Tuesday, May 21, 2013

15 मई 2013: मत्था टेक तमाशा देख

आज मई पंद्रह है। क्रिस्सी और मैं अपस्टेट की यात्रा कर रहे हैं। इस समय मैं औल्बनी की लाइब्रेरी में बैठा हूँ जो कई मायनों में स्टोनी ब्रुक की लाइब्रेरी से बेहतर है - ख़ास तौर से स्थापत्य कला के मामले में (जिसकी, हालांकि तनिक भी जानकारी मुझे नहीं है) ।

इससे कुछ समय पहले मैं बरबस ही औल्बनी के बुकस्टोर में टहलता हुआ पाया गया था। कुछ समय वहां बिताने के बाद और एक किताब खरीदने के बाद (जॉर्ज सौन्डर्स की "टेंथ ऑफ़ डिसेम्बर" - लगभग 29 डॉलरों की मुंहतोड़ चपत!) मैंने लाइब्रेरी का रुख किया।

औल्बनी का मेरे लिए एक और आकर्षण भी है: यहाँ का "न्यूयॉर्क स्टेट राइटर्स सेण्टर" जहाँ से अनेक सुप्रसिद्ध और ज़बरदस्त लेखकों का जुड़ाव रहा है (पॉल ऑस्टर, जॉर्ज सौन्डर्स, मनिल सूरी, सिरी हस्तवेट और मेरिलिन रोबिनसन उनमें से कुछ प्रख्यात नाम हैं)। लेखकों के इस अड्डे पर पहुँच कर उनमें से एक की किताब ना खरीदता, यह बात बुरी भले ही ना होती, एक अर्धसुशुप्त सा मलाल ज़रूर इधर-उधर से झांकता रहता (हालांकि तीस डॉलर का सौदा बड़ा महंगा पड़ा!)।

फिलहाल मैं यहाँ के राइटर सेण्टर का मुआयना करना जा रहा हूँ। कहते हैं तीर्थस्थल पर पहुँचने के बाद देवी के मंदिर में मत्था टेकना ज़रूरी होता है।

अपडेट: लिडिया डेविस, सुनी औल्बनी, प्रोफेसर, क्रिएटिव राइटिंग (रचनात्मक लेखन) को मैन बुकर अंतर्राष्ट्रीय पुरस्कार से नवाज़ा गया! 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

In Which Mochizuki Does a Perelman

By Caroline Chen, a very nicely written, very readable introduction to the latest rumors in the circles of mathematicians - the bona fide drama queens of academia. 

Basically the scoop goes something like this: Shinichi Mochizuki, a brilliant and impossibly accomplished mathematician, now at Kyoto University (his webpage is here) has claimed to have proved a very deep result in Mathematics: the abc conjecture; but he refuses to talk about it to anyone or 'go on tour' and explain his proofs to the others. The work on which he bases his proofs has been posted by him on the internet but runs through about five hundred pages in length; and so when the others ask him to explain, he shrugs and declines the invitation, which makes him look super cool and super emo at the same time. It was reported that Akshay Venkatesh and a grad student at Yale had then found some error which Mochizuki acknowledged but corrected and reposted soon with no apparent danger of being wrong in the bigger scheme of things.

Here's to hoping Mochizuki-san has really nailed it! NF's been wrong before about opening champagne bottles prematurely (the last time it was the P versus NP problem's supposed proof by Vinay Deolalikar) but perhaps this time he'll be luckier.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Dongri to Dubai, is a fast-paced, riveting read, narrating the rise and fall of Gangs of Mumbai since Indian independence and charting the rise of Dawood Ibrahim - the son of an honest, well respected police constable - as he destroys his competitors left, right and center to emerge as the superstar of the Mumbai mafia. The stories have a journalistic edge to them, the narrative pace never slackens and there is no dull moment at all in the tales of revenge, domination and territorial pissings of the mafia kingpins. In the meantime, the writer S Hussain Zaidi (a veteran crime reporter and the writer of Black Friday - the book on which Anurag Kashyap's fabulous film is based) also finds time to write about the old gangsters Haji Mastan (whose legendary fight with the goons on Bombay docks would go on to inspire moments of pure cinematic magic in Amitabh Bachchan's fight sequence in Deewar) and Varadarajan Mudaliar (on whose life the great Mani Ratnam directed Nayagan) and how their reign was supplanted by the cunning and muscle of Dawood.  The latter part about Dawood and Chhota Rajan and how their rift led to another intense underworld rivalry and especially the part about how the Indian intelligence agencies are allegedly propping up Rajan to take on Dawood's gang make for a delightful, exciting reading. It is easy to see how Vikram Chandra in his brilliant book Sacred Games, imbibes these stories generously and weaves them into a very satisfying coherent plot. (Chandra has written the foreword for the book and has, on numerous occasions spoken about Zaidi's invaluable help in writing Sacred Games.)

Now on to the irritating part. The standard of writing is pretty low and sentence construction is clumsy and lazy. The style is too hurried and there are many fact checking problems (RSS is claimed to be "Rashtriya Seva Sangh" ...(really?)) The chapters are not very well organized and there is often a propensity to just mention events without really documenting them. The current state of Mumbai mafia post Dawood's departure to Dubai and from there to Karachi, is not well explored either. In particular, we really don't seem to understand why from the casual shootouts during the '90s, Mumbai has suddenly become so tranquil, so much so, that it has earned the "safest city of India" moniker. The ending seems abrupt as well. A pity Zaidi doesn't seem to care for or display the literary skills of his close friend Vikram Chandra.

For those who, however, value information about the underworld and want to have a little historical peep into the mafia's workings (of a more voyeuristic nature albeit) this book is perfect. It's a wonderful afternoon time killer or as in the case of NF, the instrument that slayed the eternity that airports are.