Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Komaravolu Chandrasekharan again

"... in the rendition of the history of Indian mathematics, if there is such a thing, there is a bit of a TIFR-centric cosmology, and unless one lived in that multi-verse, they would not know anything about the greats. If others did not partake in that feast, it would only be natural that they cannot remember something that they never knew?" Comments Balasubramanian Ananthanarayanan on Rahul Siddhathan's wall. He is responding to Raghunathan's comment "He left India in 1965 to take up a professorship in Zurich, and, with that, he has been virtually forgotten in this country despite his immense contribution to the organisation and promotion of mathematics (and science) in India during his TIFR years." In Forgotten Genius.
KC was an unusual case. He spent only about 15 years (1949-1965) in TIFR. During that time, under his stewardship, TIFR produced mathematicians like M.S.Narasimhan, C.S. Seshadri's, Raghavan Narasimhan, C.P. Ramanujam and others and some of their students like M.S.Raghunathan, S.Ramanan...KC also organised conferences on mathematical education and also hoped that mathematicians after some experience in TIFR would shift to universities. These were successful. The unusual aspects are his personality and achieving so much in such a short time and leaving the institute when it seemed to be a going concern. I had met him a few times in Zurich and had some long conversations with him but I was a beginning research student in 1964 and had only minimal interactions with him there. So most of what I write below is based on gossip amd what I remember of my conversations with him.
Firstly he seemed both very attached to India ( he showed his Indian passport in 1975 with his place of birth Masulipatam) and at the same time kept many of the younger mathematician and colleagues at a distance though he seems to have inspired loyalty in many of them. He had taste and style of his own and found many of them uninteresting as persons. In a long conversation during 1975, he told me that mathematicians were like children. He rarely visited his kith and kin in Bapatla where his father worked as a headmaster and retired and where his uncles and nephews resided. As Raghunathan says, he had unusual operating skills and moved with ease and skill among some of the biggest mathematicians of the twentieth century. It seemed to me that his achievement in India is due to an unusual confluence of factors, funding from the government, autonomy, connections that he already made, desire to develop modern mathematics in India and not pushing his own research interests. He also had the luck of many brilliant youngsters channeled by Fr. C.Racine from Madras. By the time the School of Mathematics was going thing, his children were about to leave school I think and he left to take care of their education and family. After that he did not interfere in the schooll's affairs though indirectly he was in contact with some and friendly to those who met him. I vaguely remember him saying, but I am not sure, that there was nothing worse than interfering with what one has built after leaving it. He had a regular mathematical career later on but nothing as spectacular as he achieved during those 15 years in India. I am omitting his earlier influence in Madras and his helping Meenakshisundaram to Princeton and their work together.
P.S. Related Parsing the Math in D.D. Kosambi the Polymath 

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