Wednesday, September 9, 2015

FLASHES OF MY LIFE - 6: ‘ Tapas’ of Mathematical Research: 1956-62

‘ Tapas’ of Mathematical Research: 1956-62

I joined Annamalai University as Assistant Lecturer in Mathematics in August 1947. I served there for three years.  I came into contact with original mathematicians like Dr. V. Ganapathy Iyer and  Dr. M. Venkatraman. The idea of ‘Research’ took roots in my mind.  In 1950 I moved over to Thiagarajar College, Madurai as Lecturer. As an affiliated College, with a small department of mathematics and a very commonplace library it did not provide by itself any means of advanced study.  Dr. V Seetharaman was the Head of the Department. Looking at the stature of these PhD’s that I had come across, I developed a great urge to do some advanced studies.  Just two books were located in the library of Thiagarajar College that might be useful to me for advanced study. These were: Hardy: Pure Mathematics and Cramer : Mathematical methods of Statistics. In my three attempts at IAS examinations (in 1949, 1950 and 1951) I had chosen my third optional subject (besides the two regulars, namely Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics) differently each time. Once it was Statistics; another time it was Sanskrit and another time it was Advanced Indian History.  Each time I succeeded in the written exams but was flunked at the interview stage by being awarded the same 75 marks (out of 300) each time. Anyway the study of Statistics for this purpose gave me an impetus to choose Cramer’s book of Mathematical Methods of Statistics  for my proposed advanced study.  But the first few chapters of that book was all high analysis and that floored me.  It was this time (summer of 1953) that I had an opportunity to go to the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta for a two month period during the summer of 1953, for a so-called training in Statistical Methods.  The training was nothing but some practice in the operation of hand calculators. But what I gained was some good mathematical  grounding in Real Analysis, particularly Measure Theory (of which I knew nothing till then) through the lectures of Dr. R. Vaidyanathaswamy who was also there at the Institute at that time, fortunately for me.  So, later when I came back to my college in Madurai, Cramer’s book made sense to me.  But before I could make any substantial progress in the book, so many other things happened in my personal life  and career that the so-called advanced study was still (as late as  1956) only in the future-to-be.

In the year 1954 I  authored and also published on my own a text book of Trigonometry for the Intermediate classes of South Indian Universities.  It was received well but in the year 1956 the University of Madras scrapped its Intermediate  curriculum and programme and introduced a one-year Pre-University programme followed by a three-year degree programme.  This made me rewrite my Trigonometry book, include the portions of the degree programme, cut off the portions that went into the Pre-University and thus produce a three-year degree textbook of Trigonometry – which I did by around the middle of 1956.  My father was writing his magnum opus – Gitamritamahodadhi, in Sanskrit – but it was written by him in Grantha script and so when he wanted to send it to the Kanchi mutt it had to be transcribed into devanagari.  I had the good fortune of doing that job of transcription – in the process my acquaintance with advaita philosophy started –and this was finished by the end of 1955 and the mss. was sent to the Kanchi mutt, where it is still in their library.  Children Ravi and Balaji had serious recurrent medical problems, sometimes simultaneously, – which required hospitalization, several, several visits to the doctor, and consequent money crunch and what not. My father passed away in January 1956.  All these contributed to my complete non-activity in advanced studies in mathematics.  But my father had  always been  telling me: ‘Your better times will start, perhaps, after I am gone’! 

Usha was born in April 1956. Around that time I saw an advertisement that Govt of India was offering research scholarships to teachers, particularly in affiliated colleges, to move away on leave or lien to University departments and do wholetime research for three years. I applied for the scholarship at Annamalai University to work under Dr. V. Ganapathy Iyer . And I got it. By that time I had been earning around Rs.400 or so per month at Madurai which included both my salary and income from private tuitions.  But the scholarship that was being advertised was only Rs.200 and legitimately no engagement in other tuitions etc. will be allowed.  With a family of four children it was going to be impossible to make both ends meet. For a whole month around May-June 1956, we debated intensely among ourselves, very often with Mr.Uppili, my neighbour and colleague (of the English Department) and my father-in-law, who was visiting us at the time. I consulted my St. Joseph’s College Professor T. Totadri Iyengar, who had just then joined as Principal, Madura College.  He strongly advised me to take it, for three reasons: 1. In the ensuing decades no college teacher can expect to thrive without a Ph.D. 2. Dr. V. Ganapathy Iyer was internationally famous and to work under his guidance would be a rare opportunity. 3. I was only 29 then and so my whole future can be made in these three years.

But during our discussions at home, in addition to the paucity of living means that the experiment would entail, we repeatedly hit at the problem: What if, at the end of three years I had not done enough to merit a Ph.D?  At the time I was being known as an extremely successful teacher, I was already an author of one book, and was readying to become so of a second book and the tuition-world was opening out a volley of financial better times for me.   So am I throwing away the brightful present for a doubtful  and risky future? These discussions were going on endlessly.

That is where my wife Kamala came to our rescue and decided things for me! She had heard me speak very often how great a Ph.D. degree was, how knowledgeable Dr. Seetharaman of our department was, how Dr. Ganapathy Iyer with his D.Sc. was famous in the mathematical world and how just a B.A.Hons. converted into an M.A. was nothing before such great achievements.  So she decided that she will do all in her power and even beyond her power to help me get this Ph.D. for which the opening is just this scholarship.  All other problems of shifting the family to Chidambaram, running the household with less than half the present emoluments, -- all these challenges, she said, could certainly be met and the memories of that struggle, if any, will be buried in the past once I get my Ph.D. And that was her decision.  With the support of such a brave and far-sighted lady as she was (and is !) we all accepted her decision and coupled with Prof.T.T’s advice, I cast the die!

Thiagarajar College granted me a study leave without pay for three years and a lien on my lecturer’s post. I joined the Annamalai University as a Government of India Senior Research Scholar on September 1, 1956. I met my Professor the very same day at his house (Usually he meets his research scholars at his own home in a small room where he works on his research, without paper and pencil !).  Two books were suggested to me for a beginning: Titchmarsh’s Theory of Functions and Hardy and Wright’s Theory of Numbers. He told me  Keep reading these books; when you have doubts come to me. That was all. I came home, a house that I had rented in Chidambaram town, with the two books, picked from the Library.  But the moment I reached home on that day, I was down with fever and in a day or two it was diagnosed as chicken-pox.  So challenges for Kamala started the very first day. The chicken-pox spread to the three children, Padma, Ravi and Balaji in the next few days. Only after a month the life at home came back to normal. I was able to resume my duty only by the 15th of September or so..

Thereafter the routine was the same on almost all the days. I cycled to the Campus and spent most of the day at the Department or the Library, reading almost everything in Mathematics that I can lay my hands on.  It was like a poor man enjoying all the riches he could never have dreamt of.   Of course periodically, probably once in three or four days I go the Professor and ask doubts.  But I may go with a score of doubts, thinking that this might take probably a whole day.  But he would clear them in just ten minutes.  But what is more, any mathematics book that I may take to him, any doubt that I may ask, he will not only clear it but he would start telling me how that subject matter of the book develops, what its connection is with the rest of Mathematics, where it is applied and used and what problems are usually trending in that area. That area itself may be far removed from his specialization – Analysis – but that would not deter him.  In fact by such memorable interactions with him, in about six months, I became familiar with quite a lot of branches of mathematics, having read at least the first chapters of the main books in that branch of mathematics.  I would not know at that time how much good this was going to be in my future as a mathematician.

Well, in spite of all that excitement, I did not make any progress with respect to any problem of research.  Wherever I could lay my hands, whether it was Function theory or any other topic , whenever I suggested a problem and took what seems to be the direction of proceeding with the problem, in my discussion with him it turned out to be either fruitless or one which demanded far more techniques and understanding that I still had to acquire. At home I would spend as much time as possible to mathematics; in fact I would keep studying mathematics books and articles even while I had to be engaged in rocking my little child Usha in a cloth hammock when her mother was busy otherwise. Kamala was working very hard to see that the household runs within the means that the scholarship was giving me.  She did not even emgage a maid servant to help her wash dishes or sweep and clean the house, even when the maid servant was only asking a monthly salary of Two Rupees!  This is one remarkable instance of how she was meeting the ‘challenges’  that she knew she would face and have to meet!

A greater challenge was erupting for me! The Annamalai University would not recognise my Madras University M.A. (of 1947) as equivalent to the M.Sc that all Universities had just introduced in 1956; because it was said that the M.A. that I had got after a three-year honours was only by efflux of time and not by a course taken in a university or by an examination! – though all along since the twenties the Universities had been approving it as equivalent to a post-graduate degree. The system was introduced by Dr. A L Mudaliar,  following some British Universities of that time.  Anyway the bottom line was, the Annamalai University told me that I have to do an MSc by research and submit a thesis for M.Sc not earlier than one year from the time of my registration.  Since my registration for research was in September 1956, I was expected to submit an M.Sc. Thesis  by September 1957 and then work, in residence at the University, for at least two years to submit  my Ph.D. Thesis.  All this meant I had to quickly get some results of research done to merit an M.Sc. Thesis.  But so far, even as late as April 1957, I had no success.

In the meantime I had picked up enough French and German  at least to the extent I could read written Mathematics matter in these languages, though I would not pronounce or read them in French or German.  What I learnt to do, was to read them in English, by mentally translating the matter and this I could do so fast that somebody looking at me reading a paper in French or German would think I had the English translation right before me!  I picked up this competence in about six months and this helped me enormously. I began reading Bourbaki’s books (all in French) and also read almost the full book (in German)  of Uniformisierung by Nevanlinna and actually did my own translation of the book of 200 pages by the end of 1958. While all this was a great achievement, what the MSc requirement wanted was one or two research papers containing original results.

Well, matters were really discouraging.  My father had left in his many handwritten notes certain mantra tips for various kinds of redresses and benefits.  One of them was a pair of shlokas from the Valmiki Ramayana Balakanda very first sarga. The prescription says: If you repeat these two shlokas 256 times everyday morning facing east for six months you will become master of all learning.  I embarked on this project around January 57, but by the time I reached April  57 my tempo of studies  became so intense and time-consuming that I had no more any time for this ritual of mantra repetition.  Thus the six-month japa stopped almost midway.  I was able to submit a paper in the area of Entire Functions to the Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society. It got published in April 58. And this became my first of two papers constituting my MSc thesis, submitted to the University in September 1957 exactly one year after registration.

But now appeared the second challenge.  The result of the MSc thesis (sent  for evaluation to three Professors, Dr. Shah  in Aligarh, Dr. R.P.Boas  in Northwestern University, USA and to Dr. V. G. Iyer) took its own usual time and was made available only in June 58. Now the University stipulated that residence for my PhD work will be counted  only from this date and so I should put in two years of residence from this date.  But this would require me to stay in Annamalai University beyond the termination of three-year leave period from my College.  Thus started my second obstacle to my path to PhD.
In January 1958 the Indian Science Congress had its annual session  in Madras (now-Chennai) and Dr. V. G. was invited by Prof. A M Shah of Aligarh to take the leading part in a symposium on Riemann Surfaces at the Conference.  Professor conveyed his inability to attend the Congress because of health reasons; but he recommended me to Prof. Shah saying that ‘V.K. is competent to talk on Uniformisation of Riemann Surfaces since he has recently been reading Nevanlinna’s Uniformisierung, the only book available  on the subject and that too being in German’.  This resulted in my speaking at the Indian Science Congress session for one hour on a topic with which even the professors were only vaguely familiar and coming with the blessings of Dr.V.G., I had a great approbation at the symposium.

Throughout 1958 and early 1959 I had been studying among many other things, the new subject of Linear Topological Spaces from the only book  then on the subject by Bourbaki  and this one was in French. It turned out that this study prompted me and finally enabled me to generalise the several papers on Spaces of Entire Functions by Dr. V.G over the years 1950 to 59.  I was also able to generalise some results of Taylor and Halberg on state diagrams of linear operators on normed linear spaces to Linear Topological Spaces.  All this constituted three papers from me one in Mathematische Annalen (Germany), one in Journal of the National Institute of Sciences of India and one in the Journal of the Australian Math Society. And thus was I ready to write my PhD thesis incorporating these three papers.  But the beauracratic hurdles created history.

First I will not be allowed to submit my thesis until I had put in two years of residence after getting my MSc. So I will have to wait till June 1960.  But my three year leave from Thiagarajar College will require me to be back there by September 1959.  In the meantime the College had created a post of Additional professor of Mathematics, which would naturally go to the second in command in the Department. I would have got it if I had been there and I would get it now if I go there now. So a big dilemma bothered me as well as all my well-wishers, particularly my family. 1. If I continue to stay at the Annamalai University beyond the three years, what would be my subsistence? Who will pay me? My scholarship was only for three years. 2. If I do not go back now to my College, the new post of Additional professorship would go to somebody else. 3. But if I go back now, I cannot submit my PhD. Thesis and the very purpose for which I had been struggling for three years would be lost. And 4. If I do not go back now the lien on the existing post of my lecturership would itself  evaporate and I would be nowhere at the end of the fourth year unless of course the College extends my leave and lien. But will they?

Again I went back to my father’s notes and found a mine of a help. For consecutive nine days one is supposed to read the two chapters numbered 104, 105 of Ayodhya Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana (where Rama advises Bharata in a famous speech called ‘Rama-Gita’ not to insist on his request that Rama should immediately return to Ayodhya) three times each day at the end of one’s  daily puja and then each day feed four Pundits who know the vedas. This I did from April 9 to April 17 (1959), finishing on the Sri Rama Navami day. The effect of this ritual has been declared in my father’s notes as ‘sarva-kArya-siddhi’ (= Success of all Tasks). In this project full credit has to go to Kamala my wife who gladly took the trouble of feeding four Pundits with a specialised menu for nine days continuously and simultaneously manage  a family of five children plus her own father who was visiting us at the time!

Did a miracle happen? Yes, it did.  There was a Fellowship announced by the National Institute of Sciences of India (NISI) of Rs.400 per mensem for postdoctoral work for two years at any University in India.  I applied for it and I got it by about June 1958. But now the new dilemma was: Is a Fellowship for one or two years better than a sure professorship that was readily waiting for you now, or was the Professorship the better option? There were many elderly friends who recommended the latter option. I made a frantic trip to Madurai, met my Principal, the Correspondent of the College and over and above him the Founder-President, Sri Karumuthu Thiagaraja Chettiar.  After these interactions I had two assurances from them. They will extend my leave and lien by one year and the additional professorship will wait for me to take it up the next year!  Thus I continued in Chidambaram for one more year, but now as NISI Fellowship-holder. and in this fourth year I was a Mathematics free-lancer, in the sense,  I studied as many advanced books in varied sub branches of Mathematics as possible and gave myself a thorough base in the wide Mathematics Ocean! This foundation proved to be a valuable asset in my future career as a Professor of Mathematics. Of course I submitted my PhD Thesis around July 1960 and got the degree in due time.  I was pleasantly surprised and happy to know later that one of the three evaluators of the thesis was Prof. Dr. G. Koethe (Germany) himself, an international authority on the subject and the author of a seminal voluminous book in German on Linear Topological Spaces. This is the book which happened to be my bible for my later work on the subject.  My paper in my PhD thesis was quoted by him  in his second edition of the book, now available in English since 1964.

Just one more story and this will complete the tapas!  I was in Thiagarajar College, as Additional Professor in 1960 -62.  The ‘God’ of this story is Prof. Marshall H. Stone of the Chicago University, at that time. Prof. Stone needs no introduction to mathematicians, but here I have to say that Stone was one of the major ace-setters and founders of 20th century Mathematics.  He was also a connoisieur of Carnatic music and so he used to visit Madras, particularly, in the music season, almost every year. Every time he visited India he usually paid a visit to Chidambaram to pay his respects to Prof. V. G. Iyer, whom he considered as a mathematics ‘sage’. In 1962 March, he visited Madras University and the Dept. of Maths. under the headship of Dr. V. S. Krishnan, presented to him a five-day programme of mathematical presentations by research scholars and faculty of the Department. Dr. V. G. Iyer wrote to me to go to Madras and be present at these presentations and also meet Prof. Stone.  Accordingly I was there in Madras University for all the five days.  I could not get any chance to present my researches to Prof Stone, because of two reasons: I did not belong to the University dept. and secondly when I asked Dr. VSK to give me a chance he showed to me his schedule and pleaded there was no vacant slot for me.  On the third day or so Dr. Krishnan threw a grand party to Prof. Stone, in the lawns of the University.  During the party when I had the opportunity to talk to Prof. Stone, he enquired very caringly about Prof. V.G.’s health and asked me about what work I had done under him.  I mentioned just the word ‘Locally convex spaces’.  He immediately said : Why don’t you also present your work like these people are doing?  I told him there was no vacant slot for me according to Dr. VSK.  He immediately walked over to where VSK was standing and told him, Give Krishnamurthy the slot that you have fixed for me (Stone) tomorrow afternoon.  And that was done. The consequence was I had the opportunity to present my PhD work particularly that portion connected with locally convex spaces the next day. And to my pleasant surprise, it so happened that professors and other mathematicians from the city colleges were also present for the lecture, because it had been announced earlier in all the colleges of the city that Professor Stone was going to address the meeting that afternoon!  Well, at the end of my lecture, Prof. Stone who was sitting in the last bench stood up and gave me a standing ovation! It was due to his recommendation that year that I was able to go to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a three-year assignment as a  faculty member.   The coming to Chidambaram from Madurai to do research was one turning point for the good in my life.  The next turning point was this my visit to the University of Illinois, followed by the visit of Kamala, with Ravi, Balaji and Usha in the next year to stay with me in 1963-65.  These two major events in my life not only shaped my life but rewarded the rest of the family with the exposure to the world outside of Tamilnadu and outside India and also accelerated the shape of things to come in their own lives.

Later, during the first week of 1989, Prof. Stone visited Madras (for the music season) and was staying in Woodlands Hotel. I was then settled in Madras after my retirement in 1988. I visited him at the hotel on the 7th January  and he asked me about my forthcoming book: Culture, Excitement and Relevance of Mathematics.  The original motivation for this book must be traced back to my fourth year of my research period in Chidambaram which broadened my acquaintance with Mathematics in no small measure. It was also sharpened by the Mathematics 'Cocktail' lectures by Professors organized by Maths students of BITS Pilani in the seventies. I described to him the book chapter by chapter and he listened with warmth and gave me a few suggestions.  My wife invited him for a lunch on the 10th at our home and he agreed.  But unfortunately on the 9th he breathed his last while at the hotel.  I dedicated my book to his great name. The book was published in 1990.


Friday, September 4, 2015

FLASHES OF MY LIFE - 5 : 30 Indian Fulbright travel grantees once stranded in Milan

Thirty Fulbright travel grantees from India  stranded in Milan  - A 1962 real story!

This is  the story of how in my life I was once sucked into a certain leadership position that unexpectedly turned out to be not so enviable at the time, though at this distance in time I can talk about it with pride.

Ninety of us Indians travelled to the United States in August 1962 as Fulbright Travel Grantees. Our sponsors for the entire trip was United States Educational Foundation in India  (USEFI), Delhi. We had a four-day orientation in Mumbai (then called Bombay), at the end of which we were divided into three batches of 30 each, each batch having a different travel itinerary. However, in the first lap of our journey (August 1 to 9) by boat from Bombay to Naples we were all together. For the first four or five days many of us who were first time travellers by boat, had sea-sickness and due to the turbulent nature of the Arabian Sea  we really passed through an ordeal, added to which, the vegetarians had a testing time of finding the right type of food for them.  When our boat the ORANSAY passed the strait of Messina (between Italy and Sicily)  it was night time  and we had the exciting sight of Mt. Etna in eruption on the left and the city of Reggio on the right, beautifully lighted!. At Naples the batches separated and went their different ways. At Bombay itself at the end of the orientation, leaders of the three batches had been elected. I was elected leader of my batch. There were 25 men and five women in my batch. Most of them were headed for a graduate education in the U.S. Five of them including myself were going to take up faculty positions in different universities in the U.S.

At Bombay the USEFI gave our tickets upto Naples and further told us that at Naples a representative of the Council of Student Travel  (CST) (with HQ in Paris) would give us necessary money as well as tickets for the onward journey. Our itinerary was to alight at Naples, travel by train to Rome, and again travel by train from Rome to Rotterdam from where we would take another boat to New York.  We alighted at Naples at 7 AM 9th August. The student representative Mr. Papacio  and the taxis at his disposal were not prepared for our 90 pieces of luggage for the thirty of us. By the time we could find a bus for us to carry our luggage and reach the train station, our train had left. In fact this was a thrilling experience for me, because, 6 pieces of luggage were left behind, and so as leader of the group and with the help of Papacio, I searched for the pieces,  found them and then followed in a taxi with these six pieces, the bus carrying the others..  I had a proud feeling  then (!) –later the next day that feeling was going to change to a diametrically opposite position – that I was really managing a family of 30 members with 90 pieces of luggage! Finally we all arrived in Rome by a later train .

One Mr. Marconi, also a student, took care of us for the evening and night, gave us just one fourth of the money we expected to get, and the next morning put us in a train to Rotterdam. Only after he put us on the train we came to know that no reservation had been done for us but actually we had been shoved into a compartment which was completely reserved from Milan onwards. So all of us, thirty Indians along with 90 pieces of baggage had to alight in Milan, around 5 PM, completely stranded. When the train was departing from Rome Mr. Marconi had signalled to us that he would send a telegram to Milan station master and set matters right; but obviously this must have goofed up somewhere. We had no idea of when our boat was to depart from Rotterdam the next day. The Station Master at Milan tried to help us by suggesting that we could go by the next train, leaving around 11 PM but it would reach Rotterdam only late evening the next day and even in that train there might not be accommodation enough for so many of us!

In the meantime some in our group of 30 had several different opinions (some of them as crazy as you can imagine) as to how to meet this crisis situation. I could get constructive help and advice from four or five in our group of whom I cannot forget Dr. A.M. Vaidya, Dr. Manohar and Joseph Edwards. But it was an eye-opener to me that even in such an adult population of well-educated youths, about half a dozen or so were so upset at the turn of events as we left Rome, that we had to treat them almost as children lost in a mela. We four or five  who managed to keep our cool found it very challenging not only to control them, but we had also additional problems of fire-fighting since one of the ladies was in the habit of picking up quarrels with the men in the group. There were another two or three who were so argumentative that they almost threatened to break from the group and run away in Milan, as if they knew where to go.

We needed all our wits to keep them in the group with the rest of us. There were a few others who cared the least, whatever might happen; and so this was the other extreme, namely, total indifference! Well, in about 24 hours I learnt a lot, by the hard way of course, about the hazards of leadership! The five of us took an unusual decision to immediately contact the US Consul in Milan (whose office we learnt was within half an hour walking distance from the Station). As our good fortune would have it, though he had left the office  he promised to come back before  we arrived at his office. He made the necessary phone calls to Paris and Rotterdam and made some arrangements the exact nature of which was not then clear to us. But he asked us to go back to the Station and be ready to board the 11 PM train. He was really glad that instead of trying to contact the Indian embassy or Consulate, we chose to contact him, the US Consul – which, according to him, saved the name of the U.S. since we were travelling under the sponsorship of USEFI.

What actually happened at 11 PM was very Indian! The train was to start from Milan so as it was backing into the platform from the yard, we noticed that thirty towels had been used to ‘reserve’ thirty seats for us in the very familiar way in which we Indians used to appropriate seats in trains in those days when every seat was free for all!. On the train that night we had some funny experience. The half a dozen persons in our group who were crestfallen while we were stranded in Milan still did not cheer up!  There were beautiful sceneries; we were crossing the Alps. They would not even open their eyes and see outside! We reached Utrecht in Holland around 2 PM the next day. We had to change trains to go to Rotterdam.  There were only 15 minutes to move on to the right platform and board our other train.  But the Consul in Milan had anticipated all this and had arranged for several porters to transfer our baggages from one train to the other train.  When we arrived in Rotterdam at 4 PM or so,  the WATERMAN, our ship for travel across the Atlantic with 800 on board, which was scheduled to depart at 2 PM was waiting for us, 30 Indians.  In no time our passports and other documents were checked by a whole team of customs officials and within half an hour all of us were on board and the boat whistled off. None of us had any time to check whether our baggages had been uploaded on the boat or not but the Captain assured us that everything had been done, thanks to the excellent logistics that must have been charted out by the Consul at Milan.

The point of this story is our  leadership part  had been  put to the severest test during the fire-fighting and trouble-shooting and I must say this much in fairness to the story – the majority was always positive and helpful. Even the simple problem of loading and unloading the 90 pieces of luggage presented challenging leadership problems of coordination and discipline. Incidentally, the luggages were really very heavy, because we were all scheduled for travel by boat and we had to tranship them six times in two days ourselves, at Naples, Rome and Milan!  When we alighted in New York (August 20) we found only one of our 90 pieces was missing – that of my friend Edwards – but in about two weeks the CST traced it and sent it back to the owner.

Well, one more interesting fact! On the WATERMAN we thirty Indians gave a public performance to the other 800 passengers on India's Independence Day August 15. Programme included a vedic prayer, a recital from Gitanjali of Tagore, sAre jahamse acchA ( a chorus song); Tamil song vaNDADuM solaithanile; a Hindi bhajan;; Bharati's song: Aduvome paLLuppADuvome; a Gujarathi folk song; an English song and an Italian song; a film song 'kAhe gabrAye'; Nadasvaram  (from a tape recorder) of the song SingAravelane;  Janagana Mana. 


FLASHES OF MY LIFE - 4 : PraNAms to My Teachers on Teachers Day

My PraNAms to all my teachers over the years
On this Teachers Day : Sep.5, 2015

I prostrate at the feet of the following all of whom have shaped me
 in the respective time-periods when I had the  good fortune to be taught and influenced by them into what I am today:

1936-39 At St. Joseph’s Secondary School, Cuddalore: (I, II, III & IV forms)
·       My teachers of English, and Mathematics (Unfortunately I have forgotten their names.  Maybe I did not know their names even at that time of my studentship under them, my age at that time being 9, 10 and 11). The English and Mathematics teacher who was my class teacher in the I Form (equivalent to modern 6th std.) recommended to the Headmaster (a Jesuit Father) a double promotion for me at the end of the long term in the I Form.  On the Headmaster’s suggestion, my father (who was himself a B.A. Maths of around 1900) accepted to cover for me, at home, the portions of Maths, in particular, that I would thereby miss, -- for the remaining short term of the I Form and the long term of the II form  -- and accordingly I was promoted to sit in the II form for the remaining academic year.  So not only to those teachers of those times, but to my father also - who sat with me every night to teach me elementary algebra and practical geometry  that would have been covered  in the terms I skipped, because of this arrangement, which thus ended up by my clearing four school  levels in three academic years – I owe my PraNAms.
·       My Sanskrit teacher: I forget the name. The one thing his students may not forget may be the fact that his wife moved over to the movie-world (a rare event in those times and therefore talked about in hush-hush silence even by us, then not yet teen-agers) and acted in the film ‘Balayogini’ and probably other films.  But we, his students (in those days most of the class opted to sit in the Sanskrit class rather than in the Tamil class)  were captivated by his impeccable teaching Beginning Sanskrit and in fact every year his Sanskrit section became larger and larger than the corresponding Tamil sections. I doubly owe my PraNAms to him because the tree of Sanskrit knowledge that he planted in  me  is still flowering!
1939-41 At Town High School, Kumbakonam: (V and VI forms)
·       Sri S.R. Venkatrama Iyer, my mathematics teacher, who was the first to instil in me the rigorous logic of Euclidean geometry.  His teaching was so excellent, though he had certain mannerisms which we students used to mimick and have fun, that I can remember his characteristic teaching techniques even now.
·       Sri R. Satagopachariar, the Headmaster as also my English teacher. I remember learning the nuances of English grammar under him.  In the VI form, my benchmate in the two-seater bench in the first row was Sri M.V. Santhanam ( who later became one of the most famous performers of Carnatic music and got several awards including the Sangita Kalanidhi of Madras Music Academy)
·       My Sanskrit teacher  (again I forget the name!);
1941-42 At the Shorthand-Typewriting Institue, Kumbakonam
·       My teacher for Shorthand & Typewriting. This is the year when I had graduated from high school but not yet entered College, because of age restrictions. I can’t remember this teacher’s name but I remember his face vividly even now. He had a fascinating method of encouraging me to write accurate shorthand (Pitman’s), the faster and faster way.  His dictations for my training not only made me read more and more English writing.  By this time I had become a regular reader of almost every page of the Hindu and my getting habituated to reading English novels improved my English, which, in turn helped in the longhand reproduction of written shorthand. My teacher and his methods of training were a great inspiration! This shorthand learning was going to help me take down notes verbatim of all lectures of the faculty of English in the ensuing college days.
1942-44 At Government College, Kumbakonam
·       P.A. Sitarama Iyer, who taught me English Poetry. He was past the middle age.  But his enchanting way of teaching the love-poem – Isabella – of Keats is unforgettable. ‘Heard melodies are sweet; those unheard are sweeter!’ .  He used to say this very often.  And the melodious way he pronounced the last word ‘sweeter’ would carry us youngsters to the seventh heaven.  His questions in the examinations were very unusual;  but since I would have taken his lectures in shorthand, I would write answers to his questions using his own words uttered by him in the classroom and I used to get high approbation from him!
·       A.G. Narasimha Iyer , who taught me Physics.  A meticulous teacher with a mathematical precision!
·       The Physical Director (at that time) who taught us Trigonometry. Again I can’t recall the name. But even though he was only a B.A. in Maths. his clarity in teaching us from the book of Loney was perfect!
·       Professor Panduranga Ramachandra Rao who taught me Sanskrit. He taught us Malavikagnimitram. I learnt quite a lot of Sanskrit from his teachings. I also remember one day I got a scolding from him because during the class I was talking to my friend sitting next to me; he found that and ‘announced’ to the class that ‘Krishnamurthy will become an additional professor, because he is talking there when I am professing here’.  Great minds, when they make a statement, it will come to be true!   “RRishhINAM punarAdyAnaM vAcamarthonudhAvati”. Long after, in the year 1960,  affiliated colleges were permitted by the UGC to have, if they like, one more professor in their departments to be designated as  ‘Additional Professor’.  You will not believe it, as I returned in 1960 back to my Thiagarajar College, Madurai (where I had been lecturer for six years) in 1960, after being on study lien and leave  for four years, I had just finished my PhD in Annamalai University,  my College made me ‘Additional Professor of Mathematics’  in conformity with UGC regulations!
Another interesting quirk of good fate: Professor PR Rao’s  great-grand-daughter  and my grandson are now tied in wedlock  and it was almost by accident we discovered this student-teacher bond between me and the Professor  only just before the wedding in 2010!
1944-47: At St. Joseph’s College, Trichinopoly
·       T. Totadri Iyengar
·       S. Suryanarayanan
·       V. Ranganathan
·       G.V. Ramachandran
·       S. Srinivasan
All these taught me Mathematics in such a way that I became wedded to Maths. for the rest of my life. TT’s meticulous precision and clarity; Suryanarayanan’s obvious bubbling enthusiasm and pride for Mathematics; Ranganathan’s incisive teaching making even the dullest head comprehend; GVR’s impatient anxiety when he noted that somebody’s face in his class did not brighten up; and Srinivasan’s threadbare analysis of even the process of thinking – all these never forgettable characteristics of this excellent team of teachers did more service to the cause of Mathematics than even some routine research institutes in Mathematics had ever planned to do.
·       Dandapani: He taught us English in the first year of our three-year Honours. Particularly I remember his lectures on our non-detailed text: John Galsworthy’s Man of Property.  His lectures were spotless and proved to be an academic ‘treat’ for all of the 100 or so students in his class.
1956-60 At Annamalai University, Annamalainagar
·       Professor Dr. V. Ganapathy Iyer
My mentor, My Guide, My Guru, My role model of a mathematician-cum-human being. It was my good fortune to work under him.  Routine research guides (who are dime a dozen all over the world, particularly in India) keep half a dozen problems up their sleeve and make their student work on one or two of these problems for which they already know some directions for the solution and finally produce a Phd who turns out to be a ‘specialist’ in that little corner of the subject but cannot even venture to understand the ever-widening  nature of the vast area of knowledge outside his specialisation. Dr. V. G. Iyer was far far above this run-of-the-mill research guides. He made every student of his aware of a wide area of mathematics and made him wade through a lot of literature to concoct his own problem, be it within the area of specialization of Dr. V. G. or not, and then ‘guide’ him, and in this process of ‘guiding’, Dr. V.G’s own grasp of the student’s selected topic – which may even be totally foreign to Dr. V.G.’s acquaintance – would be so fast and accurate that even the specialists in that topic would be amazed! It was under such a Professor, by God’s Grace, I worked.  AUm shri gurubhyo namaH !
1927-56: All the time, ever with me:
·       Brahma Sri R. Visvanatha Sastrigal.
My father, whom I consider to be my guru for everything that may be good in me. From my childhood he educated me.  Even as a boy I walked along with him in the early mornings to the river for a bath followed by Sandhyavandanam and the like. And during the walk either we recited Vishnu Sahasranamam along with his contemporaries who walked along with us or he was teaching me how to read the stars and use some Sanskrit formulae for telling the time even at night by just a look at the stars. At home I had accompanied him on his daily Puja and followed his instructions.  On all possible days when he and I were at home, he had taught me vedic recitations by the strict traditional process. I have observed him how he reacts to various problems of family and secular life and the lessons and morals that I have learnt cannot be numbered. Many times I have sat in his Vedanta lectures.  These lectures of his, according to me, outshone any of the lectures of the great expositors, because in his case it was a hundred percent. original ‘juice’; no compromise, no mixture, it was a totally pure extract of the scriptures. Certain times I have helped him transcribe some of his original writings. Every time it was a process of education for me into the unknown world of spiritual knowledge, culture and heritage. … Well, I cannot list them all.  I have to bow and prostrate to him hundred times on this Teacher’s Day and thank God that He gave me such a Father!

yoginaM vishvanAthAkhyaM asmat-tAta-svarUpiNaM /
Atma-lAbhAt paraM laabhaM vaktAraM na kadAcana //
GItArtha-grantha-kartAraM shrIguruM praNamAmyahaM /
Yo.antaH pravishya me vAcaM dhRRitiM buddhiM pracodayAt //

Meaning: I bow to that great Guru of mine, who took the form of my father, by the name Vishvanatha. He was a Yogi, who never spoke of anything except the gaining of the Glory of the Atman. He composed the work interpreting the Gita.  May he be present in  my mind and prompt my intellect, fortitude and speech.