A Diplomatic Decision

My bedtime reading (hardly) these days.

My bedtime reading (hardly) these days.

As I was proudly writing down my list of easy and fun posts to write, I realized that with a master’s programme in Global Diplomacy looming over my head, I really cannot afford to spend time researching and writing about dinosaurs, the psychology behind cellotape selfies, singing nuns, or the history of padel tennis. My research and thinking needs to focus on understanding foreign policy and diplomatic relations, especially since my knowledge on the subject is extremely limited and I have a 15,000-word thesis to submit.

So, if I want to keep this writing challenge I so mindlessly decided to embark upon, I need to marry it with other goals for it to be productive rather than a joyful waste of time I don’t have.

This actually makes this challenge seriously harder.  But I’m up for it.

From now on, most my posts will be on current affairs (keyword *most*). I hope to see them evolve from basic information sharing posts to analytical posts.

I find current affairs extremely interesting and have always wanted to understand more about what impacts our world order, which is why I enrolled in this programme. However, when you are starting from scratch, it can get quite overwhelming.  Understanding the subject is one thing, and then writing about it is another. I hope this process accelerates the way I process information on complex political subjects. If it does, it will really help my degree. If it doesn’t then I know that I may have to cross off ever writing for The World Post.

#Day 11, post 8.

Superfreakonomics winners and urrr sorry

Apologies for disappearing. Went to India last minute which threw everything offboard as I prepared to go. Went to Aurangabad, a small but rapidly growing town known for the Ajanta Ellora Caves , it’s where I went to school. Anyway, more on that later, this post is to announce the winners of the Superfreakonomics competition.

I received 11 comments and 3 emails. It’s always interesting to see how people respond to such open ended competition questions; you often find that responses are not what you expected – but that’s what makes it interesting I suppose. Anyway, my two winners are:

1) Sean McLachlan: Because he wrote a simple and funny limerick as a response. Certainly one of the most unique answers.

2) Kedar: Because he put enough effort to come up with a freaky question, logic of which was so freakishly random that only he can make sense of — which is pretty much like all the questions the Freakonomics guys pose.

So voila! Congrats Sean and Kedar. Please email me your postal addresses so I can get the publishers to mail the books over to you.  As for the rest, thanks for participating anyway!

Competition:Win a copy of SuperFreakonomics!


If you haven’t read, or at least heard of Freakonomics — shame on you.

In a nutshell, as put perfectly by the AP, Freakonomics is a book where the authors “crunch numbers about mundane topics to reveal interesting, unexpected conclusions”. For example: What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? Questions you wouldn’t really think to ask, but they are valid, and if nothing else, beg you to think differently and feed your curiosity. A quirky book that is written basis principles of economics, anyone with an inquisitive mind will enjoy it. I wrote a review of the book about 2 years ago that you can read here. Also, the authors of Freakonomics have a regular blog on the NYTimes and you can follow them on Twitter http://twitter.com/Freakonomics, so do check those links out to get a flavour of their crazy thinking ability.

Now, the success of Freakonomics lead the authors to come up with another such book called “SuperFreakonomics”. You can check out some reviews of it here (WSJ) and here (LA Times).

I haven’t read the book yet (on my priority list to read), but I do have two copies to give away!

So, tell me, in not more that 50 words, why do you deserve to win a copy of SuperFreakonomics?

You can leave a comment here or send me an email at abha.malpani@gmail.com with “SuperFreakonomics” in the subject line. Deadline to send in your comments is November 17, 2009.

Come on then, it’s an easy win! 🙂

Six-Word Autobiography


Most of you must have heard of six-word memoirs, an idea that famed out of proportion when launched by Smith Magazine.

Inspired by Ernest Hemmingway’s six-word story (the shortest story in the world) : “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” (which I don’t exactly get), the magazine ran a competition on Twitter for best six-word autobiography. 11,000 entries were received and a book deal secured.

When I first heard about it (at least 6 months ago) I thought it was fantastic, and have been meaning to write about it ever since. However, I had to have my six-word autobiography before that and man, IT’S TOUGH!

Anyhoo, for what it’s worth — here’s mine:

“Hippy trapped in ambitious Indian body.”

Bleh. I know. But seriously, it’s tough.

Here are some I like a lot (from NPR):

“Never really finished anything, except cake.” – Carletta Perkin

“Artist, disabled. Feeling mislabeled. Ambition tabled.” – Patrick Dentinger

“Former child star seeks love, employment.” – Justin D Taylor

“Not quite what I was planning” – title of the book

So what would yours be? Share it here if you feel like it!

Book Review: The White Tiger


One of my 2009 resolutions is to read at least 2 books a month. I’ve just read Man Booker Prize winner  “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga. It spurred a lot of thoughts on different levels, so I thought it was worthy of a review.

Start the book and its English is so bad, you are embarrassed for the writer. This got a Man Booker? OK, the story is a perspective of India – specifically New Delhi – through the eyes of a poor chauffeur, with limited education. It’s written in first person by this driver, so I guess the awful English reflects the character, but it took me a good 100 pages to stop getting irritated with the crude language.

The book is written in form of 7 letters that Balram (the chauffeur) writes to the Chinese prime minister, narrating to him his life story, something that he feels the Chinese premier needs to know before he visits India. He writes about his life in the village (“The Darkness”), and how he makes it to the “light” (New Delhi) by getting a job as the driver of a very rich family in the capital city. The book unravels how he evolves from an honest and naive villager – slave to his master, to this feisty and murderous thief-turn-entrepreneur who was ready to do anything he needed, to free himself from shackles of the cast system and his assumed “forever-servant” destiny.

Other than bad grammar, the writing style is vulgar, and unpleasant. He depicts a corrupt, unjust, and disgusting India.  He spits at the country and the way it functions. If you are an Indian reading it, you will feel sick as you turn the pages, but not at any point will you think he is exaggerating; you know it’s fiction, but it could very much be the hard truth.

I think the book is a great read, but only if you can put aside the irritation you will often feel about the language. It’s a completely different perspective of “India Shining”, one that as an Indian you will not be able deny.

The author has some great credentials, and for a first novel it was a bold and risky attempt that worked. Worth a read, especially if you are Desi. If you are not Indian and have read this book, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Rolf Potts new book: “Marco Polo Didn’t Go There”

Rolf Potts book, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide To The Art Of Long Term Travel, gave me the last and strongest push to quit my job and live abroad. It’s a must must read for anyone thinking of hitting the road for an extended period of time. He remains a great inspiration to me, and I’ve been lucky to be one of his bloggers for the past year.

His new book, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There, has just hit the stands and I hope to get my hands on it soon. As Rolf says in his interview on Tim Ferriss’s blog: “…it’s a collection of stories from the road — a showcase of the type of travel experiences that vagabonding has provided for me over the past decade.”

Other than the book, the interview also touches on the art of slow-travel, using technology while traveling, and making a career from travel-writing. You can read it here. For more on the book, check out an excerpt on Rolf’s website here.

Is the Western dating system flawed?

Excerpt from Marrying Anita, by Anita Jain:

For years, I never questioned the Western dating system. The tenets on which it rests seemed perfectly sound: after meeting a man or woman through work or friends, one gets to know him or her, and if one likes what one sees, one continues to deepen the commitment, which sometimes leads to marriage. What surprises me now is how much this system leaves to chance encounter, to a kind of fate or fortune. For a decidedly unmystical society that seems to have the answer for everything else — the best medical care, cutting-edge technology, superhighways, and space shuttles — it seems odd that people are left to their own resources, casting around for another lonely soul, for what is arguably the most important decision of their lives.”

Just for the record: I’m not reading this book and nor do I want to go to India to find myself a husband. I still believe in marrying for love (if at all!), or not.

My mum is thrilled that I read this piece and I think it’s a thought provoking read. Marriage — whether arranged or love, is a gamble. So I don’t believe that you must get married for the sake of it and that in the long term you will be thankful, because marriage is not the foundation for your life, nor is it the solution to save you from a lonely existence. A good marriage or relationship should be a bonus in your life, which incase you don’t have, you will still be fine.

12-hours with Timothy Ferriss

The September issue of the The Men’s Journal runs a feature story on Timothy Ferriss, one of the most inspiring men I’ve come to know about lately. A must read when you have some time.

I’ve read his book “4-Hour Work Week“, and was blown away. As I wrote on Vagablogging: “For those not familiar with the book: it inspires you to be part of the “new rich” who work 4-hours a week, are independent of location, and earn enough money to do whatever they want to, e.g. travel the world, speak Chinese, etc. It shatters the notion of the conventional rich, who slog their whole life to earn mountains of money, only to retire old and unfit to do anything they wanted to. A BMW is bought with their hard-earned money, the rest of which stays in the bank as the owner wiles away his retirement vegetating and getting fat on some beach, on the road to ultimate boredom.”

A quote from the article in the Journal: “Nothing bothers me more than sloth. The objective is to fix mistakes of ambition and not make mistakes of sloth. I work my ass off.” Read it!

Documenting the life of phone sex operators

“I’m 60 years old, have a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Columbia University, and married for 25 years. I have a son in his last years of college who lives at home. He’s a 4.0 with a double major in English Literature and Religion. Men call me for an infinity of reasons. Of course, they call to masturbate. I call it “Executive Stress Relief.” It’s not sex; it’s a cocktail of testosterone, fueled by addiction to pornography, loneliness, and the need to hear a woman’s voice. I make twice the money I made in the corporate world. I work from home, the money transfers into my bank account daily. I’m Scheherezade: If I don’t tell stories that fascinate the Pasha, he will kill me in the morning.”
Photographer Phillip Toledano wanted to talk about something in society that is known and talked about, yet hidden; phone sex workers fit the bill perfectly. In his book, he has shot portraits of 30 such workers and given us an insight into their lives — some of which you can see and read here. Reading their stories gave me goosebumps.

Like he says in his interview, what surprised me as well was how most of these people loved what they did (unlike in other forms of prostitution), as they truly felt like they were helping others discover a part of themselves, and in turn, even they would discover something about themselves.