Public policy may seem like a dull subject fit only for wonks, but it matters: our lives are deeply affected by what our governments do. Pranay Kotasthane joins Amit Varma in episode 233 of The Seen and the Unseen to chat about his intellectual journey, his private beach and why public policy can be so stimulating. He also answers racy questions from the Twitterverse.
The problem with the past is that it’s over. How can we enter distant history and understand what happened? Language is one way. Peggy Mohan joins Amit Varma in episode 232 of The Seen and the Unseen to share her insights on what the evolution of our languages reveals about how we got here.
Bollywood lost him, journalism wasted him, and thank goodness for that. Manoj Kewalramani, the foreign policy analyst also known as The China Dude, joins Amit Varma in episode 231 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss his brilliant new book on post-Covid China, Smokeless War. Also discussed: Lokhandwala Cafes and the art of building narratives.
His writing is self-reflective, his humour is self-deprecatory, and he’s one of our finest writers on cinema. Jai Arjun Singh joins Amit Varma in episode 230 of The Seen and the Unseen to describe how he to came to love cinema — and how that love changed shape as he did.
In these difficult times, no one’s had a harder time than our medical professionals. They see death every day, and they fight it. What is it like to be a doctor in India? Lancelot Pinto joins Amit Varma in episode 229 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about the practice of medicine in general, and the battle against Covid-19 in particular. Also discussed: the incentives of doctors, the importance of sleep, how to quit smoking, and the Epidemic of Sighing.
We’re well into the 21st century, but Indian society seems stuck in ages past — especially when it comes to the state of our women. Kavita Krishnan joins Amit Varma in episode 228 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss her evolution as a feminist, and what she has learned from her activism.
The Indian economy has been going downhill for a decade now. How has Covid-19 affected it? Ila Patnaik joins Amit Varma in episode 227 of The Seen and the Unseen to take stock of where we are today, and where we go from here.
Does shared suffering lead to greater empathy? There has been an outpouring of relief work during this pandemic, with citizens rushing to help other citizens where the state has failed. But there are complexities and moral dilemmas involved. Ashwin Mahesh joins Amit Varma in episode 226 of The Seen and the Unseen to describe his experiences of organising relief at scale, and the importance of working with the state.
We may have been in denial earlier, but no more. Covid-19 has laid bare how badly India’s healthcare system is broken. Before we can fix it, we must understand it. Karthik Muralidharan joins Amit Varma in episode 225 of The Seen and the Unseen to shed light on his many years of studying this field. The discussion also contains thoughts on whether GDP is edible, and a bout of antakshiri right at the end.
How do we make sense of the madness around us? Well, there’s the rational, scientific approach: gather data, build models, keep refining and iterating, get closer and closer to the truth. Gautam Menon joins Amit Varma in episode 224 of The Seen and the Unseen to describe the exciting field of biophysics and his work in building mathematical models of infectious diseases — especially Covid-19. Also discussed: the joys of science, and how Indian music is the best embodiment of the idea of India. Kumar Gandharva FTW.
The second wave in India could have been avoided. We should not have been suffering like this. Vaccines were the answer. Ajay Shah joins Amit Varma in episode 223 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss how our thinking about vaccines was fundamentally flawed — and what we should do now. Also discussed: why Indian healthcare is in such a mess.
Trained as a medical doctor, Nandita Iyer has blazed a trail in the last 15 years creating content about food in media as diverse as blogs, Instagram, YouTube and even good old-fashioned columns and books. She joins Amit Varma in episode 222 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss her journey in food, what we can learn from our grandparents and the fine art of dissecting cadavers.
These are difficult times. How do we make sense of what is happening around us? Well, there is science. Anirban Mahapatra joins Amit Varma in episode 221 of The Seen and the Unseen to share his insights on the science of Covid-19 — and on the state of science and scientific writing in general.
India has changed so much in the last 30 years — and so has Indian sport. One of our finest chroniclers, Sharda Ugra, joins Amit Varma in episode 220 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about sports journalism, cricket, other Indian sports, and how she has embraced both the sublime and the shady. Also discussed: the eternal charm of Sion, Atul Bedade, gorillas and paagal kuttas.
There are many things that threaten our nation, both internal and external, both seen and unseen. Our armed forces protect us from some of them. Sushant Singh joins Amit Varma in episode 219 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss the state of our military, his experiences in Kashmir, the threats from Pakistan and China, and the danger of politics to national security.
The world of creators has changed in the last few years — and maybe advertising is dead? Varun Duggirala joins Amit Varma in episode 218 of The Seen and the Unseen to describe his journey as a creator in the world of advertising — and the time he kidnapped people for reality television.
Prem Panicker has been raising hell in Indian journalism for over 30 years: A muckraker and a pioneer, a maverick and an elder statesman, he is loved by fans and feared by the establishment. Prem joins Amit Varma in episode 217 of The Seen and the Unseen for a raw and intimate account of the wounds he got from living, and the lessons he learnt while healing.
What is it like to be Muslim in India? Ghazala Wahab joins Amit Varma in episode 216 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss.the history of Islam in the subcontinent — and how, at this present moment, we may be trapped in a vicious circle.
There is so much about India that is unseen to us, hidden behind layers of blindness. If only we could peel them off. Annie Zaidi joins Amit Varma in episode 215 of The Seen and the Unseen to describe how her many years as a writer, blogger, journalist, playwright and filmmaker deepened her vision of our world.
India is a complex country. The last few decades have been full of tumult. How does one make sense of it all? Raghu Sanjaylal Jaitley joins Amit Varma in episode 214 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about the many frames he uses to look at our politics, economics, culture and Dilip Kumar.
VCs have a crazy job description. They need to understand society, figure out what people will want tomorrow and bet on the future. Sajith Pai joins Amit Varma in episode 213 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about his frames of looking at the world — and what he has learnt about media, entrepreneurship and this country of ours.
India’s financial system has been in crisis for more than a decade — and it affects all of us. Tamal Bandyopadhyay joins Amit Varma in episode 212 of The Seen and the Unseen to make sense of all the turbulence.
Our agriculture needs reform — but we should be wary that our attempt to get there is not at the cost of our democracy. Ajay Shah joins Amit Varma in episode 211 of The Seen and the Unseen to share his insights on the process, content and implication of the farm bills. Also discussed: knowledge assimilation, public health, how we tackled the pandemic and what we can do going forward.
A virus can kill you — and so can hunger. The lockdown last year led to an explosion of hunger around the country. Where the state failed, civil society stepped in. Ruben Mascarenhas joins Amit Varma in episode 210 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss his initiative, Khaana Chahiye, that fed lakhs of people in Mumbai. Also discussed: activism, local politics and the clash between principles and the will to power.
In 2014, a photograph of two girls hanging from a tree in an Indian village went viral. Sonia Faleiro joins Amit Varma in episode 209 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss the years she spent researching their story, and the complex layers of truth she uncovered. And also, how the larger crime is the one our society commits on itself.
Is the stock market an engine of our economy or a casino disconnected from reality? Does it require deep thinking or mad gambling? Deepak Shenoy joins Amit Varma in episode 208 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about the lessons he has learnt about the markets — and about life.
God is a controversial subject, but we can all agree that food exists, and is often divine. Shoba Narayan joins Amit Varma in episode 207 of The Seen and the Unseen to describe her explorations of religion and food in India.
Finally, 2020 is behind us. It changed our world, the way we live our lives, and how we relate to each other and to ourselves. Shruti Rajagopalan and Alex Tabarrok join Amit Varma in episode 206 of The Seen and the Unseen to take stock of the year gone by, with each of them picking five lessons they feel 2020 holds for us. Because they can’t count, though, they end up with more than 15 — here they are, below. (Listen to the episode for the elaborations and arguments.)
Pandemic, lockdown, masks, vaccine, state failure, state overreach: India’s been here before, and it’s been worse. Chinmay Tumbe joins Amit Varma in episode 205 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss how 40 million lives were lost in the subcontinent between 1817 and 1920 in the cholera, plague and influenza pandemics — and the lessons we need to learn from them.
Indian cooking is often treated as a mystical art — but it is the science behind it that should fill us with wonder. Krish Ashok joins Amit Varma in episode 204 of The Seen and the Unseen to speak about Masala Lab, his effort at explaining this great art from scientific first principles. Every meal of yours can now be a romantic adventure filled with the ecstasy of insight — whether you cook it, eat or or do both while playing the violin.
If someone from the year 1990 visited the world of 2020, it would seem magical, even fictional. Vasant Dhar joins Amit Varma in episode 203 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss how technology will continue to change our world in ways we cannot imagine. Will the future upgrade us — or will it make us obsolete?
The dominance of Hindu nationalism in Indian politics is so complete that it seems like it was inevitable. Was it? Vinay Sitapati joins Amit Varma in episode 202 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss the BJP’s long journey to this point, as reflected in the jugalbandi of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani.
Cricket has a unique place in Indian society, and has touched and shaped millions of lives. Ramachandra Guha joins Amit Varma in episode 201 of The Seen and the Unseen to describe how he came to love, play and even administer the ‘most subtle and sophisticated game known to humankind.’
The tables are turned in episode 200 of The Seen and the Unseen. Host Amit Varma is in the firing line, replying to questions from 22 of his past guests and fans as Shruti Rajagopalan plays proctor. They talk about poker, podcasting, politics, policy and the personal.
Figuring out what consumers want is pretty similar to figuring out what society wants. Adman and author Ambi Parameswaran joins Amit Varma in episode 199 of The Seen and the Unseen to share his insights from his decades in advertising, and the many books he has written.
As our cities are growing, our citizens are growing apathetic. Can we reassert our rights and reform our governance? Ashwin Mahesh joins Amit Varma in episode 198 of The Seen and the Unseen for a wide-ranging conversation on urban governance, citizenship, education and much more.
Stories and conversations can shape the world, and ourselves, in ways that we often don’t appreciate. Neelesh Misra joins Amit Varma in episode 197 of The Seen and the Unseen to chat about his journey as a storyteller and interviewer.
Good data journalism can reveal otherwise unseen truths about our society. Pioneering journalist Rukmini S joins Amit Varma in episode 196 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about the insights data brought to her journalism, and her groundbreaking podcast on Covid-19, The Moving Curve.
Decades after the trauma of separation, Partition remains with us. Aanchal Malhotra joins Amit Varma in episode 195 of The Seen and the Unseen to talk about her work in excavating the memories of Partition survivors through the objects they carried with them — and their resonance in these modern times.
The constitution of India, it has been said, is not a book but a periodical. Starting with Jawaharlal Nehru, every prime minister who wanted to do something unconstitutional simply amended the constitution. Tripurdaman Singh joins Amit Varma in episode 194 of The Seen and the Unseen to discuss India’s First Amendment, which began a rot that never ended.