Transcribe your podcast

When I started the scene in the scene four years ago, I could not have imagined what the show would become at that time. I thought I will do 20 minute episodes on the unintended consequences of public policy.


Today, this is a show that features long form conversations, sometimes longer than three hours on subjects that range from politics through history to economics to society and culture. And along the way, I discover truths about the nature of audio and the power of podcasting that run contrary to what I had earlier believed. Also, I built a listenership that was far more engaged and that cared more about what I was putting out than any readership I could have imagined as a writer.


We are 200 episodes old today. What a journey it's been. Maybe it's time to sit back for a moment and take stock.


Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host of Vardaman. Welcome to the scene in The Unseen, in fact. Welcome to Episode 200 of the scene in The Unseen. This is a special episode for me for a number of reasons. One, 200 is a nice round number, and it feels appropriate to celebrate it in a way that one won't celebrate, say, Episode one ninety six or Episode 203.


But still, it's nice to have these milestones that allow you to celebrate or to take stock too. I'm using this episode to launch the scene in The Unseen Books, along with the publishers Westlund and bringing out a four volume anthology of the scene and The Unseen with curated excerpts from the two hundred episodes of the scene and The Unseen. So far, these four volumes, which will be out early next year, will be divided across the themes of politics, history, economics and society and culture.


Three. I'm also launching the scene in the unseen merchandise, beginning with designer monks that you can browse at scene unseen and slash stuff. And for my good friend and frequent guest, the economist Shruti Rajagopalan has put together a special episode in which she got 22 guests and fans of the show to ask me questions. So the tables have turned and I'm in the firing line. We ended up recording of our conversation and I consider splitting it up into two episodes.


But then I figured that talking about myself felt a little bit self-indulgent. So it was best to just release it as one bumper episode. So this is for the longest episode ever on the scene in the Unseen and regular programming resumes next week. Before we get to the conversation, I need to express my gratitude to those who made the show possible. Four years ago. I didn't listen to podcasts and therefore didn't understand why this was such a special medium.


Then a friend of mine calamitously approached me a ran the podcast network Eivind podcast, and he asked if I'd be interested in doing something with them. I met up with Ahmet and his then creative director met almost at a restaurant in Jukan, feeble and decided to take a shot at the show. Mason went around me and my partnership with Avium ended last year as I went solo. But without a mentorship initiative, you would not be listening to this. Almost all of my 200 episodes have had one editor, Richard dolefully, which has been a silent partner in crime, often fighting a valiant battle to salvage Qiqi audio.


And I continue to feel so reassured that he remains by my side as I go down this path. The artwork of the show is done by the brilliant artist whose wonderful work adds to the character of the scene and the unseen, well, vision. Alica the two people I work with every week. I also want to thank those who played a part in this show in the past. Josh Thomas, Swathi Bakhshi, a bus woman, and Jude Western helped produce it back in the days Motoman and build a website C.A.C. Not Again, and took the podcast of photographs which are actually pretty good photographs if you take the broadcaster out of them.


And me, Thomas and Sean Fantome helped me with advice and support at crucial times. I also want to thank the many, many guests.


I've had over these 200 episodes who have trusted me and have been generous with their time and insights. It takes two people to have a good conversation, and I'm blessed to have been able to learn so much from so many wonderful people. And I also want to thank you, the listener, for making me feel that someone is listening and that this matters. I often had lonely moments where I've wondered if this was worth it, and your constant validation and support has meant a lot to me.


Also, since I opened the show up for support in April this year, many of you have made generous financial contributions to keep the show going. I feel guilty that I haven't been able to write to each of you personally to thank you for this, but it's been heartwarming and even moving for me. The show remains independent because of you. More than that, it remains meaningful to me because of you. So thank you for that. Over the conversation now with Shruti unleashes one surprise after another.


But you know the drill. Before we get there, let's take a quick commercial break.


If you enjoy listening to the scene on the scene, you can play a part in keeping the show alive. The scene in The Unseen has been a labor of love for me. I've enjoyed putting together many stimulating conversations, expanding my brain and my universe, and hopefully yours as well. But while the work has been its own reward, I don't actually make much money off the show. Although the scene in the on scene is great numbers, advertisers haven't really woken up to the insane engagement level of what goes.


And I do many, many hours of deep research for each episode. Besides all the logistics of producing the show myself, scheduling guests, booking studios, being technicians, the travelling soon. So I'm trying a new way of keeping the thing going. And that involves my proposition for you is this for every episode of the scene in the on scene that you enjoy. Buy me a cup of coffee or even a lavish lunch. Whatever you feel is what you can do this by heading over to see an unseen audience of.


And contributing an amount of your choice, this is not a subscription, the scene in The Unseen will continue to be free on all Allport concepts and at scene unseen. And this is just a gesture of appreciation. Help keep the thing going. Scene on scene and slash support. Hi, everyone, welcome to the scene in The Unseen, I'm not a farmer, I'm Shooty Rajagopalan and I have temporarily taken over as guest host for the 100th episode of the scene in The Unseen, because there are some reasons for it.


But the main reason is any time I meet someone who knows me from Ahmed's show, they immediately ask me lots and lots of questions about him. And I'm frankly a little bit tired of being the conduit to fan girls and fanboys and listeners everywhere. And I thought it might also be a little bit of fun to turn the tables on Ammit and ask him to be the guest for three and a half hours. Right. So that he knows how the rest of us feel.


Just FYI, for this episode, I am prepared with energy bars, caffeine and water. I have only not come with like a for like survivorship or survivor hood, but other than that, I'm fully prepared. So this is why I've taken over the show. And Ahmet, welcome to the show.


Thank you for having me on your show. On my show. It's a great honor. Yeah.


The other reason I sort of took over is I have known it long enough that I can be pushy and obnoxious and do things like invite myself over for over 200 episodes at the 100th episode. So we did, you know, like a sort of big Reflections episode one hundred episodes ago. And that was a little bit more fun because we got to have lunch at or Calcutta just before we recorded that. So this time all the yummy food is missing and it's the pandemic and we're not in the studio together.


But other than that, it feels really, really nice to celebrate this big sort of milestone.


Yeah, I mean, I do I don't know how we reached episode 202, but what is what I live and recorded in Mumbai and Shorties in NYC and we record most of our episodes remotely. But you happen to be down in Mumbai that time. So we had lunch at or Calcutta and then recorded the 100th and here we are, the 200. And I don't think you invited yourself in the sense that it feels perfectly natural to do a milestone episode with you because, you know, I don't know if you remember, but, you know, before the show started, you know, we did a bunch of sort of pilot episodes and you were my guinea pig for those.


And listeners may not be aware of this, but before we launched the show and I was partnering with IBM, the way we conceptualize the show was something of a produced show where I go on a team and then we have sound from various people coming in and all of that. And later on, at some point, we realized it's too much of a pain and what the hell? And let's just do a straight interview show because much easier to kick started.


And I had a good sense of it. And the show, of course, went on to evolve massively from there. But Shooty was a guinea pig for many of those. Yeah.


Not only was I a guinea pig, I must fess up here to all your listeners. I was also someone who didn't think this was a great idea. I was like, why would people listen to us? What is the point of recording this conversation? Really? The two of us are going to talk about minimum wage or something like that. You know, one of the guinea pig episodes was, I think, on minimum wage. And I was like, who the hell is going to care about what we have to say about this?


So I was a big time, Nazeer. I'm really glad I did not take my advice. And he went with this. Otherwise there would be no two hundred or so.


So that's my mini confession. But I became a big cheerleader for the show soon enough.


This was just in the very, very initial period.


Yeah. I mean, initially, like right now, for example, if you speak to me, I have I have a very good sense of what I'm doing and great conviction and what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. But at the start, it was just an experiment. It was like, let's do it. The show was nothing like what it is now. And and, you know, from there, it's kind of evolved. And I mean, really, one of the sort of the turning points in my thinking about the medium was Episode twenty six, which we did together on the right to property, which was, you know, more than an hour.


And, you know, early on in the show, my conception of what casting my conception of media in general, because it didn't listen to podcasting. My conception of this kind of media in general is that people have short attention spans and you have to hook them in the first 15 seconds. And no matter how long you make, it should not be longer than twenty minutes, which was all rubbish. And, you know, maybe you get a chance to elaborate later in the episode why I feel that way.


But as we sort of when we did episode twenty six, which was more than an hour, I thought, okay, this is my best episode so far and it happens to be my longest. So what is going on here? And I really enjoyed this and listeners seem to enjoy it and it took a new life. And of course one hour is like a ridiculous miniature. I would never do something so hopelessly shallow. But what I do on social media, by the way, is release sort of without the numbers.


I'll show you a list of my top twenty five episodes in popularity because so many people discover the show and they're like, what should I listen to first? So I'll share the top twenty five and you'll see that I think more or less all of them are more than two hours and that there's a very good correlation between sort of length and popularity. I don't think it's a correlation between length and popularity.


I think it's between quality and popularity. You tend to engage more with guests who are very I mean, I don't mean some of your guests are not high quality, but, you know, sometimes when the. The station is going really well, you tend to go longer, and that is why the listener is hooked longer because it is that good.


So, you know, it's this funny thing, Jerry Seinfeld in one of his shows, he talked about how a length and quality are just substitutes for each other. And I think this was a pattern. Oswal, he said, you know, there are three second cat and ad videos on YouTube that he can't tolerate two seconds off.


But there are other things which, you know, you're willing to watch for hours. People are willing to watch the the director's cut of Lord of the Rings back to back and things like that. So I really think it's not that people enjoy the length per se, but it is the amount of quality packed in per minute which you have managed to sustain for three hours. I just cannot imagine how.


No. And also what happens is and I'm sure you you know, I don't know what questions you have lined up for me, but, you know, it's going to be a wonderful surprise as we go along. And we'll probably talk about interviewing. But one of the things that I do during an episode is always calibrate how long it should be, according to a number of factors, such as if I'm really enjoying it and if it is a stimulating conversation and there's enough talk to talk about and the other person is willing, which is key, then I go on as long as I feel like.


But sometimes the conversation may be great, but maybe the other and the other person also feels as good, but they just don't have the time. They've given me three hours, so we have to end before that. That's fine. And sometimes it aren't, you know, enough things to talk about. And they kind of went on. And sometimes I just feel that they're getting tired. They want to talk, they want to be kind, but they are just getting tired.


They have sort of stacked up with energy bars and caffeine, as you have. So at that point, I just you know, I have to make the call that I have to be kind to this person and let them go.


So they live to see another day and maybe another episode, something I have been told by my husband that I get hungry. I mean, he didn't have to tell me I know this about myself. I didn't want to unleash the the crazy demon version of me or knew and hence the snacks and the caffeine.


So if I can begin right after this long prelude, I let me tell you the plan for the show. Since you don't know what's going on, you have a rough, vague idea. So we did something. We went behind your back and we asked a group of guests and fans, and this is not you know, it's just a random ordering of people I know you have enjoyed having on your show. And some of the fans I have interacted with on Twitter, and I know that, you know, they're huge fans of yours.


So those who are not on this list, this is entirely my fault. It had nothing to do with it. Right. So this is just like a group of people who thought it would be great to ask you some questions. So what we did was I just asked them to record a question in their voice and send it to us.


So, Vijay, who is your sound guy and amazing and my life saviour and who have traumatized over the last, say, two to three weeks, has been very helpful in putting this together and making sure we get all the recordings that are good quality. So I'm going to play the question and you have to answer the question. So for the listeners, this is pretty spontaneous because Ahmed doesn't know what's coming.


Right. And I have a whole bunch of questions in the middle that that, you know, I will have, I'm sure. And, you know, just as there is always with your episodes, no fixed plan, no fixed script. We just take this where the conversation goes.


Well, I'm really scared and excited, but I just got scared because normally I'm at the other end. I mean, it's very relaxing to be a guest because I don't have to prepare and I don't have to go back my brain about what do I ask next and where do I take the conversation? And you're constantly on sort of focusing hard when you're the host being a guest as much easier. However, I don't know what's coming at me. So this is interesting.


Where are you starting?


OK, so we are going to start with a monopoly who has been definitely one of your most popular guests. Right. He also, I think, Paxson, the most number of words per minute.


And he is really one of my favorite authors, one of my favorite historians. I love reading his books. So thank you for your question. And here goes.


Hi, I'm. You know, my question for you is quite simple, because I've been on your show three times and I've heard you discuss various things with various experts and and writers and others, you know, ever since. And one of the things I've noticed is that you always spend a good amount of time right at the start trying to get them to open up about themselves, their pasts, their childhood years, the kind of intellectual inspirations they've had when they studied, you know, what brought them to these junctures where they currently are and have always thought, you know, what about you?


Where did you grow up? What were the books you read? What made you this complete podcast guru? You know, this this figure who is able to sort of view other people and get them to talk about things that they may not necessarily otherwise relate to a public audience. But you managed to extract that kind of information. And I wonder if you let us extract a little bit of information about you as well, about your background and the things that make you who you are.


And I hope I should ask you and prod you in this direction and get you to open up a little bit. Wow, that's such a lovely question. So before I get down to answering your question. Well, of course, we link all these episodes from the show. And also, I must say that I've done three episodes with Matthew when they were all superhit and he's been doing this to just be a guest.


Yeah, I know. But I have to I have to say these things about these very kindly guests of mine who have asked these questions that, you know, who's been on Twitter recently reading out from Hindi and Marathi translations of his books and just absolutely lovely. It shows you why he's like the resident chick magnet of Twitter and he's got a great voice. You should totally get into podcasting, though, as I often keep saying that this is not radio as her voice does not matter.


And I can elaborate on that typically if you want. But to sort of before I get to answer this question, because I am a guest, I can ramble as much as I want and the host cannot interrupt. That's the rule of the show. So I'd also like to talk about why I get people to open up. It's a conscious decision. It's not a decision at all. I have to rethink how do I do it? Spend one hour talking about them.


But it's a conscious decision. But, you know, not the intended reason. But by the way, it works. The technical thing is that it gets your guests to relax and then they're more likely to trust you and open up and all of that. But the real reason I do it is for the listeners to sort of give them a sense of the flesh and blood person behind the ideas and the work that we are going to hear about. Because too often I think that in the world we and I've been thinking a lot and talking a lot about this recently that we focus on abstract things and not enough on concrete things.


So if you're talking about somebody at work and some of these ideas and you can go into all these abstract areas, and it's also interesting to me to get a concrete sense of who is this person, what is the journey where she comes from, what do you know? And I'm not referring to a man who has a hood. I'm just it's a generic pronoun. And so which is why I do that. But to sort of and I think I'd actually talk enough about myself in little bits and pieces here that leaders should already feel they know me.


But basically I was sort of my daddy's Punjabi, my mom is Bengali. My dad was an IRS officer. So I was born and brought up in Senegal where I was still, I think, the 8th standard. And then my dad sort of shifted to Boonie, where he was a director of the Film and Television Institute of India in the late eighties. In fact, he was a person who took the decision to expel as Angelil Logan Sally from the Institute, who was an editing student and demanded that his graduation film should be one that is allowed to direct.


And my father was like a stickler for rules and no. What are you saying? You are an editing student and all of that. So I would have expelled him for aesthetic reasons alone.


But I don't think my dad thought along those lines I could have seen the future monstrosities that would come out of the SO but but I mentioned that is an important point because I you know, as a child, I basically grew up watching a lot of world cinema and thinking of it as something completely normal, not accepted, you know, like world cinema or something, not as, you know, a different kind of cinema or something completely normal. I would watch two, three films a date.


I was a big influence on me. I was also fortunate because my dad is a reader and love collecting books and we had thousands of books at home, literally many thousands. So I would read I would just pick up whatever I came across. And serendipity helped me when I was about the age of 10 and I saw this book, I still remember it was a hardback modern library edition and the book had the intriguing title of House of the Dead.


So I thought, okay, this will be some really funky, nice, you know, thrilling book zombies and all that. Whatever. I don't know. Let's check it out. And it was a book by Dostoyevsky about his years when he was in a prison in Siberia. And I was just blown away. My whole world was blown open, though I haven't read it since then, so I need to go back and read it. So I read all of Dostoyevsky and then I read all the Russians.


And then I go to Shakespeare. I read Shakespeare when I was ten, though I must say that while my reading was prolific, my tastes weren't very evolved because if I remember correctly, my favorite Shakespeare play was Titus Andronicus and kind of moved on from there. And then as I entered my teenage years, I kind of read less and less. My reading habits sort of went off into adulthood. But there was that early base where I had kind of read a lot and so on.


And at this point, I had no sort of ideological sort of leanings. I was sort of probably mildly left liberal, like many people tend to be in college. And then I went to college and I decided, okay, I want to be a writer. So what do I do? How does one write? And it made sense to be to say, OK, I'll be an advertising copywriter. And so I it might be in English literature and focus on college.


And I did not know of the storied past. You know, it was in focus and college and I think 1893, 1893 that Gopalakrishnan Gockley and who had one of the founders of the college, met Mahatma Gandhi for the first time. And I went for a walk on the grounds of a Christian college and had a long chat and it had a history of it ism. It's also in Ferguson College will go balcony sugarcoat one of the great figures of our independence who sadly died too young a great classical liberal once while teaching a biological.


Young Australian students, if a donkey had God, what would that God look like? And then he held both his hands up above his ears and brilliant. And I remember in, you know, Googlies biography by Beyonder, there's an anecdote about how to tell someone about Ferguson and that person say something to the effect of, oh, you come from that hotbed of activism. Anyway, I wasn't aware of any of these in them, but I was in college and nor was there anything else.


Then, like I said, I was mildly less liberal and mildly very fussy about God. And I thought spirituality. And there is some bigger force out there and we cannot give it a name and all of that complete rubbish. Now, of course, I'm an atheist, but defined as the absence of belief. So I don't believe that there is no God. It's simply that I don't believe that there is a God. So this is a complete digression.


But I remember the letter writer to The Economist once said that, you know, saying that it is a is a is a belief system or a religion is like saying that not collecting stamps is a hobby. So that's kind of that's kind of how I look at it.


But so what happened was then I went to Delhi from there and in Delhi I joined this place called Hindustan Times and Associates, where I spent a few months. And for whatever reasons, I wasn't happy. Advertising wasn't doing it for me. And at that time, you know, we had just started and they had come out with a quick Gundogan commercials and all of that. And and my then girlfriend, now wife, was an owner and she was planning to go to Bombay to study, although she didn't end up studying like she said you would study, but she was going to go to Bombay in the long distance thing wasn't working out.


So I said, Teka, I'm going to go to Bombay and that's the best decision you have made.


It was so so I went to Bombay. I think I landed in Bombay on a Friday and in Monday I was employed at Jenova. I worked in China for a couple of years. I worked for a couple of years more than MTV after that, you know, spent kind of five years between those two places and then sort of moved on and did a bunch of things. I've spoken about that in other places, but basically I sort of did I try to be an entrepreneur for a very short while, which was right after the dot com bubble burst.


So not the best of timings that didn't work. Then I joined Wisden, which bought for and I became managing editor the day that for a few years. And because I didn't want to write only about it, started a blog called The New Uncaught, which, you know, back in the day became a kind of fairly popular rototiller. I called my writing, Jim, like, you know, but I sort of pushed my writing course. Now I tell people about how important it is to write regularly.


And in the end, God was great because I was writing five books today and because my attitude was it is just a blog. I wasn't paralyzed by the fear of anxiety that what a lot of people think of my writing and so on and so forth. So I ended up doing some 8000 posts in five years. Then I moved on to sort of playing poker professionally for a living. And after five years of that, I decided that, you know, it was taking a toll on my lifestyle.


I had saved up enough to kind of not have to work for the world. So I thought, let me be a writer again left. And that I kind of became editor of the online magazine. Pragati for a while, started the scene in The Unseen around the same time. And now I can safely say that I'm either a professional broadcaster or a professional educator, none of which I would have expected five years ago. But like we are, it's yeah, it's a wild journey.


You know, one of my favorite things about you, and especially because I have seen about the last 15 plus years of this this transition in your life is that you never wait for there to be this infrastructure or this institutional system.


I see this specifically because I have students who ask me, how do I do this? How do I become a lawyer or how do I become so-and-so? How do I start writing a column? And if I were to give them your example, it would be just start doing it and it will figure itself out and something will come of it.


Most people wait to be asked to do something. Most people wait for a job to exist before actually doing what they care about. You are one of those few people who's just like, I really enjoy doing this and I'm going to do it. And that's the end of that.


And it's one of my favorite things about you. So what is your attitude about that?


Were you always like this as a kid? Does it come from having a certain amount of privilege and also a certain amount of self knowledge that, you know, you do something long enough, you know, it's going to turn into something valuable? Where does this unique, you know, sort of it's not even entrepreneurial. It's really like it's entrepreneurial. It's experimental. It's a really interesting characteristic of you that I have observed.


Look, I think the privilege is always there because obviously, you know, I've had the good fortune of not really having to worry about my next meal is going to come from the at the same time, I have essentially been completely self-made, got nothing from elsewhere and been working since I was twenty. You know, all of that. But my my. Approaches, you know, it seems like it's planned and there's a grand philosophy behind it. I do have a sort of I know the grand philosophy, but a way of thinking about these things now.


But a lot of it when it happened was that I just felt enamored with something and I went ahead and did it. And I was always sort of an idealistic fool and I never sort of thought about, is there a market for this? Is this going to make money or is this going to sort of lead to short term results and validation and all of those things? I just jumped into it. Having said that, the one thing I wanted to do all my life, which is write novels, is something I've just won by novel.


So I haven't done enough of that. So actually, I haven't done what you're saying I've done, which is jump into what I love, but I've done a lot of other things which have interested me because I wanted to do them. Now, my broad sort of advice to people would be whenever you're doing something to pieces of advice, one is don't overthink it. I think there is a tradeoff between getting it done and getting it right. And wherever there is a conflict between those two, you should privilege getting it done.


And in fact, getting it done is a way to get it right, because you get it done once and then you keep doing it, doing it, doing it, to keep iterating it becomes something else. And that's actually the only way to get it right. Like even the seen and the unseen, for example, like, I'm really proud of the episodes that I've done since see maybe episode 80, 90 and, you know, the last the last hundred episodes, so to say.


But I don't like the early episodes at all because the conception of the show was very different. And as you keep doing it, you know, you sort of keep learning, you keep growing, you discover new things and then it becomes a different kind of beast. So my first piece of advice is don't overthink it. Where there's a you see the tradeoff between getting it done and getting it right there on the side of getting it done, just start and see where it goes.


Throw things at the wall. My other way of looking at it, which is something I've come to realize this year, and maybe we'll get a chance to speak about it at length later in this episode, is that and this is a piece of advice I give creators that I think much as I say about futurists and science fiction writers, that they tend to overestimate the short term and underestimate the long term. I think creators do this as well, that many creators will start creating something and they'll overestimate the short term and what it will get them in terms of validation and financial rewards.


And they'll say, my podcast will be so popular that you get so many hits and I'll make so much money and overestimate that. And they could get disheartened by that and stop doing it. But you might underestimate the long run because what will happen in the long run is something that you don't really know. I mean, look at someone like organising podcasting for donkey's years and now he gets a 100 million deal from Spotify. And obviously there's a little bit of survivor's bias at play there.


But regardless, I think those who succeed in creative enterprises will be people who do it for the love of it. And of course, you have to be practical and you have to think about how you want to make money and so on. But there are people who do it for the love of it and then it works out. And then they sort of start thinking of all of these other aspects, many of which fall into place. So I won't say that I didn't want to make money of this, but I started seeing and obviously I wasn't like the first hundred and eight episodes made nothing.


And till I went independent, in fact, and broke with multiple partners, it was making very negligible money. And now for the last few months, it's better, partly because, you know, and again, this is something which in the context of creators, I can speak about later, that as creators you have to think of what you do for each and what you do for revenue. And it may not often go inside and you may do something to build your brand, which which then pays off in other ancillary ways.


So there's a sort of now post factor in figuring out a lot of stuff. But the bottom line is that there was a long, long period when the show wasn't making any money and it was a labor of love, and especially when it became the long phone conversation thing. You know, I would often read many, many books to sort of prepare for it and for each episode, and it became really hard work. I remember once I was going to an episode recording and I was feeling very low that day.


I was like, what's the point? You know, there's no money. There's nothing again, you know, one more time in my life, like in the Uncut, I'm doing something which is very popular, but there's nothing in it. And then at the end of the recording, I was like walking on air. I just felt so elated. And I thought that, you know, it's worth it for its own sake. It doesn't matter.


The other stuff can come or not come, but it's worth it for its own sake. And the recording for those who want to know who, it could have been many recordings, because I you know, almost all the recordings I've done in the past couple of years are worth it for their own sake. But this was Episode 150, which was between Kartika and we were talking a lot about books. So that's sort of something that I enjoyed.


We have V.K. Kartika coming up later and some questions. But I want to go on to one of your more recent episodes with Rajat. Be right.


This is this lovely episode on his book on how he traveled across India with truck drivers. And he's asked a really interesting question about the influence of your parents, your father in particular. So just give that a click.


Apologies of this question a bit personal. Recently found out that Ahmed's father was an ICE officer. Now I have several. What children of civil servants is about and so on, and so many of them are not committed vocal libertarians. So anecdotally, there seems to be a pattern at work here. So my question for Imit is what role, if any, witnessing the workings of the administering of play in you later becoming a libertarian? You're such a great question and great perceptive question, you know, to really speculate, I mean, I don't know too many other libertarians that I don't even like to use read labels now because I think labels make people think in tribal ways.


So what I would kind of say is, if I may speculate on why it may be the case that children, bureaucrats might tend to distrust the state a little bit more, is that they don't think of the state in abstract terms anymore, that they have seen some concrete effect of it because in a sense, they are part of it and beneficiaries of it in indirect ways. So perhaps that could be a reason. But I never actually consciously thought about it.


As it happens, my father was a remarkably honest resource officer and known for that and perhaps even suffered for that. But regardless of that, I think the state is all around you. But I would like to think that, you know, just growing up in those times, even if my father wasn't who he was, I would probably have, you know, now grown to think the way that I do, because, in fact, I was not like a libertarian, a childhood or something.


Like I said, I was my little liberal. If there's any problem, my you know, I'd want the state to step in and solve it. And, you know, all my intent for everything would be compassionate. And I would not think about outcomes and the way the world really works. And it's really much later in adulthood that I kind of turned away from that. But I would say that, you know, what you call libertarianism is, I think, a common human decency that all of us share.


And this is something I want to elaborate on at book length at some point. But the point of it is that in the concrete, in our personal lives, most of us behave in ways that you would call libertarian. We respect the concerns of others. We don't try to coerce others. We want for somebody else to pay for our preferences. If we go to a restaurant with a bunch of friends, you know, we won't force everyone to order exactly what we ordering and so on and so forth.


But when we go beyond the concrete and talk about the abstract and we talk about the state, certainly these values go through to us. And we, you know, because we don't see the cost of the sort of coercion and the other things that we then begin to recommend. So I would say that in our personal lives, most of us, if we are decent human beings, we are by default what you are calling libertarians. I mean, I use a term in a shorthand way.


And, you know, I'm just wary of using terms like these because they're so terrible. But all of that. So I say that. So I don't know what part that played in my life.


And I know the kids of a handful of bureaucrats and none of them think like me. So so, I mean, I think maybe Regitze experience is different. I wonder how. Well, you know, I should have asked him this during the episode and what came up. I wonder how drivers feel about sort of the state because they are actually constantly victims in so many different ways of the oppressiveness of the state, though, given how so many of us normalize that, perhaps they don't think about it at all.


The next question I want to ask you comes from another one of my favorite episodes on your show, which is Chin Made to me, and, you know, his wonderful book and work on migration that you talked about.


And it just, you know, some of these stories, like whether it's Rajputs book or in book to me, when I heard the episode, it didn't feel like it was about truck drivers or it was about migration. It felt like it was this broad story about India and Indians.


And there is like this universality to these themes, like whether it's migration, whether it's writing that each one of us can immediately connect to what it is that's going on. So big shout out to both of them. And I'm going to Bletch.


And my question for you now, I met this is Jamaican major. Congrats on its 100th episode. As you know, I love migration. And so my question for you is, tell us something about your own migration story. What are your roots?


Oh, yeah, my my own migration story. So, I mean, there are two ways in which I can tackle this question. And one, I've already kind of spoken about my background, born and brought up in Chandigarh and then moved to studied in Pune after a few years was in Delhi, where I worked at next year for a year and then Bombay since then, the last twenty five years, more than that. But before that, if you kind of look at where my parents are from, my mother was, you know, a Calcutta person or hardcore Bengali area, as it were.


And my father was born in 1941 in what is now Pakistan in Sheikhupura, which is a place in Lahore, and as a kid shifted to Calcutta. And he and my mom, you know, met in college and had a roaring love affair, which was the talk of the town and parental opposition and all of that nonsense. And I guess fortunately or unfortunately for me, they kind of battled through. In fact, it's an interesting story. My father had, you know, when he graduated, he had sort of options where he had he had private sector offers, I think, from Clarian advertising, which was then the number one to join the then editor of SPW.


And this would have been in the early 60s. The then editor of EPW love something he did. And he said, come in. Work with me, and one day you will be the editor and all of that, you also, I think, got a scholarship to Cambridge, Cambridge and whatever for further studies. But he wanted to marry my mother and my mother's father said the boy must have a job and a proper job, not some silly private sector job.


And what is is going on all over the place for studying. So my son, my father decided that, OK, he'll try for the year. So without really preparing for it, he gave the entrance exam and go through and voila. And and the interesting thing is when I asked him about his past and in fact at one point I thought that I should record these memories, suicide bombing with a recorder and recorded a couple of hours of me talking to him, not for the purpose of publishing anywhere, but just for my own sort of personal memories.


And he doesn't really kind of care about his past. Like, you know, when I was going to Pakistan for the cricket tour in 2006, I said, where were you born? You know, I should probably go there.


And he said, No, no, don't bother. I don't even remember. It doesn't mean anything to me. So, you know, that's kind of how it was. And I once I've asked him a couple of times about counterfactuals, about how his life would have been had he gone to Cambridge or done this or that or whatever, and he always kind of hedges and doesn't really even answer to that. And but anyway, I mean, here I am.


So all's well that ends well. The other way to answer that migration question is to also think about it in terms of the mental geographies we inhabit, that while I have of course, been born and brought up in India and have lived here all my life, the mental geographies I have inhabited, and this would be true much more for millennials here today than perhaps will be people of my generation. But the mental geographies were always Western in some senses.


All the books I read were in English and they were from all across the world. And all the music I heard was largely American and rock and all of that. And my mental landscapes cemented my Western. My ways of thinking about the world were Western. So I think that, you know, people in India are actually in more ways than just their physical geographies or may indicate. And by the way, I want to say, you know, whenever someone asked me to recommend a book that they should read about India, I don't recommend some of the famous books that have been episodes on.


I recommend India move English and math to me because I think it's a masterpiece. One of the best books of the last decade and people haven't heard of it. And that's just such a blooming tragedy. So kindly go and listen to my episode with him because it tells us so much about who we are. It has so many theatrical moments, like, for example, you know, the biggest Ya'el moment in that episode for me while reading a book, in fact, for me was when he spoke about how the highest amount of migration in India happens when women get married and they leave their parental homes and they go to their marital homes.


And most of us won't even. And it's invisible. It's invisible. Most of us, because we have such a male centric view of the world, wouldn't even think of that as migration rate. You know, it just seems so naturally, you're going from one home to another home, but it is migration and what are the influences that has and what happened? So it's a wonderful book. I'm sorry, I can't help plugging past episodes and books that I have.


No, I'm thrilled because part of why I wanted to do this with you is also reflect on these episodes. Right. And the wonderful moments that have taken place. I want to take Jim's question one step further and ask you some of the counterfactuals. Right. Are there places you chose not to migrate to, where you had maybe job offers or, you know, family or school or you know what? What were the parts you did not take?


Well, so like I said, when I was a kid, you know, growing up as a kid in the FBI, when my father was director, I used to watch movies all the time. And at that point, you know, I wanted to be a writer since I was like four or five years old. But at that point, I said I also want to be a filmmaker. And my father, through his connections, said, listen, you know, after you're done with whatever, I can get you admission into the French Film Institute because the director there is a friend and blah, blah, blah, and we can do something and you want to go.


And I was a lazy bum. I said, I'll have to learn French. You said yes. I said, forget it, I'm cool. And I didn't go so which I have actually not thought about since the time that conversation happened. But since you asked me, I suppose that is one counterfactual and for what is what. I'm still passionate about cinema, but I decided not to follow that path because your creative product is dependent on too many other people and too many things falling into place.


And I said with my writing, I can just tune out books on my own. It doesn't matter now. It so happens I've been a lazy bum and I haven't actually written the 15 books I should have by now, although there is time to make up for that. But I don't really have any big counterfactuals apart from that. The fact is, I was you know, if you want to look at counterfactuals, it would not be in terms of opportunity that came to me, but parts that I chose not to cheese so I could have gone.


You know, I'm sure I could have gotten the idea maybe if I wanted to, but I wanted to do arts because I wanted to write a. Some point, I'm sure, if I really wanted to, I could have gone abroad and studied there and made a life there. But when I was young, I had this very rebellious attitude of why should I go abroad? I will do things on my own. And I was very anti the education system and just a.


. Just all those traditional parts that people take. And and I don't regret any of that. I mean, if I have any regrets about that, I haven't worked hard enough at what I set out to do. But I am convinced that I set out to do the right thing. No, absolutely.


Now, the next part, you know, I mean, since we were talking about the parts that you have taken and you haven't taken, these are two off, not just your guests, you know, that I.


I have loved in the episodes and so on, but also two of my favorite people who've come on your show, one of them I know well, and it's been Panicker. The other one, I don't know at all Joy Bhattacharyya, but I feel like I know him through your episode, through a number of other things he does also because I'm a cricket widow and you know, he's kind of around in the background.


If you're a cricket widow and I love him on Twitter, I love everything that he does.


So I'm going to play you first Prem Banneker's question and then Joy Bhattacharyya question. And you will know why in a minute that they are coming together.


Hamet congratulations on the double hundred and just the triple and beyond. You had a storied career, you've been a cricket writer, Ed, fiction writer, columnist at the time, one of the best yet, a poker player, pioneering broadcaster, a writing coach. I may have left out a couple of things, but that's quite a comprehensive CV as it stands. So which of these gives you the greatest satisfaction? And what does that one thing or things that is on your bucket list of things that you still want to.


Hi. Congratulations for two hundred incredible episodes, so this is my turn to ask your question and here's my question. You had many of the cricket writer to working at MTV as a producer, to being a poker player, to the award winning journalist and now a podcast host. So if you have to make a choice with one of these creative professions, the implications, what you had to lose one of them. Which one?


Yeah, lovely questions by both of them. And they are both people who are personally close to me. I respect them a lot and I'm really fond of them and has been on a couple of episodes. And Joy wasn't a very memorable episode about Sports Eco-Systems, where I, you know, the second half of that episode with Joy, where he talks about, you know, all the work he did, setting up the football and the Seventeen World Cup and all of that was just made me so happy and so inspiring because, you know, I was like, here's another idealistic fool of someone who was making much more of a difference to the world than I managed to, but just absolutely wonderful people and wonderful episodes to answer that question.


You know, the tragedy is I think none of them mentioned the one thing that I really thought of myself and my life has and which I haven't really done enough of, which is writing novels, writing fiction or literature or whatever, and I haven't done enough of that. And I will at some point do more of that. I've just written one shitty book, as I said long ago, and which was so, you know, but out of all of these, look, the early years, like I don't even mention advertising or television on my CV because it just doesn't mean anything to me.


You don't enrich my life and teach me anything, you know, as I think I enjoyed my blogging a lot, because sort of the more you write, you know, writing forces you to think. And, you know, there's something that I talk to my writing students about when I teach writing these days is that there is a two way causal relationship between writing and clear thinking that not just that if you're you know, it's obvious that if you think you write, you are more likely to write clearly.


But equally, if you force yourself to write clearly in simple language about complex things, you have to think that much deeper about whatever you are writing, and that just improves the way that you think. So I think all that prolific writing that I did in my blogging years was useful to me. I'm kind of I'm happy with that.


But, you know, I used to say until recently that there is nothing I have done in my life that I can really be proud of.


I think to some extent now when I think about it, I think the scene in The Unseen is I think I've created value and obviously it's an ongoing journey. But I'm proud of some of the conversations that I've done. I also think that in what is a very new field, I have been able to sort of gather a certain understanding about the medium which did not exist there earlier. Like I'm teaching a podcasting course now and while preparing for it. So I had a whole bunch of insights.


I wrote that down, structured it, and then I thought, let me see what others have got. And I started going through other podcasting courses and they were all like your basic dummies guide to podcasting kind of thing. These are the kind of bikes this is how you edit, this is how you do. And none of the conceptual stuff that I had gathered would all the stuff like, why is audio so different as a medium which people don't get?


So many people think of it as video with visuals, but it is incredibly different in every way. Why are podcast so different from radio? Podcast is not just radio on demand like people think of Netflix as TV on demand. And that's correct. But podcasts are much more than radio on demand.


And, you know, and some of that also came from my realising the insane level of engagement with which my listeners have with the show and the the sense that many of them have, that this means something to them, that they have a stake in it, you know, and all of that. So in that sense, I think that, you know, I've kind of the podcasting journey is very interesting and it's an ongoing one and I'm sort of enjoying it.


But at some point, I had to give up any of them. Look at give up the news, not because, I mean, I took it up because it was an intellectual challenge. And B, unlike my other great passion until the end, which was writing, I actually saw I could make money off poker and I did. And one of the reasons I left was that I thought, I'll play it for a while, make a few money, and then, you know, do my thing.


And I found it doesn't really scale that way. You know, you get to a certain point and after that it becomes a question of access to bigger games and it becomes very political in that respect. And also it destroys your lifestyle because you're playing like you play a 15 hour session, come back for eight hours, go play another session. And I also found that during those years I felt like I was getting Dumba because you have to be obsessive to be good at poker and you can't do anything else.


So I stopped reading books. I stopped hanging out with friends apart from the people I played poker with. And, you know, I was reading a biography of some famous poker player of the 70s, and there was a story. About how far and he was an American player and there was a story of how for 20 years he didn't know who the president of the U.S. was, and I could understand that because it was just constricting my whole whole world.


And I felt my brain and I felt I had to get out. So even though I am not knocking, I know what I did going back. If I had to give a piece of advice to my younger self in 2009, it would be no, no, no, don't don't play poker. Just just just focus on writing and do your thing. But poker also taught me a lot about the world that I think enrich the way I think about the world.


For example, I think of the world much more in probabilistic ways. I recognize the impact of luck in our lives much more, which most people don't. Most people give too much credit to their agency and what they have, you know, they imagine they are responsible for their successes and their failures. And that's true to a very small extent, you know, so when we succeed, we tend to let it get to our heads and become arrogant.


And when we fail, we let it get ourselves down and it will hurt our self-image. And the truth is, in both of those, there's a lot of luck involved. And part of what you have to do as you go through life is become animus about the outcomes of the things that you do and the and the cards that life deals you like in poker. You you know that you know, it's a game of skill. But the quantum of luck is much higher than in other sports are games of skill.


So any single hand will be mostly luck. It's over a long period that the edge, the skill plays out. So you play one hundred thousand two hundred thousand hands. The tragedy is that in life you cannot do that. In life you get the cards that you get and it is what it is. But it is still important not to sweat what you cannot control and instead to focus on what you can control, which is you focus on the process.


Or as that great poker player, Lord Krishna, once said, you know, just do the right thing and don't worry about the fruits of your action.


So so before you continue on this, because, you know, you keep anticipating the questions, which is very frustrating for me as a host, because you you can almost see what's coming next.


I have a question for you from Akshaya Muckle also who has been on your show.


He wrote this fantastic book about the Geeta Press it once again.


You know, it was one of those books that just opened my eyes to this entire world and subculture that I didn't know existed. And Academical has really become one of my favorite thinkers. So, you know, I'm just going to play his question for you and then we can continue talking about Pooka.


Hello, Ahmed. Good to see my favorite podcast being interviewed by my favorite columnists, Ruthe. Can you tell us about her life as a poker player? Thanks, Rudy, for this opportunity. See you both in person soon. Yeah, that's a lovely episode and such a wonderful one person, and I can't wait to see him soon as well. And that's a great book again. And that's again. You know, I don't I don't in this age of hyperbole, when you use terms like masterpiece, it almost feels like, you know, it's but again, as in the case of children's book Fracture's book, I absolutely mean it.


The book is written on the guitar. Press is just incredible. And so are you opening for someone like me. So my life as a poker player would you know, this gets into odd territory because poker is illegal in India and it's only legal in the offshore casinos of Goa, which is where I first started playing. I think in 2009. I took a holiday to go and we went to Casino Royale, the offshore casino that played a little bit of poker, had beginner's luck, and then decided this is what I want to do.


And of course, I didn't know anything about the game then, but as I started the game, the intellectual challenge just overtook me. And I kind of loved getting into the math and the game theory and all of that. And that that sort of changed the way I think about it. And I used to write a column on poker for the economic times as well, which I think I wrote 42 installments for them and stopped it at exactly the point where I decided to leave poker.


And one of the interesting things about poker is that it is on the intersection of being a serious sports like science and gambling. So, you know, you might be treating it as a serious sport and a serious science. But there are people who are sitting with you who are essentially just addicted to gambling. They're playing it for the dopamine rushes. And I wrote columns about this as well. It's, you know, the way them I mean, gambling addiction in biochemical terms is of the same as addiction to alcohol or cigarettes or whatever.


You take a for you to drink or beg you get that dopamine rush. It's a similar thing with the sort of gambling. And that led to this period of frustration where I felt that what is the point of my skill is I'm not playing against other people who are also treating it as a serious skill, as a game theoretical thing. I am playing it with people and by this I mean in the underground cash games that I used to play in and around who are just sitting off, you don't have no idea what they're doing.


And eventually it's all going to come to us. And I remember there was a me in a very close friend of mine who who's also proving a really good player and who's going on to do phenomenally well in the last five years since I left, although not because I left, but in general. So he and I were at a game together in Vashi and there was a third person in the game after the whole game and wound up. And he was a big builder there and he was high on cocaine and he was just every hand.


He would just, you know, push a ton of chips and huge amounts of money blind without looking at cards. So it's only a matter of time. Right. And then we are driving back and both my friend and I, his name is a Deep and Bujar Deep. And I well, we didn't feel good about the whole thing and we were like that. What is the difference between us and drug dealers? It almost feels like you're exploiting someone's addiction.


So there was that aspect of it where, as you would know, I keep talking about all how all human interactions are positive, some interactions. Right. So if I create a podcast and someone listens to it and every interaction that takes place is a double thank you moment, both people benefit, which is why they say thank you to each other. OK, it is not like that. It is a zero sum game. And you know, considering that if you're playing at a place where the game has been rigged, it's actually a negative sum game and you only win when someone else loses and someone else losing is not just someone else losing, someone else losing means their sort of lives could just fall apart.


And I've seen that happen to people. I've tried to make interventions in the case of new friends of mine who were addicted to gambling. And I remember, you know, I mean, they're just very sad stories. I don't want to get into them right now. But one thing you realise is that interventions don't help and people might rationally realise that they're addicted to something, but they can't help themselves. You know, and I, for example, see that, like, I think I might be addicted to social media, for example.


So, you know, or maybe addicted to distraction if they can be such a thing. But the bottom line is, I think all of us know this, that we know that I should not, you know, go on Twitter now or I should not start watching a YouTube video now because I will go down the rabbit hole and watch 50 of them. But then you just start and, you know, and most of the time those sort of the impact of harmless addictions like that, as it were, is not such a big deal.


Like when I was trying to win friends of mine of poker or to just play online chess here, you know, and, you know, that's a better thing to get addicted to because you're not losing money. You're losing time. And I've just seen horrendous consequences of this. And it all happens below the surface. You know, the the families of people realize what has happened to them. They may try to help them. There's really nothing you can do.


It's a downward spiral and it surrenders. And that's why, you know, when I started playing poker, I had the impression that the winners in the game, the losers, leave the game. And it would a period of time. What I realized when I was leaving is that it's the other way around, that it's a big. Those who eventually leave the game, but the losers are addicted, they cannot leave the game. So there are all these aspects.


While I was an evangelist of poker once upon a time, because it's so intellectually stimulating and all of those things, there is also this other dark, seamy side to it. And you cannot, you know, rationalize that by saying that this is, you know, the voluntary action of consenting adults and all of that, which, of course, it is, which is why the state should not ban it. But it is nevertheless a social problem.


And you would hope that, you know, solutions emerge from within society. Yeah.


And this actually brings me to another really lovely question that Kartika has asked almost exactly on this aspect of, you know, you nurturing your love for poker and then walking away from it.


So I'm going to play Karthick question now.


Hirmand, this is Gothika. Congratulations on this fabulous milestone of two hundred episodes. And here's my question for you. It's a bit personal, actually. I know you really invented poker at one time. You played poker, you wrote about it. Then at some point you decided no more. I was reading about addictive personalities the other day and I wondered, is that how you would describe yourself? What's it like nurturing a love for something and then killing it?


I really want to know you are such a lovely question. And I should say my episode with Kartika is, of course, one of my favorites. And I kind of mentioned way for sort of those reasons. But also, I mean, it's a great episode by itself. But also she is the publisher at Westlund and as I mentioned in the introduction, that they are publishing the four volumes of the scene and the unseen, you know, selected excerpts from conversations I have had.


You will have to wait a while shooty to see if your conversations get featured or not. But, yeah, that's that's a really good question. And it's something that I thought a lot about. Like, number one, I would venture that many more of us are prone to addiction than we think, except that, you know, in some cases it may manifest in very overt addiction to either alcohol or drugs or whatever. But there are so many other things that we can get addicted to, like when I you know, I've done a bunch of episodes with, uh, about the Mongul period, with the money and money and McCourty and I need to record with her again soon.


She's incredible. And one of the things that keeps coming up again and again, Parvati Shamos and one of the things that keeps coming up until recently, and one of the themes that keeps coming up again and again and all the wonderful books is how so many of these Mangel princes and all that died of alcohol addiction. And the thing is that it just strikes me thinking aloud that that is the only thing you could get addicted to. What else are you?


There's no social media. There's no Twitter. There's no poker. There's no chess. So alcohol is going to be one of the most common ways for affluent people who can afford enough alcohol to get addicted to, but to come back to it. I think, you know, when I was sort of playing poker, I thought crossed my mind when I decided to leave that I'm a winning player. But it could be the case that I am an addict and a winning player.


And what will happen if that is the case and I am glad to report it wasn't the case once I left, I had no urge whatsoever to play the game. Like once in a while I will, you know, put some interesting poker videos or whatever, you know, just for the intellectual aspect of it. Like these days of recording on November 10, there's a great match going on between Dogwalker and an the sort of a heads up grudge match.


And I'm a big fan of the book and I think he's going to destroy Nagorno. So although Negreanu in the popular circles is much more famous, but he's like the cheating pocket of poker frankly.


So in terms of I have no idea who these people complain that reference. I know. Yeah.


So I'm kind of, you know, following that match, but otherwise I don't get the itch to play at all, which is great. But I think I might like I play a lot of online chess. I think there is this interesting case that there is an addictive side to my nature. And the question is what outlet do I give it? And, you know, online chess is an interesting outlet. And I and I play online chess when I'm like, do you want to find my name?


That I play under an avatar? And in fact, I have a girl's avatar. So people keep hitting on me, on the Indian boys keep hitting on me. And also I probably win more games and I should because of that. But I play that the way the fish used to play poker players used to play poker. That is that I don't want to improve. I just I play one minute games for ten bucks, a bullet, bullet or blitz games for time person.


I don't want to improve, so I don't want to work on my game, which is how a lot of people play poker back in the day that they would not improve at all while, you know, the rest of us would study a bit and we would discuss hands with other good players. What were the choices? What do you think his range was? But the best players are just playing for the heck of it. And of course, many bad players will make a show of going through the study, but don't actually do any of it to answer that question.


I think I think I am I don't know if addictive is the right word for it because it's never gone beyond a certain limit. But I think I am intense where. You don't get into something and just go all in like I went all in on podcasting, I went all in on blogging and I just go all in and do things, which is great. But what I need to do is I need to go. And, you know, with Garfinkel's encouragement and help, I think I'm on my way to doing that now is go all in on actually writing books, you know, not just a compilation like this is, but actually Googling and writing books.


Because everything that I've gone all in for, while rewarding for its own sake and in many other ways, has also sort of distracted me from that thing, which I think is so caught to myself as a writer and storyteller. So I need to do a little bit more of that.


You do you think you're being a little bit you're judging yourself too harshly in the sense that maybe the only way you know how to do some of these things is to be all right. So it's not a question of addiction or know addiction. It is that you do things by immersing yourself in it, whether it is writing a novel or whether it is doing a podcast.


And it is very hard for you to do things on the side like you just completely commit to. So the the product that comes out of it, whether it's a podcast, whether it's Collins, whether it's the blog, it is the quality and the output.


It's a function of the fact that you are that you must write for for the rest of us. It never quite hits that level, maybe because of the lack of emotion.


Yeah, no, no, absolutely. I don't regret the emotion of going all in because it's fruitful and it works. And, you know, and I also know how to sort of disengage from something if it is not working or I'm not loving it so much. So it's not like I go all in on every single thing that I do. But when I'm enjoying something like, you know, like a neon cart or back when I was blogging regularly or the scene in The Unseen all book, I just go all in.


But the regret is that the you know, the going on in comes at the expense of something which is in my case, it's writing a books like Cory Booker. I don't really regret the very meandering journey I took because I don't think I had a life experience or the maturity to be able to write good books anywhere. But, um, I think I was just kind of getting there when I get five years. And I think that I hadn't had the opportunity cost that I could have written a number of books by now, which I haven't.


So that part for that reason in terms of her life story. So I kind of do regret. Yeah.


So now I have a slightly lighter question on Booker, but before I play the question for you, this is from Harsha Bogalay. Again, one of the best episodes you've done for many reasons. I mean, I'm not a cricket person at all. I play cricket as white noise. But because I was raised in India and because I started watching cricket in the early 90s and also because I'm a cricket widow today, Harsha Bugler's Voice has literally been the soundtrack of my life.


Right. It is always in the background. So when he sent him the question for me, the most joyous thing was just hearing his voice and that, you know, he asked you a question.


So I'm just going to play it now. And it's related to Baucau, but it's related to life.


Oh, the hunter becomes the hunted somet. I had a question for you. I've always been fascinated in sport by the interplay between skill and Bluff's. There are a lot of very skilled people can't play the bluff. Shane Warne was a master of combining extraordinary skill and bluff. Now you play poker and I would imagine not having played it myself, that there is a wonderful interplay of skill and bluff in poker as well. My question is not about that, though, my question about poker players, do you find that people who play poker and who therefore are playing the bluff almost every day and playing it with a lot of skill, do they live life like that as well?


Are they do they take chances? Are they gamblers in life? Are they a little edgy or is that a persona they put on when they get onto the onto the poker table? Hmm. Laughter Yeah, that's such a lovely question.


And I really enjoy I've got to, you know, again, know a few words about it before I answer this question. My first introduction to audio as someone who did audio, my first attempt at audio was I was you know, I traveled to Pakistan with, you know, following the Indian cricket team in 2006. And I was covering it for The Guardian and also writing about it for cooking. But I was actually employed at the time. And I also got a side gig where for one of the BBC channels every day I would have to give a one minute update on what was happening at the time they called me and if attacked and so I would have my narrative prepared.


So many wickets have fallen and all that, but I'm actually watching the match at that point. And if something happened right then I would have to leave it in which I found difficult. I was struggling with that. So Hirsche was on the road as a broadcaster. And at one point I you know, I mentioned that I had this problem and he was so kind. I think if I remember, he sat with me for half an hour, told me about the sort of the all the basics of what to do for radio and, you know, really calm me down and give me great advice, all of which I have completely forgotten.


And I didn't do audio of that for many years. But it speaks to his kindness that he was also such a huge superstar at the time that you correctly said and and such a, you know, a woman helpful human being. To answer the question. There are different aspects to it. No. One is that as far as what are poker players like, do they also bluff their way through lives? I think the the people who are addicted to poker are also people who are doing all kinds of other gambling.


So there would be people who would be constantly on the phone call with bookies, betting on cricket, betting on this, betting on that. And that's the way that they are. The people who were treating it like mine were not like that, number one. But number two, the thing about bluffing instead is the sort of a deal that when you're bluffing, you're playing a game of probabilities. For example, I hope I don't get too technical here, but I'll try and kind of explain the way to think about bluffing.


Let's say that if there is a spot on the river with a thousand rupees, right. So I bet 500 rupees into it. OK, now there's fifteen hundred in the pot to win that fifteen hundred you have to call five hundred bucks. Right. So you are getting three to one odds, which means that you have to be right. One in four times for your call to be correct. Right. Which means that optimally I have to be bluffing that one in four times and the rest of the time I have to have value bets.


If either of us deviates from these percentages, they are making a mistake and they will lose in the long run. So the result is that if you do not if somebody never blows and they are betting a value one hundred percent of the time, two things happen. One is you don't get enough value hands in poker, so you will not win enough hands. But more importantly, your opponent will see that you are never bluffing and therefore they will always fall to your back.


So you're never going to make enough money. So therefore, bluffing is not something that is any different from any other kind of bet that you're trying to fool someone. It's just something that mathematically you have to throw in for your poker to be profitable in the long run. And you throw it in depending on a variety of factors like how you are building your ranges and how you're sort of all thinking now about the game is in fact, you know, what is known as like there are two.


And this is another interesting thing to note is that people think that tells account that, you know, in movies and that somebody bluffs and then she is completely still all over and the other guy looks at them and you'll see a vein popping somewhere and he'll be like, ha, he's bluffing all call. But in real life, actually, that that once you pass a certain level of poker, it doesn't matter. Good players won't even look for tails.


It's all about the math and the two things come in and poker. There are two kinds of sort of poker that you can play. One is exploitative poker where you try to exploit a mistake the other person is making. So if they call too much, you a little bit more. If they fall too much, you bluff more. You are just according to that. The other is game theory. Optimal poker, like in the example I pointed out, where it doesn't matter what he does, you get your frequency's right.


So if you bet 590000 to a river and you give him three to one odds, you build the orange in such a way that you have that percentage of bluffs and that percentage of your hands. And then in the long run, you cannot lose.


If he deviates, he loses by either calling too much or falling.


Too much, but you cannot lose, so if you play a game three of them in poker, it doesn't matter what the opening does, you don't need to look at him. It doesn't matter what his tendencies are. Now, obviously, game theoretical, optimal poker is a theoretical construct. No human being can possibly play it perfectly. But the better you have an idea of what duty or poker might be, the better you will be exporting mistakes that the other person makes and therefore exploiting them.


Now, the fascinating thing, in fact, about this book was, is there any ground to match that I'm kind of talking about? Is that so? There is an old school poker player who plays exploitative poker in sit at the table and he'll stare at your neck and he look for bluffs and he'll kind of do all of that. And a lot of psychology and all that duck book is a new computer generation, a player who basically at one point in time was the best heads up cash game player in the world.


And he's completely into studio stands for Game Theory Optimal, and he's completely into game theory, optimal poker. And he had an incredible video channel which sadly started after I left poker where he would, you know, talk about different hands from your perspective and just really mindblowing and educated, though he retired from poker at a particular point in time, but he had one small Negreanu and they had this feud going on. And it was a feud about ideas.


Like one of them said, Drake is good. The other one said, too much. Rick is bad. There should be a limit. This guy said no more. Rick is good and blah, blah, blah. So they had a battle over ideas, but being mature, they decided to settle it over the fall. And so therefore they are now having a challenge match, which is twenty five thousand hands. And at the time of speaking, I think only a thousand hands are over and pork is already up.


I think two hundred and fifty thousand dollars or something. And the other boat deposited a million needs to begin with though I think if Negreanu goes all the way he'll end up depositing gold and losing more. So it's like new school versus old school. But anyway, regardless, I think the idea that most people have of poker that is, that is itself exploitative poker. And B, I think they overplayed the psychological and retail aspects and the bluffing aspects.


And as far as bluffing is concerned, the way you think of it is you have a range for every particular situation, whether you're calling or you're betting and you play with that range. And that range will include both valuations and bluffs. So when you psychologically when you think about it, you're betting with that range and it doesn't really matter. You're playing correctly. And you know equally when somebody else is playing against me, if that person is a competent person, I'm thinking of their range and my range in that spot and, you know, playing accordingly and all of that.


And I don't really want to get into poker career, but I say that those typical popular culture stereotypes of. Poker players are, you know, where those videotapes are of these dynamic people wearing, you know, sunflower shirts and dark glasses and doing flamboyant things and all of that? I think that's completely false. But when it comes to geeks who are sitting in front of a computer and, you know, I have known of people who play 24 hour sessions and they leave a bottle near them so they can be into it because they're playing 20 tables at a time and they don't want to get up to go to the loo.


That's true. Oh, wow.


No, there is one interesting element to to what you said, which is the difference between when you do this in a repeated game, not just necessarily with one person, but also with yourself, like, you know, when you play lots and lots of hands versus if you were sort of, you know, playing with your family, you know, over Thanksgiving or on Diwali, you play something like that, you're just hanging out and you're playing a game.


Right. So to me, it seems like the element of surprise or bluff can have a lot of value there. And this one time game or in a new interaction, but in repeated game, it doesn't. Right, as you just pointed out, that that other things take over. So now I'm going to ask you a question from that point of view. When you meet people the first time.


Do you hold your cards close to your chest? Are you able to like sort of, you know, bluff easily? Not in the sense of telling lies, but in the sense of, you know, just being polite and not getting too much into it or not letting them know exactly what you're thinking. But with people over a long period of time, people who are close friends, collaborators, you know, people in your family, that, you know, all of that goes away.


Does that end up mimicking about the same?


Well, you mean my real life interaction is not my poker playing with them. Real life interaction, not your poker.


I think the thing is like, first of all, it's unusual that I should do a podcast where I actually talk to people because in real life, I am almost like a super introvert. And as you know, and I'm not really, you know, like with all introverts, it saps my energy to interact with people, especially people I haven't met before. So left to myself, I would just be sitting in a corner and kind of writing books.


But but yeah. So, I mean, I, I don't know. The thing is, yeah, it's the first time I have to think about it. How do I kind of interact with people. It is true that I have very few close friends. You would count as one of them. Don't worry, but I don't sort of make friends very easily. I mean that's kind of true and I don't really get out all that much. And I'm very awkward.


And in those senses also, I think I don't know. I mean, the other aspect of this is that I have just changed so much as a person over the years that I don't really like the person I was when I was younger at different phases of my life. And maybe that's a good thing you learn as you go along and all of that. But it's sort of difficult for me to therefore, you know, I don't know. This is if any of my guests give me an answer like this, I'd be mentally pissed off.


Right. I have completely baffled. I know it's OK, it's nice to get to know you, there are some things, you know, I've known you a long time and even I don't know some of these things about you, probably because most of the times we talk about something very specific. You and I are both introverts. We don't like just randomly call each other and chit chat. It's usually about an argument or something we're reading.


So it is very nice to hear you think aloud, you know, and I and I hope that the listeners also appreciate it.


So we are following the scene in the on scene format almost of the day. You were about an hour and change into recording and we have just about scratched the surface of, you know, your personal journey, all the roads that you took some that some of the road that you did not take. And we haven't yet gotten to the meat of the show, which is actually talk about the two 100th episode and your journey of life as a podcast. But before I get to that, I want to have a quick commercial break.


And when we come back, we will talk more about podcasting, I promise. Are you one of those people who not only loves to read, but also wants to write better? If so, I have something for you. Since April this year, I've been teaching an online course called The Art of Writing for Webinars spread out over four Saturdays in which I share whatever I've learned about the craft and practice of writing over 25 years as a professional writer.


The course also contains many writing exercises, discussions on email and WhatsApp and much interactivity. It goes through these 10000 or 150 dollars. You can check out the details at India dot com slash writing. This link will be in the Señores. If you want to bridge the gap between the thoughts in your head and the words on the page, then the art, your writing might be just what you eat. DEC matches begin on Saturday 5th December, so hurry and register before the Indian dot com slash writing.


Welcome back to the show. Welcome back from the break. And I am Shooty Rajagopalan and I'm speaking with Amit Varma to celebrate the two 100th episode of The Seen and The Unseen, which I presume is your favorite podcast because you're still here, right?


So, Ahmed, just before we get into your journey as a broadcaster and some details about, you know, the various episodes and your thinking behind it, are you doing anything to celebrate the 100th episode?


Yeah, like I mentioned in the introduction, we've got some merchandise out, which are these nifty monks, you know, which you can see on the merchandise, which you can just go to CNN senior and slash stuff. And I'll also be linking to them on Twitter, etc., and then they'll be in the show notes. And besides that, of course, it is. Again, as I mentioned in the introduction, the fourth volume anthology that's coming out four volumes of the scene and the unseen across these four different themes of politics, history, economics and society and culture and I guess economics and policy.


But so, you know, hopefully like beguiles books, which excerpts with many of the insights and many of the things that I have learned from the show over this period of time. So those are pretty exciting notat all of these things are happening.


I'm going to come back to the the four volumes and the books a little bit later. But I do want to say I love the much. I got a sneak peek at it and I love the one from our episode on covid. I told you. And, you know, we we discovered later that you didn't know that Rauda is one of my favorite characters.


And I love that that particular one of the thinking man, in fact, that one of my favorite places in the world is the Rodham Museum and the sculpture garden in Paris. So I'm really thrilled about that.


I should, in fact, interrupt here and say that, you know, when I teach my writing class, I bring up all of that as well, because I talk about how editing and writing are basically the same thing. And the example I give is overorder. Coming up with the Tinker where when he conceived of the thinker, he is not creating it out of thin air. He's taking a block of stone and then he's editing that block of stone.


So writing and editing really amount to the same thing. So that comes up that as well. You'll be pleased to know. Yeah.


And in this case, he's wearing a mask, I believe. And, you know, the other one is the the puzzle that makes up the Indian flag. I think that's another one of my favorite visuals that you've had accompanying the episodes.


So I'm very excited about the merchandise. I don't know when I will be next in India and get access to it, but but, you know, it's going to be soon for the rest of you who are listening in India. Well, you're lucky, right?


I want to now start talking a little bit about the podcast, so I want to start right at the beginning. What made you start the scene and the unseen? Yeah.


So, I mean, like I sort of mentioned in the intro, what really happened was that this friend of mine calamitously who runs Avium podcast podcasting network, approached me and said, Will you do something with us? And I said, Oh, I don't listen to podcasts. I can't think of anything. Listen, I have this interesting idea for which I could someday do a YouTube show called The Seat on the UN scene, which is about the unintended consequences of public policy.


So he like the name, he like the concept. He said, let's do that. And that that was really the concept behind the show, that you take a little bit of piece of public policy and you talk about that. In fact, we we did pilot episodes on the minimum wage, but I never ended up ever doing an episode on the minimum wage, which is interesting because it moved away from public policy and became more about, you know, these deep dive interviews into ideas and lives and history and so on and so forth.


So what what really happened then was that over a period of time, it just evolved along with my own intellectual curiosity and the journey I wanted to take. And I figured out that no longer is better. And I learned a number of different things about audio along the way, which, you know, I've explored at great length in my podcasting course. But I'll briefly sort of go over some of that. One is that audio is different from other mediums because of the way people consume it.


If you're watching a YouTube video, it's probably on your laptop or phone and you can click away to another tab or look away or press a button or whatever people will typically consume on you when they are either commuting, working out or doing errands like washing dishes, for example, which was a use case for so many of us during the lockdown. Now, what that means is that either a captive audience have chosen to be a captive audience and not going to be distracted.


The primary thing they're doing is something else, but it's automatic. It doesn't require the brain. So therefore, they are sort of listening. Secondly, which is very different, because in order to have a captive audience like this is only audio. Secondly, people are listening at higher speeds. And the reason for this is that while unnatural, while our brain can allow us to speak at a natural rate of between 150 to 200 words, up to 225, we can listen from 275 to 500, which is why, you know, it's.


Difficult to hold someone's attention when you're talking to them, because they've got spare attentional capacity and they can do other things while they're listening to you, which is also why people can listen to your speech, because it can actually take it in. So it's not like squeaky squeaky. It normalizes very fast. People will take it to one point two five, one point five, and it'll just normalize. And so these two things are coming together. It's passive listening.


They're listening while doing something else. They're a captive audience and they're listening to double speak. So when you do a 20 minute episode, by the time the guy has put the shoelaces on to go jogging, which might take 10 minutes, episode is over. Right. So when I started kind of working out, I listen to a podcast at the same time, I realized that if I'm out for an hour or two, what episode is perfect for me?


The third sort of learning that comes from this is that people have great hunger and desire to four deep content that typically, you know, first of all, it is true in the sense that we live in the age of short the short attention span. But the opposite is also true. And it is not true that the rational people and there are these people, it is that because in multitudes of within each of us, there is a shallow meaning deeply.


And, you know, so the shallow you might be solving TV channels or, you know, I have 50 tabs open and chrome at the same time. But there deep me also craves deep learning and deep knowledge. Now, the thing is, many of us may not have the time to actually listen to books in our daily lives. How much time do we have? How much time are we going to devote to reading? But because we listen to audio while doing something else, we are more likely to take a knowledge that way.


Which is why I often say that, you know, audio books and printed books are not really competing with each other, entirely different use cases. So a lot of people therefore like getting the sort of deep sense or to fulfill the hunger for depth by listening to audio, whether it's audio books or podcasts. Now, this is one aspect of another thing is that, as I said earlier, podcasts are different from radio. It's not just radio on demand.


And there's a reason for that as well, which is that let's think about this concept of space in media. Let's for a moment look at visual media that when you go to a cinema theater to watch a movie, there's a certain distance between you and the screen. And similarly, on the other side of the screen, there's a certain distance between the camera and the actors. You know, they are much further away than when you come to the television age.


You're in your living room and the TV's across the room. It's a couple of meters away and there's a distance between you and the TV and similarly the short and the TV has become closer. And you have sitcoms and everybody's in a room and it's closer. Similarly, if you're watching a YouTube video on your laptop, if it's a made for YouTube video, again, the two distances correlate to each other. Now, think of the distance in terms of audio that when you're listening to radio, so you're in your car or whatever and you're listening to radio, there is a certain distance.


But what goes on in your head, literally in your head is the most intimate medium that there is. It's a one on one conversation. And this is a reason. This is a critical reason why a critical difference between podcasts and radio, that in radio you, in a sense, your broadcasting, you're speaking to many people in audio. You're not doing that. You're speaking to one person. So you can take that tone, which is why I say that many of the qualities that make for good radio like or radio voice, Orangina and diction, when I see and he must speak like this, do not apply to podcasts at all.


You don't need a good voice. You don't need an accent. You don't it's an intimate one on one conversation, which, you know, makes it such an incredible medium.


And when you're listening to people for like two hours a week, three hours a week or whatever, when you do with a long episodes, then you have that sense of relating to that person, also trusting that person, respecting all of those things. You know, all the podcasts that I listen to, you know, you and I both, you know, admire someone like Russell Roberts or will this Andrew Tyler Colvin, who you're fortunate enough to work with and meet regularly.


And, you know, so there is you feel that you have a stake in those shows. It's not just their shows. US also your show in a sense of speaking, and then they are merely the custodians of it in a manner. And podcasts have that kind of intimacy, which makes it such such a sort of remarkable and special medium. Absolutely.


You know, it's like I said at the beginning of the show, I was a bit of a naysayer initially because I just couldn't imagine why anyone would find it interesting to hear me and speak to each other, because we talk like this with each other all the time. And we were like, now we just recording it like there's no music, there's no script, there's no jokes, there's no punchline. So I was a big, you know, critic in the beginning, but over the hundred and ninety nine episodes and I've been on the show more than a dozen times, a bit difficult, but I've been on the show, you know, a number of times.


And when I have come to India and I have met people who know me through the show and that number keeps increasing, they will literally caught things I have said in the show back to me, which I'm always just, you know, so surprised by one, because I never I don't like listening to my own voice. I've never heard any of the episodes you and I have done with each other. And second. I just don't remember them like, you know, I'm in that moment, I'm having that conversation with you and I don't remember exactly what I said.


I've had a couple of people correct me, you know, you said this and we went and looked this up.


But, you know, it's actually that and I find that really incredible one that someone would care so deeply. They would remember things once said they would caught one back to oneself, you know, things like that. But the other part of it was also that we live in the information age.


But there is almost too much information. Right. And in that sense, what you bring to the table, aside from the intimate conversation, is you are curating.


I know that it's the other person living in your household who is the curator, but you are also an intellectual curator of sorts. Right. Like you, you are really reading so much and cherry picking and presenting and saying, hey, you really must reach in my book. Right. Or one must really read this thing about the Geetha Press that no one may have heard of before that.


So in that sense, a lot of people are also listening, not because of I mean, in addition to the things you mentioned, it is passive, it doesn't compete, but it's because they may not know what to read yet. Right. Because they may not have had time to go to the bookstore or browse, you know, do things like what you and I do or in your case. And my kids were particularly privileged because we get early manuscripts of people's, you know, working drafts.


I routinely get review copies from book publishers. So you and I get to read very differently, sample very differently from most people. And that is also something I learned about the show, that Amitava is not just someone they listen to for information, it's also someone they listen to to tell them what is worth listening to, what is worth reading, what is worth thinking about in the world. And I don't think that can be done quite as easily in the written format.


You know, you can put out a blog post on Indian card tomorrow, 20 books one must read today. It will have nowhere close to the impact that discussing those twenty books over, you know, the podcast a medium has.


I'll way I mean, one reason, of course, is that I'm sort of I kind of follow my own intellectual journey and, you know, just take the listeners along with that. So I'm not really thinking that. I'm not thinking of it as a curatorial function. I'm following my own journey and that curatorial thing becomes a thing. But the other aspect is that, you know, you read a book review. What is it? It's 800 words.


You know, even if you read a long essay on a book or a long read on a book, it's like three, four thousand, five thousand, whatever. That's that's about it. But I've seen and the unseen episode can be, you know, is usually over 20, 25000 words. But you're consuming in a short period of time. Like my episode with Karthick, Mirliton was not just the longest episode of the scene in the season so far.


Maybe this will break that record. But it was also he speaks at one point five weeks straight. And so I got that episode transcribed and it was forty three thousand words. Now where are you going to get forty three thousand words of directed conversation, not just a person talking with a conversation that is directed in interesting directions and so on and so forth. And that's again, something that makes podcasting different from radio. Radio because of all the imperatives has to stay broad and shallow.


You've paid a licence fee. You've got a radio station, one you have. You recoup your money through advertising. So you go for lowest common denominator, which is why if idea is so horrendously bad, but even otherwise, even if there were no entry barriers, you are catering to broad audiences and therefore you can't go too deep. Like who's interested in an argument on how India's First Amendment came about and all of those things? You'd rather talk about Bollywood and cricket and gossip and all of that.


Podcasting allows you to go deep to find what Kevin Kelly called 2012 sense that there are plenty of people out there who are interested in deep knowledge, interested in books. Maybe they don't know where to look. Maybe they don't know there are others like them, you know, and maybe they don't. And suddenly you give them access to these kind of discussions with the author and not just those you know, every AutoReader spoken to will probably have videos on YouTube if somebody speaks to them for twenty minutes or twenty minutes or even an hour.


And I find them incredibly shallow, all these little they have these, you know, these panels where you'll have a one hour session and forty minutes you'll talk before Ortho's and then have Q&A. And that's incredibly shallow. You're not going deep at all. And the way I think of my podcasting is one I want to go deep into. I don't want to follow the news cycle. Even if I cover something that is in the news, I'll wait for a period of time and make my two most popular episodes, obviously not Rogovin on Kashmir and the CIA.


And in both of those cases, I didn't release them immediately when they went up and they took a couple of weeks. And I think they're like definitive and classic episodes you can listen to twenty years from now. And my aim with everything that I do is I'm not just sort of going across space in terms of people across the world. Listen to me. I want to go across time. I want someone to two years later to be on my short.


You know, when you were starting your ideas of India Airport, one of the pieces of advice I gave you was. That, you know, do not think of what a listener will hear on Episode one, think of what they will binge on Episode 100, you know, and you want to create that for them. You want to create a body of work. So that was sort of my ethic towards podcasting and and why it is so incredibly exciting, because, you know, you can do all of these things.


No, it's it's amazing.


I think, one, you've also sort of cracked open the podcast, especially something which is not cricket or Bollywood, you know, the usual suspects of mass podcasting.


But the other is you have also sort of, I think, set the template or become the role model in one sense. Right.


I'm, of course, in a particularly privileged position that if I'm starting a podcast, I can pick up my phone, call Burma and say, hey, I'm thinking about doing this. What do you think I should do? But for most others, they've sort of started.


Many, many of our common friends, in fact, has started their podcasts and a lot of their template or the way they think about it has been informed by how you think about it or how people engage with you.


There were two pieces of advice that you give me, three pieces of advice, actually, which really stuck with me. And one was you said be yourself, because it is exhausting to be anyone else and you can't sustain it. And that is in one sense the only secret sauce that one brings to the table.


Right. Which is the coming, of course, to hear all these different episodes are coming just for some are coming to your monopoly. But the people who are coming over and over again are coming from a or are coming for strategic partners.


As you know, you were talking about me. The second was the thing you said about think about creating a bank of knowledge, you know, over a period of time.


But the third thing is something I have imbibed from you, not because you specifically said it to me, but just by looking at your journey. You were talking about how you were frustrated at various points. Is this really worth doing?


It takes just an enormous amount of work to put together. There's no infrastructure, there is no money in it, and so on, so forth.


And I realized that, you know, many people say you did it for the love of doing it. I think this whole love business is you know, it's a little bit overdone.


I think what the reason you did it is that you also converted it into a consumption. Good for yourself, right?


If I do a podcast with Karthick Mallie, then I must inform myself on the education system in India.


And that is something that's going to broaden the horizon. And then I'll speak with Karthick.


And of course, Karthick will crack open anyone's brain and, you know, broaden their horizons and so on, so forth. And that is something I've followed to the T.


I've only done single digit episode numbers so far, but I treat it as a consumption good that even if there were zero people listening to the show, I get enough out of doing each show and having each conversation that, you know, even if no one tuned in, I would walk away pretty happy.


And once again, we are in privileged positions where we don't need to do this for money, of course. So there's that.


But I think these are three bits of advice that I got from you, which for the podcasters who are listening out there that were just incredibly useful. The fourth one came from my producer, Geoff. And, you know, this is also a bit of the culture at marketers, which is that we won't look at metrics. I actually have no clue other than the first episode, how many downloads or listens my podcast got and so on.


And the rule is that I won't ask and that he won't tell me until we're about, you know, six, seven months in, at which point, you know, we can have a little bit of information.


And the goal is that, you know, the tail doesn't wag the dog, which is also something I learned from you. Don't worry about the numbers. Don't worry about what is going on. Even if the numbers are very few, you have a thousand genuine fans and so on.


And so my my approach was the numbers was I don't care about the numbers because like I said, it's across time and all of that and the quality and the amount of feedback I get is enough to tell me that it's kind of really worth it. Just to sort of elaborate on the two other pieces of advice you pointed out. One, as far as you know, can I tell my writing students don't use jargon and you are just in consumption goods and all of that?


No, I think I think one of the byproducts of my podcast is certainly that I enrich myself intellectually in terms of what I'm reading and in terms of the knowledge I'm taking in. And I appreciate that. But that's not the reason I'm doing it, because it's a byproduct. And the reason I do it is to be able to have these great conversations. But it's a great byproduct and it's a good reason to do it if you know that matters.


But the other one is also so important, like I'm teaching this podcasting course. And one of the things I point out is, you know, people will get too obsessed with, you know, where there's a gap in the market and what is a hole that I can fill in all of those things. And I'm like, don't be market obsessed, because no matter what you try to do, like, you know, interview what goes, document an interview podcast with public policy.


People are a dime a dozen. There are seven billion people on this planet that are already more than a million podcasts. Everything's been done. All ideas are out there. Even if you find a. Up in the market, 20 people will fill it for you, what makes your podcast unique? Only one thing makes it unique, and that's you, because nobody else is you and you are you. So what I therefore try to do is I'm following my own intellectual journey.


I'm thinking aloud. I am almost having no filter in that sense that, you know, you can listen to something I said in a past episode, which you know and say right here. But, you know, that's such a silly line to go down on. And I have often changed my mind. Well, thinking aloud over the course of all the episodes that I've done. So, yeah, I think that's, you know, as far as podcasting or do I suppose that's in fact number one on my list that be authentic to yourself?


That's the only thing that gives you a shot and then what you end up with will at least be meaningful and valuable to you, to that one person, rather than to nobody at all.


And I think this is also why, you know, very often you and I have spoken to the same people or discussed the same book, and our shows have been completely different because, one, we haven't coordinated what we're doing. Right, except knowing that hear what's coming out next or something like that. But I have no clue what conversation you had with Daniel Purtill when I had the same conversation or with a very large area more recently.


And then when I hear your conversation and I know the one I've had, I'm like, wow, everyone would think that I would think along the same lines, but it's just completely different. So your advice is help me in very good stead.


Yeah. And see, that's a remarkable thing that people would think that in terms of ideas, I mean, you're probably, in a sense, ideologically the closest person to me on the podcast. I disagree with everyone, but I disagree with you the least, perhaps. And and yet the episodes are so different. And it's not that if one of us records with Person X, the other one will listen to that episode and then avoid it. No, in fact, what's happened to us is you recorded with Matt, of course, love before I did.


And my episode came out first. And the two, you know, the the the little episodes where I offer to share my lines of inquiry with you. And you said, no, no, no, I don't want to be influenced by that, because either I try to avoid it or, you know, it might influence what comes to my mind. And so without that sort of knowledge of what the other has done, we would just go into those episodes and, you know, come up with entirely different results, which speaks exactly to that, that, you know, don't don't think of what others will think of your questions or what, you know, don't game it.


Don't game it, don't overthink it. Don't think too hard or the audience. Be authentic to yourself. Respect the audience. But don't don't you know, ultimately you've got to be authentic to yourself.


No, absolutely. And, you know, now I want to talk a little bit about the philosophy of the conversation or your philosophy of interviewing people.


You spoke about this quite a bit with Russ Roberts, which, by the way, I know we're not supposed to pick like the most favorite episode, but while listening to a podcast, I mean, if I didn't pick my favorite episode as the one that Russ Roberts did with Amitava, I'm going to go to libertarian hell, which might be what we're living in.


But, you know, who knows anyway.


So I just love the conversation you had about discourse, about the way we change not just ourselves, but also what we're putting out there in society.


Like what is it that it takes to have a good conversation?


That episode for those of the listeners who may not have had a chance to hear it yet is one of my absolute favorites in all 200.


But aside from that, aside from just the simple art of listening and talking, what is your larger philosophy of speaking with someone for the purpose of the interview or the podcast? Not when you meet them over lunch.


Yeah, I think, you know, the thing is, Stephen even said that we don't listen to understand. We listen to respond. And I think there's a profound point there in the sense that that is almost guaranteed in a sense, you know, where, you know, Emmanuel-Jones categorical imperative warns against treating other people as a means to an end. Now, there is a sort of a larger conversation to be had here about do we do that in our lives?


Is everyone a means to a particular end? And I don't have a good answer for that. And I think much of the time that is the case, even if we think that should not be the case, it is the case. But I think that becoming aware of this can enrich our lives by treating other people as people with agency and an individuality and respecting them for that can enrich our lives. And part of how you do that is through listening, where, you know, if you are listening to respond, you are listening for reasons of self aggrandizement that you want to respond because you want to win a point or you want to show people who might be listening how smart you are and all of that.


And therefore, I made a conscious decision that I am not going to do that. I am going to give the person I am talking to maximum respect, because it is also true that no matter how knowledgeable I might be or how intelligent I might be, every single person in the seven billion plus in the world knows something that I don't. And therefore my life can be better off if I can get them to share it with me. And so you have to give that respect to everyone, even someone you disagree with.


So some of them sort of. Principles that have come up and therefore is that you never interrupt, right, you know, I just want them to go with the flow of thinking. I don't like to sort of I will not interrupt them at any point. And it's very rare when I do that when there is an interjection that must be made and I will then guide them back to whatever they were talking about or whatever. But I might disagree very strongly or I might have something to say.


Even if they go on for 20, 30 minutes, I will write down the points I want to make and I will make them sequentially later. So I will often see when my turn comes that I have three responses to that and I'll go through them one, two, three, because I'm also writing down and taking notes. But I will never interrupt. Let them go where they want. The other sort of trick to avoid is sort of when you have a list of questions prepared and then you want to follow that order.


So the other person is talking, but you already tuned off and you're thinking of the Segway into your next question. And you go down to that. And I like the conversation to flow in a natural way and to make sure that doesn't happen. So obviously, I have really exhaustive notes and I do sort of cover a lot of ground in those notes. And I know what other times I want to cover and I make sure I cover them all, but as many as I can of the broader themes.


But I don't try to force the order. I like to keep the flow of the conversation going. And this is something interesting. I can pick up on that and we can go a little further. And that's what I aim for. And I've been, you know, because I teach this podcasting course and we are recording this on the 10th this Sunday on the 15th, a week before the episode releases, I'll be giving my second webinar, which is also about talking about interviewing at much length.


So I've been thinking about how different interviewers do this stuff. You know, Joe Rogan, rostral, both Strelkova and Sam Harris, the some of the people I've listened to and admired their craft for different reasons. And it's really interesting. And I think I'm most similar, of course, to Russ and I agree with you. That's a beautiful episode. Just want my heart to record it. And I think, you know Rossfeld similarly about it. And it was just a lovely episode on conversation.


But that's also partly because I think we have the same sort of ethic towards conversation. I wish the shows were much longer, which is, I think, the one fundamental difference between us that we're both very respectful of the guest and we are trying to unpeel the layers. But, you know, while we both go around as deep, I probably go brodo because I have that much more time to play with. And Sam Harris is a little different.


Jodo goodness. You know, extremely different in different ways. And dialogue is brilliant because he can ask things that I can't even think of which, you know, questions and ideas that I can't even conceive of. And I'm just wild with the question. You know, the question alone sort of enlightens you in many ways. But I think what he also does is that he doesn't go enough with the flow of the conversation where he will have a sequential list of things he wants to cover.


And that's a style and it's a great show. Conversations with Tyler. These are different sort of styles. So you have to figure out what works for you because you're being authentic to yourself. And I founded this work the best for me to do not interrupt. Give them the space. Don't a gotcha moment. Right. I don't need to show off how smart I am. So I'm not going to, you know, keep interrupting to show off my cleverness or that I have done my research or whatever.


I'm not going to look for a gotcha moment. I don't you know, last year, excellent source of time. You said this. Now you're saying this because I don't want the conversation to be adversarial, because I want them to relax at the level where they are much more open and honest in sharing their thoughts and their ideas with me. And it's important not to. So even when I, for example, disagree with someone, I will. I always date when disagreements.


People don't realize this because I'm being very polite and we not used to politeness on social media disagreements and all of that. But I state my disagreements, but I don't push the point. So, you know, in fact, people have I don't know if you're one of them, but people give me feedback on the Arvind Subramanian episode that I didn't push back enough. And the thing is, I stated my disagreements, but then I don't want to push back and say, no, you didn't answer this properly or what about this or what about that?


Because I don't want it to be adversarial. I'm happy to let the listener make up their own mind about what I asked in what he said. But beyond that, I see no point in litigating something beyond the point in time. And I also think that it's a little disrespectful that when the person has been generous enough with their time and their, you know, with their insights and you cannot take their generosity for granted to then disrespect that by, you know, taking it into other directions and showing how smart you are and all that.


I'm saying my my philosophy is you take in order that you can from the conversation and whatever the disagreements are, you state them politely and let the listener sort of make up their own mind, which is why so many people have disagreed with have come back on the show very often because they enjoy that as well, given the take. So, yeah. Yeah.


And I don't think there's anything wrong with disagreement, but, you know, it's a question of means and ends. Right. Your show is not about holding public office holders accountable. Right. This is not primetime television or this is not you know, you are not, as you said, litigating the purpose of your show is to educate, you know.


Oneself and, you know, the broader audience, and that's, of course, the larger point of it, but also in that immediate moment, be in that moment, right?


Treat the other person. Look, in that I have that conversation. Learn something from each other, have the benefit of spontaneity, that the conversation may take your mind to a place that you've never been to before.


So it's not so much that I think interruptions are bad or having prepared questions are bad. It's just that it doesn't fit with the goal that you have in mind. Right. Which is to see where this conversation might take you.


And you can do that because the guests on the show are so high quality that they need very little direction or interruption and things like that.


So I don't know if what you do and what Rusts does can be done by many other people with many other guests. But for the kind of purpose that you have in mind, I think the format just works beautifully and also to few people.


As you said, the end goal is usually to get an episode in a particular way.


That's the other thing I learned from you. I am exactly like you. I prepare a lot of notes. I go in with like 20 pages of notes for each episode, but I actually don't prep questions or read out questions. I usually have my first question in mind, but other than that, it's like, you know, usually cracked open. And that's another thing I learned from you.


And I think the joy of that for me has been leaving myself open to be surprised in a way that it is impossible to be surprised if you go with a very fixed idea in mind.


Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and the thing with research is always philanthropic, but always, you know, cover very little of my.


So here I have a question since we talked about, like, you know, how much you and I prep and the notes. There's another question from Michael, because he is prolific not just in his books, but also in his questions on on this podcast.


So Kyoto's academical second question, I'm always amazed with your research on diverse books and the manner in which you make conversation freewheeling. Can you tell us what kind of humor goes before each podcast? Yeah, lovely question. So, you know, since I got into the long phone conversation, I think the thing is the challenge of doing a three hour conversation is exponentially tougher than, say, a half an hour conversation. It's not that you need six times as much research.


It's just exponentially tougher.


So what I try to do is I try to like first of all, of course, there is a selection bias and that I'm choosing subjects which are already interesting to me. So I'm likely to have already read books on them and have a certain amount of background information. But otherwise, the thing is, like if I'm talking to an author, I will obviously read all these books that last week my episode 199 was on Twitter, and so I wrote five books for him and he's actually written ten, but the other five case studies and things like that.


So I read five books by him, watched a bunch of YouTube videos, took a lot of notes, all of that you want to read on the subject. Like for a long time I wanted to do episodes on GANTI with the regular and I did more than 30 books on Gandhi. But the thing is, many of them are already read. They're not specifically for the episode. So besides his own two books and on the other a whole bunch else and some of them I, you know, did a reread skim.


But when the time for the episode came about. So I've often had 20, 30 pages of notes on Microsoft Word for a particular episode. I have just recently discovered this Circle Room research, and that's amazing because it allows you to categorize sort of nested queries and bidirectional linking. I'm the last two, three episodes of use that and really enjoyed that. So which is much better than, you know, Microsoft Word where everything is one long list and you bolded the parts.


But when you have 20 pages of notes, it's like very difficult also that when you're at the start of the show, somebody may mention, you know, some subject which, you know, your 25th question is about the there. So you're quickly scrolling through it because while it's been mentioned, you want to call that relevant bit from that relevant book and that's far easier and room to search and you know, all of that. So I put in a lot of research and the idea is not so much to ask about all of those things, but because I think you need that background information that I need.


If I'm talking to someone who is going to give me a deep knowledge on a subject, I need a certain baseline of knowledge myself to be able to take the conversation to those sort of interesting places, like in a church cases, not just reading occurs books. But I also have to have some awareness of the history of that time and how the Indian freedom movement was shaping up and, you know, all of those other kind of things. Despite that, I must say that I chose book is just such a eye opener for me because there are so many things that I didn't know that, which is why it's such a remarkable book.


There are very few books which, you know, have so many idle moments, especially about one's own country. So, yeah. So I put in a lot of work into research which is rewarding for its own sake. I feel like I know the subject much better, but I often, you know, at my age I'm in my mid 40s, almost think forty seven next month. So I sort of, I forget a lot. So I forget what I've discussed in, you know, 30 episodes ago with somebody or whatever.


But the point is that, you know, at some level you've internalized aspects of the knowledge and that informs your worldview and your views on things to some extent. So. So yeah.


But I think I think that in a sense, the one unintended consequence, the unseen effect, as it were, of the show on my life, is to just really kick start my reading habit again and make me read a lot more. And because of that, I think much more deeply about knowledge management. Like I was, you know, when I was doing the last class for my podcasting course, somebody also said I should sort of one day teach a course on knowledge management.


I don't know, someone will be interested in that or not. But I've been getting into that because I think one of the great challenges they face is that when you're exposing yourself to a lot of knowledge, how do you sort of say build a secondary and sort of see in the photos were so that, you know, technology sort of systemised then it's not just diffused and lost and all of that. So that's, again, something that I've been thinking about.


And I don't imagine I would have been thinking about it so much had it not been for the work that the scene in the on scene makes me. Do you know, knowledge management?


There are two parts to it. One is, of course, knowledge management in terms of creating a record of what you're doing. Right. I think in that sense, what you're doing with the four volumes of the scene and the unseen is going to be this incredible, you know, resource, especially because unlike me, you don't put out the full transcript. Right. So it's hard for people to go back and look up things or, you know, they may want to, but if they didn't have a piece of paper because they were doing chores, they couldn't get the name of the book down.


So I think it's that kind of knowledge management I really believe in, like, you know, just putting a body of work out there, the personal knowledge management.


I don't believe in that much. You know, I always tell my students this. I my my students are always taking copious notes. You know, they're like, what is the best, you know, is ever. Room research by the by the way, thanks, that's a lifesaver. I just started using it, but I always tell them, think about it, internalize it if you wanted to find it. Just have faith that you will be able to find it.


It might take you an extra five minutes in that moment, but you will be able to get it.


The reason is now, unlike when you and I were studying in college and things like that, everything is available on the Internet. Search functions are so good. You know, our own personal mobile phones and things have started getting such functions. So I think it's just much easier to go back and find something. My worry with knowledge management systems is that they are so hard to create and maintain for personal use.


I don't know if 95 percent of that crap I'm ever going to go back and see. Now, of course, if you're doing it for a project like a book or a podcast, it's a little bit different.


But I think just like a general personal knowledge management system, I'm I'm not a big fan of it. I think I just have faith in your brain and your curiosity and your ability to internalize concepts. And I think, you know, that'll take you quite far.


No, I mean, I'll disagree with this because I think our brain is not meant to force disagreement on the show. I think our brain is not meant to retain information in systematic ways. And all of that our brain is meant to be creative and think about stuff, but not really retain information. And I have often find knowledge management to be frustrating. And I'll think of something that someone said and simply not be able to find it at all. Right.


And no matter all the search functions and all that. And what I find is that I actually find room very helpful because what I do is every time I come across an interesting quote, maybe in something that I'm reading, I just do that bidirectional thing. I'll put brackets and quote around it. So now I have a page on room called Code, which includes all the courts I've ever, you know, tagged in that way, which is useful.


And then within that there'll be other similar things. So like, for example, when I was getting my podcasting course radio, I said I have to read books on the history of radio, the history of audio and blah, blah, blah, a whole bunch of resources, books, videos and all of that created a one page for that. Then for each of them, I had these nested bits for each book. There's a fantastic way to click it.


It opens out. I have various insights that I'm sort of linking them to each other. And just in terms of organizing my mind, it was incredibly useful. And during that process, I mean, part of it turned out to be useless because most of those insights were not at all useful to me. And most of the insights, some of which I've shared here, are not something that are actually written anywhere. So, you know, it's just coming from my experience.


But for other subjects, like when to search for episodes like the night of the episode with me, I had sort of like I heard some people miss as the name of a page below that I have personal then that's necessarily you click on that, it opens up because you know which room of the host linearity mudras he was. So then you use little nuggets like that and then he also relaxes and it takes a nice personal tone when you bring that in.


I had each of his books. I had, you know, separateness protections for that. Within that, conceptually, I have separate sections. I come across interesting quotes because he uses quotes a lot in his book. They are now part of my larger database of quotes. So it's so I find it useful for me. But you're right. I mean, you said that is good for projects, but not otherwise. I haven't used it long enough to be able to tell.


But I think for individual projects like for researching for episodes is great. But one of the things I'm going to do now is I prepared me for anthologies for the scene. In the on scene is the transcripts of all my episodes. When they get to me, I'm going to put them all in room to search so that then it becomes really much easier to do that sort of bidirectional sort of forming connections. Like I have so many times that it was a liberal constitution imposed on an illiberal society.


And it's very easy for me using tools like this to see how many people have are to and just bunch all the answers together and all of that. So I think my brain struggles with the enormous amounts of knowledge out there. And I think finding ways like this to kind of bring it all together is useful.


By the way, on the whole, you know, seeing incentives a number of times or talking about a liberal constitution imposed on liberals. My biggest complaint about the seen and the unseen merchandise is that it does not come with shot glasses because then your listeners can play a drinking game every time every demonstration incentive says incentives or every time you see multitudes, they all contain multitudes.


Or you called John Lennon or you talk about the liberal versus illiberal constitution.


So my next suggestion for the merchandise, maybe for episode 250 or 300, is we desperately need shot glasses to play drinking games for the scene of the unseen.


Now, I want to I mean, I know you have no trouble booking guests because, I mean, of course, you don't have trouble booking guests.


But there are a couple of questions about, you know, choosing your guests. And the first question comes from someone who might be one of my perhaps one of my most favorite thinkers alive in our time. And that is Poterba, no matter, you know, I mean, I've read pretty much everything Pratap has written over the years, it is just a joy to read him. He's a thinker who once again contains multitudes. Right? I mean, the breadth and the depth with which he thinks about any subject is amazing how it is both historical, but it's also abstract and it's philosophical.


But it's also about a contemporary issue. It's you know, he's really one of my favorite thinkers. And I was so thrilled when you got him on the scene and the unseen. I heard that episode on one. I didn't speed it up because I wanted it to just go on as long as it doesn't, like, enjoy every moment of it.


But that was very generous and instantly responded with a question. So I'm going to play for that question for you and then we'll talk a little bit more about guests on the scene and the unseen.


So congratulations on your double century. And I know this is just the beginning. So one question I've always been meaning to ask you is you have this great love for literature and you're one of the most voracious readers of novels that I know of. So if you were doing a science version of the scene and unseen and you were inviting back a dead novelist for a conversation, who would that be and what's the question you would be dying to ask them? Wow, what an incredible question, I think.


Yeah, I mean, that's, you know, like you said, like I love writing and he's incredibly thought-provoking with everything he writes. And I am afraid he is sort of looking with the questions as well, because I have to think a bit, too, you know, come up with this. But I'm really glad I could finally get brought up on my show because, you know, it's you know, when I first started the scene in the on scene, I remember, you know, opening up the notepad on my phone and thinking about who the possible guests would be.


And I put five names down and then I couldn't think of any more and put up with that. So I'm really glad we kind of cross that one off. And hopefully he'll be back on my show at some point in time without necessarily having a subject in mind, just to sort of shoot the breeze, as it were, to answer this question as far as novelists are concerned. Well, you know, a little bit I'll say George Orwell. But what I really love about George Orwell, you know, as I said, that should be held up a piece of paper on which she had written George Orwell.


So she guessed it. But again, my admiration for Orwell is not so much for his novels, which is why it is a bit of a cheat, but really his nonfiction writing, especially his remarkable collected essays, which is just so incredible. And every time I'm stuck writing a piece, I'll open that and read three, four essays by him on whatever subject it doesn't matter. And just the rhythms of the language that he uses will get my brain working properly again.


So I love will know what would I ask him? I think I would ask him that. I mean, he was already I think by the time he died, disillusioned with the extreme left by that time, even though you could call him a man of the left. And I would ask him that if he had presumably if he comes back in a and as of course, he's been witnessing everything that's been happening since in some depth, that has the disillusionment deepened.


What does he feel now? And, you know, would he be more likely to agree with this contemporary Hiroku who I don't think the two ever would have known each other or even written about each other. So maybe just just used the word, because it's interesting seeing his views evolve over a period of time. And I think Orwell was one of the greatest. You know, he he through his novels, he looked into the future. I mean, the warnings against totalitarianism and statism that his novels contain is second to none.


And even today, you know, especially people keep talking about 1984 and how, you know, this combination of state power and technology could be bringing about something that makes what was once a dystopian seem not so outlandish after all.


And it ask a little bit about that, because I think that he would have seen clearly enough to sort of, you know, be able to paint that picture with you, realize that this sort of totalitarianism and statism doesn't come either from the left or the right. It comes from both places. And in a sense, it comes from the same instinct of imposing your vision of the world on others. And I'd be very interested in seeing how his thinking would have evolved over these, you know, these sort of last 70 years.


But that's a bit of a cheat, because my admiration for Orwell is because of his nonfiction, though I love both 1984 and Animal Farm. So give me a moment.


Let me think about whether this I am so ticked right now while you take a moment that I called it, because as soon as I heard perturbs question, I said, I'm pretty sure he's going to say George Orwell. And then I'm pretty sure he's going to hedge and say, you know, his fiction writing is great, but you must really read non-fiction. It's I feel like I have gotten to know you well. And I'm feeling very smug right now, though.


For me, Animal Farm is always going to be very special.


Yeah, it's very special. I'd love to speak to guys like, for example, Solzhenitsyn or, you know, even someone like Dostoyevsky or, you know, the Japanese guy is Mishmosh Tanizaki. But I don't know what I would ask them. I mean, for example, my literary writer whose alter I worship is actually alive. It's Alice Munro. And I would not want to meet her because I would not know what to say. I would not be able to say anything.


I would be sort of struck speechless. And there's really nothing to say. I mean, what do you say? You know, her craft is in a sense beyond imitation. So with novelists, I think that's a thing. If you ask about dead intellectuals from the past who were thinkers or nonfiction writers, you know, I'd love to talk to current. I'd love to talk to John Locke. You know, I'd love to talk to Adam Smith.


The you know, as I know you vote and Russ Roberts would have speaking of people from the past and people who might not be around anymore, there is another one of our favorite guests, and Narayana Basu, who's been on your show, who wrote the wonderful book on MAYMAN. And, you know, I want to play her question for you because I think she will give you the out from having to come up with a name other than George Orwell.


And coming up with a question to ask a literary figure.


I am. And this is an Trinny. Many, many congratulations on two hundred episodes. Thank you so much for making long organizations fun again. I wanted to ask, is there anyone from any period of history and this could be anybody, right? It could be a literary figure, an actor or an economist or a social reform activist to get the picture. Anyone that you'd want to sit down with today, whether it's on or off your show and Jack and why?


Great question and a tough question.


I don't really know. I mean, the easy answer and the name that pops to mind, and I hope you haven't written it down and you're going to leave it at the screen in front of me, but you have it ready, OK?


It's probably I mean, Bastia is obviously, you know, the first name that comes to mind. I mean, the name of my show, the scene in the on scene is inspired by biosphere's great essay that which is seen in that which is not seen. And his works are remarkable. The law is beautiful. His essays are great. The law is just must be sent in so many ways. I mean, the law contains so much of what you know, it almost anticipates public choice theory in so many ways.


And also I look at bustier as you know, I kind of find there's a certain sense of both tragedy and inspiration there that he spends those last years from 40 years to I think he died when he was 49 or 50, a much, much like Orwell. And he's essentially fighting a lonely battle that it's inevitable that no one agrees with him. But he's putting his ideas out there because it is important to do so. And in a sense, he's, again, not writing across space.


He's writing across time because which is why someone like me, you know, a century and a half later can be inspired by him. And, you know, of course, I want to create this named after him, but that's orthogonal. And but someone like me can be inspired by him and can, you know, find value in doing just that. And it also tells you that, you know, the fact that that battle was never won, that, you know, which he was fighting, which is for individual rights and agency and, you know, controlling the power of the state and even understanding it was something that was never won and may never be won.


But you have to keep fighting the good fight and sort of working on that. So I find him inspiring for that reason. But the thing is, you know, when you ask a hypothetical question of if you could talk to someone from the the list, all the ways and ask them a question or whatever, the thing is, like I said, I am so incredibly private and introverted and whatever is that I probably wouldn't want to meet them. I would I would just, you know, like what would one say with Bastia?


Of course, I'd love to do an episode of the scene in the on scene with bustier. Like, what is a French parliament like. Do your friends mock you for your views? Like, my friends mocked me and all of that, you know, and I would have tried to get a human sense of that battle, sort of the loneliness of the battle, because, you know, I can reach out to many other people who think like me across the world and I have that access and all of that.


But, you know, Boissiere would not have had that. So then what kind of keeps you going? In a sense? I think I somehow, in some strange way, managed to make this about me. But yeah, I mean, bustiers. Interesting.


Adam Smith is, of course, interesting when you just see the sort of the breadth of his work. And just those two books are joining from The Theory of Moral Sentiments to, you know, the Wealth of Nations just in sort of that journey and how much it covers. And of course, you know, Russell Roberts and I spoke a bit about Adam Smith in our episode, and he's written a great, lovely book on Adam Smith, which I recommend everyone goes out to read.


Adam Smith would have been interesting. Lock would have been interesting, you know, and I think had he lived today, he would have refined his ideas to a much finer degree. But but to think that a man like that, you know, works like that when he did is just remarkable. Apart from that. Yeah, I should I you know, I'll be accused of being nonsense. You if I can't name Indian figures, I would have loved to hang out with covid just, you know, talk about poetry and sort of, you know, how he thinks of language and how sort of all of those sort of different things.


And I haven't done enough episodes on that. I mean, I kind of should, but covid would have been fun, even though, you know, I did an episode with Amardeep Singh on the travels of Gurunath Noncanonical Country and Nudnik is a very Kobie like figure, a very interesting person, or just someone who founded a religion, but a very interesting, deep thinker. So again, I would have liked to hang out, maybe just be a fly on the wall and maybe travel around a little bit with someone like that, not necessarily do an episode and get a gun, because I think there is something beyond intellectual gun and just discussing ideas.


But, you know, just maybe travel around. And, you know, as far as travelers are concerned, I am notorious for being the kind of person who, you know, I don't like to walk very much. And I don't I'm not to explore all kinds. I'm like, you know, book me into a comfortable place. I want to chill and relax because that is what vacations are for. But I think it would be different if I was hanging out with either Nanako computer or any of these guys and maybe I'd be live blogging while I was with them, like, you know.


Tsunami hit struck in 2004, as you know, had gone along the coast of Tamil Nadu and those were early days in my blog and I was posting updates every day. And that was in a different way or sort of a very it was interesting. And I'm glad I did that. It was difficult also. You know, they could Nagapattinam just when I wrote about this story also. But, you know, just in a field where you have dead bodies all around you and kind of walking through them and at some point it normalizes in your brain and you don't think of them as you know, far more people, so to say.


But it's interesting.


I don't know if I've told you this before, but that's how I found you through the tsunami coverage on your blog, because I was there at the same time in Najid district.


Really, when the tsunami.


Well, yeah, I had a break from, you know, as you know, it happened between Christmas and New Year and that is, you know, the autumn break and just figured out that, you know, things need to be done.


So I got on an unreserved ticket and just went to Tamil Nadu and then, you know, figured it out from there and joined a volunteer group. And they placed me in a tiny village called Kute Under, which is in Naggie district. And so not very far from where you were blogging. And your blog was really lovely. It was one of the very few sort of, you know, I mean, now we have all the blogs and the live tweets and all those things going on.


But at that time, it was very unique to get that instant not just news, but also reflections. You know, that was an old thing that was going on at the time. So that's how I found you.


Yeah. And I was also trying to, I think, look in a different way, if that makes sense, like not just look at events and talk to people and ask about the experience. But like I remember when we went through village after village and I found that in different places, the watches, the clock ticked off at a different time. And you could make out by the last time on these timepieces across all these villages across shore when the waves had hit.


And that's so incredibly poignant and almost heartbreaking because it carries with it the loss of life and the loss of so much. You know, it's just so. Yeah.


And at some level, I wish I had done a little bit more of that that kind of reporting. And in that sense, you could say I didn't take the initiative enough in some ways that I was just like a deskbound person, Pursey, which is what I even am for the scene in The Unseen. Right. I'm just like, you know, sitting in a studio or during the lockdown at the mike in my room and just talking to people are not really out there.


But perhaps in this case, I think this is the value that I can create now. So it sort of makes sense. And I was but at that time, I think I should have gone out more and I was probably too lazy.


You know, the time part that you mention, another really poignant moment I had when this was happening is, you know, one, the first act of, you know, any kind of relief work is obviously clearing rubble and making sure, you know, people have food and things like that.


And by the time I reach the village, most of the, you know, sort of the dead had been found and sort of disposed in whatever manner was possible or appropriate at the time. But there was this one place where the dwelling structure had really caved in and clearly someone had been trapped in there and they hadn't found the body. But obviously it had decomposed to such an extent that there was a stench.


And then, you know, people were called in to move the rubble and things like that.


And the only thing that hadn't decomposed was the polyester sari.


Well, you know, and the thought that someone's you know, I mean, this must have cost hundreds rupees or less. Right.


And the idea that this polyester sari is in some sense more durable than human life, which can just be so fragile in a disaster like this, that like that that picture has never left me.


And, you know, I can if I close my eyes, I can just I can see that rubble and I can I can see the sari. So that was an eye opening experience for sure.


Yeah. Yeah. And so, you know, one of the things that I mentioned is what you're seeing in a recent episode, I think with the show. And then when I was linking that post from my show, I went back to all the posts I'd written during that period, and it really is still unformed. My thinking otherwise was how naive I was and my faith that, you know, the state could have sorted this out with better regulation.


They would have been less lives lost. And we needed STONA coastal laws and a bunch of other things, which over time I you know, I had reason to think about deeper and say that that was misformed that I just sort of intentions and not probable outcomes and the way the political economy actually works and blah, blah, blah. So it's interesting also to see one's own journey through the past and realise how about, you know, one's opinions were just wrong about so many things.


But, you know, and even during the scene in the on scene, I think there's a sort of a mirroring of that where I remember I did that episode with our guide, Patel, on the, you know, the intellectual foundations of Hindutva, which I remember you seeing at the time, that you really love that as well. And that was a great episode. But both of us were of the opinion at the time of that. And you know, my view before it, in fact, very firmly was that there is nothing there, there is no intellectual tradition and whatever claims to be an intellectual tradition is just a cover for a Mukataa for bigotry and all of those other things.


And later, in the course of doing episodes with people like a chemical know that episode that tells you that there is a tradition. And the reason many people like me are missing the tradition is because we read in English. But those arguments are made in English. But there is a rich tradition in Hinduism. Now, you may not agree with that intellectual tradition, but it is coherent and cogent and it exists. And, you know, chatting with people like Michael and Obama and others sort of made me realize that in that regard, I was I was wrong and I needed to have a more nuanced view.


And that that view reflected my own shortcomings as someone who read mainly in English rather than, you know, something that was actually the truth.


You know, I want to since you talked both about the blogging days and now I want to play the next question from, again, one of our common friends and a sportscaster and writer. This is from Nico Testoni. And, you know, he's been on on your show multiple times. He's just a wonderful thinker, an intellectual. I always enjoy reading him. I love listening to him.


So I'm going to leave this next question from Pranay and then take this conversation forward.


Him attorney here, many, many congratulations for doing what you do and for inspiring so many of us to get into podcasting. Yes. My question for you, you've been both a broadcaster and a writer. So what do you think are the comparative advantages of both similarly from the consumers? And what do you think are the competitive advantages of podcast listening or reading, if any?


Fantastic question. And I share your admiration of Brian, and I know him fairly well because, you know, when I all the times when I was editing Pragati, he's, of course, part of what she learned. He wrote a lot for me and just a wonderful, warm human being. You know, such a good person that you think that, you know, it's the correlation of great anchor and good good person is surely not common. So you imagine that such a nice guy cannot possibly be a fine thinker.


But I think he's just one of the finest Sharpless thinkers about policy that I personally know, you know, really, you know, he's such a humble, down-to-earth guy that it's hard to sort of think of him as someone on a pedestal. But as an intellectual, he is on a pedestal for me, too. And he's and he does a great the podcast, which is wonderful.


I was I have been a guest on that show, and I had I was just sweating and so nervous because I've never thought about property rights concepts in Hindi. I didn't even know the right words and that he and sort of sort of held my hand through it. But I feel like I interact with Bronnie a lot because of the newsletter and the substract. And it's I just look forward to it every time it shows up in my inbox. I think he's doing an incredible job.




You know, I was also talking in Hindi about Hayek, so. Yeah, that was that was good fun. Ben is great and his music is great, co-written with Rocco Jaitley, whose real name I know but shall not reveal too. I never met him. Oh yes.


OK, well ok. Yes you have bragging rights but also I have bragging rights.


Yeah. So these, these great questions and I think the short answer to the difference between writing and podcasting is really Birtwhistle stepped step in the sense that, you know, as far as reading writing is concerned, you can just read a lot and you can read a lot about a bunch of different subjects and you can get breadth that way. Whereas the best podcasts go deep into one specific thing. And obviously for listening to different episodes or different podcasts, you're getting a certain amount of bread that way.


But the writing doesn't allow you to go as deep as podcasting does. Like I said, my episode with on education with later was forty three thousand words when it was transcribed, which at double speed you could have listened to in one and a half hours. You know, that's almost a short book. That's a monograph. You know, how are you going to consume that and get know that many words, you know, in that much time and where are you?


And that's like a sharp, focused kind of discussion that is happening. You know, an interview with Karthick in a newspaper would be 800 words, even in a long interview in something like caravanned would be seven, eight thousand words at most. And here you have forty three thousand words.


And I think in one word, I think that's the main difference, which is why one has to sort of embrace like myself on the back a little bit for this, because I think when I started going along, you could say I shifted the Overton window of length in Indian podcasting that, you know, now interviews which last one, one and a half hours are perfectly common. Especially, you know, among the policy podcasts and all of that, and that really wasn't the case.


You know, it's like a string that I remember that I just kept lifting it. And I have so many 3R episodes now, including presumably this one, by the time it's out that a one hour episode feels like nothing at all. And I'm sort of happy about that. The other aspect of that, and I don't know what the related stat for other Indian podcasts is, but the one part I don't look at Matrix, but the one interesting metric that I have sort of that gives me satisfaction about my podcast is that most people listen, most regular listeners listen to a podcast, apps on listen to podcast on the podcast apps, while I still get about 30 to 40 percent of my listeners from Chrome, which means that these are not regular listeners from the browser.


The and this means these are not regular listeners. These are people for whom that episode of mine has acted as a gateway drug of sorts. And that's how they come into it, which, you know, and hopefully I'm kind of I managed to convert some of them. So that gives me a lot of happiness because I think the ecosystem is very young and we are at a stage where nobody is competing with anybody else. We just want to grow the listening habit among people and we all benefit from that.


And that's something that we need. And which is why I go out of my way to help people do podcasts as sort of, you know, as the editor of Pragati, I started the podcast, which Babinski not so well. And he did that with homogeny for a while. She started her own podcast. And so I sort of tried to keep that tradition going. Even now with my podcasting course, what I sort of stressed on in the first place that I did was that I don't want this to be like taking a gym membership membership.


Lillia Gymnich, you know, I want to podcast at the end of this. I want to you know, so let's work at that. So initially I thought that the first two webinars, the total three webinars, the first two can be kind of conceptual. And then we get down to the nitty gritty is that this is your basic equipment. This is how you record that problem. But I I devoted half of my first webinar to The Integrities because I said that you got to kind of, you know, get down to it right now, that we can't stay at the level of the abstract.


We have to get down to the concrete and actually get things done. And I feel strongly about this because, you know, I am in a limited space in the sense that right now voters in India seem to be heard a lot by English speaking elites. And I think the real scope is in the languages because there is so much more hunger for knowledge and information in the languages. If you if you read in English today, you can go on the Internet and the world of knowledge is at your fingertips.


You can go to YouTube, watch the best videos, blah, blah, blah. But supply of that kind of knowledge and insight is so limited in the languages and there is much greater hunger and scope for it. And I'd really like to see young entrepreneurs start podcasts which may not cater to the same use cases, because beyond a certain class of society, people may not have the time to actually be looking out for an day. So when are they going to listen?


But, you know, figure out different ways of distributing podcasts, maybe not a podcast app, maybe on WhatsApp, a guy is getting a five minute update every morning in Hindi, which gives perspective on what happened that day, not just news or things like that. Just throw things at the wall, try interesting things, because that's where I think podcasts will kind of really explode and really make a difference in our society.


You know, the thing you mentioned about language, that's the other thing I really love about podcasts, which is that even people who don't speak English as fluently, maybe as you and me, because we we had the privilege of being English medium or whatever, they can listen to the podcast at their own pace, in their own time.


You know, they can actually hear how the words are said and what context they are used, whereas normally the only access to these ideas would be through the written word, which is much harder to access if if your fluency levels are not that high.


So I think even for non English speakers or those who are perhaps less fluent, I think the podcast medium does something really interesting and really special. And you told me not to use jargon. You admonished me a few minutes or was it a few hours ago?


I lost track of time, but I think there is some value to that. Right. Like people are also learning we might make fun of drinking games and talking about incentives and liberalism. But with us, the listeners are also learning the language of how to think about these ideas and how to communicate them.


Yeah, first of all, let me correct you. I did not admonish you. I scolded you. So let us use sort of simpler words. But no, that's that's a great point. And that brings me to a related sort of I thought it was a little more gentle than scolding.


Well, I mean, yeah. So, I mean, there are surely simpler synonyms of admonished. So, you know, that's absolutely true because, you know, a good friend of mine, I don't know if you met him, Yogesh, the short run storyteller. Yeah. You haven't met Yogesh. So you. Suranne storytelling, I've done some work for storytelling the past, and they have this and it's, you know, sponsored many episodes of the scene, a scene in the on scene in the past with friends of the podcast, in a sense, early sponsors.


So Yogesh once told me and they have a great bank of Marathi and Hindi audio books. So a lot of the listeners are people who are listening to Marathi and Hindi. In fact, I you know, I heard Rocktober either because I read it in English and I wanted to read it in Hindi, but I thought, let me listen to it in Hindi. And it's such a masterpiece. And he told me that many of those listeners, Weeting people who listen to what you were listening to your speech, he said many of his listeners listen to the English content of storytelling at lower speeds, point seven, five point five, because that's how they understand.


And that also opened my eyes. And another similar sort of Eye-Opening thing that I learned recently is that when I heard someone complaining about on Netflix now allows you to play videos slower or faster. And he was appalled by that because he said, why should someone speed it up or whatever is made for natural speed? But then I looked into why that was. And I'm very impressed by the reason and why Netflix has done it. And the reason is that when blind people are watching shows, in a sense, they're not really watching the shows.


They're listening to a description of what is happening, which is how they consume the content and that they like to speed it up because they comprehend audio faster. So the higher speeds help blind people watch shows, which is such a remarkable thing. And what people who can't hear what they do is that they are reading the subtitles because they can't follow the dialogue. And so they like to slow it down because it takes them longer to read. So it makes perfect sense.


And those of us who can see and hear perfectly well don't realize this. And we think of our experience of the world as a normal experience. And this is the way things should be. And, you know, so, you know, credit to Netflix for building this stuff into the software and just suddenly expanding their universe of content in such a heartwarming way.


No, absolutely. And I mean, one is, of course, people who are differently abled or visually impaired and things like that.


But the other thing is also we are differently abled also in the sense of the background that we come from.




I mean, when we're talking, I consume monetary economics, as I learned while I researched for very large areas episode so much slower than any other subfield of economics, which is Applied Micro. Right.


And I'm a professional economist, but there are capabilities I have built that are words I have learned that are shorthands I have learned and I think we don't pay enough attention to this as we communicate.


Right. And the nicest thing about technology, especially one that is asynchronous, like podcasting, is that people can do this and they can also do this in the privacy of their own home, because normally when we do it in the classroom, when we do community viewing or community listening or community education, as we do in schools, people are routinely made fun of for pronouncing a word wrong or not understanding a question. The first time it is forced.


Many people who lack fluency skills in a particular language need that question to be posed maybe multiple times, maybe a little bit more slowly. I mean, for me, if when it comes to Thamir, anything other than food needs to be said, you know, a little bit more carefully and gently for me, you know, especially if it's something like economics.


And I think that is a lesser appreciated aspect of how podcasting and video streaming can really crack open the education space, even with shows that are not intending to educate, but they can educate because they've built in the infrastructure to do so.


No, and it's out there because, you know, just being out there but just being available at a certain depth is important because we are surrounded today by mass media, which for a number of different reasons, and they're responding to different incentives and being rational unnecessarily being shallow. Like if you look at the Indian news channels, I a brief episode on this with Ashok Malik a long time back when I did short episodes and his point was great. His point was that once they have paid such licence fees that the investment in a TV channel is massive.


And to, you know, government regulations have price controls on how much they can charge subscribers. Therefore, the bulk of the revenue comes from advertisers. And so they need to dumb it down, which is why you have the shouting nonsense that you see and which is all Bollywood or Bollywood, which is why all our channels are functioning at a lowest common denominator and you cannot get into any niche. And here is where podcast has an advantage, even over something like radio, where you can cater to any niche.


Right. And anybody can start not having an entry barrier. They can imagine if they were giving licenses for broadcast one, I would never have got a licence. And two, even if I wouldn't have applied, I wouldn't have applied and I would never have got one.


And even if I got one, it would have been for a differential. And some somebody would have shown up at my door saying, you wanted to do 20 minute episodes on a public policy. Now you're doing three year interviews with. Known dissenters, what is going on, so not having an entry barrier is interesting and this is important in the sense that people can then follow their own interests and often surprise themselves with how many people share those interests. And just having the knowledge available out there is really kind of important.


So so, yeah, I agree with you. It's it's it's just frustrating.


You know, one element we've been talking about is the technological infrastructure, which makes us more able communicators using the podcast media.


The other is content. And I want to talk about another question from our guest, or rather. Q Another question from one of your guests and one of our common friends who is Kumaran and. Right. And I think, you know, we've had some fantastic conversations, one on one and the three of us together. And he's been on your show and he's talked about especially agriculture and agricultural reforms, which is more recently an area which, after so many years has cracked open source or maybe you went had a little bit of something to do with cracking open that space.


I don't know how far and wide the podcast reach can go, but I just want you to hear this question from Kumar on the content and communication.


Tynemouth, congratulations on this great milestone. I used to think of you as the Dan Carlin of Indian Broadcasting, but I've changed my mind. I think that calling is the AMITAVA broadcasting game is. Here's my question. You have now done 199 episodes of the scene in the on scene in your episodes. On several occasions you've dealt with issues with elements that are difficult to communicate to an average common person. Issues like the consider benefit and disperse costs, the free rider problem, unintended consequences of public myopia, where only the short term cost of a policy is visible and the long term benefits are not a spontaneous order of things, a majority preference for a grand central plan rather than the invisible hand of voluntary exchange and cooperation.


So given these and similar challenges in communicating the unseen in your experience, what do you think are the best ways in which we can overcome this challenge? Thank you.


You are very, very powerful question and I'm kind of embarrassed at the comparison with Dan Carlin because no one can be like Dan Carlin. I really got turned on to podcast as a medium when I heard Hardcore History by Dan Carlin, which is just next level. You know, it's amazing. I fell asleep.


You told me to listen to it. And I think about halfway through the first couple of episodes, I just like fell asleep. A lovely voice. But also it might be a lack of interest in that kind of a deep dive. So it wasn't for me.


I think also spare attentional capacity because you might have been listening to him at normal speed and he is rather slow. So I listen to him at 2.5 at least, and I got turned on for those of my listeners who want to know to this incredible episode called Blueprint for Armageddon, which was on World War One. And I think it's like twenty five hours of content spread over five episodes of five hours each or something like that. And it's just him talking.


It's nothing else. There's no sound effects. There's no music. It's just him talking. It's so pure and beautiful and incredible and thought-Provoking. And that's kind of just brilliant. And I've always since then wanted to do a solo history podcast at some point, but that requires resources far beyond anything I might have right now. So maybe someday in the future. But to answer some perceptive question, and it's something that I have, you know, we all three of us have lamented this, that our brains are wired in prehistoric times where we lived in different realities.


And therefore, many of the truths about the world, the way it really works are unintuitive because, you know, in prehistoric times, we used to live in, you know, but things were scarce and there was brutal competition, as it were, as hopes would put it, harsh and brutish competition. And therefore, our brain evolved to think of the world in Zero-Sum ways that the only way somebody can benefit is if you take it away from somebody else.


And we don't intuitively understand the positive. Some nature of voluntary interaction is what John Stossel calls a double thank you moment that you know, when I buy a cup of coffee at a cafe, when the coffee is handed to me, I say thank you and the person and the other person say thank you. And the thing is, I value the coffee more than the money, and they value the money more than the coffee. And it's a mutually beneficial interaction, which is why, you know, both of us saying thank you, thank you moment.


It's it's it's a positive sum game. But our brains think of the world in zero some ways that if the rich are getting richer, the poorer must be getting poorer. And that's a difficult truth to communicate. Communicating something like spontaneous order is very hard to communicate that you don't need a Grand Central planner, that really complex systems like evolution, like markets, like the like languages do not happen by Central Committee the day that they happen in different ways.


And there's a great episode called The Evolution of Everything that I read with Matt Ridley where we spoke about. They said some land, so this is a challenge and I've I've thought about this and I've recently sort come to realize that the reason for this also lies in the distinction between the abstract and the concrete, that the reason these things have evolved is that if you're living in a time where you are in a little tribe and you have everything is scarce, then your concrete reality has scarcity in it and you will see the world in zero some ways because that is what you are doing for you to, you know, get the meaty part of that deal.


You have to sort of, you know, get it over somebody else. That means someone else doesn't get it and so on and so forth, that tribes of a hundred people are best handled from the top down, perhaps, and spontaneous order is not necessary because that level of complexity is not. So, I think perhaps a way to getting closer to communicating some of these things is by getting concrete. What is a problem, for example, with concentrated benefits and with concentrated benefits and diffuse costs.


And I'll quickly go over the concept. And obviously you've thought about it and talked it a million times. But the concept basically is that, let's say in the case of Air India, that every year Air India basically of a failing dying airline is kept alive by infusions of taxpayers money. And let's say each citizen is being to rupees for it. I'm just picking a hypothetical number. Now, the point is that the benefit is concentrated. Air India gets it and therefore they will lobby for it and they will do all kinds of things.


And if the beneficiary was a private party, they would contribute to party coffers. They would buy politicians, all of that. The benefits are concentrated, but the costs are diffused, that all of us are losing only two rupees. It is unseen. We don't even know that we are losing it. And therefore, why should we protest? And this becomes a dilemma. And the problem that therefore arises from this is that how can we therefore make it, you know, make this concrete aspect of the situation more explicit so that the abstract principle then becomes obvious.


And then that kind of comes across. Like I remember once in a conversation with Gomaa when we were chatting about this, I spoke about it as flipping a light switch that, you know, once you flip the switch and you turn it on, it's fine the latest, but you have to flick it and you don't even for me, I suffer from all these misconceptions because that's how we are wired. And then you gradually flick the switches and you see the world in a different way because there is so as communicators of these ideas, which we care so deeply about, we have to find ways to flip these switches.


And we cannot do that at the level of the idea. At an abstract level, we can't do that at the level of abstraction. We have to get concrete and we have to relate it to their own lives. And that becomes a complicated challenge. Like if the garbage outside your house is not being collected. You know, there are so many like you and I had done an episode of an urban governance where we spoke about the disconnect between power and accountability and you know, why that affects the governance in our cities.


And all of that is abstract. How do you make it real? By talking about why the person's garbage outside his house is not being collected or why, you know, whatever whatever problems that a citizens face in their everyday lives. And I think that's communicator's that is a challenge that we have to sort of communicate at that level and not at an abstract level, because if we just talk about stuff at an abstract level, we will fail utterly. And I think this is something that, you know, the the extreme right wing does this very well.


They are wrong, but they are wrong and that they talk about concrete things. So they build simple narratives. Like one of the reasons I I wrote a column on this one about why Trump succeeded in 2016. And it wasn't because he was right, because he was basically wrong about everything then and as he is now, which is not to say his opponents aren't also wrong, but he was wrong. But the stories he sold were simple and simple stories which are easy to understand.


So when you're speaking to people in the Midwest who don't have jobs anymore, it is easy to sell the narrative that immigrants are taking your jobs, therefore, immigrant immigration is bad and that your jobs are being shipped overseas to China. So, you know, China is bad and both those narratives are wrong, but they are simple. So similarly, if you want to sort of communicate any kind of ideas at a mass level, you have to find a way to make it simple and relatable.


And you do that at the level of the concrete.


And also, you know, you don't have to do it just once. Right.


So there's this great quote by Frank Knight, who was also one of my intellectual heroes, and he said, It takes very reiterations to force alien concepts upon reluctant minds.




So it's not just about putting it out there or even as you said, though, it's very important of making it less abstract.


I think it's also story after story, for example, after example. So the way you give the example of Air India, I think if you give one hundred such examples, then, you know, the the broader public choice principle of concentrated benefits and. And diffused costs might might penetrate, and this is also where I really enjoyed your conversation with Nilesh Mishra.


You know, I mean, it was the importance of storytelling, the value of sentiment, the value of nostalgia.


You know, of course, there are broader themes there. The invoke certain emotions which make you connect or make things more intimate.


And it's related to the art of conversation, but it's also related to the art of education. Right. Everything is not fashion and information. It is also sentiment. It is also nostalgic. It is also storytelling and fitting things within a broader tradition. I didn't ask him for a question, though I would have loved to, because by the time we planned this episode, that one wasn't out. So to the listeners who are disappointed, I apologize. I want to take a break at this point, because in good, you know, seen and unseen tradition, we have breached many, many barriers.


We are now almost at like the two and a half hour mark, I think. So I want to take a little commercial break. We're going to talk a little bit more mainly about some of the policy ideas that you have. And I know your love for books. So, you know, I'd love to talk to you more about books. So more for the listeners when we come back from this commercial break.


How would you like to start your own podcast since you're listening to the scene in The Unseen?


I don't need to sell you on the pilot of what costing audio is a unique medium different from any other, and it allows for a level of depth and engagement that no other form does. You've no doubt experienced this in the long from conversations that I've had here. But even for storytellers, this is the most exciting medium. And the best part of it all is anyone can start a podcast. You are limited only by your imagination and desire.


And I want to help you by sharing my insights with you. I've just launched an online course while The Art of Podcasting, in which I will talk about what makes audio so unique, the different forms of storytelling that it enables the art of the interview. And what will make your podcast stand out? I talk about these broader concepts, as well as the nitty gritty of what equipment to use, how to record, how to distribute, how to market your podcast and build your brand.


My course consists of three webinars over three Sundays and possibly 10000 plus GST for about one hundred and fifty dollars. For more details and to sign up head on over Houssein unseen and learn the art of podcasting at Unseen Nooran on.


Welcome back to the show, we needed this commercial break very badly because we're recording at a time when I need to eat to make sure I don't get hungry and just, you know, can just go on like this forever with no coffee, no food, no water, nothing. He seems to be like this is sportscaster, but we took the break for me. So welcome back. And admit now there are a bunch of questions. Now, you know, most of the show, as you named it, is the scene and The Unseen.


It was inspired by Bastia and a lot of the early episodes were on policy topics like very specifically. Right. So you were like, for instance, with Alex, you spoke about FSSAI or with, you know, goomar. You spoke about agricultural reforms and, you know, minimum and maximum landholdings when you and I have talked about property. So we have a few of your guests and some of our common friends who have policy questions for you. So I am just you know, I have very little to add to their questions.


They're all great thinkers. So I'm just going to queue up that question and then, you know, you can give us your policy response.


And I'll start with one of our common friends, Barun Mitra.


You know, again, someone that you and I usually agree with on on most aspects, this question has something to do with our agreements and disagreements. So I will play this for you and then get your take on it.


It likes to use the guideposts of consent and caution. Public policy matters. Well, I prefer the means and the end framework most of the time, despite the slightly different guideposts. Have still led us to very similar conclusions on a range of public policy issues. But with the onset of coronavirus for the first time, I met and I disagreed on the appropriate policy response to a public health emergency. Particularly the relevance of lockdown in an epidemic situation. Let me tell you that a lockdown was justified.


While I didn't see any justification in penalising every citizen in search for the rioters. So the question that have been making me think for the past few months is why framework's didn't lead us to a common policy positions, as had been the case for all these years. Yeah, well, what a fantastic question and but on that, of course, is again, one of my favorite people in the world, such such a delightful gentleman I've learned so much from over the years.


I think I've read books are pretty common in the sense that I also care about means in the end, in the sense that I want the means to not include coercion. And I value content a lot. And I agree with Baroon and indeed the Baganda that, you know, the no, and they were justified by unjust means and therefore we should be careful. Now, in this particular case, I also think that look, and I could be wrong here, this is one of those areas where one is never sure and I'm open to accepting I could be wrong.


And I think and I hope Baroon will also share that sentiment, not of my being wrong, but either of us could be wrong. But that, you know, I think the purpose of the state is to protect the rights of citizens. And that includes, say, protesting the rights of citizens against external invaders, for example, which is why libertarians will say that you have to have the rule of law so that rights are protected within a country.


And you have to have, you know, an army or some kind of defense, which, of course, should be voluntary, which protects you from external invaders. How do we classify a virus? I think that, you know, the point is that when it comes to public health, I think, for example, you know, not wearing a mask in public can create externalities for others. For example, this is why in general and directors have it so wrong, vaccines are important.


You don't take a vaccine just for yourself. You take it to protect others as well. And if enough people refuse to get vaccinated, you are putting everybody else at risk. And we all agree that there is this liberal paradox, right. That to protect everyone's rights, that is to protect everyone's consent, for that matter, you have to infringe on them a little bit. The very existence of the state is an infringement on individual freedom because, you know, a state can only exist based on taxes and therefore there is some amount of coercion.


And we all agree that the state is a necessary evil. The Nightwatchman state, as the old classical liberals put it, is a necessary evil. Now, I think all ideological discussion comes down to how much coercion is justified by the state. That's all it comes down to. I think anyone who denies that every act of government is an act of violence. I wrote a column with that headline once or that the state depends on coercion is deluded. It is obvious that the existence of the state depends on on coercion.


And the only line of argument is about how much coercion is necessary and what justifies coercion. So does us like everything that the government does, whether in terms of spending money or whatever it does, has a cost and that cost is coercive. So that's a question. And therefore, the argument would be about, you know, you can argue, does a statute justify that coercion? Does, you know, keeping a failing airline alive with all the other associated costs that you have of crowding out and all of that, does that justify the coercion?


Do roads and bridges justify the coercion because of the positive extent externalities they have? And I think in this case, there are reasonable arguments to be made at both ends. So similarly, A, don't justify the coercion. And it's a very difficult question. I know you and I did an episode in April where we spoke about the policy tradeoffs involved here. And the point is that no matter what you do, it will seem like the wrong decision because the cost, which is the lives that were lost and what happened to the economy, the costs will be visible.


And the benefits, which is the lives that were saved because of the measures you took, will be invisible. And this is regardless of whether there is a lockdown or no lockdown or whatever. Now, this question becomes extremely complicated, because even if you say that a lockdown is necessary, you then look at the state capacity, even if you argue that our lockdown was necessary at the time, the prime minister called it, you know, you look at state capacity and you think that, OK, they're still going to be enormous suffering because state capacity can't handle what is required.


And added to that, you have political apathy, as in the case of the migrant workers, which was a humanitarian tragedy that played out at scale. And you have all these other things going wrong. And I just think that this is a really difficult kind of question. And he argued about this when we discussed it, rather, I don't think you and I really argued about it. I think both of us agreed that to some extent you had to have a lockdown at that point of a public health could have fallen apart at the same time.


I get Button's point that, you know, it's coming in the way of the voluntary interactions which make us prosperous as a society in the first place. And if it wants to trade with Baroon, who is the government to say that he cannot leave his house and do that, and meanwhile, both of them starve at home. And that is, of course, a problem. And in a sense, I'm not even disagreeing with him. I agree with his concerns and I think he would agree with mine as well.


And where the policy decision should fall, I don't know. I still think that a lockdown was necessary. I think it was a complete. We watched, but I think it was necessary, otherwise our hospitals could have been overwhelmed and we could just have had a disaster that spiraled out of nowhere. Now, the point is the lockdown was badly botched in terms of what happened to migrant workers and the implementation and the fact that I'm not sure that the government managed to use their time wisely to get in the state of readiness that they should have managed.


But all those questions about, I think, is very complicated and nuanced. And I'm completely open to realizing three years later that I was completely wrong. Had there been no lockdown, it would have been better for all of us. But at the time, you make the sort of, you know, it's complicated and messy. But I don't think I would say that the state should not have the right to call something like a lockdown, because if like, for example, look, you know, the coronavirus is what it is.


But imagine if it Leotis, you know, imagine a virus that is both extremely contagious and they kill 60 percent of the people who get it. Is a lockdown justified then? Where do you draw Ebola?


Yeah, Ebola was different because it wasn't so contagious. It was much more fatal. You know, this coronavirus was hyped up as being in that sweet spot where it was both very contagious and sufficiently fatal to be problematic. In that sense, almost a game theory, optimal virus. But Ebola wasn't there. But imagine a virus that is as deadly as Ebola and as contagious as any coronavirus. What do you do then? Is a lockdown justified? If it is not, what are you you know, I don't know how you can justify not being necessary in those circumstances.


And if you think it is justified, then but not justified. Now, where do you draw the line based on what information do you draw the line, especially when we are in the kind of epistemic fog, if I may use jargon again? So I think that it's a deeper, nuanced question, but I think Baroon and I have the same kind of framework and you could see that I am in fact being hypocritical here because I am sort of, you know, turning away from the question of concern that the government did not take the consent of all the people that it forcibly locked down.


But I think we also accept that there is a state that has a certain minimum sort of role to play. And the real argument then is that does something like this fall within that role? You know, I wrote a couple more things to this.


So one, of course, I mean, I like you. I'm completely open to realizing I'm wrong about this a few years from now. I already have a more nuanced view than maybe, you know, early April when we talked about this, which is, of course, you know, some kind of intervention I thought was necessary. But is it necessary in rural Bihar? Is it necessary in Arunachal Pradesh, for instance, where there are no cases, at least at the time of the lockdown, there were no cases.




It's important to, you know, maybe come down really hard on the Mumbai locals where you can think of them as super spreaders. Right.


Is it really that important to come down on rural areas or farm activity?


That is one kind of aspect of the lockdown for which I completely understand why someone like Baroon and even us would just be, you know, think not twice, but many, many times over this kind of an imposition of government over liberty.


But there is another aspect to it. Now, normally, the public choice economist and me takes over and we talk about government failure and the incentives and how government does things badly. Does that mean government should not do it at all? Right. And this is a question for which I honestly don't have a good answer. Now, I think policing is an incredibly important function of government. I think India's under policed. I think the people who pay the most because it's under policed as minorities and, you know, Dalitz and women and things like that, not because we haven't figured out policing and how to do it right.


Does that mean the state shouldn't be in the business of policing? Right. Some libertarian friends we have would say yes, right. Some would say absolutely not. There are very, very minimal areas like, you know, this is probably someone like Odisha. Right. Or someone like Niranjan Raja tax rate. These are critical state functions, nightwatchman state functions. And it's very important to slowly give the chance and allow the state to build capacity in these areas.


Now, I know the lockdown is not the same thing as, you know, policing, nor do I want the government to get very good at imposing lockdowns because then we are in Kashmir and China and that's a horror scenario in itself.


But I do mean the fact that the government doesn't do the lockdown well is normally a good argument in this instance.


I think it weakens just a little bit because usually when we see the government is not good at providing, you know, telephones, you know, let the market solve it, the market actually solved it pretty well.


OK, in this particular instance, I'm not sure how voluntary interactions, because we're not going to market for viruses, but how voluntary interactions or that they necessarily solve it.


Well, right. We know people who have continued have. Big event, super spreader events that are people who continue having weddings, right, political rallies.


Chief Minister did not was planning this huge event just before the lockdown was called for Ramdev me. And they would have probably gone ahead with that, you know, had some kind of phone mandate not come in.


So it's not that private citizens are in a place to act in the same way as they do when they are buying telephones and bread and butter, either relative to, you know, let's say the government running modern bakery or the government running the hotel or Air India.


So there is also that comparison. Did the government botched the lockdown? Absolutely. It wasn't necessary to meet some intervention was necessary. This kind of a horrific lockdown, especially I thought it would go on for three weeks. It went on for like whatever, 70, 80 days. Right.


So there is that element of that tradeoff. And there is also do we need a lockdown? The question is, compared to what? And I honestly do not see private citizens acting that responsibly.


Right. As one would require in this kind of a pandemic, because for everyone, it's important to get married. It's important to have a family event. It is important to have a political rally. Right.


And the and the losses are passed on to someone else or the externalities passed on to someone else.


So I think even within, you know, the libertarian classical liberal framework of thinking, there's obviously a lot of things to consider. But this is how I have started to think about issues of the lockdown. Now, I know it doesn't get me to the exact same point as Baroon, and I keep wondering why, because like you, I, I hugely admire him. And maybe, you know, over a period of time, we all kind of figure out where we are on this.


But, you know, epistemic fog is real.


I thought the dead bodies would just be piling up in India based on my experience with the health care system in Italy when I lived there.


And, you know, then when they had, like, you know, this kind of crazy fatality rate in Italy, I was like, if this is happening in Italy, what will happen in India? But at that time when I was imagining those horrifying things, we didn't know that it disproportionately affects all the people or that younger people are not, you know, affected quite the same.


And the fatality rates are much lower. You know, we just didn't have this this information in March, early April, or at least, you know, the really good studies from the cruise ship and things like that hadn't come out yet.


So I think the epistemic fog lifting also genuinely helps our understanding of he only seven percent or six point five percent of Indians are above 65 years of age. So, you know, maybe this wasn't that necessary. Also, Indians don't overwhelmingly, you know, put their elderly in old age homes or nursing homes, which means you don't have this kind of huge impact where one event and, you know, you suddenly have lots and lots of people dead in a particular area or a particular county.


So, you know, those things have helped us understand why India wasn't as badly affected. But at the time, I still believe some intervention was necessary. Should it have been all India, should it have been as aggressive as it was? Should it have, you know, been extended three times over those things? I would agree with Bernburg was quite unnecessary.


I mean, also a couple of things. I mean, one is a fairly trivial point almost, that people I have noticed or worryingly often come up with responses to policy based on where it is coming from. Who is a politician in charge, for example. It's almost interesting to see here that we had the right wing government of Modi calling a lockdown in India and a right wing government of Trump opposing a lockdown in the U.S. So I don't like to use words like right wing and left wing because I don't think those frameworks are correct.


But regardless and similarly, the opposition breaks breaks out along those lines. There are those who oppose Modi here will carry the lockdown was too strict. And those who oppose Trump there will say that we need a stricter lockdown and more of a lockdown and all of that. But I'm not saying that's why, but opposed it at all. I mean, he's he, of course, opposes Modi, but this is perfectly opposing. The lockdown is very cogent, according to his framework.


So I respect that. But the deeper point I want to make is a point that I think every libertarian will agree with. And again, I don't really like to use these sort of tribal classifications, but I think anyone who uses these to describe themselves will agree with anyway, which is that what went wrong in India.


The botched lockdown also speaks to a fundamental structural problem. And I'm not even referring to the flailing state. And I wrote a column about how India has great disasters, as has shown is even worse in the way this is a flailing state which, you know, causes far more suffering than the White House cabinet has, but rather that a structure of governance has to top down. And if it was far more local, the responses would have been better, like, as you just said, that the policy that you carry out in Mumbai.


Is not something that really fits in Arunachal Pradesh or rural Bihar or whatever. So if governance is really local and responsive to what the actual needs on the ground of local citizens are, then better decisions can be taken that way at a local level. Now, there will be places where people get it wrong, but there will also be places where people get it right. And the point is a bad decision will not scale in the way that it can when there is just one guy in Delhi who is making a bad decision and then it just percolates down.


So I would have I would have preferred that. And, you know, and those sort of I just written a paper on this with Indonesian Abhishek Shotgunned.


So I will send this paper to you talking about the reason we had such a terrible lockdown, imposing these horrible, you know, unintended consequences and costs on the poor is because India's federalism is too centripetal, which has made our governance structure very top heavy and very dysfunctional. So I'll send this report to you.


I'm already intimidated. Centripetal. Let's let's go. I'm sorry. There is no easy word to describe that you can admonish me again or school the future.


But it's it's hard to come up with another word for centripetal right. Because we're supposed to be federal. We're not centralized. Right. But we have a bias towards the center. We will gravitate towards the center. So if you have a better word for that, you should tell me we can change the title of our people. We still have time.


Let's let's move on to the next question. I don't want to change the title of your paper.


Yes. So the next question, I mean, these are just you know, it just so happens that some very brilliant women have asked a lot of policy questions and, you know, all great economic thinkers. So I'm going to start with one of our favorite books in the last few years, which is Bujumbura and her book The Lost Decade.


She's, I think, one of the best, you know, economics covering journals that we have in in India. And the book was really an eye opener for me, again, because as a as a public choice person, we always think less about a particular individual or their role and think always in terms of incentives and institutions and structures.


But a book Timilty I mean, while illuminating that her book also illuminates the importance of good leadership, the importance of accidents, the importance of personalities and histories of people getting together and not getting along and things like that.


So it was, again, one of my favorite episodes that that you have done.


And I don't know, was this before hundred or after hundred?


Well, after hundred. OK, well, after 100. So definitely we haven't discussed this before. And so I'm going to play Pooja Marus question for you. How should they and many congratulations on the two hundred episode milestone, the hundreds more. So the question for me, for me is this What I would like to know is if you feel optimistic, cautiously optimistic or like me, pessimistic about the future. I feel indef me to hash out the window of opportunity to when a lot of good things came together for it.


First, a prime minister who a good economist and understands rather well how the system functions and how the system does this change then a prime minister who enjoys tremendous popular support. Favorable demographics for the large young population and a global openness for trade, etc., a corporate sector that is chasing excellence for a change. This window and its many positives are now closing many negatives, among them increasing cussedness and politics, policy and in general dominate the scene now. So what is the economic and socio economic future for India look like to you?


Should we still hold on to our dreams of a vastly improved future or should we breathe for a prolonged period of difficulties of all sorts? And to her question, almost when we said that there was a lovely episode, by the way, and the book is really an eye opener into what goes on behind the scenes in government and politics and all of that, and a very nuanced book which shows you that it's wrong to blame one party or the other, one person or the other, that everyone's responding to incentives.


And this is how kind of things work out. And budgets, of course, are very nuanced thinker. And you didn't mention that she has this podcast, which will link from the show notes, of course. Yeah.


You've cracked open the space right now. All your guests have have had spinoff series of their own.


I'm not going to take any credit for it at all. And just what I think you should. I think you should. There is you've cultivated an audience for it. So that's pretty, pretty special. But I'll let you answer Pooja's question first.


Yeah. So, yeah, this is almost like the hope and despair question. I so many of my guests and and I think I've answered somewhere or the other, but it's it's so yeah.


It's tough. I mean, you know, one, I think that it's going to get worse before it gets better if it gets better. So it's going to get worse before it gets better. Is actually a hopeful statement, not a despairing one that, you know, our discourse is very polluted. And what has happened is that we are inevitably getting more and more polarized because the worse angels of our nature, as it were, the worst demons of our nature, are given scale by social media and technology.


And that, you know, that makes me feel fairly sad sometimes about the way things are going. And I don't know what one can really do. You know, politics has become politics has always been not about governance, but about narrative and all narratives that are out there or in some way reductive and toxic to different levels. So what you kind of do about that, and that's what I've always said has given me hope, is that I and I think, you know, while I despair of what is happening in the larger, broader scheme with abstract ideas rule, what I do take hope from is the small, concrete ways in which our lives are improved, especially with technology like I think where politics has failed.


Liberalism technology has succeeded by empowering individuals in many different ways, by empowering them, by choice, by empowering them with access to information and so on and so forth. And, you know, maybe there is hope there. I mean, anyone who is listening to this is listening to this because of technology that didn't exist 10 years ago. And you could have bought Coston years ago. But the precise confluence of technologies that has brought my voice to yours right now didn't really exist or not, nor did the circumstances.


And so and I think the future is largely a sea of unknown unknowns. So, you know, we can't tell in what ways good things will happen or even bad things will happen and there will be domains in which things will get worse and the arc of history will bend towards injustice, as it were, or it'll seem like that in the short term. But, you know, I have hope that in the long run it will sort of and maybe I'm being delusional.


So here is again, this is something somewhere where I could realize that I should have been more pessimistic in the future. Who knows? You know, for me, I try these days. I try not to think about what's happening in the broader political space or in the economic space, because it is it makes me angry and frustrated and there's nothing I can do about it. So I want to keep exploring ideas and keep, you know, keep keep the discourse going about all of these things.


But there's nothing I can do about it. So at a personal level, my personal philosophy really comes down to cherishing small joys like the good conversations I get to have or just, you know, the stories I heard earlier today and which makes it sound very trivial. But, you know, I wish I had good Jordis today.


Yeah, there you go. I have just a the all I have. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah.


So I think, you know, so you, you do what you can at an individual level, both for yourself, for your own mental enrichment and all of that and whatever. You can throw the ball of ideas out there, you throw it. You know, the point is, you don't, you don't. I mean, I think of Bastia again, you know, no chance of success. But he writes all those great books like the law and all those essays like that, which is seen in that which is not seen.


So you just got to do what you gotta do. The future is unknown unknowns. You increase the probability of good outcomes if you can continue doing good things now without hoping for, you know, good outcomes later. So, you know, you just increase the probability. You add your voice to the mix, you kind of do what you can. But you also I think I think all of us also need to sort of look look after ourselves as well.


No, and you don't own this aspect.


I feel like also there are things we are optimistic about in the one thing I'm optimistic about the.


All I get is I think most people are fundamentally good, decent people, right? And in that I have a very large amount of hope for the future of India.


Right. I know everyone thinks everyone hates everyone. And that is all of this right wing anger and left wing anger. And people think Twitter is what the real world looks like. The real world, in my sense.


I mean, I know India is remarkably violent and remarkably difficult and all of those things, you know, Koster's racist, misogynistic, but it's also full of remarkable kindness, you know, in the face of extreme shortages and and, you know, some really difficult circumstances for a lot of people.


And the more I travel in India, the more I see that kind of, you know, individual level kindness. That gives me a lot of hope. The other thing that gives me a lot of hope is I also do imagine ventures. Right, which is one of the Makita Center platforms with which we support moonshot ideas and just reading the applications from really young people, their ambition, you know, their imagination, their creativity.


I anytime I work on emergent ventures, applications on a given day, you know, the next few hours are very bright and optimistic for that particular reason. So I'm also hugely optimistic of of the younger people in India. I want to now move on to the other favourite resident economists that we have, and that is Rajeshwari Sengupta.




I mean, she is just such a great thinker.


Again, you know, our field of specialization are different. So any time I read a column or a paper by Rajeshwari immediately, it's got like, you know, my my brain just expands and opens up a little bit more. So I really value her as an academic. But also, as you know, a guest on your podcast as a fellow guest, because we we did one episode together, so I had the pleasure of meeting her. And she also has one of these big thing questions for you.