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My favorite raga [May. 2nd, 2007|09:04 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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[Current Mood |nostalgicnostalgic]

This is the story of why my favorite raga is what it is. As such stories go, it's about as weird as it gets. It's winding, but bear with me. (Notice that I cleverly avoided telling you what the raga is, so you're going to have to read to find out.)

Once upon a time, in a previous life (actually, second year of college) I was in a summer math camp in Bangalore. I was coming to the painful realization that the the kind of playful problem solving that I'd dabbled in in high school, and well, kicked ass at, was worlds apart from actual math, and that when it came to the latter, I well, sucked big time. I wasn't going to make it through the program! Since I'd dreamed since I was about 3 that I would one day do math, it would be an understatement to say that this wasn't a good time for me.

There were several compounding factors. The place was out in the boondocks, with little human contact. In particular, I think I might have gone a whole week without seeing a single human female. All except one of the professors were rather dismissive of most of the students' math skills, which didn't help any. The food there was so bad it made me see my mom's cooking in a new light. Around this time my eyesight deteriorated a little bit as well. I began to.. appreciate nature. If you knew me, you would have concluded I was losing it :)

And then there was the bizarre incident. One day I fell and scraped my leg. The next day kupamanduka and I went on a trek trying to find a doc to get a tetanus shot. Quite an adventure, not the least because we couldn't speak the language or read the signs (this wasn't urban Bangalore, where everyone speaks English), it was raining, and we had trouble finding civilization, much less a doc.

Back then, whenever it rained, I couldn't help being reminded of this 1997 article by a reputed Indian mathematician in a reputed Indian journal that attempts to justify a certain chimerical mythological narrative about the Mahabharata character Nakula (that he could supposedly ride a horse in the rain without getting wet) using a theorem about ... wait for it ... the arcwise connectedness of irrational points in the plane. This kind of mystic muddle-mindedness, even among otherwise smart people, is something that India more-or-less has a monopoly on.

But I digress. The two of us, attempting to avail of the miracles of modern medicine, crossed all the hurdles that the cosmos cruelly conspired to place in our path and finally reached a dilapidated building that apparently passed for a doctor's clinic in those parts. The doc had stepped out for a visit to the local chai shop. We duly waited, we'd crossed the seas. The doc came in after a while, asked what'd happened, and grew very concerned. "At what time yesterday did you injury occur?", he inquired. "I dunno, about 5pm I guess," I replied. He glanced at the clock, which showed 4:30, and showed visible relief. "You're going to be fine," he announced. In spite of my misery, I came close to laughing out loud. Our man apparently believed that exactly 24 hours after infection, tetanus becomes untreatable.

Anyway, I got my shot and we got out. Later, kupamanduka teased me that the clinic we'd been to was next to an auto-rickshaw stand, that auto drivers usually got theirs from hookers, and that he hadn't seen the doc sterilize the needle. (Disposable syringe, you say? You clearly have never been to rural India. The only disposable things are banana leaves. Which pass for plates. Come to think of it, I've never been to rural India. Shame, shame. This was suburbia, which is close enough.) Anyhoo, I'm sure it sounds hilarious now, but in my already confused state I concluded that I couldn't do any more math, was going blind, and to top it off, was going to get AIDS. Har har har.

I'm sure by now you're wondering if all this is leading anywhere. Hang on, we're almost there. I managed to keep myself sane through the summer by chanting the first two lines of hamko man ki shakti dena over and over and over in my head. It's a sort of pseudo-prayer in Hindi. From an old film, I believe. Anyway, I repeated it until it was pretty much indelibly burned into my head and it blotted out the pain of everything else. hamko man ki shakti dena man vijay karein, dusroan ki jay se pehle kudh ko jay karein. hamko man ki shakti dena man vijay karein, dusroan ki jay se pehle kudh ko jay karein. hamko man ki shakti dena man vijay karein, dusroan ki jay se pehle kudh ko jay karein.


Fast forward five years. No wait, six. How time flies! Some of you might know that these days I have trancetastic experiences with music. I can't declare a winner between Carnatic/Hindustani and Qawwali, but when it comes to ragas, nothing else tops either the frequency, or the fervor or the duration of my trances compared to Hamirkalyani. Pleasure and pain, indistinguisable. Intense. Inescapable. Indescribable. Sometimes when I'm listening to Hamirkalyani, if I concentrate, I'm back in Bangalore, pacing the corridors, counting my days.

From: fixious
2007-05-03 02:26 am (UTC)
This kind of mystic muddle-mindedness, even among otherwise smart people, is something that India more-or-less has a monopoly on.

Ask vinodv about the Hebrew University mathematicians who 'decode' the Torah.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-05-03 02:34 am (UTC)
I've heard of Bible codes.. but I thought that was just Dan Brown type nuts.
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[User Picture]From: vinodv
2007-05-05 09:35 pm (UTC)

No, a very reputed mathematician who publishes in computer science and in geometric analysis :)
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[User Picture]From: vinodv
2007-05-05 10:16 pm (UTC)
EDIT: After a conversation with arvindn, it is a very reputed mathematician who publishes in computer science and in geometric analysis group theory.
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[User Picture]From: skthewimp
2007-05-03 08:21 am (UTC)
so what if you couldn't become a mathematician?

at least, you have it in you to become a good storyteller. :P

and btw, now Bangalore has become Bruhat Bangalore, and the surrounding villages and towns (including Kengeri) are part of the city now. so it's not suburban anymore.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-05-03 01:05 pm (UTC)
"so what if you couldn't become a mathematician?

at least, you have it in you to become a good storyteller. :P"

Thank you! I can already see it.. grandkids on my lap, greying hair, reminiscing... "kids, let me tell you the story of what happened to the boy who didn't finish his math homework." :)
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[User Picture]From: skthewimp
2007-05-04 06:55 am (UTC)
no no thatz all too routine. every grandfather puts grandkids on his laps nad tell them stories.

you should do somethign more special
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From: kupamanduka
2007-05-03 05:29 pm (UTC)
SK, I don't know if you were kidding or not - I am too naive to figure that out. But it is not true ( whether you implied it or not ) that arvindn wasn't good at pure math. Our man studied most of a one-year-syllabus within three weeks or so - that too in the sort of ambience described above which was not to his taste. May be he goofed with one subject, say probability or part of functional analysis because he focussed more on topology and algebra - but he was picking up most, if not all, topics at a furious ( alarming! ) pace.

P. S. : For some time I was struck with wonder at the most appropriate-to-context use of the word "Bruhat" - thinking you were visualizing a "Bruhat decomposition" of greater Bangalore - with Bangalore as the "big cell" and "surrounding villages and towns" constituting its ( the big cell's ) boundary. Only later it struck me that the word was what I write as "bRhat".
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-05-03 06:33 pm (UTC)
Ah, I see that the lisp dialect is if anything, even more applicable to you now than it used to be :)

Not knowing any math, it took me all of 3 seconds to figure out what bruhat meant. Isn't it spelt brhad BTW? I don't mean the r -- I don't even know what some of you hard core guys mean when you capitalize r's and h's -- but the d instead of the t.
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From: kupamanduka
2007-05-03 11:27 pm (UTC)
What is "lisp dialect"? Couldn't find out from google.

The word is "bRhat", but when sandhi applies it becomes bRhad etc. ( eg. bRhad-AraNyaka, "bRhan-mumbai", bRhaccaraNam etc. ). Capitalised H is just a visarga ( as in, at the end of rAmaH ) and capitalised R denotes the vowel at the beginning of "RShi" as opposed to the lower case r which just stands for the consonant at the beginning of, say, rAma. A vowel ( actually, a svara ) in sanskrit is defined to be something that can stand on its own, and a consonant ( a vyan~jana ) has existence only in association to a vowel. That is why tamizh grammar uses the word "uyir" for vowels and "mey" for consonants. And probably that is one reason for you to shun tamil :-) However, it seems possible that vEdic Aryans might have pronounced "R" as a vowel.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-05-03 11:40 pm (UTC)
lisp dialects

bRhaccaraNam -- interesting. I always thought it was just lazy tams not pronouncing a d that was supposed to be there.
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[User Picture]From: skthewimp
2007-05-04 06:58 am (UTC)
yes it is bRhat. i'm not so perfect with my spellings. happy in my imperfection.

and yeah, to just clarify (since you were confused), i was kidding.

but generally how useful is the nurture program? did that have an impact into your choosing math as a career?
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From: kupamanduka
2007-05-04 02:41 pm (UTC)
In my case, yes, the nurture program did impact my career decisions in favor of math - whether it was "useful" I don't know; sometimes some utterances of a certain professor at IITM regarding the uselessness of math sting my conscience. And the nurture program could have discouraged some - due to the ambience of the institute or some specific bad incident or whatever. Then again, bad incidents at nurture program might have steeled someone else's determination to pursue math.
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From: (Anonymous)
2007-05-07 04:54 pm (UTC)
I attended the nurture programme only for the first year and found it ill-designed. There was more emphasis on testing than on teaching in the four weeks we were present at the camp. This waned my interest in the program and I could not find the motivation and energy to read up the required material at the pace the program demanded.
I have talked to people in other batches about their nurture program and the hosting place seems to be a great factor.

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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-05-07 06:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, totally. The batch immediately after us seem to have had an especially good time at IMSc.
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[User Picture]From: kadambarid
2009-01-28 10:31 am (UTC)
I have no clue as to what 'nurture program' you're talking about. But I'm having an awesome time at IMSc!
PS- Stumbled on this post while hunting for something else. Justification - lest you think am bonkers commenting on a post that you possibly don't remember putting up! :)
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