Sunday, April 05, 2015

Peter Principle?

I seem to be rising to the level of my incompetence. My love of Hindi film songs drew me to site "Songs of Yore". Usually I get by in the discussions there by internet search even though I do not know Hindi and have seen very few Hindi films. The folk there are getting more serious and want me to be part of panel, they think that I know statistics. Even though I worked in Indian Statistical Institute Delhi Centre for four years (1982-86), I never worked in statistics or any applied mathematics. ISI had a freewheeling culture. The rumour was that when Mahalanobis met an Indian abroad and liked him, he started a new department for him; this I heard when I found they had a department of agriculture. One of the early stars was C.R. Rao. He started as a student there and some of his famous work was published in Bulletin of Calcutta Mathematical Society around 1944 before he got a Ph. D. later in UK. This includes Cramer-Rao, Rao-Blackwell. The later Blackwell published three years after Rao and Rao had to fight to get credit since he did not mention the main results in the introduction. Anyway, Rao followed similar methods with his students and would assign them new interesting areas for research in which he had no expertise. Some were essentially either pure mathematics or borderline areas (and one of the students shifted more towards pure mathematics and influenced others) and that is how pure mathematics started there and continued. A famous product is S.R.S. Varadhan who won the Abel prize. Rao left ISI but I met him during his visits to Delhi during my stay there. I was in the guest house for a while, he would visit around dinner time uninvited and stay on for dinner though he was a honoured gust there. We would get free trips in the car assigned to him. I gossiped with him about the development of the institute. I do not know why Rao was friendly to us. It might have been Telugu-Telugu interaction. Or he might have seen that I was already in trouble due to my anti-establishment attitude and wanted to provide some support. I barely survived my four years there though some of the friendships made there have survived. I do not think that I met Rao again.

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