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, June 30, 2006

"Tell him to call later"

So what's common to Steve Ballmer, Ken Kutaragi, Linus Torvalds, Rob Malda, Arun Sarin and Jonathan Schwartz? Well, they're in Business 2.0's list of "10 people who don't matter."

Pfaw. Phooey. Heh.

In the spirit of supporting underdogs, the Davids against the Goliaths, it's sometimes fashionable to run down people who're at the top of their professions. But these people do matter -- if they didn't, they wouldn't be top-of-mind enough to be on this particular list. No?

(Link via Digital Inspiration.)
amit varma, 5:55 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Talking on the phone = Drinking

In the context of driving, that is.

Researchers have found that people who talk on their cell phones while driving "are as impaired as drunken drivers." Here's a news report, and here's the study itself (pdf file).

This doesn't surprise me at all. It so happens time and again that I'm stuck on the road behind some fellow driving extremely slowly, and when I manage to get past him I find it's a man talking on a cellphone. (Indeed, I mostly find that it's men doing this, and that's as I'd expect: women are, firstly, better at multi-tasking, and secondly, less likely to be unconcerned about the inconvenience they cause to others. There are solid evolutionary reasons for both.)

I think more than Krrish and Superman, the world needs a superhero who goes around punishing people who chat on their cellphones while driving. Lift 'em out of their car windows by their collars, soar up a hundred metres or so, smile at them and say, "the signal's better up here," and leave the darned collars/callers. Yes, that should do it.
amit varma, 5:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Governance on an empty stomach

Not possible, no? I find from the Times of India that the chief minister of Bihar gets a basic salary of Rs 2000 per month -- less than that of a government peon -- though with perks it goes up to around Rs 25,000. You combine that relatively low salary with immense power and discretion -- and therefore opportunities to be corrupt -- and it's virtually a guarantee that the field of politics will attract either losers or thugs. And obviously the thugs will beat the losers.

So the kind of politicians we get is entirely the fault of the political system we have in place. How can we change it? Two steps:

One, strip the government of power and discretion from any field where it is not required. Most of our ministries, like that of Information and Broadcasting, are utterly redundant. And come on, state governments don't require 93 ministers, as the UP government once had.

Two, raise the salaries of the functionaries concerned to match with industry standards, and put safeguards in place to make them accountable. The safeguards would include greater local self-governance, as well as more transparent governance, which the wonderful Right to Information Act enables.

Sadly, the only people who can make this happen is the people who will be adversely affected by it. We're trapped!
amit varma, 4:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Notes from Benares

Rahul Bhatia is at the holy city -- from where he's promised to bring me back a temple or two -- and blogs about his journey here and here. Delightful stuff, and I loved this bit:
He was dressed in a safari suit, had shiny hair and a pandit's ponytail, and between his eyes was a red holy mark the size of a thumb print. As I approached, his eyes narrowed, the edges of his mouth curled up, his nostrils flared tensely, and his moustache bristled. It suddenly struck me that he was smiling.
Good boy!

Update (July 1): And here's The Boatman.
amit varma, 4:01 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Krrish: unfair to men

The chicks get to gaze on Hrithik Roshan. We men have to put up with bloody Priyanka Chopra.

There's no justice in this world.

And no, I'm not a sucker for punishment. I'd read from reliable sources that Krrish was truly awful, and I went to revel in its awfulness, because "hindi-film-awful" can be great fun to watch. Much of the film's badness was, in that sense, quite good, and the fact that its makers weren't deliberately being bad (and therefore good) made it even better.

Cringaciousness brings satisfaction.
amit varma, 1:26 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, June 29, 2006

When it's football time...

A fire starts in a house in Beijing. This happens next:
"When the neighbours shouted 'fire!', I took my little baby and ran out in my nightclothes," the man's wife told the paper.

"My husband paid no attention to the danger, just grabbed the television and put it under his arm.

"After getting out of the house, he then set about finding an electric socket to plug in and continue watching his game."
Hmm, rather odd, this behaviour. What good's a baby?

(Link via email from Nishit Desai.)

Update: Young n informs us about some chappie in China trying to sell "World Cup air." The fellow's gathering air at German stadiums, bringing it to China, and selling it to fans.

I have already purchased some of this air -- it adorns this blog. See it?
amit varma, 6:59 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

China or India?

If you had money to invest, which of these two countries would you choose? Dush Ramachandran says India is a more logical choice, and explains why in his post, "Leaping Tiger, Prancing Dragon." Good stuff, though an equal number of points could be listed in favour of China, and it's a tradeoff in the end.

There are tons of posts on this subject, by and by, on the Indian Economy Blog, and you can check them out via the category page. (It doesn't seem to have bylines, but if you go to an individual post you'll see who wrote it.) I'd once written on the subject here, but Nitin Pai's succinct post on it, "India vs China, (over)simplified," is a favourite.

Update (June 30): Mohit directs me to these interesting pieces on the subject at Knowledge@Wharton: 1, 2, 3.
amit varma, 4:32 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Ghosts on the highway

Where, you ask, is our country's innovation and creativity? I have an answer. It is used up in devising techniques to rob truck drivers. Consider this:
In the first method, 13-14 gangs operating along the national highways in the three states, let loose trained black pigeons with red battery operated lamps tied to them over trucks in the dead of night. According to sources in the CID, many of the truckers, often in inebriated state, were fooled into thinking that they were seeing ghosts. Subsequently, they'd desert the trucks leaving it to be looted by the bandits.
Another method involves sex workers, and I invite you to hop over to the DNA article and check out the illustration. Cackling happens.

(Link via Maniche Manish.)
amit varma, 3:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Real world, CG world

Ah, CG rocks these days. Can you tell which of these photos are real and which are CG?

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 2:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut plays as Indiildo

Delightful! And what's your name when you play for Brazil?

(Link via email from Balaji.)
amit varma, 1:27 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Superman in Hindi, Krrish in English

Manish Vij is amused by the posters he sees in Andheri. "This is like showing up to an Indian wedding in a fancy kurta," he remarks, "only to be greeted by ten uncles in Western suits."

What about them aunties, dude?
amit varma, 4:27 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

New websites, and so on

Much to my delight, Time Out Mumbai is now online. I've been waiting for a year-and-a-half for this excellent magazine to get online, purely so I could occasionally link to and talk about the fine columns that Girish Shahane writes in it. Sadly, at the moment I am unable to find Girish's columns on the site. But these are early days, and I'm use navigation will improve, search will work better, and they'll put more of their stuff online. Keep an eye on it, if not half a face. (Update: It requires registration. Sigh.)

And in an entirely unwelcome development, Mid Day has changed its website entirely, making it far more user-unfriendly than it was. The internet is an entirely different medium from print (duh!), and I can't see too many people going for this e-paper thingie. Their new layout also makes it much harder for me to find and link to their stories. If links are the currency of the internet, they're throwing money away. Silly move.

And guess what, Rediff also has a new look today. It's plain vanilla now, and while I can only comment on the new look after getting used to it, it certainly does seem more functional, unlike another recent redesign, that of Indian Express, which turned into a better looking but more cluttered and hard-to-navigate site.

If you're reading this post in 2010, by the way, none of the links above will make sense, because all the sites would certainly have changed their look again. Maybe then you can use The Wayback Machine to see what I was talking about! (This link via email from Abhishek.)
amit varma, 3:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

If India's cricketers played football

After a few days of exciting football and turgid cricket, the thought struck me, what if India's cricketers played football? No, no, not literally: most of them probably wouldn't be very good, as you need entirely different skillsets for the two sports. But considering their personalities and the way they played their cricket, what positions would they play on a football field. Here, entirely non-seriously, is the line-up I came up with, in a cricketing batting order:

1. Virender Sehwag: Striker. Sehwag, I fancy, would be a bit like Ronaldo is today: capable of flashes of brilliance, a devastating instinctive striker, but with a tendency to put on weight and be lazy in the field.

2. Wasim Jaffer: Defender. Jaffer would be at the heart of the defence, one of the centre backs, deputised to mark the striker India most fear, and would have a mean header when he went upfield for corner kicks.

3. Rahul Dravid: Midfielder. Dravid would be the man at the centre of midfield who'd hold it all together. He'd set up goals with his precision passing, and would rush back to defend when required, tackling skillfully and cleanly. He'd have a phenomenal work-rate, and would be the team's penalty-taker.

4. Sachin Tendulkar: Midfielder. The genius in midfield, like Zinedine Zidane, capable of anything, but aging a bit. Still, despite being past his best, he'd have a vision for the game and would set up opportunities, frequently scoring himself with his lusty long-range strikes, as well as free kicks.

5. Yuvraj Singh: Striker. Capable of flashes of genius that take games away, Yuvi would also be a bit mercurial, and would have off-days every once in a while when nothing he did would go right. Often substituted with Suresh Raina, who'd have as powerful a left foot as him.

6. Mohammad Kaif: Defender. This rangy player would be the side's left-back, capable of preposterously quick runs down the wings, often running past Irfan Pathan, the midfielder at the left of the field. Would possess a nifty, curling free kick.

7: MS Dhoni: Midfielder. He'd be a dangerous presence on the right wing, known for devastating long-range strikes and skillful runs into the penalty box.

8. Irfan Pathan: Midfielder. Irfan would man the left wing, controlling the tempo of the game, and often combining with wingback Kaif to create dangerous moves down the flanks. He'd also not be averse to going for the long-range strike on goal with his left foot.

9. Anil Kumble: Defender. The team's centreback, Kumble, would be dependable and untiring, and a reliable last line of defence for the side.

10. Munaf Patel: Defender. A fiesty defender on the right flank, Patel would be known, like Cafu, for his runs down the flank. He'd be a rough customer, picking up a fair amount of yellow cards in the service of his side.

11. S Sreesanth: Goalkeeper. Reliable, if occasionally a little excitable, between the posts.

The bench would have Suresh Raina (striker), Harbhajan Singh (midfielder), VVS Laxman (libero), VRV Singh (defender) and Dinesh Karthik (goalkeeper). Greg Chappell would be the coach, so Sourav Ganguly, the Mohan Bagan striker with such an excellent record in one-day football matches, but also a habit of picking up red cards, wouldn't have a chance of making the squad. Dravid would be captain, and India would play a 4-4-2 formation.

Now, if India's politicians were to form a football team...

Update: Dhananjay takes my musing about politicians playing football a bit further.
amit varma, 3:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Violent game

No, it's not football I'm talking about. It's carrom.

These board games can be vicious.
amit varma, 6:36 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


Imagine this conversation:

Cop: "You have the right to remain silent."

Prisoner: "Squawk."

Cop: "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

Prisoner: "Squawk, hic."

Cop: "Er, what was that again?"

Prisoner: "Squawk."

What's this about, you ask. Here, read.

And to think I found this odd.
amit varma, 6:03 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The Cold War is over

The Fish War is not.
amit varma, 6:00 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

How to get voted out of power

Get voted in first.

Saubhik Chakrabarti writes
in the Indian Express:
Starting from the 1977 general election — that was the first time post-independence the Congress wasn’t voted back — incumbents have lost all elections but those in 1984 and 1999. In those two years, there was a ‘wave’ — respectively, sympathy wave after Indira Gandhi’s assassination and a smaller but still significant patriotic wave after the Kargil war.

So, minus a countervailing wave, voters over the last 30 years have swept out politicians in power, whether they were old fashioned statists or reformers who lost courage. The proposition that economic reform is a vote loser in national elections hasn’t been tested at all. Incumbency, not liberal reform, is the ultimate vote loser in national politics.
I have just two comments to make here. Firstly, whatever liberal reform has taken place has been in fits and starts, and in limited areas of the economy, and not enough reforms have been carried out to reduce the inequities in our country fast enough. I wrote about it here: The Myth of India's Liberalization. Also read Ravikiran Rao's masterful post on the subject, Why we reformed what we did, in which he explains why "[e]veryone supports reforms, but someone opposes every single reform measure."

Secondly, I think we often read too much into elections anyway. Different individuals vote for different reasons in each constituency, and imagining a collective will of the masses is a vast over-simplification. The term "mandate," when applied to Indian elections, holds no meaning for me at all. I mean, look at how this Lok Sabha is constituted: you see a "mandate" there?
amit varma, 12:33 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, June 26, 2006

More useful than Philanthropy...

... is free trade, as Greg Mankiw points out in a superb, pithy post.

Don't give fish, but enable fishing, as the hoary old saw would go.

(Link via Jane Galt via email from Aadisht.)
amit varma, 11:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Vaastu Shastra and websites

Arun Verma writes in to point me to this bizarre story about a book someone has written claiming that Vaastu Shastra helps websites become successful. The author of this book, Smita Narang, is quoted as saying:
Just as the world comprises of the five basic elements, each Web site has five elements and these need to be in balance with one another. Earth is the layout, fire is the color, air is the HTML, space is name of the Web site, and water is the font and graphics.
Damn. And all this while, I've thought it's the content that matters.

Update: Arun informs me there's a website for this book as well. Check it out. Heh.

Update 2: Patrix had written on this subject as well.
amit varma, 11:20 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bhagwat Chandrasekhar on God and equality

Sunaad Raghuram writes about a charming encounter with Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, in which Chandra tells him:
[I]f God existed there should have been equality in this world. Every bowler should have been as good as me or Warne or Kumble or anyone else. Why are some people more endowed than others? Why are some people more fortunate than others? I just don’t know…
Well, I'm no believer in God, and I'm wary of the kind of equality Chandra speaks about. If God did exist, though, I'd say that he's pretty bored with us, and has left us alone and gone off to do something better.

Now, what could that be?

(Link via email from Arun Simha.)
amit varma, 9:07 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Laxmi Mittal loves rosogullas and mishti doi

I'd speculated that the coverage would be nationalistic, but some of it is culinary. Much more palatable, I say.

Update: Reader Sanjit Krishnan Kaul writes in:
What if Laxmi is gay? Would Laxmi get away with being gay?
amit varma, 8:49 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Banning skirts, measuring skirts

IANS reports that a woman's commission in Madhya Pradesh "has suggested a ban on the wearing of skirts in schools and colleges and a strict dress code to control incidents of crime against women."

Sigh. Once again women are expected to bear the brunt for what men might do, and this twisted and flawed causality, of sexual crimes being caused by the way women dress, has become way too common in this country.

Later in that piece, the commission's chairman clarifies:
We don't want skirts to be banned but we are certainly against short skirts.
Cops all over Madhya Pradesh are no doubt buying measuring tapes and salivating at the task that might soon be given to them. No doubt a course will soon be introduced in the Officers' Academy: Measuring Skirts.

The reason I'm against this ban, by and by, has nothing to do with my oft-stated support for individual freedom. I'm just a huge fan of skirts.
amit varma, 5:24 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

British Army demotes goat

No, this news is not from the Onion, it's from the Washington Goat Post. It seems that "a 6-year-old male goat called Billy" has been "downgraded from the rank of lance corporal to fusilier," and "soldiers of a lower rank are no longer expected to salute Billy as a sign of respect."

It's not even April 1! What's going on?
amit varma, 5:07 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Superstars of philanthropy: Warren Buffet and Bill Gates

Suddenly the pieces start falling into place. Warren Buffet has announced that he is going to give away the bulk of his fortune, worth around US$ 40 billion, and that much of it will go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He will, in fact, be joining them as a trustee.

Just ten days ago, you'll recall, Gates had announced that he was going to quit Microsoft and focus more on his foundation. This ties in neatly with Buffet's announcement: both these men are clearly going to make philanthropy the focus of their lives.

In a sense you could say the time was ripe for something like this. The richest people of our times have the kind of financial power to have a serious chance of ending the world's problems: not by giving away their money, but by making systemic investments in medical research, infrastructure and education in poor countries, and a variety of enabling efforts. At some point, you'd imagine that people like Gates and Buffet, who've achieved everything they possibly could in business, would take up this inevitable challenge. They could make a remarkable difference, and leave behind a remarkable legacy.

Also, wouldn't Gates much rather fight poverty than Google? This way, he actually stands a chance of winning.

Some related links from Fortune: How Buffet's giveaway will work, The global force called the Gates Foundation.

Previous posts on Gates: 1, 2, 3, 4.

(Fortune links via email from Sanjeev.)
amit varma, 4:10 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Laxmi Mittal will now run Arcelor

Quite as it should be: free trade beats protectionism.

The Indian papers will of course give this a nationalistic twist, just as the French made it a nationalistic issue. And that's quite silly. This is not about nations, it's about economic freedom. Roll with it, Laxmi.

(Link via email from Sanjeev.)
amit varma, 2:57 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Wisecrack of the day

His eyes are red. He must be staying awake days.
Yes, it's that kind of a month. What with the cricket (work) and football (play), I've been walking around in a daze, unable to answer email, using sloppy language on my blog, and answering phone calls all day and forgetting about them by the time I wake up for work in the evening. Meals are arbitary, and the only constant is the black coffee at midnight (mid-day for me!) and the Maggi at 4am. Hell, nights were fun once, when I was younger, but with age the body and the mind tire faster.

When I worked in MTV in the 90s, we had a pool table in office, and work would take place in five-minute breaks from long pool tournaments. When we'd be spending nights at editing studios, we'd have late meals at Delhi Durbar, and early bun-maska at Churchgate. Hell, you know, I did nights during India's last tour to West Indies as well, in 2002. I was at then -- we hadn't yet bought Cricinfo -- and after long nights at the Mahalaxmi office, we'd head over to a five-star hotel for a sumptious buffet breakfast on office expense. Of course, the office has tightened up now, but we do get free Maggi and, for those who want them, cornflakes. And milk. Pfaw.

Meanwhile, as I write this, a weekend prepares to end. Was it ever here? Where was I? Are we still in June?

Anyway, to read a master on sleeplessness -- as opposed to this sleepless blogger -- check out this fine old essay by Pico Iyer in the Guardian, on jet lag. On that note, back to shirk.
amit varma, 11:24 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Like diamond rings

When you're watching a football match, and they pan the camera across the crowd, don’t the camera flashes look absolutely beautiful, like diamond rings shining on the fingers of newly married women?
That's n, in a sweet little post here. This one, on missed opportunities, is also worth your while.
amit varma, 9:44 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Manmohan Singh angry about road rage

Manmohan Singh lands up in Bangalore, presumably gets caught in a traffic jam, and berates the residents of the city for their behaviour on the road.

Yeah, I can imagine him driving around himself, and suddenly Prakash Karat walks in front of his car. "I won't let you progress," says Karat obstinately, and sits down in front of Manmohan's car. And since he's not one for road rage, Manmohan sits quietly and waits for Karat to move.

At least he's not reversing.
amit varma, 5:42 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Nugget 30

In most men there is something evil which resents greatness in others. With what delight are tales repeated of people's private lives as though the fact that Marlowe was a homosexual, Shelley a nympholept, Dr Johnson a masochist, Dostoevsky a gambler, Turner a miser or that Dickens maintained at least one mistress, in any way affects the greatness of their work? Unable to attack that work, the denigrators think by labelling the men with various weaknesses that they belittle it, which is nonsense. Just as, unable to bear the thought of any one one man being as mighty as Shakespeare, people must invent theories to prove that he was a syndicate or at least that he was a gentleman, a Bacon or a de Vere or a cryptogram, so must tales be whispered about Bradman, and when these tales fail to stick, envy mutters its last poison with the word machine.

Machines can be very beautiful things.
Philip Lindsay, in his delighful biography, "Don Bradman." Such truth, though I'm not sure I concur with the word "evil" in the first sentence. If something so commonplace can be termed evil, what does that say about us?

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
amit varma, 4:11 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Don't take that call...

... take a picture.

Do check out Hupix, Hugh Symonds's online gallery of pictures taken by him using just a mobile-phone camera. As the kind of technology you can fit into a mobile phone grows more advanced and cheaper, the possibilities of what we can do with our phones will expand, beyond Hupix and Bus Uncle. Immense empowerment, like so much technology in the last couple of decades -- such as the one that helps me get my writing across to you, for example.

Of course, technology is a double-edged sword: as this story and this one indicate, and modern technology can be astonishing revelatory about the deepest truths of human nature -- in both a bad and a good sense. That's inevitable, of course.
amit varma, 1:15 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

"Thirty is the new forty"

I was lunching yesterday at Pizza Hut with a sweet young lady related to me by marriage when she suddenly squinted her eyebrows and said, "What's that? Can you hear that noise?"

"What noise?" I asked. I could only hear the music playing in the restuarant, and that had been playing for a while now.

"That screechy noise," she said. A teenager at the neighbouring table picked up her phone and went outside to answer it. My companion and I looked at each other.

And then it hit me!

Well, referring to the kind of grief that assailed me, Louis Menand writes in a superb essay in the New Yorker that aging isn't really all that bad:
The point is that mental and physical development never stops, no matter how old you are, and development is one of the things that make it interesting to be a being. We imagine that we change our opinions or our personalities or our taste in music as we ripen, often feeling that we are betraying our younger selves. Really, though, our bodies just change, and that is what changes our views, our temperament, and our tolerance for Billy Joel. We can’t help it. The chemistry has altered.

This means that some things that were once present to us become invisible, go off the screen; the compensation is that new things swim into view.
He goes on to add that "[w]e may lose hormones, but we gain empathy."

Dude, I want my hormones back! I want to be a mean, lean sex machine, and not sit around empathising with other men with paunches, no longer remembering the words to the songs we used to love, like, um, you know, whatever. Age sucks -- though not with the vigour of youth.

Nah, just kidding, I'm sure maturity's good, though at any given point in time in my life I've thought I was mature, only to realise in hindsight I wasn't. The lessons that time teaches me often seem to have come too late, and I wonder what I will learn tomorrow that I could have used today. The closer I get to being totally comfortable in my own skin, the more the damn skin has to expand. As my aforementioned lunch companion was telling me, mid-life crises happen much sooner these days.

But hey, don't worry about me. I'll just do a funny post or two, a wisecrack here and there, and all will be well with the world again. Easy, no?
amit varma, 12:29 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Saturday, June 24, 2006

License to kill

Corruption, in some cases, can have an economic benefit. Joel Waldfogel explains:
Since access to government clerks is normally allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, people pay with their time rather than their money. This is inefficient: Suppose you're in a big hurry and would be willing to pay a lot to avoid waiting, while I don't mind waiting. Then you could go ahead of me, making you a lot better off and me only a little worse off, which reduces our collective frustration. One way to achieve this efficiency would be to charge a higher price for expedited service. Yet, an expedited government service option typically does not exist. So, in some countries, the offer of a bribe in exchange for quicker processing is a common form of corruption—reducing the social cost of waiting in line.
However, Waldfogel finds that "[t]he benefits of corruption are not worth the costs," and illustrates this by telling us about The Department of Motor Vehicles in New Delhi, where you don't have to know how to drive to get a driving license. Read about it: it's quite astonishing, and yet, if you live in India, utterly normal.

In fact, I can't think of any kind of corruption in India where the benefits outweigh the costs. In most that come to mind, any benefits lie in avoiding costs that shouldn't exist in the first place. Example: Until some years ago, one expedited getting a phone line by paying a bribe. Well, there shouldn't be a waiting period for getting a phone anyway, the waiting period was there solely to get bribes out of people -- discretion inevitably leads to corruption.

So what's changed there?

Click here to read the rest of this post.

(Link via email from David Boyk.)
amit varma, 11:12 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bigger thingie? Thingie enlargement?

Er, no, thank you.

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 11:06 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Who the fug is Mexi?

Santa Singh: Banta, Argentina aaj kisko face karega?

Banta Singh: Santa, Mexico.

Santa Singh: Mexi ko? Yeh Mexi kaun hai?

(Note to non-Hindi speakers: sorry, this can't be translated!)
amit varma, 9:34 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Nugget 29

[W]e love the ball more than the game and, for that reason, the dribble more than the pass.
Jorge Valdano, about the way Argentina like to play their football, in a fascinating piece in the Guardian about that famous Argentina-England game in the 1986 World Cup, and those two goals Diego Maradona scored.

That second goal, ah, such football! That's beauty in the service of efficiency, something great teams and great players managed. And Maradona could pass as well as he could dribble and score -- Brazil found that out the hard way in 1990.

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.
amit varma, 6:04 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Friday, June 23, 2006

The suits and the talent

Arun Verma points me, via email, to an article about a forthcoming book by Michael Bamberger on Manoj Night Shyamalan's battles with the suits at Disney. A nugget from the book:
Sometimes Night would close his eyes and see little oval black and white head shots of Nina Jacobson and Oren Aviv and Dick Cook floating around in his head, unwanted houseguests that would not leave. The Disney people had gotten deep inside his head, interfering with the good work the voices were supposed to do — and it would be hell to get them out.
There's a movie somewhere in that image, I'm sure. And I know who's not going to make it.

Meanwhile, back in India, Manish Vij writes that Krrish is Krrap. Heh.
amit varma, 11:23 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Guilty Pleasures 3 -- Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog

If I ever compiled a soundtrack for my college years, this song would be one of the first I'd pick. Temple of the Dog came about when a bunch of guys came together in Seattle to write and release a tribute to Andrew Wood, the lead singer of a band called Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose in 1990. His bandmates from MLB, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, joined Chris Cornell, Wood's one-time room-mate, along with Matt Cameron on drums. Grunge hadn't broken into the mainstream yet, but soon all these men would become household names: Cornell and Cameron were part of Soundgarden, while Gossard and Ament would go on to form Pearl Jam.

Eddie Vedder had flown down to Seattle to audition for Pearl Jam, and sang on a couple of tracks on the eponymous album, including Hunger Strike. I first heard this song months after it came out, when I'd already gotten into Pearl Jam and Soundgarden: what a thrill it was to listen to Cornell and Vedder sing on the same track! And how perfectly structured this was as a rock song! I didn't care much for the lyrics, but that hardly mattered.

Temple of the Dog - Temple of the Dog - Hunger Strike

It's common to refer to Temple of the Dog as a 'supergroup' (as here), but I'm not sure how much meaning that term had in a scene where there was so much cross-pollination among bands. Mother Love Bone was itself formed out of splinters from the legendary Green River (Gossard, Ament and Bruce Fairweather) and Malfunkshun (Wood), with Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Green River forming Mudhoney. After Soundgarden split up, Cameron would join Pearl Jam, while Cornell came together with Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave. I suppose some people would call it, like the blogosphere, 'incestuous!'

Earlier Guilty Pleasures: Lost Cause by Beck, Aao Na from Kyun Ho Gaya Na.
amit varma, 10:47 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

On not having a voice

I suppose it's appropriate that the poor woman in this story is literally mute. I'm sure a lot of women in this country feel that way, even if they can speak.
amit varma, 9:35 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Shah Rukh Khan's dimple

Mid Day reports that "[a]t least 100 men went under the knife in the last three months because they wanted dimples like Shah Rukh Khan."

One such chappie is quoted as saying:
My girlfriend is a big SRK fan. What better way to make her happy than have dimples like her hero?
I'm sure all the ladies reading this will be pleased at this news. For decades now women have got silicon jobs and facelifts and suchlike to please and attract the men -- now the boot is on the other foot, and it better smile. Such fun.

(Link via email from Uday Kiran.)
amit varma, 8:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Rahul Bajaj ain't in politics...

... even though he's a member of parliament. Consider this exchange between Bajaj and Karan Thapar:
Karan Thapar: But do you accept that today you are in politics?

Rahul Bajaj: Of course not.

Karan Thapar: Why not?

Rahul Bajaj: What makes you say that I am in politics?

Karan Thapar: Because you are an MP.

Rahul Bajaj: So?

Karan Thapar: MPs are in politics. Parliament is politics.

Rahul Bajaj: That is what you say. Is there a law anywhere? Can you show it to me?

Karan Thapar: That is a common understanding of the term. Are you changing that understanding?

Rahul Bajaj: There are many common understanding of terms which are wrong, which Gandhi changed.
Through the interview, Thapar keeps pushing the point, and Bajaj decides that having entered the realm of the bizarre, he might as well live it up:
Karan Thapar: Mr Bajaj you are wonderful with words but the problem is that you are short on logic. Parliament and being an MP is part of politics.

Rahul Bajaj: Where did you go to school Karan?

Karan Thapar: Is that relevant?

Rahul Bajaj: It is very relevant because your logic is illogical.

Karan Thapar:If it is relevant I will tell you. I went to Doon School, Cambridge, Oxford and I know a lot about politics.

Rahul Bajaj: I went to Cathedral, St. Stephens, and Harvard, slightly better than you in every respect. So I understand logic.
Utterly delightful, and I have no doubt that my friends from Oxford and Cambridge will love this. Such joy. Here's another gem:
Karan Thapar: When Shabana Azmi and Kuldeep Nayar were nominated to the Rajya Sabha, they accepted that as Rajya Sabha MP’s they were in politics.

Rahul Bajaj: Lata Mangeshkar was nominated too but she did not open her mouth for six years and I hold her in very high regard.
Hmm. Bajaj, by and by, was supported by the NCP, the BJP and the Shiv Sena in the quest to enter the Rajya Sabha. They have nothing to do with politics, of course -- they're Page 3 parties.

(Link via email from reader Siddhartha Pande.)
amit varma, 8:21 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The past that ceases to be

In a beautiful post titled "Our times, their times", Jai Arjun Singh writes:
One thing I find moving about some older people – grandparents especially but increasingly even people who are only in their 50s or 60s – is how convinced they are that no one from my generation knows or cares about what life was like when they were young. I'm not talking here about Golden Ageism, about elders who declare that everything was so much better in their day; quite the contrary, my grandparents are so awed by things like the Internet, iPods, even laptops and digicams, and so conscious of their own lack of understanding of these things, that they never dare to say anything bad about modern-day technology. What I'm talking about is more wistful and vulnerable. It's a feeling that a lot of older people seem to share – that with the world changing so rapidly, the past is becoming irrelevant and so are they.
I think at some age you stop adapting to the world like you used to. Whether it's in things like discovering and relating to new music or picking up new technology, we opt to stay in the comfort of the familiar, and soon what is familiar to us becomes archaic to others.

Let's take blogs. If they exist 35 years from now, they will undoubtedly exist in a drastically different form, one that we can't imagine now. Some of us may not make the shift, and who knows, if I'm still around then, I may be looking back wistfully at my India Uncut years, bewildered by the new kinds of content around me. And the young people of that time will look at me strangely and wonder what I'm on about. "My world means nothing to these people," I will think, "and neither do I."

It may not even take 35 years, given the scarily rapid pace of change. A couple of days back I went to my ATM machine and found my card was damaged -- I felt lost and helpless, even unreasonably angry at the world, like a baby that's lost a rattle. Losing my mobile phone would make me feel pretty much the same, and I get irritable if I don't have internet access for more than a day. (Needless to say I'm immensely privileged, compared to millions of my fellow countrymen.)

I wonder how it would be if I entered some time-neutral zone and came across the Amit Varma of 1994, the freshfaced and refreshingly thin young graduate. What would I make of his world? It's dead and gone, and so is he. And so will I be. Such is life.
amit varma, 9:27 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bill Gates and piracy

Heh, this is rich. Bill Gates admits to watching pirated videos on YouTube. When asked if he realises he was watching stolen videos, he replies:
Stolen's a strong word. It's copyrighted content that the owner wasn't paid for.
Immense desire comes to announce that I'm working on a pirated copy of Windows, but as it happens, my copy is legit. Bummer.

What Gates just told us, by and by, could express the difference between plagiarism and piracy; an artist would consider the former much worse than the latter, for it steals credit, and not just revenues. And piracy can actually serve a useful purpose in some contexts, a subject I will explore in a larger post sometime. That's just by and by, of course, and Gates didn't mean it in that sense.

Previous posts on Gates: 1, 2, 3.

(Link via Digital Inspiration.)
amit varma, 8:25 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Who's Krrish? What's Superman? Here's Balayya!

If you thought Dr Rajkumar rocked, well, you'll love Balayya (the son of NT Rama Rao.) This is quite the funniest thing I've ever seen on YouTube. His breathing exercises after being shot, the rotation of his arms, the spike coming out of his shoe, his ability to produce fire and lighting out of nowhere, the loony costume changes, the sequence where he leaps in the air and fires an arrow that takes the victim underground -- and the feller who catches the flag! This is so fricking good that a parody of it would appear utterly serious.

More Balayya videos: 1, 2.

(Tip: this is a long video, so pause it, wait for it to download completely, and then play -- unless you're on very fast broadband.

Links via email from Gaurav.)

Update: Suman De points me to, heh, Mission Impossible.
amit varma, 5:31 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

How fast is fast?

I read in the New Indian Express that "[a] Fast Track Court here [Tindivanam] on Wednesday awarded 10 years imprisonment to four jail staff, including a warder, in the sensational Rita Mary rape case."

Quite excellent, I think to myself (as opposed to someone else, for I don't know telepathy). Justice delayed, justice denied, and so on. As I continue reading the sad story of Rita Mary, I'm even gladder these chappies got punished by the law. The main culprits got 10 years, while some others got four or three.

Then I learn from the last sentence that the people who got lesser sentences "were released as they had been lodged in the prison for four-and-a-half years, which was more than the conviction period."

That's "fast-track" for you. Think about how long a normal case drags on, then, and of the estimates that it will take 350 years to clear the current backlog. It's hardly surprising, then, that a lot of crimes never even get reported.
amit varma, 4:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |


Did they elope or was she abducted?
amit varma, 3:38 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The white powder mystery

I bet these cops will be rather embarrassed if they find out it's something homeopathic. Phos 1M and suchlike.
amit varma, 3:22 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Politics and the World Cup

The World Cup is much better than the Olympics, the Economist wrote last week, because it is hard to introduce politics into it. They wrote:
[T]he World Cup, unlike the Olympics, is wonderfully difficult to manipulate for political purposes. Over its long history, success at the Olympics has usually been a fairly accurate measure of global political power. Although the world now remembers the snub that Jesse Owens delivered to Nazi theories of racial superiority, the Germans came top of the Olympic medal table in 1936, reflecting the Nazi regime's growing power. During the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union repeatedly struggled to gain a symbolic victory, by winning the most medals at the Olympics. Already a similar, politically charged battle for supremacy between America and China looks likely in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

By contrast, the World Cup has its own hierarchy, which is pleasingly divorced from the global pecking order.
The point the article makes is bang on, and it's certainly true that the pecking order of teams in soccer is far removed from geopolitics. But hey, these are nations playing each other, and where there are nations there will surely be nationalism, no?

On that note, I direct you an an exceptional post from the New York Times's World Cup blog, in which the author writes, poignantly, about what political prisoners in Argentina went through during the 1978 World Cup. In reply to the 22nd comment there, the editor writes:
Since the best players in the world represent their nations rather than professional club sides at the World Cup, it is simply a fact that there are times when the matches do have political meaning [...]. In 1978, the fact that the tournament was played in Argentina, and organized in collaboration with that dictatorship, sent a clear political message that the world did not really care enough about the people imprisoned for their political beliefs within ear-shot of the main stadium to not play games there.

(NY Times link via reader Vimalanand Prabhu.)

Update (June 23): While on the subject, I came across an outstanding piece by one of my favourite modern journalists, Timothy Garton Ash, called "There is some corner of a Spanish field that is for ever Beckham." In it he eloquently explains why, despite the nationalism and xenophobia, football does more good than harm. The point that particularly struck me was when he wrote that football is "a powerful argument against racism." More:
Racists claim that people of different origins and skin colour are inferior. Every goal scored by Henry, every spin by Zidane, every inspired clearance by Ashley Cole, is the refutation. Beat that if you can, white thug. The most dramatic illustration of this is the French national team. The commanding heights of French politics, business and the media are dominated by smooth, mainly white types from the country's elite educational institutions, but when it comes to football, they have to call on the guys from the banlieues. Every World Cup victory for France is a defeat for Jean-Marie le Pen.
Yes, it's a beautiful game. In fact, it's more than a game, and more than beautiful.
amit varma, 2:46 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

India Uncut Nugget 28

Schmuck! You shortchanged yourself. What studio head tells a director to make a picture longer? Only a nut like me. You shot a saga, and you turned in a trailer. Now give me a movie.
Robert Evans, Hollywood mogul, shouting at Francis Ford Coppola after the first screening of "The Godfather."

I found this quote in an excellent feature in the Guardian by Peter Bradshaw on how extremely long modern Hollywood films are getting. He's upset that "The Da Vinci Code" was "a pitiless two-and-a-half hours." Peter, dude, if you're in Mumbai anytime soon, gimme a buzz and I'll take you for a Yashraj film or two. They you'll know 'pitiless'!

Nah, actually I agree with Bradshaw, and the greatest movie-watching experiences of my life have come watching the ten one-hour films in "The Decalogue," Krzysztof Kieslowski's masterpiece. In India, strangely, we have a taste for the longer stuff. Are our lives are so wretched that we need more of the escapism? Nah.

(Link via email from Kind Friend.)

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.

(June 22): Karthik PG writes in:
We have liking for longer films coz in places like Chennai you can spend more time away from the sun.
Heh. Yes, I remember as a student in Poona I spent many hours every day in summer in the British Council Library on FC Road, not because I loved books (though I did), but because it was air-conditioned. Immense relief would come on entering.

Sorry, that last sentence reads kind of strange, doesn't it?
amit varma, 8:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Reader's Digest tries to measure rudeness

Reader's Digest has done a survey of 36 cities around a world to "measure courtesy" and has concluded that Mumbai is the rudest of the cities surveyed. Hmm. And how did it determine this?

AP reports:
In its admittedly unscientific survey, the magazine's politeness-police gave three types of tests to more than 2,000 unwitting participants.

The reporters walked into buildings to see if the people in front of them would hold the door open; bought small items in stores and recorded whether the salespeople said "thank you"; and dropped a folder full of papers in busy locations to see if anyone would help pick them up.
What I find rather strange is that people are defining rudeness here not by things that people do, but by what people don't do: they don't hold open doors, they don't say thank you, they don't help people who drop things. They don't actually harm anyone -- they simply don't conform to certain norms of social bevaviour.

Those norms, of course, are from the West. That explains the following line:
The rudest continent is Asia. Eight out of nine cities tested there, including Mumbai, finished in the bottom 11.
Rubbish. If by Western social norms Asia is rude, I'm sure by Asian norms the West would be madly rude as well. I'm sure many more people in Mumbai touch elders' feet at weddings than they do in New York, which topped this trivial survey. (And I'm not saying that's a good thing; I generally don't touch feet, certainly never for non-erotic reasons.) If Sakal did a similar survey, no doubt the rudest continent would be America or Europe.

I don't mean to say that the West is ruder than the East, or something like that. All I mean is that measuring things like rudeness is rather silly, and it's doubly silly when we judge it by what people don't do. And it's a waste of time to blog about such surveys.

Update (June 22): Confused points out, correctly, that the survey itself doesn't measure rudeness, but courtesy. Fair point -- I'd been misled by all the headlines about Mumbai being the rudest city, an approach not just the Indian papers took, but even the BBC did. (This link via email from Sanjeev.)

A number of readers wrote in to say that in their experience, the West was, indeed, more polite. Vikram wrote:
You also say that the survey defines rudeness by what people DON'T do. Ok, so if the survey said that people are more polite in the Western countries because they DO do certain acceptable traits that define politness, like holding open doors, saying thank you etc, then it would be correct?
Good point. Jitendra Mohan writes:
I was in Mumbai for a day sometime in 2004. I was waiting to catch a local train when I saw that a lady dropped her wallet (unknowingly, of course). There were around 10 guys around who saw exactly what happened and they started laughing. None of them cared to move a soul. I was at a distance and had to run to return her wallet. Contrast this with a similar situation where my wallet fell on a street in the US without my knowledge, and two hours later a gentleman went out of his way to find my address and return my wallet.

The point is, such a simple gesture like returning someone's wallet is not culture-dependent. Ditto for holding a door open for someone who is following.
Vimalanand Prabhu writes in:
I think that in India, we do not say thank you to the cashier at the grocery who gives back our change. I guess, we do take the cashier for granted but the cashier also takes us for granted and doesn't say "Thank you for shopping with us". Sometimes, even they will just hurl the change back, especially if the customer is a kid. In fact, if I say thank you to my friends in India, they tell me to give them a break and tease me for being polite. In the US, you hold a door open for people, but in India, there are hardly any doors that automatically shut themselves off.

But at the same time, in the US, it is OK to drink coke when you are in the classroom in front of your teachers, or even to have a mild snack. You call professor by his first name. You can keep your feet on the chair or sometimes even on the desk. You do not refer to elders as uncle or aunty but just by the first name. If a survey included these questions, I am sure that the west will turn out to be rude.
Hmm. I won't take a stand here on Mumbai's politeness, if such generalisations can be made at all. Speaking for myself, I don't care much if people aren't polite to me, as long as they don't get in my way. (Do they not know who I am?) Politeness, the way I see, is nice, but not necessary. And Mumbai's been good to me.
amit varma, 8:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The quest for a moderate Islam...

... may be futile, writes Theodore Dalrymple in the City Journal. In an essay titled "All or Nothing," he states that "it is important ... to distinguish between Islam as a doctrine and Muslims as people." Later:
The urge to domination is nearly a constant of human history. The specific (and baleful) contribution of Islam is that, by attributing sovereignty solely to God, and by pretending in a philosophically primitive way that God’s will is knowable independently of human interpretation, and therefore of human interest and desire—in short by allowing nothing to human as against divine nature—it tries to abolish politics. All compromises become mere truces; there is no virtue in compromise in itself. Thus Islam is inherently an unsettling and dangerous factor in world politics, independently of the actual conduct of many Muslims.
I haven't studied Islam, of course, and won't comment on Dalrymple's piece. But it is thought-provoking, and does not bother to conform to either political correctness or the received wisdom of the day. There is a theory that Islam merely needs is a reformation, like the one Christianity underwent centuries ago, but Dalrymple seems to believe that Islam is, in its essence, beyond reformation.

So what then?

Some other essays by Dalrymple: 1, 2, 3, 4. You could also check out his collection of essays, "Life at the Bottom."

(Link via Brian Micklethwait.)
amit varma, 5:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Files are not for sharing

Indeed, sharing files is like "taking a kitty away from a kitty." Heh.

(Link via email from reader Vishnupriya Sharma.)
amit varma, 2:37 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

For streaming telecast of the FIFA World Cup...

... follow the instructions here.

What about a screaming telecast. A telecast where the commentators do nothing but scream. Wouldn't that be fun?

Well, I suppose not. We've had enough of Waqar Younis and Navjot Sidhu, no?
amit varma, 10:51 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Chandrahas's prawn curry...

... is an urban legend. Pfaw!

And since I can't leave you with a merely personal post, let me serve you a delicious tidbit:
What most people call the "vein" on a prawn is actually the digestive tract of the darn thing. Yes, that's where all the grub goes once the prawn is done with it, much like our own intestines.
I know you want more, so here you go.
amit varma, 10:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Uncleji, Auntyji and Young Falstaff

Guess which of them lives to tell the tale.

Ok, don't bother.
amit varma, 10:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Bombay v Mumbai

Now the freaking astrologers are weighing in. Bejan Daruwala consults his chaat charts and says, "If the city wants to progress, it’s correct to say that the name Bombay is 100 times better than Mumbai." Impressive precision, no?

I'm surprised no astrologer has yet suggested changing Bombay/Mumbai's name on an annual basis, depending on which name is favoured by the stars in the year to come. Wouldn't it be fun if it was renamed London for 2012? We could then demand to hold the Olympics.

(Link via email from reader Vinod Rajan.)

Some earlier posts on astrology: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
amit varma, 8:09 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Marx and Sourav Ganguly

Really, can't Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Jyoti Basu find something better to fight about?

Just like that, I imagine Buddhadeb, Jyoti and Sourav in a bar. They're arguing about who has more courage.

"I charge out to fast bowlers regularly to hit them for six," says Sourav. "I did it to Laxmi Ratan Shukla just yesterday."

"You should see me withstand Prakash Karat," says Buddhadeb. "He knows I'm a capitalist and have a portrait of Marx inside my commode, and keeps thumping me with his fists when we are alone. But I can take it."

"Heh," says Jyoti. "Both of you are wimps. I have the most courage."

"Why?" asks Sourav.

"Why?" asks Buddhadeb.

"Because," says Jyoti, "I agreed to be the last person in this joke to speak even though I don't have a funny punchline."

* * *

Sorry. Here, try this thought: If Buddhadeb had an exceedingly hot daughter, would she be called Buddhababe?
amit varma, 7:29 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Shilpa Shetty and Reema Sen ain't obscene

I can't say the same about the laws that infringe on their freedom to wear the clothes they want.

Oddly, in this case, Shilpa Shetty and Reema Sen are giving evasive arguments, instead of just saying boldly that they don't consider any pictures that feature them obscene, and questioning the accepted notion of obscenity. Come, come, ladies, speak up for your rights. No one listens to bloggers, and these really are things that need to be discussed in the public space.
amit varma, 7:06 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Strong pushes?

Just when HT seemed to be running away with the Ludicrous Purplocity title (Exhibits: 1, 2, 3), the Times of India strikes back. Consider this gem:
The ups and downs of her wavy back would make a lot of people think little adventurous. The blue tapes just embellish that bareness. However those strong pushes can make your eyes travel through a stormy down!
Speechless, and suchlike. See for yourself.
amit varma, 6:51 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Le creme de la OBC

Vulturo notices an interesting dropbox on

Update: A reader wrote in to ask if Vulturo's post is satire. It isn't. I just verified it for myself my posting a faux resume at, and came upon the same page that Vulturo has a screenshot of towards the end of the process.

Too bizarre to be satire, if you ask me.
amit varma, 6:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

The grounds beneath the law

It seems the fast-track court and the headquarters of the municipal corporation of Kalyan-Dombovili are constructed on illegal land. Such fun -- and I'm sure the very people who occupy these buildings rail against illegal slums.

Instantly I say hutments should spring up within the court premises. As a trial takes place people should perform their daily ablutions behind the witness box. Half-naked men should go and squat in front of the judge's table. Then they'll notice.

The judge will rise from his imperial chair, his black gown stinking with all the sweat of Bombay (ok, some), and yell, "Get out of this place, you have no business being here."

Unnoticed, irony will descend.
amit varma, 6:23 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

India Uncut Aphorism 19

It is better to be pissed off than pissed on.
Stephen James Joyce, grandson of James, quoted in an excellent feature by DT Max in the New Yorker, "The Injustice Collector." Stephen Joyce controls James Joyce's estate, and the piece is about how, in his efforts to 'protect' his grandaddy's estate, he stifles a lot of legitimate scholarship.

Having copyright protection extend to 70 years after the creator's death seems a bit excessive to me. (It was 50 until the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.) I quite understand Stephen Joyce's desire to protect his family's privacy, but trying to shield his granddad from literary criticism by not allowing scholars to quote from his works is pushing it too far.

(Link via email from The Graduate, in response to this post of mine.)

More Nuggets and Aphorisms here.

: Ashutosh Jogalekar writes in to remind me of Lyndon Johnson's famous quote about why he kept J Edgar Hoover in the FBI. Johnson remarked that it was "better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in."

What I want to know is what the hell was a tent doing there? Brokeback Mountain or what?
amit varma, 1:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

What the Times of India really is

Gautam John tells me about yet another Times of India goof-up, and says that he's thinking of cancelling his subscription to ToI, to which I have just one word of advice to offer: Think of what the ToI offers you as entertainment, not journalism.

Looked at that way, it's tolerable, if not quite welcome.

Update: Gautam replies:
For entertainment, I read the New Indian Express. And it's so much fun getting the kerosene they use as toner off your hands! Regular adventure!
amit varma, 1:14 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Monday, June 19, 2006

John Updike takes on the technorati

Kevin Kelly had recently written an essay in the New York Times, "Scan This Book!," on how all books will one day be digitised to be part of a "universal library," which "should include a copy of every painting, photograph, film and piece of music produced by all artists, present and past." Kelly described a future in which "the universal library becomes one very, very, very large single text: the world's only book."

Well, some people are horrified by the implications of the future Kelly sets out, and John Updike is one of them. At a recent event, Updike made a scathing speech against Kelly's vision, and you can listen to a podcast of it here. Immense fun, these duels between big guns. Listen in.

My take on it: I'm delighted about the increased access to books that a "universal library" would provide, but I care deeply about the sanctity of copyright, which is threatened by some of what Kelly speaks of. Property rights provide the biggest incentive for progress, and should be inviolable.

Having said that, the print-v-pixels battle hardly interests me. People should be able to read books in whatever format they want, provided they acquire them legally, and I'm sure there'll always be enough lovers of "[p]hysical, handsome, nice-smelling books," as Updike puts it, for bookshops to flourish well after every book is available online.

Two other accounts of the drama: The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post.
amit varma, 4:13 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Riya Sen drugs Bobby Darling

I have to say I'm completely bewildered by this story. Riya Sen goes to Indore with Bobby Darling, who wants to go sightseeing. Riya doesn't feel like it, so she gives Bobby a sleeping pill, passing it off as a vitamin tablet. Bobby sleeps for eight hours, and wakes up to realise that it's too late to go sightseeing. Riya tells Bobby, "ghabrao mat, tumhari izzat salaamat hai."

Ok, ok, I made the last line up. Story's bizarre enough without it, actually. And this, you see, is why I don't bemoan 'celebrity culture' and so on. We need them to entertain us.
amit varma, 3:34 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Great car...

... lousy roads.

I'd feel sorry for Ambani if he wasn't so rich. Instead, immense envy comes. I wish I had a Maybach to return.
amit varma, 3:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Acquiring caste

The Indian Express goes to UP and gets certificates that testify that Arjun Singh, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prakash Karat and Rajnath Singh are OBC. With payments "ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 500," they expose the "huge racket in Uttar Pradesh" of giving out fake caste certificates.

Read the full story, which also outlines the procedure for getting one of these certificates yourself. Hardly surprising, no?

(Link via email from MadMan.)
amit varma, 1:41 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Crushed by football


A terrific World Cup this is turning out to be, isn't it? Argentina and Ghana's last games were quite outstanding, and much fun is coming. Sleep suffers, though, but sleep deserves it. Lazy bum.

(Link via email from Akshay.)

Update: Akshay informs me that this is a kind of viral marketing Nike is trying out.
amit varma, 12:51 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Rivaldo and Gianluigi Buffon...

... are superb economists, writes Tim Harford in the Financial Times. Why so? Well, because their unpredictable play when penalties are taken is pretty much what game theory would prescribe. Read the full piece, "Keep them guessing."

Of course, game theory is all about the choices and actions of rational people. When you stand at the spot with your heart pumping madly as the crowd screams your game, sometimes it might just be enough to get that damn ball somewhere between the bars. And hope the other man guesses wrong.
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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bill Gates and his 5.5-inch floppy

Gautam John wonders what the Times of India is hinting at. Surely not?
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Mumbai's newspaper wars

Via Uma, I discover a nice piece on Mumbai's newspaper wars, in which we are told that Vir Sanghvi, the Hindustan Times editor, "quips that DNA should have been called VRS because so many people quit from Times of India to join DNA!" There are many delightful (and good-natured) quotes by newspaper editors on other newspapers, just the sort to enliven Saturday mornings.

There's one thing I don't understand, though. I'd assumed that the reason Mumbai Mirror was given free with the Times of India was that with their readership having thus shot up, they could raise their advertising rates. And yet, according to the table shown in the article, their rates are far lower than HT and DNA, not just ToI. Hmm.
amit varma, 11:35 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

You can't mess with Christina Aguilera

Not on Wikipedia.

Actually, I don't see what the fuss is about. Jimmy Wales's safeguards against trolls and vandals are entirely reasonable, and the product works quite superbly as a reservoir of collective intelligence -- one that I dip into quite often. More power to Wikipedia.

(Link via email from Kind Friend.)
amit varma, 11:25 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

John Abraham, Bipasha Basu and uneven eyes

Mid Day carries this completely goofy feature today, commenting about what the body parts of various celebrities reveal about them. With John Abraham and Bipasha Basu, it's apparently their "Uneven Eyes" that make them special. The article says:
When one eye is larger than the other, it means you see things differently.

This couple shares an imperfection that won them a special place in this hot list.
Other body parts examined include "fleshy nose," "long and thin nose," "knob on the end of nose," "wideset eyes," "round eyes," "lines around eyes," and, most mysteriously, "complete package," which I can only assume means "all of the above." Sushmita Sen is the "complete package" in question, and is described as "a woman of today who doesn’t feel the cold pangs of loneliness when she grows out of a relationship."

In other words, she's a cyborg.
amit varma, 11:08 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Infrastructure and marriage

Bet you never thought there was a link between the two. Well, read this.

It brings to mind that famous nugget by Milton Friedman on the four kinds of spending. In this case, of course, good comes out of it, though for the wrong reasons. Sheer luck.

(Link via email from Anon.)
amit varma, 9:23 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Don't lose your head

You never know where it might turn up.

(Link via email from Dush.)
amit varma, 9:21 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Drive your car with olive oil

Surely you must have that chainmail about not buying petrol for a day? Well, I find (via mailing-list email from Akshay) on Wired that Drew Curtis of has picked it as one of the ten best internet spoofs ever. Some of the others are also nice, especially The Tourist Guy. Long live Photoshop.
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Friday, June 16, 2006

Bill Gates: Full-time Philanthropist

Bill Gates is redefining his role in the world.

I think I was on the money when I said...
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Shashi Tharoor, Shaukat Aziz and Angelina Jolie

The first is India's candidate for the post of UN secretary general, and the second might be Pakistan's. This whole issue is taking nationalistic undertones, with Navtej Sarna, the spokesman for India's ministry of external affairs, saying "It's a matter of pride if a son of India and son of Asia becomes United Nations Secretary-General."


It would be a bit of a cop-out for me to take pride in Shashi Tharoor becoming whatever. I find it silly and escapist to take pride in anything but my own achievements, and joy in those of my near and dear ones. Whether Tharoor or Aziz or Angelina Jolie become secretary general of the UN should hardly affect my pride, unless I'm the father of one of them, or something similar.

Sadly, Angelina does not call me Daddy. And I have little to be proud of when it comes to myself, except perhaps my talent at a rather contrived self-deprecation. But I'm working on it.
amit varma, 1:30 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Happy Bloomsday

And be careful about that beefsteak.

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 and 39.
amit varma, 1:28 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Sex vs Football

Needless to say, football is winning.
amit varma, 1:23 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Photoshop UFOs, and Bus Uncle revisited

Peter informs me, via email, of this cool contest where people were asked to make pictures using image-editing woftware, I mean software, that proved that UFOs and suchlike existed. View the results here (many pics, so heavy page).

I'm tempted to announce a contest for people to use photoshop to make me good looking. UFOs are a breeze compared to that, you know.

On the subject of monstrosities, remember Bus Uncle? Well, Nishit Desai sends me links to a couple of spoofs on Bus Uncle: Bus Uncle as Darth Vader and Counter Strike Bus Uncle. I also discovered there's a merchandise page for Bus Uncle.

Immense aspiration comes. Being an uncle is too mundane, so I think my newest ambition is to be a bus.

Speaking of ambitions...

Update (June 16): Sanjeev writes in to point me to more updates: One, the boy in the Bus Uncle video requests the press not to arrange a meeting between Bus Uncle and him; and two, Bus Uncle gets beaten up.

No video of that, I'm afraid. Why do you ask?
amit varma, 6:37 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bye Bye Black Sheep

BBC reports:
The Madhya Pradesh government has banned the teaching of English nursery rhymes in primary schools to "reduce Western influence" on children. [...] "There is no need for English rhymes when there are Indian rhymes to infuse patriotism in children," says state education minister Narrotam Mishra.
Sigh. The posturing that goes on in the name of nationalism reaches more and more absurd limits as the months pass. Next, they'll probably insist that all the world maps used in the Geography textbooks show just India. Or that all the channel logos that you see on TV have the name of the channel in Hindi, not English.

Don't worry, the guardians of Indian culture aren't going to get any ideas reading my blog. I write in English, after all.

Update: Manish Manke emails to inform me that "Ba Ba Black Sheep" ran into trouble recently in some English nursery schools as well, with "black" being replaced by "rainbow." Ba Ba Rainbow Sheep? That'll lead to some colourful sweaters, won't it?
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The cheek of the Chinese Kafka

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous buttock. No, not a bug, as in this story, but a buttock, and that too belonging to a Chinese blogger.

Can't imagine why people protest at this stuff.

(Link via email from Neha, who reads out a poem here, and very nicely at that. I wish I had the courage to read out poems. Or even the time to read them.)
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The moon, and Bombay

Gary Sellers has some advice for Stephen Hawking. Heh.
amit varma, 4:02 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Shots fired in Mahesh Bhatt's office

I'm quite sure that no one is going to treat this as a publicity stunt, and rightly so. Pity Rakhi Sawant didn't get the same respect.
amit varma, 3:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

Moo Tube

Who wants to watch people when you can watch cows?

Quite delightful.

(Link via email from Rahul Bhatia.)

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 and 38.
amit varma, 1:12 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage |

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