I slept badly, but at least wasn't jolted out of deep slumber by the infernal alarm. Hester and Neill got up to see me off, after a brief breakfast. Waiting in the cold dark for the bus was not pleasant. When it came, I tried to curl up on it and sleep; first I was uncomfortable, and then when I relaxed I felt not strong enough to cope with an airport. I took the precaution of rousing myself well before Gatwick.
The airport: outside, geometric patterns of light (in the multi-storey car parks on arrival, and on the runways on departure); inside, much nicer shops than Heathrow, and room on the seats to stretch out for a bit.
We took off through a blanket of cloud, which later cleared to give us good views of the Alps. After than I didn't look out of the window much until after lunch, when I started writing this; we were passing over the Strait of Messina and the toe of Italy, if my guess is right (confirmed in part by some little conical islands which are marked on the map). Now the Ionian sea is covered with small broken clouds. I'm sitting right by the sunny side window --- no posh travel for me --- and have quite a good view forward over the wing, but don't feel strong enough to take advantage of it.
Flight time is 6.45 to Dhahran and another 1.25 to Muscat. I don't know what the time difference is; the map suggests four hours. This will mean little waiting round at Muscat, fortunately. British Airways have now gone in for non-stop videos (including the safety spiel). None of it tempts me. They even provided a long-out-of-date ITN news --- first reports of the earthquake in Armenia, Gorbachev's speech to the UN, the curried egg fuss. The menu is in a little card with lilies on the cover. Unfortunately the food doesn't live up to it. The carrots, cooked from frozen, were still frozen on the inside, while the peas had dried out.
I'm most way through the Mary Wesley novel, and got the new Peter Carey in Gatwick. In paperback remarkable quickly for a Booker Prize winner, I thought; but I suppose that means the hardback market gets saturated quite fast.
Change of pressure then. My ears feel it.
In the event, I watched the film, `Crocodile Dundee II' --- the new-style headphones are more comfortable. I also finished the book. The film was far too much over the top for my taste --- not only does the hero always win, but he never uses a gun and he never kills his opponents --- and even the Australian scenery (on a dim flickering screen) didn't appeal. But the Mary Wesley book was good, rather like `Moon Tiger' by another old woman, really a book about the war with only brief updating.
Dark has fallen. I'm going to be so tired.
There are now lights below us. My ears hurt like anything, but apart from that I feel tolerably OK. I took two paracetamol at breakfast time; either that or the fact that I really am getting better has got me thus far.
I'm still nervous, but I think this is a permanent condition of travelling. When I went to the Indian High Commission for a visa, the official said I looked frightened in the photograph, and didn't I like travelling? (I only had to pay 2 pounds 50 for my visa, apparently a gesture from the Indian government to the Australian to celebrate the bicentenary. Had I been British, it would have been 21 pounds.)
Incidentally, photography is also prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Also Islamic law?
A child was just belted for misbehaving. Things may improve.
The second plane is now down. Will they let us off now?
Going through the list of duty-free allowances, one sees that quite a few Islamic states (though far from the majority) have an allowance of Nil for duty-free alcohol --- one infers that this means you can bring the stuff in if you pay --- but only Saudi Arabia says `Strictly Prohibited'.
Yes, we're off. Curiously, we took off in the opposite direction to the other planes, which might make sense if there were no wind; but, on the way in, there was quite a lot of buffeting, which was blamed on wind. Perhaps wind but not at ground level.
Initially the airport at Muscat was very impressive, unmistakably Islamic; the entry point (from the transit bus) was palatial, pillared and terrazzo-floored. But inside it was just the sort of place to make me very nervous. There was a transit passenger desk, but nobody manning it. I went through security and asked at a passenger information window which was chiefly concerned, seemingly, with giving out some kind of documentation to returning Britons before they went through Immigration. The man there took me out to the transit desk, where he took my ticket and gave me an incorrectly filled out pink slip without even my name on it. There he left me for some time, finally taking me and two other transit passengers by bus some fifty yards from arrival to departure. This at least was not so frightening, having various shops, telephones, toilets, etc. But my ticket didn't come back until five minutes after the flight had been called. I found it quite difficult to relax during that time, so I started `Oscar and Lucinda'. Fortunately it is a book for taking in small doses.
Now at last I am on a plane which will soon take me to India. I couldn't have fancied a protracted stopover in Muscat!
To add to my torture, I now have an earache, the result of the repeated compression and decompression on a head full of cold. And my bags have been X-rayed so many times that I dread to think what my film will be like.
What a different flight this is. Pretty stewardesses, several of them Chinese or Thai; quite different music on the headphones (Arab, Indian, Chinese), even an Indian film with Arabic subtitles. And a much more interesting meal, minty cucumber, paneer with allo and biryani rice, pickle and pita bread, and, incongruously, crumble and cream. (The alternative menu was tandoori chicken, but there seemed to be more demand for it than for the vegetarian dish, and I was more than happy to even things out.)
The flight time to Bombay is less than two hours. I don't yet know what the time difference is, but it seems fairly clear that I will arrive at some ungodly hour of the morning, and there'll be another long wait in store for me. Never mind, there may be the chance to kip a little, and there won't be the nervousness of Muscat. (That was a very pointed lesson to me --- I need to practise meditation. I was quite unable to keep still for a couple of minutes at a stretch there.)
The in-flight magazine tempted me enough to persuade me to take one, even though it'll probably be the same when I come back. The Arabic text is presumably quite different from the English; certainly it comes with a completely different selection of pictures.
The first thing he informed me about (after giving me the hotel card) was the time of flights to Calcutta - 5.30am (which I'd missed) and 4.40pm - so why didn't I go and rest in the hotel and they'd take me to catch the plane in good time. When I explained about not having a ticket, no problem, go to the hotel, then we'll go to the Indian Airlines counter and you can book. That finally decided me. So we rode in the hotel minibus, I left my thing in my room, and we went back to the airport via hotel bus and motorized three-wheel rickshaw taxi.
After queueing for 30 minutes, I found that all I could get was 64th place on the waiting list for tonight, and 7th for tomorrow - the latter, the girl assures me, is almost certain to be good enough. And tomorrow will get me to Calcutta in good time, if it works. I notice that Indian Airlines are much fiercer on queue discipline than the Immigration authorities!
First impressions of Bombay - people going to work at 6am to beat the rush; joggers at this early hour too; human habitations in all sorts of ancient crumbling buildings; rural scenes which could be anywhere in the world a short distance from the international airport (the trees not even distinctive); a different smell, but I'm not too strong on smells, especially at present.
The hotel courier would do a deal on anything. I accepted his offer of a sightseeing trip today; I refused his offer to buy one of my jackets.
The first two stops were a mosque (Haji Ali, on an island reached by a causeway which is submerged at high tide), and a temple (Mahalakshmi, on the shore but in the middle of busy streets). At first sight the similarities were striking and surprising - no doubt this is a very Indian form of Islam. But the subtle contrasts were telling, too. At Haji Ali, we bought some flower petals in a packet, gave them to the officiator in the shrine which was a tomb surmounted by a dome with abstract patterns and Arabic script in dazzling reflective silver and gold. He tipped them onto a heap at one end of the tomb. The postulant was permitted to touch them, then file around to the other end and touch his forehead on some part of the structure. Outside, there were sellers of all kinds of things, postcards, artefacts, food, etc., as well as a large number of beggars, many maimed. At the temple, we bought a basket with an arrangement of fruit, flowers and coconut. Certain pieces were retained for the deity, and the coconut containing some sweets (one of which I ate) was returned; you then seemed to have the option of various things, warming your hands over a sacred flame, touching part of the shrine, or putting a red spot on your forehead. This time, almost all the stalls sold the carefully-arranged flowers and fruit (some of which was of another type, which you got to keep). There were many fewer beggars, but somehow a much livelier atmosphere; priests and a cow wandered the streets as cars drove by, tooting them out of the way. (It was very narrow, and not even the most dignified are spared.)
In neither place was there any indication of what the ritual is for, whether for god, believer, or everyone, in commemoration of something past or as a present event with its own significance, or what. The strong suspicion was that it was just to fleece the tourists, and yet there were very few tourists compared to the number of local people.
On the subject of wealth and poverty: This city certainly doesn't convey an impression of poverty. The first overwhelming impression is of the sheer number of people; but they are not sitting idly, but living as hard as they can: driving, cycling, or walking purposefully in huge streams, making noise, and even if sitting at a stall, making or doing something. There are of course beggars, the small children who touch your arm and look at you wide-eyed about which one hears, and a few lame, legless or armless, but even these are more often busy near a traffic light, dodging and weaving among the traffic after their prey while the light is red. On the other hand, there are surprisingly many advertisements for new investment opportunities. (English is the language of advertising here; the vast proportion of the billboards are English only.)
Then to the Hanging Gardens, built on top of a reservoir on the top of a high hill and spilling down the sides, complete with a bestiary (including Hanuman along with the more familiar) in topiary, and the old woman who lived in a shoe (the shoe is about 20 feet high with a staircase for the children to climb), along with a stunning view of Chowpatty Beach.
Next we went to the Gate of India, a huge gate with lattice windows on the waterfront, with old and new versions of a grand hotel (very expensive) behind. By this time I was getting so tired that I was just taking snapshots; indeed I don't have very high hopes for this film (what is left of it after the X-rays have done their worst). We looked at various other public buildings (such as the railway station, which is really something else) without getting out of the car. Then I opted for lunch (which was huge, far more than I needed, and I am paying for it now with a disordered tummy), and back to the hotel for a kip. The wrong time of day, I know, but I couldn't keep my eyes open on the long drive back. Inevitably, once I got to my room, sleep was much harder to come by. And now I have to last until the time the plane leaves in the morning - and if I don't get on it I don't know what I'll do.
Now, of course, sleep eludes me completely; I feel low, fear the worst, and begin to ache again after a remarkably symptom-free day.
There is a screen opposite me flashing out, `Aristogags from Aristocrat Luggage', things along the line of
Mother: What did you learn on your first day of school?It's very difficult to focus my mind on mathematics. I suppose that being at the conference will help. But at least this morning I tried, with some apparent success. I thought about covers of geometries whose blocks are cliques in the adjacency graph, thought of as graph covers trivial on blocks. Surely the universal object is indeed described by the fundamental group of the complex whose simplexes are subsets of blocks; surely, too, it is trivial for the 16-point EGQ(2,1) (though the proof is certainly not by combinatorial group theory!)
Johnny: Not much. I have to go back tomorrow.
I suppose they expect us to board fairly soon, or they would not have let us in here.
Calcutta is indeed more crowded than Bombay, but in a different way. (These are only preliminary observations; the airport is northeast of the city, the ISI north.) Life is lived on, and in, the street much more here. There are many more person-drawn wagons sharing the busiest roads with lorries, buses, bicycles, etc., including one enormously wide load of straw. Stalls spread out into the road, effectively narrowing the carriageway, since people walk round them. The shacks by the roadside have the appearance of shops and businesses rather than homes. The traffic is noisier and more aggressive; buses, in particular, are reluctant to give way. The general rule, almost universally obeyed, is that the person turning or changing lanes always gives way; the breaches of this I saw were all by buses.
The shock of arriving at the ISI was very great. From the turmoil of the street, we turned into what appeared to be a field of chrysanthemums. The area is a little oasis; a soldier sits in a box at the gate (unarmed, seemingly, unlike those at the airport) and keeps out disturbers of calm.
My room sports its own bathroom (with, as usual, basin, taps and shower discharging onto the floor, with a drainhole in the corner), an overhead fan, and a mosquito net. I had my first nibble from a mosquito already. From here, the cries of birds are louder than the perpetual sound of horns.
We heard the last few minutes of Jaap. Getting there at 3.25, I was surprised to find him still on equiangular lines, but he covered it all and was only a minute or two over. Then a group of five of us (Navin, Sharad Sane, Vass, Sasha and I) went down town on the bus.
The traffic moves very slowly in places, partly because of the construction work on the Metro, and it was pitch dark when we arrived. We looked at shops for a while, then went to the New Market. A guide collared us and took us round; we spent a long time looking at tablecloths (a local speciality), and less on chess sets of ebony and sandalwood (Navin says they're better in Bombay); only Vass bought anything (a tablecloth), but I'll try for chessmen later.
Then we took the Metro to Kalighat, and went to see the famous Kali temple. This was much more impressive than the Mahalakshmi. Removing shoes meant technically all items of leather, though they weren't strict; you were shown a very old statue of Kali, much of gold, with the placing of a red flower and the giving of alms; a brief fire ceremony; a lingam; a wishing tree; and several other sites --- and we were only doing a specially negotiated short tour. I didn't mind making a contribution there. One of the altars is still used for animal sacrifice, another showed Siva in bed with several of his consorts (not all at the same time). We got delicious sweets when we left. It still meant little to me, but the feeling was much more positive than in Bombay. The temple was littered with meditators.
We picked up two beggar girls who accompanied us all the way back to the tube station, chiefly tormenting Navin (who, unlike most of us, could understand their song). At the steps, they left him and turned to me. I said to them, `Namas-te'. Immediately they stopped their chant, said `O', and left.
After this we rode back to town and took delicious snacks in an uncrowded upstairs vegetarian restaurant. Wonderful puris, and alu and channa concoctions, followed by a milk pudding and two others of the gulab jamun type. We took a taxi halfway back (to the end of its range) for a nominal fare, and a bus the rest of the way for a really derisory sum.
And so to bed.
The conference opened at 10.30 with a Vedic hymn, followed by a short welcome, biographical sketch of Bose, and a talk on experimental design and sampling techniques. After lunch (out of a cardboard box in a tent in the garden), things began in earnest with two sessions of three 25 minute talks. Nothing too remarkable to report so far, except Chang's talk (which I wish I'd heard more slowly) on optimality of designs, a concept which even Jaap managed to get into his talk) and Navin's (the first time I've ever heard Krull dimension used in a lecture on t-designs!)
Among other things, my future arrangements are now somewhat clearer. It appears that I'll lecture here on the 19th and fly to Bombay on the morning flight on the 20th. In Bombay I'll talk at the University (on block-transitive designs), the Tata Institute (on order-preserving permutations and scaled of measurement), and at Pune (on infinite permutation groups and model theory). Pune is three hours by train from Bombay, and it's said to be a very beautiful train ride. The Tata lecture will be on the morning of the 26th, the day I leave.
The last event before supper was the memorial session for Bose, where a number of people got up and talked about their memories of him. It was quite unlike any function I've been to before, and I was struck by several things: the contrasting way in which the speakers did their jobs; the unlikelihood that any of the next generation will stand out the way great men like Bose did. Then supper, after which I retired to write my talk and go to bed. Once again I slept well, but managed with some effort to tear myself awake for the hot water man. Now bather and refreshed with tea, I feel fine. The only problem on the horizon is squeezing my talk into 25 minutes! (I'm first up this morning.)
Talk OK, though I went two minutes overtime, to Jaap's annoyance. Not much reaction yet.
I'm too nervous, beginning to worry already about getting to Bombay. Hopefully it will work out. I suppose that at lunchtime I should check.
Glorious morning, hazy sunshine, warm but not the least hot. View over the pond very pleasant.
I didn't manage to confirm my ticket; that'll have to wait until Bombay. (Air India's computer doesn't talk to either British Airways' or Gulf Air's.) But other arrangements are going satisfactorily.
Klin's talk beautiful stuff --- he overlaps with Buczak, as Gol'fand does with CGS and me. Bagchi: I agree with Jaap's assessment of him. So many little asides in his talk, full of great knowledge and erudition. Vijayakumar: I also agree with Jaap there. Other nice things too.
Photo in the afternoon a jovial affair, lots of fun at the expense of the photographer, whose assistant carried the umbrella. A huge crowd turned out to see the photo taken.
The cultural evening. The performers were delayed, and didn't make much of an apology for starting an hour late. But never mind. The dancer, Catapa Dutta Gupta, lovely stuff. My impression was of the way she danced with her whole body including her face and (especially) her fingertips. One beautifully dramatic dance on the subject of Radha's jealous anger at Krishna when he has been visiting another woman. Then the real treat for me, a performance by Pundit V. G. Jog. To my dismay, it was cut to half an hour because of the lateness (`Perhaps the shortest performance he has ever given,' said the compere.) He played two classical pieces in the same raga, in 7 and 16 beats, and then a folk song from Benares. I was absolutely enraptured. My concentration was really focussed in a way it hasn't been for a very long time, and never wavered for a moment. Afterwards I got his autograph, and talked a little bit with one of his disciples. His violin had 5 strings (I think, possibly even 6), tuned D A D A D.
After dinner there was a party, an `alcohol party', hence not an official part of the proceedings. I stayed quite late and enjoyed myself, trying various Indian brews and talking to quite a lot of people. Very nice.
My complaint about the food is that, though good, it is entirely repetitious. At least this will change in Bombay.
After supper word went round that there was another party. So we trooped off to the roof of the building where Jaap is staying, and stood around up there drinking beer, Russian cognac (very good) and Indian rum, eating salmon and chicken pâté (also from the Soviet Union) and talking more and more loudly as the evening wore on. It was a little cooler than it had been. I'm told this is a small lull in the rainy season.
Then I was woken up at 3.00 by the Russians leaving to catch their early flight, and for good at 6.00. I picked up my laundry from the laundry man, but somehow managed to miss tea.
After breakfast it was straight onto the coach, which didn't leave immediately (the story of the day). Three temples today, and any resemblance among them entirely coincidental. The first one, whose name I forget, was a Kali temple founded by a woman (instructed in a dream) around 1850. It was far more spacious than Kalighat, a huge courtyard with long queues of people waiting to offer their devotions to the image in the main temple, a bookstall, twelve small temples to twelve manifestations of Siva, each containing a flower-decked lingam, most being watered. This side overlooked the River Hoogly over a rose garden. Outside were five sacred fig trees with cows and people under them. I bought two books by Swami Vivekananda, addresses in Chicago at a `Parliament of Religions' and one on karma yoga. A most colourful place but with none of the frenzy of Kalighat.
We drove over the bridge to the west bank of the Hoogly, and were soon at the Ramakrishna temple. Here you see a link, in that Vivekenanda was Ramakrishna's chief disciple. But what a difference. This was the intellectual, abstract Hinduism. The main building illustrated Ramakrishna's teaching of religious tolerance, being a mixture of styles illustrative of all the main world religions. Inside was a vast, cool hall; at the front, a few people knelt while a priest tended a sacred fire in front of a marble statue of the saint. Outside, we saw on the river bank the spot where he was cremated, and various similar buildings. The river hazed away in the distance, and someone poled a small boat past while several monks swam, just as in the pictures. It was very pleasant, with lawns and flowering trees. Apparently this is a missionary or serving order, but their headquarters showed little sign of the world.
A long drive through the country, on the Bombay road, took us to our next stop. (It was interesting, at a fork in the road, to see signs to Delhi and Bombay. Clearly a mistake would be costly.) We passed little tile-roofed villages on the banks of ponds, under palm and banana trees; people worked in paddy fields, cows lay on the grass. The road was surprisingly empty. But it got more crowded as we got back into Howrah, where we went to the Botanic Gardens.
There wasn't time to let us get out and walk. We were taken round by bus and shown the palms, the Australasian trees, Calcutta port across the river, and so on. Finally we stopped for the one short walk of the trip, to the famous banyan tree. It was very impressive. Five years ago they fenced it in and built a road around, and it has already got over the road and is marching further out. There we had coconuts; someone (I think Jaap) paid for the whole party. Very tasty. The other wonder we saw was the `mad tree', of which every leaf is (entirely) different in shape.
Now for the famous Howrah Bridge. The traffic was just amazing. I didn't see how long it took us to cross the river. At one stage we were belting along the tramlines the wrong way, with a stream of traffic outside us, when a tram came. So the driver just moved further over into the oncoming traffic. At the far side of the bridge, a bus decided not to let us back in, and some hasty words were spoken.
After driving round the racecourse (unnecessarily, it seemed to me), we stopped at the park by the Victoria Memorial for lunch. After going to the toilet (a very long trek by crocodile, asking the way from time to time, to the delight of the onlookers) and having lunch, I didn't want to see the memorial itself, but sat in the sun with Eiichi and two students for half an hour. A beggar woman with a baby came up; I didn't give her any money until she told me I looked like some famous Hindi film star, at which my heart was softened. (Earlier, at the first temple, I'd been compared to both Abraham Lincoln and Omar Khayyam.)
Huge wide park with neat palm trees, and this white monstrosity on the river bank. On top of the dome was an angel, and the students argued about it. It turns in the wind, said one. No, there's a motor, said the other.
Outside, the monkey man and the flute man tried their wiles on us without success. Jaap did slightly better in getting us to line up for a photo.
Then, time being short (largely because of the bridge), it was either museum or shopping. I opted for the latter, as did almost all the party. Most of them went to New Market, but Vass and I tried for the Cottage Industries Emporium (government controlled, hence prices fixed). It was closed, but we found the Kashmir Emporium and went there instead. After drooling over some beautiful carpets, I bought two silk sarees (huge long things) and an embroidered top and trousers outfit which can be made up to the right size. I saved the tax: the assistant forgot to charge me for one saree, and was so grateful when I pointed it out (I guess he would have had to pay) that he knocked the tax off. This surprised me a bit: does he have to make it up, or is it discretionary?
Anyway, on the way home, we stopped at an amazing Jain temple. Built by a man with the money he made selling jewels to Queen Victoria (and he looked it, despite the prayerful attitude, in a wonderfully lively statue), it was a temple for the play of light: glass mosaics, 108-lamp crystal chandelier from Paris over the main shrine, hexagonal mirrors, facing mirrors (the guide did match tricks at the last two of these). Outside, formal gardens filled with quite amazing statuary. I asked the guide (while we were off having a cold drink afterwards), why mirrors? What is their religious significance? It's just for beautification, he said.
Vivekananda in Chicago, stressing the tolerance of Hinduism, strikes a sour note himself in his discussion of Buddhism when he claims that Hindus understand the Buddha's message better than Buddhists do. (He even claims that Hindus reverence Buddha as a god; certainly the Theravada Buddhists do not, and they would say that he never claimed to be one.) Basically Vivekananda cannot accept the Buddha's denial of an eternal soul; it is so obvious to him that souls exist that he simply ignores this. Then he goes on to deplore the fact that the Buddha's reforming message was not accepted into mainstream Hinduism.
The hot water man didn't come because he thought I'd left. He is going to bring some in 15 minutes. Now, I hope, everyone knows that I am staying. Khosrovshahi wanted to move into the guest house to ensure his hot water, but wasn't able to, because it is full with another group. The students, apparently, come back on the 24th.
Twice on television there have been snatches of Christmas carols. I don't feel nostalgic for them in the least. But the second time (when I was actually watching, rather than overhearing from a distance), the announcer saw fit to point out that this was a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In India, I think that is true, though it is certainly not in the West.
I tried to capture palms, chrysanthemums, and haze in the pictures I took this morning. These are the dominant impressions of the Institute. One of the organisers, in the introductory session, apologizing for the short notice, said that the conference had spurred the authorities to paint, decorate, gravel the roads, and generally tidy up the Institute; it had been so effective that perhaps they should have more international conferences at short notice. But I failed to get any pictures to contrast the clamour outside the gates with the peace within. Sound and smell form such a very large part of the whole experience; I didn't see any sights that would effectively carry these impressions.
One of the most colourful sights, actually, and one I shall take away as a symbol, is the huge number of government-licensed Public Carriers. Big trucks carrying anything from bricks to aviation spirit, and often with many people in the back, they are decorated with colourful patterns, a religious-type picture, coloured tinsel, and lights.
A comment from the memorial session comes to mind, in connection with the nature of Hinduism. The statement "Only Hindus can do experimental design" was attributed to Bose. It is often necessary to think of lines as points, pairs of points as blocks, etc.; Hindus are very used to worshipping the same God in many different guises. Kulkarni explained to me yesterday (and I think I have it right) that Siva represents the unchangeable essence, Kali is the maya or appearance. He used the analogy of a cobra. When it's still, it represents Siva; when it moves, Kali.
The most popular activities apart from talking seemed to be washing --- bodies (male only) and clothes --- in the water that flowed from hosepipes at intervals along the road, and mending vehicles (anything from changing a bicycle tyre to major reconstruction work on the engine of a big truck); but, as well, people were riding in cycle rickshaws dressed in their Sunday best, butchering, trimming bamboo poles, mixing cement, eating and drinking, doing carpentry, etc.
On the way back, I fell in with a man walking home (he lived in a house opposite the Institute). He asked me if I felt cold. With the sun blazing on my back through the haze, in mid-December?) He told me that he had visited England in the past, but cannot now get a visa, the immigration officials are too strict. He has friends who live in Putney High Street and run a restaurant. He warned me not to trust anybody, and to be especially careful of pickpockets in Bombay.
Today's photos may be a bit better. In particular, one of a bridge-painter, the girders behind him framing the temple.
I saw two of the less attractive occupations of Calcuttans today. One is searching through piles of junk for saleable items. The other is making cowpats (for fuel, I suppose), which includes in its manufacture stages involving pouring on water and mixing to a paste with your hands, then slapping it in concrete surfaces (e.g. drainpipes) to dry, afterwards collecting up the pats and sorting them. (But I believe that in Victorian London, people made their living collecting dog turds to add colour to tanned leather.)
I also noticed that there are many more temples than I thought. I saw half a dozen on my walk today; most were quite tiny.
Last night I drank a couple of beers with Khosrovshahi and Ito, and we discussed India. I found that when I tried to express myself, despite my true feelings, it came out sounding like a diatribe against the filth and squalor of the people. And yet I only said things which I've written in this notebook, which I believe gives a much more balanced account of my reaction.
One analogy that occurred to me. The householders keeping themselves and their houses clean and dumping the rubbish outside the front door are something like the meditators in the temple, who seemingly don't notice the noise and bustle around them as they purify their inner selves. It is all a question of what things you notice and what you don't.
I slept very soundly and was grateful that the hot water man was late today. The laundry man says my clothes will be ready by 7pm tonight.
On the way back to lunch, I stopped at the Post Office, and bought enough stamps for five postcards. I sent one off, and will presumably send more, though perhaps not all five --- I can't imagine that many will get home before I do. And of course, though I don't now need a post office, I do need a pillar box. One feature of the box here is its spurious precision about collection times: 10.46am, 1.46pm. The former was still displayed nearly two hours later when I posted the card.
Bagchi has just given me copies of his inversive planes papers with Sastry. Curiously, they can't resolve exactly what the dimension of the binary code of W(s) is for s even; they have a conjecture which they believe to be true, and what they can prove already refutes a theorem of Bob Liebler (with a p-adic proof). Altogether it's beautiful stuff, including the following gem. The set of absolute points of a polarity of any incidence structure belongs to the binary code of the structure.
At first I assumed that the fish was bad. Later I wondered if rather I had swallowed a fishbone, and the pain was caused by it passing undigested through some sensitive tract. I certainly could do without any recurrence of that!
Now the hot water man has been; I've bathed, and feel quite good. The car was due at 7.00, but Khosrovshahi, a worrier, asked them to send it at 6.30 instead. So I'd better dress.
Last night, before bed, I made some progress on r-cliques of blocks in S(2,k,v), which I'd discussed with Bagchi. Trivially, if the design has more points than projective 3-space, then any r-clique is a star; but this is false for projective 3-space and several related designs. Now I've shown that if the number of points lies strictly between a unital and a projective 3-space, then any r-clique is a star. He needed this conclusion for a unital of order 3. I'm sure that the result can be pushed further!
Navin and the young guy from the University were waiting for us at the airport. We went by taxi to the University, quite a short journey; traffic seemed almost nonexistent, such a contrast it was with Calcutta. There was some trouble finding me a room in the hostel. (I learned later from Vass that the young guy on the door at the time is perpetually on the make, and creates difficulties in the hope of resolving them for money.) Then we went for lunch, absolutely delicious, with members of the conference on commutative algebra and combinatorics going on here. Served on a tin tray, with little tin cups for the curry and dahl, the rest piled up on the tray (rice and two delicious vegetable concoctions, and really fantastic parathas). I ate too much! Then a delicate dessert and coffee. After lunch, I went to one of the conference lectures, introductory ring theory, but had difficulty keeping my eyes open. Then Sharad Sane and I had a go at a problem of his: is it true that, in any S(2,k,v) which is not a projective plane, it is possible to cover all points with r blocks, not using all the blocks on a point? (Reminiscent of the one before!) The motivation is that, if true, it would show that the only S(2,k,v)s whose duals are maximal cliques of r-sets are projective planes. It's an odd sort of problem: you can exclude k=3, any system having a subsystem, and classical unitals; what you end up with is that a counterexample contains none of a long list of configurations. Also, you can exclude systems containing a spread, or indeed a large partial spread. The only general approach I can see would be to show that the non-existence of configurations allows results about partial spreads to be sufficiently strengthened to apply the previous statement.
Then Vass, Willem and I went to a restaurant Vass knows in Santa Cruz near the station. We went there by autorickshaw; the driver tried to charge us 15 rupees, but a bystander said that the fare should be 5.75 only. The restaurant was very like one in England; we had chicken jalfrezi, biryani, sag paneer, stuffed paratha, and plenty of beer. Very good for 4 pounds.
Coming back was an adventure. We decided to take the bus. The bus came in and stood, revving its engine impatiently, while the queue of passengers struggled to get on, impeding one another and being very much slower than they might have been (prisoner's dilemma). When he thought he'd waited long enough, the driver just went. I was on, but Vass and Willem were left behind. When I paid my fare (half a rupee, 2p), the conductor indicated that he'd tell me where to get off, and he did, though it wasn't a junction I recognised. Some people in the street directed me down a road turning off to the left. I walked along it, feeling perfectly safe, but realising I was alone at night in a huge and strange city with no very clear idea where I was. I knew that, at worst, I would be able to retrace my steps to the bus stop and take an autorickshaw from there. But I came to a gate with a notice on it; as I stepped up to read the notice, I recognised the University. When I got to the hostel, there was no sign of Willem or Vass, but they came down in a few minutes to look for me, clearly a trifle worried.
I slept reasonably in such a spartan room without a mosquito net. When I awoke and looked in the mirror, I saw that my face was absolutely covered with red spots. Vass has given me his repellant and anti-histamine (he leaves today), and I will try to get a mosquito net for tonight; but there is nothing to hang it on.
I went back to the canteen where we had lunch to see about breakfast --- Vass said there was a conference breakfast at 8.00. But only the regular downstairs canteen was available, so I went there. Soon afterwards, Willem came in. Breakfast, it seems, is an omelette (as in Calcutta) --- nothing else is possible. I said yes to an omelette, but Willem tried `Boiled egg?' `No.' `Sandwich?' `Omelette sandwich.' That's what he got, and it's what I got too, but Vass, who came in soon afterwards, succeeded in getting the omelette separate from the bread-and-butter.
The thing I most enjoyed looking at in the shopping area was the vegetables. Perfect quality in most cases; each one individually inspected by the vendor before being placed in a neat pile, blemished and hairs removed. Garlic is sold both in bulbs and separated into cloves. Many things I couldn't name as well as those I could.
Anyway, I trustingly handed over the documents --- he seemed to know what he was about --- and we went back to the University. No-one was about, so the three of us sat in an empty seminar room and talked about mathematics. Finally Sane and Verma came, we had tea and went to the canteen for a cold drink, and got back after the due time for my talk.
There was quite a bit audience. I wasn't introduced, just started. (Sane is very unassuming. Rao gave me a grandiloquent introduction to a much smaller audience in Calcutta.) It went well --- several members of the audience were very much on the ball.
Two to go.
After the talk, I spoke some more with Sharad, and then at Willem's instigation, he, Vass and I went for a couple of beers. It wasn't really necessary, but I was so terribly thirsty all day! Actually, one would have sufficed. We went to the Sane's place at 8.00, bearing gifts. (Three people with initials S. S. S. Willem had brought Droste's chocolate letters, but wasn't able to get S because it was the feast of Sinta Claes when he left!)
We had a delightful evening - lots of good talk and good food, more beer. Then we went back to the hostel and saw Vass on his way, and I went to bed.
This morning, the boy had reported to Willem that I was sick, or so he understood, perhaps wrongly. Indeed I'd been up a couple of times in the night with a runny tummy - it has been a bit this way the whole time, probably due at least in part to the malaria pills - but sick, no. Nor mosquitoes tonight, either. There were very few in the room to begin with, and these seemed to succumb to the electric gadget I got yesterday. The old spots seem less noticeable today, and I can't see any new ones.
Flying into Bombay, we passed over some very rugged, bare brown hills, and plains with curious straight line markings on them.
After lunch I went back to the department with Sane, and we worked all afternoon on his problem. We came up with an elegant trick. Rather than straining too hard for a large partial spread, we decided to add lines satisfying the following conditions: each line disjoint from the preceding ones up to the trivial lower bound for a partial spread; then each line picking up three new points as long as this is possible (assuming k=4); and finally lines picking up points two at a time, as long as this is possible. The hope is that this is sufficient to do the job, but my suspicion is that it still fails.
I also talked for a while to Mrs Bhat-Nayak about the thesis of a student of hers. They'd found a construction giving 512 non-isomorphic (66,6,5) designs, most of which don't contain (66,6,1) designs, and all admitting an automorphism of order 65. But the paper was rejected by the referee whose first criticism was, `It is easy to construct at least 1089 such designs by applying permutations.' I suspect that this was an off-the-cuff remark which he wouldn't want to be held to, and that in fact the argument is just plain wrong; in any case, I can't see how any construction of this sort would give designs with no (66,6,1) subdesigns. So I was not being hypocritical when I made sympathetic noises. The offence was compounded by the fact that a polite enquiry to the journal elicited no reply.
I went to the travel agent. They said that the messenger was not back from Bombay yet, and promised to bring my ticket over when he came. So it looks as if I'm stuck here this evening. I'm not hungry, and anyway I have some sweets to eat; a day of light eating will not hurt my digestion.
The campus has avenues of remarkable trees called ashoka trees. They are tall and thin, even more so than poplars, but the branches, instead of growing up, trail downwards, ending in a neat skirt some distance above ground level (but I don't know if this is the result of human intervention --- the gardens, paths and avenues are very well tended here.) I asked Sharad if it was the same word as the emperor, and he said yes, but the tree is older; it's mentioned in the Mahabharata. In Sanskrit, it means something like `showing fortitude'. Other vegetation includes palms, bananas and bougainvillea. Yet just behind the campus is a wide bare area on which nothing higher than grass grows.
Still no sign of my ticket.
The room has a few mosquitoes in it now, but I have put on the vaporiser, and the fan will waft the stuff into all corners.
Still no word from the travel agent.
I zapped the remaining mosquitoes in the room myself before I went to bed last night. Some doubt must remain about the efficacy of that Good Knight gadget. I slept well until someone blundered into my room by mistake at about 2am. They left the light outside switched on, and I couldn't find the switch to turn it off. Later I had a vivid dream, which I tried to hold on to, but it gradually lost its potency and changed from satisfaction to frustration and a feeling of being lost.
Physically I feel good this morning; the touch of runny tummy I had has cleared up. But there is the physical effect of the uncertainty sitting in the pit of my stomach.
Willem isn't here. He must have stayed overnight at the Tata. So I won't see him to say goodbye, and the possibility of getting him to change some rupees for me does not exist. I went to breakfast at 8.00, then killed time until 9.00 when I tried the travel agent. Sane wasn't yet in his office. Now I'm killing time until 10.00 when I'll try the travel agent once again.
Got back at 12. Sure enough it was there; they charged me 50 rupees for the job, not at all excessive. Bu
Navin and I went by taxi to Dadar station, while Sharad took the water-jug back. It was a fairly long taxi-ride through the slums of Bombay (though not a patch on those of Calcutta), and then, after a brief town-centrish part with a couple of temples, streets of apartment buildings, and so to the station.
I was glad of Navin's presence. He got a platform ticket, then found the platform, the reservation list, and finally the coach. But my seat had been taken by a family and I've ended up sitting somewhere else. I put my bag down, and we went and had a cold drink and talked for a while. Then he left. i won't see him again on this trip; he'll be away when I visit the Tata on Monday.
First class is certainly much less crowded than the suburban trains that go by with people hanging out of the doors. Indeed, Navin told me of an unusual accident, when a goods train hit and bent a metal spike which proceeded to slice through the legs of the people hanging on. But we have half a dozen in this compartment already (it's two-tier). Trains go past, vendors run stalls or push trolleys along the platform, everybody talks. Navin says first class costs about 5 times as much as second. There's an even higher class --- air-conditioned first class --- which is much more again.
It's time we left. There's an announcement which I didn't catch. This station is towards the centre of Bombay from Santa Cruz but not right in town.
There are eleven human beings in this compartment, including a man lying on each upper bunk. We also have two old women in white who sit cross-legged on the seats, and a husband, wife, little girl and baby, who seem connected with at least one of the women.
Outside on the platforms, it's even more busy than Dadar, with sellers and buyers, travellers and well-wishers. Now I suppose we're nearly off; the bell has clanged twice and a boy in khaki is waving a green flag.
Cows graze between the tracks in the railway yard.
This morning, after having read Swami Vivekananda's account of the golden mongoose, I found the same story immediately afterwards in the comic-book tales from the Mahabharata. But in the latter, the pill was sugared by having the visitor be a god, and the sacrificing family whisked off to heaven by devas. Vivekananda gives none of this, and makes the story far more stark and real.
A lovely view just then of feathery seed-heads catching the setting sun.
We drove to the University, making a couple of stops for business on the way. When I was installed in my room, we went out to eat, since the guest house was not providing anything.
Unable to find a rickshaw quickly, Kulkarni decided to go on his scooter and fetch one while the professor and I walked on. Very soon he came back with a rickshaw, and we went in convoy towards town, where we stopped at a restaurant "for veg lovers only". The food was OK but a trifle bland and a bit greasy. I was very thirsty and took a Limka first but then decided to brave the water, after being told that Pune water is relatively unpolluted. I had sweet corn veg soup, then shares of one hot (jal fri) and one mild (korma) vegetable dish, and bindi fry, with a paratha, and kulfi to follow. I ate with my fingers in the authentic fashion. The kulfi was delicious. Then we came back to the guest house.
This room has mosquito nets and a proper sit-down toilet with toilet paper. Only soap and towel are lacking. But I think I'll be comfortable here. There is a balcony promising a good view in the morning.
Over the town tonight there's a huge, bright full moon. Outside my window some people are singing Christmas carols to the most extraordinary un-carol-like rhythm.
I slept quite well despite a couple of mosquitoes inside my mosquito net; the lumps have almost entirely gone now. I lecture at 2.00 today and take the train back to Bombay at 6.45 tomorrow. Shopping really will be a problem! I'll have no free time today, and I can't believe anything will be open tomorrow.
Apart from a large cleared playing field of some kind, all the area is quite thickly wooded, with many different kinds of trees. In the bottom of the garden of the guest-house is a banyan-type tree laden with bright red figs; little stripy squirrels in the branches called angrily to me as I stood underneath. A few people walked around or sat looking at the view, and I saw one runner. There is a huge variety of birdcalls. It looks quite dry now, but I understand that in the monsoon it is completely transformed.
Then back for breakfast. I was offered a change from the ubiquitous omelette --- fried eggs --- but passed it up. The tea is very good.
After lunch, which we took with a few computer scientists, one from California (taking great pride in fending for himself and mixing with the common people) we went back to the Maths Department for my talk. The start was delayed because of our asking for coffee after lunch; such an unusual request quite flummoxed the kitchen staff! So I went on the back of Kulkarni's scooter (a very popular means of transport here) and had a few minutes to collect my thoughts.
I was surprised by the size of the audience. This is partly explained by the fact that, though the department is small, it has no undergraduates, so everybody will come to such a lecture. Also there were several computer scientists from a meeting just finished, and a few mathematicians for a meeting about to start.
The talk went very well indeed. I went a bit overtime, and even further in answering some of the questions that were thrown at me. It is nice, in a department having people with such disparate interests and no real groups, to be able to offer a vision of an all-embracing kind of mathematics.
Afterwards, I stayed for a while talking to several people: one who has a nephew who is a lawyer in London; another a physicist with new algorithms for spanning trees, graph isomorphism, etc.; two people working on Clapham and Kleitman's paper on self-complementary degree sequences, stuck on a point where they want help. Finally, I had a long talk with Kulkarni in his office and walking to the canteen and having a soft drink there.
Among other things, he's arranged a guide for me tomorrow, to take me first to the Shiva temple and to the museum which has a fine collection of musical instruments, and then shopping. (Surprisingly to me, they assure me that, because it's Christmas, shops that might normally be closed on Sunday will certainly be open!) Also we talked about mathematics, about such metamathematical problems as career prospects and algebraic geometers' disdain for combinatorics, about pop music, and running, and all kinds of things.
Small interruption there. An old man just came to the door and handed me a worn and dirty pair of knickers. He said something that sounded like `pyjamas'. I don't understand.
Tonight (7.30) we are going out to dinner. Tomorrow morning sightseeing (as I said - and there was much discussion of what I should buy and which shops are the best); afternoon, more talk, then the train at 6.45. I believe a message has been sent to Sane with my arrival time.
I spent a while reading the Clapham--Kleitman paper: terrible stuff, so hard to understand. Also thinking more about Sane's question. We should get a larger partial spread by the following method. Let S be the set of points covered. For p in S, let ai(p) be the number of lines L with p in L, so that L has i points of S. We can assume that ai(p) <= 3 for some i - otherwise we have a configuration which can be covered more economically. Perhaps this works at the next stage too.
Two things stamped the evening as Indian. Outside, I was introduced to Paan (sweet, I hasten to add, not tobacco) Also, a fight very nearly developed between bus and rickshaw drivers in the main street. We had a bit of trouble finding a rickshaw driver prepared to go to the university at that time of night, but succeeded at the fourth attempt.
Siting in the restaurant, I felt a greater sense of well-being than at any other time on the trip. This town, at least, doesn't feel too foreign to me.
My guide was supposed to come at 7.15. The sun has just risen, and the valley is filled with hazy mist which the morning light is just touching. The birds are full of song, and a television plays somewhere. The air is quite cool.
What to do if he doesn't come? I'll have breakfast and then try to find my own way to the centre of town, taking shopping as the priority.
The two students (Charudatta and Nauiwadekar) who'd been interested in the Clapham-Kleitman paper came at 7.30.
We went first to the temple, on top of a big hill, with stone steps, apparently for elephants to walk up - a comparable climb to Whitby. The view was stunning. There was a lot of mist or haze, out of which hills poked their heads like islands. Nearer at hand, much of the city was visible, and in the other direction you could see clear to the mountains.
The temple, as befits such a site, was made to be defended, with a thick wall around which you could walk. The actual temple itself had little to recommend it: a statue of Shiva in the main temple, and smaller dolls in four little houses around it, including the Sun, to whom I did special obeisance in the hope that he'll accompany me tomorrow. We walked on further, along a tree-lined path on the hilltop, and passed another temple and came to a third, containing quite a splendid idol of Vishnu.
I forgot to mention that the temple also housed a small museum, mostly devoted to portraits of the rulers of the Mahavi kingdom that was centred here. (Originally the Prime Minister's headquarters had been here, the King's palace somewhere else; but Pune became the centre of power.) There were also a few weapons, clothes, and other artifacts.
We walked back down again and took a rickshaw to a hotel for breakfast in the south Indian style, little light steamed cakes with spicy dip and a cup of tea. Then we went to the town museum, which had a remarkable collection of interesting objects, assembled by one man. There were things like lamps, combs, cooking utensils of all kinds (for many of which the purpose was not clear, e.g. the coconut grater), saris, game pieces, and especially a whole room full of musical instruments - dozens of vinas, but also sitars, sarangis, flutes, trumpets, drums, etc. It nearly broke my heart to see them all (many with exquisite workmanship) in very poor repair, stuck inside glass cases and never played. But the whole museum was absolutely fascinating. It succeeded very well by being limited in its aims and its time period (scarcely anything earlier than 17th century).
Then we went shopping. I've succeeded in getting rid of about 2000 rupees and have about the same amount to go. It was very helpful having the students there, especially Ms Nauiwadekar, who was very knowledgeable on the subject of saris, and kept me out of various traps, in addition to taking me directly to the best shops. I bought a very nice silk sari and a couple of Punjabi "trouser-suit" things with the strip of cloth that goes on the shoulder. (I gather that the latest fashion is for something a little bit different, but never mind, I got what I liked.) I also got some silk batik scarves and a couple of suits for the boys (this last may well be a mistake, but it used some more money up).
Then we tried handicraft shops, looking for chessmen, but were utterly defeated in the end. The first shop had trinkets of various kinds, but they only had one chess set, and it had been sold. From there we went out to a huge fairground with many stalls, but the place we were looking for wasn't yet open. Finally, we tried an exhibition-cum-sale of crafts from Kerala; they claimed they had everything one could possibly want except chess sets. At that point we gave up and came back to the guest house.
It was about 12.00, well before lunchtime, and we sat down to do battle with Clapham and Kleitman. There was a single assertion in the proof which, they claimed, could be seen. We did finally see it, though it took us a whole hour to get it out. The details were quite ferociously complicated and we made several mistakes on the way, but the students kept me on the right track for the most part. Afterwards, we swapped addresses - Charudatta wants to study in Britain, I promised him a QMC prospectus.
After they left, I went down looking for lunch. I hadn't ordered any, but the chef agreed to make me some scrambled eggs. I was eating them when Kulkarni came in. I agreed to come to the department and find him after lunch, but then he changed the plan and too me instead to a kind of departmental Christmas lunch in the refectory, where I had a second tuck-in. For them it is the lull before the storm, as they have a conference of the Indian Mathematical Society starting tomorrow.
After lunch and a coffee in town, we went to the department. I've written this and a few mathematical notes, and between times we've talked some more about mathematics and related things.
I hope I've done the right thing on this trip. The feeling haunts me that it's all an act, and everybody can see right through me, but they're too polite to say so.
Anyway, it's certainly helped me to appreciate the difficulty of doing mathematics in India: the non-availability of books and papers, the difficulty caused by inefficient referees, etc. I really must remember this experience and avoid being the cause of such ill myself.
It should feel much more outrageous than it does, to see members of the department working late on a Sunday, which also happens to be Christmas Day. They were so busy that Devadatta didn't arrive to take me to the station until 6.10. To save a bit of time, I rode on the back of his scooter, instead of hunting up a rickshaw. It was quite a hairy ride; he was talking over his shoulder all the way, and at one point said, "If you can take this ride, you could take a year in India." We got to the station in 20 minutes. On the platform, half the people seemed to be related to him; we met his sister, brother-in-law, aunt, and later his uncle. I hurriedly showed him some of my purchases, then we talked outside the train until a few minutes before it left.
It is much grander than the one I came up on; airline-type seats, air-conditioning. A man brought coffee round soon after departure.
The journey was considerably quicker than coming up, just over three hours, due mainly to fewer stops. I was sitting next to an elderly gentleman with whom I made conversation most of the way. He was in many ways reactionary, but one whose positions are clearly thought through, and not at all closed in his views; so we discussed education, Thatcherism, the problems of Calcutta etc., in a most amiable way. Towards the end of the journey we napped for a while. The train didn't terminate at Dadar, so when I realised we were there I had to jump off in a hurry.
Sharad was there waiting for me. Somehow, in the incredible crush, we got out of the station and found ourselves a taxi; the traffic at that hour was much lighter, and we were back here quite quickly.
Now I've done the bulk of my packing, and will soon go to bed; but up early in the morning to get ready. The TIFR car comes at 8.30. Sharad suggests leaving my luggage here tomorrow and coming back to pick it up - probably that's the best thing.
Needless to say, the weather is absolutely perfect and has been throughout the trip. For the first few days I found myself biting my tongue to stop myself saying "What a beautiful day!" to anyone who was passing by. Of course it won't be so beautiful back in England.
I finished Swami Vivekananda on karma yoga last night on the train. A very lovely book. The basic theme: the aim of all yoga is non-attachment; the specific aim of karma yoga is to act, to work, without attachment to the fruits of that action. Thus when you do a charitable deed, you are allowed to remark on the curious fact that you happened to be the courier who brought the help to the person who needed it, but you should not think, "I did a good deed." His sub-theme is "The world doesn't need us; if we disappeared tomorrow, it would continue in the same way." However, he gives little specific direction as to how this is to be realised. All he says is, if you believe in God, you should make it your habit to offer all you do to God, and this will help prevent you claiming it for yourself; but if you don't believe in God, it's much harder. Maybe this is one of the important functions of God; it certainly helps make sense of the Hindu pantheon, where they are all manifestations of the same thing, but are designed so that different things can be offered naturally to different Gods by different people.
Yesterday afternoon, I found time for a walk to the top of a couple of hills on the campus. It was a lovely walk, through the trees, and up the dry earth and rock with sisal plants. A huge flock of birds of prey (they looked like eagles, but would you find so many eagles together?) circled over the summit. (It was the crows doing aerobatics outside my window now that brought me in mind of them.) The view from the top was perhaps even better than it had been from the temple in the morning; the mist had cleared, and mountains were visible in all directions. However, unlike California (to which someone had made a comparison), houses stopped at the foot of the hills, and there was no building on them except for the temple right at the top of one and something similar in the further distance. The point is that the hills rise from a flat plain with no preliminary slope, so there's a natural dividing line.
I went over for breakfast at 8 o'clock, but the canteen service was unusually slow, and I didn't get back until just after 8.30. (There was one person straightening chairs, one wiping tables, one putting out cups of water for customers, two changing the menu board, several just standing round. No-one cooking.) But anyway, by then, the car hadn't come, and neither had anyone else, so I went up to my room. After a few minutes, Vijayakumar (who was to be my host in the absence of Navin) showed up with the driver. They decided to go to breakfast while we waited for Sharad. Eventually the party was all assembled (including a student, working on the reconstruction problem, who was coming along as well), and we hit the road.
It was about an hour's drive, despite a good part of the road being wide and fast. Bits were familiar: we passed the Haji Ali mosque (which, I read, contains the tomb of the Moslem saint Haji Ali, whose mortal remains, cast to sea, drifted up on that rock, so his disciples built the shrine there), the Mahalakshmi temple (dedicated to the goddess of wealth), and, skirting the hill with the Hanging Gardens, drove along Chowpatty Beach (at the end of which, an air balloon in the shape of Superman carrying something, and another depicting a cake of soap, were flying), then through the city streets, past the Gandhi memorial, the University tower, etc., etc., and finally to Colaba.
I'd been told that the TIFR was a restricted area. That certainly seemed true. It is guarded by a huge army base, block after block of high-rise apartments full of soldiers. They just waved us in. (But on the way out, a soldier searched the TIFR bus. What was he looking for? I had some theorems in my bag; none of them had been proved there, though I couldn't prove that.) We went up to Navin's room after first having a cup of tea, and parked ourselves there, talking for a while, until it was time for the lecture, 11.00 despite an earlier rumour to the contrary.
It was a fine lecture room, with boards going right round that can be moved up and back electrically. The audience was not so large, despite the fact that they had had more notice than for any of the other talks I've given here, over a week in fact - but some people are away, while others had been away and perhaps not seen the notice. Anyway, I did quite a good job of the lecture, better than in Essen, I think, though I sensed afterwards that they would have liked a bit more mathematical logic.
After the lecture, we had a short tour of the Institute. It is set in a prime location, on the seashore and I guess very near to the very tip of Bombay. It's surrounded by lawns, flowers, and beautiful trees. There isn't a beach; rather, the shoreline has been built up with huge rocks, but there is a concrete path beside it, up and down which people walk. It reminded me of Addison's Walk. I'm sure that many theorems must get proved there. It looks back across the bay the way we came.
After that, we went to the library, and browsed among the current journals. This is an important activity for the people from the University, since the TIFR takes quite a wide range of journals which most of the universities don't get.
The whole place reeked of privilege, stuck there in the middle of Bombay but occupying quite a different world, with uniformed guards coming and going. Totally air-conditioned, clean toilets, views over the garden and the ocean. One interesting pointer was the annual report. I browsed through the mathematics section: it told what theorems had been proved, but not who had proved them. Also the Institute has its own neutron source in a tower in the garden. I didn't see its foot; I expect there are many more guards there.
Then we went down to lunch. There is an Eastern and a Western canteen; the words describe the style of food just as well as the geographical location. We went to the Western, and had sweet spaghetti out of a tin, and some kind of slightly spicy stew, with rice.
Then we went to catch the TIFR bus to town, where the best part of the day began. And if I had had any doubts about the warmth of the hospitality before, they could not have lingered. My hosts took me to the cottage industries place where we saw some carved chess pieces, the ones with three balls carved out of a single piece of wood. (Sometimes four, sometimes two.) The carving was less than immaculate, the rest of the pieces simply turned and glued on, and the price 1350/-, which seemed expensive to me; so we reserved them and went to look elsewhere. We were headed for the handloom place, but on the way we stumbled into a shop which had a beautifully carved marble set complete with marble board for only 500/-. A much, much better buy, but it blew my chance to rid myself of unwanted rupees, so as well I bought a sandalwood Buddha head and a couple of pieces of jewellery (tigers eye and garnet, really dirt cheap). I still hadn't spent enough but there was no point trying further.
We took a taxi to the art gallery. First we went to a music shop where Sharad insisted on buying me a present, a cassette of music by the santoor master Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, chosen by me at his instigation. Then we went into the art gallery, where there were some really good things. The first exhibition room made a wonderfully relaxing impression: huge white room sculptures scattered around, with plants dotted between. The sculptures, mostly cast aluminium but some brass and marble, were quite good. Most of them were called `Human mood', and some of them really did convey moods, mostly tense or unhappy ones, surprisingly in such a room.
The next room had two exhibition. The first consisted of some wonderfully expressive black and white stuff. A great mixture of textures, from fine hatching to what looked like chromatography; biological and botanical shapes, full of mystery and suggestion. The other was Canadian winter photography. As if to remind me what I'm heading towards! Much as you'd expect, but a couple which really looked more like paintings than photographs. Still, strange to see them in the Bombay heat.
There was still more, a `gallery on the terrace', a one-man, apparently private-enterprise affair. I gathered from comments that he has been at it for a long time without much change in style; but he gave me a leaflet with his artistic philosophy on it. The pictures were mostly highly-romanticised scenes from rural India: people camping out of doors, in a ruined temple, mother and baby (the last entitled `Lord of her Heart'; other titles were similar).
From there we repaired to the restaurant for a couple or beers, a snack (bel puri, sort of puffed rice and vegetables, a perfect vehicle for chutney), and more talk. Finally we dispersed: Vijayakumar to his house in the TIFR (yes, you can live your entire life isolated from the rest of India there), the student to a market, Sharad and I back to the University by train.
That was quite a trip too. The station was immensely crowded, I probably couldn't have found my way alone; but the train wasn't too bad. I've certainly been more crowded in the London Underground. We got seats easily, sat next to three guys playing cards, some game similar to bridge but with a peculiar deal (of course --- and one card inevitably left over). Also, I didn't see how trumps were chosen; there didn't seem to be any bidding.
At the station (I don't know what it was called --- it was on the Central Railway, not the Western), we had to queue for quite a long time for a rickshaw. Sharad tells me it's a Muslim area --- there were many women in black, and I gather that my beard and no moustache, like a mullah, made some impact there. (Much earlier in the day, an old man had stroked it and indicated his own.)
Back to the hostel, and final leave-taking. The porter found me a taxi while Sharad went home for a minute; both arrived back together. About a half-hour ride took me to the airport.
Then the sour note on which my stay ended.
First, the porters cheated me. (I didn't mind really; it was a trivial amount in English terms, and helped me get rid of some of the remaining rupees.)
Then it took me half an hour to pass immigration control. This was the worst part of all. I queued behind a man having huge amounts of trouble getting his family through, to be told that I needed a form which I had to get from `the desk'. This turned out to mean the check-in desk. It took me a while to discover this. Fortunately I didn't have to rejoin the check-in queue; I found a pile of forms on an unmanned desk and helped myself. Then I queued again. This time I was told I was in the wrong queue and should join a longer queue at a different desk. No reason given, but it seems I'd been in a queue for Indians only. Most of the delay was caused by people not filling in the form correctly; mine was OK, and when the man read `Professor of Mathematics' he started treating me like a human being. So Dan was right about that.
After this it was relatively painless, except for the fact that the duty-free shops didn't accept rupees. By this time I was well past customs and immigration, and had no intention of spending pounds or dollars (and anyway, they proposed to cheat me in pounds for whisky, and the handicraft prices were extortionate), so I passed it up. I'm now carrying some hundreds of rupees with me. All the more reason to visit India again.
I went through the security check, and finally felt secure enough myself to start writing up the day's events. I have been doing so ever since (about two hours now), with two breaks, for boarding and for a meal.
No announcement about boarding was made; all of a sudden, people stood up and formed a queue, in which I was left near to the back. They let passengers on in blocks. When I finally got to the aeroplane, a pleasant surprise --- they'd put me in business class (perhaps to make amends for their computer error). Did they do that off their own bat, or did the travel agent brow-beat them into it? I suppose I'll never know. But I have a good wide comfortable seat, with just one problem: it won't stay upright, but slowly tilts back.
Takeoff was not long delayed, and soon we were over the lights of Bombay (Colaba visible in the distance; I don't know where to look for the University) and the ocean I'd been gazing out over some hours earlier. Dinner came, better even than last time --- I had vegetarian, which was good food, with pickle, pan masala which I didn't notice until later (what's that?), a salad, mango mousse (mmm...), and a delicious turkish-delight- type sweet.
So far, so good.
Impressions of India --- I've written some, and it is far too soon to give a considered account. Mainly, I guess, contrasts, and contrasts which the people living there just don't notice, either because they're inured to it, or because they operate on a certain plane and only see things on that plane. Two quick examples: the art gallery and museum form a circle surrounded by a busy road, the restaurant facing inwards onto a beautiful quiet green garden; and slum dwellings with their lean-tos right outside the army base.
It's now just after 9pm Muscat time, so we must be not too far off halfway. There is a new issue of the in-flight magazine; I think I'll read it now.
India has thirteen official languages not counting English. A ten-rupee note says `ten rupees' in all these languages, but `I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of' in English and Hindi only.
The only ordeal left is transferring at Muscat. Several things can go wrong. They could lose my passport, make me miss the plane, etc. Alternatively they might forget to transfer my baggage. All those saris and dresses down the drain, maybe. I didn't trust the zipper on the blue bag, and put my belt around it --- this also hopefully makes me less of a threat to security men. Then, of course, it had to be one of the zippers on my jacket that went; thank heavens, not the pocket containing my money, passport and ticket. (Not yet, anyway.)
Sharad had another brilliant idea on the problem. Consider the trick for enlarging a partial spread. Let p,q be on a line L of the spread. If p lies on at least four, and q at least one, lines not meeting the spread again, then we can do it. Now if both lie on three, we are still there. For either they don't all meet, which is OK, or they do, and we have a forbidden configuration, just like the one in the k=3 case.
Incidentally, even if we can't do it, there is still the problem of finding the least number of lines covering all points. This is still interesting in the k=3 case, where the same sort of argument as we're using for k=4 gives a covering with about (5/6)r lines (compare (2/3)r if there's a spread).
The lights of Muscat, from the air, outshone any jewels. The atmosphere is extremely clear. Looking back along the runway after we landed, the bright light I saw was not another plane following us, but the moon.
To confirm my good feelings, seven minutes after sitting down here, I have my boarding card. Now I have the opposite problem: how to kill time until departure --- an hour and a half of it.
I didn't do anything on the plane except sleep and listen to some music. The film was `Sunset': the glimpses of it I caught didn't seem the least funny, and certainly not anything else. I listened to the Top 40, and the Christmas Number Ones from the Sixties with Alan `Fluff' Freeman; the classical concert was so wonky that it was quite unbearable. Breakfast was no great shakes: very poor pork sausage (I suppose you wouldn't really expect quality pork sausages from Saudi Arabia) and a dry croissant, but the rest was OK. The orange juice was packed by the Saudi Irish Dairy, the butter was real Lurpak from Denmark.
There were two reasons why the flight went so quickly. First, we had a following wind. Second, as a result of the end of the Iran-Iraq war, they can now fly the direct route to the Gulf instead of going over the Red Sea and Egypt. I wish I'd seen it by daylight.
I had absolutely convinced myself that I'd have problems with Customs, who would say that I had too great a value of goods. (Just imagine if I had to try to find receipts for all those things!) In fact it was Immigration that took the time. We arrived at the back of a long queue. When they decided to speed things by letting some people through the EC desks, they took the part of the queue from right behind me! Still it wasn't too bad; a quarter of an hour later, my bag was on the carousel when I got down to the baggage hall (I had to sprint to catch it before it disappeared), and then I went straight through Customs.
Now, all this time saved is simply time which has to be wasted again before the bus comes. I'm saving phoning home until 7.00, by which time someone might be awake. According to the timetable, I'll be in Oxford by 10.45. Not too bad. I certainly didn't feel like braving the trains! I have everything on a trolley, so I can wander this floor of the terminal as I please. It is even not too cold, so far as I can judge, 9 degrees according to the weather report before we landed, and probably a little warmer when I have to go out in it.
It was dark when I arrived, but dawn came behind a cloudbank like a looming mountain range. Now, along the M23 and M25 there is low ground mist, and sun striking across the top of it on the winter greens and browns.