Wednesday, June 15, 2011


SatyVrat once told his best friend Nanga Fakir a story about von Neumann (in their S'kal days). According to him, von Neumann died one of the most painful deaths possible. Immediately, this set NF's mind racing to check if the giant had died of starvation or suffocation or some other such horrendous cause; but his thoughts were interrupted by Satyavrat's declaration that von Neumann's death was preceded by a noticeable (according to von Neumann that is) reduction in his powers of thinking which disturbed him no end and he died a miserable death - cursing his slow-wittedness and the emasculation of his superhuman intellect to mere mortal levels.

As all SatyaVrat stories go, the origins and veracity of this story are suspect. (Another one of his von Neumann stories went like this: von Neumann's daughter (who apparently was also some sort of prodigy) once claimed that there was only one person in the whole world who knew more Mathematics than her father - namely she herself. The tragedy was that she was a paranoid schizophrenic. The only true part of this story is that von Neumann had a daughter. She was not a paranoid schizophrenic. Nor was she a mathematician. She is a business school professor at U Mich, alive and a well functioning human female. Her name is Marina and this is her Wikipedia page.) And as all SatyaVrat stories go, the facts of the story somehow don't matter so much because the moral behind them is deep and non trivial - in this particular case the moral being that dying a grisly death is a sufficient but not necessary condition for dying a painful death.

Despite his pretensions to the contrary, Nanga Fakir has always prided himself on being a great reader and, more often than not, on being the most literate (though according to SatyaVrat the least educated), well read person in the room. In '09, he read about 45-50 books (though truth be told, many of them were comic books and therefore, easily readable in a day or two) and in '10 he read about 23-24 books. His reading tastes remained diverse, eclectic and idiosyncratic - ranging from science, technology, mathematics and philosophy to fantasy, science fiction, graphic novels/comics, Indian writing in English and postmodern American literature.

So when during the first six months of 2011, NF managed to read only 3-4 books and confided the distressing new development to Bejin Hakumei (who refused to believe him and expressed her dismay in no uncertain terms); and as NF, to his horror, began empathizing with AK who'd once declared that he just couldn't read anymore, he suddenly remembered the von Neumann story and prepared for the onslaught of the bout of depression that was sure to hit him hard. The fact that he'd been stuck on Gravity's Rainbow for the past many months; and had been plodding through the notoriously hard to read magnum opus (though truth be told, the book's uproariously funny in places) for the past many, many months (three? four? five?) added to his sense of loss.

So he got himself a big truckload of new books - hoping that their sense of newness will kill the ennui induced by the ferociously hard Pynchon tome.

It so worked!

Among new additions to his bookshelf are The Windup Girl, River of Gods, The Pale King (DFW's last unfinished book), Our Band Could be Your Life, The Big Short, Conversations with Economists and Roberto Bolaño's 2666.

To add, he got hold of The Dispossessed and The Best Short Stories of J G Ballard from the Science Fiction Forum. Within two weeks, NF read The Big Short and Our Band could be Your Life; and is three hundred pages into the thousand page 2666.

He's feeling so much better now. If he manages to read up the final three hundred pages of Gravity's Rainbow anytime soon, he'd wind up throwing a party.


ankurpandey said...

SatyaVrat is amused by NF's hijacking of his forgotten, metaphorical albeit opensource stories to use as apology for reading a classic.

But he is happy and looks forward to ur party. Invited or not, he'll drink to that.

Nanga Fakir said...


AJEY said...


rohan.choukkar said...

"As all SatyaVrat stories go, the origins and veracity of this story are suspect"