Dear Navjot Sidhu and Hu Jintao

This is the 28th installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

Dear Navjot Sidhu

Recently on a television show, I am told, you criticised the Indian Cricket League (ICL), and the players signing up with it, on the grounds that “they are in it for the money.” You found this reprehensible, clearly feeling that the profit motive was a bad thing. I wish to congratulate you on your beliefs. They were once shared by no less than Jawaharlal Nehru, who described “profit” as “a dirty word.” Indeed, I have heard that when he got angry at someone, he would abuse him or her by shouting, “You, you… you Profit!” But that could be apocryphal.

Mr Sidhu, allow me to express how much I admire your values. Shunning profit, as you surely do if your actions mirror your words, takes immense fortitude. You are always smartly dressed, with your turban matching your tie, despite buying clothes only from people who manufacture and sell them as a social service. When you eat out with your better half, who is also named Navjot and is therefore the better Navjot, you only eat at restaurants that were not begun to make a profit, but to help needy diners like yourself. Indeed, you buy no goods or services manufactured with the profit motive, and I really must ask you sometime where you shop. You also clearly accept absolutely no money for the entertainment you provide us on television, which is very kind of you. Your magnanimity has moved me.

I also admire how, being a man of principle, you do not allow reality to distort your beliefs. The BCCI has just announced a massive raise for its players, as well as greater prize money in domestic tournaments. This is clearly because they have felt the heat of competition that the ICL provides. It is good for the players, who now have more options, and will earn more money no matter what they choose. It is also wonderful for us cricket viewers, who also have more choice. But you have seen through these narrow, selfish considerations, and have stuck to the principle of profit being a bad thing, regardless of its consequences. Wow. It takes great conviction to stick to one’s beliefs in the face of reality, and I applaud you for doing so.

That is all for now. To my great shame, I need to now write a column for profit, and am not capable of the renunciation you clearly practise. I look forward to seeing you again on television, it is always a profitable experience for me.


Yours sincerely

Amit Varma

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Dear Hu Jintao

Hao du yu du? I write to you today both to congratulate you and to express a complaint. I shall begin with the complaint, which is, in a sense, a compliment, for it could be made about few totalitarian leaders. I sincerely hope you will not take it amiss, or I will be in trouble after I die.

Recently while surfing the evil capitalist website of the exploitative Reuters Newsweek, I came upon the news that your government has “banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission.” The report went on to state: “‘According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is ‘an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation.’”

My complaint is this: I make my living as a writer, and one of the genres I like to try my hand at, no doubt with great ineptness, is satire. But with this move of yours, you have made satire redundant. What manner of satire can match this reality? What can I ever write again without looking at that news item and saying, “Aw, but I can’t be as good as Hu.” And you weren’t even trying!

My complaint is a minor quibble compared to the admiration that gushes out of me. For long, people have protested at the “fatal conceit” that the state can control the economy, and fulfil the needs of its citizens. History has shown that prosperity and freedom go hand in hand, a notion that was a threat to you – until now.

You have now made a magnificent conceptual leap that renders any opposition futile. The earthly domains may be hard to control directly, but by regulating the heavens, you have finished all resistance. Who will dare to fight against you when they know that it is not just their life at stake, but also their afterlife. As that popular Hindi song goes, “Bachke tu jaayegi kahaan.”

Indeed, I hope with all my earthly heart that the Indian government follows your example, and outlaws all unauthorized reincarnation, or even ascents to heaven in those religions that have them. I will apply for the job of the babu granting reincarnation licenses. People will pay anything for a suitable afterlife, and there is surely much money to be made there. That is a heavenly prospect.

Yours sincerely

Amit Varma

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You can browse through all my columns for Mint in my Thinking it Through archives. I’d earlier blogged about the reincarnation story here.