Book review : “The Housekeeper and the Professor”

For last few years, I have been reading quite a few Japanese authors and I am in love with ways, Japanese writers handle emotions. Most of the folks I know are in love with Murakami, but frankly, I did not like his works. The Japanese author that I love is Kazuo Ishiguro, and now after reading this, I will be adding Yoko Ogawa to that list.

If you visit Varanasi and go to Assi ghat, there is a quaint little bookshop which goes by the name “Harmony book store”. I have been frequenting this bookstore since class 10th or so. It’s been almost 20 years, the owner always has the best recommendation, in fact, “The professor and the housekeeper” was recommended by him.

The story revolves around a sexagenarian mathematics professor and his housekeeper, and her 8 years old son. Everyday conversations between the housekeeper and the professor, are around numbers. Prof loves it when especially if there is a prime number involved. Now if you are a geek or engineering background, you would love all these number references. How to find beauty in a prime number. The emotional aspect of the story is high, it unfolds like a lotus, presenting us ordinary existence of a housekeeper and the professor, yet their extraordinary existence.

“Soon after I began working for the Professor, I realized that he talked about numbers whenever he was unsure of what to say or do. Numbers were also his way of reaching out to the world. They were safe, a source of comfort.”

Through the pages, we learn about housekeeper’s son, whom prof calls as the root cause of his thick tuft of hair. Together they share a bond and mutual love for baseball. But the crux of the story is that Prof had an accident a few years back and owing to that his memory lasts only 80 minutes. To cope up with this, he uses sticky notes on his jacket.

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Every morning the housekeeper will have the same set of questions
What’s your shoe size?
When is your birthday?
It was the sheer pleasure of going back to numbers, looking at them in an intuitive way to decipher their mystery. A few years back I remember seeing the documentary about the Cambridge Prof who solved Fermat’s last theorem. Here we had ‘the most beautiful mathematical equation’. Read the paper in the link, by Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin.

This quote from the book perfectly sums it up

“…The pages and pages of complex, impenetrable calculations might have contained the secrets of the universe, copied out of God’s notebook.
In my imagination, I saw the creator of the universe sitting in some distant corner of the sky, weaving a pattern of delicate lace so fine that that even the faintest light would shine through it. The lace stretches out infinitely in every direction, billowing gently in the cosmic breeze. You want desperately to touch it, hold it up to the light, rub it against your cheek. And all we ask is to be able to re-create the pattern, weave it again with numbers, somehow, in our own language; to make the tiniest fragment our own, to bring it back to earth.”

Now I am waiting to watch the movie, and waiting for book depository to deliver Yoko Ogawa’s another classic “The memory police”.

“The new normal”

After almost 3 months, I ventured outdoors. Singapore is an amalgamation of a tropical sized-down jungle and a concrete jungle coexisting symbiotically. It’s always great to chat up with grab/Gojek drivers, and know about the ground realities. It was even better to look out of window marvel at buildings festooned with flora and fauna.

We (assuming you are as ‘mea-culpa’ as I am), usually are lost in our digital bricks called smartphones, when at home, when outside, when in the MRT or taxi. But this time I conspicuously attempted to notice the streets, the buildings, and the sun and the sky behind them, filtering through the tinted taxi windows. 

My grab hitch driver , owned a construction company. He casually chatted about the plight of construction companies in Singapore. ref [1]. The construction sector has been closed for four months now. Additionally, most of the construction workers’ dormitories were the worst hit in Singapore. (Accounting for 44,044 cases of total 47,126 cases till date.) He emphasized that it’s not like the software/IT field where WFH is easily doable. Indeed. He ended up narrating more about Lexus vs BMW, and how he gave up on BMW, with its frequent troubles and finally settled for a Lexus. (And when did Toyota acquired Lexus ? Lexus is not even on F1 team what !! )

While coming back on Gojek, the full-time Gojek driver was lamenting the loss of tourists in Singapore. Even in the CBD, with only 50% workforce presence in the office, gig economy drivers aren’t able to do business as it used to be. 
“Orchard road still has some traffic, but not what it used to be. Tourists from mainland China aren’t here anymore.

When the lockdown started, all of us were sceptical, scared, and anxious. But the human mind is a work of marvel, how fast it acclimatizes to its surroundings and circumstances is astounding and sometimes ironic. Earlier I was disappointed about not being able to go outdoors and do the usual diurnal stuff. And now after these four months, my mind has humbled my existence. Living a caveman life, in this apartment, now going out seems Sisyphean. Like our ancestors, we have our tools for food and entertainment, cave paintings (read IG/FB posts). The digital life has overtaken the analog life. 

My phone tells me about it weekly. 😦

I am pretty sure when things become normal again after this “new normal”, we all would have probably forgotten how all of this started.

References :

Impact on Construction sector Singapore 

Impact on Sectoral Impact (Singapore)

Tourism Singapore 

Tourist arrivals Jan-Apr 2020 chart

On short stories and their magnetic properties

Two days back, after replenishing all sorts of entertainment, viz. Netflix (finished Heist, Never have I ever), XBOX (AC4 Black flag), getting bored of all the Zuckerberg’s digital toys, I ended up with a book, Fifty short stories.

50 Greatest Short Stories by Terry O'Brien

 

Now having been studying ICSE boards in India, I was exposed to a myriad of good literature since class 7th. We had the English literature book called Figments of imagination, and which had all the best short stories. The last leaf, Maupassant’s the Diamond Necklace, Chekhov’s The bet, Wilde’s the model millionaire. As one friend recently tweeted me about the rocking horse winner, these short stories take us back into descriptive prose, where one drowns in the surroundings, painting that vivid imagery as if under hypnotism of words.
I remember feverishly finishing all of the short stories from Arthur Conan Doyle, and O’Henry. I purchased Guy De Maupassant’s :” The Dark Side: Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. It was a collection of 31 supernatural short stories and quite intriguing to a teenage mind.

I finished one called “The Blind Man” yesterday, and another called the Fly. Both were pretty intense and now I am looking forward to other ones. Probably as a tribute to these authors, I will paste their pictures here or not.

But do tell me about your favourite short stories ?

Links

figments of imagination.png

Economic impact of 70-90nm virus

Initially I thought about writing about my work from home crib. But I will delve into more serious stuff, so I will skip that part. But this blog is more about the broad economic impact and the links where you can get all the finer details. Last time around 2008 I wrote about then banking crisis https://arunabhmishra.wordpress.com/2008/04/12/banks-sub-prime-crisis/

See for yourself, the slides have been taken from CRISIL research [1] 

Capture.JPG

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While this COVID situation was still starting, I got this answer on Quora, thanks to CRISIL’s detailed report. https://www.quora.com/How-does-the-Coronavirus-affect-India/answer/Arunabh-4

Below I have attached how following indices have fared in last six months 

  • GOLD
  • India : BSE SENSEX
  • Bitcoin : BTC/USD 
  • USA : NASDAQ 
GOLD price
India SENSEX
Bitcoin price

NASDAQ

It is not a detailed quaterly update by your mutual fund, but if you are interested this one gives a quite good feedback on SE Asia and India’s macroeconomic outlook. 

I have been also following what Raghuram Rajan, has been saying about the COVID-19 impact.

 

References 

  1. CRISIL report https://www.crisil.com/en/home/our-analysis/views-and-commentaries/2020/04/covid-19-impact-on-economy-corporate-revenue-and-profitability.html 

A 70-90nm virus

In Singapore, it all started in January last week. We started getting reports from China that a mysterious virus is wreaking havoc. The epicenter was a city called Wuhan, which to my surprise had a population of 12 million people.
Sitting in Singapore, and reading through Chinese news sites and Hongkong’s SCMP news, it all felt too bad to be true. There were reports of incoming flights from Wuhan, China, and folks being quarantined for 14 days. A friend of mine from Beijing lamented that she had to be under 14 days quarantine in Beijing, and now another 14days in Singapore. When I discussed this with my family and friends from India, they blamed it as Chinese propaganda and dismissed it. Little did we all know that this would go down as a major event that would change the way we lived and perceived one another. Today after three months, almost all of humanity has been affected by this calamity and now we are seeing level 2 and level 3 effects. In India, the poor are now fighting for food. In Singapore, from a meager 7 cases on Jan 28th to 17,548 cases as of now.

28th Jan : First day of the mask

It was in February when Singapore declared that DORSCON level orange was declared. Traveling daily to work on a crowded MRT was a nightmare for me. Blame it a bit on OCDish behavior, I stopped touching the doorknobs, etc and started having my lunch indoors, which my wife prepared. This pic was on 28th January, when I managed to grab surgical masks at a local fairprice supermarket.

 

Local supermarket the day DORSCON orange was declared

Things started moving toward getting necessary rations, and food supply diminishing. We promptly collected food supply for a few weeks and ordered reusable masks. In Feb, I felt 2-3 weeks of sore throat and prayed / meditated that it wasn’t COVID. By March first week, I have been working from home. 

Now this Monday, I have been working from home for almost a month now, and concurrently managing MBA applications, thankfully which kept me busy all through Feb-march- April period. Today while reading a short stories book, after giving up on Netflix and  playing assassin creed on XBOX, that I thought of writing this.

En route work in the busy MRT, 16th March 2020

Anti-Heisenberg Principle of mind 🤔

While meditating yesterday, I came to a realization which I will call as anti-Heisenberg Principle of Meditation.

While you are meditating, your mind will be playing tricks with you. Probably you will end up rummaging through your memories or your diurnal activities. Most of the meditation techniques that I know about, ask you to focus on your breathing since it is the easiest universal thing for anyone.

I realized the moment you start focussing on your mind, observing it as an outsider, observing it’s monkey chatter is going in there, it becomes still and placed. Like mimosa (touch me not). Hence the name anti-Heisenberg, for as per Heisenberg Principle, the moment you try to measure the mass or velocity of moving particle, you have disturbed the particle by observing it. But in our case (or maybe in my case), the moment you observe the mind, it stops all the chatter and becomes calm and reposed.

Book Review – The Gone World

the gone world

“The totality of human endeavor is nothing when set against the stars.”
― Tom Sweterlitsch

Frankly, I picked this one up after watching ‘Tenet’ trailer, someone on Reddit mentioned that Tenet is loosely based on this one. Although now I realized it’s Neill Blomkamp – District 9, Elysium director – is making a movie out of this novel. Also, it has been a while since I read a good sci-fi! I have been delving into fiction and the magical world of Neil Gaiman mostly. Or writing them essays for the last two months or so.
The novel centers around Shannon Moss, who is an investigating agent for NCIS. The navy research wing has advanced engineering and few selected agents can travel through time. They do so only for the most complex of cases. Shannon is investigating a homicide, which turns out to be one of the links of the long chain of criminal activity. But the thread that ties the whole story is how each IFT (Inadmissible Future Trajectory) and present world of the year 1997 (called Terra Firma ) has been spun together to weave a complex and twisty timeline.

The book stands true to its review – “I promise you have never read a story like this.” and “True detective meets Inception”. Often at times though it felt a bit gruesome when murder scenes were being described. But once you get over those, the book is one you would be talking about and probably recommending it, vehemently, to your fellow book readers. Yes, I did already 😉

As with all-time travel movies or books, the moment it ends you want to reread it and see if every jigsaw falls into its place, so probably I would read it again soon. (Or just wait for M. to finish it and then we can discuss it).

In an interview, the author, Tom Sweterlitsch,  mentioned that

“Brandt and Lomonaco, the scientists in the gone world who are credited with the creation of the time travel engine. Dr. Brandt, in real life, is my father-in-law, a brilliant theoretical physicist who was a pioneer in quantum computing and quantum cryptography for the Department of Defense. His longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Lomonaco, is a mathematician specializing in Knot Theory.”

Also, the novel has a fair bit of horror elements. Tom did mention those. The genre is called Lovecraftian Horror.

when I started The Gone World. My first conception of the book was “NCIS plus Battlestar Galactica plus time travel.” The horror elements came a little later, though I think horror is a natural outgrowth of the things I was writing about.

For the interested, the actual links for time travel and quantum related terminology are in the references.

The book stands true to its review – “I promise you have never read a story like this.” and “True detective meets Inception”. Often at times though it felt a bit gruesome when murder scenes were being described. But once you get over those, the book is one you would be talking about and probably recommending it, vehemently, to your fellow book readers. Yes, I did already 😉

As with all-time travel movies or books, the moment it ends you want to reread it and see if every jigsaw falls into its place, so probably I would read it again soon. (Or just wait for M. to finish it and then we can discuss it).

But prepare to be awed by time-traveling agent and anti-heroes trying to save the earth from its future demise, characters strong-headed yet delusional, and elements of intense science fiction. I was blown away by the plot, and how simple yet efficiently the premise of time travel was explained. I would say this one is my favorite sci-fi novel now, (truth be told I haven’t read a lot – time machine, War of the worlds, 20000 leagues under the sea). Now that I googled, I gotta read 1984, Neuromancer, Fahrenheit 451, Asimov’s or The Martian (I was browsing at a bookstore at NUS, selling it for only $5 ) Pheww or I can just read the Nebula award winners.

References 

  1. Time Travel Terminologies
    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_foam
    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casimir_effect
    3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Brandt
  2. https://medium.com/adjacent-possible/q-a-with-tom-sweterlitsch-author-of-the-gone-world-69f8bd4f34e0
  3. NCIS
    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Criminal_Investigative_Service
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lovecraftian_horror

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