Episode 184: Finding Dara Shukoh

The rivalry between Dara Shukoh and Aurangzeb is often considered a foundational one for Islam in India. Good Muslim vs Bad Muslim. But it’s not quite that simple. Historian Supriya Gandhi joins Amit Varma in episode 184 of The Seen and the Unseen to point out that the truth is complex, and there are no easy binaries.
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Episode 183: The Art of Narrative Nonfiction (+ JBS Haldane)

In a complex world where the truth is up for grabs, we need narrative nonfiction. Samanth Subramanian joins Amit Varma in episode 183 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about the art and craft of this form of literature. Also discussed: A Dominant Character, Samanth’s book on JBS Haldane, and the intersection of science and politics.

Read show notesEpisode 183: The Art of Narrative Nonfiction (+ JBS Haldane)

Episode 182: Conversation and Society

We live in an age of competing monologues. We talk, but we do not listen. Russ Roberts joins Amit Varma for a wide-ranging conversation in episode 182 of The Seen and the Unseen.

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Episode 181: The Dragon and the Elephant

Why is there this tension between China and India? To understand that, we must uncover many layers of the past. Foreign Policy scholars Hamsini Hariharan and Shibani Mehta join Amit Varma in episode 181 of The Seen and the Unseen to share their insights on the rich history of the interactions between these two great civilizations.

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Episode 180: Elite Imitation in Public Policy

Indian decision makers often blindly copy public policy from abroad, without considering whether it would work in local conditions. Shruti Rajagopalan and Alex Tabarrok join Amit Varma in episode 180 of The Seen and the Unseen to explain the damage caused by such ‘isomorphic mimicry,’ and why it happens in the first place.

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Episode 179: The Plight of Our Street Vendors

India suffers from a predatory state, and nothing illustrates this better than the sorry state of our street vendors. Prashant Narang joins Amit Varma in episode 179 of The Seen and the Unseen to elaborate on this unseen tragedy of the streets around us.

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Episode 178: What Happened to Our Journalism?

Journalism used to be a quest to establish the truth. It has now become a battle of conflicting narratives. We have gone from seeking to shouting. What went wrong? Nidhi Razdan joins Amit Varma in episode 178 of The Seen and the Unseen to share insights from her eventful career.

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Episode 177: India’s Economy in the Time of Covid-19

Our economy was going down, down, down well before Covid-19 struck. And now? Vivek Kaul joins Amit Varma in episode 177 of The Seen and the Unseen to spread his usual quota of sunshine and joy.

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Episode 176: The Nuances of Lockdown

What do past epidemics teach us about Covid-19? What do past disasters teach us about politics and the state? Is there a false binary between lockdown and no-lockdown? Anup Malani joins Amit Varma in episode 176 of The Seen and the Unseen to share his insights on these subjects and more.

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Episode 175: The Indian Armed Forces

As institutions wither around us, the Indian Armed Forces have retained their credibility. But is there a risk of politicization there as well? Lt Gen Prakash Menon joins Amit Varma in episode 175 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss the evolution of our armed forces through the decades, and the challenges they face today.

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Episode 174: Tawaif

Tawaifs played a unique role in Indian society and culture in the 19th century, but have since been either vilified or romanticized. Filmmaker and author Saba Dewan joins Amit Varma in episode 174 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about the fascinating human stories behind this lost community.

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Episode 173: The Resonance of Akbar

So much of our history has been weaponized by politics — especially the Mughal period. Manimugdha Sharma joins Amit Varma in episode 173 of The Seen and the Unseen to shed light on the tug of war around Emperor Akbar — and why that history remains relevant even today.

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Episode 172: The Many Cities of Delhi

There is much more to Delhi than Old Delhi and New Delhi. The stones bear witness to a rich history, with much drama and tumult. Rana Safvi joins Amit Varma in episode 172 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about how the forgotten past of Delhi continues to shape its present.

Read show notesEpisode 172: The Many Cities of Delhi

Episode 171: India’s Start-Up Ecosystem

Many entrepreneurs aim to plug a hole in the world. Some try to expand the universe. Mohit Satyanand joins Amit Varma in episode 171 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about why these are exciting times to be an angel investor.

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Episode 170: Foreign Policy is a Big Deal

So much of the lives of common people depends on the relationships between nations. But is foreign policy an arcane subject, meant only for wonks and elites? No! Pranay Kotasthane and Manoj Kewalramani join Amit Varma in episode 170 of The Seen and the Unseen to demystify international relations.

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Episode 169: Taking Stock of Covid-19

How should India handle Covid-19? Every option on the table carries huge costs, and will take countless lives. Shruti Rajagopalan joins Amit Varma in episode 169 of The Seen and the Unseen to help navigate the complex decisions that policy makers are being forced to make with little information.

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Episode 168: The Art of Translation

There are over 6000 languages in the world. How can we possibly understand one another? Arunava Sinha joins Amit Varma in episode 168 of The Seen and the Unseen to explain the importance of translation, and literature itself, in these divisive times.

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Episode 167: India’s Greatest Civil Servant

In 1906, a 13-year-old boy burnt down his school in a village in Kerala and ran away from home to work in the gold mines of Kolar. Decades later, he put this country together. Narayani Basu joins Amit Varma in episode 167 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about the extraordinary life of VP Menon.

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Episode 166: Nanak Was Here

The man known as Guru Nanak was one of the great travellers of his time, passing through lands that are today spread across nine countries. Amardeep Singh joins Amit Varma in episode 166 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about how he retraced Nanak’s path — and also about his efforts at documenting the Sikh heritage of Pakistan.

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Episode 165: Genetic Engineering

Humans are the only bots with the ability to reprogram themselves. Shambhavi Naik joins Amit Varma in episode 165 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss the science, ethics, politics and policy implications of genetic engineering.

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Episode 164: The Ideas of Our Constitution

Contrary to popular belief, the Indian constitution was not a copy-paste job without a vision. It emerged from decades of intellectual ferment. Madhav Khosla joins Amit Varma in episode 164 of The Seen and the Unseen to describe the history of the key ideas that drove our founders and shaped our constitution.

Read show notesEpisode 164: The Ideas of Our Constitution