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

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

  Capture.JPG

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

Consciousness & quantum physics eh?

They sat around coffee mugs, and probably that discussion came from how gen Y differ from Gen-X, in sense that have Gen-Ys have shorter attention spans, with a affinity for video games.

– Probably its just the brain wiring, neurons firing.

Manu suggested having seen that last episodes of documentary by Dr Eagleman, where scientist were trying to make a digital copy of a human brain , which currently stores data in Zetabytes = equivalent of amount of data currently existing in the world. [1][2][3]

Another set of scientists were making artificial brain, but the obvious question that pops up what will you do about consciousness ? ”

P said , “we might be having parallel universe right here, next to us. Have you given it  a thought ever that there exists a possibility that you have a quantum counterpart. Quantum physics have this theory of entanglement, where two subatomic particles revolve in opposite directions, to balance.”[4]

Manu : “ahh I have heard of that one, but isnt it subatomic. So you are extrapolating it to human existence”

“Ya, so thats why in religious books and sects its said for example dont harm others, coz if you do then in parallel world it hits your counterpart, and things get disarrayed there. For same reason probably Gods have a way of things to keep balance between humans and their world, and hence each religion has set of practices.”

“Seems plausible”

“Bu then there is a problem to this, whenever a single being gets ahead in path of evolution, say Buddha, and then tries to change mind of humanity, he will end up failing. In the sense because collective brains > 1 single enlightened brain. And history is an example of this.”

“that’s an interesting thought..”

“I heard it from an indian guy, and he wrote a book which goes by name exits of great man or something” [5]

“Possibly when we say moksha, it might be the case that we need to attain salvation not just for one person. Getting an individual salvation is impossible, only by going together can humanity reach salvation.”

 

 

 

Reference

[1] The Brain http://www.pbs.org/show/brain-david-eagleman/

[2.1] https://science.mit.edu/research/faculty/seung-h-sebastian

[2.2] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mit-neuroscientist-discusses-quest-reserve-engineer-human-brain/

[3.1]  Synthetic brain https://www.theguardian.com/science/2009/jul/23/synthetic-brain-project-consciousness

[3.2] http://bluebrain.epfl.ch/

[4] Quantum Entanglement https://futurism.com/physicists-take-one-large-step-towards-proving-quantum-entanglement/

[5] https://www.amazon.com/Graceful-Exits-stories-Tibetan-Buddhist/dp/1590302702

When you hitchhike …

 

DSCF63691. Do not lose heart if no one stops. Remember pain of walking with 15 kgs of load on back  is much more than that of  getting rejected

2. Thou shalt not covet big SUV’s and wish , but they have so much space !

3. I wish this old couple thinks I am their lost son.

4. Do not dally your arm in a half hearted way, full straight and perpendicular.

5. When frustrated keep on moving. I finished 42 kms , this 10km would be done in a jiffy.

6. The scenery , yes , distract yourself observe highlands, see those carefree sheep, happy and clearly not backpacking or hitchhiking.

7. Take in the look from other lane cars, the sympathy in their eyes for my poor self.

8. After 1-2kms , realize you did not check which was the right way ? confirm with only person you saw in last thirty minutes.

9. “Portree that way, aye.  Say 10-12 miles ”
Reply with an scottish ayes , “Aye, bus ?”
“Aye, bus stop near church”

10. Church ! Now is the time to conjure up your faith, remember school days, remember morning prayers you did for 52 weeks * 14years of St. Johns and St. Mary’s.
“Our father in heaven
Give us today our holy hitch hike !!

11. Again out goes the hitchhiking stance. Confident, smile on face, cap down, and arms perpendicular and determined.
Oh ..car is giving parking dipper.
Is it stopping for me ?
Yes it is.
“Hi can you drop me to Portreee”
“Sure why not?”
Hallelujah !!

12. Now chat, this and that , what did you cover, how you ended up being in Skye from Singapore.

13. You’re from Glasgow ? I was there like yesterday . Great place .

Ahh, you guys are actually Polish ? I have a friend back in Singapore from Poland, (should I throw in that Polish vodka anecdote too ?)

What a coincidence , your husband is wearing same watch as me (Garmin fenix ) Wow, does he runs.

Finally the driving force behind the wheels speaks ,
“yeah man i tried getting into London marathon this year, but the lottery system man. It fills in so fast.”

 

 
Voila Portree, here you are.

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