Browse Archives

By Category

By Date

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: Small thoughts

Two Barbers, and Happiness

There’s an old question I remember having heard when I was a kid: You go to a small town and realise you need a haircut. There are just two barbers in town. One of them has a lousy haircut. The other one has the coolest haircut ever. Who do you go to?

The answer, of course, is that you go to the barber with the bad haircut. As there are just two barbers in town, they obviously cut each other’s hair. So the bad-haircut dude is the better barber.

I was reminded of this today when I came across a New York Times report about a study that reveals that, in general, men are happier than women. The implications of that are obvious.

Shame on us.

Update: Falstaff writes in to point me to “[t]he ever reliable Mark Liberman on why the New York Times report you cite, like most NY Times coverage of research findings, totally misinterprets the research findings and provides implications that are totally bogus.”

And reader Arup Raha writes in to berate me for the suggestion that men are responsible for making women unhappy. Dude, I was joking. Men rock. Really.

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 September, 2007 in Miscellaneous | News | Small thoughts

Iraq Is Not Vietnam

Christopher Hitchens explains why.

Actually, there are such conflicting views of Iraq going around that it might also be true to say that Iraq is not Iraq. Such it is.

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 August, 2007 in Politics | Small thoughts

Why Others Are Necessary

My great insight of the day is that we need other people just to be able to talk to ourselves. And social life is all about personal validation, with a few bonuses thrown in that were never the point in the first place. This thought, perhaps just a momentary and typically cynical fancy, strikes me after reading what Christopher Brookes has to say about Neville Cardus:

One of his favorite conversational adversaries was John Barbirolli. As well as being close friends, they were both great actors and each enjoyed upstaging the other “for the greater glory of God.” At one of their lunchtime meetings, true to form both spent the first hour talking sixteen to the dozen without taking the slightest notice of what the other might have been saying. The occupant of a nearby table recalled that to his surprise and admiration at one point in this exchange Sir John took out his false teeth but still kept talking. By this time Neville was of course a master of the art of masticating and conversing simultaneously….

This excerpt was quoted by Terry Teachout in this post. And I’m not being derisive of Cardus or Barbirolli—I admire anyone who can keep going.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 August, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Personal | Small thoughts

The roar on the other side of silence

Here’s AS Byatt on George Eliot:

When I was younger it was fashionable to criticise Eliot for writing from a god’s eye view, as though she were omniscient. Her authorial commenting voice appeared old-fashioned. It was felt she should have chosen a limited viewpoint, or written from inside her characters only. I came to see that this is nonsense. If a novelist tells you something she knows or thinks, and you believe her, that is not because either of you think she is God, but because she is doing her work - as a novelist. We were taught to laugh at collections of “the wit and wisdom of Eliot”. But the truth is that she is wise - not only intelligent, but wise. Her voice deepens our response to her world. [...]

[H]ere is Dorothea struggling with newlywed misery: “That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”

Indeed, we see ourselves as we want to see ourselves, and that is the extent of our self-reflection. Who can take the horrible truth?

(Link via PrufrockTwo.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 August, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | Personal | Small thoughts

History the Punisher

Line of the day:

History has a habit of punishing those that don’t take their chances.

That’s Geoff Boycott to Mike Atherton, and it seems especially apt in the light of how this India-England Test series is going. Allow me to quibble by pointing out that this alleged habit of History is not a compulsive one—India missed plenty of chances through last year’s tour to West Indies, but ended up winning the Test series regardless.

As my default mode is cynical, let me also add that History punishes everybody anyway. As John Maynard Keynes once said, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” Everything ends, so why bother taking chances, just go through the motions.

Or maybe I’m low today because my broadband is down and this dial-up is slow. With such mundane matters do existential crises reach a head. Maybe I’ll be chirpy again when the broadband’s back, who can tell?

(Link via email from Rahul Bhatia.)

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

“Go, go, go, ale, ale, ale”

WTF lines of the day:

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

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

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

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

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

“I’m sorry. Can I get a hug?”

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

(Link via email from reader Shashank.)

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

“What was that again?”

This is a touching excerpt:

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

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

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

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

(Default mood—cynical.)

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

Lage Raho Visabhai

Well, here’s one way to fight the immigration battle:

In a Gandhi-inspired protest, foreigners working legally in the United States sent thousands of flowers to a top immigration official yesterday to draw attention to their complaints about job-based visas.

On that note, I’ve just thought of the perfect Gandhian way to protest the fashion industry’s preference for anorexic models: The hunger strike. If the strike fails, you might just find that you have inadvertently conformed to the benchmarks you were protesting.

(Link via email from Abhishek Mehrotra.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 July, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Small thoughts

If Motilal Nehru had got a timely headache…

... India wouldn’t have known Jawaharlal, Indira, Rajiv, Sanjay or Sonia.

By such missing headaches are nations condemned.

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 June, 2007 in India | Small thoughts

Cricket and the Veshti

CNN-IBN reports that a “prestigious cricket club” in Chennai did not allow a civil servant to enter its premises because he was dressed in a veshti.

On a tangent, I wonder—and I know I can check this with two mouse-clicks, but it’s more fun to wonder—whether you’re allowed to play cricket in a veshti. Why should cricket only be played in trousers? Indeed, with a veshti, you could actually catch a ball between your legs without the risk of scraping the skin on your fingers. If you have a really long veshti, you could let it loose in the breeze while running a single, possibly ensuring that you’re inside both creases at the same time. And if you’re at the non-striker’s end, and your partner’s having a problem with the sightscreen, you could stand on your head.

I hope the BCCI takes this matter up with the ICC. The colonial hangover must go, and air must circulate.

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 June, 2007 in News | Small thoughts | Sport

God vs Tuberculosis

BBC reports:

Hindus have launched a last minute appeal to prevent the slaughter of a sacred bull which has tested positive for tuberculosis.

The bull, Shambo, lives in a shrine in Llanpumsaint, Carmarthenshire.

I have just one question: if the bull is sacred, how come God allowed it to get Tuberculosis? Tuberculosis is more powerful than God or what? Shouldn’t people be praying to Tuberculosis then?

(Link via email from Sanjeev Naik. 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.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 May, 2007 in Old memes | Cows | Small thoughts

Never put the price tag…

... on the blurbs.

When will bookshops learn this?

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Small thoughts

Loving the West. Hating the West

In an essay about the Russia of the 1840s, and its relation to the west, Isaiah Berlin once wrote:

To some degree this peculiar amalgam of love and hate is still intrinsic to Russian feelings about Europe: on the one hand, intellectual respect, envy, admiration, desire to emulate and excel; on the other, emotional hostility, suspicion, and contempt, a sense of being clumsy, de trop, of being outsiders; leading, as a result, to an alternation between excessive self-prostration before, and aggressive flouting of, western values. No visitor to the Soviet Union can have failed to remark something of this phenomenon: a combination of intellectual inadequacy and emotional superiority, a sense of the west as admirably self-restrained, clever, efficient, and successful: but also as being cramped, cold, mean, calculating, fenced in, without capacity for large views or generous emotion…

Holds true in another context, you think?

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 April, 2007 in India | Small thoughts

“I don’t care! Take me home. I’m done”

Why do the sad stories of other people make us cry?

Could it be because they snap us out of our self-delusion, and show us that death is inevitable and happiness is always fleeting? Nah, let’s not be negative.

Anyway, do check these pictures out, sequentially. It’s brilliant work, and Renée C. Byer got a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for it.

(Link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 April, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Journalism | Small thoughts

On men who scratch

Q. Why do men scratch themselves in public.

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

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

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

Race in America…

... isn’t a social issue, but a political one, writes Sumit Dahiya.

And caste in India?

(Link via email from reader Sid Wade.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 April, 2007 in India | Politics | Small thoughts

Orkut doesn’t die

Maybe it’s because I’ve been low for a couple of days, but I find Minal Panchal’s scrapbook on Orkut heartbreaking.

Minal, as you’d probably know, died on Monday.

(Orkut link via email from Gautam John.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 April, 2007 in Small thoughts

The poignancy of kurtas

There is nothing as sad as seeing an Indian man wear a kurta so that his paunch doesn’t show, and still fail miserably. No?

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 April, 2007 in Small thoughts


... is a feature, not a bug.

Isn’t that depressing? And isn’t depression a bug? Huh?

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 April, 2007 in Small thoughts

“But he could be an axe murderer”

I love serendipity. It’s convenient.

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 April, 2007 in News | Small thoughts

Cut carbon emissions instantly

There’s global warming on Mars.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 April, 2007 in News | Small thoughts

Cricket banned as “young boys go astray”

IANS informs us that cricket has been banned in a few villages in Haryana because, in the words of a panchayat head, “[t]his game is making the young boys go astray.”

When will these old fogeys understand that drugs and rock & roll and cricket and sex and so on are all just red herrings. There’s just one thing that makes the youth “go astray.” And that is youth.

That’s both sublime and tragic, but you can’t ban it, can you? Huh?

(Link via email from Lalbadshah.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 April, 2007 in Freedom | India | Small thoughts

My default state…

... is cynical.

So why am I writing this post?

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

The problem with non-existence

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

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

Why bring coitus into it?

After reading this, I have a question: is there something called non-coital tristesse?

(Link via email from MadMan. Why??)

Posted by Amit Varma on 31 March, 2007 in Small thoughts

The 52nd way to save the environment

Time Magazine has a feature they’re promoting as “51 ways to save the environment.” I have an addition:

52nd way to save the environment: Die.

Yes, I’m in a good mood today. How’d you guess?

Posted by Amit Varma on 31 March, 2007 in Small thoughts

Alcohol advertising and free speech

It’s okay to sell and drink alcohol in India. But it’s not okay to advertise it on television. Immensely silly, I think.

Now I’m off to get me some packaged drinking water.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 March, 2007 in India | Small thoughts

The perils of bandwidth

A short while ago, a friend, Rishi, wrote to me to point out a typo I’d made. I corrected it and sent back a note bemoaning how I was making too many typos these days, and needed to slow down. Rishi replied:

Bandwidth corrupts. Absolute bandwidth corrupts absolutely.

True in more ways than one, actually. Anyway, Tata Indicom makes sure that there are limits to my corruption. Such it goes…

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 March, 2007 in Small thoughts

Free markets and democracy

Imagine you want to buy a cola. But you’re not allowed to just buy the cola you want. Instead, all cola drinkers in the country get to vote for a cola brand of their choice. Whichever brand the majority chooses, that’s the one you’re forced to drink. So if you like Coke and the majority votes for Pepsi, too bad. Coke will have to wait four years.

That’s the difference between democracy and free markets.

Now, obviously I’m not suggesting that we all have the MP we want and have separate governments for each of us. That would be absurd, if enjoyable to watch. The point I’m making is this: people who praise democracy for empowering individuals with the power of choice should like free markets even more, for offering that empowerment to a much larger degree. But too often in our country, votaries of democracy rant against free markets. Isn’t that strange?

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 March, 2007 in Economics | Freedom | Politics | Small thoughts

On chasing low totals in cricket

Yesterday, when I was re-reading C Northcote Parkinson’s excellent book, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress, while researching my column for Mint, it struck me that the central insight of the book applies beautifully to cricket. The insight is this:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Now, when teams chase low totals in one-day matches, the way they chase the target changes entirely from the norm. A team that would normally chase 250 easily approaches 180 differently. The tempo of their batting adjusts itself to the low target, and while they might normally look to reach the 180 mark by the 40th over, the task expands itself “to fill the time available for its completion.”

And if that new tempo is an unnatural one for the side, it might just backfire on them, and they might lose. This is why it now strikes me that India might have been lucky to get dismissed for 183 in the 1983 World Cup final. Had we made 250, we might have lost.

Do note that this doesn’t mean that teams should deliberately make low scores. That’s pushing it!

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 March, 2007 in Small thoughts | Sport

“Men who want children should skip the hot tub”

So says Reuters. And what do I say?

Men who have children should boil them.

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 March, 2007 in News | Small thoughts

On golf, and writing

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

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

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

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

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

The Federalist Papers…

... were basically a group blog. No?

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 March, 2007 in Blogging | Small thoughts

Slut, whore etc

How hypocritical it is of us to use terms like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ as pejoratives. We are all sluts. We are all whores.

Aren’t we?

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 February, 2007 in Small thoughts

So much political analysis…

... is really just wishful thinking. No?

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 February, 2007 in Politics | Small thoughts

Terrorism isn’t about bombs…

... It’s about fear.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 February, 2007 in India | Small thoughts

The difference between American politics and Indian politics…

... can be condensed into one observation: American politicians often write books; Indian ones mostly don’t.

Indeed, I wonder if Indian politicians even read them.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 February, 2007 in Politics | Small thoughts

On alarmism

The global warming people are called alarmists. Once, when it was in vogue, just three decades or so ago, the global cooling people were called alarmists. People who speak of apocalypse are called alarmists. People who warn of imminent nuclear warfare or the ozone layer getting screwed or biological warfare ravaging continents or super-resistant bacteria destroying mankind or mosquitoes with battleaxes taking over the White House are called alarmists.

I don’t know whether all the people above are alarmists or not, but I think of the world around me staying as it is, and I feel alarmed. What’s that about?

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 February, 2007 in Small thoughts

Page 4 of 4 pages « First  <  2 3 4