Wednesday, August 25, 2010

ICM reportage

The best reports of the International Congress of Mathematicians is available at Tim Gowers' blog. He also has links to YouTube videos of the Field Medal ceremony.

He has some (non mathematical) interesting points to make. He comments on the tala that people keep with their hands in a Carnatic recital and the typical syncopated rhythm. He identifies the National Anthem to be in E major and the ending in as he put it "it was in a very clear E major — to describe it in Western terms — but strangely ended, in even quavers apart from a held last note, with E E F# F# G# G# F# G# A" - the Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya He.

For a Britisher he is strangely ignorant of some very common Indian customs. He seems never to have seen anyone do a Namaste which is truly odd since it is so common, not only in India but many parts of South and South East Asia. Instead he calls it a gesture he has only seen in Indian sculptures "she greeted us by putting her two hands together, pointing upwards, a gesture I was familiar with only from Indian sculptures".

He seems never to have heard of biryani (he thinks it is billani) -- again odd given how popular Indian food is in Britain.

A faint air of superciliousness runs through the account which I found a bit irksome

the president (of India, not the IMU) told us once again what the ICM was, but after that unpromising start she moved into a speech about India’s mathematical heritage and various other topics, all discussed in a way that made it clear that somebody — I presume not her — knew what they were talking about. She told us of an old Sanskrit saying, “Mathematics stands at the helm of all sciences.” I think I prefer the “queen of” metaphor that is more prevalent in the west. She told us that the concept of zero originated in India, and that calculus was anticipated in India in the 15th century. I wondered before the opening ceremony started how many times Ramanujan would be mentioned.
and particularly that irritating crack about Ramanujan.

But I suppose a Fields medalist is entitled to his upturned nose....


Sourendu said...

Strange, but in a later post Gowers passes a basic test of being human. He writes:

The lamb biryani was slightly disappointing in that it had just one piece of lamb which, though large, was about 80% bone. That left quite a lot of rice to get through, and I was glad of the opportunity to spice it up with the chutney. For what it’s worth, we were provided with small wooden disposable spoons and forks to eat with. The chutney passed a basic test: it made my nose run.

What could be more human than to have a runny nose? Even the most supercilious of mathematicians...

Rahul Basu said...

No doubt the upturned nose had something to do with it.... :-)

vbalki said...

Thank you, Rahul, for the pointer to Gowers' blog. It made really interesting reading.

It also brought home to me several plus and minus points about this new (to me, at any rate) art form called the blog. I believe an earlier generation called it 'letting it all hang out'. Of course that generation didn't have terabyte memories and gbps speeds to disseminate thoughts across the globe before they moved from cerebellum to cerebrum... Still, you can't stop progress, as the 'entertainment manager' tells Chief Metric in Asterix and the Goths!