Archive for September, 2010


Sunday, September 19th, 2010

When I visited Iran I was a bit apprehensive. All that I had read in the newspapers spelt trouble. The visa required a visit to the pathologist to ensure that I was free from various diseases.

At the immigration check, the officer asked me the purpose of my visit. I told him I was attending a seminar. The next moment I was shocked when he warmly welcomed me in Hindi, “Raju, swagat hai”. What a sharp contrast from the crude behaviour one often encounters at immigration and security in the West!

The whole visit was like a dream.  I felt so much at home, and my hosts were so very polite, exactly as I expected from my childhood image of Persia as the land of adab and tahzib.

This last was true even of the traffic: the ultimate test of civilization. Tehran has huge traffic jams, but none of the uncivility that is so common among motorists in Delhi.  Also, I didn’t see a single gun (except in a museum, that is!). This was another sharp contrast from Delhi, where it is clear that the Indian “democracy” cannot function one instant without the help of guns. State violence (or the absence of it) is, to my mind, a measure of injustice (or justice). The problem seems to be with the media, which never ever talks about these aspects, just as it never told us about the striking simplicity of Imam Khomeini’s life style (living in a small one-room house), though it used to go gaga over the Shah’s way of life.

At the Shah's palace
At the simple house of Imam Khomeini

It was very satisfying to finally visit the historic site of Jundishapur. However, while Choga Zanbil was fascinating and well maintained it was a bit disappointing to see Jundishapur in a state of neglect.

Jundishapur: history down the drain

An unexpected aspect of Ahwaz was the “mundane” art: huge murals on the facade of houses.

House facade Ahwaz

The main seminar was at the Al Zahra Women’s University. A short video of my talk is here.

A visit to Isfahan showed no nuclear bombs, that the media keeps talking about,  but only some very beautiful mosques and some extraordinary handicrafts. It is remarkable how people keep swallowing the same propaganda over and over again: first it was the non-existent Iraqi bomb, and now the Iranian bomb. But of course, the West has been waging its holy wars and holy genocides with the help of exactly such falsehoods for centuries since the Crusades.

The city square [rectangle] at Isfahan

Mosque at Isfahan rectangle

The oranges at Shiraz were out of this world, like the falooda. A visit to Persepolis confirmed first-hand that Greeks imitated Persian architecture. This is a bit different from the way the Greek gods were all copies of Egyptian deities: for the argument is that culture and knowledge often flows towards the military conqueror.

At the tomb of Hafiz

At Persepolis











IIT and set theory

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Have been meaning to update this blog for a long time, but was too busy to do so.

Sometime in early April I went to Ahmedabad to give a talk at the new IIT coming up there. One of those rare occasions when I missed my flight (even in Delhi, I didn’t anticipate a traffic jam at 5 a.m.), and so could reach only in the evening when the faculty were assembled for dinner.

One thing led to another, and soon there was a hot discussion going, on the validity and appropriateness of the current philosophy of mathematics.

I don’t like putting people down, but was pushed to do so, especially at the fag end of the day when my patience was short.

So, I publicly asked a senior faculty member whether he could define a set.

Of course he could not, and blustered that “a set is a collection of objects” (and then “a collection of well-defined objects”) which “definition” is complete nonsense. I did my best to suppress my laughter. (His junior was a little more knowledgeable and wondered whether it had something to do with Russell’s paradox.) The man was upset. The next day morning he asked me “do you think that I could have taught maths for 40 years, in IIT Bombay,  if I did not know what a set is?” What was there for me to say: the facts spoke for themselves. He even added, that had I joined IIT Bombay, he would have taught me. I felt like saying “Thank God, I did not join”, but checked myself out of politeness.

But what does it matter? IIT is a brand, right? Like Coca Cola or Pepsi. What product the brand produces, unhealthy sugar-water or whatever, is irrelevant. IIT is a brand, and we are all expected to prostrate ourselves before a brand. So what if the senior-most professors of mathematics at IIT don’t know even the starting point of the mathematics they teach. The important thing is that the government is behind them, for the people running the government, like the advisor to our prime minister, know even less mathematics, and therefore cannot judge who knows math and who does not, but simply go by brands. A perfect recipe for perpetual slavery.

Indians will have to fight for intellectual freedom.