Monday, September 15, 2008

Sayonara Japan

I have been putting this off for a while now. I suppose now is the appropriate time.

I could easily paraphrase Pico Iyer and tell you that never has more kindness been shown to someone as unkind and undeserving as I am. Never have I seen more people go out of their way to make me feel at home in their unarguably strange midst. Maybe I could tell you about the Shinsei bank account that still remains open in my name in Tokyo, with a few hundred yen, just in case. Or I could tell you about Roppongi Hills, and the nights that never ended, or the onsens, and the strange thrills they gave me.

Anyway, it is not something about I wish to talk about. I will be back someday. Especially to Kiyomizu-dera. Honeymoon, perhaps.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

musings from tokyo

The first thing that struck me about Tokyo is just how pretty everyone seems to be. From the carefully blown messy hairstyle to the umbrella that seems straight out of a Milanese designer catalog, the average Japanese certainly knows how to present a good first impression. It is, indeed, entirely possible that my observation is biased by the lens of the upscale neighbourhood where I live, but it still wouldn't explain how I've never come across any male on the subway without a suit on. Unless, of course, you count the goth teenager with two piercings and a snarl across his (her?) lips.

This is the thing. In almost every way possible, Japan is a country of remarkable extremes. Places of religion and sex clubs exist freely beside each other, for one. (Of course, some people would argue that they are the same thing. That is a topic for another day). And can any other country lose itself in baseball and sumo wrestling?

We went to Yokohama yesterday, to an amusement park - cum- aquarium. That is because the people I've come here with like amusement parks ( a lot ) and aquariums (a little lesser). One guy declared after riding the rollercoaster that he had just realized one of his greatest dreams. In all fairness, it was his first time on one. As it was, mine. The other "highlight" of the day was being thrown down a very, very, high phallus. (You can see it in the background of the picture) as part of a ride called the 'Blue Fall'. To cut a long story short, I'll say I'll never do such a thing again.

I have nothing against amusement parks, really. It's just that I'd much rather have gone to the Ramen museum or the cherry blossom gardens or even the Chinatown when in Yokohama. I really must find a way to do my own thing.

And they're going to Disneyland next week. God, no.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time

Nothing quite like Tokyo. So cold, and yet, so so warm. And don't even get me started on the subway. Never have I seen beauty and efficiency married in such harmony.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

behavioral economics

Amos Tversky, he of prospect theory fame, writes:

"Probably the most significant and pervasive characteristic of the human pleasure machine is that people are much more sensitive to negative than to positive stimuli ... Think about how well you feel today, and then try to imagine how much better you could feel ... There are a few things that would make you feel better, but the number of things that would make you feel worse is unbounded."

It amazes me how I have discovered so much more truth in sociology and economics than in the pure sciences. Physics was beautiful at times, and mathematics still is, but this is something bigger. This is my calling.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

sucker punch

Everytime I try to become a different person, relaxed, happy and even sociable, something comes along to pull me away.

It's no use. I've decided to start hating people again.

forever pale, in
the shadow of the sun
the moon weeps.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Family matters

Mine is a strange family. My father is estranged from all his siblings. My mother has seen one of her brothers die in war. The legend goes that when I - the first grandchild on this side of the tree - was born a few months after his death, family ancients swore that my baby-face was his spitting image, that I was his God-given replacement. My grandfather, a keen astrologer, took one look at my horoscope, and pronounced that I would become a genius to rival my celebrated great-uncle. Under the weight of such expectation, I suppose it's hardly surprising that I've degenerated into a verbose, alcohol-guzzling, even inscrutable MBA student. Maybe I will graduate one day to becoming a poor man's Bukowski. That remains the height of my ambitions. Anyway, I digress.

Yes. As I was telling you, mine is a strange family. For many years, I was under the impression that this strangeness limited itself to a deep affinity for melodrama. What you would call 'filmy', perhaps. Never did I expect the players on stage to be capable of such intrigue as I will now recount.

My mother has another brother. One that I was quite fond of, growing up. My earliest memories involve playing chess against him, learning its tricks from an obscure east European book that he had lended to me. As I recall, he was pretty good at chess, even if that only means he used to roundly thrash a little boy, all of six. He was also the nicest, gentlest man that I had ever known, so much so that when I saw him write a suicide note that concluded with "I have no option but to kill myself" in full caps, I told myself he was writing a story.

Incidentally, he didn't kill himself. Maybe he really was writing a story.

Soon, I grew up, and we drifted apart. The few times I visited him and my grandparents (he lived with them), I beat him at chess. He was deadly decent about it, telling me that I was a much improved player. I can imagine that if I were in his place, how I'd have moaned. He was married now (to a real vixen, family chroniclers contend), and had twins. Despite the kids' difficulties - they were both, when I think of it now, definitely dyslexic - his nature remained the same. Kind and doting.

This was about six, seven years ago. I went away to college, imagining, in my naivete, that things would always remain the same. And as people of that age are wont to do, I lost touch with the family.

A few weeks back, my mother revealed that she wasn't on talking terms with him anymore. Why, what happened, I ask. He cut us out of your grandfather's will, she said. After the funeral, when we met to slice our shares, he said that he didn't want to share the fortune (and I really do mean fortune) with us. He said that the will was missing. Lost. Destroyed? The will that my grandmother had so carefully drawn up, before her death, so that her two "girl children" wouldn't have to suffer. My mother and her younger sister.

No one knew who the witnesses were, or who the lawyer was, he said. No one. So I keep the money, he said. And then when she came home, shell-shocked, she received a terse one line email. Let us not be in touch anymore, it said. The mother's sister wanted to drag him to court. The bastard, he's robbing us, she said. The mother let it rest. He's family, she said.

One day, I will return to what is now his house. And across the chess board, I will congratulate him on what was his most unexpected move, brilliant in foresight and devastating in implication.

Then, I will proceed to beat him. And leave.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

no country for stupid men

They expelled a guy a couple of days ago. The head of the committee that did the honours was good enough to mail the entire batch a narrative describing in full the cold and calculating nature of the criminal's misdeeds. With its noir undertones and the starkness of its prose, it could well have been Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon putting pen to paper. Telling us that on the night of the 21st of January, the accused did this. On the 22nd, he did that. On the 21st of February, when he realized the game was up, he confessed. But of course, the mail made clear, the confession was in "close confirmation with the conjecture on the sequence of events made by the committee from available documentary evidence even before his confession." Yeah. Great going, Sherlocks. What a complete disgrace.

The poor boy had fudged answers on to his graded answer script, and submitted it for re-evaluation. He had gotten away with it (along with an impressive 50 point increase) during the mid-terms, and was stupid enough to try it again. Got caught, and got expelled. Deserves as much for being a one trick pony.

Of course, the way I see it, a post graduate institution really has no business awarding grades in the first place. Harvard doesn't. Nor does Wharton or Kellogg. This place is already super-competitive as it is when it comes to landing those plum job offers from companies who don't even pay that much attention to your GPA. The last thing that we need is a diabolical grading system that takes the joy away from learning in this short interval between self-righteous penury and corporate harlotry. But no, the committees that matter like playing cops and robbers, you see.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Jesus etc.

We sat around the fire. Memories flickered like fireflies in the night, and then died, as is their wont on days like this. We made our confessions, with the thousand yard stares of soldiers who have seen too much, and told our Canterbury tales, full of the intrigue and deceit that so described our lives. Then, we jumped into the fire, sizzling, and then fizzling out when the little boys on the shore broke their little castles of sand all over our Walpurgisnacht-before-time.

We woke up the next morning, and we went to work and we went to college, full of ourselves and our lovers' Valentine messages. For once, we were truly happy, because in the clarity of the morning, we truly understood sunshine, and the warmth it brought with it. Lives that are long suffering in the darkness are thankful for the small mercies, and the big miracles. Here's to you, lover, for walking on water.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


I am not sure I enjoy being spoilt for choice. I bid for exchange universities tomorrow. The GPA based bidding order has put me in a position from where I can either go to Yale, or to some random German university. The dilemma arises because Random German University will also offer me a scholarship of 3000 Euros over the exchange period of three months, which provides enough monetary fuel to finance my travels across all of Europe Yale, on the other hand, will cost me a bomb, and I will in all probability be stuck in Connecticut all winter long.

I suspect that at the heart of the matter is an altogether more philosophical issue. I think it comes down to who I really am, deep down. The academician is me is desperately yearning for Yale, with its lengthy list of Nobel Laureates and its place in the American Ivy League pantheon. On the other hand, Germany, and the money that its government will so graciously provide me, will give me the opportunity to travel across the continent in true troubadour fashion. Backpacks. Eurorail passes. The works. The guy who went to Leipzig last year on the scholarship visited 16 countries. S-i-x-t-e-e-n.

But then again, it's Yale! Yale, which has produced Murray Gell-mann, and Sinclair Lewis, and Jodie Foster, and Camille Paglia, and Tom Wolfe, and Nick Carraway in the Great Gatsby ! (Lets pretend for now that George Bush didn't go there). The sheer weight of its history bears down on my soul. I simply can't turn down an opportunity to go there, can I ?


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Watching Juno

Much in the tradition of Lost in Translation, Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine, Juno will, in all probability, not win the Oscar for Best Picture. Strange as it is, that is perhaps the strongest vindication of its beauty.

I really can't say much more now. I'm quite speechless. Nothing like a comedy that brings you to tears.

Monday, January 21, 2008

what i feel like, these days

to convey one's mood
in seventeen syllables
is very diffic-

-- John Cooper Clark,

who is the second greatest man I know from Salford, after one Mr. Scholes. And no, that's not Myron. Though he's a bit special too.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Something's not right with this year. There is a sneaky feeling that Something Bad is just waiting to happen. A feeling that I'm unable to banish by watching movies that cover the entire spectrum of Hollywood's high school film offerings from the thoughtful, and sometimes even profound Rushmore(1994) to the inane yet strangely enjoyable Superbad(2007). Perking up, in true Phobe Cates fashion, next in this particular line is the Big Daddy of the genre, Fast Times at Ridgemont High(1982), which I will proceed to watch sometime today.

I have something of a penchant for digression. I can't really focus on anything, without letting my mind wander. Perhaps that explains why I cannot drive very well. The instructor tore his hair out trying to get me keep the damn thing going straight on an empty highway. Evidently, watching me 'play around' (and I mean this quite literally) with the steering wheel is not his idea of a good instructional session.

Anyway, I was trying to tell you about That Sinking Feeling that has accompanied the advent of the year. It's a bit like a dirty spot on your clothes that refuses to go away. No one else can see it, but it drives you nuts. And there's nothing you can do about it, except wait for it to go away, the way it came. Perhaps this feeling is borne from the fact that I spent New Year's day throwing up. Don't they say you spend the entire year doing what you were on New Year's? Ouch.

And by the way, apart from a glass of wine on Christmas Day and New Year's eve, I've kept to my word. I don't particularly feel de-toxed, or anything, though. In truth, my hitherto well-functioning digestive system, which has been entirely free of Intoxicant Substances for a month, has been killing me the last few days. I suppose this is what irony feels like, when it kicks you in the guts.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Someone write me a cheque already

If I were to ever get down to actually writing a book, I suspect that it will turn out a little like Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Nice cherry flavoured gum that you really dig into, until all that remains is the tasteless cud that you feel obliged to chew till the twisted end. But that's what I've always been - heavy on the style, and weak on the substance. Some nights, I like to think of myself as the David Lynch of the blogging world (okay, so I flatter myself occasionally), with works that are aesthetic masterpieces (see Mulholland Drive, 2001)but really don't mean anything. Unless you want to talk of psychogenic fugues or something (see The City of Absurdity: David Lynch).

Also, I've been wondering. How does one land a book contract with a six figure advance anyway?(see Viswanathan, Kaavya) I don't have an agent, or any connections in the right places. I haven't studied English Literature in a fancy Ivy League school. I have an undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics, for God's sake. I console myself saying that there has been a Great Writer who also had the same major (see Pynchon, Thomas. Though, admittedly, he dropped out of Cornell before he could graduate). It is also fair to say that I don't have a pretty face that can adorn the back flap (see Lahiri, Jhumpa) or a literary mother who can tell me what not to do so I can win the Booker prize that she couldn't (see Desai, Kiran). Perhaps I also have a serious shortage of Exotic and Adventurous Life Events (see Pierre, DBC or Roberts, Gregory David).

All I have is this blog. Now what do i do? And no, I will not convert this into a sex blog. Though that appears to be the quickest way to get noticed by some publisher type (see Belle de Jour). What's the male equivalent to chick-lit anyway? Metro-lit? Or do I have to invent a whole new genre now?

About Me

a recluse waiting for salvation