Tuesday, November 18, 2014

God is Dead

Grothendieck died on Nov 13th - five full days ago - and no sign of the apocalypse just yet!

Here is his obituary in The Telegraph. Here is another fine tribute by Steven Landsburg, an economist-mathematician at U Rochester.

NF doesn't feel qualified enough to add his two cents except to state the obvious: that Grothendieck was a stunning, staggering genius - easily among the greatest of mathematicians humanity has ever produced - our Newton, our Gauss of the twentieth century.

Here is Grothendieck's own assessment of his contributions (courtesy, Steven Landsburg and Roy Lisker):
Most mathematicians take refuge within a specific conceptual framework, in a “Universe” which seemingly has been fixed for all time – basically the one they encountered “ready-made” at the time when they did their studies. They may be compared to the heirs of a beautiful and capacious mansion in which all the installations and interior decorating have already been done, with its living-rooms , its kitchens, its studios, its cookery and cutlery, with everything in short, one needs to make or cook whatever one wishes. How this mansion has been constructed, laboriously over generations, and how and why this or that tool has been invented (as opposed to others which were not), why the rooms are disposed in just this fashion and not another – these are the kinds of questions which the heirs don’t dream of asking . It’s their “Universe”, it’s been given once and for all! It impresses one by virtue of its greatness, (even though one rarely makes the tour of all the rooms) yet at the same time by its familiarity, and, above all, with its immutability.
When they concern themselves with it at all, it is only to maintain or perhaps embellish their inheritance: strengthen the rickety legs of a piece of furniture, fix up the appearance of a facade, replace the parts of some instrument, even, for the more enterprising, construct, in one of its workshops, a brand new piece of furniture. Putting their heart into it, they may fabricate a beautiful object, which will serve to embellish the house still further.
Much more infrequently, one of them will dream of effecting some modification of some of the tools themselves, even, according to the demand, to the extent of making a new one. Once this is done, it is not unusual for them make all sorts of apologies, like a pious genuflection to traditional family values, which they appear to have affronted by some far-fetched innovation.
The windows and blinds are all closed in most of the rooms of this mansion, no doubt from fear of being engulfed by winds blowing from no-one knows where. And, when the beautiful new furnishings, one after another with no regard for their provenance, begin to encumber and crowd out the space of their rooms even to the extent of pouring into the corridors, not one of these heirs wish to consider the possibility that their cozy, comforting universe may be cracking at the seams. Rather than facing the matter squarely, each in his own way tries to find some way of accommodating himself, one squeezing himself in between a Louis XV chest of drawers and a rattan rocking chair, another between a moldy grotesque statue and an Egyptian sarcophagus, yet another who, driven to desperation climbs, as best he can, a huge heterogeneous collapsing pile of chairs and benches!
The little picture I’ve just sketched is not restricted to the world of the mathematicians. It can serve to illustrate certain inveterate and timeless situations to be found in every milieu and every sphere of human activity, and (as far as I know) in every society and every period of human history. I made reference to it before , and I am the last to exempt myself: quite to the contrary, as this testament well demonstrates. However I maintain that, in the relatively restricted domain of intellectual creativity, I’ve not been affected by this conditioning process, which could be considered a kind of ‘cultural blindness’ – an incapacity to see (or move outside) the “Universe” determined by the surrounding culture.
I consider myself to be in the distinguished line of mathematicians whose spontaneous and joyful vocation it has been to be ceaseless building new mansions. 
We are the sort who, along the way, can’t be prevented from fashioning, as needed, all the tools, cutlery, furnishings and instruments used in building the new mansion, right from the foundations up to the rooftops, leaving enough room for installing future kitchens and future workshops, and whatever is needed to make it habitable and comfortable. However once everything has been set in place, down to the gutters and the footstools, we aren’t the kind of worker who will hang around, although every stone and every rafter carries the stamp of the hand that conceived it and put it in its place.
The rightful place of such a worker is not in a ready-made universe, however accommodating it may be, whether one that he’s built with his own hands, or by those of his predecessors. New tasks forever call him to new scaffoldings, driven as he is by a need that he is perhaps alone to fully respond to. He belongs out in the open. He is the companion of the winds and isn’t afraid of being entirely alone in his task, for months or even years or, if it should be necessary, his whole life, if no-one arrives to relieve him of his burden. He, like the rest of the world, hasn’t more than two hands – yet two hands which, at every moment, know what they’re doing, which do not shrink from the most arduous tasks, nor despise the most delicate, and are never resistant to learning to perform the innumerable list of things they may be called upon to do. Two hands, it isn’t much, considering how the world is infinite. Yet, all the same, two hands, they are a lot….
Salutations!  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

(फुटलौंग) मंत्र कविता

ॐ जब-जब जब वे 
ॐ तब-तब तब वे 
जब जब वे
तब तब वे
ॐ सबवे... ॐ सबवे... ॐ सबवे 


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Shakespeare Wallah


That Haider (which NF had the privilege of watching on Oct 3rd) is the weakest among all the films comprising VB's Shakespearean trilogy is a testimonial not to Haider's failing as a work of art but more as a statement about how brilliant, stunning and not-so-much-as-paradigm-shifting-but-paradigm-fuckin'-bulldozing Maqbool and Omkara were. Haider's soundtrack is excellent, the acting, simply phenomenal (Tabu might've just staked her claim as among the all-time greats that Hindi cinema has ever produced; curiously enough, the great Shakti Kapoor's little daughter also puts in a remarkably self-assured performance); and the technically accomplished, slick cinematography can't fail to mesmerize. Overall, Haider proves to be an exquisite adaptation and shows a true master at the height of his creative powers. 

NF is reminded of Dostoyevsky's review of Anna Karenina in which for pages upon pages Dostoyevsky gushed over the merits of the novel and rapturously praised Tolstoy for his great gifts - only to begin an even longer new thread, sharply critical of the novel and of its numerous failings. In his characteristic immodesty, having praised enough, NF now begins to subject Haider to the same treatment; and so some somewhat scattered notes and observations, along with very minor spoilers follow:

  1. Why does Haider not pack the punch that Maqbool and Omkara did? Is it because Kashmir is not such a familiar tromping ground for VB (except for the minor Irfan Khan segment in Saat Khoon Maaf) as Bombay or UP? While considerable efforts have been spent in trying to preserve local Kashmiri accents, culture and idiosyncrasies, one wonders if this well-researched but ultimately foreign-for-VB-domain is the culprit for a certain choppiness that has crept into the adaptation.

  2. The comedy in the film seems forced. It is not integral to the structure, nor does it add to any of the aspects that the film focuses on. It seems an afterthought - much like the mandatory inclusion of a comic actor and some goofy-ass slapstick scenes in Ramsay Bros. horror films - more as an instrument of bleakness alleviation than as a narrative propeller. (The chutzpah/AFSPA connection was funny though!)

  3. While tackling difficult subjects implicating the Indian government in its repressive treatment of its own citizens and the ensuing militancy is not unprecedented in mainstream Hindi films (cf. Mani Ratnam in Roja and Dil Se... and Santosh Sivan in The Terrorist among others), Haider is unparalleled in its unflinching and unsparing depiction of the levels of violence and intimidation that Indian army unleashed in order to quell the rebellion in Kashmir. This is courageous and heartening for a mainstream Hindi release! We can all scoff together now at such half-hearted attempts to Bollywoodize terrorism as in Mission Kashmir and in Fiza (both curiously starring Hrithik Roshan whose Bang Bang is stealing away viewers from Haider! Boo!).

  4. Personally, NF appreciates Shakespeare much more now due to VB's work than he did in his mandatory school readings. In a sense, however, as was pointed out by NF's English teacher back during the Jurassic Age, Shakespeare does appear to have some uniquely Bollywood characteristics that are ubiquitous in his oeuvre (to be expounded upon later) but maybe that's just medieval theater.

  5. Was it Tabu's incredibly awesome acting or was VB nodding to various feminist readings of the play in which Hamlet's mother and Ophelia assume more importance that the titular hero? One can only guess.

  6. Also very heartening to see are recent developments in Hindi cinema in which modern Indian Muslim life is shown without either scorn or patronage. Films of such character have been very few and mainstream depiction of Muslims has been perfunctory - much like the token black character in Hollywood films. A few older films like Garam Hawa, Mammo etc. had tried to rectify this but they were the artsy type and not-so-mainstream. However, recent films like Iqbal, Well Done Abba, Maqbool, Ishaqzade, Gangs of Wasseypur and of course Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya have done yeoman service to rehabilitate the image of ordinary Indian Muslim citizens as being...well, ordinary humans (funny it took so much time and effort!); and VB, his protege Abhishek Chaubey and unsurprisingly Shyam-fuckin'-Benegal are at the forefront. Haider is another installment in this series. Bravo!

  7. Please correct if NF is wrong but Salman Khan was most definitely not referred to as 'bhai' in '95. That happened way after he buffed up in Veergati for the first time.

  8. NF wanted to rush to write a long review of the film, having noticed details that other reviewers didn't catch on to; but the great Jabberwock beat him again by stealing his show, for example, by noticing the rich symbolism behind Irfan Khan's name 'Roohdar' - an obvious stand-in for the soul of the dead King who exhorts Hamlet to extract revenge. (In one scene, Irfan Khan makes it explicit by claiming to the Doctor (King) that while the doctor, mere mortal flesh, will soon die, he himself won't since he is the soul of the doctor.) I quote from his as always, excellent review, which I exhort you to read in full:
"Scenes such as the gravediggers’ goofy song “So Jao” are reminders of how similar Shakespeare’s work is to a certain type of Hindi film: the episodic structures with constant shifting of moods and tones, the melodrama and the cheerful bawdiness, the use of clowns as 'sutradhaars' who get to say unexpectedly profound things. Watching the “Ek aur Bismil” sequence where Haider confronts his uncle during the course of a celebratory song, even someone who knows his Hamlet might forget "the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king" and instead recall “Ek Haseena Thi” in Karz – but of course Shakeapeare’s “lowbrow” dramatic flair has influenced popular Hindi cinema for decades, and that Karz song is part of the tradition.


This is also one reason why Haider’s wildly over-the-top Rosencrantz and Guildenstern worked for me. Turning these two spy-buffoons into Salman Khan-obsessives in a video parlour (complete with the playing of “Tumse jo Dekhte Hi Pyaar Hua” on the car stereo in a grim late scene) was an inspired touch. It’s loud, cutesy, front-bencher stuff…and I think Shakespeare would have heartily approved of it." 
Haider is fine, fine film though not the best VB has ever made (that credit belongs, most definitely to Maqbool, though Omkara comes a close second). Its sometimes discontinuous, a little choppy editing won't please avant gardists or those suffering from the Somnath syndrome but for a mainstream Bollywood Hindi film, it's brilliant and a huge, huge step forward!

Take a bow VB!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Very Good Sentences à la Tyler Cowen


From Wikipedia: (see link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jigglypuff)

"Known as the Balloon Pokémon, Jigglypuff evolves from Igglybuff when it reaches a certain point of happiness, and evolves into Wigglytuff when exposed to a Moon Stone."


...

Since we're on this topic, here's another two-minute gem (courtesy: Bejin Hakumei)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

इक नया, हाइकू-नुमा संकल्प

लिखो रोज़ 
सुन्दर
वाक्य एक 

Monday, September 15, 2014

This Will Destroy You

Dedh Ishqiya is a veritable blitzkrieg of style, class, wit, wordplay, dark humor and overall brilliance. It's supported by what is certainly the most powerful starcast we've seen in recent years; a killer, killer soundtrack; the sharpest, cleverest, funniest dialogues you'll ever hear; and an exquisite plotline that spans everything from subtle literary nods to the now classic (and once scandalous) Ismat Chugtai short story Lihaaf; to highbrow, classic Urdu poetry, including references to modern masters like Bashir Badr (rendered in flawless diction by all the actors (the last time NF was blown away by such beautiful Urdu woven so seamlessly into a film's narrative was when he'd watched Muhafiz on a boring, never-ending Lucknow afternoon, courtesy Doordarshan)); to bawdy humor, (numerous) Mexican standoffs and its noirish-yet-goofy take on the semi rustic, lawless badlands of UP. 

It seems correct to say that there hasn't been in recent memory, any film that has be so self-aware of its use of language, in the way it consciously hinges its narrative on wordplay and verbal stylization. For a more in-depth piece on the film's use of Urdu, read this fabulous essay by Shoaib Daniyal. Some extracts are reproduced here to incentivize you to read the full article:

In a twist typical of the film, fist fights and gun brandishing suddenly give way to poetry, as Khalujaan picks up the word “wādā” (promise) used by Jaan and starts taunting him using a sher. A gangster by profession and somewhat removed from the world of poetry, Jaan retorts as best he can by racking his brains and coming up with the only sher he knows on “wādā. This change of playing field from violence to poetry, though, can only end badly for Jaan. His verse induces derisive laughter from Khalujaan who then points out that Jaan’s original sher spoke of “bādā” (wine) and not “wādā” at all.
...
Jaan’s battles with Urdu lead to some curious results. Throughout the movie he uses some high vocabulary (“shamsheer” for “talwār” and “gauhar” for "hīre-motī”) but slips up on the simplest of Urdu words, mispronouncing “Ishq” as “Issak” or “shart” as “sart”. And not only Jaan, for all the other characters, this High Urdu is just a mask put on to impress. Khalujaan, who is otherwise a talented poet, talks to his closest friend Babban in their common earthy register of Bhopali Urdu. 

It is safe to say that the marvelous Dedh Ishqiya totally killed NF! He's still reeling under, grasping the immensity of what's hit him! 

Abhishek Chaubey has directed a film that may just be <*gasp*> even better than his first venture. And with it he joins the ranks of brash, new, extremely exciting young directors in Hindi cinema now - all of them hailing from UP (ha! take that) - Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap and Tigmanshu Dhulia. 

Take a bow Chaubey! You've converted NF into your total fanboy!

Monday, September 08, 2014

शांतता! कोर्ट चालू आहे

Chaitanya Tamhane's film "Court" wins two prizes at the Venice Film Festival 2014 - Best Picture in the Horizons section and the 'Lion of the Future' for best debut! Here is the Hindustan Times news report. Here is a glowing review by Variety.

NF's old friend Somnath Pal was part of the winning team and did production design for the award winning movie! (Follow his blog here.)

Bravo Somnath! And congratulations!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Quiet Flows the Don

Libra is quintessential DeLillo - terse-without-being-minimalist, exquisitely paced, wonderfully evocative without being overly descriptive; and very powerfully unsettling, although NF believes he has not quite understood the book on a satisfactory level yet, that more readings perhaps are required to understand why the book moves him the way it does.

Having become somewhat familiar with DeLillo's oeuvre now (White Noise, Underworld, Point Omega and now, Libra) NF has begun to appreciate the infrastructure of his worldview - that of technology, mass media and political violence arrogating to themselves, the role of mediating our narrative; our collective, worldwide conversation - a role played in the past by writers and intellectuals like Dickens or Tolstoy. NF has come to feel that it is DeLillo's powerful influence, much more than that of the wordy and maximalist Pynchon's, that pervades the pages of William Gibson, sharing as they both do, their desire to channel the emergent effect of technology's impact on human societies. (Gibson's insistence however, is more cosmopolitan and hard-tech obsessed, while DeLillo's theater is more literary, soft-tech Americana.)

NF also had a chance to read his autobiography, albeit a mere seven word one, courtesy the wonderful Brain Pickings of Maria Popova. (For other seven word autobiographies including those by William Gibson and Daniel Kahneman, visit here.) Here it is, typifying the simplicity and depth of his expression:

      Bronx boy
wondering
             why he is here.

DeLillo also participated in a BBC documentary about his work (though it seems surprising that someone who's so averse to publicity will have starred in it so prominently). In it, the writer comments about the themes that attract him, the strange coincidence that links him to Lee Harvey Oswald (spoiler: The Bronx) among other musings and reenactment of scenes from his fiction. Watch it here:


NF's playlist now features Ratner's Star, Mao II and Cosmopolis next and enjoins those with an excess of time, to give DeLillo a try!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Miniscule Musings

  1. NF has gushed about the awesome writing of Vikram Chandra before, especially his sprawling, beautiful ode to the Bombay criminal underworld: Sacred Games. Hence it's even more gratifying to know that greats such as James Gleick have joined the fan club! Here's Gleick's review of Chandra's "Geek Sublime" - a book about Chandra's ruminations about literature and...programming! Turns out that not only is Chandra an excellent writer but also a serious programmer (a few others with such a unique skill set include Charles-fuckin'-Stross and Neal-friggin'-Stephenson). Gleick's review is excellent and will make you want to read the latest from Vikram Chandra, in which he muses on Chomskyan generative grammar; Panini's anticipation of the same some 2500 years ago; the roots of programming languages; beauty in poetry as understood by ancient Sanskrit texts; the cosmology of Abhinavgupta and so on.

    And here's Vikram Chandra on Wired today: What India Can Teach Silicon Valley About Its Gender Problem.

  2. This is how William Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" - first in his paradigm shifting short story collection Burning Chrome - and then in his truly revolutionary and powerfully disruptive work Neuromancer. This three minute video features Gibson at his witty best - self deprecatory, wry and really funny! 



  3. And here is a collection of eleven funniest papers written in professional economics journals as compiled by Yoram Bauman - the first standup economist comedian. Though personally, NF knows that economic theorists are a funny lot (in particular game theorists are among the funniest professional groups that NF's come across - much more so than say applied mathematicians (but don't just take NF's word for it - he might be biased)) the list of works - some of them famous enough (examples being Krugman's paper on interstellar trade; and Avinash Dixit's on Seinfeld) but others, a complete revelation - examples being "Macroeconomic Policy and the Optimal Destruction of Vampires (Snower 1982)" and "On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott Versus Brian Johnson (Oxoby 2009)". NF can't resist quoting a couple of lines from some of these papers. So here's Krugman:
    This article extends interplanetary trade theory to an interstellar setting. It is chiefly concerned with the following question: how should interest charges on goods in transit be computed when the goods travel at close to the speed of light? This is a problem because the time taken in transit will appear less to an observer traveling with the goods than to a stationary observer. A solution is derived from economic theory, and two useless but true theorems are proved. 
    Many critics of conventional economics have argued, with considerable justification, that the assumptions underlying neoclassical theory bear little resemblance to the world we know. These critics have, however, been too quick to assert that this shows that mainstream economics can never be of any use. Recent progress in the technology of space travel… make this assertion doubtful; for they raise the distinct possibility that we may eventually discover or construct a world to which orthodox economic theory applies.

    And here's Avinash Dixit - who's among the most naturally witty people NF's personally come across. A few years back, the econ blogosphere was set ablaze by his paper "An Option Value Problem from Seinfeld" with what is most definitely the greatest abstract ever: "This is a paper about nothing". 

    Here's a little more:

    In an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld (Season 7, Episode 9, original air date December 7, 1995), Elaine Benes uses a contraceptive sponge that gets taken off the market. She scours pharmacies in the neighborhood to stock a large supply, but it is finite. So she must “re-evaluate her whole screening process.” Every time she dates a new man, which happens very frequently, she has to consider a new issue: Is he spongeworthy”? The purpose of this article is to quantify this concept of spongeworthiness. 
    When Elaine uses up a sponge, she is giving up the option to have it available when an even better man comes along. Therefore using the sponge amounts to exercising a real option to wait and spongeworthiness is an option value. It can be calculated using standard option-pricing techniques. However, unlike the standard theory of financial or many real options, there are no complete markets and no replicating portfolios. Stochastic dynamic programming methods must be used.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Son Also Rises

Via the always brilliant Scroll.in, the fabulous Mayank Tewari reports on the blinding rise of a dazzling talent in Hindi travel writing - a long neglected genre within the mainstream Hindi writing establishment - Anil Yadav's Wah Bhi Koi Des Hai Maharaj (वह भी कोई देस है महाराज (tr. (Is) That too a country my lord)). The article charts the cult status the work has suddenly attained and also the searing intensity of Yadav's writing. An excerpt from Mayank Tewari's article:
His second and most recent work, which came out last year, Wah Bhi Koi Desh Hai Maharaj (Is That Even a Country, My Lord!), an account of his travels in the North East in the early 2000s, has taken the Hindi literary scene by storm. Largely ignored by a Bollywood-obsessed media, the book is all the rage among the depleting mass of Hindi readers and is on its way to attaining cult status.


The 158-page book is the story of India’s most neglected region told by the narrative voice of a poor, petulant reporter. Anyone who doubts the power of Hindi must read it. 
Tewari compares Yadav's sincere, honest-no-holds-barred writing to David Foster Wallace and his manic dedication to nothing but literature to that of a character from Bolaño's oeuvre.
At 45, Yadav is angry in a healthy sort of way. Sequestered in a Himachal village, he is working on his first novel, which he hopes will be out in the middle of next year. He has a mobile phone, but no internet connectivity. "I don’t have to worry about anything here," he said. "All I do is write." 
... 
Before dinner he has a drink. For the rest of the time, he writes, and reads. He comes across like a character from a Roberto Bolaño book, a reclusive writer with an untrained mind, someone like Hans Reiter from 2666. His soft voice, firm but not intimidating, betrayed no trace of the anger that sometimes burns on the pages of his writing. 

The excellent article also resurrected long forgotten memories of my own epic trip (taken along with many other friends from S'kal) to the same region, though (for reasons best not explicated) much of those wonderful memories died instantly along with the brain cells they were attached on to. If however, we ever write our memoirs of times in the NE, they'll be quite different from those of (the Lucknow based(!)) Anil Yadav who was masquerading as a Delhi journalist writing on the Bihari workers' killings taking place there. 

And so I did manage to hunt down some excerpts from the book at the ever-awesome Pratilipi.in where the book was being promoted in 2012 when it first came out. Those who want to read the passages from the book may do so here (part 1) and here (part 2). As Tewari correctly points out, the writing is real, hard-hitting, scorching and yet very funny - a rare combination indeed.

Which brings me to the last point regarding this wonderful development. Pandu, if you're reading this, then seriously...fuck you! When are you going to put your head down, get your ass to work and write the irreverent, morbid, funny, grotesque, convention-smashing book that we all have a right to read? And if you're incapable, let SatyaVrat take the center stage.

To fellow mortals - go read the article. To those who can read Hindi - go read the full book - as I intend to do!

Update: Here is an interview of Anil Yadav who doesn't disappoint at all in the refreshing honesty of his opinion.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Here Comes the Credit Roll...

Here's NF's best friend from childhood, Abhinav Anand's Acknowledgment section from his recently completed PhD thesis in economics:

Acknowledgment

“All this happened, more or less”, thus begins Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, the opening lines echoing the hazy, ambiguous, somewhat amorphous mix of sentiments the culmination of my PhD evokes in me. It has been an eventful journey and I daresay I have learned much, though a sense of humility, engendered by the depth of my ignorance; and a feeling of excitement of learning so much more, remain the stronger impressions.

While I will be credited as the sole author of this thesis, it is definitely a collaborative effort only made possible by the support of so many. My deepest thanks go to my dissertation advisor Professor Sandro Brusco whose razor-sharp mind, awe-inspiring erudition and insistence on independent thinking have shaped my development in important ways. I thank Professor Yair Tauman for his unconditional support, good humor and ever-useful advice all through my PhD. I also wish to thank Professor Pradeep Dubey for first suggesting the problem that kick-started my PhD, for helping me shift to the Economics department from Applied Mathematics; and for inculcating in me a love for writing which is clear, precise, even beautiful.

I have been incredibly lucky to have been mentored by Professor Svetlozar Rachev whose lectures in Mathematical Finance in general, and those on fat-tailed distributions in particular, taught me whatever little I do know in Finance. A large part of my research builds upon the pioneering work done by him over the years and the wonderful textbooks he has written on the subject. I also thank Professor Young Shin Kim for his constant guidance and for supervising my research work in Finance which owes a great debt to a sequence of papers written by him recently. It is indeed an honor to co-author a paper with him and it was my great fortune to work with him in the College of Business in my final stages of PhD. I also want to applaud Professor Hugo Benitez-Silva and his helmsmanship of the Economics department. His adept handling of all difficulties — academic, financial or otherwise — helped me stay on course and complete my PhD.

Among fellow graduate students and friends, I must first thank Bruno for teaching me almost everything I know in Economics; Sama and Soyol for always being there when it mattered; Tiantian and Kurosaki san for being so patient during our collaboration; Monstha and Vatsa for all the years of companionship; Vatsa, Vicky and Abhra for their “Fellowship for Impecunious Graduate Students”; Jacques for five years of uninterrupted comedy; Tamara and Anju for making commuting a fun adventure; Xin and Kaya for being inspirations; Deniz for her invaluable friendship; Michael, Lala and Sumit babu for being my wonderful little faux-Karamazovian family at 213 Main Street; and of course to Shishir for being a friend indeed.

Thanks also to all my family whose total trust and support I’m lucky enough to have enjoyed all through my life — in particular, to Mitu bhaiya and Abha bhabhi for being the iron pillars of support I could rely on. I end by thanking my late grandfather Pt. Dharnidhar Dwivedi in whose memory this thesis is dedicated.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Stinking Lizaveta

A freewheeling, somewhat speculative but ultimately very intriguing hypothesis connecting Mother Russia's foul, unbearably repressive polity to the "two abysses" that Dmitri Karamazov is accused of being caught between in The Brothers Karamazov. Also, starring are Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Varlam Shalamov, Andrei Tarkovsky and Putin as the reincarnation of Smerdyakov: The Two Abysses of the Soul.

Do read!

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

Deleveraging

(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.