Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Beauty of Mathematics

In the Spring of 2016, I gave a series of four hour long public lectures on the "Beauty of Mathematics" at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Medford, MA.

Lecture 1: "Fractals! The Language of Nature" 
18 February, 2016
Where we explore the curious world of shapes and fractals, love, betrayal, duels, and multiple dimensions.

Lecture 2: "The Inanity of Infinity" 
3 March, 2016
Where we delve into the mysteries of the world of Cantor, Russell, and Tarski, and the paradoxes they left us with.

Lecture 3: "What are Numbers? Reality and Chaos" 
18 March, 2016
Where we ask questions like, is mathematics invented or discovered?  Does mathematics represent reality?  What is chaos?  How do computer passwords work?

Lecture 4: "The Ancients: From the Vedas to Al-Jebr" 
21 April, 2016
Where we explore the mathematics and its relationship to religion in the ancient world - the Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese, and Indians.  The knowledge that was lost and mysteries that we still have not solved.  With special guest: Hungyen Ngyuen.

Selected references and sources:
"Arcadia", Tom Stoppard; "Numberphile"; "Vsauce"; "StandupMaths" - Matt Parker; "An Imaginary Tale", Paul Nahin; "Fractal Geometry", Benoit B. Mandelbrot; "Alex's Adventures in Numberland", Alex Bellos; "Whom the Gods Love", Leopold Infield; "Logicomix", Doxiades et al; "Love and Math", Edward Frenkel; "God Created the Integers", Stephen Hawking; "Godel, Escher, Bach", Douglas Hofstadter; "Spiked Math"; "XKCD"

Saturday, August 06, 2016


(For the 25th Anniversary of Oberoi House, 2015)

I’m sitting in The Fletcher School library on a surprisingly chilly Boston summer day trying to collect my thoughts and hammer out a piece about the Class of 2003 for Oberoi B and I’m not getting anywhere.  To begin with, I’m not even sure how long it should be.  I could write a book with the material I have. Should I try to be funny or nostalgic, should I mention the darker shades, or should I just concentrate on the lighter moments? No, that’s not right, we are the sum total of all our experiences, good and bad, and whatever we do is etched in our memory forever.  This is really hard.  The bonds that tie the eleven of us are drenched with too much history and emotion to disentangle with just a few words, but I will try, and hope that someone will edit this into something worth reading.

I do not claim that the ’03 OB boys were any tighter than any other house or class, but to me, they represent something ineffably special.  Perhaps that sounds hollow, but this is one of those instances where the cliché, “you had to be there”, is most appropriate.  I cannot and will not list all the spectacular (mis)adventures we shared, but here are some vignettes of our time in that magnificent collection of white washed bricks and mortar that was home, and will always remain so…

My earliest memory of Doon is my B-form guardian Thakur teaching me how to curse like a proper Dosco on my first day.  I was sharing a quad with Aman Sinha, Rishabh Jaiswal, and Karan Singh. Next door resided the rest of our batch, Divyam Singh, Vikramjeet Singh, Rahul Goyal, and Pranav Prakash.  Strangers that time would forge into some of my closest friends.  We are not sure why the eight of us were thrown into main house straight in D-form, but for now let’s assume, it is because we were and are exceptional.  So the eight of us did not enjoy the cocoon like protection of the holding houses; we were exposed to the elements called seniors quickly and I like to believe we grew up pretty fast because of it.

I remember BLD breaking up a late night “intro” session in the common room where some of us acquired nicknames that we use even today.  Right, Mani?  There were the raids of tuck, the haftas paid to Mrinal to protect our Maggi, chotts fagging, and squabbling in the showers to get the last drop of hot water.  We learnt to navigate the murky waters of “quiz-ego”, “bagsing” the good stuff, striking deals in the CDH, trading chores, and hiding from the ubiquitous gaze of favor seeking seniors.  Through all that, within our little crew we joked, jeered, jammed, joshed, and jonsied away like pups in a litter.  It wasn’t always fun and games, but I would not change an iota.  If it wasn’t for all of it, I wouldn’t have anything to reminisce and write about today.

The following year, we were joined by three other characters who perfectly complimented our already motley crew; Rahul Singh, Ravinder Brar, Pranav Rastogi, and for a while Shyam Arya.  That completed our dysfunctional little family.  Like any other dysfunctional family, what I laugh about most in retrospect are the fights (yes, I know, I’m surprised too that porn didn’t make it to the top of the list), and we had a lot of them.  But it was odd I realized.  It was okay for us to fight, but if some “outsider” stepped onto our turf – that’s when the real loyalty emerged. The epic throw down by PP, “tune mere bhai ko mara”, or Karan Singh’s infamous “Ma ne bomb phodna nahi sikhya kya?” when confronted by a bunch of pesky Welham Boys on Diwali will remain indelibly carved in my memory.

No tribute to the class would be complete without a mention of our housemasters.  SDB – the kindest man who taught math but didn’t dole out food at tutorials.  JJR – about whom we wrote a song that you should ask Jaiswal about if you see him at Founders.  HMD – who escorted us on one of my favorite midterm to Kothri Sanae along with SAY and our OA counterparts.  When was the last time you tied up your housemaster and beat him up thinking he was going crazy to the tune of 90s Prodigy classic “Smack My Bitch Up”?  DMF – who I personally learnt so much from and of course, PKN and how he tricked us into revealing all the secrets of internal O-House politics before he took on the role of Housemaster.  I suppose a belated thank you is also due to JHH and BLA for not ratting us out after we were clearly caught jamming midterms in Mussoorie.

The OB class of 2003 is an accomplished bunch, not just at Doon, but in the world today, and although I do not have enough space to outline their achievements, I am damn proud of them.  As I finish writing this, I am filled with the shame of all the stupid, mean, and obnoxious things we did to each other and the absolute sheer joy of our shared adventures. But above all I am filled with a profound longing for my friends, all of whom I miss dearly.  So Oberoi B, Class of 2003, here’s to you.  You’ve been there for me through the teething of adulthood, and no time and space is ever going to change the respect, camaraderie, and love I have for each of you.  Thank you, mes amis. Vive le Oberoi!