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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.

Just came across a neat little Google App for Meegenius to use with Google chrome. Quite cute and nice. Basically, a little story telling/book reading (with audio) app for small kids; Essentially, this is an add on to the Meegenius online book store/reading for kids while using Google Chrome as the browser. I am sure kids will have an enjoyable ride with this. I found it to be incredibly cute!

Well, if you are not really obsessed with Google chrome, then you can as well go direct to MeeGenius and read it there!

For some reason, I really love the beginning scenes of the movie Tangled. The screen visualization and the audio are simple amazing. These days, I really relish seeing this again and again, especially the starting scene and the songs. Thanks Disney for such a wonderful movie!

For me, there has never been a second thought on what the best ever love poem and the poet are. It is the one and only Elizabeth Browning and her beautiful poem How do I love thee (See below. A beautiful reading by Helen Mirren is here in youtube).The Browning couple stands tall when it comes to some of the all time toppings in literary romantic poems. I remember my wife (then my fiancee) sharing a piece of Hindu Sunday literary supplement which had this poem. I have the sonnet etched back in my mind, even now!

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Ok, why did this pop up now? Well, in UK, apparently there was an opinion poll on the best one liner; the love one liner that is. Mind you, it is not the full fledged poem, or for that matter a full sonnet or stanza itself, just a one linear. Here are the 10 most popular according to the survey. Just ahead of the Valentines day, a good time pass! Happy reading and Happy Valentines day folks!

  1. ‘ Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same’ – Emily Bronte
  2. ‘If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you’ – A A Milne
  3. ‘But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun’ – Shakespeare ‘Romeo and Juliet’
  4. He was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest, My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong’ – W.H. Auden
  5. ‘You know you’re in love when you don’t want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams’ – Dr. Seuss
  6. ‘ When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part’ – ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’
  7. ‘Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be’ – Robert Browning
  8. For you see, each day I love you more. Today more than yesterday and less than tomorrow’ – Rosemonde Gerard
  9. ‘But to see her was to love her, love but her, and love her forever’ – Robert Burns
  10. ‘I hope before long to press you in my arms and shall shower on you a million burning kisses as under the Equator’ – Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1796 dispatch to wife Josephine.

Just heard about the 2010 Hay festival was held last week in Thiruvananthapuram. Although I couldn’t have gone there, it felt nice to have had such a great global art and literary event in my own home state in India. The official website hosted some amazing scenes from various parts of Kerala, which to an ardent Kerala fan like me wished to see  all times. The Hay festival of arts and literature has become quite prominent in the public media, recently and what better place to have it, than the beautiful and literary rich Kerala!

Thanks to Youtube, I could gather glimpses from the event. Part of Vikram Seth‘s Storypooja is captured here. The one session, I would have liked to attend is Marcus du Sautoy on “The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday Life“. I hope to see a video tape of this program online sometime soon! After all, Marcus claimed to have had a reason for everything, including why bend it like Beckam! Another of my favourite is ONV Kuruppu. His candid and lively talk is an anytime favorite of mine. He was supposed to have had a conversation with poet Sachidanandan. And, how much I missed Bob Geldof‘s conversation, let alone his concert!

The Jnanapith award for the year 2007 was announced in 2010. What a coly cow is this? What on earth is going to be the explanation for this 4 years of delay? Anyway, the 2007 Jnanapith award (for 2007 – Jnanpith Award Announced on 24th September 2010) quite deserving went to one of the great poets of India. This year’s Jnanapith award went to ONV. I am sure, the first reaction many of us had was “it came late. But better to be later than never”.

Growing up in Kerala, ONV was very much a house hold name. Who can forget his poem “Bhoomikkoru Charamageetham” (A Requiem to Mother Earth), which we were exposed during high school Malayalam language class. The poem was written 30 years or earlier and it is in Malayalam. I am not sure whether there is an English translation out there somewhere, but the poet’s pain is in much similar pain as echoed by the girl who presented a thought provoking talk at UN summit in 2008.

One of my friend pointed me to some of the recent Malayalam documentaries, which included one on Bhoomikkoru Charamageetham. Unfortunately I never got to see them. Hopefully, one of these days, I will get access to them. If any of you have access please don’t forget to share.

After Neruda (one of the greatest poet of all time, in my book), the first name come to me from Peru is Vargas Llosa. South American writers are always special, for their sheer brilliance in writing. Gabríel Garcia Márquez, Llosa’s contemporary from the Spanish speaking continent,  is more known (who is one of my all time favourite), but the latter is no less in literary genius. So, a well deserved Nobel laureate. New York Times has published a nice report on this year’s literature Nobel.

I didn’t see this book before. While trying to dig a little deeper into the sigma delta modulation theory, I bumped across this book by Robert Gray. The book, first published in 1990 hasn’t really become a mainstream reference on source coding, but the book is awesome. I didn’t read the whole book, but the chapter on uniform quantization noise is simply a treat for someone who loves the theory. Among other things, it discusses the Benetts’s conditions for the exactness of the uniform quantization error. I am now going through the noise analysis of the delta modulation and sigma delta modulation schemes.

Initially, I just managed to read a near full chapter content at books.google.com, but later I was convinced myself to get the book at Amazon. After losing the 7.5 USD used book offer, I finally had to content myself from ordering the next cheapest option of 40USD. I am expecting this to arrive in a few days. A brand new book would cost 130 bucks anyway!

I just finished listening/watching a very nice conversation between Harry Kreisler and Kenzaburo Oe.  I remember how much I had enjoyed his very touching style of story telling and how soon I had become a fan of Oe after reading his remarkable book  “A personal matter”. Oe’s “A personal matter”  depicted an amazing journey of a father through the cultutal walls, creativity, honesty and responsibility. Since then, I have almost forgotten about him (and my reading has come down drastically, after I started working in industry). I  think he is one of the finest writers of this century, perhaps not known outside Japan as much as he should be. I really enjoyed this conversation. It is quite touching, the way, he and his wife learned to react to his brain damaged child converse with them, for the firstime when their son was five years old or something. Incredibly human!

On  a sunny Lausanne morning, I woke up much later than usual. A game of cricket last evening had its due share in settling my body parts and indirectly in this wake up delay as well. I was all excited to re start working on the one sided set constraint problem which I pondered about a little the other day. After a routine coffee, decided to check Indian newspapers on line and the first news said Kamala Suraiyya’s passed away. To most of us, especially the ones associated with Kerala, she is the one and only Madhavikutty known to outside world as Kamala das. A name change and a religion hop didn’t really bother a secular Malayali. However the truth remains that, she was easily one of the most misread, misinterpreted writers of this generation.

I have not read a lot of Madhavikutty’s major works. That is a shame, I must accept. But I remember reading many short stories of hers, published in magazines, newspaper supplements and weeklies. One of the stories I still remember is  Punnayoorkulam where she touchingly depicts the life of a poor servant. Other short stories instantly coming to my mind are chandana marangal (Sandal wood trees, ചന്ദന മരങ്ങള്‍) and Pakshiyude maNam (Smell of a bird, പക്ഷിയുടെ മണം).  Her story telling style was unique; most notably with her precise and careful selection of words. It is incredible that she could write so well in both Malayalam and English. Not many people know that she was nominated for Nobel prize in 1984.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to know much of her English works other than a collection of short stories titled Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories , which I happened to read sitting inside a book store in Trivandrum during the summer of 1996. That was an experience of some sort. I didn’t have money to buy books then. I used to spend a lot of time inside the book store (thankfully they allowed that) and spend nearly the whole day there. In two days of a week I could read quite a lot. I had restricted visits to two days a week to pretend that I was not exploiting that facility. Nevertheless, over a period, I had befriended with some of the shop guys and they politely let me enjoy this habit, realizing that I was a mere student who couldn’t afford to buy anyway.

Her life and works were dragged into so much controversy. I am not sure whether that helped her to increase the readership. I personally think she was an incredible writer who didn’t need these controversies to claim fame and readership. Her autobiography and the frank style of telling stories created public attention. Perhaps it came at a time when it was unusual for an Indian woman to be that open to express her emotions and life. I do not know much into that controversy, other than learning that it had some. I did not read her autobiography either to judge whether it had some explosive presentation of vivid emotions of a woman. Anyhow, such was her life. Some people would remember purely because of such controversies. Sadly many would have failed to realize the pure writing talent of such a bilingual writer, one of the best Kerala produced. Her death will surely create a void, considering that the language writing has become so thin these days.

Many people in Kerala were surprised when she converted her religion in the last stretch of her life. It was not because of the religion she chose to or the one she was born into. It was more because of the fact that she chose to give importance to latching onto a religion for keeping piece with her life. Anyway, that was her personal choice and everyone accepted it, period.

Madhavikutty’s departure is a big loss. May her soul rest in peace. I leave you with this documentary on Kamala das by Ignou:

I’ve finished reading the memoirs of Walter Rudin. It was a quick read for a few hours. His autobiography is titled The way I remember it, published by AMS in the history of mathematics series.  It wasn’t particularly interesting, to say the least. From a mathematician who wrote excellent books on functional analysis and several others,  I was expecting a much better story. Of course one cant write an imaginary story in an autobiography, but then the incidents in his life is pretty much the story of any European intellectual during the war days. The best I liked is the one from Karl Popper. However, I could connect many incidents from Rudin’s life, primarily because of the geography. There is a chapter on his days in Switzerland, which also touched upon Lausanne. That part for once enthused me! Was wondering how Lausanne would have been 70 years ago! If you are completely unaware of the life in Europe around the WW period, then this will give you a perspective.  Like many scientific minds of that era, he had a long route to the United States. He discusses the path and family traits of that journey, in a somehat uncomplicated language.

In his autobiography, Rudin has discussed some of his contributions to mathematics as well. That part appeared a little informative, but technical read. If you know his work already, you would connect it nicely.  I particularly liked the chapter on Function Theory in the Unit Ball of Cn. 

In all, not a book I would recommend, unless you are a Walter Rudin fan and knows his contributions in much more detail. However, this may be a motivating read for a young school kid aspiring to be a mathematician. Why did I say that? I don’t know! Don’t ask me why either!

While searching for the book Information theory, Coding theorems for discrete memoryless systems by Imre Csiszar and Janos Korner, I came across several sites which echoes the fact that this book is one of the rarest specimen on earth. However in the process, I found a blog forum which lists a whole lot of out of print books. This book, as expected is in demand already. We can even vote to request to bring the out of print books to a possible reprint. I am not sure how effective this is, but there is no harm in trying! We can suggest any books you may want to have a reprint. To me, this is a whole new and welcome idea. For learning, we should have access to the good books. Already quite a few demands (See this blog for instance) for the Csiszar and Korner book. Man, the world sometimes think alike!

Over the weekend, I finished reading a very nice book, The Kite runner, by Khaled Khosseini, an Afghan born novelist. This is first of his books, that I have read. In fact this is his first book as well. The book is written in an easy story telling style, but he did an amazing job to make me really satisfied. There were echoes of pain and suffering and the realization that the fate of a nation and its people can sometimes be so cruelly altered by invasion of other nations. Ofcourse that is a starting point. Later on the so called protectors of God then take over and make an even more mess where humanity is let to shame. Well, we can go on and debate those issues which unfortunately is affecting like cancer to human society as a whole, across the world.

Coming back to the book: The story The Kite runner is the story of two young boys Amir and Hassen. The setup is in Afghanistan, where these boys are born and spent their childhood. Amir was born in an affluent family, but his mother dies immediately after his birth. Ali, a servant to Amir’s father (baba) and his wife have a son named Hassan. On strikingly similar terms, after Hassen was born, his mother elope with someone, leaving him too motherless. The two kids are growing up together. Hassen lives in a hut in Amir’s mansion, baba’s house as he often refers to as. Baba (amir’s dad) loves both these boys, but Amir finds he being more critical to him than Hassan. Youn Amir thinks that baba’s attitude is perhaps due to the fact that Amir is indirectly responsible for his wifes (Amir’s mother) death (she dies after Amir’s birth). Baba’s friend Rahim Khan however is more lenient and friendly to Amir, and he provide support and encouragement to young Amir to develop interest in writing stories.

Amir and Hassen grows up together, with Amir as the lead boy and Hassen more submissive and obedient friend. The Russian invasion to Afghanistan then changes their life forever. Amir find himself as an immigrant in California, whereas Hassan forced to take a route to Pakistan. Fate shows the cruel flip to Hassen and he dies. Years later Amir take a difficult trip down east to rescue Hasan’s son, all in the middle of the Taliban reign. A tocuh of unrealistic melodrama where Amir fights with the brutal Talibans, but that afar the story is incredibly nice and touching to the reader. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

On the day before yesterday, while on travel I picked up two books from the Bangalore airport book shop. One was the Helen Keller autobiography “The Story of My Life”. This was perhaps the first full volume autobiography book I had read, when I was a child. I still remember, the used copy of this book being given to me, by a family friend and teacher, when I was in early school. The vivid recollection of Helen Keller learning the alphabets and notably, words like ‘rain’ sill echoes somewhere in the back of my mind. I decided to buy this book, with the plan to gift it to someone, who I come across, preferably young kid in school or so. Eventually, I gifted this to a friend of mine who, when I mentioned about the same, was all excited to grab it. In a way I felt happy because I could instigate interest in some one about Helen Keller. Keller’s life has been a message in itself to humanity. Her strives and constant efforts to learn to react to this world is touching to say the least.

The other book which I have picked along is on the story of “Nicolas Bourbaki”. It is titled “The artist, the mathematician: The story of Nicolas Bourbaki, The genius mathematician who never existed”. It was authored by Amir Aczel, the author of the book on ‘The Fermats Last theorem’. I never heard about this book before, either in reviews or from friends. Well, I must confess that I didnt really search for books or reviews on a topic of this kind, to really hear about such a book. Anyway, the book is a recent print and the news may be just coming out only.

This book turned out to be quite an interesting one. On the flight and while on wait, I could quickly finish reading the book. Being a math and mathematician related book, I didn’t feel sleepy over the book. That helped to complete the reading at a stretch. The book is about Nicolas Bourbaki. Out of my innocence, I never heard about this character before, either. As the title says, there was no specimen of this kind in human form lived upon earth. Yet, there was an identity to this Nicolas Bourbaki. The real truth about this name is revealed a little later in the book. Nicolas Bourbaki was not just one person, but an identity for a collection of mathematicians, mostly French. Together they have published a lot of work in mathematics, under the identity of one name “Nicolas Bourbaki”. How does that sound? Well, it sounds a little weird and a little interesting to me. Can we say, Nicolas Bourbaki was an institution itself? (Well there is a story about Nicolas Bourbaki being applied to get an AMS, American Mathematical Society and gets a reply to pay the institutional pay to get the same. Of course, the AMS president that time, had known the truth about the name Nicolas Bourbaki!)

So, Nicolas Bourbaki represented a group of Mathematicians, post 1935 (between first and second world war period), who formulated a systematic structure to the study of mathematics itself. They have worked predominantly on the Modern mathematics (modern algebraic concepts) including the concept of ‘sets’. As you would expect (because of the time line and French connection), the star mathematician André Weil was one of the founding members of this group. Some of the other well known French (connected) mathematicians also figured in the celebrated group. They iuncluded names like Henri Cartan, Claude Chevalley, Jean Coulomb, Jean Delsarte, Jean Dieudonné, Charles Ehresmann, René de Possel, Szolem Mandelbrojt. Some later entrants to the Bourbaki group had the likes of Laurent Schwartz, Jean-Pierre Serre, Alexander Grothendieck, Samuel Eilenberg, Serge Lang and Roger Godement. The group would meet regularly to discuss and debate on modern mathematical topics and eventually publish under one name Nicolas Bourbaki!

Even though Bourbaki does not exist (at least actively) today, it is believed that this has brought some ‘structure’ in not only mathematics, but in European culture in general. Besides, the stellar contributions on the field of algebra and number theory by this group is acknowledged very well.

Now, another reason, why this book took my interest is because of the presence of the mysterious Alexander Grothendieck. The book talks rather in detail about this mystery man. He was regarded as a genius and had contributed immensely to the world of mathematics. His fields medal in 1966 and related absence from the Moscow event on his own Fields medal confer perhaps tells more volumes about this man. I took by surprise to hear about the current life of this once world star of mathematics. Post 1991 he is believed to be living in a remote jungle/outskirts of Southern France, far from any worldly contacts. I quickly recollected the 2006 Fields medal winner Grigori Perelman, when he declined the medal and began to live away from mathematics crowd. Like Perelman, who (now accepted by everyone) proved the Poincaré Conjecture, Grothendieck as well, produced some monumental contributions. He was considered as a Genius and it was recognized too. But in close resemblance to what Perelman did in 2006, he as well decided to quit mathematics altogether and decided to live a mysterious and aloof life.

What makes, genius folks like Perelman and Grothendieck to abandon themselves from the world? It is surely not fear, simply because they have contributed so much to us and can only be proud of it. What else then? There may be arguments that Grothendieck was disappointed by the fact that, he couldn’t get the results he wanted from his political activities (He had strong political views on certain things against the establishment). Others say that, the childhood miseries and leading an abandoned life early on triggered him to do an isolated life, out of frustration and despair. In Perelman’s case, it is surely a hurt feeling and the one that of ignorance by the mathematical community, for questioning his credentials on the Poincaré conjuncture proof. But can the human mind, which is otherwise so highly brilliant all of a sudden taken aback by a feel of hurt? I feel sorry for these two fine mathematicians, who could have produced much more (They have already done so much, but….) to the world. The life and fate of these two tells the story of the society we all are in, where jealousy, politics, lack of respect to others can completely eradicate a gem, which we should have preserved at all cost.

Tears and anxiety glues through my mind on the current whereabouts of Grothendieck. I hope he lives a happy life around Montpelier! Human mind, man is a highly complex black box. What all it takes and what all it breaks?

Felt a little sorry to hear that Art Buchwald passed away. The first memoirs of his humour columns which used to appear in the last page of “The Hindu” Sunday (and later on Mondays) newspaper, came calling once again. These days, those columns are hardly seen in Indian newspapers, but thanks to Internet, I still get to read some of his, very occasionally though. One of the recent one, I found very interesting was in the “The Washington Post” column [1] of his, titled “When the going gets tough, the war gets going”. In his own style he could sent the right message to the folks responsible. I thought that was very apt and brief to send a clear message to those proponents of war. Well, fact can be harsh and unpleasant, but the truth is that millions of innocent people pay the price for fault not of theirs. To be courages to tell the truth is wisdom in itself.

Interested by his writing, I was once curious to know his background. My intention was to find out, how and why he turned into writing humorous articles. Often, I hear that comedians and humourists and writers who write such articles have a very difficult life story to tell. In a way Buchwald too had his difficult childhood. His mother was in a mental hospital/asylum for a good part of his childhood. It is heard that he couldn’t see his mother for about 30 years or so. My heart goes to a child with such a terrible childhood. Perhaps, his intense sorrows made him to cover up all those and present a brighter spot to millions of readers all over the world, through his columns.

This morning, I came across with the news [2] of his demise. His unique styled articles will be a big miss from now on. But he has made a mark through his brilliant short columns. His death wasn’t entirely unexpected (I guess he was critically ill in early 2000), but the news of his sad demise had created an irreplaceable void in the literary circles.

[1]http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/20/AR2006122001680.html
[2]http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/18/washington/17cnd-buchwald.html?ei=5088&en=fab0a134179122be&ex=1326776400&adxnnl=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&pagewanted=1&adxnnlx=1169195128-CMCmfOAbP7FKzWef9kPGtA

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