Sunday, 28 August 2011

I am blessed!

A desirable quality for human beings is to show the appreciation for all the help and support one received. This is perhaps the most important trait to win a lot of people over to your side!

There are a lot of people whom I owe thanks. Since I do not want this blog to be too lengthy, let me mention only a few. I hope on some other occasion, I shall expand this and try to be as exhaustive as possible.

I thank all who spoke during the felicitation during METC and showered me with warm feelings.

I could not express my gratitude on the day of felicitation as I was choked with emotion. and I write this blog to thank all who helped me and supported me in some way or the other, more often than not in more than one way.

Let me start with where I left!

I am blessed. I am blessed with good parents, wife and children, good teachers, good students, good colleagues and good friends. What else can one ask for!

A very generic vote of thanks but really from my heart: I am an observer of human nature and this habit of mine allowed me to learn from each one I came in contact with. Some of them difficult for me to practice nevertheless something which I thought would shape me better.

One's life begins with one's parents. I thank my parents for allowing me to pursue my life along the lines I wanted. My `educated' relatives advised my parents to ask me to go for B.E. Chemical engineering, the most sought after course those days. I could have got admission in the first merit list. My parents did not pay heed to their advice and allowed me to go for B.Sc Mathematics.

Second but not the least, I thank my wife Kalai for her continued support to all my academic activities. She took care of my children and never ever nagged me about my prolonged absence from our home. In spite of our diametrically opposite tastes, we both share a lot of common values: tendency to help whenever within our reach even without being asked for, straight-talk from the heart, sense of right and wrong.

Third, my children. I have not taken them for any vacation. Even when they saw photographs of the picnics of MTTS, they never asked me how I could take my students for a picnic but not them. I taught them a lot about life and how to be a good human being but NOT mathematics! In spite of shortcomings as a father they love me and encourage me to carry on with my passion to teach.

Fourth, my teachers. From school days, there had been a stream of good teachers who taught me VALUE along with lessons.

An important phase of my life was the time (16.5 years -- half of one's professional career to get full pension!) I spent in TIFR, (Tata Institute, Mumbai, India). Again I have been fortunate enough that many of my teachers liked me and taught me not only mathematics but many facts of city life for a boy from rural background.

Since most of you know the people I am going to talk about, I shall mention them by name. The first one was C.P. Ramanujam. He found that I was ready to learn, ask good questions and encouraged me to discuss any kind of mathematics with him. When I found a proof for the existence of non-measurable set using well-ordering principle, he was excited about it and arranged for a lecture at IISc which was attended by about 100 people. It was my first public lecture in front of some senior accomplished mathematicians. This boosted my confidence. By the way, he was the one who wrote me a letter to suggest that I should work in the area of semisimple Lie groups, as it was a confluence of many subjects and was likely to suit my tastes.

Next one who made a great impact on me is M S Raghunathan. For all his achievements, he was easy to approach, ready to discuss any kind of mathematics. He never ever encouraged me to keep some distance. I should mention two most important lessons I learnt from him. (1) Do not have any `airs', be easy to approach, 2) Return the calls and respond to mails. (This is a common trait I found in almost all the big-shots of TIFR. They know where they stand, did not put on `airs', were easily accessible and did respond to calls without waiting for me to call again! )

Raghunathan and I have really  had serious differences of opinion on many issues, argued over many things, have drifted apart for prolonged periods of time but there is no denying that my professional career and my personal growth owe a lot to him. I shall write more on this on a latter occasion.

You may remember that Raghunathan mentioned during felicitation that he taught me in the first year in TIFR and quipped perhaps I learnt from him how NOT to teach. This is quite the opposite. The main problem with his lectures was not thinking about his lecture before entering a classroom. Hence he was forced to think and prove results in the classroom. Many of my students might have noticed that I also think in front of them. The only difference is that I have some idea of the proof or have a strategy and I INFORM the audience of my line of approach to the problem and take them along with my thought process. About 10 years ago, during an introspection, I found that I had imbibed Ragunathan's style at a subconscious level.

I would like to mention three lessons I learnt from my teacher M.S. Narasimhan: (1) His passion to learn mathematics from anybody. You could see him attending a lecture by a very young student and taking notes. At the end he would ask the speaker some good questions and if he has to impart some tips/advice, he would do it very discreetly after the lecture. (2) The art of asking correct questions. If my students find that that I do so often, you know where it came from! (3) His love for books and library. If he visits any new institute, you will see that he somehow manages to visit the library and browse through the collections.

Another teacher of mine who taught me how to think algebraically especially in Lie theory was Parthasarathy. The celebrated result of mine was thanks to my queries about his earlier results and his generous sharing of ideas

At TIFR, I had been fortunate enough to have found great friends. To start with Adimurthi. As he mentioned in his message, our love for each other started with a fight. I mentioned some piece of mathematics which he thought was wrong, as almost everybody (at that time) had the same idea as Adi. Later we developed mutual respect and love for each other. We were fiercely competitive with each other and learnt a lot of mathematics together through our night seminars. My analysis is strong due to my association with Adi.

Another one was Akhil Ranjan, who is at IIT-B now. Our common interest was geometric thinking. I think his geometric thinking is superior to mine and I helped him to hone his.

A person with whom I spent a lot of time and who made an impact during my initial years in TIFR is Somesh Bagchi. He was and is still my Big Brother in every respect. (Note my choice of the word `Big Brother' in stead of the Bangla word `da'!)

There are quite a few about whom I shall write later. Before I leave to the next phase, let me record my gratitude to TIFR. The ambiance at TIFR during 70's and 80's was conducive for world-class research and scholarship. Through there were no formal training in the proper sense of the word, the atmosphere was such that we all learnt a lot from each other. There was an intangible pressure to perform. If somebody thinks of associating me with scholarship in many fields, it was due to the academic ambiance of TIFR. I can hardly think of any other institute where I could have achieved the level of confidence I have in many subjects.

My second phase of professional life at Mumbai University spans a period of 17 years minus 2 days.

I thank Prof. Nadkarni for inviting me to University of Mumbai. During felicitation, he disclosed that he postponed his sabbatical to make sure that I was appointed as Professor. I was not aware of this. I am very grateful to him and I hope that I did not not let him down and that I did enough for the Department of Mathematics and University of Mumbai.

Almost all colleagues were very friendly and supportive of me. Some of them became life-long friends: Deshpande, Cowsik, Sane, Anjana, Poornima, Pandit. As Sane wrote to me a few months ago, all these friendships grow stronger though I am away from them now. Sane wrote a very strong letter while recommending me to Chandna award for Excellence in Teaching and research in Mathematics. I thank him for this letter.

I was also fortunate that all non-teaching staff simply adored me, in spite of my being a task master! Perhaps the only reason I could attribute to this would be that I treated them with the same respect as I'd with my teaching colleagues and took interest in their family members especially their children. I always explained my course of action and solicited their support rather than simply ordering them.

I also had a great deal of top class students through out tenure at Mumbai. Jyotsna, Ajit, Vikram and many other were at the Conference METC but there are just too many to count.

Teachers of Mumbai Colleges and I have a great rapport. It is not an exaggeration if I say that for any academic related issues, the college teachers approached me and I was able to solve their difficulties. Many of my articles at under-graduate level were notes based on my lectures, seminars and workshops organized by the college teachers of Mumbai. When I left Mumbai for Hyderabad, they organized a farewell party which was charged with emotions. In fact, they were more unhappy than my colleagues in my department!

Let me now come to Hyderabad. I would not be here but for the efforts of Amarnath, whom I consider to be one of my best friends and mentor. Though he may be younger to me, I look up on him as my elder-brother who solves the problems of his kid-brother and takes care of him. But for his constant and persuasive advice, I would not own a roof over my head!

My colleagues at Hyderabad, both young and senior, are very friendly and supportive of me. Special mention should be made of Dr G L Reddy. He brought his car so that we can visit the sites during my hunt for an apartment. Now both Amarnath and Reddy are after me to buy a car!

While I had problems with the `work-culture' in Hyderabad in general and University in particular, both sides are trying strike a mutual compromise!

For most, I am known as an MTTS-man (like Kurien for Amul and milk)! MTTS owes is success to a small team. People such as Santhanam, Ajit, Jayanthan, are ready to go to any camp of MTTS, however inhospitable the climate is. They are involved in almost all aspects of MTTS for more than a decade. I thank them, all the members of our team, the coordinators. Coordinators merit a special mention since it is my practice to give them explicit directions in the organizational aspects of the camp and do not interfere as a rule. All of them lived up to my expectations and the success of the programme owes a great deal to their selfless help.

By the way, if I have to mention two people who are responsible for the organizational excellence of MTTS, I would say Inder K Rana and Ajit Kumar. Rana initiated me into it and Ajit helps me to sustain it and improve on it. For academic aspects, the credit goes to Santhanam.

Though officially they are not my students, two Eakalavya's, who became best friends not only of me but of my family, are Muruganandam and Santhanam. It is now difficult for me to say in how many ways the trio Ajit, Muruganandam and Santhanam influence my personal as well as professional life. My life is enriched with these people.

A last word of appreciation. It was Jysotsna who persuaded me to allow them to organize a conference which will also serve as a platform for my felicitation. I was able to withstand the pressure from others but not from her. I thank her and other organizers, as it certainly let me see that there are many who appreciated me and my work. It is Muruganandam's relentless efforts that made the Conference materialize and achieve its aims to a large extent.

Once again, my heart-felt thanks to all humans I came in contact with.

Thank all of you for reading this message and attending the conference METC.

My next blog will be on Examinations.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Maths education -- Trends and Challenges

University of Hyderabad and NISER, Bhubaneshwar organized a joint Conference titled "Mathematics Education -- Trends and Challenges".

It was attended by about 80 mathematicians, some of them eminent mathematicians of India.

The most striking feature of this was it was not a traditional conference. The organizers chose 9 themes related to the field of Mathematics Education. For each theme, there were panelists and they started with a brief view of the problems concerning the theme. It was then thrown open to the audience which resulted in serious discussions, question and answer sessions and critical comments .

According to the organizers, this is the first time where such panel discussions were taken for three days (well, 2.5 days).

The participants, especially the young, were excited about the structure and the themes of the conference. The organizers promise to come with detailed report in about 6 weeks time. They also invited the participants to send (within a week) any further comments other than those made during the conference. After circulating a draft version,  the final version will be mailed to all participants, will be uploaded on the website of METC, hosted at NISER and will be published in Mathematics Newsletter.

The organizers chose the conference platform to felicitate me. My next blog "I am blessed" will be a continuation of this.