For the second time, I spent a month visiting the mathematics department of the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University,Belur Math. There are branches located at various places including Narendrapur and Coimbatore. Last time was in 2009 and a new building is coming up which should be ready in an year. At the moment, the classes, offices, library, teaching monks of the university, visitors etc are all housed in one building which is quite comfortable. Unlike many other gated communities and institutions that I visited, the number of workers is very small. There are two gardeners who are helped by a monk, three to four cleaners who are well dressed and equipped with masks etc while dusting and cleaning, three to four help with cooking and serving and a couple of drivers. Total numbers are not clear since some of them seem to do multiple duties; one of the drivers helps with serving food to visitors. There is a dining room and common room for snacks and coffee which is shared by monks, teachers, visitors and workers. There are no dhobis visiting the place; one can wash one's clothes or use the washing machine. It is a pleasant change from other places where one sees armies of workers in the morning and sometimes for the rest of the day.
At the moment there are only three teachers in the department headed by Mahan Mitra/Maharaj but faculty from other places like ISI help with the teaching. Mahan won Bhatnagar prize last year and Kingshook Biswas the Young Scientist award and they have already produced a few Ph.D's, latest being Pranab Sardar. Now one of the funding agencies granted ten positions for Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and since Mahan is a monk that should give about six teaching positions to the mathematics dept. There is another windfall; one retired mathematician Lakshmikantam (taught in Hyderabad and later in USA) contributed his life savings of about two crore rupees and the interest on that should give one position each to the two departments in the general area of dynamical systems. The department has also started weekly expository lectures to college students so as to attract more to graduate studies. I mainly focussed on completing a small notes on algebraic topology which should be ready in a few months and which I plan to put in the expositions section of the departmental websisite.
Like last time, my impression is that RK Mission is in to service and not religion. I actually saw a moslem monk and also christian monks in the mission. I took the opportunity to visit Ramakrishna Mission Ashram, Narendrapur,
mainly to get some idea of their rural development activities. More about these later.
P.S. There was one practice that I did not apprecate. All the cows in the University centre of Belur Math are in one shed and are not taken to graze, though there seems to be plenty of land belonging to the mission nearby. But they do play music to the cows.