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.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

An intellectual disease

Anti-semitism is not "a form of racism or ethnic xenophobia," says that outstanding historian and writer, Paul Johnson. It is "an intellectual disease, a disease of the mind, extremely infectious and massively destructive. It is a disease to which both human individuals and entire human societies are prone." In a fine essay in Commentary, Johnson writes:
What strikes the historian surveying anti-Semitism worldwide over more than two millennia is its fundamental irrationality. It seems to make no sense, any more than malaria or meningitis makes sense. In the whole of history, it is hard to point to a single occasion when a wave of anti-Semitism was provoked by a real Jewish threat (as opposed to an imaginary one). In Japan, anti-Semitism was and remains common even though there has never been a Jewish community there of any size.

Asked to explain why they hate Jews, anti-Semites contradict themselves. Jews are always showing off; they are hermetic and secretive. They will not assimilate; they assimilate only too well. They are too religious; they are too materialistic, and a threat to religion. They are uncultured; they have too much culture. They avoid manual work; they work too hard. They are miserly; they are ostentatious spenders. They are inveterate capitalists; they are born Communists. And so on. In all its myriad manifestations, the language of anti-Semitism through the ages is a dictionary of non-sequiturs and antonyms, a thesaurus of illogic and inconsistency.
As I begin reading this essay, it struck me that Communism, in its "fundamental irrationality," might also be called a disease then. And indeed, Johnson makes an analogy with it later in his piece when he invokes the confirmation bias that believers (or patients?) display. He writes:
Irrational thinking is common enough in each of us; when anti-Semitism is added in, irrational thinking becomes not only instinctual but systemic. An experienced anti-Semite constantly looks for “evidence” to confirm his idée fixe, and invariably finds it—just as a Marxist, looking for “proof,” constantly uncovers events that confirm his diagnosis of how the world works. (Not surprisingly, anti-Semitic theory as evolved by the young Hegelians played a major role in the evolution of Marx’s methods of analysis.)
Johnson's piece contains a number of interesting historical observations, such as the view that Hitler's anti-semitism was "an obstacle to electoral victory" that "repelled more voters than it attracted". Johnson uses Hitler as an illustration of how the disease can be self-perpetuating:
So central was anti-Semitism to his view of the world that the repugnance of others merely confirmed, for him, the existence of the very Jewish conspiracy against which he had warned for many years. It was this same conspiracy, he threatened, that would be to blame for any war that might break out, and this war would in turn provide both occasion and justification for implementing his “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.”
Johnson ends the essay by writing that anti-Americanism shares many qualities with anti-Semitism. He writes:
That anti-Americanism shares many structural characteristics with anti-Semitism is plain enough. In France, as we read in a new study, intellectuals muster as many contradictory reasons for attacking the U.S. as for attacking Jews. Americans are excessively religious; they are excessively materialistic. They are vulgar money-grubbers; they are vulgar spenders. They hate culture; they are pushy in promoting their own culture. They are aggressive and reckless; they are cowardly. They are stupid; they are exceptionally cunning. They are uneducated; they subordinate everything in life to the goal of sending their children to universities. They build soulless megalopolises; they are rural imbeciles. As with anti-Semitism, this litany of contradictory complaints is fleshed out with demonic caricatures of particular individuals like George W. Bush. Just as 14th-century Christians once held the Jews responsible for the Black Death, Americans are blamed for all the ills of today’s world, starting with (real or imaginary) global warming. Particularly among French intellectuals, such demonization has become almost a culture, a way of life, in itself.
For more on the subject of anti-Americanism, a couple of books I'd recommend are "Occidentalism" by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit, and "Understanding Anti-Americanism", edited by Paul Hollander. Here's a review of the latter book by Victor Davis Hansen, in which he writes:
Indeed, it is almost as if people hate what they have become, aping American slang and informality and then decrying the erosion of global etiquette. Scapegoating America allows one in the concrete to enjoy jeans, birth-control pills, antibiotics, and video games, even while damning in the abstract the purveyor of both junk and life-saving appurtenances.
The world is so polarised, of course, that all of this is just preaching to the converted. Pity.
amit varma, 11:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Media coverage of the cloudburst

This post was first posted on Cloudburst Mumbai, a CollaBlog set up to deal with the aftermath of the cloudburst in Mumbai.

Mumbai was again hit hard by the rains today, but you wouldn't know it if you looked at the Indiatimes website. At the time of posting this, they mention the rain in Mumbai in just the sixth headline from the top. The first two are about cricket, but the headlines that stand out, because they are in bold text, are the third and the fifth one. And these are:

Countdown: India's top 20 socialites
Global girls: half-Indian, fully famous

I point this out because it evokes one of the important questions I think we need to ask ourselves at this time. Many of us have pointed out the ineptitude of the administration during this crisis. I think we also need to ask if our mainstream media (MSM) have let us down. While some of the coverage has been good, time and again in the last few days, we have been served up with stories centred around celebrities, and I think the news most of us want to see from our newspapers goes beyond Marc Robinson's trauma at having to wade home after a pedicure or Amitabh Bachchan's not having had a bath in three days. Or the "grumpiness all around" that comes from not getting a copy of the ToI.

Most of the bloggers who are part of this blog [Cloudburst Mumbai] have expressed similar sentiments in the last few days,and I do not believe that we are in a minority, and that the millions of people who subscribe to these MSM outlets actually prefer celebrity-oriented stories over good old-fashioned reporting in times like this. On the contrary, I think most people feel as let down as us, but have no way of expressing their feelings, and not enough choice (though that could be changing now). We are all, essentially, being taken for granted by MSM. And they no doubt believe that if a few of us vote with our wallets, it will make no difference to their bottomline.

So are they right? What is there that we can do, in practical terms, that will make a difference?

The question above is not meant to be rhetorical. Comments are enabled in the mirror of this post on Cloudburst Mumbai, feel free to give suggestions.
amit varma, 10:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Influenza: A worldwide threat

David Brown writes in the Washington Post:
Public health officials preparing to battle what they view as an inevitable influenza pandemic say the world lacks the medical weapons to fight the disease effectively, and will not have them anytime soon.

Public health specialists and manufacturers are working frantically to develop vaccines, drugs, strategies for quarantining and treating the ill, and plans for international cooperation, but these efforts will take years. Meanwhile, the most dangerous strain of influenza to appear in decades -- the H5N1 "bird flu" in Asia -- is showing up in new populations of birds, and occasionally people, almost by the month, global health officials say.
The word that strands out in the above extract: "inevitable". If or when a pandemic -- an outbreak of epidemics across continents -- does take place, most governments will shrug it off as an unforeseen calamity. But it is anything but unforeseen: check out this excellent special section on the possibility of an outbreak of avian flu in the magazine, Foreign Affairs.

(WAPO link via Primary Red who wonders if India would be ready to deal with such an epidemic. Ha.)
amit varma, 9:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A collective enterprise

Richard Posner writes in the New York Times about the blogosphere:
The model is Friedrich Hayek's classic analysis of how the economic market pools enormous quantities of information efficiently despite its decentralized character, its lack of a master coordinator or regulator, and the very limited knowledge possessed by each of its participants.

In effect, the blogosphere is a collective enterprise - not 12 million separate enterprises, but one enterprise with 12 million reporters, feature writers and editorialists, yet with almost no costs. It's as if The Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising.
Read the full piece, which examines, among other things, the perceived threat that blogs pose to the mainstream media. Posner, by and by, blogs at The Becker-Posner Blog with economist Gary Becker. It is well worth your while.

(Article link via Instapundit.)
amit varma, 6:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blog Meet cancelled

It's been raining heavily in many parts of Mumbai all night, so the blog meet scheduled for today is cancelled. Even if you stay in a part of Mumbai that isn't getting terribly heavy rain right now, please stay indoors, as more rain is forecast and it isn't worth taking a risk.

Updates on the rains will take place at Cloudburst Mumbai, and useful resources are listed at Mumbai Help. I'll focus my efforts for today on those two, so there might be no more posts on India Uncut for the next few hours.
amit varma, 11:39 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Prem Panicker rocks the blogosphere

I have never seen so many comments on a post as on this one by Prem Panicker: 1262 comments at the time of my typing this. Remarkable stuff. Prem posted just before the India-Sri Lanka game, and the comments were virtually a ball-by-ball interaction between him and his readers. Such interactions were common in the good old days when Prem would do ball-by-ball commentary for Rediff with a chat frame open on the side, and he's taking blogging to a new level here. As I'd mentioned once before with regard to Prem, this is like "a blog on steroids". Woof!
amit varma, 11:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Pointless pontification

"Do we really need 24/7 rolling news?" goes the headline of a piece in the Hindu by Hasan Suroor. I find that a rather strange question. Who is "we", and what is meant by "need"? If there is a market for 24/7 news, then it'll exist, as it should. If not, it won't.

Mr Suroor seems to be trapped in the socialist mindset in which the state is mai-baap of everyone and decides what is right for its subjects, as its intellectuals pontificate self-importantly on these matters. Well, none of the major 24/7 news channels spend tax-payers' money, nor do they infringe on anyone's rights. Whether they deserve to exist or not will thus be decided by the people -- or, to use the term the Left uses as a pejorative, by the market. That is how it should be.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 1:40 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What we do

Chandrahas Choudhury writes about a writer at work.
amit varma, 1:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blog Mela and Blog Meet

I'm very impressed by the latest Blog Mela, put up by Nitai. It has a nice format, and he's thought out-of-the-box, if I may get my monthly use of jargon out of the way. Good show.

You will no doubt spend all of today sampling the delights Nitai serves up. But what will you do tomorrow? Stop scratching your head, I have just the pleasurable activity for you. Come to the Mumbai Bloggers' Meet. As Ravikiram reminds us, it's at 3pm at Prithvi Theatre in Juhu.
amit varma, 11:17 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

For the sake of the workers

"If you force the industry to compulsorily allow unionisation," writes Ravikiran Rao, "you will end up retarding industrial growth and causing massive unemployment, as they have managed in Kerala and West Bengal." He continues:
Here’s an idea - do away with our awful labour laws. If we need to have them, they should only provide for enforcement of contracts between workers and the management. Make the right to form unions and the right to strike presumptive rights - i.e. valid unless the workers agree not to do so, as a condition of employment. You will find that the lot of workers will improve from the only cause it has ever done - a tight labour market.
Here's the full post, in which he argues, as Nitin Pai had done earlier, that "the brutality in Gurgaon is a case for labour reforms, not against." I agree.

My earlier posts on Gurgaon: 1 and 2.
amit varma, 11:04 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Ludwig rocks

Beethoven pumps the Beatles, U2, Coldplay and every pop act on this planet when it comes to internet downloads. I wonder when he's touring.
amit varma, 10:28 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The violence continues

There have been blasts in Srinagar, and five shepherds in Rajouri have had their throats slit by militants. Meanwhile, the police warns that terrorists are stepping up activity with India's Independence Day celebrations, on August 15, in mind.
amit varma, 9:22 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Lie like a floppy

Wouldn't you love it (if you're a man) if Rani Mukherjee said these things about you:
At times all he wants to do is lie in my lap like a floppy. You should watch him do that. He won't move a single muscle in his body, feels like a lump! And then there are times when he will just not rest. He is all over the place. Try getting a hold on him and he crawls and hides under the table. Such a mischief maker, I tell you.
Yes, wouldn't you love it if you were Rani Mukherjee's doggy? (Monstrously written piece, by the way. And it isn't even MSM, so what excuse do they have?)
amit varma, 9:07 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

One hell of a taxi ride

The Indian Express examines the audit reports of the Sports Authority of India, and finds some bizarre expenses. They report:
For instance, in the 2002-03 SAI audit report (the latest), the auditors objected to the irregular manner in which SAI raised bills for hiring taxi for former ministers, BJP’s Uma Bharati and Vikram Verma, to the tune of Rs 87,483 for a single day, August 31, 2002. Interestingly, Verma who succeeded Bharati was the minister on that day.

The auditors noted: "All the bills are verified by Shri Ravinder Singh, PA to the Minister (Uma Bharati). Such expenditure could not be allowed as expenditure of the society as the Ministers of the Government of India do not travel in taxis."


Besides this entry for taxi bills, there are other entries of a "similar nature." Two other taxi vouchers for Bharati and Verma have been raised by SAI for Rs 98,479 and Rs 98,230—for October 31, 2002 and January 21, 2003.
And there's more. Note that this is our money, it comes from the taxes that we pay. I find it odd that so many people, especially on the Left, scoff at the opulent lifestyle of celebrities, who spend their own money, but don't cavil much about the monstrous misuse of our funds by the government. In fact, they often want to expand the role of government, giving it more discretion and thus more scope for corruption and wastage. Strange.
amit varma, 8:44 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Advani or BHEL

The Left can't decide which is the more important issue. Heh.
amit varma, 8:40 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Still far from normal

I've posted an update on the aftermath of the cloudburst in Mumbai here. More updates will follow on that blog, by a variety of contributors.
amit varma, 8:37 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Namesake

Um, this isn't me. But he's a good actor and I wish him well.

(Link via Vikram Arumilli.)
amit varma, 8:32 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cloudburst Mumbai

Peter Griffin has just started a CollaBlog called Cloudburst Mumbai, meant specifically to deal with "[n]ews and links to news about the cloudburst on the 26th July, 2005, and its aftermath." I'm pleased to be a contributor there, and if you would like to be one, please email me or Peter (zigzackly AT gmail DOT com). We can do with all the help we can get.

While Mumbai Help will hopefully grow to be an invaluable resource in times of trouble in Mumbai, Cloudburst Mumbai will deal specifically with this tragedy. You are welcome to be a part of both if you feel you have something to contribute.
amit varma, 12:20 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, July 29, 2005

Announcing Mumbai Help

Peter Griffin, the man behind Tsunami Help, has teamed up with Sunil Nair and started Mumbai Help, a CollaBlog (or collaborative blog; the neologism is Peter's) that intends to be an information resource for people in Mumbai, especially at times like this. In Sunil's words: "Here is an attempt to list articles, addresses, people, places, anything that will help when disaster hits Mumbai next time." Peter explains more here.

It is a fabulous initiative, and should you wish to be a part of it, write to Peter and he will send you an invite. His email id is: zigzackly AT gmail DOT com. People from outside Mumbai are welcome to join, as in times of crisis residents of the city might well be unable to blog, and people from outside could play an invaluable role in putting important information online.

PS: I've made my last update on the situation in Mumbai on my post "Words and pictures from Mumbai". For more updates and information, Mumbai Help is the place to go to. (Update: So is Cloudburst Mumbai. See here.)
amit varma, 11:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Maternity tests?

I am clearly not intellectually equipped to read that bestselling newspaper, the Times of India. I cannot, to cite one example, understand this line:
[W]hy should cuckolded men insist on paternity tests when their spouses explore other relationship options, even as betrayed women do not seem as obsessed?
I fail to fathom what this means. Are there really women who take maternity tests to ensure that they actually are the mothers of the children they have given birth to? Chee, there is a lot I need to learn about the world. And now I know which newspaper to read.

(Link via SMS from Gaurav.)
amit varma, 10:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Words and pictures from Mumbai

I'm post-dating this post to make it sticky so that it's on top of this page for at least today. It will be updated constantly. Scroll down for new posts. Click here for my account of the rains, "Streets like rivers".

Of the many startling pictures of the devastation caused by the rain in Mumbai, this and this are worth looking at. They are part of a small slideshow put together by Rediff here.

Rediff has also collected first-person accounts from many people across Mumbai. Pictures on TV show people actually swimming through the water in some parts of Mumbai, as well as some makeshift boats.

Meanwhile, a fire has broken out on an ONGC oil platform near Mumbai, and rescue operations are on.

Update: More pictures here.

Update 2: The state government has set up a 24-hour helpline. The numbers are 22027990 and 22793551. (Numbers via Mumbai Mirror's useful information page.)

Update 3: Here are the latest reports from the Times of India, Mid Day, the Indian Express, and the Telegraph. Rediff has a whole bunch of stories on it as well.

Update 4: Uma has more here and here.

Update 5: One friend can't get out of Mumbai and another can't get in. Sonia has vivid accounts of being stuck in a plane, being deplaned and then another long wait in a hotel lobby before somehow managing to make it back home. Meanwhile, Rahul battles his way through the Konkan region of Maharashtra, which is quite as badly hit.

Update 6: "Mumbai limping back to normalcy," reports Rediff. The airport is operational again, reports Mid Day. The Times of India reports that the India Meteorological Department has warned that Gujarat may now face similar downpours. (NDTV reports that those rains have already begun.)

Update 7: Gaurav Sabnis hears water outside his door even though he lives on the fifth floor. He looks out through the window and finds himself "in the middle of a sea." He manages to get out, and finds "bloated carcasses of buffaloes" on the highway. Read his accounts here and here.

Update 8: Ravikiran Rao, who had many of us worried, blogs about his experience in the rain, and how the road that led to his home simply got "washed away". It's a vivid account. Meanwhile, the government dispels rumours of a tsunami hitting Mumbai, and Arun Simha constructs a tongue-in-cheek narrative of what will happen next, part of which stars Ravikiran.

NDTV has an update on Thane, and things look bad in Ahmedabad. Here's the latest update on the ONGC fire, and here's an estimate of the economic costs of the incident. Also, Amardeep Singh, guest-blogging on Sepia Mutiny, rounds up events and starts an interesting discussion. And Reuben Abraham points out that Mumbai received more rainfall on Tuesday than London does in a year.

Update 9: Anup examines how "different infrastructure systems including drainage, power, telephones, transportation collapsed in a short amount of time." And Rashmi Bansal expresses her outrage.

Update 10 (July 29): Uma is rightly aghast that our largest newspaper has lost all sense of proportion. The Times of India behaves as if the worst part about the rains was that some people couldn't get a copy of ToI, and quotes Ajit Wadekar as saying: "Only when I didn't get the Times of India on Wednesday morning did I really realise the full fury of the rains." Other luminaries chip in with similar comments, no doubt not wishing to endanger their Page 3 coverage.

Meanwhile, 16 people died in a stampede caused not by the ToI turning up at a nearby newsstand, but by rumours of a tsunami. And bodies are still being excavated from Kalina, one of the worst-hit areas. And since we're obsessed with celebrities, the Indian Express gives us an account of what some of our favourite people were up to.

Mumbai Mirror tells us about the city's disaster management plan, created in 2003 with the help of the World Bank but not implemented when disaster struck. It also takes us through the events that led to Mumbai High catching fire. And Jitendra Mohan recounts his own experience of being part of a much smaller fire on a different platform.

Update 11: AFP reports that the latest death toll in Maharashtra is 900, as the meteorological department warns that more rains are expected to strike Maharashtra. Maharashtra's chief minister has defended his administration against charges of ineptitude. Meanwhile, PTI has reported that a dance-bar owner begun the rumours of a dam burst and a tsunami, that led to a stampede and many deaths. "[T]hree bar girls [and] two eunuchs" were also allegedly involved.

Gaurav is collating incidents of generosity by Mumbaikars here. Jitendra has pics of Bombay High North: before, and after (here, here, here and here.) And Rediff has collected a bunch of riveting first-person accounts here. Also, Marc Robinson describes his trauma of having to wade home after a pedicure and manicure. (Link via Sonia.)

Update 12: This is the last update I shall post here. For more on this tragedy, please check Mumbai Help, a CollaBlog started by Peter Griffin and Sunil Nair. That will be constantly updated with news and lists of resources.

Update 13: One more update: Peter has started another CollaBlog called Cloudburst Mumbai, specifically to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy. All further relevant news updates will be made there, while Mumbai Help will be where important information is collated. If you would like to become a contributor to Cloudburst Mumbai, please email me or Peter (zigzackly AT gmail DOT com).
amit varma, 11:23 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bomb goes off on Patna-Delhi train

There was at least one explosion on the Shramjeevi Express while it was travelling from Patna to Delhi, and at least two deaths have been reported. No news yet of who was behind the blast.

It's been a violent week.
amit varma, 7:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sing for your visa

That's what Indian singers are made to do at the US Consulate.
amit varma, 7:07 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Son makes it big

Daddy gets sacked. Irfan Pathan's father, Mehboob Khan Pathan, has been fired by the mosque where he worked for 35 years. His diagnosis: "They are jealous because of my sons' fame and success in cricket." Quite likely.
amit varma, 6:40 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Poor Peter

Mr Mukerjea had to walk home. Can you imagine?
amit varma, 6:39 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monster raga

Balamurali Krishna schmoozes Amma.

(Link via GreatBong.)
amit varma, 6:29 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Nugget 12

She felt terribly sorry for people who suffered from constipation, and she knew that there were many who did. There were probably enough of them to form a political party -- with a chance of government perhaps -- but what would such a party do if it was in power? Nothing, she imagined. It would try to pass legislation, but would fail.
From "The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith. An utterly charming book.

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
amit varma, 2:06 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

More thoughts on Gurgaon

A number of Indian bloggers have weighed in after I last posted on the violence in Gurgaon. Kunal Sawardekar is worried that "misplaced rants about workers rights" will enable the miscreants among the workers to go free. Ravikiran Rao argues that "the policemen should be punished more than the guilty workers [my emphasis]." Nitin Pai sees this as "a wake-up call to the Indian government to speed up labour reform." And Primary Red of Secular-Right India laments that we, the people, have "rarely made good policing an issue in our elections."

Meanwhile, spokespersons of the Left like Brinda Karat have been all over the airwaves talking about workers' rights and oppressive capitalists and so on. In this regard, the Indian Express wisely comments:
The Left obviously sees political potential in bringing militant trade unionism to Delhi’s doorstep. It is a sobering thought that the very phenomenon has reduced the stretch from Kanpur to Kolkata to an industrial wasteland. That is why it is important to recognise the Gurgaon violence as a horrible aberration — not a televised episode of class struggle.
Dead right.

Update: Here's another Indian Express editorial that wonders if the Left will target sushi bars next.
amit varma, 12:24 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Streets like rivers

It’s amazing how activity in a major city like Mumbai can be so suddenly disrupted, its people cut off from each other, within a matter of a couple of hours. Yesterday we planned to make a trip to our CA after lunch, but cancelled it after hearing thunderclaps. Nevertheless, I thought I’d go for a coffee to In Orbit after doing a little blogging. It started raining. I did my blogging, looked outside, and saw that the streets were flooded. Knee-deep water. The rain was coming down so hard that the buildings on the other side of the road were hazy, uncertain shapes. I could have been imagining them. Had I gone out anywhere, getting back would have been difficult.

By evening, the water outside was thigh-deep. We turned on the TV for news, all we got was static. It was a wonder that we still had power, and life isn’t wonderful for long, so the power went as well. We were stuck in darkness, trapped in our second-floor apartment, high enough to stop flood-water coming in, low enough to avoid the inevitable leaks from the roof of the building.

My mobile phone battery was running out, and the signal it received was intermittent. The news I got wasn’t encouraging. One blogger friend was stuck in an aeroplane at the airport, waiting to take off as the runway got more and more flooded. Another was travelling in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, where I heard things were so bad that food packets were being air-dropped. I couldn’t get through to him. Yet another one told me that these were the worst rains he had ever seen in Mumbai, a diagnosis confirmed today – this was India’s worst-ever rainfall. And it would last 48 hours, we were told. The electricity supply had been switched off because of the flooding, and would not resume till the water level got back to normal.

For a while in the evening it stopped raining. Young men and children came out to frolic in the water, which was muddy and filthy. Bits of garbage floated on it, and a few plastic bags. The afternoon air had been filled with the crying of street dogs,who ran from one corner of the street to another, trying to get to higher ground. The hour in the evening when the rain held up was filled by the noises of excited children. Some sat on the road divider, dangling bare legs into murky water, still at the age when they enjoyed the water and did not think of the dirt and disease it carried. Then the rains came down again.

The night seemed unreal because it was so dark outside. Even at night we are used to little bits of light here and there: streetlights in the distance; glimmers from windows of buildings; at least stars. The only light we saw, besides the candle inside and the sporadic lightning outside, was from the occasional car gliding through the water, one-third of it submerged, its headlights warning of its arrival in front of our window from a distance. The dark, still water would be disturbed by first ripples and then waves of light and dark, and then the car itself, resolving no doubt to never make fun of boats again. One car broke down in the middle of the road, and the driver abandoned it, leaving its indicator lights flickering all night, so people would know it was there.

Every year in Mumbai there are at least one or two days when life comes to a halt and streets are flooded. If you happen to be in office when it happens, you are invariably stuck there overnight. If are unlucky enough to be commuting, you could spend hours in whatever mode of transport you choose, though often walking makes more sense. Walking 30-40 kilometres in knee-deep water isn’t unusual. Once, when I lived in Chembur, my room-mates had to walk all the way from VT to Chembur through flooded streets. At King's Circle, they waded through chest-deep water. One of them needed to pee, and he did it in his pants. When I expressed surprise at this later he asked, “So how would you have done it?”

And yes, I also slipped into a manhole many years ago near Chembur station. Wading through thigh-deep water, I suddenly felt no ground beneath my feet, and found myself slipping. A couple of men immediately behind me caught me and pulled me. It could have been them slipping through instead of me. That’s one thing about Mumbai: people help each other, because they know that we’re all in it together. You look out for the guys around you, and they look out for you. It’s self-interest.

The rains had stopped by mid-morning today, though the lights took till evening to come. I read some, slept some. The streets were no longer flooded by afternoon, so we went out and had a coffee at a Café Coffee Day that was open nearby. The electricity was coming back to the city in phases, and that welcome clicky sound, and the whirr of the fan starting up, came in the evening, after more than 24 hours without power. We turned on the TV, and the pictures were pretty scary: streets like rivers; thousands of cars abandoned in the highway; and everyhere, brown muddy water. Our city had become its drainage system; soon, that would go underground again, and life would be normal. Until next year.

Note to readers: more rains are forecast, the power may go again, so my blogging may be irregular for a day or two. For further updates on the rains, check Rediff, Mid-Day and NDTV.

Update (July 28): I've been keeping track of things here.
amit varma, 8:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Bulls and cows

"[T]he sex ratio for cattle is an extremely good indicator of the state’s level of economic development," writes Bibek Debroy in Business Standard, in an article where he introduces us to the delightful acronym, CSR (Cattle Sex Ratio). It's an excellent piece for more than just bovine reasons, though, as Debroy examines innovative ways to measure economic development. Read it if you're not distracted by the sounds of orgasmic moos in your mind's naughty ear.

(Link via email from NS Ramnath.)

Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13.
amit varma, 2:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Genes for obesity

A fat accompli.
amit varma, 10:40 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Revenue stream for a sacked policeman

amit varma, 10:38 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Spaces for lovers

Check out this nice essay by Janaki Nair in the Telegraph examining how repressive moral codes and "[r]egional cultural nationalism" are eliminating the freedom of women across the country.

She also notes that Kolkata is that rare Indian city that tolerates couples in public spaces. Well, I've noticed one such enclave cropping up in Mumbai itself. The In Orbit Mall in Malad, Mumbai's biggest, has a food court on the third floor that is, well, fairly large by Indian standards. The main section of the food court is generally crowded and noisy, and I prefer to go and sit at the far end, which is quieter. Well, recently I got myself a sandwich and a frappe and went over and sat at my usual place, and suddenly noticed, to my immense embarrassment, that I was surrounded by young couples, some of them snogging with abandon. My quiet corner had become a couples zone, and here I was, all alone with hordes of couples all around me.

Instantly I put my lips around my sandwich.
amit varma, 10:24 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Ash champions diversity

Aishwarya Rai has just won The Next Step World Diversity Champion award, according to IndiaFM. The report informs us:
The actress is honored and hopes that people will stop labeling her as giggly and frivolous beauty. (Sic.)
Ok, sorry, we'll stop now.
amit varma, 10:12 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, July 25, 2005

Don't cry

"Ro mat, ro mat," he said. "Is boat mein motor hai."

(Apologies to non-Hindi speakers; this PJ is untranslatable.)
amit varma, 11:55 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Barbarism at the gate

For the last three hours or so, the news channels have been full of pictures from a clash between agitating workers of Honda and the Haryana police in Gurgaon. They're brutal pictures. In some of them, the workers thrash policemen mercilessly with lathis, with one of them begging for mercy at one point. They ae also shown burning a police jeep after first trying to bash it up with sticks.

In the other pictures, the police thrash workers, some of them defenceless and cringing on the ground, with lathis, as berserk as the workers had been in the earlier scenes. It's quite monstrous, a complete breakdown of humanity or, as Hobbes would perhaps say, a demonstration of it.

It is unclear, at the time of writing, exactly what happened, and which events sparked off the confrontations. Either way, it is irrelevant whether the workers attacked the policemen first, as Star News indicated was the way it happened (and so did Randeep Singh Surjewala, the Haryana minister), or the police made the first move. All the beatings were unnecessary, and all the guilty men, with or without uniform, should be punished.

The opposition parties are already trying to politicise this issue, which is sad, because the principles of the case go beyond party politics, and the Haryana government has responded suitably. They have announced a timebound enquiry into the incident (15 days, I heard someone say), focussed their efforts on treating the wounded, and have promised to punish those guilty of violence, including policemen whose actions went beyond the call of duty. That seems fair enough to me, and we should withhold judgement on what they do next until those 15 days are up.

Sections of the opposition are trying to make it a brutal-police-v-oppressed-workers issue, which is unfortunate. George Fernandes came on Aaj Tak and said (rough translation from Hindi):
One must understand that these workers did not have a job, and must have been hungry. We don't know what troubles they were facing. In such a situation if a few stones get thrown, what's the big deal? The police are used to that anyway.
Well, firstly, it was far more than "a few stones". Secondly, to condone any kind of violence is just plain wrong, even if it is retrenched factory workers who are the perpetrators. (Fernandes was a disruptive union leader in his youth.)

The larger problem here is of the large number of under-educated and unemployed young men in this country, whose frustrations, which often find outlets like this, need to be addressed. That cannot happen through mere redistribution of wealth, for economics is not a zero-sum game, and redistribution never works. It can only happen if we enable all these people to become part of the free markets that have benefited some sections of the country, but not others. As I'd mentioned here, a complete removal of the license raj and a rehaul of our labour laws are essential if this is to happen. Entrepreneurship will get a big boost, the manufacturing sector will grow as it should have decades ago, and employment will consequently zoom.

But I suspect the larger issues here will be ignored, and in the coming days we'll just see politics in parliament, not statesmanship of the kind needed to take India forward.

Update (July 26): Subra Srinivasan has more here.
amit varma, 11:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sarfaroshi ki tamanna

Arun Simha writes in pointing out an error in the Jerry Rao piece I'd linked to here. At one point, Rai had referred to "Manmohan Singh’s first budget where he quoted an Urdu poem offering to sacrifice his head." Arun informs us that Singh had actually said:
Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai
dekhna hai zor kitna bazuen qatil mein hai

[I have the zeal of valour in my heart.
Let us see how strong the rival is!]
That is, Arun writes, a couplet by Ramprasad Bismil.
amit varma, 11:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


Moments ago it wasn't now yet.

Isn't that amazing?
amit varma, 12:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Government like cancer

Jerry Rao writes:
Clearly we need an unambiguous platform that calls for a minimalist non-predatory state, a platform that recognises that but for Avadi, we would today be as rich as Korea or Malaysia. We would not have barefoot children begging in the horror-stricken moonscapes of contemporary urban India. We would not have two hundred million citizens, or shall we correctly call them “subjects” of our socialist state, going to bed hungry each night.

We have no money for a well-paid police force or a well-staffed court system or for well-paved roads or for working schools or for employment for the rural poor giving them wages, mind you not doles! We have plenty of money for Ministries of Steel, Fertilisers, Coal, Chemicals, Petroleum, Civil Aviation and Banking with dozens of ministers, scores of secretaries, hundreds of joint secretaries and thousands of deputy secretaries. We never have shortage of funds for growing malignant government cells, but are always short of money for pursuing the proper ends of government.
Later in his piece, Rao echoes the sentiment I'd expressed here, when he writes:
We all know that radical reforms make an impact only after some lags. We are today reaping the benefits of the reforms of fifteen years ago. But the Congress party seems to be shifting back to weak-kneed socialism. It is as if the embrace of reforms was entirely under duress, not a matter of conviction. Keeping Luddite coalition partners happy seems to take precedence over economic sanity.
Yes. Read the full piece, in which he hopes for the emergence of a party like C Rajagopalachari's Swatantra Party, and for "a Thatcher-Reagan revolution".

My musings on a similar subject: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
amit varma, 11:48 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Schoolyard bullies

That's how these two are behaving.
amit varma, 11:45 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Love and hate

I am baffled by two kinds of people:

Those whose love goes to strange extents, like this vegetable vendor who watched a Rajnikanth film for 100 days in a row.

And those who hate without rational reason, the kind Githa Hariharan writes about in this nice essay in the Telegraph.

Or maybe it's just one kind, and not two?
amit varma, 2:27 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Customs superintendents lose their weekends

That's because there's a North Korean ship carrying arms and ammunition heading towards India.
amit varma, 2:25 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

It's a dog's life

Every male bibliophile's dream: to go to a book sale and meet two cute girls who pat you continuously for half an hour. That's just what happened to Whisky.
amit varma, 2:21 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Devastated in heaven

Reacting to this post, Ammani sends me this poem by John Agard:
You'll be greeted
by a nice cup of coffee
when you get to heaven
and strains of angelic harmony.

But wouldn't you be devastated
if they only serve decaffeinated
while from the percolators of hell

your soul was assaulted
by Satan's fresh espresso smell?
Nice. And how would you react if you saw a new coffee shop in your neighbourhood named "Satan's Fresh Espresso"? Me, I'd pop right in.
amit varma, 1:58 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Earthquake but no tsunami

There's been a fairly big earthquake, measuring 7.2 on the Richter Scale, off the Nicobar coast. No loss of life or property has yet been reported, and the government has said that there is "no threat of a tsunami".
amit varma, 1:56 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Georgie Porgie Puddingy Pie

George Fernandes, reacting slightly late, describes Manmohan Singh's qualified praise of the British Raj in his speech at Oxford as an "insult to martyrs".

Listen George, I just had an ouija board session last night with a whole bunch of martyrs, and they didn't feel insulted by the speech at all. They were complaining, though, that they can't get expresso in heaven because it's the colour of hell. Now that's a problem. But what do you care?
amit varma, 3:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The magic of a kiss

Chandrahas Choudhury writes about "The Kiss", a short story by the incomparable Anton Chekov. Good stuff.
amit varma, 3:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

House of Premji

JK of Varnam is rather amused by Azim Premji's blabber about Infosys here.

Meanwhile Sify reports that Premji, who is India's richest man, has taken a housing loan. Must be some house he's buying.
amit varma, 2:09 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Megapsycho megastars

"This is a country of big, of mega, and these are megastars having megabreakdowns, and we are megainterested," writes Vanessa Grigoriadis in a superb article about celebrity in America. The accompanying pictures rock as well.
amit varma, 2:00 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blogs and short attention spans

In my essay about short attention spans, I'd written at one point: "One of the reasons that blogs are gaining in popularity along the world, in fact, is that they cater to the short attention span: the most popular typically have brief, pithy posts that efficiently encapsulate the subject they’re on about."

Well, reader Rajeev Sivaram writes in to give me a contrary point of view. He writes:
With regard to blogs in this context, somewhat ironically perhaps, at least from my perspective, I've found them causing in me the opposite phenomenon. Thanks to the pithy observations of bloggers such as yourself, I think I'm ending up reading a lot more interesting articles and essays in their entirety now than I would have if I depended exclusively on type gateways (which I used to rely almost exclusively on before). Machine extraction of article headlines falls way short of human precis in the information conveyed, and like a good blurb, that information in blogs serves to cause more reading from me than less. Not only that, with blogs I can now read good writers write in depth without the external editor-enforced brevity.
Good point. In a way, in fact, it reinforces my point about blogs being ideal for people with short attention spans, or not much time to spare. If you like to read a lot, but don't have the time or the patience to scour through the web for articles of interest every day, it is useful to find a blogger whose taste is similar to yours, and who'll pick out the best stuff for you, and that too for free. I began reading a lot more on the net after I discovered Instapundit, and blogs like Marginal Revolution and the outstanding Cafe Hayek have also, in indirect ways, expanded my reading. So go find your blogger, and let him serve you. Or become a blogger yourself.
amit varma, 1:15 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Where's my wallet?

If you're reading this from Delhi, I hope you're happy now. You won, ok? But don't gloat too much, we'll strike back next year. We're going for some shopping therapy now.
amit varma, 11:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The fake MMS industry

The Hindustan Times reports:
This may come as good news for Mallika Sherawat. The Mumbai Police claim to have busted a well-organised gang which was producing and distributing X-rated videos in MMS and other digital formats, and passing them off as those involving former and reigning Bollywood actors.

The seized clips have the faces of well-known Indian and Hollywood stars morphed on to original blue films. In some cases, lookalikes have been used instead of the usual "cut and paste" job.
So if Aishwarya Rai's waxwork is stolen from Madame Tussauds, you'll know who took it. It'd act a whole lot better than her, of course, and a drunk Salman Khan could have long conversations with it. "This is just the way I like you," he'd say at the end of the conversation. "You didn't contradict me even once. Now may I, um, drive over you once please. Please pretty please. Or I'll tell bhai."
amit varma, 11:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Climbing the pole

TN Ninan writes:
They say about people that you learn about them from studying their behaviour as they climb up the greasy pole. The gap between what they say and do when they are low down the pole, and what they say from the top, gives you the measure of the man.

If so, can the same thing be said about countries? Whether the thesis is valid or not, India presents an interesting case study.
Read the full thing. It's one of those pieces that does not give you answers, but helps you ask interesting questions.
amit varma, 11:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Why did Priyanka Chopra cry?

Because she was made to undress Akshay Kumar.

So writes Anupama Chopra in the New York Times, in an article that features the bogeyman term "consumerism", and quotes an academic describing Mallika Sherawat as a "postfeminist icon". Makes me want to cry, I tell you, such pretentious twaddle.

(Link via email from Olinda DoNorte.)
amit varma, 11:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Demolition Man

Narayan Rane has resigned from the Maharashtra state legislative assembly and has joined the Congress party. One line in the Mumbai Mirror report intriugues me: "Sources said Rane declined Sonia's offer to work in the Union government as a central minister."

I thought Manmohan Singh was the head of government. Anyway, Rane refused. According to a Congress member, "He wanted to be in Mumbai and complete his work in demolishing the Sena."

Well, good luck with that.
amit varma, 11:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

SMS satyagraha

Mumbai Mirror reports:
After conventional protests failed to stop the Thane Municipal Corporation from dumping garbage at a vacant plot near their houses, 627 families of Saket Complex in Thane earlier this week badgered the concerned TMC officers with SMSes. So intense was the onslaught that began on the morning of July 19 that the TMC changed some of its officials' cell numbers.Not to be outdone, the protestors took just two days to get hold of the new numbers and unleashed a fresh flurry of messages.
Heh. So you can change the world with instant messaging.
amit varma, 11:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Water and fire

Take a look at the bucket of water in the picture that accompanies this article. It's been certified safe to drink by the BMC, despite a wave of illnesses in the area where it's available.

Mumbai's firemen also have a problem with water availability.

Things aren't too good with water supply in many parts of Mumbai: water comes at my house three hours a day, and we have to make sure that someone's at home at that time to fill the overhead tanks. My building is worse off than some others because the khadoos power-tripping secretary of my housing society refused, out of misguided principle, to give a bribe to a BMC fellow. That was two months ago, and we've been screwed since.

Maybe I should go off on a holiday. The Roach Motel sounds like fun.
amit varma, 10:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, July 22, 2005

India Uncut Nugget 11

You just wait for the next world, you civilians, then we clergy will show you who's going to be saved. You may have the upper hand now but later on you're really going to be in the shit.
Père Marais, a French priest, teasing Julian Barnes about his atheism during a stint Barnes had as a lecteur d'anglais at the Collège Saint-Martin in Rennes in 1966-67. Quoted in Barnes's fine book of essays on France, "Something to Declare".

I'm an atheist, by the way, and I think we're all in the shit. Let's have fun while it lasts.

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
amit varma, 5:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Beautiful scatty minds

The piece below has been published in the latest issue (30/07/05) of Tehelka in a slightly shorter form. It has my photo along with it, and thankfully you can't see my paunch.

A couple of years ago, a tabloid in one of India’s metros called in a consultant to help them make the newspaper more reader-friendly. “Keep stories short,” he advised. Shorter stories, snappy paragraphs, simple sentences; suck the reader in and spit him out before he gets bored. This is the age of the short-attention span, and we see it all around us.

It’s there in the journalism. Tabloids keep their stories brief. Agency copy often consists entirely of one-sentence paragraphs: news for dummies. Magazines have found that the pages that readers turn to most are the snippetty ones, that don’t make demands on the reader’s time – like the last page of India Today, or the second- and third-last of Outlook. One of the reasons that blogs are gaining in popularity along the world, in fact, is that they cater to the short-attention span: the most popular typically have brief, pithy posts that efficiently encapsulate the subject they’re on about.

We see this also in the way we consume music. Soon, all music will be sold in the form of digital downloads, which is convenient because most people prefer to buy songs rather than albums, preferring to listen to a familiar song they like over and over rather than explore an artist’s oeuvre. It’s all a-la-carte now, and concept albums might soon be the dinosaurs of music. Television channels have also recognised this: MTV India found years ago that their maximum-TRP shows were their so-called vignettes, the two-to-three minute snippets that viewers can consume easily, like MTV Bakra and Filmi Fundas. We are hungry for the easily digestible. Ten-course meals? Sorry, no time, could you summarise please?

Television, in fact, is often blamed as a cause and not a symptom of this. Camille Paglia recently wrote: “The jump and jitter of U.S. commercial television have demonstrably reduced attention span in the young. The Web too, with its addictive unfurling of hypertext, encourages restless acceleration.” But when we talk of attention spans, are we referring to the amount of time we choose to spend on any one thing, or the amount of time we are able to spend on it. Paglia infers that it is the latter; I am not so sure.

Consider that over the last century, there has been a drastic jump in the IQs of humans, across races and gender. There has also been a tremendous increase in productivity, and advances in science and the arts – if we consider new art forms like cinema and popular music. And while every generation moans about “how good things were in our time”, every generation equally, if grudgingly, admits that kids today are smarter than they used to be. Our children will, in most cases, end up more accomplished than us. If short-attention spans are on the increase, and if that is a bad thing, why have we kept moving ahead as a species, and at such a rapid rate?

Scholars like to point to how cases of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), the medical term for the disease that people with chronic short-attention-span problems have, are on the increase. But there are two reasons for this: one, reporting and diagnosis of the disease have increased, not the disease itself; and two, Americans have tended, in the last couple of decades, towards excessive pharmacology, treating even minor deviances from normal behaviour as medical conditions. If a kid doesn’t pay attention in class, it’s because kids sometimes are like that, and medication isn’t necessarily the solution. Are we going to medicate kids next because they don’t listen to their parents, or men because their eyes rove, or women because they like to shop?

In short, what I am postulating is this: the genuine medical condition of ADD is not necessarily on the rise, and that most of us who have short attentions spans have them because of a lifestyle that we have to adopt to navigate the modern world efficiently.

The world is full of more information than ever before. Sensory information, intellectual information, information about information. Close your eyes for a second and imagine that you‘ve been taken back in a time machine to 1900. Now think of all the things that you can do to entertain yourself: books you can read (if you’re part of the elite that does), movies you can watch (ha), music you can listen to (live concerts or bathroom singing?), and so on. You get the picture (or not). Today, on the other hand, we are constantly in the middle of a sensory overload.

This is not just true in the case of entertainment, but in every facet of our lives. In this information age, no matter what job we hold, we deal with far more information, from many more sources, and we need to cope with all of this in order to deal with it effectively. The only way to handle it is in a modular way: break up what we have to do into discrete slices and handle them one by one.

In a typical half-hour of leisure, for example, you could have a watch-Coldplay-video module, dash-off-an-email module, fix-up-a-meeting-with-friends-at-Barista-by-SMS module, read-a-post-or-two-at-India-Uncut module and make-coffee-in-microwave-cause-it’s-quicker module. (If you’re a man, these modules would probably be sequential, because men can’t multi-task.) You might find all these activities desirable, and the only way to fit them all in would be to have a short attention span – even if you wouldn’t consciously choose to be that way.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Blink”, wrote about how humans tend to do “thin-slicing”, often making decisions by focussing on a few important variables, and moving on. For example, you switch on MTV, new video is playing. Do you like the song? Your decision is quick: you don’t listen to the song carefully, but quickly, without even being aware of it, evaluate it almost instantly: the kind of melody, the tempo of the song, the voice of the singer, and many other variables you may not even be aware of. (You may not like songs in a minor key, for example, because they depress you.) Don’t like the sound of it? Switch channel. Total time taken: three seconds. Short attention span? If you insist. Impractical? No.

Practicality is the crux of the matter. In the times that we live in, with the lives that we lead, we can no longer devote the kind of time to single activities that we could have 100 years ago. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Because there is much more around us, we can take in much more in shorter bursts, and if we learn to do it well, our lives can be richer as a result. Short attentions spans, apart from those that are chronic and part of genuine ADD, are actually necessary in our times.

If it helps us navigate the chaotic world around us, it also deprives us of older pleasures. Because we don’t have all the time in the world, because we cannot fix too much of our attention on one thing, we want instant gratification. An art critic told me recently of how the manner in which she views art has changed. Earlier, she would linger in front of a painting and give her mind time to absorb all that it could be about. Now, she wants instant gratification. What is this about, in one sentence please? Ok, good. Move on.

This lack of patience on our part is great for marketers. We don’t take the time to explore new things, so we don’t acquire new tastes. We revel in the familiar, which helps music companies and film producers dish out mainstream entertainment that is based on formulae. A rehashing of the familiar demands less effort from us, and is easily digestible; thus, audiences lap it up.

We no longer have the time, and some of us might even have lost the ability, to immerse ourselves in something. Opera, classical music (Indian and Western), classical dance, ballet, all demand immersion, one reason why they are all in danger, in same cases, like opera in the UK, needing state subsidies to survive.

Of course, there is another side to this. Kids today do read Harry Potter books, after all, which are considerably more demanding than Dr Seuss. And could there be anything more demanding than some modern videogames, which are played patiently over months, and even years? It could be argued, thus, that the immersive abilities of young people today, their attention spans, haven’t changed – merely their tastes have. The jury’s out on that, and it’s young, and quite smart. And in a hurry.
amit varma, 4:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Banning love

"The Gujarat government has asked courts not to register marriages unless there’s parental consent in writing," reports the Times of India. "This has created problems for love marriages."

I'm speechless. What is this, we're going backwards?
amit varma, 12:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Shaken and stirred

After reading these posts by Charu and Uma, I have just one thing to say: of course it's not bloody ok, as Uma puts it. And it can't be said often enough, or loudly enough. We live in a country where the law is largely dysfunctional, and what makes it worse is the apathy that most of us have have developed towards it, and the sense of resignation. There is so much around us that deserves our outrage that sometimes the easy thing to do is just to shut it out and get on with our lives. I applaud the commitment of the people who refuse to do that, like the courageous Hemangini. And I hope their blogs can make a difference.
amit varma, 12:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blame the moustache

Again, someone confuses correlation with causation.

(Link via Vikram Arumilli.)
amit varma, 12:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What're you doing this weekend?

Desi Pundit has a suggestion.
amit varma, 12:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Red light for traffic cops

Ravikiran Rao writes in:
Remember when Georgia abolished its traffic police because they were too corrupt? If you missed the story, in 2004, the President of Georgia dismissed all its traffic police officers. There was absolutely no impact on the accident rate, (naturally, because the police were not doing the job at all.) Then he replaced them all with freshly recruited officers. The situation has apparently improved a lot there.

Now Ukraine is doing the same. [Link in the original.]
Here's an International Herald Tribune story on the reforms in Georgia, and another one by the New York Times. The second link is via a post by Reuben Abraham on the subject a few months ago.

Imagine if this happened in India, and all traffic cops got sacked. You could have this scene at a signal:
(Pot-bellied policeman stops car)
Driver: What happened, why have you stopped me? Here, see my license. (Tries to hand over license with 100 rupee note in it.)
Cop: No, I don't need to see your license. (Starts sniffling.)
Driver: Hey, what happened, why're you crying?
Cop: I got fired. All the traffic policemen got sacked today. The chief minister says that he doesn't want Mumbai to be like Shanghai any more, but like Gurjaani. (Starts sobbing.)
Driver: What? Gujarat?
Cop: No, Gurjaani. It's a city in some place called Georgia. Now I'm out of a job, and I have three wives and one... I mean, one wife and three children to feed. (Starts wailing.)
Driver: Oh my goodness. So what will you do now? Why are you still at this traffic signal?
Cop: Well, I have to think of an alternative profession now, and a traffic signal is the only habitat I know. Do you have any old saris? (Starts clapping and saying, "De na Raju, main tere shaadi pe naachegi" in a hoarse voice.)
Yeah, wouldn't I love to see that day?
amit varma, 1:27 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Oh no

Where will I dance now?
amit varma, 1:23 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Bengali girls, Punjabi girls

Arnab aka GreatBong writes about "Bongo ladies", examining reality while demolishing myth. Two fine lines from his post that I cannot help sharing:

1. "Bengali girls cannot generically be considered as experts in the art of making men mad with lust."

2. "[A]ccording to urban legend, Punjabi girls had figures to die for, knew the art of seduction, had malleable morals and in general never said 'no' to anything."

I also enjoyed the bit about how "[t]he arts girl" dances. Nice. Read it.

Update: Just by the way, I'm half-Bengali and half-Punjabi. But I'm not a girl.
amit varma, 10:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The North and the South, relatively

In response to this post, reader Vimalanand Prabhu writes in:
Where does the Indian "south" and "north" actually start. For Mumbaites, it is simple. North of us are "North Indians" and south of us are "South Indians". I wonder where the line starts in different states. The northern parts of Karnataka and some parts of Andhra are not really that south.

Some of my friends from Kerala hated to be called Madrasis. For them South Indian or "Mallu" seemed to be much better. For Andhras, it is "gultis". North Indians are referred to as Bhaiyya. But for the (Mumbai) suburban moms, bhaiyya is the one who sells vegetables and fish at their door-step or the doodh-wala bhaiyya. White collared bhaiyyas from UP love to be referred to as Bhaiyyas, but hate the typical Mumbai stereotype. But for suburban moms, they are north Indians and not bhaiyyas.

As regards Maharashtra, they are referred to as "ghatis". But within Maharastra, ghati is referred to be a rustic person, not from Konkan but towards the leeward side of the Sahyadris. So a Marathi person from non-ghati land will feel offended when called "aye ghati".
Yeah. And when I went to Chennai last time someone disparagingly referred to Mumbai as being in North India. I tell you.
amit varma, 10:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

More attacks on London

This is bad news? What can I add? What I said the last time stands. This shall pass.
amit varma, 10:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Jehad and insurance

These fellas shouldn't write a motivational guidebook. And the gents who put them in jail are way too uptight. Yes, insurance salesmen can sometimes be irritating, but this is too much.
amit varma, 1:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Not Mallika but Lolly

It turns out that it isn't Mallika Sherawat in that infamous MMS everyone's been talking about, but a Mexican actress named Lolly. Hmmm. I wonder she calls her orgasms Lollypops. "Give me a Lollypop, honey," she'd plead, and then...
amit varma, 1:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Who's more wrong?

Salman Khan, for all that he allegedly revealed in those infamous conversations recorded by Mumbai's police, or the policemen, who illegally tapped his phone for the sole purpose of blackmailing him?
amit varma, 12:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Leftist paradiso

Vikram Arumilli writes in:
Seven Lenins, six Stalins, two Gagarins, two Brezhnevs, a Krushchev, and a Gorbachev got together in Kerala. Must have been fun. [Link in the original.]
Heh. I wonder if they got high on Molotov Cocktails.
amit varma, 12:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Snake bitings in Ahmedabad

BR Prakash examines folk wisdom:
[W]isdom has been imparted in the North for those going South:

'Don't call them Madrasis. Every South Indian is not a Madrasi'.

'If you see someone rolling up his lungi in Madras, don't look alarmed. It is as natural to them as rolling up the sleeves and they don't mean any harm'.

'Two by three coffee in Bangalore means that three small tumblers of coffee are consumed but you are charged only for two'.

And its reverse in the South:

'Don't stop at a red light if you are driving in Delhi, you will be hit from behind.'

'Don't say nonsense ever to a Bengali. It is the highest form of insult.'

'Don't be alarmed if you are invited to snake bitings in Ahmedabad. You will get dhoklas, kachoris and such other snacks.'
Such fun. Though a Bengali would no doubt think it nonsense. (I'm half-Bengali, by the way, so the previous sentence is self-deprecatory, not insulting.)

(Link via email from Ravikiran.)
amit varma, 12:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The customer is what?

Not the King, Sonia Faleiro finds out, as she loses internet connectivity. I like the bit about the clunk.
amit varma, 12:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Everything else is secondary

In a characteristically sharp piece of analysis, Ashok Malik writes:
What does America want of India in return for nuclear fuel, and the slew of agreements from space to agriculture to defence?

The answer is simple enough: India has to keep its reforms going and its economy growing. Everything else is secondary. Nothing — not weapons systems, not nuclear plants — can make India a global power and an alternative role model to China if it reverts to being a slowcoach economy, if liberalisation doesn’t continue, if retail and banking don’t open up, if infrastructure is not seriously upgraded, if leading cities are allowed to waste away and die.

These are the nuts and bolts of great power status; the nuclear-tipped missiles are only the gleaming showpieces.
Dead right. As I've written before, we haven't liberalised nearly enough, and much much more needs to be done. The reforms need to be far more wide-ranging, and they need to enable all of India to enjoy the fruits of personal and economic freedom. There's a long, long way to go. Anyway, read Malik's full piece.
amit varma, 12:00 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The renaming of the Milky Way

I got up in the morning, stretched my arms, and my legs, and my teeth (yawning, it's called), and said to my marital companion, "You know, if India conquered the world, the Milky Way would be renamed Mahi Ve."

"Yes," she said. "And if Maharashtra conquered the world, it would be called Chhatrapati Shivaji Doodh Ki Dhaara."

(Apologies to foreign-language speakers for this desi PJ. A translation wouldn't capture the flavour of it, so I won't go that way. Sorry.)
amit varma, 11:47 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Virtue and education

Reuters reports:
A Ugandan member of parliament has pledged to reward girls for their chastity by paying their university fees if they are virgins when they leave school, a local newspaper said on Wednesday.

Bbaale County MP Sulaiman Madada said any girl in his district who wanted to take part in the scheme aimed at promoting girls' education would be given a gynecological examination by health workers to check they were virgins.


The MP did not extend his offer to young men.
I hope RR Patil isn't reading this. He'll get ideas.

(Link via email from reader Ravi Srinivas.)
amit varma, 11:32 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

If you're a teacher...

... don't blog about your students. Or this could happen.
amit varma, 10:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The last day of the seventh month

Ravikiran Rao caves in and finally announces the venue and time for the next bloggers' meet in Mumbai. Briefly, the details:

Venue: Prithvi Theatre, Juhu
Time: 3pm, July 31, 2005

For more details, click on over. And if you blog and are in Mumbai, come on over.

Accounts of previous blogmeets (in chronological order): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
amit varma, 10:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


Too often when I type out a url, the .com comes out as .vom, and then I backspace and change. It is one in a category of automatic mistypings that happen with me. For some reason, instead of typing Michael, I often type Micahel. My fingers substitute "es" at the end of some words with "ed", and "proposes" becomes "proposed", spoiling the tense and the romance entirely. For words that end with "in", my fingers sometimes add a "g" at the end, and Stalin becomes Staling. And I thing of how lucky I am that I wasn't born 40 years earlier, when writers used typewriters, which didn't have backspace buttons. I mean, I think.
amit varma, 10:10 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monstrously Ugly Sentence 1

Be that as it may, viewed dispassionately and without getting too much into the vortex of morality (since indecency, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder), I, for one, cannot escape the conclusion that the sight of disgustingly ugly naked bodies, with misplaced pretensions to attractiveness, is positively repugnant, even to a philistinee judge of works of art — or of the human anatomy, for that matter — like yours truly.
Khalid Ansari, writing in the tabloid he owns, Mid Day, in an article expressing displeasure at this installation. One of my old friends, and a blogger to boot, took part in it, and I applaud her courage and her spirit. And I am appalled that anyone can condemn it in the manner Ansari does: you may think of it as pretentious or bad art, or as gimmickry, but to want to impinge on the personal freedoms of the people who took part, and the artist who put it together, is more "repugnant" than the bodies Ansari tastelessly deplores. There is something very ugly in Ansari's article, and it isn't in the photograph.

Update: On a tangent, Arun Simha points to this nice comment by Andy Rooney.
amit varma, 1:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Leave the man alone

What business is it of the Times of India, and how is it remotely a matter of public interest, that Rahul Gandhi likes power biking and go-carting? Is there really nothing better to write about?

Update: Alert reader Aparna points me to this story of urgent national importance. I especially love the box at the end.
amit varma, 1:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A good time for diplomacy

The Telegraph, the Indian Express and Gaurav Sabnis believe that Indo-US relations have reached a new high, more or less backing up Nicholas Burns's assertion that this was "the high-water mark of US-India relations since 1947." Pratap Bhanu Mehta strikes a note of caution, though.

Meanwhile, here's the text of Manmohan Singh's speech to the joint session of the US Congress.

Singh has been enormously smart during the last few days. Just as Pervez Musharraf cites domestic pressures as the reason to not do everything the US wants him to, Singh must have used the excuse of the Left to not toe the line on many of the US's requests, such as putting troops in Iraq. But wherever a win-win situation arose, he grabbed it. It's great that India's hyphenation with Pakistan in international relations finally seems to be ending, but it is important, as Mehta warns, that we don't align ourselves too strongly against China in the US-China game of poker, but pursue good relations with both, positioning ourselves as a strong and confident regional leader that looks other superpowers proudly in the eye. India has much to gain from both America and China, and the gains from one do not need to come at the cost of the gains from another.

Update: Here's Nitin Pai's analysis of Mehta's article.
amit varma, 1:23 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Pan-roasted Halibut on Clinton China

Part of the menu for Manmohan Singh.

I can just imagine this scene:
Bush: Hey, Mandarin, see this! (Drops a plate on the floor. It breaks.)
Manmohan: Um, Mr Bush, it's Manmohan not Mandarin.
Bush: Sari, Manmoham. See this! (Drops a plate on the floor. It breaks.)
Manmohan: Um, Mr Bush, it's Manmohan, not Manmoham. I'm not a pig.
Bush: Sari, Manmanmo. See this! (Drops a plate on the floor. It breaks.)
Manmohan: Um, Mr Bush, it's Manmohan, not Manmanmo.
Bush: (Turns to Condi) Hey, Condo, this guy's got an even tougher name than that general fellow. Maybe we should just have called Sophia instead of Manmotor.
Manmohan: Um, Mr Bush, it's Manmohan, not Manmotor. And it's Sonia, not Sophia.
Bush: Ok, ok, for the last time, see this. (Drops a plate on the floor. It breaks.)
Manmohan: Um, Mr Bush, what exactly are you doing?
Bush: Can't you see, Manmoslem? I'm breaking Clinton. And I'm smashing China at the same time. Har har har.
Well, I presume the next president will have bushes in his garden, so what's wrong with Clinton China?
amit varma, 1:17 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

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