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, August 31, 2006

Let the cow decide when to hug

Reuters reports:
Keep your distance. Avoid eye contact. And even if it looks cute, never hug a Swiss cow.

Responding to numerous "reports of unpleasant meetings between hikers and cattle" along Switzerland's picture-perfect Alpine trails this summer, the Swiss Hiking Federation has laid down a few ground rules.

"Leave the animals in peace and do not touch them. Never caress a calf," the group's guidance, posted on the website, reads.
Good. For too long now, cows have been treated like women, hugged and caressed regardless of consent. This is not good when it comes to women, and it's quite as bad when it comes to cows. Cows have feelings. Cows need their space. Respect cows.

You may hug a steak, though.

(Link via separate emails from Arun Verma, Patrix, Dhoomketu and Shiju Thomas. I'm, like, overwhelmed.)

Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54.
amit varma, 10:24 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Post a silly pig

I decided a few months ago never to respond to these meme and tag thingies, but Kingsley's tagged me, and what the hell, here we go. I need to post a silly pig of myself, it seems. Hmm. I looked through the archives, and they're all silly, though the silliest pigs ever, of course, are the ones where one takes a pig of oneself through the mirror. Quintessential human silliness is revealed by that; you won't catch a cow doing that.

So below you see a pig I once took of myself through a mirror, with two friends of mine also present just for the heck of it. (I took their permission before uploading the pig, naturally.) The gent on the left with the goofy smile is Shriniwas Rao, cricket correspondent for the Indian Express; the sweet lady on the right is Mini Kapoor, who edits the books page for the Indian Express, and writes editorials for them as well. And that's me in the mirror. Don't the slender, artistic fingers, combining grace and a certain simian masculinity, instantly reveal that I'm a blogger?

The pig was taken at Cooco's in Lahore earlier this year (though on a later date than when I blogged about the place), in the narrow, winding stairway that leads to their rooftop. Apropos of nothing, I'm a huge fan of kababs.

Yes, yes, I know, silly me. Anyway, I think one has to tag people in this kind of a thingie, but I shall make my tags passable -- if you get tagged by me but wish to avoid public silliness, simply pass the tag on to someone else. (But be sporting, ok?) The people I'm tagging are: Jai (one of these?), aNTi, Peter, Saket and little n.

Update (September 1): Immense fun, everybody's posting silly pigs. Check out Jai (1 and 2), aNTi, Saket, little n, Kingsley, Chandru, Gaurav Mishra, Bombay Addict (1 and 2), Great Bong, Patrix, Nilu (1, 2, 3), Sakshi, Shoe Fiend, Krithiga, Neha Vishwanathan (1 and 2) and theothernilu.

Now that you know how ridiculous we all look, do you still want to read us?
amit varma, 9:26 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Can't ignore the call of nature

If you're a pilot, though, please don't lock yourself out of the cockpit.
amit varma, 5:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Software for repelling mosquitoes

What next? Tortoise coils to keep away computer viruses?

(Link via email from reader VatsaL.)
amit varma, 5:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Midnight's Children and The Suitable Boy...

... are "virtually identical," says Stephen Thompson in the Scotsman on Sunday, in a review of Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games. He writes:
There are certain books that are so similar to one another they almost beg to be grouped together. This is largely true of Indian novels. Look closely at the ones published in the past, say, 25 years, and you'll see that they're virtually identical, in theme if not in style and content.

For me, Midnight's Children is indivisible from A Fine Balance, which in turn cannot be separated from A Suitable Boy. Directly or indirectly, all three books - and there are other notable examples - are concerned with the same thing: the state of Indian society in the wake of independence and partition.
It's hard to believe that such ignorant tripe, such self-evident nonsense, has been published in a mainstream publication. I came across this on Uma's blog, which also pointed me to posts by Edward Champion and Galley Cat on the subject.

I've noticed that many foreign publications, when they want something written on India or any other third-world country, prefer to have one of their contributors do a half-baked job than get a local expert. This does not stem from racism, but the mistaken belief that to make their audience relate to a subject, they need to get a writer who knows the audience, even if his grasp of the subject is not so good. That's what the Scotsman on Sunday has done here, unlike their daily counterpart, who wisely opted to commission the review to someone who actually knew Indian literature: Chandrahas Choudhury. His review is vastly better than Thompson's, one that does justice to both the subject and the audience.

And ah, I can't resist quoting another shockingly arrogant statement by Thompson: "Sacred Games may well be the first Indian detective novel." Can't a man who has clearly knows little of Indian literature stay away from such ludicrously sweeping statements? Poor Byomkesh Bakshi. (And I'm sure there must be many before Mr Bakshi!)
amit varma, 4:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monkey me, monkey you

Here's a nice excerpt from a Spiegel inderview with Frans de Waal, on chimps and bonobos and humans:
De Waal: There's plenty of intrigue going on beneath the surface. To help each other acquire power, chimpanzees form alliances based on giving and taking. It's the same thing with people. For example, unless US President George W. Bush doesn't give (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair, his biggest supporter, something significant soon, Blair will probably eventually withdraw his support for Bush.

SPIEGEL: You mean that the power game Blair and Bush are playing is essentially ape behavior?

De Waal: I'm convinced that that's the case. In people it starts already in childhood. If you put a group of two-year-olds in a room together, they quickly figure out who's the boss -- using fists, if necessary.
If you read de Waal's fascinating books, Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape, you might agree with me that monkey behaviour is basically human behaviour stripped bare. It ain't fun. I had alpha-male tendencies in my youth, all testosterone and ego and aggression, and compete compete compete, and I'm so tired of all that now. I need a holiday from the chimp in me, but just when I think I've left him behind me, I turn around and there he is, creeping, crawling, waiting to pounce.

(Link via email from Kind Friend. Also, speaking of monkeys...)
amit varma, 3:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Where your taxes go: 6

Salaries for 11-year-old teachers.

Earlier in the series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
amit varma, 3:40 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Roll up yer shirtsleeves, Manmohan

Mush wants a fight!

Imagine Musharraf and Manmohan actually in a ring in their chaddis, fighting it out. LK Advani would be circling the ring on a cycle-rickshaw saying "I'm on a Rath Yatra. Whee!" Sonia Gandhi would be issuing instructions from Manmohan's corner. ("Turn left, turn left!") Bal Thackeray would be trying to dig up the surface of the ring with his fingernails. Arjun Singh would be trying to get the upper-caste referee replaced. And Benazir Bhutto would be chucking banana skins at Mush's feet hoping he falls down.

Politics is bloody, isn't it?
amit varma, 3:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Good riddance

The Times of India reports:
A man in Orissa was so shocked after he heard that his wife had given birth to a girl child that he fell to the ground, hit his head against a wall and succumbed to his injuries.
Well, what to say now. Obviously one feels bad for the wife he left behind and the unwanted daughter, but if the chappie had an attitude like that, well, bye bye and give my regards to God before she whacks you 890 times with her titanium broomstick. Don't want a daughter, it seems. Whack!
amit varma, 3:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The male sausage

Arun Verma points me, via email, to an immortal piece of news that begins:
A restaurant that failed to take action against an employee who chased a female co-worker with a sausage dangling from his fly has been ordered to pay damages and lost wages to another woman who witnessed it.
In reaction to this incident, women's groups have begun campaigning for the removal of sausages from the breakfast buffet menus of five-star hotels. They insist that sausages represent a continuation of the male hegemony that the feminist movement has been battling for the last few decades.

Ok, ok, so I made that bit about women's groups up. But it's an absurd world we live in, and anything can happen. In fact, it probably already has.
amit varma, 2:55 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Prince of Kurukshetra

Remember the game based on Mika kissing Rakhi Sawant, with its Pappi Points and Pappi Meter and so on? Well, Nikhil informs me via email that a similar game is being built based on the incident around Prince, the little feller who was rescued from a pit in Haryana. Who plays these things?

(I do, actually, once in a while, however tasteless I find them. Beat my score!)

Previous posts on Mika/Rakhi: 1, 2, 3.
amit varma, 2:40 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Cops on the loose

Police arrest a man in Baltimore for stealing his own car.

They break up a party in Essex where some kids were having a good time.

I ask ya, why don't they just pick on this kid and leave the rest of us alone?

(Baltimore link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 5:26 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Mallika Sherawat goes kissy kissy faint faint

I've always wondered why Rahul Bose doesn't brush his teeth more often.

Update: And isn't this report a gem?
amit varma, 5:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Scratchity scratchity scratch

Why Prabhu sends me this link I do not know. I already blog, dude.
amit varma, 4:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The devil and the deep blue sea

Narendra Modi and the Sangh Parivar are drifting apart, we are informed.

I'm opposed to both, of course, and wonder if this is a good thing (the monster weakens) or a bad thing (there are two monsters where there were one). Next they'll say Prakash Karat is parting ways from the Left Front, and then we'll really have monsters all around us. As Kalidasa once wrote:
Monsters on the Right of me
And monsters on the Left
My nightmares get the fright of me
Oh, I'm so bereft!
Ok, so maybe Kalidasa didn't write that. But he could have, and that's what matters.
amit varma, 4:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


I was sitting and shooting the breeze with Peter a couple of days ago (bang bang), when he told me about a blog he liked called "Confused of Calcutta." He said that he first made a connection with the blog when he read a post that referred to a picture by Gerald Waller that was an old favourite of his. Well, I looked it up, and it's quite stunning, so here you go:

Click on the picture for a larger version. And in case you can't read the caption, it says:
A 6-year-old orphan from Austria ecstatically embraces a brand-new pair of shoes just given to him by the Red Cross.
The photograph is by Gerald Waller. And I can't help wondering if the boy in that picture still has the shoes. And what they must mean to him today. A childhood lost and regained?
amit varma, 3:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

You know you're too used to Firefox...

... when you try to open a new document in Microsoft Word by pressing Control T.

This means that too much of my writing is happening on my blog. Time to get down to writing some longer pieces the old-fashioned way.
amit varma, 12:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, August 28, 2006

Bob Dylan, "that little toad"

Here's a charming little nugget from a review of Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews, by Louis Menand in the New Yorker:
The first time Joan Baez heard Dylan sing one of his own songs—he played “With God on Our Side” for her—she was floored. “I never thought anything so powerful could come out of that little toad,” she said. She proceeded to fall madly in love with him, and bought him a toothbrush.
Dylan wasn't the most fun man to interview, as Menand explains in his review. And his latest crib, as Oliver Burkeman writes in the Guardian, is about the acoustics of modern recordings. Burkemann quotes Dylan as telling Jonathan Lethem, "I don't know anybody who's made a record that sounds decent in the past 20 years, really."

Is he just being provocative, or does he really mean that? The answer is blowing you know where.
amit varma, 6:27 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sick of telemarketing calls

Chuck that mobile phone. You might even win a prize.
amit varma, 6:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A clash of ethics

Yopu're hangin out with a bunch of immensely poor, needly people. You're in a position to help them, and dammit, you want to. But you can't, you see, because you're a journalist, and they're your sources.

Do check out a superb piece by Michael Wines, "To Fill Notebooks, and Then a Few Bellies," in the New York Times., dealing with just that dilemma. (The Human Imperative versus the Journalistic Imperative, you could say.) Sometimes, for a journalist, the right thing to do is not the right thing to do. (Link via email from Kind Friend.)

And what is unquestionably the wrong thing to do is to write about something that never happened, even if it makes the piece a lot better. I was horrified to find that David Foster Wallace had done just that in the New York Times piece I linked to so admiringly here. S Rajesh writes in:
Remember me telling you I don't remember the US Open moment Wallace talks about in the beginning of his piece? It so happens that I don't remember it coz it never happened - i researched youtube and found the rally he is talking about - check this out (rally starts around 8th minute). It's nowhere like what Wallace has described - it's Federer who is attacking and Agassi who is scrambling.
As it happens, NYT has a correction at the bottom of this page, but the mistake is baffling. Was Wallace thinking of some other point? With so much material available on the net, couldn't he -- and NYT's fact checkers -- have confirmed if the point really took place as he remembered it? Either way, it's a blemish in an otherwise exceptional piece.
amit varma, 5:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"I thought we were friends, but whatever man"

My kinda ATM!

(Link via email from reader Atri Rudra.)
amit varma, 5:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"Eternal Salvation Or Triple Your Money Back"

The Church of the Subgenius certainly knows its marketing.

I think all religions should have money-back guarantees. I mean, what're you supposed to do if you blow yourself up and land up in Heaven™ and there are no virgins there? "We ran out of them centuries ago," the gatekeeper tells you, "didn't you get the SMS?" So what're you going to do then, sue?
amit varma, 5:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Pradeep Thampi has a 23-feet-long...

... limousine. It's the longest car in Mumbai.

All his male friends must be rather jealous of him. They should think about what happens when he tries to take a U-turn, though.
amit varma, 5:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

So what is the world interested in?

WikiCharts are one way of finding out.

There's some fascinating stuff there, and at the time of blogging this, "List of Sex Positions," "Pornography," and "Sexual Intercourse" are Nos. 8 to 10. In order to understand my fellow humans, I suppose I must now persuse these pages. How tiresome.

Also, right now Eric Clapton is the highest musician in that list. Strange that he doesn't figure in the top ten of this recent list of greatest guitar solos ever, I'd have thought his solo in Crossroads would be a shoo-in there. And there's no album I like more for the guitaring in it than "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs", by Derek and the Dominos, where Clapton and Duane Allman serve up some sublime stuff. Immense nostalgia comes.
amit varma, 4:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

That's a nice tongue you've got there

The term "kiss my ass" surely has a whole new meaning now for Jarislav Ernst.
amit varma, 4:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Porn is good for you

So says Dhoomketu.

I suspect some lady love must have caught him viewing porn, and now he's scrambling to save his ass. "Porn is good for you," she's probably shrieking at him right now as she removes (only) her sandals. "I'll show you what's good for you."

Dhoom, my boy, next time try telling her that you were actually searching for 'prawn' not 'porn,' and then proceed to make this for her. The way to a woman's heart etc etc.
amit varma, 3:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Do you like the name Waheeda Rehman?

I do. I think it has a certain grace and dignity to it, like the actress herself in some of her roles. However, she reveals to Shekhar Gupta that when she entered the film industry, she was asked to change it. She says:
They said first of all it’s too lengthy and the in thing is that everybody changes their name. Like, for instance, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Nargis, even Dilip Kumar, even men change their names. I said they are them and I am me. My mother also said I don’t like the idea of her changing her name. Then they said it is too lengthy, who’s going to call you Waheeda Rehman? I said you don’t have to call me Waheeda Rehman, you only have to call me Waheeda. on the screen it’ll come as Waheeda Rehman because Rehman is my father’s name and I am really very proud of my name which my parents gave me. So then they said, you see, it has to be very juicy and very sexy.
Well, good for her to stand up to that rubbish. Had she been acting today, no doubt she would have been asked to change it to Waaheeda Rehhman or something. "It's the in thing," they would have told her. "Or rather, the iin thiing."
amit varma, 2:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Pakistan minister justifies marital rape

An ANI story quotes Aamir Liaqat Hussain, Pakistan's "federal Minister of State for Religious Affairs," as saying that it was "un-Islamic to stop husbands from having sex with their wives even if they were doing so without their consent."

India has plenty of ministries that simply shouldn't exist, but boy, am I glad that we don't have a minister for "religious affairs." Religion and nationalism are two of the biggest threats to individual freedom, and the more importance you give them, the less freedom there inevitably is in a country.

That news piece, by the by, is about a lady named Kashmala Tariq who has said that "married women in her country should not be treated like 'buffaloes' when it comes to men forcing sex on them." Well, most men don't force sex on buffaloes, but I'm sure you get her point. More power to Tariq and her kind.
amit varma, 2:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Vegetarianism and fidelity

Maria points me, via email, to a story about a crocodile in "a temple pond in Kasargod in Kerala" that eats no meat and survives on "generous helpings of local boiled red rice." Much fun, but I am compelled to ask here if the crocodile is vegetarian purely because of lack of opportunity, because no other creatures exist within that "temple pond." If so, what's the big deal? If the temple priests kept the croc hungry for a week and then inserted their arms between its teeth, and it refused to bite, now that would be something.

This is where I state my belief that the factor most responsible for much marital fidelity is lack of opportunity. 'Much', mind you, not 'all.' I'm sure some of you married men out there would look resolutely at the ceiling fan if a Halle Berry lookalike shed some clothes in front of you complaining about the heat. And for you admirably resolute men, I have a question:

Have you ever considered keeping a crocodile as a pet?
amit varma, 1:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, August 27, 2006

God: 2,128,345+. Satan:10

Steve Wells points out that God has killed rather more people than Satan has.

I want to know what all my feminist friends have to say about this, the ones who go "God is a woman, God is a woman," and then expect me to open doors for them. (Why can't God do that?) God is a woman, huh? Well, that explains the cruelty!

And poor Satan's been hard done by here. "Why're you chaps always picking on me?" I can imagine him squeaking. "What about Osama and Mullah Omar? What about Rummy and Junior? Hell, I can bet even Salman Khan's got more blood on his hands than me, besides better biceps. We never had protein supplements back where I come from. Why do you think they call it hell?"

(Link via email from Rk.)
amit varma, 12:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"The biggest money is in the smallest sales"

This review, of The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, appeared in a slightly modified form in today's Indian Express.

In 2004, Chris Anderson writes in his book The Long Tail, Lagaan opened on just two screens in the USA. And yet, there were 1.7 million Indians living in the USA, a large enough market to justify bigger exposure. But these 1.7 million Indians were thinly spread out in terms of geography, and there were few places which had enough of them around for a theatre to justify showing Lagaan. That’s the economics of scarcity in play; and yet, as Anderson explains in his seminal book, our world is gradually becoming a “world of abundance.”

The Long Tail has its genesis in an essay Anderson wrote in Wired Magazine, which he edits, in 2004, in which he described how the shape of business is changing fundamentally because of new ways of doing business, enabled by technology. His basic insight deals with the removal of the biggest limitation of traditional business, the “tyranny of physical space.” Consider places that retail music, for example. Even the largest megastores have a limit on how many albums they can display, and the result is an industry focussed on creating and pushing hits, and not looking much beyond. Anderson informs us, for example, that 90 percent of the music sales of Wal-Mart, America’s largest music retailer, comes from just 200 albums.

But all that has changed, and the internet is responsible. Anderson tells us, “ITunes offers nearly forty times as much selection as Wal-Mart. Netflix [a DVD rental store on the net] has eighteen times as many DVDs as Blockbuster and would have even more if there were DVDs to be had. Amazon has almost forty times as many books as a Borders superstore.” The result, in Anderson’s words, is the “largest explosion of variety in history.”

Now, you’d imagine that most of this, as Sturgeon’s Law would have it, is crud, and probably doesn’t sell. Not true. Anderson found that across businesses, the demand curve never drops to zero, and almost every piece of inventory sells something or the other. This Long Tail, as he terms it, can often amount to substantially large business. “The market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is already a third the size of the existing market,” he says, and cites Kevin Laws’s pithy observation, “The biggest money is in the smallest sales.”

The Long Tail is fed, essentially, by two phenomena: one, the tools of production have been democratised, and the costs of recording a song or publishing your thoughts have become negligible. Two, the means of distribution have expanded, and the costs of storing and transmitting bytes are next to nothing compared with the physical costs of getting a CD to a consumer through a regular store. All this choice can be overwhelming, of course, and Anderson describes how filters play a key part in this economy: For examples, Amazon’s reader reviews, Netflix’s recommendation engines, and even blogs.

This upturns conventional wisdom about the tastes of consumers. What we want has so far been circumscribed by what is available, and, as Anderson puts it, “the true shape of demand is revealed only when customers are offered infinite choice.” The choices available, and the means of navigating those choices, empower individuals by helping them find content and products to fit their specific needs and desires. “We now treat culture not as one big blanket,” Anderson writes at one point, “but as the superposition of many interwoven threads.”

These are fascinating times we live in, and The Long Tail helps us understand it just a little bit better.

For more, you could head over to Anderson's blog on The Long Tail. Also check out a couple of interviews of Anderson, one by Glenn and Helen Reynolds, and the other by Russ Roberts.
amit varma, 12:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, August 26, 2006

National, anti-national, blah blah blah

The Times of India reports:
The BJP has accused Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh of surrendering to anti-national forces by declaring that there would be no compulsion on schoolchildren to sing the national song [Vande Mataram].
You'd think it was a bloody farce, but it's national politics. My position on Vande Mataram is this: if someone wants to sing it, they shouldn't be stopped, and if someone doesn't want to sing it, they shouldn't be forced. Neither the Muslim bodies not the Hindu right-wingers should be allowed to coerce anyone either way.

I actually feel silly stating that position, it seems so obvious to me. Don't you feel the same way? And yet, when Arjun Singh, a man whose politics I oppose in other contexts, takes just that position, he is called anti-national. Just what the blah is 'anti-national'? Indeed, just what the blah is 'national'? Just how many years will it take till we start thinking of individuals and their rights, and not about 'society' and 'nation' and all these broad, meaningless categories in whose name we justify the worst assaults on personal freedom?

That's a rhetorical question, and I do not want to know the answer. Enough depression comes.
amit varma, 4:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A desperate, urgent need to get married

How desperate and urgent can it get? Arun Verma points me, via email, to a piece about how "the Las Vegas marriage bureau plans to close its all-night counter." It plans to move into "a new 8 a.m.-to-midnight schedule." It seems that many people are upset about this, though I can't figure out why. If you decide to get married at 1 am, is it really so hard to wait seven hours?

When it comes to sex, of course, that is biological, and when two people are hot and horny it's hard to wait. But marriage surely is not driven by hormones that brook no delay. I'd love it if people had the choice to get married whenever they please, but perhaps it isn't a bad thing if the hours when humans tend to be most intoxicated -- on alcohol, not just love -- are out of bounds. Remember Britney and Jason?
amit varma, 4:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

He wasn't pregnant

He just had his twin brother inside him.

While on twins, this is kinda cute. (NSFW.)

(SFW link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 3:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Everybody's nude all the time

It's just that most of us cover it up with clothes.

Personally, I'd love to see more of this.

(Link via email from Gautam John.)
amit varma, 3:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Redefining the 'exclusive interview'

Gautam John writes about how an interview with Jennifer Aniston that the Times of India claimed was exclusive was actually a copy of one that appeared in the Daily Mirror. MadMan points out in a comment, "It's 'exclusive' because it's exclusively plagiarised for ToI."

Can't argue with that!
amit varma, 3:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Government money is our money

L Subramaniam, speaking about Bismillah Khan, says that the government should "provide free medical treatment" to Padma awardees. Now, it certainly is sad that Mr Khan couldn't afford proper medical treatement in his final days, but if Mr Subramaniam is so concerned about that, he should have paid for it himself. Too many people seem to behave as if the money government spends just falls randomly from the sky, and that they have an unlimited supply of it, and should spend it on noble causes. Not true. That money comes from you and me.

If we consider income tax alone, we work around four months a year to fill the government's coffers. Add other taxes -- everytime we buy anything the government gets a chunk of it -- and you could add another month or two. It's like being enslaved by the government for almost half a year.

Now, there are things we need the government for, like maintaining law and order and so on, and I'm quite happy to pay taxes for that. And sure, we're a poor country, so if it takes another chunk of taxes for poverty alleviation etc, I can live with it. (Though I'll maintain that such schemes show noble intent but little outcome.) But together, basic services and social welfare would cost us just a tiny fraction of the money we pay in taxes. Most government spending is simply wasted, and as it's my money, I feel entitled to question it. And what upsets me most is the kind of attitude that Subramaniam, with noble intent and immense compassion, no doubt, displays.

No matter how great a performer Mr Khan may have been, it is simply wrong to force me to spend my money supporting him. (That's what effectively happens when the government pays his medical bills.) Mr Subramaniam and the various people who feel that Mr Khan's medical expenses should be taken care of should dip into their own bank accounts for that purpose, which I admire but do not wish to contribute to, being pretty hard up myself. There should be a certain sanctity to government spending, a sense that this is the hard-earned money of millions of citizens like you or me, and should be spent only on essentials, like law and order, and roads, and so on. There should be accountability for how it is spent.

But of course there isn't, and a disconnect exists in people's minds between the taxes that they pay and what the government does with it. (Some examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) How will this ever change?
amit varma, 2:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Death. And a hearty meal.

Check out this terrific picture by Sonia Faleiro. (She blogged about it here.) I love the way there's just that patch of green in the front part of the picture, which fades away into grey. Life and Death are both present in this picture, and one of them is an imposter.

(PS. I'm sure that's just my take of the picture. Sonia's a happy, cheerful person.)
amit varma, 12:35 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, August 25, 2006

There but for the grace of FSM...

In a feature on Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, Richard Morrison writes:
Carnegie had a brutally mechanistic view of human nature. He believed that words and deeds are largely shaped by genes, upbringing and circumstance. “You deserve very little credit for being what you are,” he tells the reader. “And remember, the people who come to you irritated, bigoted, unreasoning, deserve very little discredit for being what they are.” [Itals in original.]
Simplistic and deterministic? Perhaps a bit. But while I wouldn't allow "genes, upbringing and circumstance" to serve as a justification for one's actions, they can help explain why people turn out the way they do. The bigots, racists and perverts of the world choose their own actions and must bear the consequences, but what makes them the way they are? If that cocktail of nature, nurture and circumstance had acted upon us, how would we have turned out?

And would we have blogged?
amit varma, 2:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Neha is an Afghan Hound, Neha is an Afghan Hound!

I'm a huge fan of doggies.

And someday, I too shall write about my battles with my hair. If those battles are unsuccessful, that might be my last post. These are serious matters.
amit varma, 1:55 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

18-months-old. Leukemia. Needs bone marrow.

Balaji has a plea for you.
amit varma, 1:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blocking spyware (and octegenarian porn)

What to do when your aged daddy surfs porn all the time and his PC keeps getting screwed by spyware? Gautam John points us to Walter Mossberg's solution.

And yes, it works on young people's computers as well. Relax now.
amit varma, 1:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Maths and politics

There's a superb feature in the New Yorker this week, by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber, on all the fuss over the solution to the famous Poincaré conjecture. Grigory Perelman and Shing-Tung Yau star in this fascinating story, and even if, like me, you don't understand too much math, the sheer human drama of it is fascinating.
amit varma, 12:10 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, August 24, 2006

How to deal with irritating email

Tired of people sending you mass email you don't want? Sick of being part of group mails where your name is in the "to" field instead of the "bcc" field, and everybody keeps wasting your time with "reply all?" Well, not to worry: send your tormenters this link: Thanks. No.

(Link via email from MadMan; I wonder why!)
amit varma, 8:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Renaming the BBC

I think it should now be called the British Broadcasting Cow.

And its symbol should be an udder, so that instead of calling it the Beeb, people call it the Boob.


Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53.
amit varma, 7:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What on earth is a penis pump?

Manish points me, via email, to a story about a gent in whose baggage a penis pump was discovered at O'Hare airport. It looked like a grenade, and the security chappies asked him what it was. He looked around, his momma was nearby. He couldn't say it was a penis pump in her presence, could he now?

So he said it's a bomb.

Maybe I'm sort of old, or just desperately uncool, but I don't have the slightest idea what a penis pump is, or what it's used for. I don't even want to think about it. The question in the headline is rhetorical, please don't send me emails with links or pictures. I don't want to know. Really.

Update: Sigh. I should have expected it. The mailbox is flooded with mails with "penis" in their title, and I'm not talking about the spam. These boys, I tell ya.

First up, [anonymous] and Abhishek Mehrotra point me to the Wikipedia page on penis pumps, which I'm sure they must have studied intently. Hmm.

Second up, KM and Ajeet Ganga send me links to news pieces about a judge "convicted of exposing himself while presiding over jury trials by using a sexual device." An excerpt:
At his trial this summer, his former court reporter, Lisa Foster, testified that she saw Thompson expose himself at least 15 times during trial between 2001 and 2003. Prosecutors said he also used a device known as a penis pump during at least four trials in the same period.
Well, they say justice is hard, but maybe this dude wanted it harder. Anyway, Sanjeev Naik then writes in with a movie recommendation:
Austin Powers comes back from being cryogenically frozen, takes a really long pee, and then when he goes to take back his stuff (a la a prisoner being released after years of incarceration), and there is a long sequence there with him being embarrassed (in front of Liz Hurley) as a penis pump is one of the things being returned to him.
"This is a grenade," he should have told her. "Should I Hurley?"
amit varma, 7:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

You'll do anything for love?

Not this, surely?

Thank FSM the couple in question didn't have kids. Imagine their confusion, suddenly finding that Daddy's disappeared and a second Mommy who looks like Daddy has turned up, and is always pawing the first Mommy and saying, "This is what you wanted, isn't it? Why're you ignoring me now?"

(Link via email from Amit Agarwal.)
amit varma, 3:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Getting old with Scott Adams and Koena Mitra

Scott Adams explains, in a post titled "Benefits of Getting Old," why advancing years aren't necessarily a bad thing. And if you're male, Jiah Khan, Koena Mitra and Kim Sharma have some reasons for you as well. (Yes, yes, Jiah's been on this meme for a while now, and I wonder what the Big B feels about it. Surely temptation doesn't disappear with age?)

And what do I feel about getting old, you ask cheekily? Grmphh. I'll tell you when I get there.

(Adams link via email from n.)
amit varma, 1:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Freedom in India

I make my debut today in one of my favourite online magazines, TCS Daily, with a piece titled "Transforming India's Mental Landscape." Broadly, it expounds on the theme I mentioned in this post: how, despite celebrating 59 years of independence, India still doesn't offer enough economic and individual freedoms to its citizens. I end the piece on a note of hope, and I hope I'm right. Is that recursive?
amit varma, 12:51 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Cows that "moo with a Somerset drawl"

The BBC reports that language specialists have found that cows, just like humans, speak with an accent. It even has a link to an audio recording of different kinds of moos.

Sadly, there's no track of a cow singing "Moo your body, Moo your body." Cows are like humans not just in their accents, but in their sensuality as well. That's what I'm waiting for the BBC to report.

(Link via separate emails from readers TG Vasu, Sriram Krishnamoorthy and Ravi Gurnani.)

Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52.

Update (August 24): Falstaff writes in to direct me to a post on Language Log in which John Wells, the expert quoted in that news story, says that some of the words attributed to him were the "inventions of a public relations firm." Wells says that he finds it "highly unlikely" that cows could have an accent.

Bummer. I feel like a little boy from Andheri who's just been told that Santa Claus does not exist. "But Santa Cruz does, right?" I ask. "Please tell me at least Santa Cruz exists.

"And Bandra, what about Bandra?"
amit varma, 5:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The fuss over Hitler's Cross

Arzan and Emperor Frost, via separate emails, brought my attention a couple of days ago to the much-discussed story of the chappies who run a restaurant in Mumbai called Hitler's Cross. Many people around the world are pissed, and understandably so: naming a restaurant after a murderer of millions is tasteless and replusive. I think anyone who agrees with that -- most of my readers, I would assume -- should show their displeasure by not going to that restaurant.

However, I do not think that the law should be brought into play, or that the restaurant's name should forcibly be changed, as Israel's consul general, Daniel Zonshine, is demanding. In a free country, people should have the right to express their admiration for any individual or ideology, provided they don't impinge on the rights of the others -- and I haven't read any reports about people being forced to eat at that restaurant.

Personally, I find the Communist hammer and sickle every bit as offensive as Hitler's Swastika, and I'm amazed that some political parties hang portraits of Stalin, no less a mass-murderer than Hitler, in their offices. People who proudly wear Che Guevara T-Shirts are acting out of quite the same ignorance and tastelessness as the misguided gents who started this silly restaurant. We don't demand they remove their T-Shirts, we don't demand that M Karunanidhi's son change his name, and we should, similarly, leave Hitler's Cross alone.

PS. Neela points me, via email, to this most amusing site called Brahmin Leather Works. I won't be surprised if the goondas in the Shiv Sena find out about these guys, based in Massachusetts, and call a bandh in Mumbai. That would be quite typical.

Also PS. And do read my earlier post on tolerance and taking offence, "Do not draw my unicorn." It was written at the time of the Danish cartoons controversy.

Update (August 24): Bobin James writes in to inform me that the restaurant's owners have decided to change its name.
amit varma, 4:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

If she complains of a headache...

... give her curry!

Or maybe it's just you.
amit varma, 5:32 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Woman on top

Not God. (NSFW.)

No, no, I'm not that kind of an atheist. God may not exist (if God does and is reading this, Boo!), but sex certainly can be divine.

(Link via Dhoomketu.)
amit varma, 5:25 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Mozart and Metallica at the same time"

David Foster Wallace, the novelist who was a junior tennis player in his youth, has a remarkable essay on Roger Federer in the New York Times called "Federer as Religious Experience." It is as perfect a sports piece as I have read, which is befitting, I suppose, considering the subject. It has some stunning passages -- the second paragraph, for example, in which he describes a passage of play with such perfect rhythm that reading it is like playing the point, like being there. The footnotes are also marvellous.

Don DeLillo's written beautifully on baseball -- such as in the opening section of Underworld -- and it's a pity that none of the big Indian novelists has brought cricket alive in this manner. Indeed, I can't think of anyone who has written about cricket with so potent a combination of poetic force and analytical rigour.

(Link via separate emails from S Rajesh and Rk.)
amit varma, 10:16 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

72 lakhs per day

Where in India is that kind of taxpayers' money spent?

For the answer, check out Arjun Swarup's post here.

(I'd linked to a similar report some time ago, but the starkness of the figures in Arjun's post drives the point home pretty well, I'd think.)
amit varma, 9:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Rev up that auto rickshaw

A couple of months ago I'd blogged about the Indian Autorickshaw Challenge. Well, Akshay emails me to let me know that blogger Scott Carney is taking part in it. Scott's team is called Curry in a Hurry, which can get messy in an auto, but I wish them all the best.

And the next time you hail an auto and the bugger refuses to stop, do consider that it might be a blogger practising for next year's race. Autos will never be the same again.
amit varma, 3:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"Kids can be cruel..."

... but teenagers can be devastating."

I don't link much to the confessional kind of personal blogs, but I can't resist pointing you to a lovely post by eM, "Confessions of a Teenage Geek."

I can guarantee you that everyone who reads this post will go, "Hey, I was like that, I didn't fit in either." I sometimes wonder who did fit in.
amit varma, 3:11 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bhopal hooligans demand a ban on Kank

They're upset that Shah Rukh Khan has defended the Cola companies in the pesticide controversy.

I'm with Shah Rukh on two counts here. One, he's right about the cola controversy, as pieces by Arjun Swarup and Gurcharan Das bear out. And two, even if he was wrong, there is no excuse for the kind of gundagardi that has become popular in India. A peaceful protest is fine, but getting in the way of other people and damaging property is just criminal activity, and should be treated as such.

Of course, I continue to maintain that Shah Rukh's hamming-in-the-name-of-acting is excruciating. That's reason enough for me not to watch his movies, but I'd have no business stopping others from doing so. Ditto with colas, in fact.
amit varma, 1:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Ass cheeks and writers go together

In a post titled "Work habits," Scott Adams writes, "... I can't write unless both of my ass cheeks are equally touching my chair and my feet are flat on the ground." He explains why that is so, and describes why his cat's "anti-productivity crusade" is also a factor.

Well, that explains it. So if you find that my blogging frequency has suddenly gone down, and many hours go by without a post, I'm probably shifting my ass cheeks around madly. And trying to draw Dilbert.

(Link via email from n.)
amit varma, 1:10 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Paskistan (and Ghandi)

Nikhil Pahwa writes:
This is ridiculous - One agency (UPI) carries a report with a typo, calling Pakistan, "Paskistan". And then it spreads:

Starts from here - UPI.
Then: The Washington Times, The Daily India, Political Gateway, Monsters and Critics, North Korea Times

You do a google search for Paskistan, and... this
Hmm. I hope the meme doesn't spread too far, or my friends in Paskistan will be most upset.

(This reminds me, by the way, of how so many Western outlets spell 'Gandhi' as 'Ghandi'. Why? How did that start, I wonder.)
amit varma, 1:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The transclucent underside of a lizard

Shilpa describes her battle with Guffawing Gekko. Most entertaining. I should keep a pet lizard. I am told that's a chick magnet.
amit varma, 12:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cupid and the condom order

Well, it's amusing all right, but why on earth would the Financial Express link this one-sentence story from the front page of their website? (Screengrab here, headline's at the bottom, in bold.) Is it really so newsworthy that a company named Cupid Ltd is supplying condoms to the "Indian ministry of health and family welfare?"

On the other hand, I must confess that I didn't click on any of the other headlines on that page. I hope that doesn't mark a worrying trend.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 12:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, August 21, 2006

Movie channels blocked in Mumbai now

Peter just sent me an email alerting me to a post about how his cable operator has cut off all his movie channels. He called up the cable operator, who gave him a two-word answer: "Government block."

NDTV confirms the news, and says that this is "in response to a Bombay High Court order last December which banned TV channels from screening A and U/A rated films."

The lesson from this: if the executive don't get you, the judiciary will.

(I'll be updating this post if further developments take place. My accounts of the recent block on blogs: 1, 2, 3, 4.)

Update: The cable operators seem to be protesting. Deep Ganatra (via the Bloggers Collective email group) writes that his cable operator has stopped all channels, and is showing the following message on the screen:
Due to unprecedented raids on the cable operators for carrying satellite movie and entertainment channels having Adult content, All Maharashtra cable operators have shut down the channels till further directions from high court. Kindly bear with us. CODA.
(Update 1.5: Sameer reproduces the message carried by Incablenet in Prabhadevi on his post here.)

Update 2: MadMan writes in (via BC):
How dare they allow Cartoon Network to be shown on cable? Cartoon Network has been showing nudity for many years now and the government has done nothing! I can't begin to recall the number of times I've turned it on and seen naked mice and cats running freely in shows named "Tom and Jerry".
Heh, indeed. And I think I might have caught a naked cow or two as well. Aren't they sacred?

Update 2.5: aNTi emails me to let me know that Tom and Jerry ain't safe even in England.

Update 3: I've just received news that the cable operators have stopped showing all paid channels in Mumbai to protest against police raids that were carried out on eight cable operators and three multi-system operators, during which transmission equipment was seized. The cable operators' stand is that the onus of complying with the high court directive was on the television channels, and that they have been needlessly harassed.

Update 4 (August 22): Some reports: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Update 5 (August 22): These Swedish chappies have all the fun.

Update 6 (August 23, early hours): The cable operators in Mumbai have restored service, though none of the movie channels are being shown yet.
amit varma, 7:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

How to make cold coffee in 10 seconds

Put milk, coffee powder and sugar in a cold-coffee shaker, and drive over a stretch of the Western Express Highway in Mumbai.

Lajwanti D'Souza of Mid Day does an exceptional story on Mumbai's pothole-infested roads, armed with nothing but a cold-coffee shaker. Some might say it's gimmicky, but it drives the point home superbly.

(Link via email from reader Kartik Desikan.)
amit varma, 7:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What President Bush is reading

Albert Camus's L'Etranger is part of President George W Bush's summer reading, and Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker:
As “Camus at Combat,” a new collection of his editorials—he was a working journalist—makes plain, the experience, first, of the Nazi occupation of France, and then of the struggle of Algerian independence against France led him to conclude that the “primitive” impulse to kill and torture shared a taproot with the habit of abstraction, of thinking of other people as a class of entities. Camus was no pacifist, but he deplored the logic of thinking in categories. “We have witnessed lying, humiliation, killing, deportation and torture, and in each instance it was impossible to persuade the people who were doing these things not to do them, because they were sure of themselves and because there is no way of persuading an abstraction, or, to put it another way, the representative of an ideology,” he wrote. Terror makes fear, and fear stops thinking.
Thinking in categories is a fault that runs across the Indian political spectrum as well. A few common categories: "multinationals," "imperialists," "upper castes," "lower castes," "bourgeoisie," "communalists," "pseudo-secularists," and, of course, "Muslims." So much damage has been done because we haven't, to use Gopnik's words, been able "to think about particular people, proximate causes, and obtainable objectives."
amit varma, 6:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The heart of darkness

In an essay on John Updike's Terrorist, and on terrorism in general, Theodore Dalrymple writes:
It is not the personal that is political, but the political that is personal. People with unusually thin skins ascribe the small insults, humiliations, and setbacks consequent upon human existence to vast and malign political forces; and, projecting their own suffering onto the whole of mankind, conceive of schemes, usually involving violence, to remedy the situation that has so wounded them.
Dalrymple makes the case that "terrorism is not a simple, direct response to, or result of, social injustice, poverty, or any other objectively discernible human ill," and compares Updike's book to one of Joseph Conrad's novels:
Updike’s Terrorist has much in common with Conrad’s The Secret Agent, published 99 years previously. In both books, a double agent tries to get a third party to commit a bomb outrage; in both books, the secret agent ends up slain. In both books, the terrorists operate in a free society unsure how far it may go in restricting freedom to protect itself from those who wish to destroy it. The terrorists in Conrad are European anarchists and socialists; in Updike they are Muslims in America: but in neither case does the righting of any “objective” injustice motivate them. They act from a mixture of personal angst and resentment, which easily attaches itself to abstract grievances about the whole of society, thus disguising the real source of their consuming but sublimated rage.
Indeed, so many of the ideological stands I see people take around me come not from a worldview reached from detached contemplation but from that "mixture of personal angst and resentment," manifested upon a fashionable target. No one gives your writing the respect it deserves, blame it on those incestuous literary (or blogging!) cliques that keep outsiders at bay. MBA school refused you admission, well, who wants to join the bloodsucking corporate world anyway? You want to be known as warm and compassionate, attack the evil capitalists for the inequities in society. And if there are random frustrations you can't articulate, there's always Big Bad America to rant about, even if you use Microsoft and drink Coke and wear Nike. (Hating it in the abstract but loving it in the concrete, as Victor Davis Hansen might have put it.)

Naturally, these are caricatured and extreme examples, and not all believers in any ideology are motivated by personal demons they are in denial of. But I've seen too many of these types around, and so, I'm sure, have you. No?

(Link via email from Sonia; more Dalrymple links here.)
amit varma, 5:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A pointless homage

Ustad Bismillah Khan is dead, and I'm sure there'll be many moving tributes to him in the days to come. Trust the government of India, though, to choose pointless (and costly) symbolism. The Times of India reports that the UP government has "declared a one-day mourning and ordered closure of all government schools, colleges and offices."

I'm okay with declaring one-day mournings, as long as they consist of symbolic gestures like flying flags at half mast, which harm nobody. But why close schools and colleges and offices? What's the connection? We correctly criticise the Shiv Sena everytime it calls a bandh, for the damage it does to the economy, well, this is a government mandated bandh, even if one limited to government organisations. Ludicrosity. If souls existed, Ustadsaab's soul would no doubt be going, "Wtf?"

: You'll hardly get a better tribute to Bismillah Khan than Falstaff's post, Bidai.
amit varma, 4:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Locking up wives, and starving children

All the wankers of the world have suddenly become Kankers. You can't pick up a newspaper or turn on a TV channel these days without being assailed by Kank, with TV debates and print features about the shape of the "modern Indian marriage" and infidelity. It's also brought on a barrage of tasteless humour, exemplified by the headline on the left in the screengrab below. (You know where it's from, needless to say.)

Speaking of modernity, the problem in India is not an excess of it but a scarcity. Consider, now, the headline on the right in that screengrab. A seven-year-old kid is fasting in Agra "to appease the rain gods," and had it been an adult, I'd have been in favour of leaving the idiot alone and letting him starve himself. But this is a kid, for FSM's sake, and the report seems to indicate that despite the authorities trying to make her eat, she has the tacit support of her family and her village. The report says:
Her fast has inspired hundreds of people to join her in prayers and bhajans (devotional songs). Parveen's family, which includes her five brothers and sisters, says that she is determined to starve herself until "Lord Indra smiles" and ensures rainfall.

"Her tapasya (meditation) will not go in vain," say villagers, worried over the scanty rainfall in some districts of western Uttar Pradesh.
If it rains, needless to say, the superstitions of all involved will be reinforced, and we'll see more of this bullshit in times to come. If it doesn't rain, they'll no doubt say that the girl's tapasya wasn't good enough, or they'll blame the authorities for breaking her fast. I shudder to imagine what effect this might have on the poor girl's mind, and what she might grow up to become.
amit varma, 3:29 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Quizzaciousness, and bookacity

"Quizzing is a physical sport," some of us quizzing insiders in Mumbai often remind ourselves. Joining a gym last week was, thus, clearly a smart move, as I won a quiz yesterday after a long time. It was a general quiz with an emphasis on books and literature, and it took place in a charming little bookstore in Santa Cruz called the Readers Shop. Pradeep Ramarathnam conducted the quiz, and Aadisht Khanna and I won by a handsome margin of one point over Rajiv Rai and Ravi Venkatesh. Rishi Iyengar and Naveen Venkataraman came third, a further point behind, with Rishi slapping his forehead at the end of the quiz and muttering "Bonfire of the Vanities!" You must work out more, I keep telling the boy. I don't think he squats enough.

There was a quiz last Sunday as well, the last conducted by Gaurav Sabnis before his move abroad. I hadn't joined the gym then, and my lack of stamina told on me as my team led for the first two-thirds of the quiz before being overtaken by Dhoomketu's team, who reportedly meet for sprinting sessions at Juhu beach every morning. Rishi has a report of the proceedings here, and I reproduce below a picture of the (other) participants taken and photoshopped by me. As Shakespeare once wrote, "The effects conceal the defects, foolish knave. Et tu Brute?"

And ah, before I forget, let me recommend that if you find yourself anywhere in the vicinity of The Readers Shop, do drop in. (It's near the Santa Cruz Police Station, on the road connecting SV Road and Linking Road that has a Standard Chartered branch on it.) I didn't have as much time to browse there as I would have liked -- I will return there soon, much to my banker's regret -- but I did have time to note that the collection seemed to be fairly eclectic, and a bargain section outside the store might yield some treasures: I picked up a Modern Library edition of The Federalist for just 100 rupees.

And now if you'll excuse me, I need to do some stretches.
amit varma, 2:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Browsing books as a contact sport

With reference to my post linking to Ram Guha's piece on Premier's, The Marauder's Map writes in to point me to this excellent piece by another fine writer, Suresh Menon, in which Menon informs us that Premier's might be shutting down. He also writes about "[t]he politics of bookshop browsing," and how it can be a "contact sport."

I'm a huge fan of contact sports. I will write about one in my next post.
amit varma, 1:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Guess who's doing passenger profiling now

The passengers themselves.

The Daily Mail reports:
British holidaymakers staged an unprecedented mutiny - refusing to allow their flight to take off until two men they feared were terrorists were forcibly removed.

The extraordinary scenes happened after some of the 150 passengers on a Malaga-Manchester flight overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking Arabic.
This is disgraceful. The passengers who feel worried have every right to get off the plane, at their own expense, but no right to demand that others be offloaded. I'm amazed that the airline caved in, and I hope the gentlemen "of Asian appearance" sue. Once they were past security check, the airline had no business offloading them. Sure, it could have searched them again, but no more than that.

I quite agree with Patrick Mercer, a Tory spokesman, who is quoted as saying, "This is a victory for terrorists." Notch one up for Osama.

(Link via email from MadMan.)

Update (August 24): Here's a follow-up, with a picture of the two offloaded chaps, who are 22-year-old students. One of them says: "Just because we're Muslim does not mean we are suicide bombers." I hate it when it seems necessary to state the obvious.
amit varma, 3:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Blogger goes to massage parlour for nude photoshoot

And what's more, Jai Arjun Singh tells us:
Gyms are populated by beefy, thick-skinned but strangely charming young trainers who resemble the Deol boys in muscle structure as well as in their shy smiles... I’ve never been so unqualifiedly happy at a book launch or discussion. What could this mean?
Sadly, Jai hasn't yet put those pictures of his online, but my heart tells me that HT Tabloid will surely get hold of them.

On that note, check out this HT Tabloid story titled "What makes Preity get goose bumps!", which carries the line:
While Karan Johar is quite superstitions about number 8, Priety Zinta gets goose bumps when black cat crosses her way and Rani Mukherjee frequently says 'touch wood'.
Well, if Rani came across Jai's pics, it wouldn't be wood she'd be wanting to touch, that's for sure!

(Previous posts with Purplocity/Verniness: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.)
amit varma, 3:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Freedom's on the march

Govt puts off RTI changes.

Men can watch women's soccer, rules Pak.

Apparently, female soccer players in Pakistan have to wear "baggy track suit trousers and long-sleeved shirts" while playing. They might as well wear shalwar kameez, I suppose. That way, even if the game isn't always flowing, at least the clothes will be.
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Crystalline and Indigo kids?

Sonu Nigam is quoted as saying in the Indian Express:
I have been reading a lot of late, and according to the great spiritual healers the post-1980s generation will be the harbingers of Satyug. This is a cool, chilled-out and open generation that is not stuck-up. Within them however there are two kinds - the Crystalline, who are the emotional lot who will bring in this change through persuasion, and the Indigos, who will achieve it with rebellion.
What has he been reading (or smoking), I wondered after reading that para. A little Googling revealed that Crystalline children "are able to communicate telepathically, and are speaking to others in other dimensions as a normal event in the course of their play," while Indigo kids are supposed to have abilities that "are said to include purging HIV, advanced genius and psychic/telekinetic powers."

What a load of bull.

I'm certain Nigam will not be able to point to a single example of either of these two types of kids from his personal experience, but he's hardly the only Mumbai celeb who sees things in the world that aren't really there. Shobha De was on We the People yesterday, and the topic of discussion was marital infidelity. At one point De said something to the effect of infidelity being a "non-issue" for Indians in their 20s, and that all they cared about was "quality of life."

This is, again, an astonishing statement, based, no doubt, on a view of the world as she would like to see it (so that it fits some pet theory of hers, probably), and not as it is. Demanding fidelity from our partners is hardwired into human nature, and I recommend that De hop over to the nearest Barista and chat about this with some twenty-somethings.

Let me end this post by saying that that despite Nigam's fascination for New Age crud, he's an excellent singer. Can't say the same for De.

Update: Ken Falco writes in to point me to Jenny McCarthy's site, Indigo Moms. In an article there, McCarthy writes:
I was doing my usual research on environmental toxicities and found myself so obsessed with it that I once again lost sight of everything else. I learned about chemicals that are used in pajamas, such as flame retardants, and the toxic levels our children inhale throughout the night. I immediately got rid of anything that was flame retardant, including his mattress. This was followed by installing organic carpeting in his bedroom, and placing air filters in every room. Someone then told me I needed to change the paint in his bedroom to nontoxic paint. So I was at the store five minutes later buying paint that was edible, and then stayed up half the night painting the bedroom walls. I changed the pool water to Ozone, and even had a chakra balancing done on my house. What finally pushed me completely over was when I found out about electromagnetic toxicity.
Poor kid. I bet he's not allowed to drink Coke or Pepsi either.
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