Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Return of Otaku san: WataMote

After a gap of several unremarkable months, Nanga Fakir returned to the world of anime-watching and boy was it a grand homecoming of sorts!

WataMote (or the longer, original title: No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys' Fault I’m Not Popular!) is a terrific, brilliant cringe-comedy that manages to both tickle and unsettle at the same time - the mark of genuine greatness.

Imagine a gender-swapped Osamu Dazai as he would've been as a middle/high school otaku in modern Tokyo. Our heroine, Tomoko Kuroki is a diffident, nondescript loner whose crippling social anxieties make it impossible for her to communicate with fellow classmates - so much so that she hasn't spoken to, much less made friends with, any of her classmates in school. Her models of how to interact with humans come from her vast, formidable knowledge of anime and manga; and her heavy experience with otome games (dating simulations). However, all her attempts at becoming popular (or more accurately, becoming noticed) in school are thwarted by her inability to channel outwards, her inner, surprisingly loquacious monologue. Episode after episode, we see her try and fail - in a way that is funny and yet somewhat dark. The series is not just good - it's too good - it zeroes in on some very uncomfortable truths and rekindles memories best forgotten.

Which brings Nanga Fakir to say a few words about why the series hits home - it's about Ghongha Basant - his childhood, adolescence, youth (or lack thereof). 

Those of you who know NF, know also that his best friend is Ghongha Basant and his misadventures with humans in general, and women in particular, sometimes find their barely fictionalized tellings in NF's blogposts. Watching Tomoko's travails released, during a marathon empathy session, demons better off sealed - much like the dreaded Saamri in Ramsay brothers' low budget horror films of the '80s (cf. Purana Mandir and Saamri). Much like Tomoko, Ghongha's childhood was sad and lonely, crippled as he's always been by anxiety, self doubt and debilitating loneliness. The intense peer pressure of being successful and popular didn't help matters much either. Much like Tomoko, reality continued to interrupt GB's life. Much like Tomoko's, GB's attempts at connecting with real, flesh-and-blood humans failed miserably, as (he would icily note one day) they didn't seem to conform to Dostoyevskian archetypes, nor shared their characteristic existential ennui and general weltschmerz. 

GB's stint in college would prove just as isolationary. For Ghongha Basant, Tomoko chan's attempts at being noticed by the opposite sex brought back painful, sad memories of women who were unapproachable and loneliness that was complete; and while Tomoko, being a modern day otaku, could express her fantasies in a wide variety of otome games, NF would rather not speculate as to the particular nature of the otome games Ghongha Basant indulged in. Being the classic country bumpkin from the mofussil, he thought he could blend in with his elite classmates in college by pretending to read Kafka, listening to Pink Floyd or by watching Tarantino (imagine his shock when he was made known that ACDC had nothing to do with Electrical Engineering); when his heart, in fact, beat fast only for the uncool Bollywood - that too, of an era bygone - landlocked in times far more innocent, simple and artless. To this day, NF's heart goes out to GB, who struggles still, to navigate the vast expanse of emptiness that lays ahead of him - much like Tomoko's interminable-yet-transient summer vacation - captured so exquisitely in WataMote. 

That sad misfit - that clueless loner - that Ghongha Basant! Tomoko Kuroki is but his fraternal twin.

And yes, everyone else who's seen it is correct - Tomoko's voice actress is beyond brilliant - in fact, so impressive was her performance that NF was compelled to notice (before this series, NF had never paid attention to this dimension in animes). Also, the visual stylization was extremely impressive as well - so much so that sometimes NF was reminded of Sayonara... - that benchmark for the simple-yet-stylish visual aesthetics in anime production.

If the prospect of unleashing the demons of a battered, unhappy childhood don't bother you so much - go ahead and watch!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A Radical Notion: Part One

It is not widely known even among those who know/knew NF that before embarking upon a life of a vagabond professional fraudster (a more rarefied, technical synonym being 'researcher'), he toyed playfully with the idea of taking the test for the Asian College of Journalism at Chennai. The idea seemed appealing precisely because it was so outlandish and gave NF - the eternal poser - a great talking point to impress his fellow, soon-to-graduate wingies; who would otherwise be too stoned to pay any attention to his incessant, narcissistic grandstanding. I hazard to guess however, that NF wasn't serious about this venture - in much the same way as SatyaVrat was never serious about bringing to fruition, his often discussed, semi-public declarations of committing suicide - and while NF will want you to believe it was a higher calling, in particular, an intense fascination for Mathematics and Philosophy that pulled him into a life of petty crime, I have a nagging suspicion it was in fact the sheer horror of having to be stranded in Chennai for ten whole months that scuttled the fancy.

While NF's ambitions did not diminish as the years lumbered lazily past, his cinephilia, lit-crit and rock-crit pretensions OD'd rather abruptly. These days NF craves nothing more than being fed a schlocky, syrupy diet of B Hindi films.

Which brings us to that radical idea that shook NF's very being to the core.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

ऑस्मॉसिस (Osmosis)

कुल खाली है
सब खाल ही है
महज़ हवा भरी है इस काया के खोखल में

हवा फैलती बाहर, हवा तैरती भीतर
और दो प्रेमियों के बीच
कबाब की हड्डी सी स्थित
मुई चमड़ी मेरी

कटे फटे छेदों से जब
बँधुई हवा रिसती जाती है
रूह बिचारी को
तब साँस आती है

Monday, May 05, 2014


(verb.) Shedding toxic assets.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Recent Acquisitions

  1. American Pastoral (Philip Roth)
  2. Autobiography of a Corpse (Sigizmund Krzhyzhanovsky)
  3. The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides)
It wasn't planned but yet again, I found myself inside a bookstore and gave in to the by now quite alarmingly regular compulsive disorderly impulse to get some. 

And within 24 hours of having acquired it, I am pleased to say that I finished The Marriage Plot (having come with high recommendations from the singular (no pun intended) Michael and Dzejla book club). The first 150 or so pages are among the funniest, most intelligent, warmest and most exquisitely plotted I've ever read in my entire reading career. Reading it proved so riveting that I surrendered with pleasure, called in sick the next day (today) and completed the entire 400 page story over the course of a lazy afternoon-evening-night marathon reading session. I'd almost forgotten the guilty, direct, immediate pleasure I still derive from reading a somewhat old fashioned novel - the one with a plot involving real humans with real stories as opposed to big-idea-books-masquerading-as-novels. (I don't remember underlining, criss-crossing, commenting so much on the margins as I've done in the first one third of the book.) Add to the above, the icing on the cake - one of the three main characters is so DFW that one would be blind to miss it - and the spell is complete. Although the book does sag from around the mid half until almost to the end, the first third is so brilliantly observed, breathtakingly beautiful, so effortlessly refreshing in its genuine humor that I don't feel like griping at all.

Bravo Jeffrey! You've restored a reader back to vigor!

Friday, April 18, 2014

When an Unstoppable Force Meets an Immovable Object

The funniest 4 minutes you will experience in this life: an absolute must-see for fellow Gunda fans - I give you... the Gunda Hobbit. I laughed so hard that tears gushed forth from my eyes, ears, nose and miscellaneous other orifices.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

As Brittle as Heart

His earliest attempts at feigning cool and getting noticed involved rote memorizations of $e$ to the fifteenth decimal place ($\pi$ was so last generational), with thrown in for good measure, would be an exaggerated affectation of nonchalance at having achieved such a superhuman feat of mental calisthenics, which nonchalance he'd then brandish at fellow toddlers' mouths agape. Little did he know that that afternoon at the playschool, he'd experience his first big heartbreak, its gossamer fissures' first reticulate tentacles deepening with every subsequent breakage, finally culminating in his premature heart failure that would lead the ever lugubrious coroner to remark "He died of a broken heart".

Monday, April 07, 2014

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Stray Thought

If true beauty could kill, Wong Kar-wai would be the biggest mass murderer in human history.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

On Reading Neuromancer Again

The world could have ended
Right before my birth
And nothing would be lost.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Like Fish in a Bowl: On Žižekian Ideology

You may agree, disagree or more often than not, just plain not understand Žižek and his extensive, frequently digressive commentary on the omnipresent, lurking-on-the-sidelines-but-not-quite-visible-yet-silenty-influencing/manipulating-everything-all-around nature of "ideology"; but it's hard to not find him immensely entertaining. His hyperactivish, super-heavy-East-European-accent-laden, verbally incontinent commentary makes for mostly incomprehensible but supremely engaging listening. Add to that his frequent examples/instantiations, drawn in a large part from popular and arthouse films, from Hitchcock and Wachowski Brothers' to Tarkovsky and Frankenheimer's; and the spell is complete - his filmic, discursive and immensely entertaining faux-documentaries The Pervert's Guide to Cinema and The Pervert's Guide to Ideology being wonderful examples.

However, if one tries to really understand what he's trying to get at, by means of an all pervading "ideology" as the medium in which everything happens (and we're pretty much like the fish for whom "What is water?" is a meaningless question) by means of some of the examples that do hit home, one is struck by their obviousness. (This is a common criticism of Continental philosphers - they're almost always incomprehensible but on the rare occasion when they're not, they say obvious and trivial things: see this critique in a Noam Chomsky interview for example.)

For example as far as I can guess, Žižek's concept of ideology and its supreme reign in human society is indistinguishable from that of the importance of plausible deniability, maintenance of public appearances, noble lies and in general, of the rather basic fact that common knowledge can radically disrupt the routine behavior of a group of people. Not only are these old ideas (Aumann's seminal paper "Agreeing to Disagree" on Common Knowledge and its implications for Game Theory in particular, was written in '76 and was a complete set-theoretic formulation/mathematicization of this problem) but on their ontological and epistemological characterization and by extension, their application to understanding behavioral aspects of human societies; more has been said, and much more elegantly; by greater minds (in my opinion) than Žižek's.

However, one thing that you can't deny Žižek is how he's taken his brand of obscure (and sometimes obscurantist (!) (though it must be said, he can be very clear, cogent and reasonable, as can be seen here with Charlie Rose: Most Dangerous Philosopher)) philosophy to the level of sublime (no pun intended) entertainment; and for this, he deserves our plaudits.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Pretty Good Year: Reading List, Jan 2013 - Jan 2014

  1. आषाढ़ का एक दिन (मोहन राकेश) (tr. A Day in the Month of Aashadh (Mohan Rakesh))
  2. 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)
  3.  लहरों के राजहंस (मोहन राकेश) (tr. Waves' Royal Swans (Mohan Rakesh))
  4.  On Beauty (Zadie Smith)
  5. टाटा प्रोफेसर (मनोहर श्याम जोशी) (tr. Ta-ta Professor (Manohar  Shyam Joshi))
  6. चीड़ों पर चांदनी (निर्मल वर्मा) (पुनः) (tr. Moonlight on Pines (Nirmal Verma) (reread))
  7. Galactic North (Alastair Reynolds)
  8. हरिया हरकुलिस की हैरानी (मनोहर श्याम जोशी) (tr. Hariya Hercules's Bewilderment (Manohar Shyam Joshi))
  9. पैर तले की ज़मीन (मोहन राकेश) (tr. Ground Beneath the Feet (Mohan Rakesh))
  10. बिस्रामपुर का संत (श्रीलाल शुक्ल) (tr. The Saint of Bisrampur (Shrilal Shukla))
  11. प्रतिनिधि व्यंग्य (हरिशंकर परसाई) (tr. Representative Satire (Harishankar Parsai))
  12. हर बारिश में (निर्मल वर्मा) (पुनः) (tr. In Every Rainfall (Nirmal Verma) (reread)) 
  13. Dongri to Dubai (S Hussain Zaidi)
  14. The Master of Petersburg (J M Coetzee)
  15. Tenth of December (George Saunders) 
  16. Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett) 
  17. Gravity's Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon) 
  18. Gulag Archipelago Vol 1 (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) 
  19. प्रतिनिधि कवितायेँ (केदारनाथ सिंह) (tr. Representative Poems (Kedarnath Singh))
  20. Gulag Archipelago Vol 2 (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)  
  21. Pattern Recognition (William Gibson) 
  22. Gulag Archipelago Vol 3 (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)  
  23. रसीदी टिकट (अमृता प्रीतम) (tr. Return Ticket (Amrita Pritam)) 
  24. इन दिनों (कुंवर नारायण) (tr. These Days (Kunwar Narayan)) 
  25. Spook Country (William Gibson) 
  26. Slow Learner (Thomas Pynchon) 
  27. Red Plenty (Francis Spufford) 
  28. नेताजी कहिन (मनोहर श्याम जोशी ) (tr. Netaji Sayeth (Manohar Shyam Joshi)) 
  29. Consider Phlebas (Iain M Banks) 
  30. मोहन दास (उदय प्रकाश) (tr. Mohan Das (Uday Prakash)) 
  31. The Player of Games (Iain M Banks) 
  32. त्रिवेणी (गुलज़ार) (tr. Triveni (Gulzar)) 
  33. यार जुलाहे (गुलज़ार) (tr. Weaver Pal (Gulzar)) 
  34. The Use of Weapons (Iain M Banks) 
  35. Zero History (William Gibson) 
  36. Excession (Iain M Banks) 
  37. खामोश! अदालत जारी है (विजय तेंदुलकर) (tr. Silence! Court is in Session (Vijay Tendulkar)) 
  38. The Golden Compass (Phillip Pullman) 
  39. The Subtle Knife (Philip Pullman) 
  40. The Amber Spyglass (Philip Pullman)
  41. वे दिन (निर्मल वर्मा) (पुनः) (tr. Those Days (Nirmal Verma) (reread))  
  42. घासीराम कोतवाल (विजय तेंदुलकर) (tr. Ghasiram Constable (Vijay Tendulkar)) 
  43. India After Gandhi (Ramchandra Guha) 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

सुपरमैन...मालेगाँव का मैं सुपरमैन

Finally watched Supermen of Malegaon - a beautiful, brave, heartwarming documentary. Cannot recommend it enough.

Here's the link to the documentary on Youtube:



Here's an eight minute highlight of the original film, Superman of Malegaon:

From the Malegaon production house, here are the trailers of Koi Mil Gaya Malegaon,  Malegaon ka Ghajini and Dhoom Malegaon - those with fond remembrances of Ramgadh Ke Sholay will cheer at the low-budget-yet-big-hearted spoof production that folks from Malegaon are undertaking. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Impressionist

I have been re-reading Ve Din (tr. Those Days, English translation of novel: Days of Longing) and marveling at how timeless and precious Nirmal Verma's prose seems to be, with its haunting lyricism; atmospheric, ambient, low level fragrance of loneliness that permeates each page; and its lack of a conventional plot structure that augments the novel's fragmented narrative scope.

And so when I stumbled upon this gem of an interview by Karan Thapar, I couldn't but share. In it, the 'poet of loneliness' as Karan Thapar describes him, talks about the meaning of writing, the vacuous traps of happiness, the impossibility of true communication with fellow humans, the macabre inception of his writing career marked by his friend's death; and scenes from his childhood in colonial Shimla where he marveled at the beauty of the white legged British mems and the memory's bizarreness when juxtaposed with the destitution of the rickshaw-wallahs whose job was to transport those fragile beauties.

A great man, a deep thinker and in my opinion, the most beautiful writer I have ever read.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

(Another) Resolution With Capital R

Read more 
Read better
Write more 
Write better
Try more 
Try better
Fail more 
Fail better

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

आरम्भ है प्रचण्ड...

The fabulous Caravan magazine continues to impress. Here's Akshay Manwani's wonderful, in-depth portrait of Piyush Mishra, a staggering talent whose worth Hindi cinema has still not managed to appreciate. Read in full: An Artist's Demons.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Bits of Money

A somewhat long, detailed but ultimately very well written, non-technical, readable introduction to the question "What the hell is Bitcoin?". Highly recommended for those who care about such arcana. Read it here: "How the Bitcoin protocol actually works".

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

For Fellow Mathurbators

  1. Courtesy Wired, exciting new developments on the Twin Prime Conjecture front. The classic tale of the loner mathematician, Yitang Zhang, who despite a long history of being ignored and savagely underemployed (he worked in a Subway sandwich shop for a while) makes astonishing advances by putting a finite bound on the separation of successive primes, thereby bringing down the gap between successive primes from infinity to 70 million! This puts the ball rolling and teams of number theorists worldwide (led by the obscenely brilliant Terence Tao) begin a race to bring the gap down. Within months the gap has been shortened significantly and mathematicians are rejoicing until another outsider, a non-participant of the group project (whose progress is being chronicled here in Terence Tao's blog's Polymath project) - a postdoc from U Montreal, James Maynard - brings the gap down to a stunning 600! This very exciting, fast-paced, wonderful math reporting reads like a thriller and offers plenty of commentary on the two schools of doing math - "the lone wolves" as exemplified by those like Yitang Zhang and James Maynard (and also by Grigori Perelman and Shinichi Mochizuki); contrasted with the "workman's way" exhibited by those like the more mainstream genius Terence Tao. Heady, fabulous stuff! Read the full story here: Sudden Progress on Prime Number Problem Has Mathematicians Buzzing.
  2. From the Scientific American, dispute over two possible alternative extensions of axiomatic set theory (the ZFC: Zermelo Fraenkel Set Theory with the Axiom of Choice). Set theorists are fighting over which appendages are more appropriate - Forcing Axioms - that will disprove the Continuum Hypothesis (the hypothesis that there is no infinity "between" that of the natural numbers and that of the real numbers); and the Inner-Model Axiom - that will validate it. Critics of the Inner-Model axiom posit that it restricts the kind of multifarious infinities that may otherwise exist and that holding on to the Continuum Hypothesis may be too high a price to pay for future mathematical growth. Their opponents claim that Forcing Axioms are ugly, inelegant and workmanlike. Which one will survive? And what would it mean for tomorrow's Mathematics?  The future is pregnant with exciting possibilities! An excellent read: Dispute Over Infinity Divides Mathematicians.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Indian Onion

Millions of Indian engineering students well up, shed quiet tears and switch their allegiance to Salman Khan after hearing his claim of being a fellow virgin. (Link.)