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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: Small thoughts

Long, Healthy Lives…

... are hazardous to the taxpayer, reports A study has found that “the health costs of thin and healthy people in adulthood are more expensive than those of either fat people or smokers,” and “healthy people live longer and may develop long-term diseases in old age like Alzheimer’s which are very expensive to treat.”

The solution here is not to prevent people from living long and healthy lives. Instead, it is to question what our governments do with the money it coerces out of its citizens. Is it fair to take money from the obese to pay the medical costs of the relatively healthy, as is effectively the case here? Would it be fair the other way around? Is the government taxing us to provide certain basic services like law and order, or to redistribute it according to the interests of a few politicians in power?

I hope to live a long and healthy life— and even if I don’t, to be a burden on nobody. Is that unusual?

(Link via email from Andy.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 February, 2008 in Economics | Old memes | Taxes | Small thoughts

John McCain = Moe Greene

I may not always agree with Peggy Noonan, but her columns make for great reading, and her insights are always sharp. Consider this excerpt:

Mr. McCain seems to me to have two immediate problems, both of which he might address. One is that he doesn’t seem to much like conservatives, and never has. They can’t help admire him, but they’ve disagreed with him on so many issues, and when they bring this up his demeanor tends to morph into the second problem: He radiates, he telegraphs, a certain indignation at being questioned by people who’ve never had to vote in Congress and make a deal. He’s like Moe Greene in “The Godfather,” when Michael Corleone tells him he’s going to buy him out. “Do you know who I am? I’m Moe Greene. I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders.” I’ve been on the firing line, punk. I am the voice of surviving conservatism.

This doesn’t always go over so well. Mr. Giuliani seems to know Mr. McCain is Moe Greene. Mr. Huckabee probably thought “The Godfather” was kinda violent. Mr. Romney may be thinking to himself, But Michael Corleone won in the end, and had better suits.

I’m just glad someone’s comparing politics to the underworld. One could be considered a more respectable form of the other.

But which one?

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 February, 2008 in Politics | Small thoughts

Core Competence

The Guardian reports:

She was so convincing as White House hotshot CJ Cregg in The West Wing that Allison Janney has been offered work as a political pundit and is now being wooed by more than one Democratic candidate. They seem to be forgetting, she tells Emma Brockes, that she is an actor - and not too strong on politics.

On the contrary, I think they’re smart to run after her. A key part of politics, especially during elections, is playing a part, and the core competence of many political actors is acting. From Barack Obama to Mitt Romney, they’ve all carefully crafted their persona depending on the political constituency they think they can pander to most efficiently. It’s the wisdom of that choice, and the quality of their acting, that will decide who wins.

(Link via email from Salil Tripathi.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 January, 2008 in News | Politics | Small thoughts

Who is Today’s Ota Benga?

Hari Balasubramanian, in an excellent post, tells us the story of Ota Benga, “a pygmy from the Belgian Congo [who, in 1906,] found himself sharing a cage with an orangutan at the Bronx Zoo, as part of an exhibition intended to illustrate the stages of evolution.” Benga’s filed teeth, Hari writes, which came from “a tradition of cosmetic dentistry followed by his people ... was mistaken as a sign of cannibalism.” That impression suited the zookeepers, who “scattered bones in the cage.” No one protested.

Hari asks:

The outrage we feel today about this scarcely believable story from just over a century ago is an indication of just how much sensibilities have changed. But to me the key issue is not what happened to Ota Benga; rather, it is this: What is it that most of us do not condemn today and are complicit with that will in 2107 seem utterly outrageous?

This is a great question, and one that I’ll attempt to tackle in a longer piece at some point in time. Let me point out, in the meantime, that we don’t need need to compare different periods of time for such startling contrasts in attitude—we can simply compare continents, or cultures, of today.

For example, the Qatif rape case, where the victim of a gang rape in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes, is no less appalling than Ota Benga’s story. The victim has been ‘pardoned’ after an international outcry, but barring stray cases like this, the West is largely tolerant of such nonsense, even justifying it in the name of cultural differences.

Will a rape victim in Saudi Arabia in 2107 be treated better? I sure hope so. As for Ota Benga, his Wikipedia page tells us that “at the age of 32, he built a ceremonial fire, chipped off the caps on his teeth, performed a final tribal dance, and shot himself in the heart with a stolen pistol.”

It’s a relief that he couldn’t be prosecuted for that theft.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 December, 2007 in Freedom | Miscellaneous | Small thoughts

On Being Labelled

I found this excerpt, from a Bryan Appleyard piece on science fiction, to be quite telling:

In the 1970s, Kingsley Amis, Arthur C Clarke and Brian Aldiss were judging a contest for the best science-fiction novel of the year. They were going to give the prize to Grimus, Salman Rushdie’s first novel. At the last minute, however, the publishers withdrew the book from the award. They didn’t want Grimus on the SF shelves. “Had it won,” Aldiss, the wry, 82-year-old godfather of British SF, observes, “he would have been labelled a science-fiction writer, and nobody would have heard of him again.”

Well, who knows, buoyed by the award, Rushdie might well have gone on to write Midnight’s Cyborgs. Wouldn’t that have been such fun?

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 December, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Small thoughts

If You Want To Live In A Welfare State…

... find a way to get to prison.

(Link via email from Santosh.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 November, 2007 in News | Small thoughts

The Unintended Consequences of Proxy Warfare

Are we going round in circles?

Posted by Amit Varma on 19 November, 2007 in News | Politics | Small thoughts

A Lesson For Padma Lakshmi

Arm candy is replacable.

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 November, 2007 in Small thoughts

Politics and The Middle Class

Sagarika Ghose writes:

“Why don’t you all join politics,” Sonia Gandhi asked the genteel and educated audience at the Hindustan Times leadership summit. “Politics is not that bad.” The educated middle class certainly does need to join politics, but not join politics to work antiseptically on laptops, use snobbish words like “synergy” and worry about getting their hands dirty. Politicians instead must revel in the political process. They must adore people, jump into crowds, pump hands, kiss babies, travel by train to remotest corners, walk where there are no roads, speak a language that touches hearts, causes tears to flow and raises a million cheers.

I agree with Ghose’s sentiment, and wish that instead of merely writing columns about what’s wrong with India, I could jump into the fray myself, and “adore people, jump into crowds, pump hands etc.” But that isn’t a realistic prospect for someone like me. Why so? Because my first language is English, and I am not proficient enough in any of the Indian languages to make speeches in them, or convince people of whatever my vision is. If my Hindi was as good as my English, I could think of politics seriously, and trust in the power of ideas and my passion for change. But given that I can only find eloquence in the language of the elite, I wouldn’t stand a chance in Indian politics.

Ah, you say, but look at all the urbane young politicians out there in a similar position: Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, et al. My reply: look at their last names. Their political equity comes from the family they were born into. Indeed, Sonia Gandhi may say that politics “is not that bad,” but had she married a Chopra and not a Gandhi, she wouldn’t even consider it as an option.

Of course, most Indians are bilingual, at least, and much of the “educated middle class” Ghose exhorts to join politics is probably not as handicapped as I am. To them I say: Jump in if you want to make a difference. Our politicians may be venal, but politics itself need not be so, and is the surest route to changing the world.

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 November, 2007 in India | Personal | Politics | Small thoughts

The Tiger and the Gorge

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha writes in The Rise of India:

There is a fascinating story in one of the classical Hindu texts that throws light on key existential dilemmas. A man is running hard to escape a hungry tiger. He tumbles in panic and rolls off a precipice. He is falling to what promises to be a certain death in the gorge below, when he just manages to clutch at a small tree that is growing on the rock face. He hangs there for dear life. The choice is a bleak one. Above him is a hungry tiger and below him is a deep gorge. There is death on both sides. Just then, the dangling man’s eyes fall upon an abandoned beehive that is a few feet above the tree that he is frantically hanging on to. There is honey dripping from the beehive. The man shuts his eyes and puts his tongue out to catch the sweet honey. It is his moment of fleeting bliss!

Now what does one make of this wonderful parable of existential dilemma? There are two possible explanations. The first is that humans are a contemptible lot. Here is this man facing a certain death and, even then, all he can think of is petty gratification of his senses. The story purportedly shows what trivial levels men can sink to in the face of important challenges. The other explanation is that the human condition is hopeless anyway. We are caught between the tiger and the gorge. It is the drops of honey that make our lives worth living. We maintain our humanity by aspiring to enjoy the little sensory pleasures.

I favour the second analysis, though I worry that the first one is correct and I am merely rationalizing. And I often look ridiculous to myself, head extended, mouth open, waiting for honey to fall. Why not just let go?

Posted by Amit Varma on 13 October, 2007 in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | India | Small thoughts

Leaving Home

At first, this seems to be no more just the kind of odd news that is so popular on the internet.

But could it also serve as a parable about how you can never really get away?

(Link via email from Prabhu.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 October, 2007 in News | 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

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