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An inspiration called ‘Srinivasa Ramanujan’ ………..

September 12, 2014

 

Srinivasa Ramanujam, unarguably the greatest mathematician pre-Independence India ever produced, is also whom the Mathematics department in University of Madras is named after. ‘The Ramanujam Institute of Mathematics’ is in fact a separate wing. Recently I read something about him in my newspaper which made me write this blog. (This post is thus a month old updated just now).

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/did-srinivasa-ramanujan-fail-in-math/article6254934.ece

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srinivasa_Ramanujan

Shakunthala Devi, was another genius mathematician from our own times who passed away very recently:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakuntala_Devi

And now we have this one (although a Canadian American Indian)

http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/manjul-bhargava-the-midas-touch-mathematician/article6309323.ece

See who is winning the ‘Spell bee’ in the US for consecutive years now.

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2010/06/why_are_indian_kids_so_good_at_spelling.html

There are many ways a nation can  make a mark on earth, many ways for us to show who we are, what we are. Oil certainly is one (vain) way. But personally my suggestion is, to ask anyone to build a knowledge society first. Our primary focus must be on pure unobstructed knowledge gain. This is the principal, basic step in nation building in my opinion. When the foundation is strong, fundamentals are healthy, we can go on build a superstructure over it all without a fear. Disciplines like science and maths have to flourish for mankind to progress. One hopes we will have less time for useless demos and politics and violence and hatred if our energies are positively consumed on productive matters. Science and maths have the power to transform societies into intellectual, peaceful ones. Software and space sciences did that to India. A substantial quantum of capital investments in the 1960s and 70s went into these sectors and heavy industries and research in medical field, which still falls short of other Asian parameters. It helps to have dreamers for leaders, there is no harm in dreaming. Jawarlal Nehru was such a dreaming PM, not a cynical one like ….some others of his time.  Why should wars or whatever sap our energies from other vital areas that necessitate our equal attention. Many rate Indian progress moderate before our economy opened up in the ’90s but so far as I am concerned, in the limited scope of economics i have learned and known, the period upto the late ’80s was India’s best – we were so much self-reliant, the investments went into what really mattered the fruits of which were to become apparent in the following decade, less polluted, and India was less crowded to speak of the least.

The expanse of knowledge sector was all-encompassing, with different disciplines thriving and flourishing side by side – sciences and maths and social studies and arts and crafts and music and dance all taught in our school campuses. Sports was better encouraged compared to the relative lower strata it is pushed to in modern times because physical activity seems to be meaning and having less and less space in our universe of existence of late. Practically each and every skill was honed with care, every artisan was groomed well. One of the greatest casualties of the software boom is that, with the financial perks and quick social advancement the field offered, parting ways with many traditional sciences and arts and crafts has become norm of the day. There are family vocations handed down over generations that are dying, musical genius wasted, other disciplines neglected. My school, a state-funded one, had housekeeping and home science and psychology and banking for instance that were vocational streams apart from the major, regular ones like MPCB (math, phy, chem, bio), MPCC (computer sc. instead of bio) and commerce in the higher secondary course (standard 11 & 12) in our days. Computers dept was started in  my school in 1986 the year I finished schooling so our batch had no option of picking it (although some private schools opened theirs by 1984). I think that’s the year that changed the destiny of modern India. May be we branched into another road from there on…. There was a squabble for the computer stream with MPC over biology for the first time in our school/state history.  All schools were witnessing the same scenario of mad rush for learning computers even though what was taught then was Fortron IV and BASIC. 1986 is also the year 4 big private engineering colleges opened in the city, including the one that my son attends today. SRM is now a renowned deemed private university with student intake from around the globe.

Another neighbourhood school in Mylapore had insurance stream for vocational training. So those were the times when apart from polytechnics, schools also offered vocational courses. For instance, the insurance students found 100% placement right in the school campus. The intake in all the vocational classes was healthy to my knowledge. There was something for everyone – even history and geography and advanced Sanskrit, Tamil etc.  Now I believe the home science, housekeeping, arts and music and language classes are taking a hit with numbers enrolled dropping significantly over years. My son’s school had only 2 streams – MPCB and MPCC and NO COMMERCE STREAM. Well this is a shocking surprise given that his school had over 14 sections in higher secondary each with a strength of over 60, all studying mere science and maths and nothing else. Those who attend the school from KG to standard 10 have no choice but to seek admission elsewhere if they are to pursue commerce & accountancy.  Or other social sciences. All the mainstream higher secondary students in his school again have one dream: to get into IIT, or NIT or other engineering colleges or medicine – many do manage to get into what they wanted. How many of these boys and girls opt for pure sciences is an interesting question.

There is this growing tendency of complete moving away from science disciplines like physics, chemistry and mathematics and biology (to engineering sciences and medicine by youngsters of) today. Thus research is at the risk of taking a back seat in our academics. But as the sheen of the the of software industry is wearing off, GenNext is once again propelled towards mainstream science which is a healthy sign. This trend is clearly visible in last 2-3 years. This is a nation that has produced Noble laureates in physics and mathematics. It hurts me that science stream students today are receiving step-child treatment when it comes to job scenario. There is particularly the danger of closing down the botany and zoology departments in city colleges that are seeing very less intake. (The same is also true of History, Geography, languages like Thamizh etc). I hope interest in pure science subjects is revived. The city schools are also facing shortage of good teachers in physics, chemistry, botony, zoo subjects. Where are we headed now?

As a little kid, my son always wanted to become an entomologist. He had such a fascination for centipedes and millipedes. With interest infused through internet at a very young age of 6-7 years, he was so knowledgeable in those tender years about the insect world that he knew so intimately. Even now he remembers their scientific names, anatomy etc with statistic details. Later on his interests shifted to a wide variety of subjects including marine biology, marine engineering and even space sciences for a while. In the higher secondary, last 2 years of his schooling, we saw a dramatic shift in his focus to engineering courses. Classes 11 and 12 define for boys and girls their future ambitions I guess. It does make me sad how dreams wither away for practical reasons in young children and materialism takes the central stage in their psyche. The boy who so passionately used to declare he wanted to become the zoo keeper of Singapore zoo now says he wants to design steel structures that will pay him well. ‘I still fantasize cool alternate careers, but money is a consideration too. I want to go to real concerts and see the world. I want to enjoy life and so have to earn enough to afford such a lifestyle’ clarifies my son.

I am also seeing more children taking up Nano technology and Biotech and Micro Biology like never before in last 10-15 years but the scope for the same is limited in India. One has to get into research essentially which not many are prepared for. (I found it so after studying Econometrics nearly 25 years back. A research oriented subject, when you don’t carry it forward, it is a total waste. In the US, some of my seniors/classmates pursued PhD in the same line. In India, hardly a handful got into research.) Employment generation in these specialized areas is a must for enthusing more aspirants to take up a career in these challenging fields. One boy who is completing his masters from a foreign university in Nano tech does not know what to do next. Even in Europe and America, job is not easy to come by in this kind of study. Research it will have to be. The boy is bracing for next 5 years of PhD in the US. Another one who graduated in biotech found work in Sweden to his relief.

IIT-JEE advanced is admitting candidates to Space Sciences/astro physics/aeronautical engg floated by ISRO in their Thiruvananthapuram campus in Kerala. Ever since they started, one hopes ISRO will get a steady stream of locally groomed scientists to carry on ambitious projects. To those who have misgiving s about Indian universities, may I ask, which university Abdul Kalam, pioneer in nuclear physics attended. I believe when he became our president and his credentials were published, the the US State department was buzzing with the question, which US university this Indian scientist attended and none could believe he was a 100% desi product who did not even earn a diploma overseas. IIMs are in top 100 world rankings and IITs may not be in top 100 because, for listing, many other disciplines are considered for weightage like social sciences, economics, history etc taught in the schools. Whereas IITs have only now started with Humanities department and have a long way to catch up with US universities when it comes to diversified curriculum – so it is only natural that IITs are not ranked within 1-100 top world universities/tech institutes (although they figure in top 100-200).

While there is increased impetus given to founding more technical institutions and management schools, there seems to be a considerable decline in investment in science & maths schools and research. Recently I came across a news report that Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalitha J is pitching for a research hospital in the lines of AIIMS in Chennai; apparently Modi has ideas to expand AIIMs to all state capitals or a selected few along with expanding the network of IITs and IIMs across the nation.

The more this kind of professional colleges and private deemed universities open up, the less and less into oblivion the science and maths colleges are shrinking. Maths and Pure sciences is to our academics what oxygen is like to our bloodstream.

A friend’s daughter is studying English literature and another’s has graduated in Tourism which news comes like a breather in the sea of tech/professional crowds I mingle in day to day. The latter has joined PG is Madras School of Social Work and is currently doing an internship. Chennai students studying anything other than engineering & medicine is a miracle. Another’s daughter in Kerala wants biology which is great news. There is no need for any boy/girl to suffer from low self-esteem studying arts/social sciences. A society is made up of all kind of people. We need to have not mere doctors and engineers but also potters, cobblers, janitors, carpenters, blacksmiths, plumbers, mechanics, nurses, teachers, musicians, artists, journalists, lawyers, soldiers, scientists, policemen, sports persona etc in our midst. All of us together make up for a right, balanced population. Our roads and drains still get clogged that have to be manually administered even if we can have mechanical intervention that comes to our aid in present times.

One of the chemistry teachers who is related to us who is a PhD is actively pursued by Reliance Petro etc for mind-boggling pay structure but so far he has not given in to temptations. He was promoted to Head Master of the boys’ school but he gave it up in a year because it hampered his teaching the higher secondary students in class 12 who have to sit for Board examinations. This man rides a scooter to his school everyday and that really touches my heart. His passion for teaching chemistry is another thing that amazes me totally. Such a dedication for his chosen profession. But the news that Corporate India is now willing to pay handsome for research candidates in science discipline is welcome and has been so far an unforeseen trend. I hope this culture thrives so that more of our children take to learning physics and chemistry and mathematics and life sciences which are equally or more important than engineering courses and medicine. I hope we see more PhDs in science-math streams.

Are we as parents failing to inspire our children from learning mathematics and physical sciences? This is another point worth debating on. Except for families producing first time graduates, all of us seem to have gyrated towards wanting professional studies for our children that we are certain about as early as the time we are carrying them in our wombs! Poor Indian kids, what a terrific responsibility they are born with!

Tired from attending 2 family weddings, I am tired even more on learning that the young surgeons in our family cannot stop even now but have to go on with ‘super specialty’ after their masters! So education is a never-ending process.

Before one wedding we went to a temple and placed the invitation card at the feet of the presiding deity.The priest of the temple asked my SIL, ‘the bride and the groom are still studying? so why are you getting them married so soon?’ It is heartening to hear this comment from a religious person. My SIL said, ‘they are doing masters and both are 26 already.’ ‘Still’ continued the priest, ‘you must allow your children to complete their education first. Marriage should have waited. Now they will get distracted and show less focus in acquiring knowledge!’ How sweet and nice this mindset is. Can you expect to hear such a comment from a maulana or ulema or whatever?!

In Hindu society, process of learning and wisdom is revered, with Goddess Saraswathi in charge of this department. We worship our books and musical instruments and work tools and we accord highest respects to our ‘Gurus’. This has an influence even in our christian and muslim population. The Hindu effect can only benefit you, never harm you.

Here is a cute way of an Indian teacher teaching trigonometry to American students – loved it!

We Indians have immense respect for the American way of education, the Germans, the Israelis, the Japanese and even the Chinese and the Koreans. There is nothing wrong about admitting that they are racially superior – that they are. For one thing, i have no hesitation calling a spade a spade. The Jews have given the world life saving antibiotics -and what about other jewish discoveries and inventions. All one has to do is ‘google’ – a chirya keeps chirping 🙂 And racial superiority is NOT measured by one’s physical prowess or skin colour. So what makes Japanese unique. Tell me one good invention/discovery/medical miracle or professional scientist/mathematician from the Arab world. 

India will have to take care in knowledge arena – already the gap is widening between the chinese students and Indian students. Earlier we were the single dominant immigrant force in the US ivy league colleges but the chinese are fast outstripping us. CBSE has to revise our text books even further. I am not bothered about the economic divide between our 2 countries. That is something that can be overcome with some planning and execution and hardwork even if that is to take decades/centuries. One day I know we will simply catch up. But what cannot be bridged so swiftly and easily is the widening distance in ‘knowledge accumulation.’ Already the chinese have sent a manned mission to moon, their medical inventions are great and their universities are getting better and better and their highways and bullet trains and technology have surpassed us quietly. India needs more of inventions and research and dedicated workers. PM Modi said, our goal must be to be build a ‘skilled workforce’ as he acknowledges we already have a great pool of manpower which is not always adequately skilled. Honing the skills is what is important.

I was perusing the NCERT text books of my nephew in class 7. Oh my goodness, what a standard they have set. Yet to think that the chinese are doing still better than us completely deflates me. When going through the CBSE textbooks for standard 9 and 10 (don’t even have the guts to pore over the standard 11 & 12 syllabus) I found that the curriculum is simply immaculate and cannot be any better. The ranking system is out, the grading is in for many years now. And the CGPA is a mass calculated based on your year-round performance with weightage given for practicals and projects in equal measure. One of the best in entire Asia no doubt, yet falling significantly short of Koreans and Chinese and Japanese? Well, aren’t we even as good as fellow Asians. My other nephew completed his class 10 boards in CBSE with 8.9 CGPA – you must have seen his board question papers! Not a single math question was from text books. For his boards, he was preparing from RD Sharma that was referral for me in my BSc for calculus. That was what my nephew was working out at 15 years, yet he is not thought of as a high achiever. His highschool sanskrit is so proficient like he can well converse in the language, yet sadly he has no language in higher secondary course in class 11 & 12. Every 3 candidates in our boards follow a different question paper so that cheating is impossible in our board examinations. The English paper and math paper are sufficient to set Indian highschoolers apart from rest of south Asia. I am proud of our schools – and why not. Other Asians including Pakistanis and Arabs vie for joining Indian schools over theirs in Doha. The real, serious ones give the international/American/British schools a miss. The truth is Indian schools in middle-east suck by normal Indian standards because they employ housewives and not trained teachers mostly. So just think of other Asian school standards in middle-east. Next to India, only Sri Lanka has a good curriculam among SAARC countries. Rest are all junk. If they are producing geniuses still, I can only cite their stubbornly-surviving-Indian-gene for reasons 🙂

We are seeing south Asian, south east Asian and Arab professionals in middle-east. I don’t want to mince words – without a doubt fellow Indians win hands down. The quality of professionals especially doctors and engineers including from Egypt, Pakistan etc leaves much to be desired. Pakistanis are using standard Indian author reference books in construction engineering, mathematics etc as we have seen with our own eyes! South east Asians, Malaysians, especially, fare better even at supervisory level because of intensive human resources training they receive systematically. My husband was one such beneficiary in Malaysia. Without periodical brainstorming they would be lost. Malaysians and Singaporeans are quick to transfer academic learning to practical work applications something most south Asians find difficult to adapt to. Very hardworking and disciplined. Don’t have much to say about others like Filipinos (born for working in malls?! and restaurants?!) Human Resources training is finally happening in India, more so thanks to the advancement in IT sector.

If Indians are headstrong, we have a reason to be. Are Hindus racists, yes ofcourse! Good that we are! If not for the rigid caste system in India, entire India today could be islamic or christian who knows. ‘Social ostracizing’ by our castes was the highest penalty our ancestors ever accorded to the errant and the deviant which is why we have survived in tact to this day. Our caste systems honed and perfected great gene pools for millenniums. For instance the chettiars/baniyas of Tamil Nadu were pioneers in banking and were the first and foremost to found banks even in pre-independence India. Indian Overseas Bank etc are their foundings. May Bank of Malaysia is theirs that the Malaysian govt later took over and nationalized. Their contribution to finance sector of the country is immeasurable. Each caste in India is thus special and has been bred with exclusive genes for generations spanning over centuries. The chettiars of TN who are tamil equivalent of gujrati baniyas are a small example that’s all. A prominent Tamil Chettiar/equivalent to Shetty/Baniyas of north is ex-Union minister P Chidambaram who was in charge of our finance/commerce ministry in successive governments. A R Rahman originally Dilip Kumar belongs to Hindu Senguntha Mudaliar, traditionally skilled silk weavers who diversified into the field of education and who are now all professionals. Maestro Ilayaraja is an SC/ST, do you believe it. He was playing fiddle as a street singer with his mother and brothers who struck gold. There are skilled people whose traditional families have been practising arts and crafts for generations again. There are musician families, poet families, dance families, doctor families etc etc all of which are caste-based. Equating the caste system of India with racism is sheer hypocrisy.  The brahmins, the kshatriyas, the baniyas, the sudras all are specialized castes of India each well groomed in their own chosen field for eons. Ofcourse many have broken out of the traditional occupational cycles and are now excelling in other alternate fields. Once upon a time when the varna system remained enforced and was doing well, the differences did not matter and each went about doing his role/work in the society and the machinery worked fine, well-oiled. The differences crept up as Lord Raam Himself  is believed to have said ‘no system will work for ever and even the best has to fail after a while.’ Change is nature, change is imminent. So that is how the ‘harijans’ of India started being discriminated upon – as most of them were employed in those menial professions/labour like in cremation grounds, cleaning works etc.  I recommend ‘the Shiva Trilogy’ by Amish Tripathi to understand complete how the varna sysem fell gradually apart with time but this needs a basic grasp of Hindu culture and belief systems to get it completely. Otherwise it will all sound greek and latin. The SCs/STs (dalits) are coming out of the vicious caste circle at a very great speed, believe me.

The flipside of the Varna/Caste system is, along the line somewhere the Hindu society failed to preserve the dignity of labour. The difference/demarcation line is not too pronounced in the west which is why they seem to be enjoying fairly even  life chances irrespective of their means of livelihood. The cost of the inhuman practice of disrespecting manual labour is of mammoth magnitude for which we are paying dearly with in modern India – by way of quota reservations for the weakest/neglected sections among us. The quotas can be continued for another 10-20 years maximum and that must do. Once India is out of quota system, there can be no stopping us from becoming the great nation we were until our invaders destroyed us and broke our spirit.

Inter-caste marriages are happening in India for a long time now – almost 1 out of every 3 marriages is a love marriage. SCs and STs – the so-called ‘untouchables’ once upon a time, are a reserved category today who are given top priority in admissions to our premier education institutions as well as in central government posts. Over all they are doing a lot better, much more over how the minorities in our neighbouring countries are doing. While the minorities and the reserved communities are prospering in India today, what is happening to Hindu minorities in muslim nations.

Hindus have to be racist for survival. Hindus have the onerous responsibility of preserving a great and unique gene pool. There is nothing wrong in being racist, if that is the word to describe it. I do however admit with shame, the socio-economic divide is the real and existing discrimination in our society today.  Hygiene my foot. One can always educate those who work for us on these issues and these are nonsense excuses. But yes, will we let our children marry one of theirs. In this one I fail. After all I am human.

Nalanda University, the oldest in the world has reopened finally:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Nalanda-University-reopens/articleshow/41410855.cms

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/Nalanda-University-reopens-after-800-years/articleshow/41461241.cms

Building more and more schools/universities is the only way to bring everlasting peace/stability/growth in any society. Its a long drawn process, but it has to happen this way and no other. There is simply no short-cut to success. One has to go through the motions of intense physical hardwork and mental training which is a laborious exercise nevertheless one which is pertinent to advancement of any society. Only the light of knowledge has the ability to dispel the darkness called ‘ignorance.’India is slightly better off than others in the region, for the reason we boast of a better literacy level (which is still awful to speak the truth). Brain=drain is also the greatest challenge India faces. My own son is not sure about where to settle down in future and loathes India. My husband does that already. My poor Mother India, what a foundation she lays for our future yet none wants to give Her back anything…

My daily prayer is:

‘Shubham karodhi kalyaanam, aarogyam, dhana-dhaanyam sampathaam,

Mama buddhi prakashaaya, deepa jyothi namo namaha!’

Meaning:

‘Give me shubham (auspiciousness/well being). celebration, health, wealth-food grains and good issues (sampath) (offsprings)

And light up my mind, Oh the flame of my Diya!

(an amateur translation attempt of the sanskrit sloka by whoelse me lol)

And who is a teacher/Guru?

Gurur-Brahmaa Gurur-Vissnnur-Gururdevo Maheshvarah |
Gurure[-I]va Param Brahma Tasmai Shrii-Gurave Namah ||1||

Meaning:
1.1: The Guru is Brahma, the Guru is Vishnu, the Guru Deva is Maheswara (Shiva),
1.2: The Guru is Verily the Para-Brahman (Supreme Brahman); Salutations to that Guru.

Hindu society to that extent worships knowledge and the giver of knowledge that a Guru is perceived to be the very God we bow our heads to.

I am not suggesting India is doing great, India is lagging a lot behind. Its wrong to compare ourselves to Arabs for instance and gloat about what we are compared to them. We must not be doing that but we are doing just that. Lets look upto those who are leading us higher up – like the Chinese, like the Americans, like the Europeans. Lets not hesitate to learn and imbibe from them the best.

Our schooling sucks yet somehow in many ways it has proved successful at the same time. May be there is some hidden goodness about it we don’t know of. Revise the curriculum every year, is all I can say. My husband is furious and not happy about what my son is learning at Engineering college. He says there is not much of improvement in syllabus over his days – with everything taught being out-dated. What my husband does at work is by far removed from what he learned at university, except for the basics. It is not enough, he keeps reading a lot and improving/updating himself all the time. Learning is a never-ending process. Same goes with the doctors in our family. The quality of our tier-3 universities coming a rung below our IITs and NITs sucks! May be they are good by Asian standards (excluding China, Korea, Japan that is) but this simply will not do.

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PS:If there anything I would like to go back in time-machine (!) and change about my academics records, I would opt for M.Sc in maths over Econometric (that clicked surprisingly before I got my Maths admission in QMC) anyday – Econometrics was a life-altering choice although I never realized it then. Not that i regret it, Economics was a fresh, unexplored field and I really started liking it. It exposed me to strange new areas of thinking and possibilities to which I owe my current interest in things. What I could not stand was commerce and accountancy in CAIIB – Bank exam course. The classes would put me to sleep, the subjects were lifeless, dry! Don’t recall an iota now of what I learned in that one year. Salute the chartered accountants in our family – one is a rank holder. Missing a PG in maths (after getting a seat) is something I will regret all my life.

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Updated 15th Sep:

My MIL has a natural and inborn aversion for the lowest classes and dalits. My friends and family are against reservation strongly. They do have a valid point about the quota system but to counter them, I always ask them this:

“Should a vettiyaan (in tamil – meaning cremation ground assistant who is charge of the burning funeral pyre, who collects the ‘asti’ (ash) and delivers the same to the bereaved family) (true, we city folks now use electric crematorium that powders the human body to cinders/ashes in matter of minutes neat and clean) always remain a vettiyaan? how long he is into this profession? for generations, say for some 2000, 3000, 4000 years? how about the brahmins? are they still only temple priests? how about the baniyas? how about kshatriyas and others? will you give a vettiyaan your house for lease? if he is not doing his job, anyone else is willing to take his place? why should not he be given the reservation quota – he the poor fellow who mostly lives with family – wife and kids – in a thatched shelter mostly in the very same cremation ground he may work in… imagine such a life. think of those who live in fringes. we the better-off can pay our way out of the quota system. but there are those like the vettiyaans who desperately need it. yes, they may need it for another 50 years who knows! Today we Hindus are paying for the sins of our ancestors. Dear friends, everytime you think about quota system, please also think about a solution to the Vettiyaan’s life.’

None would be able to speak a word whenever i present this argument to them. So sad.

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