Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. These days, he makes his living playing poker as he works on his second novel.
My first book, My Friend Sancho, was published in May 2009, and went on to become the biggest selling debut novel released that year in India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and had earlier been longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.
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Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.
My posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.
A believer would put it down to karma. On Saturday morning, as a bunch of friends and I were sitting in a cafe at Dadar about to head off to Pune, we devised a game inspired by P Sainath. The game went thus: pick up the newspaper and after every headline, add the words “while farmers die in Vidarbha.” So, for example, you’d have “India ready with climate action plan while farmers die in Vidarbha.” Or “Anne Hathaway’s love secrets, revealed, while farmers die in Vidarbha.”
We amused ourselves in this pathetic way for a few minutes before one of us opened the page to Dr Mahinder Vatsa’s sex advice column in Mumbai Mirror. (My earlier posts on it: 1, 2.) We then modified our game to read out each question beginning with the words “I am a farmer dying in Vidarbha.” So, for example, you would have a question that went: “I am a farmer dying in Vidarbha. Whenever I get sexually excited, I experience an excruciating pain in my testicles…” Or: “I am a farmer dying in Vidarbha. I am 19 years old. My weight is 48 kilos. My problem is that I have small breasts.”
I don’t need to elaborate that what we were doing was very, very wrong. It was made even more wrong by the fact that farmers were probably dying in Vidarbha as we played this game. Punishment was due—and the wrath of the gods duly come our way.
When we were about 40 minutes outside Pune’s city limits, the cab I was in slowed down behind a truck. Gaspode and I were sitting in the back seat. Suddenly, there was a loud noise, something banged my head, and fragments of glass lay all around me. We turned around: a truck had hit the back of our car; the windscreen at the back was shattered; its frame had disappeared; and, to my immense relief, my book was fine. I’d kept a copy of Paul Auster’s “Timbuktu” behind me, and I retrieved that and tumbled out of the car.
I wish I could dramatize the moment, but there really was no great drama to it. By the time I realised I was in an accident, the accident was over and I was obviously fine, as was Gaspode. It could have been much worse had we been resting our heads against the seat and napping, as we had been a few minutes before this. We were also lucky that the windscreen was made of the kind of glass that, as a safety feature, crumbles into tiny, harmless bits—Gaspode was taking out some of them from his hair for more than an hour.
So now all we had to do was get to Pune. We thanked the great Omniscient Sainath for not punishing our blasphemy with something worse, and hailed down one of those large tempo-type autos. We cast a regretful last look at our cab, below which much petrol had leaked. Sadly, we were carrying no matches.
The tempo-type auto was empty when we got in, and offered to drop us to the outskirts of Pune. But once we were inside, it started picking up people. Two women and a baby; a young man who looked like Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar; three more women, all of whom looked like Nirupa Roy; two burly farmers, perhaps from Vidarbha; and a man with a goat.
Actually, I’m exaggerating about the goat. There was no goat that tried to give Gaspode a blowjob, so that part of the narrative must be omitted. But I don’t exaggerate one bit when I say that when all of the aforementioned people were in the vehicle—one of the ladies almost on my lap—we were overtaken by a bicycle. It was a surreal morning.
The afternoon was worse. We attended a quiz by Derek O’Brien and the questions, many of them multiple choice, were horrendous. A sample: “Which of these is better for fighting bad breath: mint or chewing gum?” You know the kind of quiz I like : this was worse than any monster truck.
Wait, it isn’t over. We took a cab back in the evening and almost got hustled off the road by a truck behind us. Our driver yelled something at the truck driver and made him stop on the side of the road. Then he got down, walked over to the truck, pulled the driver out and slapped him three times. Then he charged back in and gave us a smile.
“Boss, why did you have to do that?” I said in Hindi. “What if he comes after us and bangs his truck into the car?”
“Ha,” said the driver. “That never happens.”
The next day, I was in Bangalore to take part in a quiz conducted by the KQA as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations. (My team reached the final, ahead of some terrific quizzers, but we were outclassed there. This quiz was excellent.) In the evening, I was at a party at Madhu ‘MadMan’ Menon’s house, where I was spending the night. I was pooped after the traumatic events of the last two days, and drunk far more than I normally do. Then, at 10.30, I realised that the party was over and everyone had left.
“What’s up, why did everyone leave so early?” I asked Madhu.
“What’s the time?”
I looked over at his big wall clock. “It’s 10.30,” I said.
“No,” said Madhu. “It’s 1.30 in the morning. That’s my party clock. It always says 10.30. That way, nobody leaves. At 11.30 they look at the clock, think it’s only 10.30, and they hang on. Isn’t it brilliant?”
I had to agree it was brilliant.
The next evening, Madhu and I were hanging out with an extremely smart lady of tender years. She told us the latest Savita Bhabhi storyline and then gave us tips on how to search for porn on the net. I remarked:
“You know, I find this so strange. There are two men and one woman at this table, and it’s the woman who’s giving all the advice on surfing porn.”
“Amit, it’s not about which gender you belong to,” she said. “It’s about which generation you belong to.”
Madhu and I, 32 and 34 respectively, looked at each other with great nostalgia. I’m telling you, it felt like my life was over.
There is one memory of the trip I will always cherish, though. That came when Madhu, asked to sing opera, which he does exceedingly well, instead sang “Chidiya Choo Choo Karti Hai.” He said that he’d first seen the song when he was eight years old, and it was the first WTF moment of his life. Indeed, it is remarkable: Watch this!
My favourite bits are Jeetendra’s armpit sweat when he does “Happy Birthday to Me”, and the necking camels just after. But there is much to choose from. Such a masterpiece.