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.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Rukawat ke liye khed hai

Yeah, yeah, I'm like Doordarshan now, so old and staid I have become. I hopped over to Poona today, got here around lunchtime, slept till evening, got up and went to the new Crossword branch at Senapati Bapat Road, and then got back to where I was staying fully intending to blog all night, to make up for the postless day I inflicted upon you. But the Reliance connection on my laptop is acting up, and I'm on someone else's machine now, on the slowest dial-up ever. So, um, I have not even one link to offer you today. Immense apology arrives forcefully.

I'm busy all day tomorrow, attending a quiz and then perhaps travelling back to Mumbai, so blogging may be light. Expect a ferocious burst on Monday, even Sunday, to compensate.

And it's nice to be in Poona, as always. The weather is cool, the tekris are all around, and it never ceases to delight me that I can actually travel on a road named Junglee Maharaj Road. (Even Senapati Bapat Road evokes charm. Even Dhole Patil Road! And Deccan!

Ok, I'll stop now.)
amit varma, 9:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cows can make this world a better place

No, no, not just with their graceful presence and sonorous mooing, but by giving families a livelihood and putting food in mouths. So Send a Cow today!

For a nice explanation of what it's all about, do click here. I'm sure you'll agree at the end of it that "Cows are da bomb!"

(Link via email from Publia.)

(Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60.)
amit varma, 1:42 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Seetharaman Narayanan revealed!

If you use Photoshop, there is no way you'd have missed the name of Seetharaman Narayanan. Every time you launch the program, the names of a bunch of people who worked on it pop out. Seetharaman Narayanan, needless to say, is the one that stands out.

But who is he? Does he exist? Is he a cyborg? Such questions have been asked before, entire fan clubs have risen up, and now the man himself is before us. Great joy, fine interview, nice program.

(Link via Boing Boing.)

Update: Arzan writes in to point me to a post he'd done once on Adobe Desis.
amit varma, 8:27 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

From Google Adsense to Bling

Via Desi Pundit, I discover the top earners through Google Adsense among "individual site owners". No. 1 on that list makes US$300,000 a month. Sigh.

And what will they do with that money? Bling is an option. They could get a mascara and lipstick set worth Rs 64 crore. Jeans that start near the Rs 2 lakh mark. An MP3 player worth Rs 9 lakhs. Even a manicure worth almost Rs 14 lakhs. I know, I know, shopping can get tiring, so siddown and get yourself a cup of tea worth Rs 6.5 lakhs.

And now, when I'm thinking these inevitably sad thoughts, ICICI calls and offers me a loan. In case you're the salesgirl I just hung up on, do forgive me for being so brusque. It's a cruel world.

Update: Amit Agarwal, who knows more about Adsense than anyone in the whole world, writes in:
And while I read this post on your blog, the Google ad from Citibank offers me a 10l loan. (See screenshot.)
My joy knows no bounds. None. At. All.
amit varma, 5:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

There's no "Oscars jinx"

A headline in the Indian Express says, "Will RDB break the Oscar jinx?" Immense silliness, this, and not just because of the silly nationalistic sentiment involved -- after all, the Americans don't obsess about winning the Filmfare Awards, do they?

No, the silliness is because there's no jinx here. Indian mainstream cinema is essentially a different art form from cinema as America and Europe sees it. It functions in a different paradigm, with different kinds of narrative and different terms of engagement with its viewers. If Indian cinema has started doing well abroad, it is because of NRIs. The only Indian film-makers who have been taken seriously by the West are those who make films in what is essentially the Western paradigm of film-making: two prominent examples are Satyajit Ray, who was more inspired by Renoir than Phalke when he started out, and the exceptional Mira Nair, whose Monsoon Wedding used song and dance in an entirely non-Bollywood way, using an Indian setting but a Western structure.

I'm not making a value judgement here: it is entirely a matter of taste what kind of cinema we prefer. But this desperate desire for the West to validate us is somewhat pathetic. Barring a few Indophile exceptions, like the noble Maria, most Westerners will continue to look at our traditional Bollywood fare as little more than exotica. As long as we enjoy our films, why should we find that insulting?

That said, I wish they'd sent Lage Raho Munnabhai or Omkara as India's entry instead of RDB. Still, in the end, same difference.
amit varma, 4:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

How to promote your book

Step one: Become the President of Pakistan.

Step two: Appear on The Daily Show to promote it.

That's all. Watch:

Ah, and as the ToI headline I've reproduced below indicates, soup can unite the world. Or divide it.

amit varma, 1:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Navratri, the season of love sex

CNN-IBN reports that contraceptive sales shoot up in Surat during Navratri. "If one throws young, eligible, and brightly dressed young people together for nine continuous nights," they report, "there's bound to be a lot of love in the air."

There's something to be said for tradition, you gotta admit.

(Link via email from Chandoo.)
amit varma, 12:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The crowd-pulling poetry of APJ Abdul Kalam

"President's website sets a new record," screamed the Sify headline. On reading that, I instantly rushed over to the president's website, which reportedly got 2.4 million hits on September 12, somewhat more than my own supposedly well-read blog. What could it be, I wondered, that drives readers to Mr Kalam's blog while I'm putting up such lovely posts about cows?

After strenuous investigations lasting more than a minute, I have concluded it's the poems. Consider the gem titled "Our mission is water," which Mr Kalam ends with the immortal lines:
Oh humanity why not your hearts confluence
And you blossom with happiness.
I kid you not. And then there's the poem titled "Soaring Dream," which begins:
Fabulous air show of Paris in motion
My thought too in flight and yearns for my Nation
When will the planes designed in my land
Pierce the sky as lightening in action
This one ends with the line, "Sky can?t be limit for my nation in action !!" And consider "I am the Indian Ocean," which begins thus:
Surge of my waves and their mystical themes
Embracing Bombay and Dar-es in hold
We all belong to the cradle of earth
Same human civilization pervades us all
Generations of life in these lands were like waves
Rising and falling and melting in time baobabs and
Banyans stood witness to these cycles
No, no, it's not all an elaborate joke, this really is APJ Abdul Kalam's poetry, and I think it should be abundantly clear what the driving force of traffic to his site is: disbelief. I myself will go there eight times a day now, read his poems, and think, "This is our president?"

Previous posts on APJ Abdul Kalam: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

(Previous posts with Purplocity/Verniness: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19.)
amit varma, 12:32 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Indira Toddywallah?

In his excellent book, "In Spite of the Gods," Edward Luce attaches a footnote to the first mention of "the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty." The footnote says:
Indira married Feroze Gandhi, a philandering journalist from north India who was no relation to the Mahatma. Feroze, who died young from a heart attack, belonged to the Parsi community of Persian Zoroastrians. A more common Parsi surname is Toddywallah (seller of alcohol). One can but speculate whether a Nehru-Toddywallah dynasty would have been quite so successful.
Indeed one can, though I fancy that Indira Toddywallah would then have reverted to her maiden name and come to power as Indira Nehru. And do consider that Sonia Gandhi benefits from having an apt name in more than just the resonance of her surname. 'Sonia' happens be a common Indian name, so she doesn't sound like a foreigner. Had her name been, say, Angelina, would she have been quite so easily accepted among the Indian people?

I'm not saying, of course, that names or dynasties should matter when it comes to the leaders we choose. But what should matter is irrelevant, they do matter. And that's that (instead of this).

Update (September 28): Readers Karthik Shashidhar and Sugata Banerji point out, via separate emails, that 'Sonia' became popular as an Indian name after Rajiv hooked up with Sonia. Indeed, Karthik writes, "If Rajiv had married someone called "Angelina", Angelina would've been an indian name by now, and Sonia wouldn't."

I must call Angelina Faleiro and tell her about this.

Also, Arzan Sam Wadia writes in to say that Luce made a factual error in his footnote. Arzan writes:
Toddywallah is not a very common surname in Parsis. I am one, and I know of only two other Todiwallas.

Secondly, Todiwallas are not sellers of alcohol. Those would be Daruwalla -- a very common surname.

Toddywallahs collected the toddy from the toddy plant and sold it in the market. Toddy is even today a very popular drink had by Parsis especially when they go to Udwada and Devka. The toddy is also the fermenting agent in the delicacy “bhakhra,” which, I might add, I miss the most here in NYC.
I'm a huge fan of Parsis.
amit varma, 11:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bill Clinton v Fox News

It's a knockout, and Fox is on the floor, struggling to breathe, perhaps regretting messing with Da Man. It starts when Chris Wallace tries to corner Clinton with what he deems to be hard questions about Clinton's record on hunting down Osama, and Clinton, like an experienced heavyweight who sees this young pretender charging at him madly, steps aside, lets the pretender crash against the ropes, and then pummels the shit out of him. Watch:

The full transcript is here, and if the video above is disabled at some point, you can watch it here. And ah, for further amusement, here's Rush Limbaugh commenting on the interview by saying that Clinton's socks were inappropriate for the occasion. His socks!

I thought Clinton defined the term 'presidential' in this interview, matching conviction with an ability to articulate himself that his successor unfortunately lacks. It's a pity that so much of his later term was spent beating him up about Ms Lewinsky: what two consenting adults do alone should have remained their business, and what they did together did not impact the running of the nation. (The fuss kicked up about it might well have, though.)

Sadly, no one else among the Dems (that I've seen) is nearly so cogent. How they must be wishing there were no term limits. They could put forward the right Clinton for president next time around then.

(Link via email from Kingsley.)
amit varma, 1:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Who needs Paris Hilton...

... when General Musharraf is there to entertain us?

Having said that, you can't stay in the General Musharraf when you're in Paris. Can you now?
amit varma, 9:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Mallika Sherawat is "hot and sexy" on purpose

Mallika Sherawat, HT Tabloid informs us, is not "hot and sexy" by accident. She is quoted as saying:
If I want to change my image, I can do it overnight. But I have deliberately become so hot and sexy because I know it's something that will always be in demand.
Well, that clears it up then. The rumours about a radioactive hot and sexy spider biting Mallika, after which she became hot and sexy, are clearly untrue. Her hotandsexyness is no accident -- it's strategy. Could Carl von Clausewitz ever have thought of this?

(Previous posts with Purplocity/Verniness: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18.)
amit varma, 9:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Kids nowadays...

Yeah, yeah, every generation invariably says, when it hits the thirties, "Damn, kids today are so smart. When I was three years old, I couldn't order 9000-pound cars on eBay using the computer."

If you think that's a made-up example, see this.

My problem isn't just with the kids of this generation, who combine a knowledge of nuclear physics with programming skills in C++ and write books on modern art by the time they're 14. I couldn't even deal with the kids of my generation, who have grown up to be successful bankers and film-makers and editors and suchlike, and who whip out their Vertus to pretend to take down my number and ask, "So what is it that you do these days, Amit?"

I clear my throat and mumble something about a blog.

"What's that? A blog? And does it make money?"

That's when I point to a far-off point behind the guy's shoulder, and when he turns, stab him with my steely knife.

The kids of today, though, are a bit too quick for that. They know Judo and Karate and Taekwondo. Oh woe.

(eBay kid link via email from Dibyo.)
amit varma, 8:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Do you like India Uncut?

If so, here is your chance to reward me for the hours of thankless effort I put in every day to bring a smile to your face and some joy to your day. India Uncut has just been nominated for Best India Blog in the Asia Blog Awards for the first quarter of 2006-07. As I do not have the physique to be a quarterback, please do go in and vote for me. All you need is one valid email ID per vote. And if you like my cow posts, do consider that I didn't stop at one. Wink wink.

And yes, thanks to you I won the Best Indiblog of the Year 2005, and also became the first Indian blogger to be nominated for the Best Asian Weblog in the 2006 Bloggies. Your abundant generosity at that time made me the monster I am today. How much worse can it get? It's all in your hands. Monstrosity never ends.

I'm a huge fan of readers who vote.
amit varma, 7:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Muslims on the dance floor?

"Strictly not," says a statement in Saamna by Pradeep Jaiswal, a Shiv Sena man. "That is forbidden in Hindu custom."

Yeah, I can imagine the rishi-munis sitting together and drafting The Definitive Book Of Hindu Customs.

"Dudes, the book is almost complete," says Valmiki, "but we need to take another look at the Nightlife and Festivals chapter."

"Yes," says Vyasa. "We must bar the Muslims from getting on the dance floor. They're bigger than us because they eat a lot of meat, and all the virtuous Hindu girls dig them. Where does leave the virtuous Hindu boys? Ban, ban, I say."

"Hey," says Vishwamitra. "Any of you seen Menaka? Can't find her."
amit varma, 5:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Best question ever (today)

"What would happen if we send 500 people to your house with one quintal of flowers?"

Who can answer? You can answer? Huh?
amit varma, 5:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Look ma, emerging superpower: 1

A village panchayat in Jharkhand rules that the hands of six boys must be chopped off because they 'stole' some resin from a nearby forest.

Update: Reader Vimalanand Prabhu writes in to point out the existing superpowers aren't immune either.
amit varma, 5:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The virtues of silence

Shailaja Bajpai thinks that the newscasters on Indian television talk too much.

She should have added that they also look for significance in everything, often elevating the banal with a hyperbolic force that is surely strong enough to be an alternative power source.

"So Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had canned aaloo paratha for breakfast," Sagarika Ghose could say. "What impact do you think this will have on the consumerist middle class in India?"

"The president of India has just told us that education is very important," Barkha Dutt could say. "President Kalam, thank you for speaking to us. Can you tell us why you think education is so important?"

And so on. Most boring, most hyperbolic, full of sincerity and effort. I much prefer reality dance shows.

I'm a huge fan of remote controls.
amit varma, 4:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, September 25, 2006

Tyger Tyger burning bright (rinse and repeat)

Pete the Meat writes in to point us to the remarkable similarity between two corporate logos.

The original one has much more character, actually, and it must be noted that its tail is a forward-curving tail, a subject worthy of many postmodern essays. The copy, which has a backward-curving tail, is quite thanda.

I'm a huge fan of Tygers, by the by. But only when they are in midair, thrown from the 84th floor of a hotel, passing the 14th floor restaurant where I'm sitting looking out and wondering if I should order one more drink.

(Yes, yes, you're wondering where you heard that before. Here.)
amit varma, 3:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The N70, E61 or E70

Which is worthy of being India Uncut's mobile phone?

As regular readers will be aware, I need to a buy a new handset, and am agonising over three choices. Many of you would be familiar with the phones in question, and would have useful advice to give. (IndianArchie has already given much valuable feedback.) So if you have the time, let me outline what I'm looking for, and what my shortlist is.

Broadly, three things attract me:

1] I want a phone on which I can surf the net, blog and do my email.

2] I'd like a camera as well, so anything bloggable can instantly to captured. (I can't lug my Canon around everywhere, after all.)

3] I want to listen to music.

My shortlist is:

1] The Nokia N70, which fulfills all three needs, though the interface doesn't quite seem so friendly for internet surfing, and it doesn't have a QWERTY keypad, which makes blogging etc more or less impossible.

2] The Nokia E61, which seems an outstanding business phone. I've read nothing but rave reviews of it, and it seems perfect for using the internet, with a QWERTY keypad, friendly interface and support for Word, Excel, PDF files and so on. Its sound is also supposed to be very good, and I liked the feel of it when I used it a bit at a store. But it doesn't have a camera!

3] The Nokia E70, which has a QWERTY keypad that folds out, all the features of the E61, and has a 2MP camera, like the N70. It's screen is smaller than the E61, though, and I haven't actually held it in my hands yet.

If the E61 had a camera, I wouldn't bother considering anything else. But it feels so good otherwise that it's still a contender. If you have any of these phones, or have useful advice to impart, please do write in. Immense gratitude will flow.

Update (October 13): The Nokia E70 wins.
amit varma, 3:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Lev Grossman v Edward Champion

A nice little Blogger v MSM boy battle breaks out, as Lev Grossman writes in Time magazine, in a piece dramatically titled "My Mortal Enemy," about Edward Champion, who writes at Why is Grossman upset at Champion? "[E]very few months he calls me an idiot on his website," writes Grossman. "I do know that in the past Edward Champion has called me a 'chickenhead' and 'the Uwe Boll of the book reviewing world,'" he says. "Champion has also tossed out 'preposterous,' 'irrelevant' and 'malarkey.'"

So Levrants a bit in his piece, and then ends with this:
Let's take each other seriously and respond in good faith. Let's not bandy words around thoughtlessly or maliciously--there's enough of that going on already, what with Uwe Boll and MoFlo4Sho out there. After all, at the end of the day, we're not so different, you and I.

Except that I'm getting paid for this.
Amusing, that last line. As Champion points out here, he does get paid for his review coverage, but there is one unrelated point I'd like to make here that the smug Grossman should ponder on.

Every single visitor to edrants comes there purely to read Champion; there is a certain confidence he can draw from that readership. Grossman's reviews, on the other hand, get their readership courtesy of appearing in MSM publications like Time and NYT. I'm not making a value judgement on either of their work, but I wonder whether Grossman would be able to build up a readership of his own independent of MSM support. Champion has done just that, and respect is due for at least that reason. He may earn less than Grossman -- just as I earn less in a year than some of my MSM peers on a traditional career path do in a quarter -- but to me, his readership has greater intrinsic value.

Perhaps one day some of that value will translate to revenues. Champion already does earn enough, though, to be able to send fruits to Grossman. That's the way to building a healthy relationship!
amit varma, 11:34 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Ban ragging, not cellphones

The Times of India reports:
The Chhattisgarh government has decided to ban cell phones on college and university campuses across the state. The decision came in the wake of allegations that a first-year student of Bilaspur Engineering College was photographed naked by her seniors during ragging in the hostel.


State higher education minister Ajay Chandrakar said on Friday, "We have made up our minds to ban use of cell phones on college campuses and a notice in this regard by the education department will be issued soon. We have been contemplating a ban on mobile phones in colleges since long."
Hmm, sure, the problem here is the mobile phone, is it not? Instead of taking the strongest possible stance against ragging -- our authorities miss many such opportunities to do so -- this is what they come up with. In a similar transfer of responsibility, the girl's father was reportedly told to get his daughter treated, by a warden who said that she "needs psychiatric help."

The attitudes some of us have towards ragging are beyond belief. It is common to speak of ragging as a normal initiation rite freshers go through, but it actually encompasses a number of acts that are defined as crimes in the Indian penal code. Indeed, students know that many acts that would not be permissable in any other context suddenly become a little more acceptable if the term "ragging" is attached to it. What would otherwise be a crime can be condoned as, at the most, "going a little overboard."

What will it take to change such attitudes? To start with, colleges should have a zero tolerance attitude towards any kind of coercion on campus, and cops should come down much harder on such crimes. Some kind of national ragging database would be perfect (with checks and balances, of course), and anyone who feels the urge to rag someone -- or see someone naked against their will -- should realise that it will probably result in the end of his academic career. People who rag should be treated like child-molesters -- given the age and vulnerability of some victims, it really isn't all that much different.

But all that is stating the obvious, and our authorities are clearly more enlightened than that. Out with thee, Nokia!
amit varma, 11:12 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, September 24, 2006

"Everyone's got a factory"

Chris Anderson, whose book The Long Tail I had reviewed here, says in an interview with Nick Gillespie:
What we’re realizing is that talent and expertise and knowledge and writing ability is much more broadly distributed than our previous forms of identifying it revealed. The old model was if you want to make a movie, you had to get your foot in the door in Hollywood. If you want an audience for your music, you’ve got to get signed by a label. If you want to write a book, you’ve got to have a publisher.

The old model said: We control the factory, and you have to go through us. Now everyone’s got a factory, and we find that there are more people who have talent and, more important, they’re making things that our filters haven’t previously recognized as having appeal. They’re making stuff because they want to make stuff and because they can. Most of it’s crap, but a surprising amount of it is not crap, and you’re getting these grassroots, bottoms-up hits that are resonating with subcultures that we traditional gatekeepers would never have bothered with.
Blogs are a part of what's enabling this, of course. The stuff I write here wouldn't fit into traditional forms of journalism, and at most I could email it to friends in a pre-blog era. Even then, how long could I keep that up? Blogging gives me an audience of a few thousand, meaningless to a bigtime publisher, but enough of an incentive for me to keep at it. It also allows me to control my content, and not have to listen to some editor somewhere who'd tell me stuff like, "But aren't you overdoing the cows?" or "What is this 'fun comes' business? Passive voice is baaad English."

Of course, the long tail thrives not just because of the content but also because of the filters that helps us navigate this content to find what we want. I try a dual role here, actually: I try to provide interesting content, and also to be a filter to some of the exciting stuff out there. I think I do okay on the first front given the limited time I have for this, but not so good at the second one. That will change.

Anyway, back to Anderson's interview, in which he identifies himself exactly as I would, as a libertarian who admires politicans who are "socially liberal and fiscally market-oriented." He says:
They try to enable markets wherever possible and there’s not a kind of default inclination toward regulation. It’s a mind-set that doesn’t look to government first for answers but looks to government last for answers.
I wish we had even one politician in India who thought like that. But our chappies will look to government first for answers because that is how they get to enhance their power, and also because the contituencies they appeal to are too used to the idea of a paternalistic government to realise the harm such paternalism does. Free TV sets will sound good to all slum-dwellers, who will not realise that the costs of those TV sets, and the kind of policies they represent, keep them from becoming prosperous enough to buy their own TV sets.

I'm a huge fan of TV sets, by the by. But only when they are in midair, thrown from the 84th floor of a hotel, passing the 14th floor restaurant where I'm sitting looking out and wondering if I should order one more drink.

(Reason link via Boing Boing.)
amit varma, 1:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Horoscopes for cows

Sometimes I feel like I'm in a Salvador Dali painting. And I'm melting. So surreal it can get.

Consider this IANS report that states, "Horoscope for milk producing cattle is under the serious consideration of Ranchi's Birsa Agriculture University (BAU)." The article continues:
"This will be a scientific horoscope which will be prepared on the basis of genes and chromosomes of the animals," said DK Singh, additional Director, BAU.

"The analysis of genes and chromosomes will help the Animal Husbandry Department to separate the high-milk-yielding animals from the low-yielding ones. Breeding will be done on the basis of such horoscopes," he said.
A horoscope "prepared on the basis of genes and chromosomes"? Whatever happened to the fricking stars? [Blogger looks up, blogger sees ceiling, fan needs cleaning, blogger looks down.] This is a paradigm shift, and I'm reeling (and no wonder that was foretold too).

We'll soon have flying cows at this rate. I'll be flying Kingfisher, and I'll look out the window, and there'll be a cow flying by with Bejan Daruwalla sitting on it. I'll gasp, and quickly indicate that I want a consultation. He'll smile, reach down, start milking the cow with both his hands, and say, "I've got my hands full right now."

(Link via email from confused.)

(Earlier posts on astrology and suchlike: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.)

(Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59.)
amit varma, 12:42 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Amitava Kumar v Salman Rushdie

There's nothing quite as much fun as a literary spat. Earlier today Amitava Kumar, who told me many delightful Bihari jokes a few weeks ago by the sea in Mumbai, wrote in to point me to a post he had written on Salman Rushdie. It seems that Rushdie was due to visit Vassar College, where Amitava teaches, and, offended by pieces such as this, "made it clear to the organizers that he would cancel if [Amitava] was involved in his visit."

There were no comments on the post when I read it a few hours ago, and I had no time to link to it then, having to go off to meet a visiting bureaucrat blogger buddy, who informed me of my subsidising the jute industry, which displeased me immensely. Anyway, I return to the post now to find that the sixth comment on it is by Salman Rushdie himself, who writes that he did not threaten to cancel his visit to Vassar, and merely refused to be on the same stage as him. He is also upset that Amitava did not "leave this matter private," and has accused him of being Kaizad Gustad's "bastard half-brother."

Ok, ok, I made the second half of the last sentence up. But it could happen, it could. Watch that space...
amit varma, 11:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The correct price

Reuters reports that a court in Finland has determined that "[a] fee of 25,500 euros ($32,000) is way too much for a woman to charge a man for fondling her bosom."

Apparently, a couple charged "a 74-year-old who suffers from dementia a total of 25,500 euros to enjoy the woman's breasts on 10 occasions."

Now, if they're schmucking a gent who is not competent to make his own decisions, that's a different matter. But I'm intrigued by the judge's ruling:
Based on general life experience alone, it is indisputably clear that a 25,500 euro charge is disproportionate to the compensation in question.
I am tempted to ask here what would have been a proportionate charge? 5000 euros? 2000 euros? 80 euros? 2 fricking euros?

My point is that there is no such thing as a fixed "correct price" for anything. The right price for any object is determined by supply and demand, and by what the buyer and the seller agree on. The lady in question has a right to demand whatever price she wants for the fondling of her breasts, and the fondler in question has a right to reject or accept that price. If he wants to fondle only those breasts, or if no other owner of breasts is willing to put them at his disposal, then those breasts, and the consent of their owner, acquire a scarcity value. It would then be surprising if the price set wasn't high.

People make a similar mistake when they complain about the prices of commodities shooting up after a natural crisis. (I myself have been guilty of this mistake in the past.) But natural market prices are the best possible way to efficiently allocate resources at any time.

Consider, for example, what happens when an earthquake runs through a village and flattens most of it. Just one store with foodgrains in it is still standing. The prices immediately shoot up there. "Greed," we all scream. "The shopkeeper's making a profit out of other people's misery." We might even support a government regulation that fixes the prices of all his foodgrains.

What happens if such a regulation is indeed passed? Why, the first few people who come there buy up much more than they immediately need, to hoard up in case the crisis continues. And most of the people who come after that find no foodgrains at all. This is inevitable: price controls invariably cause shortages. Had the prices been allowed to rise naturally to reflect demand, though, the first few customers would have bought more prudently, and later customers wouldn't have gone hungry.

In a similar way, to take a Mumbai example from last year, hotels are bound to raise their prices if the city gets flooded and people in the vicinity are stranded and have nowhere else to go. Is this greed? That's irrelevant. Consider what the raised prices do: two friends who would have taken a double room for the night for Rs 3000 suddenly find that the room is now Rs 10,000. So they get together with two other chappies, and the four of them take the room. So, instead of two people inside and two people outside in the rain or the lobby, you have four people in the room. Efficient allocation of resources? Yes. Profit for the hotellier? Yes, and so what? Without the profit motive, the hotel wouldn't be there in the first place.

Another classic example is the price controls imposed on gasoline in the US in the 1970s, which led to shortages that finally disappeared when Ronald Reagan lifted the controls. To read about that, in an excellent short piece in price controls, do read Thomas Sowell's "An Ancient Fallacy: Price Controls." (Also read "Price controls" by Sowell, "Four Thousand Years of Price Control" by Thomas Dilorenzo, "What price controls really mean" by Lawrence Reed, and "Price Control Fallacy" by Don Boudreaux. And I'd also recommend Sowell's excellent primer, "Basic Economics," for more on the subject.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy Blog.
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Friday, September 22, 2006

Best quiz question ever

Every year, in the US, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry gives out an award. What is it called?
Think long, thing hard, do not Google, and remember, it can be worked out.

This question, by the by, was framed by Pradeep Ramaratnam for a quiz conducted last Sunday by Pradeep and Siddhartha Vaidyanathan. My team led in parts, but eventually finished third, just a single painful point behind the winners. Shiju Thomas has a full report here.

And, ah, none of the teams cracked the question above. But all of them groaned after they heard the answer, so workoutable it was. And clapped -- so good it was.

Update (September 23): Here's the answer -- but don't click till you try to work it out, please!
amit varma, 7:51 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Imagine Lord of the Rings...

... written by other people.

(Link via email from Aadisht.)
amit varma, 7:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"Back to the Stone Age"

It's important to remember that Pakistan is the USA's ally in the War on Terror out of compulsion, not conviction.
amit varma, 6:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Why Koena Mitra likes to be single

This slideshow is actually smarter than I imagined, though my expectations certainly were low to start with.

Actually, on second thoughts, much of it is the usual banal stuff. But Reason No. 10 makes up for all of them.

And since just that one link is too insubstantial for a post, here are some Koena Mitra wallpapers, and here's the famous publicity MMS Clip featuring Koena and Fardeen Khan. The comments on that second link are most amusing, though the clip is rather tame. It would have worked much better if Fardeen wore that green bustier thingie Koena wears towards the end of it, and Koena, well, didn't.

I'm a huge fan of Bengali food.

Update: And here's Koena Mitra on tigers, loneliness and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. But what's with that last headline?
amit varma, 6:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A lack of sympathy

I rather like this sentence in Chandrahas's post on Saul Bellow's Seize The Day:
The Royal Swedish Academy, when awarding Bellow the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976, made special mention of Seize The Day, though Bellow himself, in an interview late in life with his great contemporary Philip Roth, asserted that he didn't like the book much, and that he felt very little sympathy for its protagonist Tommy Wilhelm (it would have distressed Wilhelm greatly to know this, for his great problem in the book is that nobody feels any sympathy for him).
I like the lilt at the end of the sentence that the parenthesis provides, and how it goes so well with the touch of humour that it introduces.

[Clears throat.] Okay, never mind, read the post now.
amit varma, 5:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On feeling cold

Cold is just a fancy marketing word for a particularly unpleasant form of pain. We should just call it what it is: pain.
Scott Adams relates his experience of, um, feeling cold.

I had a similar experience three years ago. I had to go to London in December for a couple of meetings, and my boss advised me to take thermal underwear with me. "Thermal underwear!" I scoffed. "Pah! I can do winter. I was born in Chandigarh!"

Such arrogance. Indeed, I was born in Chandigarh and winter had been my favourite season as a child, and I'd also been to London before and felt just okay. (That was when I was ten. I was also taken to Paris then, where my father tried to make me wear a monkey cap. I wanted to look cool for the chicks and refused. "I never feel cold," I declaimed.)

Anyway, I did buy thermal underwear, and I remembered to pack it, but I did not wear it on our first night out. We went to a pub with some colleagues, and we were indoors when the cold struck me. I had on a jacket and a sweater over my shirt, and despite that, at one point of the evening, I understood what cold meant.

First I just felt a bit chilly, like "brrr" and suchlike. Then suddenly I found my boss looking at me kind of funny, as if his eyes were trying to focus. Naturally: I was vibrating like the randiest Nokia cellphone ever. "You're not wearing thermal underwear, are you now?" he asked, as four white men stared at me. (You do not do this to a good brown boy, ok? Please. Never.)

"It's a bit chilly," I said. "Maybe it's the jetlag. I was born in Chandigarh. I'm a huge fan of butter." Yes, by this time coherent thought had vanished from my system, and I just wanted to dive into a bowl of steaming hot soup. But there was only beer on the table, and just looking at it made me want to die. Beer? These Brits drank beer in this season? No wonder they always lost the Ashes. (This was three years ago, remember.)

Anyway, the evening eventually wound down, with my colleagues no doubt wondering why I hardly spoke and gradually got as close to sitting in a foetal position as is possible on a chair. When we went from the pub to our car, I was almost yelping every step of the way, and trying out new Bollywood dance steps. That cold.

The next day I wore thermal underwear (and other things as well) and went shopping. I was in Barnes and Noble for about seven minutes before I realised that I was as wet as an underwater mop. Immense sweat had come. Heat was felt. Coherent thought was again vanishing.

Oh, how I missed India then.

(Adams link via email from n.)
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Munnabhai and Gandhiji reach Lucknow

When Govinda was the rage, pelvic thrusts filled UP. These days it's that excellent film, Lage Raho Munnabhai, that is moving people to action. DNA reports that in Lucknow, "[a]bout 50 residents of Rana Pratap Marg area wearing Gandhi caps assembled before the High Court here with roses in their hands and a memorandum seeking the removal of the liquor shops opposite a Shiva temple."

Well, that's a delightfully peaceful way of protesting, and I'm a huge fan of dead flowers. But what these peaceful chappies are asking for is violence against the liquor shops, which is what their forcible removal implies. Does their location justify such violence? And why doesn't Shiva, also called "The Destroyer of Evil" by some, take care of the liquor shops himself if they're really so sinful? Huh?

(Link via email from Rajni.)
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

All about sex blogs

Yeah, yeah, who wants India Uncut, right? You want to read sex blogs, and are wondering which the best ones are. Well, here are some suggestions for you.

(Link via email from domain expert MadMan.)
amit varma, 9:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Who needs to go to a gym?

Lose weight with HP.

(Link via separate emails from Gautam John, Manu J and MadMan.)
amit varma, 4:03 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"Jerusalem. There is no such city!"

No, it's not me saying that Jerusalem has vanished, but the Jerusalem municipality. Immense postmodernism is evoked.

(Link via email from reader Ullas Marar.)
amit varma, 1:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cows v Humans

Reader Ram Seshadri emails in response to this post, most upset that I appear to be making fun of cows. Good man! Ram says that humans are stupider, and provides the video below as proof. Can't argue with it, really.

(Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58.)
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sex and education

It is illegal to make a profit from providing either in India, points out Gautam Bastian.

Heck, from that you'd think that 'profit' is a dirty word in India. I wonder why?
amit varma, 6:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What makes a great editor?

Being sane is a start. Henry Finder, the editorial director of the New Yorker, is quoted as saying of David Remnick, his editor:
[Remnick] has something very scarce in this city: an aura of sanity. He exudes a sort of calm that most New Yorkers get to experience only with prescription medication. As an editor, I think that aura of equipoise turns out to be very helpful, because you have so many people here who are professional neurotics, always acting out, drama queens, who have one form of craziness or another. And I think he sees it as his job to be... sane.
There's much more in this fine profile of Remnick by Gaby Wood in the Observer. What is remarkable about Remnick, as Wood's piece also states, is that he was one of the finest reporters of his generation before he became an editor. It's exceedingly rare for anyone to combine the qualities of a great reporter and a great editor, and Remnick unquestionably is both.

To read some of Remnick's reporting, check out the collection of some of his best work, Reporting. He writes about sports and politics, profiles writers, captures history, and in each case, it could scarcely be done better. Two of his pet subjects are boxing and Russia, and I'd highly recommend his books, King of the World and Lenin's Tomb.

And just buy all of the remarkable magazine he edits.

(Observer link via Sonia.)
amit varma, 6:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sanjay B Jumaani: The man who killed Hindi

Rahul Bhatia has a nice profile of Sanjay B Jumaani here, the numerologist who has "made the job of a sub-editor hell," as Rahul puts it. Or, rather, as Rahul A Bhatiya puts it, for that is what Jumaani asked him to change his name to.

Jumaani should also ask Rahul to change his friends. This one thinks that numerology is quite as much a load of rubbish as astrology, and the likes of Jumaani thrive only because of the confirmation bias. (I'd written on this before in the context of astrology.) All the shmucks who change their name on Jumaani's advice are likely to want it to succeed, and would ascribe any upturn in their lives to the change of name, and ignore any misfortune. So if they get a raise or a new TV serial, they'll assume it's because of the name change. If their serial goes off air, they'll assume if would have happened anyway.

Jumaani's on an especially good wicket, because he's not making predictions, just advising changes of name. You can still point to a bad prediction an astrolger makes, but no one who has changed his name because of Jokerr Jumaani will ever say that it didn't work for him: that would be equivalent to admitting that he himself was a stupid schmuck.

Some earlier posts on astrology: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.
amit varma, 4:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Getting it on with a cow

Remove yourself from the human race for a second, pretend you're an asexual alien, and imagine two humans humping: isn't it the silliest thing ever?

Actually, it's the second-silliest thing ever. You can see the silliest in the video below:

As usual, cows outdo humans. Now you know why I'm such an admirer.

(Link via email from Kiruba.)

(Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57.)
amit varma, 4:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thoreau rephrased

Robert Samuelson writes in the Washington Post:
[W]e are clearly at a special moment. Thoreau famously remarked that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Thanks to technology, that's no longer necessary. People can now lead lives of noisy and ostentatious desperation.
Blogs, he says, are part of what enables some of that noise and ostentation.

Samuleson speaks the truth, of course. But not the whole truth. The internet, like the universe, contains multitudes.

(Link via Nilu.)
amit varma, 3:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Amnesia cricket

Superb phrase, that. Nice little poem, this. I rather like these stanzas:
Amnesia Cricket, Like when the
memory of a ball thrown melts
into the brown of the pitch, or
the blood from a wounded knee

Drips down the naked calf. Half
a memory sitting rather still on
the stumps. Like a bail. Or a
sleeping insect when it was 8 PM.
Thing is, you can like the way words come together, the music they create, the half-images they throw up, without even understanding what's being said. That's the case with me and Neha's poem.

Or maybe I'm just dumb, and trying to feel cool. Could that be it? Nah.

Update: The girl's on fire, she is. Check out "For invisible Zoo-mates" and "The Immoralist and The Peacock". I like the thought of a minor river snuggling.
amit varma, 7:39 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

In some parallel universe...

Lalu Prasad Yadav is bowling over IIM Ahmedabad.

And Lord Krishna is wearing jeans.

Nah, that's too wild...
amit varma, 5:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

So how did we get this population, huh?

Check out this slideshow of "Bollywood's steamiest moments."

If this is how the country makes love, with one or all of bafflement, disgust and stoic endurance, it's a wonder procreation happens at all. And look at all them chappies puckering up: If our laddies learn to kiss from watching films like that, I'd imagine the ladies would be rather unsatisfied.

But where do the babies come from?
amit varma, 5:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The limits to free speech

Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in the Indian Express:
The idea that every one has to respect all religions is false, shallow and pernicious. Belief is not a matter of will. It is possible, after the good faith exercise of reason, to dislike the historical record of this or that religion. Why impose a contorted hypocrisy by obliging everyone to say that all religions are nice? All organised historical religions have crosses to bear. The test of tolerance is when we can put up with things people say about us, even when we don’t agree with them or like them. A society where people, within limits, are free to express their views of other religions, is far safer and more conducive to liberty than a society that calls for suspending historical judgment or theological disputation under the pretext of expressing respect.
Absolutely, and quite in synch with a similar point I'd made here. Mehta is a wonderfully eloquent writer, and one of our country's best essayists, but there are two words in the excerpt I just quoted that I find myself raising my eyebrows at: "within limits."

What are the limits that Mehta wants for free speech, and who decides when those limits are crossed? The government, which is always pandering to some interest group or the other?

You might argue, looking at Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian constitution, that freedom of speech is protected in India: after all, it says, "All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.” Right after that, though, the authors of the constitution added Article 19 (2), which specifies a number of caveats to free speech (or limits as Mehta might term them), namely "the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence."

Consider how subjective some of these are, and left to the discretion of public officials. "Decency or morality," for example, or "incitement to an offence." How easy it would be for a babu to decide that this post of mine violates the first of those, and that this one violates the second. Contrast this with the American constitution's First Amendment, which does not allow for such subjective caveats.

In any case, I wouldn't second-guess Mehta on kind of limits to free expression he thinks are reasonable. I hope he writes about them sometime.

A previous post on free speech and giving offence: Do not draw my unicorn.
amit varma, 1:48 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

NZ find what hard to follow?

Black cocks.

Best headline ever. Today.

(Link via email from Salil.)
amit varma, 1:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Paris Hilton is a platform

Not just that, she's Marketing 2.0, while Madonna was Marketing 1.0. Chartreuse explains.

(Link via email from Chandoo.)
amit varma, 1:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, September 18, 2006

"You can wake up tomorrow totally homeless"

So says George Foreman, who almost did just that, in the NY Times story, "Fortune’s Fools: Why the Rich Go Broke."

As Tennyson once almost said, though, "It's better to have been rich and gone broke, than never to have been rich at all."

Of course, you'd say that at the start of the curve, wouldn't you?
amit varma, 4:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Trial by fire

Once it was burning paper balls. Now it's boiling oil.

The inspiration for all this, I'm presuming, is the agni pariksha that Ram made Sita go through in the Ramayana. And he's the good guy in that book. Heh.
amit varma, 3:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

You can have it all, Pooja

Pooja Bedi writes in the Times of India:
I visited a "gem guru" and was advised to wear a diamond for a good love life, and ruby for a successful work life. I was also told I had to make a clear decision, as I couldn't wear both.
What to say now about such rubbish? I can't be bothered to sympathise with any woman who goes to one of these dopes and chooses between a diamond and a ruby. They don't have to choose. They can just say:
Dude, gem guru, I want it all and I'll have it all and you men can't staaarp me, ok? And do you notice my pet cow, Gobari, standing at my side? In precisely 30 seconds she will piss on you most seductively. Let me see which of the 19 stones you are wearing protects you. Go Gobari!
And that's the cue for an immense moo.

(Um, is this a cow post? Ok then -- Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56.)
amit varma, 3:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Well, well, whaddya know?

Models banned from Spanish fashion show for being too thin.
amit varma, 2:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

No no no, this isn't the much-awaited descent of India Uncut into inevitable insanity, but an example of a grammatically correct sentence created using homonyms and homophones. Read more about such sentences here. A couple of other examples from English:

"That that that that had been had been that that that had been had been unexpected."

"The last boss she had had had had enough of her."

And one in Tamil:

"Thuuppaarkkuth thuppaaya thuppaakith thuppaarkkuth thuppaaya thoou mazhai."

Yes, it's that kind of afternoon. Good evening, and all that.

(Link via Fark.)

Update: Zero writes in to say that the Tamil quote should end "Thuppaaya Thoovum Mazhai!" I picked that quote up from the Wikipedia article I linked to, so maybe a Tamil speaker among you could also edit that? I know no Tamil myself, sadly, and thus miss all the inside jokes at my favourite blog.
amit varma, 2:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Men and their thingies

They'll put it anywhere.

I'm sure that picture is just for representational purposes only, but you must admit, she's pretty!

Update: Reader Jen writes in to point me to this fine story of a gentleman "found in a neighbor's barn with his pants down and a gray lamb at his side." It's his own private matter, I'd normally remark, but it turns out that the lamb wasn't his own, but belonged to his neighbour, a gent named Goats.

Immense sin. Perhaps he never heard the commandment, "You shall not covet your neighbour's lamb." Among other things...
amit varma, 1:17 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sania Mirza wants your money

If you're a taxpayer to the government of India, as I am, Sania Mirza wants some of what's leaving your wallet. The lady has just applied to the government of Andhra Pradesh, asking it "to allot land for setting up a tennis academy." We are informed that "[t]he government had already given her more than Rs 1 crore and a 500 square yard site in Jubilee Hills."

I find this spending preposterous. As I'd written here, we need to realise that government money is our money, and government spending is not a trivial thing, and must be taken seriously. When you consider the percentage of one's income that taxes represent, we are effectively working four months of the year for the government: that's what just our income tax comes to. All the other indirect taxes we then pay, such as every time we buy anything, probably add up to a few more weeks.

And it's not just you and me: our maidservant, our building chowkidaar, the paanwaala on the road, the taxi driver: all these people are also burdened by all kinds of indirect taxes, even if they never actually file tax returns. And it sickens me that Sania Mirza, who earns in crores from endorsements alone, should ask for some of that money. She is a fine sportswoman, but this is disgraceful behaviour.

(Also see -- Where your taxes go: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.)
amit varma, 12:42 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

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