Of demonetization. And magic. And Modi


Image courtesy BuzzFeed

(NB: This is the uncut version of an article originally published on BuzzFeed on November 7)

At 8 PM on the 8th of November 2016, the curtain rose on the greatest magic act of all time.

That evening, one man stepped onstage in front of the largest captive audience ever assembled for a performance and, in a speech spanning 2423 words that took 25:04 minutes to deliver, converted most of the currency of one of the largest economies in the world into so much worthless paper.

It was intended, he said, to usher in a Swachch economic Bharat. It was audacious in concept and ambitious in scale, even as it flew in the face of received wisdom that you cannot fool all the people all the time.

The ace mentalist Nakul Shenoy told me that a magician can, and often does, stumble during a performance. Modi’s stumble came four days into his essay in mass hypnotism when, in a November 12 speech to the NRI community in Kobe, Japan, he laughed at the hapless victims of his newest trick. “Ghar pe shaadi hai,” he smirked at one point, “lekin paisa nahin hai.” (There’s a wedding at home, but there’s no money.)

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On magic, and Modi, and demonetization

Here is my second essay for BuzzFeed: On why demonetization is the greatest magic act of all time.

Here are the magic backgrounders I used as the spine of my piece:

A first-person piece by Teller, of the legendary Penn and Teller duo, where he explains the basic principles of magic

An interview with Teller in Smithsonian, where the master speaks of why magic has such timeless appeal, and what goes into the making of a trick

A lecture-demonstration by Teller for the Mind Science Foundation that deconstructs the basics of magic:

Tommy Wonder performing a basic cups-and-balls routine up close:

Jason Latimer performs the cups-and-balls, only he uses see-through cups so you know, or think you know, exactly what he is doing:

And finally, Penn and Teller again: they do the cups and balls, show you how it’s done, then they do it all over again with clear cups and balls and you still don’t get it:

As always, appreciate your thoughts and comments in the feedback section.

How money changed cricket

My friend Amit Varma, who you should follow for informed libertarian commentary on contemporary affairs, blogs at India Uncut and edits Pragati magazine.

Amit is a two-time winner of the Bastiat Prize for libertarian writing. And, happily, in less than a year of its revamped launch, Pragati has two writers (by a happy coincidence, both good friends) in the shortlist for this year’s Bastiat awards (the only Indian media house of any type to make the shortlist): Devangshu Datta for his series on victimless crimes and Shruti Rajagopalan for an astonishing eight-part series on the right to property.

A brief segue: Besides her writing skills, Shruti is an excellent teacher. The two of us once met up for a pub crawl through New York City. The hours passed, we hopped from pub to pub and finally, well past midnight, came to roost at an Irish pub in midtown Manhattan. That is when I said something incredibly ill-informed about the economy. Shruti went on a tear. She grabbed up a heap of napkins from the bar, borrowed the bar-bloke’s pen, and with sketches and charts, began explaining macro-economic concepts oblivious to the fact that she was collecting something of a crowd around her. It was a magical moment; I ended it stone cold sober and considerably more well-informed, proving the point that you have to lose something to gain something else.

Anyway. Amit also hosts a podcast, The Seen and the Unseen — an always insightful, occasionally quirky series of conversations between Amit and various guests on matters to do with the economy, with polity, and with society. Here are the archives. And here is the latest: a three-way cricket conversation featuring Gideon Haigh, among the best cricket writers of this or any generation, Amit, and me.

And oh yes, apologies for the radio silence. After reading your various inputs  — for which I cannot thank you enough — and also reading what seemed like a rainforest’s worth of commentary on demonetization across websites, I finally managed to figure out what I want to say and how to say it. The finished piece, as of a few moments ago, is with the BuzzFeed editors, and should go up at some point tomorrow. Also tomorrow, I’ll get to my shamefully delayed responses to your inputs and questions, and ease back into daily blogging. Apologies again for the silence, stay well, keep in touch.