You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2012.

The other day, I saw a Facebook feed photo about Iran in the 1970s. It was a shot taken in some university/school in Tehran (This post on Iran of 1970s has some interesting thoughts).

It didn’t really surprise me, particularly because I have a second hand information about Iran, through a close friend whose parents had earlier immigrated to Tehran in the 70s for good. He also had his elder sister born there in the late 1970s. I remember, him describing stories told by his parents on the good days they had in Iran. They even had photo albums of his family with people on bikini etc. The point is that, the now prevailing restrictions in women’s cloth etc was not so, until a few decades ago. I have had a discussion on this very topic with a few Iranian colleagues who all seconded what I heard off! Quite a change of times, for now to digest!

Anyway, seeing that picture, my curiosity took wings to know Afghanistan would look in the 70s or may be the 60s. Incidentally, while on walk in the park, I bumped across to meet a neighbor friend who at the age of 5 or so, had migrated with his family to Poland and then to the United States on a cold winter  night in 1979. I posited this question to him about his recollection of the Afghanistan of yester years. His eyes were lit bright when he described some of the golden memories he had about his country. A sense of hope seemed to have been with him as a child, at least in retrospect when he portrayed those images! He later pointed me some pictures that he had came across on the internet, while on a nostalgic path. These pictures (some are here too. I don’t know much about the original rights holder of these pictures; just linking as I found on internet) portray a different Afghanistan than the one, majority of the world including myself, now know off as.

It is a complicated thing to discuss these topics because it is highly interlocked a subject messed up with religion, fundamentalism, society, culture, money , gender, huh, invasion,terrorism! you name it. One thing you can make out is that, both Iran and Afghanistan looked much modern and a better place to live (for their own people if not anyone else) than it is now. Alas! For a twist and tryst with time, things turned the other way. The net result is years og agony, hatred, war and of course that chopped the dreams of many generations.

Here is an image from Afghanistan in the 1960s!

One of the better ads, I have seen off late (Google search app). I couldn’t stop blushing when the kid says “You are so smart, dad!” and the dad is prepared for more and asks “did I ever tell you about Jupiter”!

I’m half way reading, what looks like a great memoir on Western Africa by a philanthropist Rosamond Halsey Carr. The book is titled Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda. Picked this from the 4S ranch library yesterday and I must say this is such a beautiful depiction of an otherwise ignored part of Africa, through the eye of a great philanthropist .

I will try to do a personal review of her book later, but a few things flashed my mind while traversing through the book. The biggest of course is the deadly genocide in 1994 which took place in Rwanda and Barundi. Back then, we were small and the magnitude of such an enormous ethnic clenching probably didn’t entirely register in our minds,reading the news from half the world away. Now, Rosamond’s book prompted me to think of the disasters of that great human tragedy; in the name of some misconceptions on ethnic difference, spurred by certain anti social elements as well as incompetent political leadership. Whatever the reason it may be, the biggest losers are the West African people. We cannot even gauge the extend of that horror since it still lingers through generations.

Rwanda and Barundi and the other western part of Africa may not top the list of go to places, but Rosamond’s takes us through her memory lane and describe how beautiful  those places used to look, before the colonization, civil and finally the holocaust hit them. Rwanda with the many hilly terrains is regarded as Africa’s Switzerland and it indeed looked so. If only we could reverse such tragedies! Alas, too late!

Now, Rosamond’s life itself is a great example of human sympathy towards a completely unprivileged part of an otherwise neglected corner of our earth. It is commendable that she, without any real social or material compulsion, decided on her on will, to make a living for a great cause for the African people. For a woman from a wealthy surroundings of New York to travel to that part of the planet with a great intention, struggles through the difficulties and finally fills joy to a lot of people is commendable. This brings joy and tears in our eyes.  I feel sad that I didn’t hear about her before. She will always have a place in my heart; Rwanda and west Africa are in my go to list as well!

There is a nice documentary on her life, “A Mother’s Love: Rosamond Carr & A Lifetime in Rwanda”,directed by Eamonn Gearon . I couldn’t find the full documentary in youtube or in PBS archive, but a short trailer is here. If you have not seen yet, I definitely recommend this one.

Since this is year end holiday time, I got a fair share of my time to read up on several random topics. Amidst the many sad out comings in the past couple of weeks starting from the shocking events from Newtown Connecticut elementary school shootout, then on had a few more disturbing news all over the world, particularly this one from the other side of globe. A rather non disturbing news is on the new claim on proving/establishing the  so called Ramanujan’s deathbed conjecture. I was doing a bit of follow up read up on this to first understand the premise of the problem in news.

OK, the subject deals with what is known as mock theta functions (Note: There is no credible Wikipedia entry to it and hence I cannot add one here. Also remember that this mock theta functions are not the same as Ramanujan’s theta functions; Just to not confuse these subtle mathematical terms!). These are not quite the Riemann Zeta functions, which are well known, but more similar to the Jacobi theta functions. The mathematical prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan while on deathbed had shared some quick tidbits to the famous Cambridge mathematician (and I should say a hard core cricket enthusiasts! If you guys have not read his memoir A mathematician’s Apology already, step out and grab it soon. A fabulous quick read that!)  G.H.Hardy who was paying a visit to his now famous student. After their famous meet up (or may be during their meeting itself), somewhere in 1920, before his death, Ramanujan wrote a letter to Hardy in Cambridge in which he introduced as many as seventeen new functions. These functions, as per Ramanujan, had shared some distinct similarities with the theta functions (The Zeta functions were itself had been studied before before by mathematicians like Jacobi, Riemann and several others. Now of course the connection between Jacobi theta functions and Riemann Zeta functions is already established!).

The Jacobi theta function itself is pretty complicated to lesser mortals like us. It looks harmless for a starter, but the properties, its various avatars and connections to many real world applications is what makes it monstrous. And then there are also its generalized cousin Riemann Zeta functions $\zeta(n)=1+\frac{1}{2^{n}}+\frac{1}{3^{n}}+\ldots + \infty$, which as well, appear as a simple and elegant looking form for $n<3$ , for higher $n >2$ changes the form beyond what we can fathom (For example, it is not even known whether for larger $n$ such a number is transcendental!). I remember playing with (I think it was 2000 or 2001) a proof of  $\zeta(2)=\frac{\pi^2}{6}$  using some integral calculus in two variables, which again turns out to be rather well known as easy. There are other ways to prove as well for $n=2$, but it stops being that simplistic there!) Anyway, Jacobi’s theta function has the form $\theta(x,t)=\displaystyle \sum_{n=\infty}^{\infty}{\exp\left(i\pi t n^{2} + i2\pi n x\right)}$, which in words can be roughly stated as some form of elliptic form of exponentials.

Much like Fermat did for his famous last theorem, Ramanujan too didn’t give much hints beyond listing and stating that they are elegant. For example, he didn’t reveal where they come from or how to formulate them or for that matter what use having them. Like many of his other famous mathematical findings, Ramanjunan, a self taught genius, made a quick listing of these. Rest of the curiosity has enthralled and haunted the mathematical minds of coming generations, all over the world. A brilliant spark from the great genius helped to stir an intellectual stir for almost 10 years!

The latest is that, two Wisconsin mathematician, Ken Ono and University of Cologne professor Kathrin Bringmann came up with a framework explaining what mock theta functions are and how to derive them. They connect modular forms or more specifically the mass forms to Ramanujans’ functions. If you recall, the modular forms also played a big part in the proof of the other famous problem of this kind Fermat’s last theorem.

It will take  a while for me to understand (if at all I manage to digest it) all the details of this new claim. I must say, it is likely that I will fail to comprehend it in full . As always, I will be curious to read it up and grab as much as I can. As and Indian, the connection to India is always an interesting pursuit!

I leave you with a nice documentary video on Ramanjuan that I found in youtube. If you have not see this already, check this out. Pretty good documentary, unfortunately tarred by a lot of useless and unrelated comments.

This week has been filled with a lot of terrible news. First, the Tendulkar ODI retirement, the unfortunate and sudden demise of a young girl in New Delhi due to atrocity by a few reckless men and now Tony Greig’s untimely death making the day all the more sober.

Tony Greig was a pure excitement at cricket commentary. The energy he generates is simply stunning. He has been a top bracket cricket commentator since the 80s and the void that he leaves aside is going to be huge.

I first heard about Tony Greig (much before seeing him on TV) was while reading about a book on the English Australia test match rivalry where some match in the 1970s in which the former Aussie (again sadly demised) David Hookes’s hitting Tony, the then English captain, for five consecutive fours. It may not be a big thing in the modern era, but hitting something of that kind in the olden era is something I had fancied (even though I was not really born in that era, but growing up in the 80s and 90s, I had such fancies:-)). Both Hookes and Tony Greig somehow etched in my memory, so did Greg Chappell (the Aussie captain for that series). When David Hookes (also a future commentator, died during a freak bar incident) died, the mood was pensive too. Besides that reading, I didn’t have much know hows on Tony Greig’s days as a cricket player, except may be the fact that I was aware of he being part of the infamous Kerry Packer spin-off league and world series cricket.

What he did as a commentator  however is in clear memory. Some one remarked this on the other day, his now famous remark “What a player” on Tendulkar when he played that famous sandstorm knock in the late 1990s. I also remember many of his exciting comments in the India-Australia series in both 1998 as well as 2001, the finishing stages of the famous Calcutta test match comes to my mind where Glen McGrath walks in as the last man, until given out LBW. I don’t think any other commentator could have captured the finishing moments of the greatest test match of all time, as captivating as Tony Greig had done. Beside reading the game very well, the great thing about Tony Greig was that he was also a commentator who had understood the dynamics of cricket fans all over the world. Fans to an extend got what what they wanted and they could in some sense associate to him.

A few weeks back, I had read the sad news about his lung cancer diagnosis, but never realized that was this serious. He will be missed by fans all over the world, big time. Many a times I got the feeling that he has a special liking for Sri Lanka and its cricket! But I could be wrong. Whatever it is, he was loved all over the world. RIP Tony Greig! Thanks for the memories.

Ever since I heard the story of a young girl brutally raped in a moving bus in the capital city of my home country, I was restless and furious. It was not the first time, I’d read or heard about a rape story from India or for that matter from anywhere else. Time and again we hear these kind of brutalities and this happens and can happen any part of the world, not just the Taliban hit areas. Among the thousands of such incidents, only a few gets reported in public, a fraction of it gets to the mainstream news media and a smaller percentage reach us; And let us don’t forget, not many girls/women dare to say such incidents in public, with all the social pressure surrounding them.  Even in this modern society, woman and children largely have to live under the ego of a cruel world caricatured by sadism. It pains, it hurts and I am ashamed of myself not able to do anything to stop this suffering.

Think of this. A 23 year old medical student , an adult girl, is traveling with her male acquaintance in a capital city of the largest democracy in the world. Mind you, it is one of the most populous city in the world (with a population of 14 million. That means, there are a lot of folks around; For a comparison, this in count is more than that of a city like New York!) with all the central and state government establishments including the police administration in the vicinity! The girl and boy, to their innocence were lured to board a bus and to their misfortune, it turned out to be the wrong bus. What did the 6 wicked men in that bus do? They hit the boy on his head, dumped him on to the road; What happened then on is a mockery of what civilization should be.  In a moving bus the girl is brutally forced on by senseless men, one by one. All the while a helpess girl is being tortured, the bus moves around the city where police men patrol around, without noticing anything beyond normality. The girl in unconscious state is finally thrown out from the bus after all deed. She stays motionless for hours on the roadside before some medical help comes on her way. The police, government (both state and central) administration(s) turns first the blind eye, then a denial and eventually an eyewash damage control exercise.  Even after many days, the girl is battling for life. She has multiple organ damages, including intestine, liver and brain. When things got into dangerous situation, the government shifts her to another country, apparently a political move. Whether it is political or medical, the situation is grim! What a sorry state our society is in!

As usual, this news took people to streets. Naturally people are angry and they protests against the lackluster response from both state and central goverments. As always, some section tried to get some political milage out of this. Reality however is this. The biggest sufferers in cases like this are  the girl (in this case the boy too) and their families. They end up paying a very very high price for the recklessness of wickedness in our society. The elected government and its administration could have taken this as a last warning to engage a strong political and social change. Unfortunately, the leaders by and large miss the point. Few from the government dared to speak and whoever opened the mouth (like the President’s son) made a jock of  their senses. The mainstream media on the other hand is debating what punishment is ideal for the culprits, but the larger point should be: what are we doing as a society to prevent such atrocious incidents?

Praveen Swami has written this piece. Largely, I agree to his points. The solution to this social menace is not hinged on whether the culprits gets death penalty or not. Some may argue a Shariyath like law (arm for an arm, eye for eye or blood for blood method) is the way. Frankly, none of these post incident punishment alleviate this massive menace. The problem as Swami articulated here, is integrated in our social scheme of things. He rightly pointed the way the mass media, mainstream cinema and even the social stigma of son worshipping all directly or indirectly adding the bias to increasingly misogynic society of us. While the west also have cases of rape, the numbers are less because they have at some point in the past went through a political and social refinement, where the fundamental right of a woman to say no and a man to treat her no as a firm no. Again, this is not something that happened in Kandhahar or the tribal areas of Taliban hit Afghanistan, but the capital of the the largest boasted democracy in the world!

While the vast majority in any society will strongly condemn an act like rape, how many will respect the dignity of a woman travelling in any part of a country like India. Again, this problem may not be just India specific, but I have seen men’s colors even in buses in Kerala, a state socially way forward compared to the rest of India. As a matter of fact, you wont see woman in a bus after 7 PM in most part of Kerala too. The other parts of India may be even worse. The cities may be better off to stretch that 7PM mark to say 9PM, but thats it. Mumbai may be an exception, but even a city like Mumbai I wouldn’t count to be safe for woman. It will be a happy news if I hear otherwise. Bangalore, even with the celebrated success of modern life is unsafe for woman. I dont have the numbers, but during my stay there, I have heard far too many cases of woman employees getting assaulted, raped and at times murdered (Just do a google search on woman safety. You will hit through several of them). I am sure every city and small towns in India will have a gruesome shade of such a sad reality. No amount of police force can resolve this, in many cases they are the problem themselves, but things don’t stop even with them. It has to come from each one of us, from early stage to respect every one on their privacy and their right on individual freedom and choice. No one has the right to bulldoze on others, even morally, let alone physical. I don’t think the rape cases are mere act of sexual assault, they are deep rooted display of dominance of their hegemony. And in any case what sort of pleasure do men get after brutally injuring an innocent girl? These are beyond our senses. When will we as a society grow up to stand guard to our own sisters and mothers? Borrowing Bertrand Russell, “I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot and hence I too suffer”.

Let us turn clock for a few years. Does anyone remember Aruna Shanbaug? Some may have forgotten, but she comes to my mind every now and then. I don’t know her, but ever since I heard about her (first time I heard was several years ago during the euthanasia debate) my bloodstream freezes at times. She is the living martyr of male recklessness. As a young nurse in a city hospital, she was brutally raped by a servant boy. Why? As a vengeance  for reporting a crime committed by the boy! Ever since then, she stay motionless, a life merely existing as a symbol of our social cowardliness. What punishment the culprit got is immaterial. The young woman, who was supposed to have soon got married to a doctor, sacrificed a good life for our social reckoning! Her case is largely forgotten. We got many new cases to ponder, but we failed to grow!

As I write this up, I just heard the news on NPR (yes, the news gets reported even in my KPBS car radio here in San Diego, while I was waiting for my daughter from the piano class) that the girl eventually succumb to injuries. She sacrificed her life. Just imagine, she was an aspiring medical student. She had a whole life of her choice had to be ahead. But for the callousness of few men, we had to see her go. What a shame! Aren’t we all responsible for this one way or the other?

Whether the insane gang of six stupid men gets death penalty or not is irrelevant. Our wicked society just threw our sister to the fire. The slow government acted ever slow and everyone in the administration will find a way to excuse themselves. The media will find another sensational story and latch on to it. Leaders like Abhijeet Mukharjee will again get re-elected (For record, a portion of the elected legislators in parliament and state assemblies are themselves criminals!). The family of the girl lost one of their own and we lost another beautiful life. Her homage made our lives less colorful. Didn’t it? If only we grow up and stand up to prevent yet another casualty like this beautiful girl. The grim reality is penned by the BBC reporter Soutik Biswas from Delhi. A serious introspection is needed and the time is now if it wasn’t earlier.

Rest in peace girl! Our hearts are heavier!

At the UN headquarters in New York, there is this picture. It draws you to numbness. Can a picture tell a story this powerful? Yes it does. This masterpiece from  the award winning Argentine photographer  Alejandro Kirchuk takes you deep down the perils of the wrecked disease Alzhemeirs. His full creations in the series titled “Never let you go” is archived online here.

Alzheimer’s disease is a very very complicated desease. One may ask, how about AIDS and cancer? They are dangerous too, but one thing which makes Alzheimer all the more different is its impact on the emotional and physical drain on the caretaker. At the later stage of this illness, the patient in the scene is devoid of any memory; He or she lose the sense of surroundings and at times fail to relate the partner for years and now serving as the caretaker.

Think of this. You suddenly arrive at a stage where you don’t even make sense of the surroundings, the loved one besides you? Your past is erased completely. Having to depend on others for even routine acts! How terrible a stage that can that be? Now think of the lucky patients who have the loved ones to take care of them. Think of those caretakers, who in majority are elderly people themselves struggling to cope with old age. The caretakers often ends up doing pretty much have to do a baby care like support to the patient, yet the patient  have no real sense of her/his association to the helping person.

I have seen some cases like this and I can understand the pains. Couple of Alzheimer cases had come across in my childhood, my neighbors etc. That time, I never had realized the name or its complexity, but this series of Kirchuk portraits took me back several years and I now relate how hard it must have been for the parties in my memory.

See one of Kirchuk’s portrait on Marcos. Marcos wordings goes like this “Tell me where she is going to be better than here. I treat her like a princess, here she has everything.” Sweet, isn’t it?, It takes our senses to numbness. It is not fiction. Thousands of people around the world, and some in our vicinity goes through this. Only the privileged few escapes from such difficulties! Life is priceless, isn’t it?