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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Hey, lkng ht tdy!

PTI reports that Kerala is on its way to setting up "a full-fledged cyber police station to check growing cyber crimes," and one of those crimes will be "eve-teasing by sending SMS messages and e-mail".

And another "cyber crime" they will have to prevent is "the sale of stolen motor vehicles in the state". Hmmm.
amit varma, 1:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tried and tested failures

The Indian Express writes:
The most depressing thing about leftist policy proposals is that they have been tried. Leftist ideas dominated Indian economics in the sixties, which gave us 3.5 per cent growth and poverty stagnation. India’s growth started accelerating and poverty began to decline only when the country began to deviate from leftist policy prescriptions. The UPA government must learn from India’s blunders. It must execute policies that benefit the poor, which are very different from socialist policies designed for the kulaks and the urban middle class.
Mr Karat, of course, wouldn't agree.
amit varma, 1:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Temples and profits

In response to my post about the privatisation of temples in Rajasthan, Eswaran Baskaran writes in:
It is the other way around in TN, AP and Karnataka - the temple money is used to maintain the government, or rather, the ruling party. The old temples in southern states are very rich (at least they used to be) because of the huge land endowments given by kings and they are typically leased to the ruling party politicians for paltry sums. I have seen the website of the HR&CE dept of AP claim that theirs is one of the few profitable departments in AP government (I couldn't find it on Google).

The main reason for the government takeover of these temples was because of caste discrimination that existed in these temples, but that reason doesn't hold any longer. This is one breach of secularism no political party will ever mind.
On an unrelated note, Shivraj Patil visits the Tirupati temple, and the gods there immediately whip up a storm. Correlation, I assure you, not causation.
amit varma, 1:15 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Nugget 2

As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish, I wish, he'd go away
"Antigonish", by Hughes Mearns.

Note: I'd originally mistakenly picked up from somewhere that this ditty was by John Donne. My mistake. Sorry. J Alfred Prufrock 2 kindly sent me an email pointing out my mistake, as well as another ditty by Mearns:
As I was sitting in my chair,
I knew the bottom wasn't there,
Nor legs nor back, but I just sat,
Ignoring little things like that.
amit varma, 12:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A hole in the chest

Mid Day reports:
Suchasingh Parmar was shot on his back by two men on a bike. The bullet entered his back and came out from his chest. Parmar ran into the IOCL office near the bus stand and got himself admitted to hospital.
Actually, the words I quoted are not from the report, but from the caption below the illustration. And what an illustration. Immense fun.
amit varma, 12:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, May 30, 2005

Privatising temples

PTI reports that the Rajasthan government has decided to privatise some temples in the state because, as per the report, "[t]he state government's budget was meagre and could not maintain over 90,000 temples in the state".

This is news to me. I had no clue that the government maintained so many temples using taxpayer's money. And what I find even more inexplicable is the last line of the report, where the tourism minister of Rajasthan is quoted as saying: "The project does not include any mosque or church."

PS: At least this is one kind of privatisation the left won't oppose.
amit varma, 10:54 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Suhail Kazi checks out the Mumbai Mirror, and finds out that they have no clue of what a blog is. Among other things.
amit varma, 5:51 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Same bathwater. Different bathtub

The Economic Times reports:
Cut through the clatter. The painfully long jams. The labyrinthine platforms. This time round, there’ll be just one lane. Shanghai looks closer than it ever did. Mumbai may soon find its own space, set its own rules, and get aamchi governance. [Many sics.]

If the buzz in government circles — both within the state and at the Centre — is to be believed, plans are on to bring Mumbai under an independent authority.
(Link via MadMan.)
amit varma, 5:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A budding moral police

Moral policing isn't restricted to just old and crusty politicians. The Indian Express reports what happened to Shakti Kapoor recently:
Today, Shakti was in Nagpur for a performance, when students approached him, saying they wanted to honour him with garlands and a tilak. Shakti accepted.

However, he received a rude shock when, instead of feeling flowers on his head, he saw the youths pour colour all over him. His whole face was blackened.

"I wasn't aware of their intention. They had a bottle of ink with them. They poured the entire contents on me and started shouted slogans like NSUI zindabad, [Long live the NSUI]" says the stunned actor.
And why did they do this? Ostensibly because of Kapoor's sleaziness, exposed recently during a sting operation by India TV. I happen to dislike the man, but nevertheless, this kind of hooliganism is worse than the behaviour it sets out to condemn. And it's a waste of ink.
amit varma, 5:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A metallic conspiracy

Charles Assisi of Intelligent Computing CHIP writes in to respond to my post yesterday about ayurvedic medicines found to have high levels of metallic content:
The story doesn't work because everything we consume today is contaminated with heavy metals and [it] does not even utter a peep on that. I remember a similar report was published in the American mainstream media a few months ago and met with this rebuttal.
The rebuttal is a piece by Mike Adams in which he writes:
The people behind this announcement clearly have an agenda, and that agenda is to discredit all herbal remedies in an effort to call for new FDA oversight of herbal remedies and nutritional supplements. And they do that by scaring people with headlines that distort the true findings. These are just a handful of products sourced from India and Pakistan. There are not the Ayurvedic formulas made in the United States, Germany and other countries with higher quality standards. Just because you're buying Ayurvedic medicines doesn't mean that you're going to be getting heavy metals.

What this announcement fails to mention is that a whole lot of the food products in the United States is also contaminated with heavy metals.
Hmmm. Also, while on the site Assisi edits, I came across an interesting editorial by him arguing against software patents. Have a look.
amit varma, 12:25 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Helmets for immortality

Today's Mid Day has a curious headline: "Despite helmet, man dies in bus collision".

Now, whoever had ever claimed that if you wear a helmet no accident will kill you? The headline almost seems to be designed to argue against helmets, as if to say, "See! Helmets don't save lives." That's a fallacy, of course, so here's a question for you: which of these is it?
amit varma, 12:17 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Power to the people

Manmohan Singh and Prakash Karat are fighting over power reforms, reports the Telegraph. Karat, needless to say, wants free power for farmers to continue. It makes the communists look compassionate and all. Old trick.

I can't wait for the day when, at a press conference, Karat announces: "The rest of the politicians are heartless. Only communists have a heart. Here, see mine." He puts his hand inside his shirt, and as pressmen gasp, draws out a heart. Pink and messy, it throbs urgently as Karat beams all around him. Large pipe-like arteries and veins emanate from it to all parts of the room.

"Um, sir, where are all those arteries and veins going," asks someone.

"My heart," says Karat, "is pumping blood to every village in India. Power will be generated from it. Power. See? The communists have all the answers."
amit varma, 11:59 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Two kinds of nationalism

Nationalism and identity politics, one would think, would normally go hand in hand. In the Indian freedom struggle, though, they were separate. The kind of nationalism that the Indian National Congress espoused was built around something less tangible but, ultimately, more substantial. In a fine essay in the Telegraph, Mukul Kesavan writes:
[T]he Congress recognized that its claim to speak for the nation was thin. It had no organization, no mobilizational ability and no plebeian members. It got around this in two ways. By seeking out members from every community, the Congress tried to prove it was representative of India’s diversity. Also, realizing that the template of European nationalism wouldn’t fit a subcontinent as diverse as India, men like Naoroji and Dutt tried to replace the identity politics that supplied the ballast of European nationalisms (blood, soil, faith, history) with secular grievance: by demonstrating that British rule hurt all classes and communities, they laid the ground for a properly anti-colonial nationalism.
Kesavan's essay is about "three pivotal moments that shaped early nationalism in India", and the third of them is the split between the Extremists and the Moderates of the Congress in 1907. What brought that about? Kesavan writes:
The dispute between the Moderates and Extremists is not a clash between political moderation and political extremism, or nationalism and communalism. It is a conflict between proponents of two different sorts of nationalism. The Extremists take their cues from handy versions of European nationalism, based on the idea of a homogeneous People seeking self-determination and self rule. Inspired by the central European nationalisms of the mid-19th century, Lal, Bal and Pal saw no difficulty in appealing to a larger constituency in the name of an agreed history, a revived culture and a resurgent People. The Extremists are best understood as Orthodox nationalists.

The Moderates disagreed with this view not principally out of timorousness or loyalism, but because they saw the impossibility of achieving an Indian consensus on history, culture and the idea of a People. They had gone to great lengths to create a pan-Indian party powered by a sense of anti-colonial grievance (it is no coincidence that the great critiques of colonial exploitation are written by Moderates) and they were determined not to risk that achievement on the altar of a Mother India derived from Hindu iconography.
That battle, of course, has been revived in our modern times. The BJP and the sangh parivar have revived the nationalism based on identity politics, while the Congress, sadly, has lost its identity, and stands for nothing in particular. Which version of nationalism will prevail? Does the nationalism that the Moderates stood for in 1907 hold any relevance today, when there is no anti-colonial battle to fight? Or are we reaching an age when we can look beyond nationalism of any kind?

I hope the answer to that last question is yes. And I think that much-maligned process, globalisation, will be responsible for it. More on that later.
amit varma, 1:25 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Heavy metal medicine

The Indian Express reports:
Recently in Delhi, a top banker’s wife was admitted to hospital after doctors detected a liver malfunction. On examining the patient’s blood samples, pathologists found very high levels of heavy metals — arsenic, lead and mercury. This baffled the doctors, till they were told the lady, in her 50s, had been taking ayurvedic medicines for the past five years to try and fix a constipation problem.
This is not an isolated incident, and a survey by the Harvard Medical School last year revealed that one in five ayurvedic products available in the US had "more than acceptable levels of heavy metal".

It isn't clear, of course, whether this is a problem with ayurveda itself or, as the article suggests, a case of "unsafe medical products being labelled 'ayurvedic' as a marketing gimmick and giving India’s ancient system of healing a bad name". Either way, be careful what medicine you're on. Metallica can lead to Megadeath.
amit varma, 12:08 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The credit card boom

"The credit card industry in India has never had it so good," the Times of India informs us. "In its 15 years of doing business in this country..." Um, excuse me, my phone is buzzing, be right back.

Yes, I'm back. The article says, "In its 15 years of doing business in this country, it had issued 2.69 crore cards till December 2003. And now in just one year, 2004, that figure skyrocketed to 4.33 crore." Hmm, that's quite a phenomenal... excuse me, my phone's ringing again, I really must change my ringtone.

Sorry, I'm back. Where was I? Yes, the article elaborates, "From 14.57 crore transactions in 2002-03, the number rose to 21.19 crore in just the first nine months of 2004-05. The amount involved in these transactions also shot up from Rs 26,951 crore to Rs 44,737 crore." Outstanding stuff, and... um, sorry, it's my phone again.

[Hello? Yes, speaking. No, I do not want a bloody credit card. What is it with you people? This is the third call I've got in three minutes, I'm trying to blog here, just leave me alone, ok?]

Sorry, where was I? Yes, and the reason for this boom is this:
Behind the story of this dizzy growth is a tale of aggressive marketing, tall promises and a tribe of outsourced marketers called direct selling agents (DSAs). This is the tribe that's on your phone virtually every day, urging you to buy this card or the other, indeed, often promising the moon and, not surprisingly, failing to deliver.

The DSAs and their activities have already reached the court of the Reserve Bank of India. The RBI recently set up a working group to recommend corrective measures whose suggestions include setting up of a regulatory mechanism.
As I was saying... sorry, give me a minute.

[You scoundrels, you so-and-so, you such-and-such, I do not want a bloody credit card, never call me again, do you understand what I'm... what? Oh, sorry dear, didn't realise it was you. I thought it was a credit card company. Sorry. No, won't shout again. Yes, I'm a bad pup. Sorry.]

Grmphhh. Yes, the RBI needs to take some action against these DSAs. Enough is enough.

Update: ICICI kidnaps 18-year-old boy. Or so it is alleged here. Also, here's an earlier post on credit cards.
amit varma, 10:51 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

No more free registrations

Tired of sites that demand that you fill in hordes of personal details on a form before you can access their articles? Well, Suhail Kazi sends me a link to a site that will end all your woes: Give it a spin. It'll give you instant username-passwords to many sites that require registration, such as and the Business World site that MadMan had a bit of a problem with a few hours ago. Excellent tool.
amit varma, 10:15 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, May 28, 2005

I confess. I taught him to ham

I see in Mid Day that Shah Rukh Khan's make-up man has been arrested.

Then I read more and find that it isn't because of the acting.
amit varma, 11:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The auto-focus of the internet

Rashmi Bansal's article about blogs, and how companies are getting into business blogging, has been published in this week's Business World. Read it here (free registration required).
amit varma, 3:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Aphorism 8

Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.
St Augustine, before his conversion to Christianity. From Confessions, VIII vii, translated by Henry Chadwick.
amit varma, 2:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The what-ifs of cricket, and much else

Ramachandra Guha indulges himself in some counter-factual cricket history, and comes up with six intriguing scenarios, one of which has India winning their first ever Test match, against England in 1932. Fascinating stuff.

Here's one non-cricketing bit of counter-factual history I wish he'd speculate on: what if the pro-free-market secular-right C Rajagopalachari had been India's first prime minister instead of the socialist Jawaharlal Nehru? Guha had included an excellent essay on Rajagopalachari in his book, The Last Liberal and Other Essays, and is currently writing a history of post-independence India, so I suspect something like this would be a breeze for him. Hmm.
amit varma, 11:45 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

She ain't my daughter, she's a thing

Minor girl gets gang-raped. The four accused are arrested. Then the girl's dad, who left her and her mom for another woman 15 years ago, approaches the girl and her mother. He has been offered Rs 5 lakhs to drop the case, so he tries to convince the girl to do just that. He also wants her to get married to a mentally retarded boy in the same village. And who's with him in this effort? The sarpanch of the village.

So here's a question that bugs me: can decentralised governance, or local self-governance, which would give a lot more power to sarpanches, really work in a society as backward as ours?
amit varma, 11:32 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Defensive Dharam

Karnataka's chief minister, Dharam Singh, has this to say about Infosys's Narayana Murthy:
I appreciate people like Narayana Murthy. He is the son of a schoolteacher and has done well and I highly appreciate it. People like Murthy frequently go abroad, sit in the US and compare Bangalore with foreign cities and say, “Oh, nothing is happening in Bangalore.” We have our own problems.
All this, of course, while getting defensive about accusations that he's not doing enough to improve Bangalore's infrastructure. And oh, by the way, Dharam Singh completes one year in office today. Learning to toddle yet, Sir?

Update (11.40 am): A friend from Bangalore updates me that there's been no power there since 4.45 pm yesterday evening. Ha.
amit varma, 11:20 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

No more games

Mid Day reports on a bizarre incident in which a "playful" couple slashed each other's wrists. It quotes the man, Vilas Gujar, as saying:
I wanted to watch a WWF programme at 7.30 am and Neeta, my wife, insisted on clearing the bed. In the argument that followed, she playfully tossed a knife at me. It hit me on my left hand and though I was hurt, I told her I was fine. She then grabbed the knife and tossed it at my right hand.
Well, this time his hand got cut and started bleeding. So he got angry and started slashing her wrists. The report says that "only when she started crying in pain, did he stop and started comforting her." What happened then? In his words:
I took her in my arms, but all this while, neither of us realised that we were losing a great deal of blood. I held her in my arms and opened the windows of my house in Chinchpokli.
Well, the neighbours looked in, saw that they were bleeding, and took the couple to hospital. The woman died. At the time of speaking to Mid Day, Gujar was unaware of it, and kept enquiring, "How is she doing? Have you met her?"
amit varma, 10:05 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

More on Karat and Bhattarai

So did Prakash Karat meet Baburam Bhattarai or not? As I'd mentioned in my earlier post, the Times of India said that he did, and that Karat himself had confirmed the meeting. Karat denied it. Well, it turns out that Michael Higgins's surmise in the update to that post is probably on the mark. The Times of India has now hit back:
[I]t was Karat himself who had confirmed the meeting to TOI. A careful reading of his statement would also indicate that he is only denying the role of intelligence agencies in arranging the meeting, not the event itself.

This was exactly in line with the stand that Bhattarai took. According to agency reports from Kathmandu, the Maoist leader has denied that Indian agencies organised the meeting but didn't deny the meeting itself. While they seem to be acting in concert, sources affirmed that the agencies, indeed, brokered the meeting.


Their disclaimers now are easy to understand. There is an Interpol red corner notice against Bhattarai and he is expected to be arrested and turned in by Indian security agencies. If despite that, he is moving around here, and that too boldly enough to meet the boss of a top government ally, it is reasonable to believe that the agencies were winking at it all, if not colluding with Bhattarai.
Remarkable stuff. I got the link to this ToI piece via Sandeep, and Nitin Pai has an analysis here.

Now, here's what I find revealing: both Karat and Bhattarai did not deny the meeting itself; but they wanted people to believe that they did. Now, if they really didn't meet, then the ToI's riposte should lead to an umambiguous denial of the meeting from at least Karat, leaving no scope for confusion. If that is not forthcoming, then it will be safe to surmise that the meeting did take place. And it will also mean that Karat did not have the honesty and integrity to accept that he met Bhattarai, and to say, "So what? I can meet whoever I want." Courage of conviction, anyone?
amit varma, 1:30 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Correlation and causation

Quite a few people took umbrage to the Jerry Rao piece that I'd linked to the other day, that praised Thomas Macaulay. Primary Red of Secular-Right India writes that Rao committed the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, confusing correlation with causation. Just because the growth of English is an intimate part of our progress as a nation, he says, it does not follow, as Rao implies, that our progress would not have been possible without English. It is a well-argued post, and the fallacy is common.

Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta gives her take here.
amit varma, 1:09 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, May 27, 2005

Hygeinic telephony

Can you make a phone call with a bar of soap?
amit varma, 9:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Outsourcing education

The next wave of outsourcing, according to James D Miller, could come in education. Miller writes in Tech Central Station:
Outsourcing hasn't gone far enough: the U.S. should start using Indian-based teachers [sic]. Smart, inexpensive, English-speaking Indians already help Americans with software design, computer support and tax preparation. Through satellites and the Internet workers in India can be connected, with mere millisecond delays, to Americans in need. Outsourcing jobs to India has saved Americans billions while actually increasing the quality and competitiveness of many of our industries. We should now apply outsourcing to education, the American industry most in need of improvement.

Like most teachers, I find grading to be the least interesting aspect of my job. I would gladly teach extra classes if I could in return be freed from the drudgery of grading. My employer, Smith College, should hire a few score smart Indians to grade for their faculty and in return Smith should expect its professors to spend more time in the classroom.

High schools should similarly outsource their grading to Indians. Because U.S. teachers find grading so mind-numbingly boring, outsourcing grading would make teaching a far more attractive profession, thereby allowing high schools to recruit better teachers without necessarily having to increase salaries.

Michael Higgins, who pointed me towards this article, had expressed similar ideas to me in the past, but I was skeptical because I thought the quality of grading would surely be hard to keep control of, and the people doing the grading wouldn't be directly accountable. In fact, wouldn't this part of an education become rather impersonal then? But I am not a teacher, of course, and don't know how the system really works. Many doubts were expressed about BPO (cultural disconnect etc) and that's doing fine.

Update: Need a tutor? Call India. (Link via email from vAgue.)
amit varma, 9:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Grass isn't just for cows

It's for hockey also, writes Harsha Bhogle in the Indian Express. "If tennis, cricket can be played on different surfaces," he asks, "why not hockey?"

Read the full piece.
amit varma, 11:28 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

No more accents

Mid Day reports:
Call centre executives can at last throw their annoying Texas drawls or fancy Brit inflections out of the window – BPOs have decided to do away with foreign accents in favour of plain, natural English.

Rajesh Ramola, a trainer at Personaliteez, a Mira Road call centre, explained: “In the beginning, clients, especially Americans, were unaware their calls were being outsourced, so we were forced to speak in an accent. Now everybody knows, so there is no point to it anymore.”
Hmmm. And will they revert to their original names as well? In some BPOs, Krishnamachari becomes Chris, Harvinder becomes Harry and Janaki becomes Jane. The reason for that, of course, is not just deception, but to make it easy for the customer to pronounce their name, if required.

Imagine this conversation:
Customer: Hello, is that the XYZ service centre. There are some problems in my latest credit card statement? I haven't subscribed to all these, um, websites?

Executive: Tee hee. What's your credit card number, sir?

Customer: Um, where is this call being taken?

Executive: Ghatkopar, sir, in India.

Customer: And what is your name?

Executive: Sir, my name is Pamulapartivenkata.

Customer: What's that? Sorry?

Executive: Pamulapartivenkata. And that's just the short form. Would you like my full name?

Customer: Um, forget it. Bloody Indians. @#$@*&# *&$%#@&! [Hangs up.]

Executive: Of course, you could call me Pam or Pamela. Except that I'm a man. Hoo ha ha, ho ho. Ha. Ho. Hee. Have a good day, Sir.
Well, at least the accent's gone. Sensible decision. Deception is bad.
amit varma, 10:58 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The right cheek twice

Bill Clinton gets what teenagers in my time would call a pappi.
amit varma, 10:56 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Fron Jersey Cow to Soniaben

Narendra Modi's regard for Sonia Gandhi has gone up a few notches. Why so? Read here.

Personally, I think Jersey Cow was a compliment. He was being lavish with his praise.
amit varma, 10:52 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Changing times, changing lives

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," Henry David Thoreau write in his classic work, Walden (read it here). But as times change, could this change to quiet determination? Gaurav Sabnis tells us about a taxi driver who wants his daughter to do the "Ciscowaala course" and become an IT professional. Would he have had such hope in his life 15 years ago?
amit varma, 11:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Times of India v Prakash Karat

Yesterday I'd linked to a report by the Times of India in which they'd stated that Nepal's Maoist leader, Baburam Bhattarai, had recently met Prakash Karat, the communist leader. Well, Karat has denied today that any such meeting took place.

ToI had reported: "When contacted, Karat confirmed the meeting, although he did not share details."

Karat has said in a statement: "No such meeting was held."

One of them is lying. And I'd love for the truth to be out, and for the liar, whoever it is, to be held accountable. I hope the matter does not fizzle out here, and that there is an aftermath.

Update (May 27): Michael Higgins writes in to say that one needs to read between the lines here. He writes:
Actually this is what the Hindu wrote:
The report that "I have met a Maoist leader from Nepal in a meeting arranged by the Indian security agencies is untrue," Karat said in a statement here.

"No such meeting was held," he said.
This is the key phrase: "in a meeting arranged by the Indian security agencies".

Why did he have to add this phrase? [Probably] because he did meet with the Maoist leader but the meeting was arranged by someone else, not the Indian security agencies. The ToI got that part wrong. Karat is using this mistake to, in effect, deny any meeting.

Politicians are like lawyers, they are very sly with words.
Indeed. So did Karat meet Bhattarai or not? Why is nobody in MSM (yet) asking that question?
amit varma, 10:23 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

100 dead pigeons

Undertrail dies in jail. The authorities claim he died of tuberculosis. The autopsy shows "ligature injuries on his neck". Sources blame the jail staff. They decide to extract a confession from one of the dead man's fellow convicts.

They beat up one prisoner trying to get him to confess. He suffers "severe head injuries" and is taken for treatment. The jailors then turn to another man. This man has found company in jail in 120 pigeons that he feeds everyday. So to persuade him to confess, the jailors turn to the pigeons.

They twist the neck of one. Then another. Then another. And another. And one more. And 95 more.

With 100 dead pigeons in front of him, the man finally breaks down and confesses.

This is not some macabre work of fiction. Read this.

So what's the greater tragedy here? The 100 dead pigeons? Or the men who held them and twisted their necks, one by one by one, without feeling what we feel as we read this?
amit varma, 9:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Chewing tobacco could cost you your life

No, not through cancer. You could get shot by the moral police.
amit varma, 9:50 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Nugget 1

If only one person in the world held down a terrified, struggling, screaming little girl, cut off her genitals with a septic blade, and sewed her back up, leaving only a tiny hole for urine and menstrual flow, the only question would be how severely that person should be punished, and whether the death penalty would be a sufficiently severe sanction. But when millions of people do this, instead of the enormity being magnified millions-fold, suddenly it becomes ‘culture’, and thereby magically becomes less, rather than more, horrible, and is even defended by some Western ‘moral thinkers’, including feminists.
Donald Symons, writing about moral relativism. Quoted in The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker.
amit varma, 4:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Mumbai? New Delhi? Kolkata?

Identify the city.
amit varma, 3:36 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Hepatitis B

One cause of the male-female imbalance in many parts of the world, including South Asia, according to this fascinating article, "The Search for 100 Million Missing Women". Read it all the way until the end.

(Link via email from Ravikiran Rao.)
amit varma, 2:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Cow > Girl

So you're in Haryana and have Rs 10,000 to spare. Well, here's the rub: you can't afford a cow. But you can buy a couple of girls. Read here.
amit varma, 12:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Aphorism 7

Political rhetoric, by its very nature, blurs the distinction between assessment and abuse.
From an editorial in the Telegraph (Kolkata), May 26, 2005.
amit varma, 12:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

English and the monsoons

Jerry Rao writes in the Indian Express:
Irrespective of one’s views, to think of India without the English language is pretty much like thinking of India without the monsoons. It may not touch everyone, but its influence touches everyone.
Read his full piece, "In praise of Thomas Macaulay".
amit varma, 11:53 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Feasting on the dead

There are few things as disgusting as people taking advantage of the dead for their own selfish purposes.

Mid Day has a report on an astrologer who is trying (successfully) to get some easy publicity by claiming that he foresaw Sunil Dutt's death. You already know what I think of astrologers, but does it get much lower than this?

And read the last para of the report, where this man predicts:
A difficult week lies ahead because of Saturn shifting its house from Mithun Raasi to Karka Raasi. During this time, Saturn will be in zero degree and cause large-scale destruction in the lives of people under its influence. We may therefore witness a lot of suicides.
Well, it so happens that I'm supposedly a triple-Saturnian, being a No. 8 Capricorn with a prominent mount of Saturn on my palm. I await, eagerly, the promised "large-scale destruction". Come to Papa.

For my earlier posts on astrology, click here, here, here and here.

Update: "Disgusting" was perhaps too mild a word. MR Madhavan writes in to add some perspective on this astrologer's prediction that there will be "a lot of suicides" in the coming week. He writes:
The astrologer may be correct in his prediction, though this is even more disgusting. A number of class 10th and 12th board exam results are due this week, and you might see a number of suicides being reported.
Suicides, sadly are common in India at the time of exam results being declared, and this astrologer has, as Madhavan cannily surmises, taken that into account. So, after a week, he will have even more success to boast about. He is, thus, not merely feasting on the dead who are dead, but also on the dead who are still living.
amit varma, 11:15 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


It's not just Indians who spit.

(Link via email from Ashish Chandra.)
amit varma, 11:10 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On Lit blogging, and blogfriends

Jai Arjun Singh writes about "one of the areas where blogging can be so therapeutic":
Quite often these days I don’t feel up to writing a comprehensive review of a book or a film; making definitive statements, describing the plot, supplying character capsules. I find it more rewarding to just home in on some passages/scenes that hold importance for me, mull over them, try to convey to others what I saw in them, perhaps use them to make larger points about the book or the writer’s style. It’s not easy to do something like this when you’re reviewing for mainstream publications, which require a holistic approach, but blogging does permit it, as readers of some of my posts on films and books will know.
Indeed. The few times that I've written about a book or a film on my blogs, I've felt the same freedom, to not worry about the conventional structure of a review, but to get straight to the areas that I want to discuss. This kind of writing serves a purpose supplementary to the traditional MSM review, and is not meant to replace it.And this applies not just to reviews, but to any journalistic writing one does on blogs.

Jai's post is also about meeting my friend and Middle Stage co-blogger, Chandrahas Choudhury. I've been lucky enough to meet a few blogfriends in my few months of blogging, and it's quite a thrill. For weeks and months you get to know someone through reading their blog, perhaps have email conversations with them, and when you meet face to face, there's both familiarity and newness. It puts you in a comfort zone immediately, which is great for someone like me, who is otherwise reserved and uneasy around strangers. It's great what blogging can do.
amit varma, 10:46 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sonia and Saddam

JK of Varnam finds equivalence.
amit varma, 1:15 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Ismail Merchant: 1936-2005

It's a bad day for cinema. Sunil Dutt died a few hours ago, and now Ismail Merchant is gone. Merchant, one half of the Merchant-Ivory duo, was in the finest tradition of movie producers. An aesthete who loved art and good cinema, he enabled James Ivory to make a series of outstanding films, taking care of the moneymen while also cooking on the sets. He wrote some popular cookbooks as well, but lovers of cinema will remember him more for the feasts he served up on the silver screen.

Some Merchant-Ivory films I would heartily recommend: The Householder, Heat and Dust, Howards End, A Room with a View and The Remains of the Day.
amit varma, 12:28 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

India Uncut Aphorism 6

Men never do evil so openly and contentedly as when they do it from religious conviction.
Blaise Pascal, from Pensées. Click here for downloads.
amit varma, 11:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunil Dutt, RIP

Sunil Dutt died of a heart attack in Mumbai today. He was that rare politician, who was universally acknowledged to be a good and honest man; and an unusual actor, in that he wasn't afraid of experimentation, as he showed with Yaadien, in which he was the only actor. His breakthrough film in Bombay's film industry was Mother India, which was the first Indian film to be nominated for an Academy Award.

You can read some early obits here, here, here, here, here and here. Also read: an old profile by Dinesh Raheja; an account of a narrow escape he had in 2001; the last interview he gave; a look at the work he did in the sports ministry; and an account of his romance with Nargis Dutt. A day of national mourning has been declared to mark his death, though Dutt, a simple, no-nonsense man known for his self-effacing nature, would no doubt have been embarrassed at the fuss around his death. He was 75-years-old when he died.
amit varma, 6:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On uncertain interactions

Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in the Telegraph:
One of the more interesting political novels of the 20th century is C.P. Snow’s Corridors of Power. Its message is that most analysts think of statecraft as being governed either by a conspiracy of powerful interests, or by an over-determined structural logic based on necessity. On the contrary, politics is governed by the uncertain interactions of intellectually and morally flawed human beings, who are half the time just trying to figure out everyone else’s intentions, including their own.
The essay is a marvellous analysis of how poltical decisions originate, and of how "actions have to be taken, not based on substance, but out of a desire to defuse speculation and talk". Read the full thing.
amit varma, 1:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Supping with the devil

Y Rajasekhara Reddy, Andhra Pradesh's chief minister, complains that the Naxalites of his state, with whom the Congress was accused of entering an unholy alliance to win the state elections, are "coming together with the Maoists". (In the same breath, he defends his government's decision to let the Naxal leaders go when they were cornered in a jungle.) And Akshaya Mukul of the Times of India reports that one of Nepal's Maoist chiefs, Baburam Bhattarai, is currently a guest of the Indian state, and recently had a meeting with Prakash Karat, the communist leader.

The meeting with Karat was ostensibly "to use [the] Left's influence over the Maoists to get them to join the seven-party pro-democracy alliance in Nepal". But I am skeptical of that happening. I am, in fact, amazed that the Indian state is consorting with terrorists and criminals in this manner. We created Bhindranwale, flirted with the LTTE, and look where all of that got us. Perhaps the "Naxal corridor from Nepal to Nellore" that the Indian Express once warned against may just become reality.
amit varma, 12:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Horsy politicians

Remember the horse-trading that the dissolution of the Bihar assembly was supposed to prevent. Well, Ashok Malik of the Indian Express describes how some of it was taking place. He writes:
It’s a pity some of the best stories never made it to prime time. The BJP-JD(U) had a plane ready in Delhi, to fly allied MLAs to Panchmarhi, Madhya Pradesh. More bizarre was the case of three LJP MLAs whom Ram Vilas Paswan spirited away to Delhi. They were sequestered in Hotel Janpath.

Eventually, the politico husband of one the MLAs arrived in Delhi to "rescue" his wife. The plot was hatched. The couple would stay the night at the hotel, and leave early for a morning walk, while the "guards" in the lobby were snoozing. The NDA car would be waiting outside.

At 5.30 am, a set of cars went whizzing up and down Janpath, waiting for their quarry. Ms MLA and Spouse never showed up — they had overslept, too dead to the world to even answer frantic calls! It was a wasted effort — much as the election that has now been erased from Bihar’s history.
There's a great comic novel waiting to be written on Indian politics, so if one of you is so inclined, roll with it. Much material there. And do read Malik's full piece.

Also, for those who think I specialise in cows, you can read some previous posts on horses here and here.
amit varma, 12:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The daftest extortionist

Mid Day reports:
Shabbir Sheikh is the daftest extortionist in history. After barging into a Dongri jeweller’s store and threatening to kill him if he didn’t pay Rs 20,000, Sheikh agreed to leave for 15 minutes to give the jeweller time to arrange for the money. Jain, of course, immediately telephoned the police.
The fellow returned 15 minutes later and said to the shopkeeper:
Ya tum paise de do, ya naake pe aa jao. Yunus bhai vahi pe baitha hain.

[Either you give me the money, or you come to the crossing with me. Yunus bhai is waiting there.]
Instantly the cops grabbed the fellow. The report doesn't mention what happened to Yunus bhai, though. And for some reason, Sheikh reminds me of the "droopy-faced man from Tata Indicom" who has such a starring role in this post by Jai Arjun Singh. Stuff of legend, these fellas.
amit varma, 12:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Selling editorial space

Responding to my post yesterday ("Decade of the Swimsuit Special") about the Times of India, Ravikiran Rao writes in:
Selling of editorial space will be the first thing to go when there is competition. I have secondhand anecdotal evidence for this.

I'm sure you'll know that selling of news did not really begin with the Slimes [some bloggers refer to ToI this way]. They just institutionalised it. My aunt is a Bharata Natyam teacher and I learn from her that it is apparently standard practice to pay the journalist who attends a performance if they want a good review. This is true for both English Language and regional newspapers. But it seems that with the cutthroat competition for news among Kannada newspapers in Mumbai, that practice has stopped among them.

This is not to say that the quality of the news will be any better. The Slimes will probably just stop getting paid, but it will still print the same crappy news - if readers want to read it.

Then again, I am not sure that the Slimes is publishing all that trash because its readers demanded it. It is more like the expectations men have from movies. They'd like it to have a good story, decent acting, etc. But if it doesn't then they wouldn't mind it if the chick takes off her clothes either.

Hmmm. I remain skeptical, because the kind of events the ToI sells its editorial space to are mostly those who wouldn't be considered newsworthy otherwise: the launch of a publicity showroom, of a new brand of towel, and so on. So instead of people competing to report them as news, as Ravikiran envisages, you might well have people competing to sell editorial space to them. That will make it a buyer's market, which hardly makes things better, because that damn market shouldn't exist in the first place. Let's see.
amit varma, 11:30 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A certain kind of courage

A few days ago, I had linked to a piece by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in which he had written that "[s]ome hawkishness ... is about a lack of a certain kind of courage". Well, Nitin Pai responds to that, and many of the points raised by Mehta, here and here. In the second of these posts, Pai writes:
Trust, Mr Mehta argues, is beside the point for three reasons: because India has given nothing away, because the peace process is not incompatible with a tough line on security; and because the situation on the ground today gives India reason to think it can do business.

Each of these arguments sounds reasonable enough, but ignores the dynamics of the peace process. One of the key elements of that dynamic, relevant in this context, is the asymmetry in the costliness of reversing any move. That asymmetry is loaded in favour of Pakistan. Being a status quo power, India can only concede ‘real ground’ to move the process forward while Pakistan just has to concede its ‘claims’. In reverse, India can take back what it has already conceded only if Pakistan is willing to let go.
I am still on Mehta's side on this one. India-Pakistan relations are not just the zero-sum squabbling over territory, but the possibility of mutually beneficial progress in trade, which excites me much more. (My earlier posts on this subject are here and here.) India and Pakistan are third-world neighbours struggling towards a more prosperous future, and friendly relations will help both progress.

Note, though, that I am not recommending we let our guard down or make concessions that hurt us. The possible pull-back from Siachen, which Nitin characterises as a concession, does not harm us at all: as Ajai Shukla points out here, "Siachen has little strategic value" and "is a drain in terms of money and sheer military effort". It represents a negative-sum game, and one that is pointless to continue.
amit varma, 11:01 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

India Uncut Aphorism 5

The worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them.
George Orwell, in one of my favourite essays, "Politics and the English language". Collected in the fine anthology, Essays, among others.
amit varma, 11:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tortured, weakened and sapped

Gaurav Sabnis writes:
[Y]ou show me a business threatened by globalisation, and I'll show you a business tortured, weakened, and sapped by socialism. This applies not just to telecom, power and petroleum, but even to chai shops, rickshawwallahs, and rice farmers.

Dead right. Read the full thing.
amit varma, 10:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Decade of the Swimsuit Special

Krishna Moorthy, responding to my post about the Times of India and the jargon they use, writes in:
Indian newspapers are way too fond of jargon and marketing-speak. ToI's "prosumer" is but one such nerve-jangling example.

I've read at least a half-dozen interviews with Indian film-makers where the interviewer asks a variant of this question: "What is your film's USP?" (To which our astute, market-savvy film-maker replies "music is my film's main USP".)

But seriously, a newspaper designed for and by the reader? Oh, why don't they simply declare this the Decade of the Swimsuit Special and really delight their young readers?
Indeed. And that brings me to another thought. Much as we keep complaining about the ToI, it is the way it is because that's what its readers want it to be. What will change this? Competition? An increasingly enlightened readership (that perhaps also reads blogs)?

When it comes to the frivolity and the celebrity obsession, perhaps they are already changing. Since DNA and Mumbai Mirror were launched, the TOI has had more human-interest stories and hard reporting making their way to the front page. So perhaps the competition is reason to hope that they'll find the right balance between the serious stuff and the fluff. But what about their selling of editorial space?

What will it take for that to change?

Update (May 25): Ravikiran Rao's emailed response to this is here, and Charukesi Ramadurai reveals more jargon here.
amit varma, 7:53 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Globalisation with an Indian accent

The Indian middle class may have grown, says Shashi Tharoor in the Hindu, but the market for foreign brands isn't growing anywhere as fast as the hype says it is.
amit varma, 4:05 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Shrikanto the Lizard, and pepper spray

The Compulsive Confessor emphathises with a lizard, flirts with a giant, has a close shave at a traffic signal, and manages to find time to blog about all this. Nice.
amit varma, 2:21 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Um, that's my revolving chair

The Times of India reports:
The Centre may be making available Rs 521 crore to the Jammu and Kashmir government every year for security-related expenditure (SRE) or combating militancy, but not all of it is used for tackling fidayeens or extirpating the roots of insurgency.

Some of it goes in "luxury huts at the tourist spot of Cheshmashahi on the foothills of Zabarwan mountain". In the past, "[c]rores were said to have been spent on the interior decoration of the official houses". The TOI's sources have revealed that "a single revolving chair for the CM’s house cost Rs 75,000, while a walnut bed cost Rs 1 lakh".

All this, of course, from tax-payers' money. But we just sigh, too inured for outrage.

The Indian Express reported on a similar case yesterday, though public money wasn't involved in that case. That doesn't make the alleged offence a lesser one, but at least the parents who were done in by the school in that story can go somewhere else next year. I'll still have to pay my taxes.
amit varma, 1:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Reminds me of Soniaji

PM spots a tigress at Ranthambore!

Now, isn't that newsworthy?
amit varma, 1:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What is Aishwarya to do?

J Ramanand points out that Aishwarya Rai is not a particularly good actress. So can she make it big in Hollywood? Ramanand writes:
Ms. Rai's agent has been successful in hoisting her onto the leading US talk shows. This is obviously a well-thought out strategy to project her in Hollywood. But Ms. Rai's disinclinations towards making a spectacle of herself (if you know what I mean) seem to be a crippling roadblock. The problem is that no casting director is going to hire her on the basis of her histrionic skills (especially if s/he saw Devdas). So what's left is the "Joey" tactic: take it off.

I'm not being s3xist or anything. Frankly, she is not going to make it otherwise. Perhaps she should cast an eye homewards, at the careers of sundry Koppikars, Aroras and Dhupias. She was lucky enough to not have to require such steps at home, but if one takes a hard look, Hollywood's not all that different.
Well, I would simply suggest that the lady keep her clothes on. She's not going to make it anyway, and will not progress beyond token exotica roles or B-grade parts that will demand the "Joey" approach. Better to be a big fish in her expanding Bollywood pond.

On the other hand, keep an eye on Mallika Sherawat.
amit varma, 12:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

And are you a prosumer?

The Times of India says:
Newspapers have conventionally been made by publishers and editors. However the reader is steadily metamorphosing into a prosumer (producer-consumer)—as evident from the huge phenomenon of 'blogs' that have invaded cyber space over the past few years.

Bennett, Coleman & Co, the publishers of The Times of India—and a group that has been known to break with convention—has decided to harness the ever-increasing assertiveness of the reader to launch the first co-created newspaper in the country. [Sics here and there.]

Basically, they claim to have undertaken "a massive direct contact programme in which thousands of households were visited and asked to offer their opinion on a host of subjects," and, having done this, designed a newspaper that will be "the first paper designed for—and by—the young Mumbai reader." This is, of course, the upcoming Mumbai Mirror.

The article, the TOI's front-page anchor (at least in the Mumbai edition), has no byline, and has clearly been written by a marketing man, mixing cliched marketing jargon with supposed youth lingo. Interestingly, Mumbai Mirror seems to be positioning itself in the same way as DNA has in their advertising: as a newspaper shaped by the reader. It will be interesting to see how the product actually is, after all this frenetic brand-building.

Update: For more jargon, click here.
amit varma, 11:53 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The spiteful ocean

Secular-Right India is back from vacation, and tells us about the ocean that spits back.
amit varma, 11:08 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

China's watchdog

Blogs. Nicholas Kristof writes:
The Chinese Communist Party survived a brutal civil war with the Nationalists, battles with American forces in Korea and massive pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square. But now it may finally have met its match - the Internet.

Read the full thing. (Link via email from Satyam Viswanathan.)
amit varma, 10:41 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, May 23, 2005

India Uncut Aphorism 4

A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.
Arthur Schopenhauer, quoted in Albert Einstein's Ideas and Opinions.
amit varma, 11:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

And then there were 17

A fine time was had yesterday at the May Mumbai Bloggers Meet. As many as 17 people turned up, a record turnout for us, though less than the 20 people who turned up at a Bangalore meet – though it must be noted that those guys had help from Chennai.

For the first time in a Mumbai bloggers meet, I wasn't the one with the longest hair. Three people had hair longer than mine. All three were women, which brings us to the other delightful aspect of the meet: there were as many as four ladies present, another record for us. They were, in alphabetical order of first name:

Charukesi Ramadurai
Harini Calamur
Rashmi Bansal
Rohini Kapur

And the members of the weaker sex:

Aadisht Khanna
Amit Varma
Anand of Locana
Devendra Gera
Dilip D'Souza
Gaurav Sabnis
Nandan Pandit
Ravikiran Rao
Rohit Gupta
Saket Vaidya
Sudheer Narayan
Vikrum Sequeira
Yazad Jal

Aadisht has an account of the proceedings here.

One of the problems with such large gatherings is that I inevitably wish I had spent more time with some of the bloggers I met for the first time, but had read often before this. With so many people, conversation can sometimes be disjointed, attention diffused. And it's difficult to get up and drag oneself away. I left home at 1.30pm, reached the venue at 2.55, and was with bloggers with 11.30, reaching home at midnight. Many of the bloggers left after a couple of hours, but some of us hung around till the sun went down. Drinks were had at Leo's, where the colour of your skin determines the speed of service. Dinner was planned. Bade Mia was crowded so a place called Alps was visited, where sizzlers were tried out. Africans watched football in a smoky room, and our eyes burnt in an onion haze. Consumption of cow happened.

Enough passive voice. I've been given the arduous responsibility of organising next month's blog meet, and it will be announced on this blog. Watch this space.
amit varma, 3:29 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Google News. Edit me. Edit me.

Far too many blogspot blogs that I come across have a blogroll that looks like this:
Hmm. This is the default setting for many Blogger templates, and if you let it stay, either you're being lazy, or you simply don't like anything else on the internet. Not good. Click on that "edit me" link, mess around with your template, build a blogroll of all the sites you enjoy reading. Either you could do it manually – as I have – or you could use blogrolling, or other such software.

My policy on linking: if you send your readers to good places, they will value you for it, and will come back for more. Linking empowers your readers – so (blog)roll with it.
amit varma, 2:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Hey, nice uniform

It isn't only police doggies whose interests are being safeguarded in Mumbai; it's also bar girls. Maharashtra’s State Commission for Women has made a few recommendations regarding bar girls to the state government, of which the one that instantly struck me was this: "Bar girls should be provided with uniforms." (Another recommendation is that they should not be allowed to dance, but let that pass.)

Uniforms for bar girls? Who decides what the uniform is? I can imagine a Bar Girl Uniform Committee sitting down to discuss just this matter:
Uniform Commissioner 1 (male): I don't quite approve of exhibit one, this ghagra choli thing, it has a slit. Slits are very bad things.

Uniform Commissioner 2 (female): Yes, Navalkar sahib. And exhibit two is also not on, the blouse is too small. It will corrupt the innocent boys who come to the dance bar for family entertainment. It will put lewd and lascivious thoughts in their impressionable young minds.

UC 1: Yes, Mrs Naithani, that is right. And this third uniform? It is a mini-skirt! Who submitted this? It will erode family values.

UC 2: Yes, but see exhibit 4. It's a burkha. No slit, even at the eyes. This is just right. Our bar girls can now protect their modesty.

UC 1: Yes, but um, there's just one problem...

UC 2: What's that?

UC 1: Migrants from Bangladesh will find it easy to hide in those.
Of course, the main reason given by the government against dance bars was that criminals congregate at such places. That would, you'd assume, make it easier for them to catch these criminals. Perhaps when they land up to arrest them they get, well, distracted. A uniform would certainly help, wouldn't it?
amit varma, 11:46 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Chuck that baby like a javelin

The Bihar assembly has been dissolved, with the sound motive of "prevent[ing] horse-trading in the state". This Rediff report states that the governor of Bihar, Buta Singh, has "recommended dissolution of the assembly since unconstitutional, illegal and unexpected developments were taking place in the state."

Now, under the circumstances it's probably the right thing to do. But consider this: if employees of a bank were found to be corrupt, would you shut down the bank? If kids in an orphanage were found to be ill-treated, would you close the orphanage and put the kids out on the street? And, to misuse old imagery, would you hurl out the baby with all the force in your gym-toned triceps if the bathwater had ajinomoto in it?

The problem here is one of law-enforcement, and of politicians being both above the law and devoid of integrity. Dissolving the assembly recognises the symptom. The disease festers.
amit varma, 11:34 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, May 22, 2005

India Uncut Aphorism 3

I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.
Douglas Adams on why natural selection is a better explanation for the world than any that religion can provide. He came to this conclusion, famously, after reading Richard Dawkins's book, The Selfish Gene. Quoted in Dawkins's A Devil's Chaplain; the interview where Adams said these words is here.
amit varma, 12:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Lords of Poverty

Deepak Lal writes in Business Standard:
The Soft Left has always claimed the moral high ground and tugged at our heartstrings by claiming to speak in the name of the poor and the oppressed. But this is mere rhetoric and as innumerable examples show, not least the recent policies espoused in the Common Minimum Programme in India, in the policies they advocate they are the enemies of the poor. Alleviating poverty has become a worldwide business from which these Lords of Poverty derive a profitable living. In the interests of the world’s poor, it is time we said “Boo” to them and pensioned them off.

This isn't rhetoric; Lal explains, in his column, exactly how the policies of the left, that sound so compassionate on paper, end up harming the poor and exacerbating poverty. Read the full thing.

(Link via an excellent post by Naveen Mandava on how economic nationalism is actually counter-productive to the cause its practitioners espouse.)
amit varma, 12:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Customer service? Where?

Gurcharan Das writes in the Times of India:
There are two kinds of individuals in government. One is helpful; the other entangles you in red tape. My neighbour's aunt goes to collect her pension every month in person, and if the first type is at the window, she quickly gets her money and returns home happy. If it is the second, she gets the run around, and her whole week is often ruined. So, it comes down to a matter of attitude, which percolates down from the top to the lowest official. I am pleased that the new system will also assess attitude (at least once every five years.)

In the private sector, the competitive spirit helps create an attitude of service. A saree shopkeeper will show you 50 sarees even if you don't buy one because he fears his competitor. Studies confirm that high performing companies create an environment that rewards employees with a helpful attitude. Such employees, they know, win customers and raise the organisation's morale.

Now, in theory, that is just right. The competition in the private sector should create a higher level of customer service than in the public sector, where accountability exists only on paper. But how far is this happening? I keep running into bad service and a callous attitude towards customers in so many of my interactions with the private sector that I'm convinced that it is not only the economic system that needs reform; we need to change too. Girish Shahane gave an example of this with reference to his own community (read here and here), but it is a problem throughout India.

Things are much better than a decade ago, of course, but the free market hasn't changed our attitudes enough. One reason for this is that we simply haven't liberalised enough; and another is that it takes a lot of doing to shrug off the inertia of half a century of Nehruvian socialism. We're still on a bullock cart, playing horsy-horsy games, unable to gallop, not brave enough to try. Is that really a bullock leading us or a horse?

Help, it's a bullhorse.
amit varma, 11:37 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Like a volcano

Harneet Singh of the Indian Express interviews Mahesh Bhatt. The first question and answer:
Q. How many ideas do you get in a day?

A. My mind is like a volcano. I am continuously recycling the world that I’m exposed to. I have always known that the brain is not an originator but a blender.

As if to disprove this, Bhatt soon comes up with the original assertion that Meera, the Pakistani actress, "reminds me of Madhubala and Meena Kumari" and "also has the vitality of Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit". Later, to give banality a purple tinge, he informs us that sex appeal is "is a body-to-body reaction. Like fire, it can burn, soothe, comfort, give light or destroy."

Sigh. Why am I reading this on a Sunday morning? Sorry.
amit varma, 11:28 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Justice to the glam bod

Urmila Matondkar recounts how she once met Shobha De, who told her that she had seen Satya, and was upset with Urmila. Urmila says:
As I stared at her blank, she explained, 'Urmila, why do you do such roles?' As if the first remark wasn't enough, this added to my anxiety. She continued, 'Anybody could have worn a cotton sari and played the role. But not everybody can do a Rangeela or a Daud. You are made for bigger and better stuff. The role of Vidya doesn't do justice to the glam bod that you are. There is no one in 15 yards of your distance to match your sex-appeal! Don't let that fade away, woman!' I remember her telling this to me. Most heroines would have taken offense at that but I realized the point Shobha was trying to make. [Sics here and there.]

Um, what about beyond 15 yards? Ok, never mind.
amit varma, 11:18 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Corruption's ok, privatisation is not

On the subject of vendetta politics, and in particular on the enquiries against Arun Shourie, Vir Sanghvi writes:
[M]y big worry is not about the inquiries themselves. If I am right about Arun Shourie’s integrity, then he will be vindicated by any investigation. In fact, he has said that he welcomes an inquiry.

My concern is with the subject of the inquiry. I don’t think it is any secret that large sums of money were made by various individuals during the NDA government.

Nearly everybody in Delhi’s political circles (and Page 3 circles, come to think of it) gossips about the deals and the newly enriched, publicity-loving bag-men who suddenly began flashing their money around. Most of these deals related to government purchases and, in some cases, to policy changes.

Why is it then, that when the first inquiry is launched, it relates not to the straight-forward cases of corruption which are easy to spot but to a transparent deal where there is no evidence at all that any money changed hands?

Could it be that many of those who are alleging corruption in privatisation are opposed less to corruption and more to privatisation?

Privatisation – indeed, globalisation itself – threatens the raison d'etre of both the left and the right in India. More on this some other time. But for now, do read Sanghvi's column on why "future reformers will now tread warily".
amit varma, 11:06 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Revenue stream for the education boards

So you want to know the board exams results? Just SMS 7333. In conjunction with Rediff, the education boards have worked out a quick and easy way for parents to get to know exam results without physically having to go to the school.

Don't miss the disclaimer at the bottom: " will not be held responsible for loss of damage, life and mental trauma." So if you lose some damage, it's not their fault.
amit varma, 10:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Aphorism 2

Speaking in a perpetual hyperbole is comely in nothing but love.
Francis Bacon, quoted in Style by FL Lucas.
amit varma, 10:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

A zoo inside an air force base

NDTV reports:
On Friday morning, a chinkara and blackbuck, both of which had been kept at the Sirsa Air Force base, were forcibly moved by an NGO and the forest department to a government run deer park in Hisar.

The NGO claims the air force base had illegally kept both the animals along with other birds in a mini-zoo created inside the air force station.

What's next, I wonder? An army helipad in a national park? I tell you, these animals in the armed forces...
amit varma, 4:18 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

That drunkard Raman

J Ramanand's uncle relates an anecdote to him:
Many years ago, a constituency in the Nagercoil area came up for elections. The two usual suspects, both lawyers, were up against each other. Let's call one Raman and the other Krishnan. Krishnan's supporters were quick to begin campaigning, and overnight a large sign appeared on a wall in the main town square. It read:

Should you vote for that drunkard Raman?

The night-time inclinations of Lawyer Raman weren't hidden from the townsfolk as he was an old local. But what was ironic was that everyone knew Krishnan was no saint either. The staff of Raman scratched their heads over an appropriate response: merely defacing the sign was a sure provocation to cause fighting in the streets and wasn't considered an equal riposte. At last someone had a brainwave.

Read the rest here. Link via Gaurav.
amit varma, 2:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Mandatory retirement at the age of eight

It's a good time to be a doggy in the police force. Mid Day reports that there is a proposal to give police dogs certain retirement benefits, which would include insurance and free medical check-ups. They will also have to retire at the age of eight, and during their working years, their hours of work every day would be regulated so that they are not overworked.

All those of you who know me well – well, ok, just a certain kitty – would understand the joy this news brings me. Now, if only they'd do something about cows' rights.
amit varma, 1:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The twin forces that keep us together

Jug Suraiya, repudiating the purists who are alarmed at the way English is spoken around the world, writes:
[I]f there are many Englishes — Amlish, Indlish, Jamlish (Jamaican English), and so on — won't we become lingually ghettoised and unable to communicate with each other? Not if we adopt a free market approach to language, which like water finds its own level. Take the case of SMS English, a creation of cellphone technology. This variant of English is widely used and understood across generations and continents. Geeks and bloggers have their own argot, as do scientists, accountants and business managers. This doesn't mean there can't be intercommunication between such subspecies. The twin forces of globalisation and specialisation are ensuring that all of us become multilingual — even when we think we are being monolingual.

Dead right, IMHO.
amit varma, 12:29 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Meet the bloggers

The bloggers of Mumbai are meeting this Sunday, May 22, at 3pm. The venue is yet to be decided, and will eventually be revealed here. If you are a blogger and wish to attend, please express your venue preference in the comments of that post. Either way, do come. It's always nice to meet new people and put a face to bloggers we read often but wouldn't recognise on a train. Or a bus. Or even a hovercraft.

Previous blogmeets have been written about here, here, here and here.

Update: The venue has been confirmed. It's at the Regal Barista. If you blog and are in Mumbai, do come.

I'm changing the date of this post so it's higher on the page. It began as May 19, and ends as May 21.
amit varma, 12:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Confusing betting with match-fixing

The Times of India reports:
The Metropolis [Mumbai] on Friday was abuzz with reports that bookie Shobhan Mehta has revealed the names of three persons, including two Bollywood actors (who are brothers) and an actor-turned-producer, who used to place bets with him regularly.

Sources said that the trio is known for gambling on cricket matches from a 5-star hotel in the western suburbs. The three had placed bets to the tune of lakhs of rupees in the past. The same sources said that one of the actors is famous for losing his shirt on screen in a number of films.

The headline of the piece is: "Are Bollywood stars too involved in match-fixing?" Now, nowhere in the text is it alleged that the personalities concerned fixed matches; it is merely alleged that they bet on matches. The two things are entirely different, but when betting on cricket is spoken about, a lot of people forget that difference. "So you support match-fixing?" I am often asked when I say that betting should be legalised. That is like assuming that I support rape if I say that I enjoy having sex. It's an important difference.

And what is this rubbish about an actor "famous for losing his shirt on screen"? Why can't they just write Salman Khan?
amit varma, 12:37 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Blog Mela (aka Discovery Channel)

Putting together a Blog Mela is tiring but rewarding. On both the occasions that I have hosted one (the last time was here), I have been astonished at both the variety and the quality of what is out there. My blogroll has expanded significantly, and though Bloglines is superbly user-friendly, I still have a hard time keeping track of so many good blogs. Anyway, let's roll...

All the nominations sent to me have been included, except in the case of multiple nominations from one blogger in one blog. (The guidelines were here.) Thankfully, none of the nominations were the nasty, personal type of posts that Mela hosts often have to filter out. The majority of the inclusions here, though, come from my own surfing of the net. It took a few hours, but it was well worth it. I've tried to make it user-friendly by forming loose categories. I have also kept editorial comment to a minimum; these posts cater to different tastes, and are all worth checking out.

Business and economics: Nitin Pai writes about how India awaits a Mahatma Gandhi of the free market. Gaurav Sabnis feels that it's time to say goodbye to khadi, the "fabric of the privileged". JK of Varnam finds one problem that supporters of globalisation can't wish away: traffic. Aadisht Khanna explains how BSNL is pulling a fast one on us, and proposes a solution. Ravikiran Rao defends libertarians against those who accuse them of paying "insufficient attention to unethical business practices". Rashmi Bansal writes about the cola wars. Sheetal Vyas offers a tribute to the Indian Railways. And Michael Higgins sees a wave of the future in "Earning in Dollars, Spending in Rupees".

Society: Arun Simha proves that feminism existed in India as far back as the 6th century. Yazad Jal ponders the significance of Burkha-clad ladies in an ice-cream parlour. Annie Zaidi muses on the difficulty of bringing about social change. Manish Vij deconstructs a crude parody of Indian television. Dina Mehta presents some images from an Indian village. Sunil Laxman has a tribute for a doctor who battled intense hardship early in his life, and now does the same for others. Huree Babu of Kitabkhana fame rounds up the news around India's disappearing tigers on a blog run by her and Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta, Animal Right India. All the best to them. And speaking of Uma, she discovers something that "a globalising Bangalore can be proud of."

Films: Jai Arjun Singh remembers Robert Altman's M*A*S*H. The Great Bong writes about DDLJ turning 500. Varun Singh is skeptical about Amitabh Bachchan being "a beggar". Prahlad Kumar writes on Mira Nair's Gangsta Movie. Rahul Tyagi reviews Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love. And on their film blog, Baradwaj Rangan and Samanth Subramanian discuss the hype around cinema, and the filming of books.

Literature: Amardeep Singh feels nauseous after reading Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Chandrahas Choudhury celebrates the genre-busting Jorge Luis Borges. J Alfred Prufrock 2 misses Sartaj Singh. Neha Viswanathan reproduces some Agam poetry. Nithiyanandan Bashyam reviews Kalki's novel Ponniyin Selvan. And Putu the Cat gives us a list of the 10 greatest comic-book authors.

Creative writing: If you're in the mood for some micro-fiction, you will find little better than my old pal Ammani's "A quick tale 19". (In fact, her entire series of Quick Tales features some lovely writing, life in miniature.) Avinash Tadimalla tells us a story about two dead boys who got up to fight. Rajesh Advani has a conversation with God. Abhishek presents an Ode to Frustration. TeeGee writes about about the magic of broken words. Bridal Beer tells us how cobras are like district magistrates.

Politics and foreign affairs: Primary Red of Secular-Right India worries about another Tiananmen Square. Patrix ponders the morality of legislation. Harini Calamur writes about the Pentagon's double standards. Sriram Rangarajan shares his thoughts on democracy. Vijay Kumar ponders Uma Bharati's choice of cuisine.

Cricket: aNTi writes an analytical post about the BCCI. Avinash Tadimalla remembers John Wright. And Tifoc explains why we are the most powerful nation in the world of cricket.

Technology: Kingsley Jegan is unhappy with Typekey. Saket Vaidya announces that Firefox has won the browsers war. Prasenjit Dutta writes about "Ajax and the browser of tomorrow". And Gaurav Bhatnagar tells us about a Spec-Writer's Block.

Places: Zainab Bawa hangs around at Marine Drive and tells us what she sees there. Suhail Kazi writes a tribute to Irani cafes. Vikrum Sequeira has an interesting encounter in Goa. Rahul Bhatia visits Un-Bombay. Sibyl tells us about the serendipity of an overheard conversation in Melbourne. Kumara Raghavan recounts a conversation he had with a Pakistani taxi driver in Sydney.

Miscellaneous: J Ramanand celebrates 3 years of blogging with a handwritten post. Anand of Locana writes about the Japanese puzzle Sudoku. Abinandanan examines the problems social scientists face. Suman Kumar tells us how he met Joe Satriani and got defrauded. S Jagadish writes about his experiences at the RTO in Indiranagar, Bangalore. Swaroop CH writes about creativity. Shrikanth K examines the nature of frustration. Niti Bhan writes about Newsweek's recent special issue on design, here and here. Charukesi Ramadurai asks, "Do you sumo on your blog?" And, to bring this Blog Mela to an appropriate end, here are a couple of elegies from Ramya Kannan.

Phew. That was worth it for me, and I hope you enjoyed it. If so, I recommend you blogroll all the bloggers among these that you like, and spread some good karma around. (I don't mean in the literal sense.) Or take your favourite blogger out to lunch and spread some good korma around. You get the drift. Enjoy.

Update: Shivam Vij is hosting the next Blog mela. Go here for details.
amit varma, 11:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

I recommend: