ll chat with him about this evening will include the nature of belief, the rise of Islamism in Indonesia, what it has in common with radicalism elsewhere, the dilemmas and challenges a nonfiction writer confronts while writing a book of this sort, and the growing popularity of Savita Bhabhi in Java. Try and come if you’re in the area.

And do check the book out. It sounds very serious and all, and it is, but it’s also very funny and light in its own way. You’ll enjoy reading it.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 November, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

My Impressions of TED India

So I’m back and somewhat recovered from TED India. I’m slowly settling into the rhythms of my usual life without needing to wake up at 6 to go to breakfast by 7.15, and actually being able to officially nap in the afternoons, instead of nodding off in a seated position surrounded by hundreds of the world’s most eminent people, all no doubt staring at me. Anyway, briefly, here are my impressions of TED India:

The Highs

1: Sunitha Krishnan. While the Talks were disappointing going by TED standards (more on that later), I was privileged to be present at a TED Talk that will surely become one of the classics. A petite, cheerful lady named Sunitha Krishnan came up on stage and told us about how she rescued girls kidnapped for or sold into trafficking. It was a strong talk all by itself—and then she gave us some back story. ‘I was gang-raped by eight men when I was 15.’ Jaws dropped. She went on talking about how she got through her anger at her rape, and later drove herself to rescue victims of trafficking and sexual violence. There wasn’t a trace of victimhood or self-righteousness in her narrative, not did she serve up any feminist rhetoric about patriarchies and suchlike. It was a straight-from-the-heart story of the work she does, and of how the girls she rescues, instead of wallowing in self-pity, so often have the strength to go out in the world and engage with society again. It was remarkable—make sure you watch it when the guys at TED release it online.

There were a few other solid talks as well, such as the ones by Shaffi Mather, Charles Anderson, Kavita Ramdas and Ryan Lobo, all of which I can’t wait to watch again online.

2: The People. The real draw of TED is the intellectual firepower around you, and the amazing people you get to meet. I got to reconnect with many of the friends I’d met in the early years of blogging, and also got to meet tons of new people doing interesting things. Many of my fellow Ted Fellows are engaged in work that actually changes the lives of thousands of people (as opposed to writing a measly novel), and it was humbling to be in their company. I was also delighted to connect with the Pakistanis at the conference, who made it a richer event just by their presence.

For future attendees of TED conferences, my friend (and TED veteran) Reuben Abraham gave me some good advice that I’ll pass down: 1, The people are a bigger deal than the Talks. After all, you can watch the talks online. 2, Don’t hang out with people you normally hang out with. That’s a waste. Meet new people. 3, Don’t spread yourself too thin by meeting too many new people. It’s a buffet with 800 dishes, and if you try to taste 400 of them, you won’t enjoy any.

3: The Ted Extras. From the outside, all you see of TED are the TED Talks. But there were hazaar other things happening. There were Ted Fellows sessions, where fellows spoke about subjects of their choice, and some of them were fascinating—especially Sandeep Sood on how we’d remember ancient civilisations if they’d used social media, Jane Chen on how her team did jugaad to build a dirt-cheap incubator for newborns, and Aparna Rao on her funky art projects. (I didn’t volunteer to speak because I was so awed by the TED brand, a decision I now regret.)

There was also something called the TED University, where TEDsters enlighted us on things they were working on. VS Ramachandran gave an excellent talk here on mirror neurons, for example, that was better than most of the TED Talks that came later. And there were workshops on hazaar things, such as a particularly good one called Jugaad, on bottom-up entrepreneurship. To be physically present at the conference, thus, was an experience on an entirely different level from just viewing the Talks online.

4: The Sociological Research. Being at TEDIndia gave some of us valuable insights into society and the human condition (as well as the road to world peace, but I won’t reveal it here, I’d rather find ways to monetize it first). Here’s an interesting observation for you, which my good buddy Gautam John brought to my notice: the pharmacy at the Infosys campus in Mysore does not sell condoms.

I want you to think about that for a moment. This is a campus where thousands of young men and women stay and work together. The official Infosys position on this matter, thus, seems to be that either a) Infosys employees do not have sex or b) Infosys employees have sex, but it should not be safe sex. Isn’t this interesting?

The Infosys campus, by the way, is truly bizarre. It is immensely opulent, but also quite schizophrenic. As I’d tweeted, it’s a collage of pastiches of different architectural styles: you have the Capitol and the Epcot Centre within two minutes of each other, and the Gothic and Greek Revival and Structural Expressionism schools, along with every other style of architecture thought of by man, seems to be present there. (I was disappointed not to spot any caves.) There is no coherence to any of this.

Also, the design isn’t functional at all. In the building where I stayed, all the bathroom windows overlooked the inner courtyard, where people gather. This is just bad design, exacerbated by the absence of condoms.

But back to sociology. In discussions with Gautam and the legendary Shaffi Mather, explanations for this campus were arrived at. One, given the apparent social background of most of the Infosys employees, the campus is meant to shock and awe you. The average employee here has never seen anything like this, and is madly grateful to get the chance to live a life like this. Infosys might well become his religion after this. (Indeed, the organised religions built grand churches and temples and mosques for just this effect.) Two, Staying in a campus of this sort trains him for life in the US, where he might well be posted next. No walking on the grass, strict smoking areas (the pharmacy doesn’t sell cigarettes either) and so on.

But why are we talking about Infosys? And this isn’t sociology, it’s frickin’ adda. Back to TED.

The Lows

1: It’s Good—But is it TED? Spoilt by so many great TED Talks from the past, we tend to expect groundbreaking revelations from TED. But most of the talks revealed nothing new about the world. Hans Rosling, the TED legend, was entertaining, but we’d seen it all before: the visual effects, the showmanship etc. And his central thesis, that India will overtake the US by 2048 based on current trends, was meaningless, because as his own charts show, trends don’t stay stable, and unexpected events always change the way countries grow. Equally, Pranav Mistry’s talk unveiled an awesome new technology—that we’ve already seen before on TED. Even people I expected much from, like design guru Banny Banerjee and behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan, didn’t tell us anything we wouldn’t know from reading recent literature on those subjects. Don’t get me wrong, these were good, solid talks—but not quite TED.

2: How Firangs View India. My really big grouse about TED India was that it catered to Western stereotypes of India. There was much exotica, and much mysticism served up that says nothing at all about the country we are today. The average foreign attendee would have gone away with his stereotypes about India reinforced, not shattered. That’s an opportunity missed.

One talk that was truly WTF was by this ludicrous godman named Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev. He is an excellent, endearing showman and has a great sense of humour, which I guess are the qualities you need in the godman business, but he spoke mystical nonsense. Among other things, he described how he once cured a fractured foot just by concentrating on it, because the mind overcomes everything. You get the drift, it was that kind of spirituality/self-help crap, and I’m amazed he was allowed on to a TED stage. At the very least, someone should have broken his foot as he got onto it, so he could actually demonstrate to us the power of the human mind by healing it live. Now that would have been TED material.

3: Too many corporate presentations. A whole bunch of the Talks were just corporate presentations, with people talking about themselves or their companies with the aid of boring powerpoint slides. At a TED conference, you really would expect more than this. Why can’t they make Duarte Design a consultant to help with all their speakers’ slides? Is there no vetting that goes on before a speaker goes up to speak? TED is supposed to be about ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’? Honestly, how many of the Talks had ideas like that?

4: Celeb Power. There seemed to be a handful of people who were invited to give Talks just because they were celebs, without a thought to whether they actually had something new to communicate. Shashi Tharoor is a superb public speaker, but his speech was aimed at the ignorant foreigner, and he said nothing that he hasn’t said hazaar times before. He even recycled that old cliche about a country of Hindus being ruled by a Christian (Sonia Gandhi), a Sikh (Manmohan Singh) and a Muslim (APJ Abdul Kalam; Tharoor was speaking in the past tense). It was magnificent orating, but schoolboy-level feel-good content.

Shekhar Kapur also gave a bizarre talk, and no one there seemed to have figured out what he was on about. ‘Was he on dope?’ more than one person asked me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘He’s a friend of Deepak Chopra. Whaddya expect?’

But these are familiar figures to Western audiences, so I guess that is why they were invited.

Well, that’s that. The negatives sound harsh, but whenever you curate something, whether it’s a conference or an art show or a magazine (an editor is basically a curator), you never get everything right. My friend Sambit Bal, the editor of Cricinfo who once edited the now-defunct Gentleman, and who I consider India’s best magazine editor, once told me that when he put together an issue of Gentleman, he would be satisfied if at the end he had a product in which any reader could find three or four pieces they thoroughly enjoyed. No one’s ever going to enjoy everything; and no one piece can satisfy everyone.

By that reckoning, TED India was a success. I’m sure that many TED India attendees will have loved the Talks I hated and not liked the ones I loved. That’s the nature of a conference like this, and on the whole, I’d say the folks at TED did an amazing job. Also, my criticism is all about the Talks. The conference itself was immaculately organised, and the kind of people I got to meet awed and humbled me. It was, if I may lapse into cliche, the experience of a lifetime.

I’d been tweeting on and off from Mysore, so you can check those archives for more if you wish. Or just wait for the Talks to come online and make up your own mind. Off I go now, I think I need a nap. There’s a backlog to cover.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 November, 2009 in Personal

TED India, Here I Come

Blogging and tweeting will be light for the next few days. I was selected as a TED Fellow a few weeks ago, and will be heading off to Mysore tomorrow for TED India. I could choose to either liveblog and tweet furiously from there, or I could sit back and immerse myself in the conference. Given the quality of people I’ll get to meet, and the usual standard of the TED Talks, I think the latter option is wiser.

Here’s my TED Profile—and here’s an interview of mine taken for the occasion.

And some of my favourite TED Talks:

Andrew Mwenda takes a new look at Africa.
Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen.
Steven Pinker on the myth of violence.
Dan Dennett on dangerous memes.

Really, there are so many wonderful TED Talks that picking out a handful of favourites seems sacrilegious. See them all!

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 November, 2009 in Personal

The Bastiat Winners for 2009…

... have been announced. My congratulations to John Hasnas for winning the Bastiat Prize for 2009. Hasnas beat out former winner Robert Guest with this superb piece of his: “The ‘Unseen’ Deserve Empathy, Too.” Going by previous years, I have no doubt that all the nominees were most worthy.

I won the prize in 2007, and the prize candlestick, which I can see now across the room, is one of my treasured possessions. The prize money enabled me to give up freelance journalism and focus on writing novels, an effect that, for the Bastiat organisers, was surely in the category of “that which is not seen.” I’d count it as a one-off positive externality, so all’s well.

This year, the Bastiat guys also instituted a separate prize for online journalism. I was one of the judges for this, along with Jimmy Wales, Esther Dyson and Scott Banister, and was blown away by the quality of the entries I read. I’m delighted that the prize has been shared by Daniel Hannan and Shikha Dalmia—both of them deserve it, and this is a fitting result.


Oh, and here’s the column I wrote after I won the Bastiat Prize in 2007: “Remembering Frédéric Bastiat.” And here are the three pieces I’d entered that won me the prize:

“Where’s the Freedom Party?”
“A Beast Called Government.”
“The Devil’s Compassion.”

You can read all 48 installments of my column for Mint, Thinking it Through, here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 October, 2009 in Economics | Freedom | Personal

It’s Time To Retire From Quizzing…

... when you find that you’ve become a quiz question yourself. Ah, well.

(Link via email from Arun Hiregange.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 October, 2009 in Personal

MFS Comes To Pune

I’ll be in Pune this Friday, reading from my novel, My Friend Sancho, and discussing it with the writer and journalist Saaz Aggarwal. India Uncut and MFS readers are warmly invited. Now that Kamal R Khan has reportedly been kicked out from Bigg Boss, I’m trying to get him to come as well, but I can’t promise anything.

The details:

When: 6.30pm onwards, Friday, October 23
Where: Landmark bookstore, SGS Mall, Moledina Road, Pune
What: Amit Varma reads from My Friend Sancho, and discusses the book, as well as other matters of urgent national importance, with the writer Saaz Aggarwal.
And: Refreshments will be served after the event.
Also: There will be a Sherlyn Chopra lookalike contest, and the winner gets one year’s free subscription to India Uncut. Amit Varma is the sole judge.

Do come and create some masti.


Saaz was one of the first people to interview me when MFS was released. Here’s that interview.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 October, 2009 in My Friend Sancho | Personal

The Englishman’s Cameo

All India Uncut readers are hereby invited to the Mumbai launch of The Englishman’s Cameo, Madhulika Liddle’s debut novel. I will be in conversation with the author. Details:

Event: Launch of The Englishman’s Cameo by Madhulika Liddle.
More: Liddle will read from her book and then be in conversation with Amit Varma, followed by audience Q&A.
And?: And high tea after that.
Ooh! Venue?: Oxford Bookstore, 3, Dinshaw Vachha Road, Mumbai.
When is this?: 6.30 to 7.30pm, Saturday, October 10.

The Facebook page for the event is here; and here’s the Facebook page for the book.

Regardless of whether you can make it for the event, I recommend you check out the book. It’s being slotted as “a Mughal murder mystery”, and is set in 1656, in Shahjahan’s Delhi.
It is wonderfully evocative, and makes you feel you’re actually in that time and place: during a break from reading the book, I found myself reaching for the paandaan, reminding myself not to stain my choga this time. More importantly, it’s a wonderful read, and hard to put down once you’ve started.

It stars Muzaffar Jang, a maverick minor nobleman of Shahjahan’s court who unwittingly begins to do detective work when one of his friends is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. One thing leads to another, more murders take place, and a minor character, bemused by Muzaffar’s passion for the strange bitter brew called coffee, hits upon the idea of diluting it with milk. It’s terrific fun, and I hope it’s just the first of a series.

Anyway, be there, meet the author, ask her questions, get the book signed by her, and have high tea. And just think, later you can act all snobbish and tell your friends that you went to a literary launch. Much pomposity is possible!

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Personal

What the Peon Dreams About

Rekha Nigam has some wonderful advice on advertising:

I don’t know about advice, but I would ask aspirants to join advertising only if they were truly interested in people. Because that is what it’s all about. I see too many people who are too self-centered, too wrapped up in their own world in advertising today. It’s not about a great felicity with words or magic with visuals at all. It’s about being interested in what the peon who brings your tea dreams about. Ask yourself, do you really care about the fantasies of a housewife who does not have a life so the others in her family can? Do you know what a rainbow tastes like to a little street child? Do you really understand what a cell-phone means to an illiterate woman in Balia whose husband works as a vegetable vendor in Mumbai? If you don’t give a damn, please stay away from advertising. Write a book, paint a masterpiece, make a movie that wins at every international festival, but DO NOT join advertising.

I’d modify that a bit and say that in my opinion, this advice holds true for literature and cinema as well. So if you don’t care what the peon dreams, don’t write a book or make a film either. You can go paint a masterpiece, though.

And really, speaking about writing, there are too many books written these days by writers who stick their heads up their own arseholes and describe what they see. That reflects in their sales as well—who besides friends and family can tolerate the view up there? A little less self-indulgence, and some looking around at the fascinating world around them, would help.

And no, duh, do you really expect me to take names here? I’m not getting into no lit controversy, ever!

(Link via @bhatnaturally, via @rjauhari.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 October, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Media | Personal | Small thoughts

A Cattle-Class Country?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

I’m On Twitter

For all you Twitter fans sending me hazaar emails about getting on Twitter, I’ve succumbed. You can find me on Twitter at

I’d opened an account, put up a sample post, and protected my updates a few months ago, intending to have nothing more to do with it. But over that time I received, to my initial befuddlement, hundreds of ‘follow’ requests. Those expire with time, so if that’s the case with you, note that my updates are no longer protected, and you’re welcome to follow if you wish. I shall be much more regular with my Twitter updates than I have been on India Uncut so far.

Also, perhaps later in the day, I’ll find a way to make my Twitter updates appear on the right column of India Uncut. So you get both my blogging and micro-blogging on one page.

And ya, I’m also going to be more regular on this space. Just see now.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 September, 2009 in Personal


As many of you would know, the partner makes her living curating art shows. Well, her latest show, Card-o-logy, opens today, and I’m enormously excited about it. It features 60 artists who have painted five picture postcards each, and many of the 300 resulting works of art are just stunning. The artists are a mix of well-known veterans, mid-career painters and young guns, and many of them have taken the chance to get out of their comfort zone and try new things.

When Jasmine had the idea last year, she had the following aims in mind:

1] Get all these well-known artists to work under the constraints of this new format that most of them had never tried out.

2] In recessionary times, come up with work that anyone could afford. Some of these artists sell in 7 figures, and art lovers have a chance to pick up their work here from Rs. 500 onwards. Most of the works are priced between Rs 3000 to 8000.

3] Compel art viewers to immerse themselves in the show, as they will have to in order to take in all the 300 works. They can’t simply stand back with a cocktail glass in one hand, take a sweeping look around the room, and satisfy themselves that they’ve viewed the exhibition. The very size of the works demands a more intimate viewing.

I can’t think of a comparable exhibition in India in which 60 top artists have showcased 300 works at such affordable prices, and you can see some of the works online here and here. However, the size of those images don’t do justice to the actual works, and if you’re in Mumbai, I suggest you hop over to Hacienda Art Gallery at Kala Ghoda between September 4 (today) and September 18.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 September, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

If You Ask Around

The New York Times has a bizarre story up now titled ‘Facebook Exodus’. The story begins:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Facebook, the online social grid, could not command loyalty forever. If you ask around, as I did, you’ll find quitters. One person shut down her account because she disliked how nosy it made her. Another thought the scene had turned desperate. A third feared stalkers. A fourth believed his privacy was compromised. A fifth disappeared without a word.

The exodus is not evident from the site’s overall numbers.

Well, if you ask around, you’ll find people who believe that Israel planned 9/11, or the earth is flat, or that Christianity began in India and was originally called Krishnaniti. Really, WTF is a phrase like “if you ask around” doing in serious journalism? At least the story is honest enough to tell us that “the exodus is not evident from the site’s overall numbers”—but if there’s no exodus, there should also be no story, no?

I suspect the story emerged out of this classic template of how many feature stories are born:

1] Editor asks in his weekly meeting for ideas for stories.

2] Enthu young journo offers an idea: Facebook exodus!

3] Editor is excited. He roars, Do it, do it, let’s burst the bubble of the biggest thing going on the net!

4] Journo gets to work, interviews her pals who have left Facebook, feels good about all this. She crafts a smartass opening line. Everything’s going well till she sees the numbers, which reveal that the premise behind the story is wrong. There’s no Facebook exodus.

5] But so what? She won’t let the facts come in the way of an otherwise perfectly good feature story. And the editor doesn’t care—he’s not going to rush around now looking for a replacement story for that slot.

6] So boom, the story comes out, rich in anecdotes, poor in data.

I’ve seen this play out so often in my career, it’s not funny. Most journalists approach their stories with a preconceived notion of how it will turn out, and after that it’s a matter of getting the facts to fit the narrative, and not the other way around. Such it goes.

(Link via email from Jitendra Vaidya.)


I certainly need to ditch Facebook, that’s for sure. Especially Scrabble. An extremely evil and immoral friend invited me to play a game a few days ago, and once hooked, I’ve played about 80 games since then with an 80% win record, and four Bingos in a row in the last game that I played. In all this time, work has suffered. I think I need to go cold turkey.

Or maybe I’ll just play one more before I stop…


Update: On another note, zzzzzzz.

When are India Today and Outlook going to do their next social networking cover stories, I wonder.

(Link via email from Sudarshan.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 September, 2009 in Journalism | Media | Personal | WTF

Good Intentions

There’s a Facebook status message meme going around that goes like this:

[Your name here] thinks that no one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status.

This is about as useful as candlelight vigils and online petitions. I could just as easily come up with a status message meme that goes thus:

[Your name here] thinks that no one should die or be poor, and no one should feel sad or lonely. If you agree, please post this as your status.

You get the drift. No doubt all these things are desirable, but stating that is kind of obvious. The big question is, how are these things to be achieved? In answering that, hazaar thorny issues crop up, and no one solution is a panacea. (Some, in fact, run counter to one another.) All that a Facebook status message of this sort does is help you make a statement about yourself. So why not simply put up a message that says:

[your name here] is a kind and compassionate person, and you should be impressed by that.

There. Cut to the chase!


On a personal note, a friend SMSed today in great concern, asking if all was well with me. Apparently he saw an unusual lack of activity on India Uncut, and got worried. Well, yes, I’ve been immensely lax recently, but I’m back now, and intend to be regular. I promise. Smile now. Say cheese. Who’s a good reader now, bolly wolly golly?


Update (sep 5): Sriram Gopalan writes in to share his FB status message:

I am an evil, evil person who thinks poor people should die without healthcare, so that the rest of us can harvest their organs. If you agree, please make this your status for the rest of the day.

Isn’t that so much more fun?

Posted by Amit Varma on 03 September, 2009 in Economics | Personal | Small thoughts

My Friend Sancho Comes To Hyderabad

This notice is perhaps a bit late, and I apologize for that, but in a few hours, I’ll be reading from My Friend Sancho, and chatting with writer Sridala Swami about the book, in an event in Hyderabad. All India Uncut readers are invited. Details:

Event: Amit Varma reads from My Friend Sancho and chats with Sridala Swami.
Date: Saturday, August 29, 2009.
Time: 6pm.
Venue: Odyssey bookshop, Vikrampuri Kharkhana, Secunderabad.
Inducement: High tea.

Do drop in and say hello. As the book’s been out there a while, Sridala and I will talk about other stuff as well, such as writing in India and so on. The audience will be part of it, so do join the conversation.


On another note, my publisher informs me that My Friend Sancho is the biggest selling Indian novel released in 2009. I’ve seen unofficial sales figures for this year’s releases from all the major publishing houses, and MFS is ahead by a long way. I’ll share MFS‘s sales figures for the year as 2009 draws to a close.

It’s already been on all the bestseller lists: India Today for June and July, Landmark for those same months, Just Books for a few weeks in that period, and all the Crossword outlets that I checked. (Each outlet has its own bestseller list.) Even better, a friend just sent me a picture of a pirated copy of MFS on a Delhi pavement. I’m not sure how my publishers feel about that, but I’m naturally delighted.

Much of this is word-of-mouth success, so all of you who liked the book and told your friends, thanks for that.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 August, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

Blogging Tips From a Jaded Veteran

A couple of years ago, Penguin asked me to contribute a chapter on a book they were bringing out for kids giving them writing advice. The book, Get Smart—Writing Skills, is in bookstores now. I contributed a chapter with tips on writing a blog. It basically contains lessons that I’ve learnt over my five years and 7000+ posts on India Uncut—but it need not apply to anyone else. Still, in case someone finds it useful, here it is.

Writing a blog can be the most enjoyable kind of writing you do. There are no restrictions on a blogger: you can write as many or as few words as you want, and there is no one correcting or editing your writing, saying ‘write like this’ or ‘write like that’. What’s more, you can write about anything you like, and are not restricted by subject or style.

If you wish to write a blog for your own satisfaction, and don’t care about building a readership, then you don’t need to read the rest of this piece. Write whatever you feel like, and more power to you.

But if you want to be a widely-read blogger, with regular readers who take time off every day to read your blog, then you need to work hard at it. The reason for this is the nature of the medium.

When readers buy a book, they are mentally prepared to spend a large amount of time with it. When they pick up a magazine or a newspaper, they are less patient, but there is still some commitment there. When readers visit a website, on the other hand, they are probably doing many other things at the same time. They could be chatting with people, sending and receiving emails, perhaps playing a game somewhere — and other websites might also be open, in various windows or tabs. Your blog is competing with all these distractions. If your writing does not grip your readers’ attention and keep them engrossed, they will move away to something else just by clicking their mouse.

To be a successful blogger, thus, there is just one rule you need to remember: Respect your reader’s time. Any advice I can give you on writing a widely-read blog flows from that one rule.

Here are some of the things I have learnt about blogging.

There is nothing as intimidating to an Internet surfer as pages and pages of text, or long, wordy paragraphs. Your friends and relatives may suffer through it, but why should a stranger? Keep your content as crisp as possible. Use the shortest, most common words possible. Use simple sentences. Make sure each sentence adds something to what you are trying to say: otherwise, cut it out.

The most common mistake an aspiring writer can make is to show off his writing skills. Do not do this. Writing is merely a means to an end: people write to tell stories, express points of view, and so on. It should be as simple as possible. If a reader actually notices your writing and says, ‘Wow, this is so well written,’ then you are not writing well. Your writing should not be the focus of the blog — what you are writing about should be. Style should be a slave to substance.

Are you writing it because you are passionate about a particular subject? Do you think you have a unique take on things that you want to communicate? Do you like telling stories? If you are clear about why you are blogging, it will make you a better blogger.

It will help you write smoothly if you can imagine your ideal reader. Here’s a trick I use sometimes when I am stuck in the middle of writing a difficult piece: I pretend that I am sending an email to a friend. That helps me finish what I am writing without getting too stressed out about it. One can always polish the piece later.

There are millions of blogs out there, and there is only one thing unique about your blog: You. Try and add a little of yourself to every post you write. It could be a point of view; it could be an anecdote you share related to the subject of your blogging; it could even be just a wisecrack. Your blog is the one space where you can share yourself with the world—don’t hold back.

If you want to build an audience of regular readers, you need to blog regularly. They should keep coming back for more - and get something when they come back. Remember, even a small thought lasting one sentence is enough for a post, so don’t hold yourself back.

Equally, don’t blog just for the sake of it. If you are bored of blogging, your readers will get bored of reading you. You may force yourself to write, but your readers won’t force themselves to read. When the juices aren’t flowing, give it a rest.

Want to experiment with your writing a bit? This is a good space to do so. When I was a cricket journalist, my boss once told me, ‘If in doubt, play your shots.’ I’d give you the same advice. You never know what you may find out about yourself - and trust me, any regular readers you have won’t mind.

Contractions and short forms may be convenient when one is sending SMSs, but they should be avoided when you write a blog. I say this not because I am an old-fashioned purist, but because SMS-speak is simply harder to read. Contrast these two sentences: ‘grt meeting u, c u l8r’ and ‘Great meeting you, see you later.’ I don’t know about you, but I find that I have to pause and interpret the first sentence, and the second is easier to read. Why would you want to make your reader work harder than he needs to?

The more value you will provide to your readers, the more they will come back to your blog. The greatest service you can provide to your readers is by expanding their knowledge. The easiest way to do this is by using links. The beauty of the Internet is that a single site can contain multitudes: in a single paragraph, you can put a number of useful links to the subjects you are talking about that your readers find interesting and enlightening.

Don’t worry about your readers leaving your site by clicking on a link. If they find the link to be of any value, they will automatically credit your blog for it, and come back to read your next post. But don’t overdo the links. An overuse of links leaves the page looking ugly and cluttered, and confuses the reader. Remember, respect the reader’s time.

Too many bloggers, drunk on the power they feel while blogging, talk down to their readers. Do not do this. Treat your readers as if they are as smart as you, if not smarter. If you have comments, don’t behave like a king granting an audience to minions. Be respectful of others’ opinions and points of view. As a friend of mine once told me, ‘Speak as if you are right; but listen as if you are wrong.’

Inevitably, while blogging, you will enter discussions. These could be in your own comments space, or in someone else’s. Many such discussions become ugly because they get personal. While conversation is generally a win-win situation, as all parties concerned learn a little more, discussions that are personal are just the opposite - everybody feels bitter and angry, and they are a waste of time.

So what to do in a situation like that? Simply remember to focus on the argument, and not the person. Do not question his motives, his intelligence or his parentage. Just state your point of view without reference to the person you’re arguing with. Do it simply and crisply, and neutral readers will be inclined to agree with you. Even if they don’t, they will at least respect you.

A lot of bloggers treat blogs like personal diaries, and write about their lives. There’s nothing wrong in that. But we should remember to respect the privacy of others when we do that. Before we blog a conversation with someone, or quote from an email we received, we should take permission. If something is in a public space, like a concert we went to or a blog post we read, then we can write about it freely. But if it is private, it should stay private.

This rule doesn’t affect your readership. If you blog juicy gossip about your friends and classmates, your blog may attract a few readers. But your friends, if you have any, will be careful of what they say in your presence. You will not be trusted, and once the juicy gossip disappears, so will your readers.

Writing a blog is not just about writing. When we are in a bookshop, we are always more inclined to pick up a beautiful book than an ugly one. Similarly, your blog should be clean and easy to read. Don’t clutter the sidebar with too many links or widgets, as fledgling bloggers tend to do. You or your readers won’t use most of them, and they will add clutter to the page. Link to all your friends and the blogs you like to read, but ask yourself if the other things you are adding serve a purpose. For example, some bloggers add a clock to their sidebar. When every computer displays the time anyway, this is redundant.

Whenever you can, use a picture with your post. It makes the site look colourful and vibrant. However, make sure that the picture you use is not someone else’s property. Use pictures in the public domain. If you do use a picture without being sure of whether it’s okay to use it, add a link at the end of the post acknowledging where you got the picture from. Isn’t that the minimum you would ask for if someone used pictures taken by you?

This is my last piece of advice, and possibly the most important one. If you don’t enjoy yourself, your readers won’t enjoy reading your blog. Blogging won’t make you a millionaire, so you should only blog if you love doing it. If it’s fun for you, then all of the above advice might be redundant, for the act of writing a blog will be its own reward. So log on and have a blast!


Box 1—Web Design

• Do not clutter your page. Keep it clean and easy to read.

• Organize the content well. Make it easy for the reader to find anything on your site.

• Make sure your site loads quickly.

• Do not use fancy or colourful fonts. The text should be easy to read.

• Go easy on the graphics. White space is good.


Box 2—Traffic Generation

• Write about things that interest you. If they don’t interest you, what you write on them will interest no one else.

• Join conversations on other blogs. If you add value, people will check out your blog.

• Link to bloggers you like. If they also like you, they’ll link back. This is called link karma.

• Use tags and/or categories for every post. This makes posts on any subject easier to find.

• Be topical. If you blog about a subject in the news, people are more likely to stumble upon your blog.

• Blog often. You won’t get regular readers if you blog irregularly.


Box 3—The Secret to a Good Post

• Write about something you know. Lack of knowledge is easily exposed on the Internet.

• Write about things you feel strongly about.

• Your post should have something only you can provide, be it opinion, humour or whatever else. Otherwise why should anyone read it?

• Increase the reader’s gyan by providing relevant links.

• Be crisp. Don’t waste the reader’s time. Keep it simple.


Box 4—Copyright Law

• Everything on the Internet is copyrighted by default. Even material without a copyright notice.

• Do not reproduce anyone’s posts in full without asking and attributing.

• Quoting people is okay. But always attribute and link back.

• For your own content, use a copyright notice. (Example: Copyright © 2009 [Your name].) Even without this, your original writing is copyrighted to you, but there’s no harm in making it explicit.

• If you don’t mind your content being used by others under certain conditions, choose a Creative Commons license that suits your purpose.


There’s another largish box after this that speaks about the different kinds of blogs I like to read. I’ve mentioned people like Prem Panicker, Amit Agarwal, Nilanjana Roy, Sanjay Sipahimalani, Nitin Pai, Jai Arjun Singh and Chandrahas Choudhury, as well as Sepia Mutiny. I hope they are overwhelmed by an army of kiddie readers now.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 August, 2009 in Blogging | Personal

The Three Stages of a Writer’s Development

Here’s Peter Roebuck talking about the three stages of a cricketer’s development—but I believe it also applies to writers:

It begins with natural ability that takes a fellow as far as it can. Then comes a period of introspection in which the complications of the game are encountered and, to a greater or lesser degree, resolved. Finally the player reaches the final stage of a hazardous journey, beyond complexity, towards full understanding. This third stage is called simplicity, but it is profundity.

The thing is, with a cricketer, it is easy to tell which stage he is at, with little scope of self-delusion. Phil Hughes and Mitchell Johnson know, from their results on the cricket field, that they need to work out a few things. But writing is a subjective matter, and many writers may not know when there are problems with their game. As a result, they’ll never then do the necessary introspection and hard work needed to take them to the next level. That is why, the most important quality for a writer is surely humility—writers must be brutal critics of their own work, and must ruthlessly employ what Ernest Hemingway called “a built-in bullshit detector.”

On the flip side, that often erodes self-belief. It’s a thin line.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 August, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Personal | Small thoughts | Sport

A Happy Accident

The Times of India reports:

Booze flowed free for over 100 villagers, including women, who partied hard after a truck carrying foreign liquor overturned on NH-5 in Jajpur district.

Most of the villagers, who are daily labourers, had not tasted foreign liquor and the orgy left them intoxicated. While several people skipped work the next day to sleep it off, as many as 10 villagers were admitted to a hospital after suffering severe hangovers. They were discharged after preliminary treatment.

I have no idea why ToI is describing what seems to just have been a drinking binge as an orgy—but never mind. Apparently, the truck “was loaded with 1080 cartons, each of which was packed with 750 ml bottles of whiskey and vodka.” No mixers. Imagine the fun.

I wonder if some of the people who got drunk silly actually didn’t like the booze much—so much booze is an acquired taste, after all—and forced themselves to drink because it was foreign booze, and so it must be good, and they didn’t want to waste this opportunity. I had that experience as a kid when I tasted champagne for the first time. I hated it, but was trying to psyche myself to enjoy it because it was, after all, champagne. I have also never quite developed a taste for whisky, and the expensive Scotches that my good friend Prem Panicker offers me when I’m over at his place are, well, wasted on me. All I know about single malts is that they’re not ready for commitment yet.

But anyway, what a fascinating story. And what a great premise for a novel. A truck full of foreign booze overturns in rural India. Villagers gather, much drunkenness and catharsis ensues, their lives change. If I had had unlimited time and unlimited energy, I’d certainly write this one. Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 August, 2009 in India | News | Personal

A Slowdown This July

Blogging has been rather slow here over the last few weeks, and it’s going to continue that way for a bit. For the first couple of years of India Uncut, I’d blog an average of five posts a day, and I don’t think a day went by in that time without at least one post. Then I started easing up on weekends, when traffic would dip anyway. And this year I’ve slowed down even more: it’s not unusual now for three or four days to go by without a single post, even if my average is still more than most bloggers I follow.

This month is going to be particularly slow. I’m writing something I’d like to finish within a few weeks, and want to devote all my mindspace to it, without attendant tensions of Oh, I haven’t blogged in two days, I need to put up a post, and suchlike. So I shall take it easy till August, with maybe a handful of posts every week. But then, I promise, I’ll be back to my old prolific self.

If you use an RSS reader, you can subscribe to my RSS feed. And I won’t stop completely, and there should be new posts every now and then.

Be good. ;)

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 July, 2009 in Personal

The Choices We Make

In the course of an email discussion, Udhay points me to this superb venn diagram by Bud Caddell on the subject of success and happiness:


In the last couple of years, I’ve moved from “Learn to Say ‘No’” (journalism) to “Learn to Monetize” (writing novels)—which is problematic, because you can’t really learn to monetize in this field. Being a novelist is not like any other profession, and even publishers will tell you that they don’t really know what makes a book tick. You could write kickass books year after year and not have anyone notice; or you could be in the right time, at the right place, and be an overnight success. Unlike other professions, there’s no road map to success.

I made the choice that I did knowing the tradeoffs involved—I wouldn’t make anywhere near the kind of moolah I’d make if I stayed in journalism or went back to television; but I’d wake up every morning looking forward to getting down to work. I think that’s worth it—until my savings run out and I can’t meet the rent. Thankfully, MFS has sold well enough to ensure that won’t happen anytime soon. (15,000 copies so far, my publisher tells me, which makes it a huge bestseller by Indian standards—the benchmark for being a bestseller in India is 5000 copies.) My earnings from this don’t cover opportunity cost, of course, but they keep me afloat while I write the next one, and that gives me more joy than all the journalism I ever did.


While on success, Udhay also points me to a lovely essay by Po Bronson on the subject. Here’s an excerpt that sums up my feelings on the subject quite exactly:

There are far too many smart, educated, talented people operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization. There are far too many people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact. You know who you are. It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don’t. Period.

So do you love what you do?

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

Ode To A Bengali Paunch

In response to a friend’s comment on Facebook that Bengali paunches are holy, I offer you this little rhyme:

Ode to a Bengali Paunch
by Amit Varma

A Bengali paunch may be roly-poly,
But I deny rumours that it’s holy.
It is the center of base desire,
The origin of a Bong’s carnal fire.
We get turned on by mastaard feesh,
By paabda, rohu and illeesh.
Porn for you is chingri for me,
It’s divine, but not holy, you see.
Would you like a Lobongolotika?


Also see: Farmers are Dying in Vidarbha.


Update: Subrata Majumdar has a rejoinder:

The New Erection
by Subrata Majumdar

Would you like a lobongolotika?
Or some other form of aphro-desi-ka?
The holy paunch faces serious threats
From Gold’s Gym and such bourgeois outlets
Preserve our bhuri, we Bengalis must
A symbol of our glory, about to bite the dust
Let the paunch be the new erection
To show young bongs the right direction
I propose a paunchy statue as public art
To grace the crossing at Gariahat.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 June, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Personal

Bathroom, Bedroom

Via Prem Panicker’s Twitter, I come across this marvellous news story:

Now, daring couples can bathe in bedrooms!

The story tells us about this new trend of “an open-planned bathroom-bedroom” that “features a deep-soaker bath, double vanity, frameless shower, and strategically-placed toilet—all in full sight of the king-size bed.”

I experienced something similar to this during my recent book tour. In three of the five cities I went to, I was booked into a five-star hotel chain that had rooms with varying degrees of, um, openness between the bathroom and the bedroom. In Delhi, the bathroom partition was translucent, and you could see the silhouette of the person inside. This might be considered romantic if your partner is bathing inside—but surely not for other activities. And what if there were guests in the room?

Worse, you couldn’t lock the door. And there were no hooks or rods inside to hang clothes. I suspect the designers thought of this as a feature, not a bug.

Also, there was no noise insulation whatsoever. So if you’d had rajma and rice for lunch, and went into the loo to let some of it out, anyone in the room would not only see you, they’d also hear you.

This led to an embarrassing episode on the afternoon of my Delhi launch, when my Hachette editor was hanging out with me in my room while the partner napped on the bed. But I won’t go into details here. We’re all still scarred by the incident.

The Kolkata branch of the hotel had completely transparent bathroom doors and walls—glass so clear you could walk into it—but the bathroom section could be shut off from the bedroom by sliding a substantial wooden door shut (again, unlockable). This was fairly heavy, and could easily have been used as a line of defence in a medieval fortress. I was staying alone in the room, and embarrassing moments did not arise. Also, there was no rajma, and the sushi was good.

Anyway, I guess I’m just growing old, and young people like open bathrooms and all that. Fine. Whatever. I’ll just blog about the good old days then.

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 June, 2009 in Personal | WTF

The Chaddi Indicator

According to Alan Greenspan, sales of men’s underwear should go down during a recession, as “hardly anyone actually sees a guy’s undies, [so] they’re the first thing men stop buying when the economy tightens.” By this reasoning, the recession hasn’t affected me—I bought much new underwear recently.

That said, writers in India are immune from a recession—we earn nothing anyway.

(Link via email from Subrata Majumdar.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 June, 2009 in Economics | Personal

Frequently Asked Questions About MFS

While I was on my MFS book tour, the same questions about the book and me kept cropping up in all the cities I went to, from journos and from the audiences at the launches. I thought it would make sense for IU and MFS readers if I collected some of them and answered them here as well. These frequently asked questions are collected on this page, which will be expanded as more questions come in. You can also check out my bio page, and this interview. Meanwhile, here on the IU Blog as well, here’s the first set of questions:

On Indian writing in English, and where MFS fits in

There is an unfortunate gap in India between popular fiction and literary fiction. Readers of literary fiction look down on popular fiction and think of it as infra dig; and readers of popular fiction are intimidated by literary fiction, by any indication of heft or gravitas or self-indulgence. An Amitav Ghosh reader won’t read Chetan Bhagat; and vice versa.

I’d like my work to appeal to both kinds of readers. Plenty of Japanese writers manage to bridge this gap in their country, and writers like Banana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami and Yoko Ogawa are both critically acclaimed as well as wildly popular. There aren’t any writers like that in India writing in English, creating compelling narratives that are both entertaining and thought-provoking. I hope to fill that space with my novels. Whether or not MFS lives up to that is for readers to judge.

On whether I am a blogger or a novelist

I’ve wanted to be a novelist all my life—since I began to read, I wanted to tell stories, and I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else. I did various other things along the way, procrastinating furiously. In 2001, I took some time off and tried writing a book, but after 10,000 words, realised that it wasn’t working, and that I wasn’t ready for it yet, either in terms of craft or maturity. I bided my time till I was ready, and then eventually did get down to it. My Friend Sancho is my first baby-step in my career as a novelist. I don’t see myself doing anything else, ever.

Some readers of IU see me as a blogger-turned-novelist, as if I became successful as a blogger, found that I had a readership, and then decided to write a book. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve wanted nothing else in my life but to write novels, and blogging was just something that happened along the way.

Two of the four publishers who wanted MFS didn’t even know I blogged. The blog was irrelevant in that scheme of things, and my book found its way into the world on its own merit. I hope that is also how readers evaluate it.

On how blogging made me a better writer

I think of the facility to write as akin to a muscle. Just as working out daily in the gym increases one’s fitness, regular writing makes one a better writer. Blogging amounted to exercising my ‘writing muscle’ every day. I used to be a frequent blogger, and for much of my time as a blogger, have averaged about five posts a day. (I once put up 22 posts in a day; yes, I needed to get a life.) That’s a lot of working out.

Blogging also taught me one of the most important lessons of writing: Respect your reader’s time. When someone is online reading your blog, there are a thousand other things they can do with their time. The whole world is just a click away. If you’re self-indulgent, if you waffle, if you use 10 words where five will do, boom, they’re gone. To build a readership, you have to keep giving your readers value for their time. Blogging made my writing crisper, more economical, and less self-conscious. I’d like to think that these values reflect in the other writing I do.

On why I gave up journalism

I felt that writing a novel needed me to devote myself to the fictional world I was creating, and weekly deadlines for columns and suchlike got in the way. I had to make a choice, and so I chose to give up journalism. The process of writing MFS confirmed to me that writing fiction was my natural domain, and I don’t intend to return to journalism now.

Also, writing columns and op-eds require a different mindset from tackling literature. In opinion pieces, one is expected to pass judgments on things, to paint the world in black and white. Literature gives us more scope to acknowledge the real world’s complexities, and to explore its ambiguities. I rather prefer the latter—you won’t find me passing judgement on any of my characters in MFS, or in future books. No matter who the character is, there but for the grace of the FSM go we.

On why my blogging and journalistic concerns are not reflected in my novel

I blog a lot about economics and politics, and my columns were also on those subjects. But you will not find me talking about these subjects in MFS. Indeed, reading MFS will tell you nothing about my ideology or my political leanings, which is as it should be. Literature is about human beings, and, to use a much-abused phrase with a pomposity alert, the human condition. A book that pushes an ideology is, in my view, not literature but propaganda. You won’t find any of that coming from me.

On whether MFS is autobiographical

My Friend Sancho is not autobiographical, and Abir Ganguly isn’t me. I’ve never worked in a newsroom, or as a crime reporter, and none of the events in the book have happened to me. As a person, Abir is quite different from me, though his sense of humour is a bit like mine.

Writers are often wisely told, ‘Write about what you know.’ I’ve lived in Mumbai since 1995, and love this city and know it well, so obviously I set the novel here. And I know a fair bit about journalism as well, so that was also a natural choice for Abir. That said, Abir has no more in common with me than with any Mumbai journalist.

It could be argued, though, that the character of the lizard is based on me. To begin with, we’re both unnoticed observers of the world with an unusual perspective. And then there’s the reptilian looks. Also… ok, I’ll stop here.

On the voice of the book

The book is a first-person narrative from the point of view of Abir Ganguly, this immature, 23-year-old, smart-alecky reporter given to glib wisecracks. The voice of the book, thus, is his voice. As the story proceeds, and he is taken out of his comfort zone by his attraction to a girl he would not have noticed in normal circumstances, he changes in subtle ways, and begins to see the world slightly differently. This change in Abir is at the heart of this book—it is a coming-of-age story.

Every book has its own voice depending on what it’s about, and pov. My second novel is a third-person narrative starring an IAS officer in his late 40s living in a city in Central India, and will read quite differently.

More Q&A will follow on the FAQ page. If you have any questions of your own, send ‘em in. I can’t promise to answer all the questions I get, but will do so for any that haven’t already been addressed, and that seem to be of interest to many of my readers.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 May, 2009 in Blogging | My Friend Sancho | Personal

I’m (Almost) Back

I’ve returned to Mumbai from the most gruelling book tour of my life, and I’m tired, tired, tired. It was fun, and I enjoyed meeting so many IU readers who have now become MFS fans, but the launches and interviews and early morning flights took their toll, as did the effort of dodging the many panties thrown at me by adoring readers. I shall, thus, resume regular blogging tomorrow.

Until then, be good. Read a book or something.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 May, 2009 in My Friend Sancho | Personal

MFS Update

I have good news for US readers of India Uncut who have been asking how they can buy My Friend Sancho. Although the book won’t be available on Amazon for a couple of months, you can buy it from here. I am told that the price you see there is inclusive of shipping.

I’ll be publishing links to other online outlets for readers in other parts of the world as I get them. Meanwhile, MFS should now be available in bookstores across India. I love the way the book looks—Hachette has done a terrific job of the production, and I’m most pleased. Now it’s up to you to tell me if the inside lives up to the outside.

Also, do join the My Friend Sancho Facebook group. And try to make it to one of the launches.


The Mumbai launch on Saturday was quite well attended, and it went off well. I was terribly nervous about reading from the book, but I picked a couple of sections, read them out manfully, and no one threw shoes. I also achieved my lifelong ambition of doing in a bookstore what Meg Ryan once did in a restaurant. I shall repeat that act in all my other launches, and you’re most welcome to have what I’m having.

I’m off tomorrow to Delhi, and will be travelling till the 19th for the book. But I’ll keep the blogging going. Watch this space.


Update: Just for you, an excerpt: here is Chapter One of My Friend Sancho (pdf link).

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 May, 2009 in My Friend Sancho | Personal

My Friend Sancho Comes To Town

I’m pleased to inform you that My Friend Sancho, my first novel, has started hitting the stores. We’re having a phased nationwide release, and the book should be in stores in Mumbai today (or latest tomorrow) by Saturday, and in the rest of the country before May 12. I’ll also be having launch events in five cities. All five events are open to the public, and India Uncut readers are invited to all of them. The details are below—as are links to the Facebook event pages to confirm your attendance:

Mumbai, May 9: 6 to 9pm at Crossword, Dynamix Mall, Juhu. (Basically, the Juhu PVR building.) Sonia Faleiro will be in conversation with me, and that will be followed by coffee and snacks. Here’s the Facebook page.

New Delhi, May 13: 6.30 to 9.30pm at Agni, The Park. Nilanjana S Roy will be in conversation with me—and there will be cocktails and nude belly dancers from Arabia. (Ok, no belly dancers. Sorry.) Here’s the Facebook page.

Kolkata, May 15: 6.30 to 9.30pm, Oxford Bookstore, Park Street. Anjum Katyal will be in conversation with me. Beverages and snacks will also be there, mixing discreetly with the crowd. Here’s the Facebook page.

Bangalore, May 16: 6 to 8pm, Crossword, Residency Road. Anjum Hasan will be conversation with me. Here’s the Facebook page.

Chennai, May 18: 6.30 to 9pm, Landmark Bookstore, Nungambakkam. Sharanya Manivannan will be in conversation with me. Coffee and snacks will follow, like demented stalkers. Here’s the Facebook page.

Do drop in for any or all of these events and say hello.


Slightly disappointing news for overseas readers: Due to all kinds of complications, MFS won’t be available on Amazon etc for at least a couple of months. It’s a massive bummer for me, as many of you had written in asking when you could buy it in the US or UK. We’re hoping to fix that by July, and I’ll keep you updated.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 May, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

The Landmark Quiz Comes To Mumbai

On behalf of my friends over at Landmark Bookstore, I’m pleased to inform you that the Landmark Quiz makes its first appearance in Mumbai this year. It’s already an annual event in Chennai, Bangalore and Pune, and Mumbai’s quizzers have long awaited its arrival here. Well, here it is. The details:

Quizmaster: Navin Jayakumar
Date: May 1, 2009
Venue: St Andrew’s Auditorium, St Dominic Road, Bandra.

Head over to your nearest Landmark outlet to register. Navin is an excellent quizmaster, and his quizzes are invariably fun for the audience, not just the teams on stage.

My team, Jai Santosh Ki Maa, reached the final of the Pune Landmark quiz a few weeks ago, and we’ll be hoping for better on home ground. Come and give competition.

Also read: Quizzing is Not Just a Trivial Pursuit.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 April, 2009 in Miscellaneous | Personal

It’s So Hot In Bombay…

... that when I heat food in my microwave, it comes out colder.

Well, okay, I exaggerate. But really, between the heat and the mosquitoes, I have enough suffering in my life to be a true artist. Who needs an attic?

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 April, 2009 in Personal

On Power

I was most surprised at my inclusion in Business Week’s list of India’s 50 Most Powerful People, but I was as surprised by the huge number of people congratulating me. Firstly, most of them surely know that I am, actually, not very powerful at all. (One of them started laughing today when I told him the news. Quite.) Secondly, even if my inclusion on the list was to somehow make me magically powerful, is that something that calls for congratulations?

Look at it this way. Power really amounts to two things:

One, it is a byproduct of other achievements, such as earning much money or winning an election, in which case surely those achievements deserve congratulations, and not the mere declaration of power.

Two, it is a means to an end, and enables us to do worthy things. In that case, the congratulations should be for those worthy things, not for the power itself.

I was delighted at my inclusion on the list because I saw it as a validation of the blogging and writing I’ve done over the last few years. But so is the time that all my readers spend on reading India Uncut—indeed, the very fact that you are reading this right now. One of those is indispensable to me—so if you must congratulate me for something, congratulate me for the fact that you are reading me.

That shifts the burden of immodesty on you, so I can relax now. Thank you.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 April, 2009 in Personal | Small thoughts

The 50 Most Powerful People In India

Business Week has just come out with a feature entitled “India’s 50 Most Powerful People 2009”. India Uncut readers will be pleased to know that I’m on that list. I come between Sachin Tendulkar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, and am not quite sure how to respond to that honour. What have I done to deserve this?

I was quite surprised, and much delighted, when I heard that I was on the list. I’m not sure I deserve to be there, but I guess my inclusion is Business Week‘s nod to the potential that blogs have for shaping public opinion, as also to the power of words in general—my columns for Mint, and otherwise, have been cited as a reason for my inclusion. I get quite cynical sometimes about the alleged power of words, and it’s nice to see that others are more optimistic. I hope they’re right.

This immense honour means that now I have to display gravitas and responsibility, and blog about serious matters that affect the nation. No more cows, no more WTFness, no more sex, no more imaginary dialogue. I’m going to be a full-on pundit now.

Ok, chill, I’m not.


In case you’re wondering why I come so far down the list, it’s because it is displayed by alphabetical order of last name. Heh.


And just take a look at Lalu’s magnificent ear hair. I don’t like his politics, but man, he is one stud machine, he is. No?

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 April, 2009 in Blogging | India | Journalism | Media | News | Personal

Preparing For Takeoff

The launch dates for my first novel, My Friend Sancho, have been finalized, and I’m pleased to share them with you now. I had earlier mentioned that the book would be out by the middle of April, but we had to delay that just a bit, and it will now be in bookstores across India in the first week of May. The launch dates:

Mumbai: May 9, Crossword, Kemp’s Corner.
Delhi: May 13, Agni, The Park
Kolkata: May 14 or 15, Oxford Book Store
Bangalore: May 16, Crossword
Chennai: May 18, Landmark

I’ll confirm all these details closer to the dates. Barring Delhi, all the other events are open, and India Uncut readers are invited to come and throw tomatoes. I’ll be in conversation with Sonia Faleiro at the Mumbai event, and with Nilanjana S Roy in Delhi. We haven’t yet finalized the details of the other events, so watch this space.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

Look Ma, No Testicles

A few months ago, I tried out a program that guessed one’s gender by analyzing one’s browsing history—it found that I was 97% male. An earlier test had unequivocally declared me to be male as well. So imagine my surprise today when I try out a test that identifies your gender by analyzing your blog—I got the following result:


The 100% probability is what takes me by surprise. There isn’t the slightest chance, this program is saying, that I could be a man.

I can react to this in two ways: One, I can go out and pick a fight with someone just to assuage my male ego. Two, I can sit back and pamper myself.

The first option is dangerous, because I’m not much a fighter, with my half-Bong side dominant over the half-Punju in this aspect. I might just get the worse of a brawl, and that won’t help me much. So that leaves option two.

Where are those cucumbers I was going to put on my face?

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 February, 2009 in Personal | WTF

My Friend Sancho Finds A Cover

I’m delighted to announce the result of the cover design competition for my first novel, My Friend Sancho. We received so many fabulous designs that it took us a while just to look at them all carefully, process them, and make a shortlist after considering all the parameters. Hachette India, my publishers, were awed by the range of designs we had to choose from—and I am deeply grateful that so many people chose to take part.

After much debate, we have a winner. Prem Kishore of Hungry & Foolish Creative Products walks away with Rs. 15,000 worth of Hachette India books. Here is his design (click on the image below for a larger image):


There will be minor tweaks, of course, and the text and photograph at the back are dummy, just for the purposes of designing. But here it is.

Of all the other designers, I’d also like to mention Manish Sahu, a designer from Nagpur who also writes a pretty neat blog. Manish entered designs like Virender Sehwag hits boundaries, and more than half the shortlisted designs were by this one dude. My publishers and I felt awful that after all that work, he didn’t win, so we will send him a special Hachette hamper—and I’m certain he’s going to design many covers for many lucky writers. A couple of his designs, and other special mentions, below the fold:


Posted by Amit Varma on 03 February, 2009 in My Friend Sancho | Personal

A Sonatina State Of Mind

I really should have blogged about this earlier, but it’s never too late. A superb show of oil-on-canvas paintings by Sonatina Mendes gets over tomorrow today in Mumbai, and if you have the time and are in the vicinity, I recommend you check it out. The partner has curated this show, and while I don’t understand modern art too much, I love Sonatina’s work. I find her paintings moving and powerful; they don’t scream out with anxiety like the work of so many painters of her generation, but draw you in gently. Examples:


House in Nowhere

(more below the fold)


Posted by Amit Varma on 30 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Personal

Enormity And Enormousness

Responding to my post yesterday in which I’d spoken of “the enormity of what [Chetan] Bhagat has achieved,” reader Mohan writes in:

I have been told numerous times that ‘enormity’ must not be used in the sense of ‘enormousness’, and that it is closer to ‘an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act’. Is this general language Nazism, or is there something to this?

Of course, if you meant it as a subtle hint that Mr Bhagat’s doings were really wicked, I’m completely wrong!

Um, no such hint was intended, and I’m sure Mr Bhagat is not a wicked man. And I stand by my use of ‘enormity’. Merriam-Webster offers us four definitions of the word, of which the last two are:

3: the quality or state of being huge : immensity [the inconceivable enormity of the universe]

4: a quality of momentous importance or impact [the enormity of the decision]

These are definitions that have existed for very long, and, from what I can gather, are far more common in usage than the ‘wicked’ meanings of the word. That said, Eugene Volokh cautions against using ‘enormity’ because people may assume you mean “wicked” when you mean “enormous”. Fair advice.


I’ve written about language snobbery before, so in that context, let me reiterate that language is an evolving thing, and it is dangerous to get stuck to a fixed notion of what words mean, or what kind of usage is acceptable. In a discussion I was part of in an email group in December, a lady protested at the use of ‘decimate’ to mean ‘wipe out a large proportion of’, when, as she explained, the original meaning was ‘kill one in every ten’. The original meanings of words interest me greatly, and they’re useful in quizzes, but when I am actually speaking or writing, I don’t care what a word originally meant. What matters is how the word is used today. And here are accepted definitions of ‘decimate’:

Merriam-Webster—3a to reduce drastically especially in number [cholera decimated the population] b: to cause great destruction or harm to [firebombs decimated the city] [an industry decimated by recession]

WordNet: eliminate, annihilate, extinguish, eradicate, wipe out, decimate, carry off (kill in large numbers); “the plague wiped out an entire population”

There are hazaar words like this, that meant one thing in the 19th century and mean something else today. Which sense would you rather use them in?

(Volokh link via email from Tejaswi.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 January, 2009 in Miscellaneous | Personal

Slumdog Context

I just watched Slumdog Millionaire and enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s an entertaining yarn, and really should be seen only from that prism. It rocks in the way a good pulp bestseller rocks, with a propulsive storyline that keeps you hooked, and requires a suspension of disbelief. To judge it by the standards of high art, and declare it a failure on grounds of plausibility or authenticity, is, in my book, a category error. It’s an airport paperback, not a Booker nominee.

Also, I’m a fan of AR Rahman, and to see him get such attention is wonderful. I hope he wins at least one Oscar, and foreign listeners seek out his Indian work because of that.

Now, here’s a question: If this film was made by a local director and not by a Western biggie, would our reaction to the film have been the same? Would we have so readily forgiven the clichés and other lapses of this film? Or would we have said, Saala, b*st*rd’s making a movie for the foreign audience. Sellout. Would we have been jealous of its achievement, or less forgiving of its flaws? Would we have liked the film more or less if Sunil Tandon of Juhu had directed this film instead of Danny Boyle of Lancashire?

That’s a question, not an accusation. I think I would have viewed the film differently if that were so—and I’m slightly perturbed by that.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Personal | Small thoughts

The Results Of The Sancho Cover Contest…

... aren’t yet ready, and will be announced later. Many outstanding entries poured in after we announced the contest, and while I promised to announce the results earlier this week, we simply haven’t managed to pick one of them yet. The delay is not Hachette’s, but mine—I haven’t been able to make up my mind on this, and I apologize to all the contestants for keeping them waiting. This is my first novel, and its cover is a big, big deal for me, and I want to be absolutely sure before we pick one. So we’re still tweaking the entries in small ways, printing them out, seeing them from a distance, holding them up close—all of that stuff. To all the contestants—thank you for entering, and thank you for your patience.

Also, Hachette would like to send each of the entrants a token of appreciation, but hasn’t been able to get in touch with all of them—mails bouncing back etc. If you sent in a design, please write to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with your postal address. Thank you.

As to when the results will be announced, well, the book’s out in April and the cover has to be finalized by early February. So that’s the absolute latest we’ll take to decide—though we’ll try our best not to leave it so late.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 January, 2009 in My Friend Sancho | Personal

The Punjabi Torso Blues

The WTF quote of the day comes from Akshay Kumar:

I’m a Punjabi. I’m not embarrassed. I can take my shirt off.

I’m half Punjabi, so, inspired by this, I shall now step out for lunch with my buttons open.

Er, wait, I’m also half-Bengali, and there are paunch issues. Hmm.

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | News | Personal | WTF

Thanks For Voting

India Uncut finished second in the Best Asian Blog category in the 2008 Weblog Awards. We lost by just under 300 votes, and got more than 3000. I’m very touched that so many votes were cast on this blog’s behalf, so thank you for that. While I shall continue to blog regularly, so as to be in your good books, I am relieved that I do not have to honour any of my pre-poll promises now. So no, I will not post a video of my sensuous belly dance anytime soon.

Also, my congratulations to the winner Ashin Mettacara, a Buddhist monk from Burma who has been speaking out for free speech for a while. On his blog, he says, “Today we show the world our unity, and we get the power to restore democracy and human rights in Burma.” I wish him all the best in this cause. My getting the award would not have benefited India in any way—though you would have gotten that belly dance—so it’s best that Ashin won.

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 January, 2009 in Personal

The Perils Of Open-Plan Offices

AFP reports:

Open-plan offices are making people sick, with workers more likely to suffer stress, catch a cold and be less productive, Australian researchers have found.

A review of global studies into the impact of modern office design found the switch to open-plan spaces had been overwhelmingly negative, with 90 percent reporting adverse health and psychological effects.

High levels of stress and conflict, elevated blood pressure, and rapid staff turnover were associated with open-plan environments, according to review author Vinesh Oommen.

Well, after a decade, I stand vindicated. I worked in MTV for a couple of years in the last millennium, and they had an open office back then. The then-MD, who was wearing shorts and fluorescent green socks when he interviewed me for the job in 1997, thought that open-plan offices were ‘cool’ and ‘modern’, and that he was being ‘with it’. He himself sat at one end of it, his ghastly socks visible to half his co-workers through the day. I argued against it once, and he gave me spiel on ‘productivity’.

I found it hard to function like that. I’d be hard at work and some joker’s cell phone would ring loudly across the hall again and again while he swigged free Coke at the pantry. All day long there would be chatter buzzing through the air, and people shouting at each other across the hall, Has Malaika’s bustier arrived yet?, and suchlike. And every time I reached up to dig my nose sensuously, 40 chicas would look at me in horror, suddenly disillusioned with the concept of the ideal male.

It was hard to concentrate on anything; and distractions abounded. A study a couple of years ago showed a correlation between open-plan offices and longer working hours—but that has nothing to do with productivity. (We did work all night often in MTV, but that is because there was a pool table in the conference room, and we took our pool seriously.)

Thankfully, I work from home now. Unfortunately, I don’t have a pool table in the living room. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs—but I’m happier than I’ve ever been at work.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 January, 2009 in Miscellaneous | Personal

Sancho’s Got Clothes

Choosing what to wear is not such an easy matter, though.

The contest to design the cover for my first novel, “My Friend, Sancho”, is now over. To all those who entered, from me and Hachette India, Thank You!

We’ve been overwhelmed by the designs—not just the number of entries that came in, but the quality. As my editor at Hachette remarked, “Never has any book had so many great covers to choose from.” We’re trying to make a shortlist right now, and expect to announce a winner on Monday, January 19.

That said, announcing a winner will be heartbreaking, because so many of the covers are so good in different ways. Many factors go into choosing a cover: the subjective tastes of the people involved; inputs from production on how something that looks good on the screen will look as a book; the scope for effects such as, in my publisher’s words, “embossing, holographic stuff, texture, foiling, UV, etc”; inputs from sales on what will actually work in the marketplace. There are trade-offs involved: one cover may look beautiful and have just the right feel, but may have nothing to do with the book conceptually; another may be bang on in terms of suiting the book, and may not be the kind of cover that stands out from a distance in a book shop. It’s all very complicated.

For this reason, Hachette has decided that while it can choose just one cover and award just one prize, every single entrant will get a token of appreciation. If you entered a design, expect to hear from Hachette soon.

Meanwhile, I’m off to my ‘cover designs’ folder to get bewildered and overwhelmed. Thanks again!

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

Vote For India Uncut In The Weblog Awards

The Weblog Awards, where India Uncut has been nominated for Best Asian Blog, is on for two more days. With readers allowed to vote once every 24 hours, that means you have two votes left, should you wish to bring home this award. So:

Vote now!

Regular voters would no doubt have noted that the healthy lead I’ve held from the start has now vanished. The manner in which this has happened—most of it disappeared in a two-hour spell a few hours ago—is befuddling, and Deepak Iyer points me to this message board entry that might provide some clues. I have no idea if cheating is actually going on, and will not make that assumption about anyone unless proof is there. That said, I am also taking the numbers up there right now with a pinch of salt.

In previous years, the organisers of the awards have apparently looked at voting logs and removed all fraudulent votes. In case someone has been up to some mischief, I presume that will happen again—a massive bank of votes from the same IP, for example, would be hard to ignore. So I’d recommend that you keep on voting in good faith, and ignore the numbers until they are ratified. And even if you figure out how to cheat—I was tipped off about it, and it works—please do not resort to any such methods. If we don’t win this fair and square, playing by the rules of the game, we don’t want this.

Thank You!

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 January, 2009 in Personal

The Decalogue And Financial Modeling

Whenever I am asked what my favourite films are, I think first of The Decalogue—even though it is not one film, but a set of ten short films. But what cinema! I like it more than anything else by Krzysztof Kieslowski—and I love the Three Colours trilogy—and revisit an episode from time to time when I have just an hour to spare, and am in the mood for something sublime.

A couple of days ago a friend came visiting, and she hadn’t seen The Decalogue before. So I popped in the DVD and we watched the first episode. I must have seen it four or five times before, but every time I enjoy it as much. Having seen it, we headed off to Borivali, from where she had to catch a train to Baroda. I had estimated that an hour and a quarter of travelling time would be enough to get there at that time of the night (from Andheri)—but hadn’t taken the petrol strike into account. Naturally, there were no autos on the road, just people everywhere trying to flag them down. Oops.

We got there in the end, thanks to my legendary resourcefulness—but had we missed it, the film would have seemed ironic in that context. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean.

And so it’s apt that I should come across this today:

The Financial Modelers’ Hippocratic Oath
by Emanuel Derman and Paul Wilmott

~ I will remember that I didn’t make the world, and it doesn’t satisfy my equations.

~ Though I will use models boldly to estimate value, I will not be overly impressed by mathematics.

~ I will never sacrifice reality for elegance without explaining why I have done so.

~ Nor will I give the people who use my model false comfort about its accuracy. Instead, I will make explicit its assumptions and oversights.

~ I understand that my work may have enormous effects on society and the economy, many of them beyond my comprehension.

You can read their full manifesto here. (Thanks, Mohit Satyanand, for the link.)


My statistical analysis of the Best Asian Blog category in the 2008 Weblog Awards indicates that if the trend of the last 12 hours continues, India Uncut might end up in second place. My once-healthy lead is being eaten into rapidly. The competition is on for three more days, and people are allowed to vote once every 24 hours per computer they have access to, so vote now (and again tomorrow, etc) and change the basis of my analysis. Thank you!

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Economics | Personal


Prem Panicker, via his Twitter feed, introduces us to the word of the day:

Procrasturbate: To put off tasks & duties in place of one’s own pleasure.

I wonder: If you take pleasure in procrasturbating, could it be said that you are masturcrastinating?

Anyway, please don’t procrastinate about voting for India Uncut in the Weblog Awards. People are allowed to vote once every 24 hours, voting is open till January 13, and my competition is formidable…

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Miscellaneous | Personal

My Friend Sancho Is Looking For Clothes

A reminder to my readers: the contest to design the cover for my first novel, My Friend, Sancho, is on until January 12. That leaves five days for you to enter. So do send in your designs if you’d like to participate—and tell your designer friends about it, in case they’re interested.

Some excellent designs have already come in, and I’ll showcase a whole bunch of covers that I liked on this blog when the contest is over. Sadly, we can only pick one winner—maybe that’s the one inside your head? Send it in!

PS: Also, if you enjoy reading India Uncut, do remember to vote for it in the Best Asian Blog category of the 2008 Weblog Awards? Readers are allowed to vote once every 24 hours, and the competition is tough. Voting is easy, and just requires a single click—so head on over!

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | My Friend Sancho | Personal

India Uncut Is Nominated In The 2008 Weblog Awards

I’m pleased to inform you that India Uncut has been nominated in two categories at the 2008 Weblog Awards:

Best Asian Blog.
Best Political Coverage.

As far as I can tell, it is the only blog written out of India to be nominated in any category. It is also one of a handful of blogs nominated in more than one category. And will it win a prize? That’s in your hands, kind reader.

Wins are decided by voting, and readers are allowed to vote once every 24 hours, so if you enjoy reading India Uncut, go forth and vote. The category I have great hopes of is Best Asian Blog, so do vote there wholeheartedly. I’m most unlikely to win Best Political Coverage, where giants like Daily Kos, Townhall and Politico have also been nominated, but hell, we’re the world’s largest democracy, we know how to vote, so do vote there as well.

Interestingly, I seem to be the only nominee in that category writing about non-American politics, so I guess that’s an honour in itself. My posts on politics are here.

The 2008 Weblog Awards

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 January, 2009 in Blogging | Personal

Offensive Question Of The Day

Why sack them when you can use them for fuel?

(Second link via email from Udhay. And no, I’m not making fun of overweight people, but being, in a way, self-deprecatory. Much exercise is needed…)

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 January, 2009 in India | News | Personal

“With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

Stanley Fish tells us about how he called up AT&T to activate some services, and got the greeting above. At the end of the conversation:

... I couldn’t resist returning to the greeting, with its double and ungrammatical “with.” I explained that the second “with” was superfluous, as the second “to” would be if the offending question had been, “to whom am I speaking to?”, or the second “about” if the question had been “about what are you worrying about?”

Somehow that didn’t make much of an impression on her. She said that her instructions were to greet callers in that way and that she would continue to do so. I replied that it was scandalous that a multi-billion-dollar world-wide telecommunication corporation would order its employees to commit an egregious (and comical) grammatical error millions of times a day.

She said, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

I lost it. It has nothing to do with feelings, I ranted. It is a factual matter as to what is and is not syntactically correct.

Delightfully anal—and like so many interactions with call-center employees, completely futile. But Fish did get a column out of it, and that’s good.


Language snobbery can be immense fun, but it can also get tiresome to those on the receiving end of it. I recently wrote to a friend of mine, “Hopefully the publishing industry [in India] won’t be too badly affected by the economic downturn.” He wrote back to berate me for using “hopefully” instead of “I hope”, and said, “People should not say ‘Hopefully the weather will be good today’ when they actually mean ‘I hope the weather will be good today.’ I expected better from a professional writer.”

Well, I expected better from a language snob. This is actually a fashionable complaint, but an entirely baseless one. It cropped up in another discussion I was part of in an email group a couple of weeks ago, and I settled the matter by citing Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word:

2  : it is hoped : I hope : we hope


hopefully the rain will end soon>

usage In the 1960s the second sense of hopefully, which dates to the early 18th century and had been in fairly widespread use since at least the 1930s, underwent a surge in popularity. A surge of criticism followed in reaction, but the criticism took no account of the grammar of adverbs. Hopefully in its second sense is a member of a class of adverbs known as disjuncts. Disjuncts serve as a means by which the author or speaker can comment directly to the reader or hearer usually on the content of the sentence to which they are attached. Many other adverbs (as interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, unfortunately) are similarly used; most are so ordinary as to excite no comment or interest whatsoever. The second sense of hopefully is entirely standard.

So there it is. Hopefully you won’t ever try to explain to an AT&T call center worker what a disjunct is. Ok?

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 January, 2009 in Miscellaneous | Personal

India Uncut Wishes You A Happy 2008

Yes, that’s right: 2008. There are still three days left in the year, and I’m not rushing to think of the new year yet. One day at a time. Let’s enjoy the 29th. Then the 30th. And then, though it lies well in the future, the 31st.

When that’s done and dusted, we’ll think of what’s to come.

What I mean to say, in this atypically roundabout manner, is that I’m taking a break and going traveling in the next three days, and no blogging will be done in this time. I have done less blogging this month than I do in an average week, so perhaps that hardly requires notice. But I shall be back to my furious best next month, posting 184 times a day as the nation stays glued to my thoughts, and the 24-hour news channels compete to cover my life, some even plotting to get me into a well somehow.

But all that’s in the future. Meanwhile, you have fun. Be as debauched as you want; hold nothing back. This is your last chance to show 2008, which has inflicted downturns and terrorist attacks and Ghajini on you, who’s really in charge.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 December, 2008 in Personal

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