India Uncut

This blog has moved to its own domain. Please visit for the all-new India Uncut and bookmark it. The new site has much more content and some new sections, and you can read about them here and here. You can subscribe to full RSS feeds of all the sections from here. This blogspot site will no longer be updated, except in case of emergencies, if the main site suffers a prolonged outage. Thanks - Amit.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Focussing on the possible

Brahma Chellaney writes in the Japan Times:
For a strategic partnership to emerge, Washington and New Delhi need to resolve their differences on two key issues -- stringent technology controls against India, many dating back to the 1970s when India conducted its first nuclear test, and [George W] Bush's coddling of the one-man junta in Pakistan.

Not only are U.S. actions bolstering the military-mullah complex that runs Pakistan, the supply of major combat systems and multibillion-dollar aid also encourages Pakistani dictator President Gen. Pervez Musharraf not to dismantle the terror infrastructure that his military maintains against India. The F-16 decision comes on top of the action to arm Islamabad with P-3C Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft, TOW anti-tank missiles and Phalanx defense systems -- all hardware that will be aimed not against al-Qaeda but against India.
To me, it is wishful thinking that the USA will scale back their relations with Pakistan because of us. The US needs the Pakistan regime on its side to finish its battle against al-Qaeda, and in its broader quest to secularise Islam. At the same time, it needs India to offset the growing clout of China in the region. These are both win-win games, and we should also look to get whatever we can out of the US without bringing Pakistan into it. Unless, of course, it is to urge the US to put pressure on Pakistan to open up trade with India, another win-win scenario. As Otto Von Bismarck said, "Politics is the art of the possible." There is enough to gain if we are realistic in our dealings, and patient.

(Link via email from Jim O'Neil.)
amit varma, 10:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Hey, is that your doorbell ringing?

The CBI is on the prowl.
amit varma, 5:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Catching a thief...

... is surely its own reward. Mid Day reports:
Last month, Leena D'Cunha (24) jumped out of a moving train to nab a thief, fell on the tracks and seriously injured herself.

Even as she was losing consciousness, she shouted out to passers-by to catch the thief, which finally led to his capture.

A month later, says an indignant D'Cunha, she found that the police had refused to recognise her act of bravery and instead were felicitating the boy, Pankaj Patil (21), who actually grabbed the thief.
Right. But D'Cunha was surely not thinking of the felicitation when she jumped out of the train, and the purpose she had was served, because the fellow got caught, and she got her mobile phone back. So why the big deal about the felicitation?
amit varma, 5:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

No exceptions please

Business Standard rightly berates APJ Abdul Kalam for keeping himself out of the scope of the Right to Information Act.
amit varma, 12:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

0.25 percent

The government levies a tax on film stars. The industry protests on principle.
amit varma, 12:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Mumbai Mirror links

Reader Vinay Madhyastha helpfully informs me that many of my links to Mumbai Mirror articles don't work, and become dead after a while. I just found that links I've put today are working, while yesterday's are dead. So what should I do now?

I could stop linking them as I have the Asian Age, because those guys are not compatible with Mozilla Firefox. But as they remain live for at least a while, that might be a bit extreme, and this might be a glitch that they will sort out. So here's what I will do: whenever I find a Mumbai Mirror piece that I want to talk about and is otherwise not reported elsewhere, I'll link to them. Otherwise not.

And just what is it with these Indian MSM websites that they try to drive readers away?
amit varma, 12:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Pinning down More

After the public uproar around the Sunil More case, Mumbai's police made it a matter of pride to get the guy convicted. When they found themselves running short of evidence, they asked for two DNA tests to be done. Well, the results are out, and the evidence is still not conclusive.

A third DNA test has therefore been asked for. Mumbai Mirror reports that the police are desperate to have More convicted, and quotes an official as saying:
Losing the case is just not an option. Imagine the public fury if that happens. The government too will then look for scapegaots from within the police department. That is scary.
Weirder and weirder. I wonder how this will pan out.
amit varma, 11:55 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

No, not the devil either

Susan Hansen of the New York Times reports on a summer camp that is specifically meant for the children of atheists and agnostics. She writes:
Nearly two million American adults openly identify themselves as atheist or agnostic, according to a 2001 survey by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. As a group, they face more than their share of bigotry, said Edwin F. Kagin, Camp Quest's longtime director, and their children are often made to feel like outcasts.

Many of the two dozen campers who attended this year's session last week recounted experiences of being called names and otherwise harassed. For instance, Travis Leepers, 17, from Louisiana, reported that just about everyone he knows has expressed concern to him about his soul and has tried to convert him.

Sophia Riehemann, 14, from Bellevue, Ky., recalled how one of her schoolmates called her a devil-worshiper. "People get really confused sometimes," Sophia said. "They think that if we don't believe in God we believe in the devil."
Strange, I didn't know religion was such a big deal in the US. In India it doesn't interfere with my daily life, and my being an atheist just draws curiosity, and sometimes befuddlement, but that's about it.

(Link via email from Ajay Bhat.)
amit varma, 11:33 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Banana republic

Jayaram Banana, the head of the Sagar group of restaurants, is a happy man. He's all set to get the contract to run the canteen at the Congress party headquarters. Apparently Priyanka Gandhi likes his dosas.
amit varma, 11:03 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


There's a flood warning out in Gujarat. And Orissa and Himachal Pradesh have also been hit hard by the rains.
amit varma, 5:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Mrs Gandhi, Ms Sherawat and the Hindu Meal

We are told that Richard Nixon wasn't very happy with Indira Gandhi, and once called her an "old witch".

We are also told that Mallika Sherawat's grandmother wasn't very happy with the dress she wore at Cannes, and wondered, "Did Mallika forget her duppatta back home by mistake?"

And it is said that Vipul Shah, a Mumbai-based chartered accountant, wasn't very happy with the "Hindu Meal" that he was served on a Virgin Atlantic flight, because it wasn't vegetarian as promised.

And to throw in a bonus, we have also heard that Rahul Thackeray, Bal Thackeray's grandson, wasn't very happy with constable Bhosle, who refused to get tough with a lady whom Thackeray had almost run over.

Other Mumbai residents have reason to cheer, though. Alyssa Milano, who was apparently "friends with Lord Krishna" in her last birth, is in town. Yes, I know: whatever.
amit varma, 1:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The airport mafia

Mid Day reports on a gang of thugs that has terrorised passengers and staff at Mumbai's international airport. The report says:
According to airport officials, these five trolley retrievers employed by a contractor, Travel Destination International (TDI), harass and fleece passengers and run an illegal union, through which they instigate co-workers to revolt against management.

Feared by airport officials, they have been booked in numerous cases of cheating, and ringleader Navin Patel has even been charged with assault. A court order prevents TDI from sacking them.
A TDI manager has been quoted as saying, "We cannot sack them because of a court order that says workers cannot be retrenched." So there's no accountability, and the mafia can do just what it wants.
amit varma, 12:32 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The gap between practice and preaching

Principles are all very well when it comes to rhetoric, but in politics, they are often discarded at moments of action. The Left has acknowledged this. They had once vociferously opposed the nomination of Rajya Sabha members from states where they weren't domiciled, but have now gone against their own stated principles by nominating Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechury from Bengal. Defending this decision, Jyoti Basu told the Telegraph:
True, we once opposed, we still oppose election of Rajya Sabha MPs from states where they are not domiciled, but today’s decision reflects a political necessity.
We see this same phenomenon across everything the Left does. For example, they oppose privatisation when they lecture the central government, but carry it out in Bengal because they're in power there, and have to behave responsibly. India will be better off if they bridge the gap between practice and preaching – but only if they begin preaching what they practise. Not the other way around.

Update (June 30): Subra Srinivasan suggests that we scrap the Rajya Sabha altogether.
amit varma, 11:57 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Comatose state, comatose party

The Indian Express writes:
For North Block, Madhuban may as well be on another planet. The Union home ministry’s responses to the curious incident that shook this small Bihar town on the Indo-Nepal border last week was so tame, so tepid, it could have been a teddy bears’ picnic. In actual fact, it was another signal that this country has got a serious problem of Maoist extremism on its hands and has no credible response to it. The impunity which marked the Madhuban raid that Maoists — possibly from Nepal — conducted, also indicates how emboldened they have become in recent times in the face of a comatose state.
And in the same paper, Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes about the Congress:
Although the BJP is the party experiencing turmoil, the Congress should seriously begin to worry about its own future. On the surface, things seem well. It has no leadership crisis, no self-destructive rancor. The prime minister’s performance ratings are high and he is very difficult to attack personally. The Opposition is in disarray. UPA allies occasionally extract their pound of flesh, but none of them has an incentive to bring down the government immediately. The economy is holding steady. But the placid surface can barely disguise the Congress’s long term problem.
Read more.
amit varma, 11:50 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

SRK's liberal India

Shah Rukh Khan speaks out in favour of the government ban on smoking in films. He says:
Actually, the more liberal a society becomes, the more stringent the laws are bound to be. In the US, you can buy a gun off the shelf, and then someone starts shooting down kids in a school. So they need strict laws to make guns accessible to people. With air travel being so easy now -- you can book tickets by e-mail -- airport security is tougher. In a banana republic, nothing is allowed. In our society, everything is allowed. Therefore we need to check the flow of liberal ideas.
Sigh. It would take a constipated bull, eating continuously, an entire week to build up reserves of this much you-know-what. And this guy is one of India's biggest role models. I tell you.
amit varma, 4:25 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Having trouble with PR people?

No problemo.
amit varma, 1:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A partial transformation

The Indian Express writes:
The Bengal CPM’s embrace of economic reform, including privatisation, is one of the momentous transformations underway in contemporary politics. It augurs well for the nation when a party that had the most ideological investment in opposing reform begins to acknowledge its necessity. The CPM is demonstrating that a party of governance has to orient itself towards future possibilities rather than be a prisoner of dead dogma. It is also beginning to acknowledge that under no conceivable definition of being pro-poor can the state justify running loss-making public sector enterprises. Those who argue for an expansive role for the state in areas it has no business entering into, are not looking out for the poor.
Now if only the Left parties would apply that same pragmatism to their dealings with the central government. They aren't governing there, of course, and that absence of accountability and responsibility makes all the difference.
amit varma, 11:47 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

An addiction

Mumbai Mirror profiles Mohammed Qadir, a pickpocket, who doesn't need to steal, but does it because he can't help himself. The article quotes him as saying:
My father-in-law was a landlord and owns sizeable property in Kolkata. Even I own a shop and a three-storey building in Kolkata from which I earn a rent of Rs 60,000 annually. But I cannot describe the high I get from picking people’s pockets. I feel like a film hero.


It gives me so much pleasure that I find it quite therapeutic. Though I have three grandchildren and should play with them, the fun in my job surpasses everything in the world.
Most of us have minor addictions and fetishes that are probably so close to being normal that we wouldn't even term them that way. Is there perhaps a bit of luck involved in the things that give each of us a high? With someone, it may be the mere smell of a sock, harmless and legal to indulge in; with Qadir it was the thrill of taking someone's wallet away; and some may find themselves drawn to children, like Humbert Humbert.

In the end, of course, it's not our feelings but our actions we are responsible for. We can't help the way we feel, but no matter how much helplessness we plead, we are in charge of what we do. So while I empathise with Mr Qadir, if I catch his hand in my pocket in an Andheri-Churchgate local, I will not have regard for his age or weakness, but will turn him over to the cops. After perhaps a jhaap or two.
amit varma, 11:16 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

From Brussels to Kolkata.

For the last time. (More here.)
amit varma, 11:12 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, June 27, 2005

Destiny in a name

Your name is a matter of some importance if you want to be a writer, writes Roger Scruton in the Guardian. He says:
For those addicted to words, the surnames of writers take on the sense of their writings. Wittgenstein, for me, has the sound of a frozen mountaineer, poised on the apex of an argument and remaining there, aloof, uncomforted and alone. Dickens - whose name is proverbial in English - has the sound of an old-fashioned haberdashery: an accumulation of oddments, some still useful, others left behind by fashion or piled in, a heap of unvisited history, like the objects in Mrs Jellaby's cupboard. Lawrence roars like a lion, and yawns like one too; while Melville is not the noise of Captain Ahab stomping his wooden peg on the deck above, but the melancholy sound of a quiet harbour, where the sheets smack in the breeze and a clerk sucks his pen at a counting desk above the quay.
Read the full piece. I especially enjoyed the bit about the fight in a school playground.

Is our destiny formed when we are named? Sidin Vadukut could say a bit about that. In one of the funniest posts I've read, "The Travails of Single South Indian men of conservative upbringing", Sidin had written:
Our futures are shot to hell as soon as our parents bestow upon us names that are anything but alluring. I cannot imagine a more foolproof way of making sure the child remains single till classified advertisements or that maternal uncle in San Francisco thinks otherwise. Name him "Parthasarathy Venkatachalapthy" and his inherent capability to combat celibacy is obliterated before he could even talk. He will grow to be known as Partha. Before he knows, his smart, seductively named northy classmates start calling him Paratha. No woman in their right minds will go anyway near poor Parthasarathy. His investment banking job doesn't help either. His employer loves him though. He has no personal life you see. By this time the Sanjay Singhs and Bobby Khans from his class have small businesses of their own and spend 60% of their lives in discos and pubs. The remaining 40% is spent coochicooing with leather and denim clad muses in their penthouse flats on Nepean Sea Road. Business is safely in the hands of the Mallu manager. After all with a name like Blossom Babykutty he cant use his 30000 salary anywhere.
Marvellous stuff. Again, read the full thing.
amit varma, 11:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The solution to HIV and over-population

Some entity referred to simply as "Government" by the Hindustan Times claims it has found a way to stop AIDS and population growth in India. It vibrates.
amit varma, 11:04 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Casanova the blogger

Chandrahas Choudhury delves into the life of Giacomo Casanova, and finds much to agree with in his appreciation of food. He refuses to speculate on whether Casanova would have been a blogger had he lived today, and by thus explicitly refusing, awakens that speculation in us. It is a technique women have mastered – to rouse in us what they pretend to be immune to. Casanova knew how to deal with that, of course.
amit varma, 9:23 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blame it on the building

UNI reports:
Hardoi, UP: Toeing the line of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee, the district unit of the party has taken the help of a 'vaastu' expert to put an end to party infighting.

The expert was summoned by District Congress Committee (DCC) president Sanjay Trivedi after members complained that "it felt strange to sit in the two-storeyed building".

Congress workers claimed vaastu could help the district unit get rid of infighting, which had been plaguing its performance of late.
Hmm. Maybe Manmohan Singh ought to get Prakash Karat's building examined as well, instead of making overtures to him like this one. I can imagine this interview:
Interviewer to Manmohan Singh: Mr Prime minister, we have heard that the Left has differences with your government. What is the root cause of it? Is it privatisation?

Manmohan: No.

Interviewer: Is it the reforms process?

Manmohan: No.

Interviewer: Is it the labour reforms you'd like to carry out? The fact that you're not supporting the Maoists of Nepal? Are you not anti-American enough, perhaps?

Manmohan: Arre, no, no, no.

Interviewer: What is it then?

Manmohan: You see, Mr Karat's office faces the West. That is the core problem. We're planning to relocate his office. Everything will be fine then.
And maybe Manmohan should get his office checked as well, and blame it for this.

Update: Vikram Arumilli and Manish Manke both point out via email that the BJP had also once used vaastu to solve its problems.
amit varma, 5:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

It's raining? Big deal

Abheek Barua explains in Business Standard why "the nexus between the monsoon, agriculture and the larger economy is much weaker now than what it has been historically been."
amit varma, 12:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Nonstop national videogame

Gautam Chikermane asks in the Indian Express:
[H]ow can a patch-up affecting one group, how ever big it may be, throw so many other companies into the stratosphere? So abruptly? Will, as the confident suits in the financial sector claim, the Sensex now touch 8,000? Will it, as one humungous networth individual claims, cross 25,000 in five years? Where are all these numbers coming from? Should we believe them when the grimy underbelly of the same sector has a rumour doing the rounds, whose essence is that the Sensex will touch 7,200 or even 7,400 and then crash to, and stabilise around, the 6,400-6,600 range?

Irrational exuberance? This now-popular phrase was first coined in a December 5, 1996 dinner speech by Alan Greenspan, chairman, Federal Reserve Board. In 2000, Robert J. Shiller, a professor of economics at Yale, wrote a book by that name where, following the Internet bubble of the mid to late 1990s, in which he prophesied that obsession with stocks was turning the financial system into a casino. And how ever strong the fundamentals of our economy, sectors and companies, the current rally is displaying strong signs of this irrationality.
This reminds me of Jason Zweig's description of the dotcom bubble, in his commentary for the new edition of Benjamin Graham's classic "The Intelligent Investor", as a “nonstop national videogame”. In that piece, Zweig had written about how the share price of a company called Temco tripled in a manner of minutes because frantic investors mistook its ticker symbol, TMCO, for that of Ticketmaster Online (TMCS). I spent some time in the dealing room of one of India's largest brokerage houses last week, and got to hear similar stories, of companies whose only office was a small room and a telephone finding their stock price going berserk. Much fun is being had by speculators, and I sometimes wish I had money to invest. Given my luck, though, the bull-run would probably end as soon as I invested.
amit varma, 12:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wearing what you want

Mumbai University's vice-chancellor backtracks on his ridiculous threat to enforce a dress code for girls on campuses.

In an unrelated story, some hot Indian ladies discuss bikinis.

Update: Kerala clamps down on mobile phones in campuses.
amit varma, 12:04 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

All you need to do is ask?

Manmohan asks states to double farm production, reports the Hindu.
amit varma, 12:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sunday Bloggy Sunday

Another wonderful blogmeet took place today, taking a combined eight hours of my time, which could hardly have been better spent. (I had lunch with two bloggers before the meet, and dinner afterwards with four others.) An excellent time was had. A total of 12 people turned up. Here are those who attended, ladies first (alphabetic order of first name):

Seema Ramachandra
Sonia Faleiro
Zainab Bawa

And the riff-raff:

Amit Varma
Chandrahas Choudhury
Mandar Talvekar
Nandan Pandit
Saket Vaidya
Sameer Gharat
Rahul Bhatia
Ravikiran Rao
Yazad Jal

This was Sonia's first blogmeet, and she dropped pearls of wisdom about freelance journalism to three others in that boat. Rahul had his unslender feet repeatedly pulled by all near him, and emitted smiles that were, remarkably, both sweet and enigmatic. (Mona Lisa only managed one of those.) Yazad told everyone how he admired Arundhati Roy's "enchanting" prose, and Chandrahas tried to talk him out of it, while leaving space for a contrary view. Zainab did not bring her guitar, but she didn't leave early either, so that's ok.

Saket and Nandan had a long chat about HR (human resources) people, in which Saket essentially said that all HR people are useless, and Nandan agreed, but with the insertion of an exception: himself. Sameer gave some useful technical advice on how to back-up Blogger posts. Ravikiran had coffees that were neither Ethopian nor Qahwah. And Seema, whose first blogmeet this was, did not have any of the hara bhara kababs she ordered. Kababs? No, kabobs. So there.

Other accounts of the blogmeet will be linked here as they are made. To begin with, here's Sonia's tale. And more accounts from Mandar, Saket, Rahul and Sameer.

Accounts of previous blogmeets (in chronological order): 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
amit varma, 11:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bagdadi rules

A marvellous time was had at the blog meet today, with 12 people turning up, but more on that later. (Update: here.) To begin with, here are the contents of a notice board at Bagdadi Restaurant, where five remnants from the blog meet went for dinner (all typos etc in original):
Bagdadi Restaurant

Notice board

1. Extra item shall be charged.

2. Please do not argue with employees of the restaurant.

3. Please check your belongings before leaving the restaurant, we are not responsible for any loss or damage.

4. Foods once served shall not be taken back.

5. Out side eatables/drinks not allowed.

6. Food may not be served to drunken persons.

7. Alcoholic drinks strictly prohibited in the restaurant.

8. Please do not make any nuisance and/or disturb the other customers.

9. Please do not sit for a long time.

10. Please do not wash hands on plate.

11. Any person misbehaving with the customer or staff shall be handed over to police.

12. 2nd Time Lemon/Onion request is charged extra.

Please tender the exact change.

Thank you
Interestingly, a slightly newer notice added a nuance to point 6. It read: "Food may not be served to over drunken persons."

The bit I loved the most was the "and/or" in the eighth point. And yes, the chicken was nice too, and the rotis, large, soft, filled with flavour, were the stuff of poetry. Aren't you glad I don't write any?
amit varma, 11:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blog Mela coming up

Shanti Mangala's blog mela is up here, and it falls upon me to host the next one. Email me your nominations with "Blog Mela" in the subject line. The guidelines:

1. All posts between June 24 and June 30 are eligible, including on those two days.
2. All posts should be made by Indians or should focus on India.
3. Deadline is by the end of June 30, US time. My blog mela will be posted on July 1.
4. Please nominate just one post per blog, although for a group blog you can nominate one per contributor, for a maximum of 204 contributors. (An improvement from last time. Anything to avoid deja vu.)

As usual, I will hunt around on my own for interesting posts, but lest I miss you, nominate. The previous blog melas hosted by me: 1 and 2.
amit varma, 11:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The only downside of meeting bloggers

Blogging is suspended for the rest of the day. Got bloggers to meet.
amit varma, 11:46 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The lessons of history, unlearnt

We have forgotten the Emergency, warns Vir Sanghvi, and it may cost us.
amit varma, 11:45 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On straps, and enterprising NRIs

A strap, in journalistic parlance, is the line that comes below a headline and above a story, that sets out in brief what the story is about, and expands on the headline. The headline attracts the reader's attention; the strap then closes the sale and leads him to the piece. It is also sometimes called a one-liner.

For an example of a good, functional strap/one-liner, click here. The headline says, "Stop here for books". Enough to draw a curious glance from the reader. The strap says: "An NRI librarian abandons hope of Punjab ever setting up public libraries. He starts a lending library in a bus that makes weekly trips to villages."

Good strap. And a terrific story about a gentleman named Dr Jaswant Singh, who is starting a chain of mobile libraries in the villages of Punjab so that kids have a place where they can read some books. This is the kind of private initiative that can have greater effect than many government plans to start libraries – if any exist. Now if only they made it as easy to start schools.
amit varma, 11:13 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What's that smell?

Tavleen Singh writes:
There is something about this government’s grandiose schemes to guarantee employment and improve rural India that bring back, at least for me, memories of central planning and Nehruvian socialism. These memories are nearly all depressing because of the second-rate, shoddy quality that nearly everything had. Roads were bad, telephones looked like relics, airports and airlines had the dead hand of government stamped all over them, electricity and water came and went at their own sweet will, shops stocked goods of such shoddy quality that the average Indian was crazy about all things foreign and everything was always in short supply. People waited decades for a telephone connection, and as for domestic gas almost the only people who got it were those who knew an MP. The reason for this sad state of affairs was central planning and big government, and something about the Sonia-Manmohan approach to governance has a worrying reek of the past.
For some of us, including me, this is stating the obvious. The rest of us don't care, unwilling to examine their received beliefs in the light of 58 years of reality. It all seems so pointless sometimes.
amit varma, 11:05 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

When Jinnah was right and Gandhi was wrong

In a lovely little essay, Mukul Kesavan relates how the manner in which Mahatma Gandhi took over the Congress party "did the anti-colonial movement incalculable damage." Muhammad Ali Jinnah plays the moderate Muslim in this story, while Gandhi panders to the extremists.
amit varma, 11:01 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A week, a day, a month

Michael Higgins writes:
Suppose you could, on rare occasions, use an extraordinary power to produce a week’s worth of work in a single day. There is a catch: the week’s worth of work in a single day will age you one month. Would you occasionally use this extraordinary power on rare occasions when you are really under the gun, or would the cost be just too high?
amit varma, 11:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Learning from the Reds

Lalu Prasad Yadav is not happy. The Times of India reports:
[Lalu Prasad Yadav] was at a party meeting on Tuesday when news of the Left winning Kolkata's municipal polls came through.Thinking aloud as usual, Lalu said that he didn't have an organised cadre base. "It's a bhirtantra — mobocracy — out here. We have the masses with us, but no organisation", he moaned. So now, Lalu has decided to make his party more CPM-like...
Well, yes, but will the Left approve of his hiring a capitalist PR agency to enhance his brand value? Or will they learn from him and do the same?

Previous posts on Lalu, in chronological order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
amit varma, 11:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Falling asleep at the workplace

There is one profession where you just can't afford to do that.
amit varma, 11:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The sword and the pen

Patrix isn't happy at the state of investigative journalism in India. But he finds reason to hope.
amit varma, 11:04 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The black hole in our memory

TCA Srinivasa-Raghavan writes in Business Standard:
[H]ow many Indians have any idea at all of what the Emergency meant for India, and under what circumstances it had been imposed?

My sons, who are 21 and 17, know exactly what happened on January 30, 1948, when, and how. But they have no clue at all of what happened on June 26, 1975, and why. Nor, indeed, do their cousins who were born during the previous five or so years. That whole generation has been kept in the dark.

The Emergency, infamous as it was, is a black hole in the collective memory of the country.
Read the full thing. I couldn't agree more with his final remarks, that "it is time the [Nehru-Gandhi] family went out of politics." I only disagree with a bit in the middle where he says: "If Sanjay Gandhi had had his way India may have become mightily prosperous." Indira Gandhi vastly increased India's statism during her time in power, and the authoritarian Sanjay would have gone along the same route. No country can become prosperous without economic freedom or oil.
amit varma, 10:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Watch your passports

Important advice for NRIs.
amit varma, 10:26 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The new hot button in the Indian underworld


Update: Nitin Pai writes in:
One of the saddest stories of the 1990s was when the ISI used the D-Company to pirate Bollywood content and use the proceeds to fund terrorism against India ... The ISI began to raise funds through content piracy when its other methods – banking (BCCI and sundry hawala) and drugs smuggling – began to attract attention.
Check out Nitin's earlier posts on this issue, here and here.
amit varma, 2:26 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Ignoring economic freedoms

Shekhar Gupta writes about the Indira Gandhi years:
It is a most remarkably peculiar Indian phenomenon, where there is almost zero tolerance for political authoritarianism but no such questioning of economic authoritarianism of the kind we suffered between 1967 and 1977. The Indian Express Economics Editor Ila Patnaik gives me stunning evidence of how this was the darkest decade for our economy as, apart from bank nationalisation, some of the most ghastly economic laws, the MRTP Act, Small Scale Reservation Act, FERA, Amended Industrial Disputes Act to finally apply it to many more units, Urban Land Ceiling Act, quantitative and tariff curbs on imports, all happened in this period.
Gaurav Sabnis had pointed out recently that Indians are remarkably tolerant of the suppression of all our freedoms except the political one. Gupta has a take on this as well. He writes:
[H]ere is a theory. Could it be that starting with the euphoric early days of Nehru, we were caught in a neat trap. Nehru built a system where we were offered the political freedoms of a free-market democracy but economic freedoms of a benign socialist system. And because we had a reference point only for political liberty (having been a colony) and none for entrepreneurial freedom, we were so easily taken in. In a way, what Nehru gave us, and Indira built on, was the opposite of what the Communists are doing in China today, offering their people the economic freedoms of free-market democracies and the political restrictions of Communism.
Excellent insight. Read the full piece.
amit varma, 2:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A different kind of migrant

The Telegraph reports:
Their mouths tied with tape, 40 passengers were today herded into the Alitalia flight to Dhaka, where ministers lined up to welcome them.

For once, India and Bangladesh are seeing eye-to-eye on a group of migrants.

In a cross-border conservation programme, New Delhi is helping its neighbour rebreed the tropical marsh crocodile by sending over eight males and 32 females.
Good initiative. Now maybe they should send us Ashraful.
amit varma, 2:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, June 24, 2005

It was yours

I still find it hard to fathom the strange Supreme Court decision in the US that effectively gave the state the right to take away private property at its own discretion. So how are American bloggers reacting to it? Well, Glenn Reynolds aka Instapundit writes about it on his MSN blog here, and rounds up responses to it in the following posts: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Update: Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek has a fine post on this, and more.
amit varma, 8:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Stop Marx, vote for Hume

Yes, I too vastly prefer Hume to Marx. But why's the Economist noticing things like online polls?
amit varma, 7:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Fantasy Land

Or is it?

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 7:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Maoist spread

Shades of Nepal in Bihar. Alarming.
amit varma, 3:55 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


Anbumani Ramadoss, the health minister behind the ban on smoking in films in India, is still on the offensive. PTI reports:
Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss on Friday charged the tobacco industry with paying heroes to smoke on screen.

Ramadoss said he is determined to ensure a complete ban on smoking scenes from October.

"I am not afraid of any lobby, however powerful it is. I am determined to implement the ban come what may," he said.

Claiming he had definite information that the tobacco industry was directly paying heroes to show smoking scenes in the films, he said, "Unfortunately I have no proof."
I like his determination to take on the tobacco lobby, but by coming up with such a ridiculous conspiracy theory, that too without proof, Ramadoss is provoking just one question in the minds of observers: Just what is it that he is smoking?
amit varma, 3:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

With friends like these...

The Left takes on Manmohan Singh's government again. Sigh. What's an opposition to do?
amit varma, 3:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A historical mystery

Who was Mumbai's first police commissioner? The police is looking into it.
amit varma, 12:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Abusive Americans v sarcastic Brits

Mid Day gets call-center employees to talk about which nationality they prefer to take calls from. The Brits win hands down.
amit varma, 12:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Failure on a grand, strategic, scale

Tony Blair warns the European Union about what's at stake if it remains in denial about the positive effects of globalisation, and the rise of India and China.
amit varma, 11:56 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Banking on passion

Ashok Banker, in an interview with Sonia Faleiro, says:
I don’t think I’m a very talented writer, but I have passion. What I lack in stylistic or linguistic dexterity, and sheer artistry, I make up for with fecundity, fire, and feel.
He's right. That isn't a boast or false modesty, but honesty, a rare quality when the most common failing of our species is self-delusion.

I must confess here that I am not entirely a fan of Banker's writing. I haven't read his recent series, and I read "Vertigo" and "Byculla Boys" years ago. The quality that struck me most about "Vertigo" was passion. It was honest and in-your-face writing, devoid of pretence, with no attempted literary flourishes or suchlike. The book didn't say, as so many Indian novels in English do, "I write so well, look at me." It said: "This is the story I have to tell. Listen."

Banker's passion for telling the story and nothing else also manifested himself in the way he dealt with the world, and his disdain for the press and the trappings of being a writer. He speaks about all that in the interview with Faleiro, so go read that to get more of a feel for what the man is about.
amit varma, 11:30 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Looking at photos

Good stuff.
amit varma, 1:11 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Property rights? What property rights?

The land of the free just got a little less free. Unbelievable.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 1:03 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bihar in the middle of Bombay

Vikrum Sequeira visits the Gazdar Bandh slum.
amit varma, 12:53 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Rapidex English Speaking Course

That's the largest selling book by the publisher Pustak Mahal, writes Annie Zaidi, in a post about the sad, sad state of Hindi literature.
amit varma, 12:43 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Right To (Some) Information

APJ Abdul Kalam finds exceptions in the people's right to know what is being done with their money.
amit varma, 12:21 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Joker? Who, me?

IANS reports that Lalu Prasad Yadav has hired a PR agency to improve his image. It seems that he's tired of being described as a joker.

Maybe the sales of this will increase as well.

Previous posts on Lalu, in chronological order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.
amit varma, 8:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The cinematographer did it

How often do you find stars giving cinematographers the credit for the way they look on screen? Well, in an interview on Rediff, Rani Mukherjee says:
I believe one particular cinematographer always makes a difference to a heroine's career. Sridevi had W B Rao, Madhuri Dixit had Baba Azmi. For me it's Ravi K Chandran all the way. Look at what he has made me look like in Black and Paheli. My family and I were quite stunned looking at me.
Right on.
amit varma, 8:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Lions Club to the rescue

amit varma, 8:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Another call-center controversy

The Sun stings India Shining.

I think there are two dangers in dealing with this story: making too much of it; and making too little of it.

On one hand, we must not give it to tabloid sensationalisation and assume that there is a problem with all Indian call centers. Most big Indian BPO units have excellent security systems in place, and such breaches could not occur there.

On the other hand, we must not ignore it as only tabloid sensationalisation, and must act swiftly to punish the guilty, and show that our cyber laws can handle such infractions easily.

Update: Kiran Karnik's on the job.

Update 2: Ajay Bhat points out via email that "it is not just in India that this has been a problem".
amit varma, 8:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Dance dance dance

This is certainly not music to RR Patil's ears.

(Link via email from Ravikiran, who asks wisely: "So was it the Shettys or Sonia?")
amit varma, 7:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Just the bust and the nose

A Peruvian plastic surgeon has claimed that Maria Julia Mantilla, last year's Ms World, was operated upon by him, and he gave her buttock implants and trimmed her ears. Mantilla has indignantly denied this. Reuters quoted her as saying:
He said he had built me, that he gave me buttock implants and fixed my ears and this is false -- I'm not the creation of a surgeon, he just did my bust and my nose. So I'm considering suing.
Well, um, all the... best.
amit varma, 7:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bandh karo!

Finally someone's been held accountable for calling a hartal.
amit varma, 7:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Son of Gupta

For all the competition in Mumbai's media circles, only Mid Day could have carried a headline that read: "46-yr-old demands ripe fruit, is punched". So what actually happened? The article says:
Manjula Katudia (46) was beaten up yesterday for something that every one of us routinely do. Insisting that a vendor sell her some ripe fruit.

The fruit seller who punched her, is the son of Gupta, president of the Vegetable and Fruit Seller’s Association, and is currently absconding. [Sic, sic, sic!]
Outstandingly entertaining, even if inadvertently so.
amit varma, 7:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A fictional Gujarat

That's what immigration authorities in England are having to deal with these days.
amit varma, 1:04 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Do you have a Mirror Pose?

Everyone does, writes Sagnik Nandy.
amit varma, 1:01 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Rent control in parseltongue


(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 12:33 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

No pants deserves punishment

Here's a fantastic non sequitur. The Times of India reports that Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi's nephew, Saad Bin Jung, had written in his book that Pataudi had once run in the jungle without his pants on during a tiger alert. And it quotes Dharmesh Solanki, a wildlife activist, as saying:
From the book, it is clear that Pataudi was scared of tigers, which is why he ran for his life without his pants in the forest. He must be punished for illegal hunting.
Of course, ToI might well be quoting Solanki out of context, and maybe he didn't mean it that way. But it's still a fine two sentences.
amit varma, 11:51 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


Congratulations, Arun Simha.
amit varma, 11:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Equality of Suffering

The funniest post I've read in a while: JK of Varnam tells us about Mallus and globalisation.
amit varma, 11:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blogs, wikis, debate

Primary Red of Secular-Right India has some thoughts on which you, dear reader, may have some inputs. Have a look.
amit varma, 10:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

'Change has outpaced comprehension'

Robert Samuelson writes in the Washington Post:
If economics were a boat, it would be a leaky tub. The pumps would be straining and the captain would be trying to prevent it from capsizing. Which is to say: Our ideas for explaining trends in output, employment and living standards -- what we call "macroeconomics" -- are in a state of disarray. If you're confused, you're in good company. Only recently Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan confessed again that he doesn't understand why interest rates on long-term bonds and mortgages have dropped, just when the Fed is raising short-term rates. This is but one mystery.
Samuelson goes on to explain some others. Read the full thing.

(Link via Secular-Right India.)
amit varma, 10:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Aphorism 12

[W]e are all minorities in India.
Shashi Tharoor, in "India: From Midnight to the Millennium". Tharoor's point is that there is no such thing as "an archetypal Indian", that India is so heterogenous and pluralistic that it consists of many different minorities, with no particular kind of Indian who can consider himself part of a majority. Tharoor writes: "If America is a melting pot then to me India is a thali, a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls."

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
amit varma, 10:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

If Easter Island statues spoke

My review of Jared Diamond's "Collapse" in today's Business Standard is here. Unfortunately, the website version of my piece has 24 paragraphs to the print version's eight. It reads terribly, so if you have the print edition handy, read my review there.

I hate one-sentence paragraphs, unless they're rare and for effect. Too many website editors seem to think their readers are stupid, and cannot fathom normal paragraphs. It's an arrogant attitude, and a misplaced belief. Paragraphs have a purpose, to contain modules of thought and narrative, and to break these randomly is silly. Thankfully in Cricinfo, where I've worked since 2001, one-sentence paragraphs are disdained, but on too many websites they're considered mandatory. It's received wisdom, and it's wrong.

Update (June 23): I've received a clarification that the wayward paragraphing on the website is due to a system malfunction. Fair enough.
amit varma, 10:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

It ain't easy

Kissing in the movies, that is. But mouth freshener helps. Celina Jaitley, Payal Rohtagi and Himanshu Mallik give us the details.
amit varma, 2:00 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Still searching

178 days after the tsunami struck Asia, there are places where people are still looking for, and finding, the bodies of the dead.
amit varma, 1:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The limits of decency

Mumbai Mirror reports:
Skimpily clad students can provoke incidents like the Marine Drive rape, the Mumbai University feels (never mind if the victim in this case was actually not wearing a skimpy outfit, only a black tee-shirt and blue jeans), so Vice-Chancellor Vijay Khole has called a meeting of all city college principals in the first week of July to discuss "campus attire” for students.“Students are crossing the limits of decency,” Khole told Mumbai Mirror. “After the Marine Drive rape case, we think scantily clothed students could be one of the reasons that such incidents happen."
The Shiv Sena would approve.

But seriously, for a politician to say something like that is one thing, but for the vice-chancellor of a university to hold such views, and to want to enforce a dress code for women, is shameful. The more we progress, it sometimes seems to me, the harder regressive forces try to assert themselves.
amit varma, 1:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A mass of mangled bones and blood

Indiatimes has a strange series on urban nightlife in India. I can't figure out if these accounts are made up or true, they play so close to stereotype and cliche.
amit varma, 1:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The language problem

The Times of India reports:
Forget crime, police officers have a new problem on their hand. They are looking high and low in the department for English-speaking cops. They are a must in cosmopolitan Bangalore.

With police stations and control room logging on to computers, there is a great demand for 'English' constables, head constables, assistant sub-inspectors and SIs to handle computers and file FIRs.
Apparently the department is planning to "organise English-speaking and writing classes for the constabulary" and train them in using computers. So five years from now if you find that a lot of call-center employees in Banaglore are former policemen, you'll know what caused it.
amit varma, 1:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

An opportunity missed

Could the partition of India have been avoided? Gaurav Sabnis says that as late as in 1946, it could have been, and the Congress, not Jinnah, is to blame for letting that chance go by.
amit varma, 1:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bring 'em on

Mumbai Mirror reports:
Two days after Javed Miandad confirmed that his son Junaid would marry Dawood Ibrahim's daughter Mahrooq, the Indian government has decided to treat him as persona non grata.While not officially labelling them thus, as that could provoke a Pakistani reaction, it's been decided that for all practical purposes he will be considered 'unacceptable and unwelcome' in India.What this means is that from now on, all of Miandad's requests for an Indian visa will be politely turned down.
I find this quite ridiculous. In a civilized society, you punish people only for their crimes, not for who they might be related to. Pakistan has also denied visas to a lot of Indians for flimsy reasons, but that does not mean that we get dragged down to their level. It defies logic that after welcoming Pervez Musharraf, whose government shelters Dawood, we deny Miandad a visa. (I was in favour of Musharraf's visit, of course, and will miss Miandad's entertaining buffoonery if he doesn't visit again.)

What is most bizarre is that our government doesn't even have the balls to "officially label" Miandad as persona non grata, as "that could provoke a Pakistani reaction". Have the courage of your conviction, gentlemen, one way or another. You lead a big country, and such petty behaviour belittles it.
amit varma, 12:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

More such lunatics

Bemoaning the state of Hampi, one described as "earth’s finest city," and today "a gigantic grafitti wall," and our apathy towards our heritage, Ashok Malik writes about the people who still care:
In Hampi, T.M. Keshava has spent a career tending to the ruins, so much so that his children in Bangalore tease him about his ‘‘other family’’. In Fathepur Sikri, the city Akbar built, works Munazzar Ali, a scrawny man with no personality till you see the electric eyes. Not yet 30, from a small town in Uttar Pradesh, he has spent the past year excavating a market and the equivalent of a civil hospital.

In a time when people his age dream of answering other people’s queries in gleaming, air-conditioned towers, what compels Munazzar Ali to labour day after day under the baking sun, seeking his destiny in nameless rocks and stones, each with a story to tell. A colleagues calls it dewangee, lunatic passion.

The future of India’s past needs more such lunatics.
Read the full piece.
amit varma, 12:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A survey of economic freedom

Bibek Debroy writes in today's Telegraph about the survey of economic freedom that he and Laveesh Bhandari carried out across 20 states of India. Gujarat tops the list, but as he explains, that should not be taken to be an endorsement of Narendra Modi's government.

On a related note, if you want to see where India ranks in the world in terms of economic freedom, you could download this.
amit varma, 12:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The fall guy

Sudheendra Kulkarni made a blueprint. Advani tried to follow it, and failed.

Now Kulkarni may pay the price for that.
amit varma, 12:52 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A writer and his mother

It takes a lot of courage to write about this. And even more to make a film on it.

Imagine living with it for two-and-a-half decades.

India Uncut wishes Ashok Banker all the best.
amit varma, 12:37 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The influence of films

In a characteristically charming interview, Govinda says that films do not influence people to smoke. He says:
It is absurd to state that smoking scenes in movies promote smoking. There are no facts to prove this. No research or market survey has been conducted regarding this. Films show murders too, have people started murdering each other?
But wait, films do influence people in good ways. About his forthcoming film, Sukh (Happiness), he says:
It will help in reducing divorce rates and improve sour relations among quarrelsome husbands and wives. It is a big entertainer.
He's a fine man, he is.
amit varma, 12:25 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

brahman + shorthorn + hereford = beefmaster


(Link via email from Gaurav.)
amit varma, 12:19 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On big planes and the Big Mac

Nitin Pai rounds up what bloggers are saying about the Indian economy this week.
amit varma, 12:13 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Politics and prostitution

Nivedita Menon examines the comparison made by KS Sudarshan, the RSS chief, of politics with prostitution. She writes:
He [Sudarshan] may have a point. What does a “prostitute” do? She offers a specific service, for which she charges a specific sum, and collects payment upon delivering the service. An open and honest transaction. Quite unlike politics, then. And certainly the very opposite of the RSS, whose dishonesty and subterfuge are legendary. By claiming to be a cultural rather than political organization, it controls a political party without ever having to prove its credentials by democratic means. Would the RSS dare to test itself and what it stands for in an election — even an election restricted to Hindus by birth? But then, why should it, when it can hide behind the Bharatiya Janata Party?
Read the full piece. I especially like the way it ends.
amit varma, 1:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Flood warning

If you're in Mumbai, think twice before going for a walk in the rain by the sea.
amit varma, 1:00 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Madrassa madness

Peter Bergen and Swati Pandey write about "The Madrassa Myth". JK of Varnam disagrees.
amit varma, 12:51 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

RR Patil's next target

First it was dance bars. Now it's ragging. "RR Patil plants spies in colleges," reports Mumbai Mirror.
amit varma, 12:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sweating it out

The Economist reports:
A dark suit, white shirt and unadventurous necktie have been de rigueur for generations of Japanese salary men and government employees. But this summer the government is asking them to ditch their suits in a bid to conserve energy. The campaign to use less air-conditioning is part of a plan by Junichiro Koizumi, Japan's prime minister, to cut electricity usage and reduce emissions of harmful greenhouse gases.

By government decree, thermostats in public buildings are to be set no lower than 28º C from June 1st until September.
Apparently the newspaper advertisements for this measure show Koizumi in short-sleeves. While I admire the intent behind this move, I wonder if its possible to measure the impact this has on productivity, and if any loss there is compensated by the savings. From my experience, 28º C is rather too warm, even though I never wear a suit.

(Link via email from Ujval Gandhi.)
amit varma, 12:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A shift to the centre

It isn't only pundits who've been pontificating about the BJP realising the limited value of Hindutva and shifting to the centre. It's the BJP itself. Here's an Indian Express report on a blueprint for the BJP's political future, prepared by Sudheendra Kulkarni, an influential thinker in the party who was once Atal Bihari Vajpayee's speechwriter, and is now LK Advani's. Here's an excerpt from Kulkarni's paper:
We may not like it, but here is the INESCAPABLE TRUTH OF INDIAN DEMOCRACY—at best, the BJP will remain one of the most important poles in Indian politics and, at worst, it will become a slightly larger version of the Hindu Mahasabha. But, with a narrow Hindu-only approach, never will it occupy the dominant position in Indian politics that the Congress once enjoyed... In fact, this narrow approach is the surest way of allowing the Nehru-Indira-Rajiv-Sonia-Rahul dynasty to remain alive, and as a dominant player, in Indian politics. [All caps in the original.]
Sensible thinking. But Advani's retreat after the Jinnah affair seems to have scuttled the chances of such a shift happening anytime soon. Pity. Indian politics needs the emergence of a secular-right party.
amit varma, 12:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Doritos and Reagan? Hmm...

Fill in the blanks:
[Blank one - two words] loves Doritos, hates Froot Loops, admires President Ronald Reagan, thinks Bill Clinton was "OK" and considers both Presidents George Bush "no good." He talks a lot, worries about germs and insists he is still [Blank two - three words].
Click here for the answer.
amit varma, 12:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, June 20, 2005

India Uncut Aphorism 11

We cannot increase employment by restricting trade.
1028 economists, in a protest letter against the Hawley-Smoot tariff bill, shortly before it was signed on June 17, 1930. Quoted recently in "A day of import" by Thomas Sowell, that warns against the USA repeating such a huge mistake. The truism quoted above has universal relevance, though.

(Link via Cafe Hayek.)

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
amit varma, 9:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Brajesh, sorry, Brijesh

To some, this will be endearing, a slip-up by a lady who had the grace to laugh at herself. To others, it will be infuriating, indicative of everything they find vile about the woman, most of all her foreign origin. It all depends on which lens you wear.

Without the lens, it's a non-event.
amit varma, 9:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Jabberwock gets it on with...

amit varma, 8:51 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The travels of Abu Taleb

Chandrahas Choudhury gives us a taste.
amit varma, 4:33 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

No method acting required

Mid Day announces that Amitabh Bachchan will play himself in his next three films.

Um, why did you yelp and drop that cup? No, silly reader, not "play with himself" but "play himself". Yes, there's no need to worry. He can't even smoke, for that matter.
amit varma, 4:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


In a story on hunting in Outlook, Shobita Dhar writes:
What is this mindset all about, this urge to take a life for mere amusement? Psychiatrist Dr Puneet Dwevedi feels that a hunter seeks instant gratification of his impulses. Unlike normal people, he is unable to channelise his impulses. Often they [hunters] are people who nurse insecurities arising from a rigid social support system. The hunt gives them a false sense of dominance. The next stage: if he gets social approval and appreciation for his act, he becomes addicted to the act. "The need to hunt also arises from the lack of any immediate responsibilities," says Dwevedi. "That's why one generally sees aristocrats, rich industrialists, film stars practising this blood sport."
Screw the jargon, I say. It's just a "my black buck is bigger than yours" thing. It's an old male problem, and plays itself out in different ways in different contexts. We all know what the real wildlife is here, don't we?
amit varma, 4:00 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

This weekend's blogmeet

Most of the responses to my plea for venue suggestions suggested meeting in town. So, with a heavy heart, I surrender.

Time: 3pm, Sunday, June 26
Venue: Regal Barista

If you blog and will be in Mumbai around that time, please do come. Accounts of previous blog meets, in chronological order: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
amit varma, 3:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A journalistic deja vu

Alert reader Ravi Srinivas finds that this article is rather similar to this one. The Hindu article came out first, and is dated June 19. The ANI piece, printed here in the Times of India, appears to have come out a day later. I wonder what's happening here. Is it just lazy journalism, or does the Hindu have some sort of content-sharing arrangement with ANI? Hmm.
amit varma, 2:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cow gets verse

Another cow-inspired poem, here.

Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11.
amit varma, 2:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

So what if you're poor?

You can still get into the IITs. Courtesy a cop.

Update: Kunal Sawardekar reads the small print, which I missed somehow, and finds something objectionable.
amit varma, 12:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Give the forests back

In an excellent oped in the Indian Express, Parth Shah writes:
Tigers versus Tribals: this is how the debate on the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, 2005, has been framed. If you are for tigers, you shouldn’t recognise forest rights of tribals. And if you are for tribals, then it ipso facto means that tigers are not important to you. This is a completely false dichotomy.

It is precisely to protect tigers (and trees) that we must take back our forests from the forest department and put them in the stewardship of forest dwellers.
Shah elaborates on how it is ecologically sensible to have the original forest dwellers, who have a stake in the forests, to be its caretakers. And there is also an ethical case for it. Shah writes:
[I]t must be remembered that local communities have a prior claim — a moral claim — on these resources. They have been using these resources for generations and centuries. It is on the premise of prior use that the ownership of resources has been settled in any civilised society. The privately-owned land today was at some point in time a forest. Some people cleared those forests for agricultural, residential or commercial use, and they received property titles to the cleared land. But some did not clear the forests and continued to lived in them. These forest dwellers are now refused the same process of land titling that we enjoyed. The people who kept the forests intact are being penalised for not clear-cutting them in the past as we did. It is a gross injustice not to recognise the rights of forest dwellers.
Dead right. But catch the government giving anything back.
amit varma, 11:33 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A free apartment in Mumbai

Mid Day tells you how to get one.
amit varma, 10:58 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, June 19, 2005

India Uncut Aphorism 10

Anyone taken as an individual is tolerably sensible and reasonable – as a member of a crowd, he at once becomes a blockhead.
Friedrich Schiller, the German playwright. Quoted in Collapse by Jared Diamond.

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
amit varma, 11:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The new nawabs

Whether or not Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, nicknamed "Tiger" long before it seemed ironic, will be adjudged guilty of poaching is up to the courts, writes the Telegraph. But, they point out:
[T]here is one charge that the former nawab cannot avoid being levelled against him. For more than a fortnight, he deliberately refused to cooperate with the police in investigating an illegal act. He was asked to appear before the police and he failed to turn up. The former prince became a common absconder from the law. This charge is in no way as important as the shooting of a black buck but it is suggestive of a mindset. It suggests that Pataudi believes that even though he is a citizen of the republic of India, he is above the law of the land. This attitude harks back to the time when Indian princes, big and small, ruled their principalities according to their whims and fancies; and most of them — and let this be said candidly — squandered the resources of their estates and lived debauched lives. They made little or no contribution to national life. The attitude displayed by Pataudi and his ilk is completely out of tune with the foundations of the Indian republic.
Actually, the attitude isn't in contrast with "the foundations of the Indian republic," but is enhanced by it. The Indian republic was founded on a paternalistic foundation where the state is mai-baap to the citizen, and the massive amount of discretion this gave to instruments of the state – the police, tax officials, municipal officials, the whole damn bureaucracy – made the continuation of the nawabocracy inevitable. They gave rise to a new group of elites, who got their power from that usurped by the state from the people.

When I was in college, I knew hordes of people who wanted to give the IAS (Indian Administrative Services) exam only to enjoy that power, which would put them above the law, which would make them the law. And that still continues. Influence is everything in modern India, who you are and who you know, and money plays a part in it as well. As for Pataudi, he just got unlucky, a member of the former elite failing to enjoy the privileges of the current one. Had a minister, a DCP or a chief secretary been out hunting with Pataudi, he wouldn't have had to abscond from the police, as if they were doing him an injustice. He'd be watching Parineeta instead, marvelling at his son's performance but wishing, perhaps, that he'd been a world-class cricketer instead.
amit varma, 12:26 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Killing higher education; and free markets

India's loss is China's gain, writes Gurcharan Das, describing with anguish how the attempts of a prestigious American university to set up a branch campus in India were scuttled by mindless red tape. The university eventually gave up and set up the campus in China instead.

Some people will no doubt consider such articles to be "unpatriotic". Some of the responses I got to my AWSJ oped – just a small minority, thankfully – berated me for showing just the dark side of India's liberalisation. Well, for someone who believes in free markets and globalisation, I felt it was necessary to show that dark side. The main reason I believe in opening up our economy is because it will give all Indians a chance to progress. But in reality, just a fraction of us have: people like me. This gives globalisation and free markets a bad name, and it was important to point out that the reason for India's inequalities is not the process that began in 1991, but the fact that it was wasn't widespread enough, that it touched just a fraction of the people, and crucially, that it was the state, and the vast bureaucratic apparatus set up by Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, that were coming in the way of progress.

I was one of those lucky enough to be touched by 1991 – three of the four companies I've held full-time jobs in have been multinationals who would not be in India if not for the events of that year. But too many of us get too caught up in ourselves and don't notice that most of India is still on the outside looking in. Yes, our prosperity will touch them in small ways, but televisions in slums don't count for progress if the owner of that television does not have legal entitlement to that land and a system that enables him to get ahead instead of pulling him down repeatedly. It is for him, and the millions like him, that it is important to point out what still needs to be done, and to not rest on whatever laurels we've earned.
amit varma, 11:47 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The greater man

Ramachandra Guha writes about Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi, in a follow-up to this essay.
amit varma, 11:45 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Not cow?

"RSS is our mother," says the BJP.
amit varma, 11:29 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

No questions about this one

Bangladesh has beaten Australia in a one-day international, and unlike their previous one-day wins against Pakistan (1999 World Cup) and India (December 2004), I guarantee you that no one will allege that this match was fixed. Makes you wonder why, doesn't it?

Update (8.27pm): A couple of readers thought that I was implying that this game was fixed. Quite the contrary. I believe match-fixing does not exist in international cricket today, and that Bangladesh's successes are due only to their being the better team on the day. But it upsets me that when they beat a fellow subcontinental team, everyone implies the match was fixed, but when they beat Australia such allegations don't arise. Any racism in that, you think?

In each case, the credit should go only to Bangladesh, and not to bookies.
amit varma, 12:52 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Drifting apart and coming together

The spat between the Ambanis, PTI reports, has finally been sorted out. But will they ever kiss and make up? There is someone who could teach them how to do that.
amit varma, 11:22 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

For the readers

MJ Akbar reacts to the government decision to allow facsimile editions of foreign newspapers to be printed in the country:
I am delighted with the news ... Vindicated is too strong a word, I was not at war with the Government. I was merely making a point of principle that under Article 19 of the constitution, one has the freedom to publish information. A Government cannot withhold this right without damaging the Constitution. With this, 50 years of fiction has been exposed and I must congratulate S Jaipal Reddy and Manmohan Singh who led this change.
Well, now that the government is taking steps towards modernity, Mr Akbar, allow me to make one request of you: please enable the Asian Age website to be viewed in Mozilla Firefox. I use Firefox – in fact, I cannot use IE as my old khatara PC gives me trouble whenever I open multiple windows on it – as do 37% of my readers, according to my latest sitemeter stats. That is why I never link to the Asian Age on this site, which is a pity. So revamp your website please, and show the same respect to your online readers as you do to your offline ones.

Update: Prabhu writes in to point me towards a Firefox extension called User Agent Switcher, which allows Firefox users to browse some sites that otherwise allow only IE.
amit varma, 10:44 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Who's afraid of brinjal?

Nobody. And that's just the point Anil Parab, a Mumbai gangster, has been trying to make to the police. Mid Day reports:
Dreaded gangster Anil Parab ‘Vangya’ filed an application in court stating that he should be strictly called by name, without the ‘demeaning’ suffix, Vangya.

In Marathi, vangya means a brinjal.
This is the lunch he should be given everyday in prison.
amit varma, 10:12 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A picture of India

Four legs, two wheels.
amit varma, 12:11 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, June 17, 2005

Spiritual soap

AFP reports:
Three people, one a tantric, have been charged with murder after pouring boiling oil over a four-and-a-half-year-old girl before beheading her as part of a religious sacrifice, police said Friday.

The tantric and two accomplices were arrested Wednesday at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh.

The body of the girl, named Surjo, was found in a field the previous day. She had been "beheaded, her fingers cut off and her hair burnt to a cinder", a police spokesman said.
Apparently the girl had been handed over to the tantric by a woman who was advised by him that she needed to "sacrifice a child to be cleansed spiritually". I hope she's feeling fresh now.
amit varma, 11:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Getting rid of garbage

In response to my rubbish post (that's not a value judgement), Jim O'Neil writes in:
It may be only an urban legend, I didn't verify it personally... but when I lived in New York City back in the early sixties during a garbage men's strike around Christmas, some folks took to wrapping their garbage up like Christmas presents, ribbons, bows and all, then leaving them out on their stoops or in open cars for someone to steal. The story was though that said garbage would disappear in 5 minutes!
Yes, I think that would work here as well. It wouldn't be very nice, though, if you mixed up the gift you got for your wife with the rubbish. Just when she unwraps her gift expecting a nice dress or something, out pop putrid bits of rubbish. "Um, darling, at least it's organic," you could try saying.

On second thoughts, maybe not.
amit varma, 11:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Getting out, getting in

Here's a nice picture of people thronging in and out of a Mumbai local train. It appears in a Mumbai Mirror story about the power cuts that hit Mumbai yesterday.

Also, here's an old piece by Suketu Mehta that has a few passages, towards the end, about Mumbai's trains.
amit varma, 12:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Letting go of Azaadi

Gaurav Sabnis evaluates the Hurriyat's visit to Pakistan. He sums it up thus:
So what did the visit achieve? For one, it sidelined [Syed Ali Shah] Geelani's hardline faction which still believes that terrorism is the answer in Kashmir. It sent positive messages as no venom was spewed anywhere. The Hurriyat fellows also ended up supporting [Pervez] Musharraf's "Kashmir Formula of the Week", which this week happens to suggest autonomy sans independence, something India would willingly love to talk about. So we also saw the Hurriyat, for the first time, even if tacitly, letting go of the 'Azaadi' concept.
Hmm. So what's next?

PS: The last time I asked "what's next?" it was rhetorical, but Rakesh Chaudhary nevertheless answered. Here...
amit varma, 11:50 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The value of rubbish

Take two equal heaps of garbage. Imagine a really cheap container, which itself is rather garbagelike. Put the first heap of rubbish in it. Then imagine a gleaming new container that looks worthy of other respectable uses, such as storing biriyani. Put the second pile in that. Then tell me, isn't the second pile of garbage just a wee bit more respectable?

Well, if clothes maketh a man, why can't containers maketh rubbish? Anyway, here's a Mid Day story on the Mumbai municipality's plan to enhance the value of garbage across the city.
amit varma, 11:33 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

When Marxist meets Marwari

The Telegraph reports:
As in China, so in Bengal: the party of the dispossessed — sarbaharar dal — has opened its doors to people with possessions.

Some 10-12 Hindi-speaking candidates, mostly from the Marwari community, are contesting the civic elections on Left Front tickets.
Given that the policies of the left don't benefit the dispossessed anyway, perhaps it's time they looked elsewhere. There's only so much you can achieve by making a virtue out of poverty.
amit varma, 11:14 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Nalli nihari, dal gosht, or bheja fry

Good bloggers make you think. Great bloggers make you hungry.
amit varma, 11:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Are you unfair?

If so, here's the solution.

(Link via email from Bekar.)
amit varma, 11:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Not the Trilok Gurtu kind

The Hindustan Times reports:
Female students at the King George's Medical University in Lucknow are finding it difficult to stay abreast of their lessons after an Assistant Professor created a scandal by asking them to drop their aprons.

While Chief Medical Superintendent Dr Ram Kant insists all the professor wanted to do was teach, the girls are furious that they were asked to become models for demonstrating 'percussion'.
Apparently, "percussion is a medical practice in which the infected part of the patient's body is hit with fingers while pressing it with the other hand to diagnose puss [sic] formation." And the experts said that it is not necessary for students of nutrition, as these girls are, to know this technique.

Hmm. And it isn't just the behaviour of the teacher that shows what a repressed society we live in, but also the fact that the girls are "unwilling to give anything in writing for fear they will be asked to leave the course by their parents."
amit varma, 5:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Protect us, they wailed

Rediff quotes S Jaipal Reddy, India's Information and Broadcasting Minister, as saying:
Indian editions [of foreign newspapers] are not being permitted at the moment because of apprehensions that the Indian newspaper industry will not be able to withstand the competition.
Sigh. I wish they'd put the consumers first and direct their compassion our way.
amit varma, 5:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The railway children

Aveek Sen describes them in the Telegraph:
Their ages range from three or four (they only need to be able to walk) to eighteen, when they stop being “children” legally. The most visible are between seven and twelve, for as they grow older, the adult worlds of work, crime or vagrancy take them away. And they are usually boys. The girls get trafficked or go into domestic work. Sometimes there will be a girl or two among them, but they are resented by the boys, and have to battle — fiercely or cunningly — to survive in the margins of the group, earning much less than most of the boys.
These are the railway children, a community in the margins that lives a Hobbesian life in the railway stations of India. Read Sen's piece, and also read an outstanding piece by Rohit Wadhwaney, "Raped for six feet of space", that appeared in the Times of India last year. It describes the lives of these kids in vivid detail, and tells us of how they "pay the rent [for their platform space] by letting their bodies be used and abused". When there is nothing else, your body is capital.

There's a book in this somewhere.

Update: I was wondering why the title of Sen's piece sounded so familiar, and it just struck me: it's also the title of a Seamus Heaney poem that I really like (most of the rest I don't understand). Here's "The Railway Children", from the collection, Station Island.
amit varma, 4:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

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