Calcutta, Bombay, Pune, December 1988

11/12/88, 1214

I set out on this trip with less joy than usual. Mainly this is because of the flu which hasn't left me, the ache in my head, throat, shoulders and back. Travelling is an ordeal, especially across time zones. I know quite little about where I'm going and what will happen; I can't believe it will be like going to Canada or even Germany. And finally, Hester's tearful farewell. She was more openly grieving than one expects in prospect of a 2 1/2-week separation, even if it includes her birthday and Christmas.

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 They even provided a long-out-of-date ITN news --- first reports of the earthquake in Armenia, Gorbachev's speech to the UN, the curried egg fuss.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.


My neighbour has advanced his watch three hours, so I did likewise.

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.


Coming in to land at Dhahran. We are not allowed off the plane, and have been given dire warnings about handing in empty wine bottles and spirits miniatures, and for those disembarking, not taking any alcohol with them. Interesting, isn't it? This attitude, on the face of it far more consistent than that of the West which sanctions alcohol while treating hard and soft drugs together, is presumably in fact based on Islamic law.

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?


On to Muscat time, another hour on. The plane nearly emptied out at Dhahran, and the kids on board (rejoining their parents in Muscat for Christmas after their prep schools in England broke up for the hols) are going to rampage on this leg. It doesn't help that at the moment there is some delay; we can't even taxi down to the start of the runway because one plane is taking off and two more landing.

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.

12/12/88, 0018

Not a couple of hours I want to repeat, though I have to do so in two weeks' time.

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.


Things are always better in the air. My mood goes up and down with the plane. (Clearly it is the higher rather than the lower pressure that hurts my ears.)

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.


I let myself be importuned by a hotel courier at the airport --- and it seems to have worked.

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 tour of Bombay was an experience, though not always what I wanted and certainly more expensive than I intended. The drive to town seemed never-ending, the traffic incredible all the way, especially in the way it keeps flowing through much smaller gaps than it would in Europe. The use of the horn is different, too, with an element of aggression in it and certainly a function of traffic density. (All trucks carry the legend on the back, "Horn OK please".) The guide was interested in pointing out to me the big buildings, hospitals, oil companies, etc., whereas I'd have rather heard about the street markets. His English wasn't really good enough to facilitate much give-and-take in the conversation, so I had to make do with what he offered.

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.

13/12/88, 0628

Roused from sleep by a call from the desk at 10.30pm, I had trouble getting back again, and didn't succeed until 1am, whereupon I was deeply asleep when woken up to check out and come to the airport. Of course I stood in the wrong queue, not understanding the waiting procedure. Fortunately the flight was 2 hours delayed, and my courier from the hotel managed to persuade them to let me jump the queue (apparently it was a pretty sure thing I'd make it anyway). In fact I've already had my free refreshments (on account of the delay) and gone through security even before the announced time for giving out the places. I saw this done on an earlier flight. The passengers form a scrum, holding their tickets in the air. Then an official reads out names from a computer listing. If you're there, you claim your place. If not, presumably, you don't --- except that people shut and interrupt him and it may be possible to get him to backtrack. I think that, as Michel observed, I would not do well in a third world country. The combination of patience and pushiness required is quite foreign to me; I have both these characteristics to some extent, but would use them at quite inappropriate moments.

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?
Johnny: Not much. I have to go back tomorrow.
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!)

I suppose they expect us to board fairly soon, or they would not have let us in here.


And then everything went swimmingly. Apart from a long delay in getting the air conditioning on the plane switched on, and quite a lot of turbulence on the way, the flight was uneventful, and we arrived in Calcutta just before 10. There were people from the conference meeting the flight; I think they were a little bit taken aback to find a foreigner, unannounced, but the wonderful Indian hospitality was well up to the challenge. I had a ride to the ISI with the other arriving visitor, and registered, strolled around the grounds, and here I am, taking it easy before lunch.

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.


Tired, won't write for long. But an absolutely marvellous day. Lots of old friends at lunch, including Jaap and Navin. A very good lunch too, rice, curry sauce, fish, vegetables, sweet. After lunch Sasha Ivanov and I talked for quite a long time --- Jaap sat us in a beautifully finished lounge outside his room, put a beer in front of us, and went away to finish preparing the talk he was giving at 3.30, the oft-requested `Non-Euclidean Geometry'. Paternal as ever, in the nicest possible way. Sasha showed me several very nice things connected with the amalgam method which he has been working on lately, including my old characterisation of the cubes et al.; the method extends to the odd graphs and to dual polar spaces of type D_n (probably), but the techniques there get to look very much like mine. Other nice methods deal with P followed by one or more square nodes. There is a very nice trick here for showing that the square nodes are really there, which must be connected with Ronan--Smith and Brouwer--Cohen. (I'm getting into far more detail than I intended.) I told him mostly about EGQs.

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.

15/12/88, 0658

Yesterday I missed writing up, but with the conference properly begun, there was not so much to tell. I slept extremely soundly, sleeping through (so I'm told) the hot water man, the tea man, and the laundry man, waking up just in time for breakfast.

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.)


Guess what, I have a snuffle today. I'm getting a cold.

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.

16/12/88, 0725

One is so busy that writing doesn't get done. Not only did I spend the whole day in talks (indeed, in the same room), but I had conversations with many people, Klin, Khosrovshahi, Bagchi, Ivanovs (both), etc.

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.

17/12/88, 1831

Another big gap. The conference schedule was, as ever, very tight, but everything was over by teatime and I was able to get a bit of sleep before dinner. I have my plane ticket and 6000 rupees. Everything is fine.

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.


Should I describe details, to keep them safe? My room: double doors of dark wood opening inward, covered by a curtain, fastened by a padlock through two ring handles. Sky-blue walls and ceiling, cork tile floor, lit by a naked fluorescent. (The bathroom is two shades of green, concrete for easy swilling out, lit by a bare bulb.) Bed: hard board, blanket and quilt over a sheet, mosquito net. (But there are surprisingly few mosquitoes around.) An old clothes cupboard on which generations of students (one from Indonesia) have written.

18/12/88, 0658

It seems that the hot water and tea men take Sunday off. A pity: I was really looking forward to a good wash today. I got very grimy yesterday, and I have a sore throat, which I'm sure is caused by the exhaust fumes. Once, on the bus, I noticed clouds of smoke rising from under my seat; I'm sure the exhaust system of the bus was in bad shape.

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.


Most people went into town today, but I intend a quiet day; I'll go for a walk, get some work done, and so on. I went for a stroll round the grounds after breakfast. I expect that most of the photos I've taken will be very poor, because they were snapped in such a rush. (I really should get an automatic compact for trips like this.) But today I was able to put a little more consideration into my photography.

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.


Now thoroughly washed in hot water, I feel much better. Huge quantities of grime came out in the scrubbing. I plan to work in the morning and go for a walk after lunch. Now I'm sitting on a step in the shade, looking over the pond.

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.


After retrieving, with some difficulty, the proof that v<=(k-2)2 for a flag-transitive 2-design, I decided to go for a walk. Not far; I headed in along the road towards town for about 20 minutes, then turned around to come back. This was what I'd seen from buses and cars, but much more immediately: the hive of activity on the street, even (if that term applies) on a Sunday morning.

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.


I'm standing at Ballyghat, on the western support of the bridge, looking across at the Kali temple, at the halfway point of my walk. There are so many things I haven't said yet. Some contrasts:
  1. Next door to an army barracks, an ashram and yoga hospital.
  2. Right in front of the Institute (but I hadn't seen it before, because we don't go that way) is a lean-to of blackened hessian among piles of rubbish. In front of it, a family were doing their washing in the dirty drain, with a fly-blown dead pig on the other side.
And I haven't said yet about kids playing cricket everywhere.

Today's photos may be a bit better. In particular, one of a bridge-painter, the girders behind him framing the temple.


The squalor of this place, it must be said, is due to people's tendency to throw their rubbish away just outside the door. So, when they took down the tent where we had our meals, you could see that all the scraps had been poked behind the canvas and left there. Far worse are the piles of decaying rubbish in the street.

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.

19/12/88, 0912

Having arrived too early, and finding no-one else in yet, I walked on and found a seat on a root of a tree overlooking a big pond. Today feels like a good day.

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.


Nobody showed up until after 10.30: at 9.00 the building was full of cleaners, and when they left at 10.30 the academics arrived. I had a cup of tea and a chat with Bagchi and Vijayan before my talk at 11.00. I think it was a good lecture. I didn't have a lot of feedback, but that seems to be the way here; I hope that I have planted this seed in fertile soil.

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.


Now the other lecture is finished --- a smaller audience but just as keen --- and my duties here are over. Tomorrow the car will take me to the airport at 7am.

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.

20/12/88, 0554

A really terrible experience last night. I'd gone to bed early in preparation for getting up in time to catch the 8.45am flight this morning. I'd not been able to get to sleep properly, I thought because the traffic and the dogs were noisier than usual. Then at about 11.45pm I woke up with the most intense stomach pain I've ever had. Sweat poured off me; going to the toilet didn't help, and I couldn't bring up my dinner. Lying down was agony, and even sitting was too uncomfortable; walking around was the least unpleasant position. I took two paracetamol tablets, chewing them in the hope that the bitter taste might help bring up the dinner, which I held to blame. Gradually the pain receded; there were two further waves, less severe than the first, and then it went completely and I was able to sleep soundly.

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!

21/12/88, 0912

The trip to the airport and the flight to Bombay went without incident. The plane was only about 3/4 hour late, and I gave Reza Khosrovshahi my lecture on block-transitive designs.

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.

22/12/88, 0743

After breakfast, the three of us went to Santa Cruz and went round the shopping area. We didn't actually buy much --- a cold drink, a mosquito-killing gadget, some comic-book retellings of stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana for the kids (they even had one about Jesus), some sweets , and lunch in a small cafe (pav bhaji which was too hot for Vass but which I enjoyed, while Willem had a cheese sandwich, divine mango milkshake, and lassi which was also very good) --- but, as well, I spent a while in a silk shop looking at quite expensive, elaborately embroidered dresses, up to 2000 rupees. I've just realised how short my time is; I might have to go back there this morning.

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.


When we got back, a shock awaited me. Before going down town, I had gone back to the travel agent to confirm my reservation. British Airways worked fine but Gulf Air proved inaccessible. So when I returned, he tried them again. He got through after a long delay, only to be told that I didn't exist on their computer! He made another reservation, but my ticket and passport had to be sent down town to finalise the details, for some reason which is not clear to me. One dreads to imagine the possible things that can go wrong in this situation.

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.


After seeing Willem off to the Tata, I went to the post office and sent off a postcard, bought a couple of tin mugs and a cake of soap, sat in the corner café under an umbrella and a eucalypt drinking orange juice with nutmeg, and then wandered round the campus taking a few photographs and using up my second film. Then I came back to my room where I've had an easy morning - resting, reading India Today, the kids' comics, and more of Oscar and Lucinda. There is a definite feeling of things drawing to a close.

Flying into Bombay, we passed over some very rugged, bare brown hills, and plains with curious straight line markings on them.


After writing the last bit, I lay down for a rest, and found it quite difficult to bring myself back to consciousness in time for lunch. So, obviously, I didn't feel very hungry. I found Verma there --- he put away huge quantities of food, but I had only one small second helping of rice and chick peas. (Everybody else had gone by that stage, even though I was one of the first to arrive.)

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.


I was sitting here working on the problem, when there was a tap on the door; three students from Kerala in the south of India, who are here for the conference on combinatorics and commutative algebra, were at the door. I invited them in, and after a brief awkwardness we all sat down and had a long chat about many things, politics, etc. They told me that the parts of India I should visit are the two extremes: Kashmir and Kerala. I felt so happy that they'd come; a lovely gesture.

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.


The argument indeed didn't quite work. By simple counting, you can cover about 1/3 of the points by disjoint lines (still k=4), another 1/3 by lines picking up three new points each, and the rest by lines picking up two new points each. This gives a covering with about (13/12)r lines; an improvement on the (5/4)r we had before (implicitly).


The students came back and suggested I go to dinner with them, which I happily did. Their rooms are near mine, in fact.

Still no word from the travel agent.

23/12/88, 0930

Depressed. Travel agent closed, nothing to do but wait till it opens. Unsure of finding time for shopping. Were it not for promises and deadlines I'd try to make my own way into town this morning and get back to Dadar in time to catch the train.

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.

Oh dear.


The travel agent assured me that the job was done and I would have the ticket at 11.30. On the strength of his assurance, I went into Santa Cruz in an attempt to get rid of some money. I managed to part with about 600 rupees, half of it on a bag to put the rest in (which I'm now using as a travelling bag to Pune). The rest was more comic-strip epics from the Mahabharata, etc., some brassware, and some cold drinks.

Got back at 12. Sure enough it was there; they charged me 50 rupees for the job, not at all excessive. Bu


Interrupted by a knock at the door. Sharad and Navin were there, so we went over to have lunch. It wasn't ready when we arrived there, so we talked for a while, ate (quite frugally) and then started to make tracks. I'd packed all my things into the new bag, including camera case; if I do much shopping in Pune (and they tell me it's good, maybe cheaper than Bombay) I can take the camera bag out and squeeze more stuff in, which wouldn't have been possible with my briefcase.

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.


We left pretty punctually. After about half an hour of Indian urban, perhaps a little worse for being seen through the train window, we came into the country, a flat land of swamps and wide rivers, but with those incredibly steep bare mountains I saw from the plane rising abruptly behind it. We passed a village with a gaudy temple, and a little town. Then we came to the first stop, a place whose name I can't make out from any signs. Immediately the vendors flocked round, with juice, tea, sandwiches, samosas, etc. After the umpteenth time I was tempted by an orange juice, or an orange drink as it actually was; never mind, probably more thirst-quenching so. The right strategy is surely to keep drinking.

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.


Just at that moment we started to pull out of the station and began gently climbing, first through a region of small fields enclosed by grassy hedges, then through a town where we slowed but didn't stop at the station, built on the banks of a fast-running stream, then into a much more dramatic dry landscape of brown earth, white grass (black where burnt), yellow-green cactus-like hedgerows, a few bright green evergreens, and every now and then a brilliant stab of bougainvillea or rose. Then mountains started on the left. (I can't see that side so well because one of the shades is drawn against the sun.) Like the earlier ones, bare, brown, and very steep, but now continuous. Then, passing a cricket match on a village green, we made a short stop at Kayat, though we've just pulled out again. Not so many vendors here: you had to go out looking for them.

Cows graze between the tracks in the railway yard.


After that station, we began to climb in earnest, for the most dramatic section of the trip. The hills switched to the right (I should say I have my back to the engine), while on the left, real mountains, heavily wooded, backed a more fertile land. Then we started climbing the ridge on the left, with an alternation of tunnels and viaducts from which you can see the river valley receding. Then, at a certain point, we went through to the other side of the ridge, giving a long series of views over a spectacular canyon, the opposite wall nearly sheer, showing horizontal strata, and higher than us. We wound up this for some time more until we reached a small station and were at the top. Now the country is jumbled rolling downs, with a big college on a high bluff overlooking the river, a new bitumen road, and more human habitation. We're now at another station whose name I don't recall. (It's Lonavla.)

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.


The country on top is like a somewhat cooler and more fertile version of what's below: very flat, having in many places well tended crops or rice paddies and many trees in some parts, but in others virtually bare with just a few grazing animals, with hills behind. The further we go, the more the hills draw back and dwindle. The sun is close to setting; it has already gone below the hills a couple of times. I was told that just when you feel you've been sitting for long enough you arrive in Pune. That may well be so.

A lovely view just then of feathery seed-heads catching the setting sun.


We pulled across a bridge over a double river and were in Pune. I got off the train into a milling crowd, not quite sure of my whereabouts. (I found later that they'd switched platforms at the last minute, so the huge crowd had to pour across the bridge to meet the train.) But there was Kulkarni, after I'd hesitated for a moment, with another visitor, a professor of computer science.

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.

24/12/88, 0749

By morning, there is a feel of being in the mountains. It's quite unlike the other places I've stayed in India. The only sounds are bird-calls and train whistles, apart from a very faint hum of traffic. All that can be seen in all directions is trees, some flowering in red, white and purple. The air is not clean but has a freshness that is surely the effect of altitude. But the same haze covers everything.

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.


I had a cup of tea and then went for a walk, which considerably sharpened my impressions. This is good, for me to see that not all of India is like the slums of Calcutta, or the area around Bombay airport!

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.


I took camera and notebook and went for a stroll. I was able to take perhaps some of my best photos so far, though mainly of vegetation, of which there's plenty here. I sat in the formal gardens in front of the main University building (once the British governor's palace), walked along roads through the trees to various departments, and then went to the mathematics department and met some of the people there. I was given the souvenir programme and abstracts of talks of the Ramanujan analysis symposium they held here last year. The former contained, as well as a life of Ramanujan, a brief history of Pune which puts things in context a bit.


I think I'm enjoying this part of the trip best of all, largely because of the good offices of Devadatta Kulkarni, who was responsible for getting me here.

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.


Vivekananda must have been a very impressive preacher. He tells excellent stories, and his words do strike right to the heart. But the work does have a somewhat dated look to it, especially the physical and psychological theories he quotes. It is important to see that this really doesn't matter.

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.


We got down town by the same procedure as last night, that is, Devadatta going on his scooter to find a rickshaw and coming back to pick us up. It was a longer journey this time, into the centre of town through suburbs which were in no way characteristically Indian, but could have been anywhere in the world. In town, we went into quite a fancy Chinese and Indian restaurant (quite a common combination here), where we sat outdoors under an awning, with trees covered with coloured lights, and very thin Father Christmases walking around shaking hands with everyone and occasionally handing out whistles. We had a beer while we considered the menu, and then ordered a mixture of Chinese and Indian dishes. The food was really well prepared, the spicing subtle and varied, and the food much less greasy than last night. Much good talk went with it, and I learnt much about Indian history and culture, including the fact that I should go to the South in December when they have a big music festival. We finished with ice cream and coffee. The waiter couldn't believe it when we asked for black filter coffee, so he brought us each half a cup of black coffee and half a cup of hot milk. Hot water was requested (not by me) and came barely warm. That place didn't understand coffee!

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.

25/12/88, 0730


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.


And an even better day still.

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.


It is a change, and not always easy for me to accept, that I talk to fellow mathematicians, not as a humble student, and not as an equal sharing in the wonderful curiosity about the world, but as an old person with advice to give. As it was this afternoon with Devadatta. I was trying to urge him to get a little bit into faculty politics, so that he can influence hiring decisions and begin to gather a group of like-minded people about him; that is obviously quite important if he is to stay here happily. But somehow the Indian character, so polite and respectful, brings this out in me. I had a delightful conversation with a young chap who works in the department and studies too. He made friends with several American visitors, but doesn't aspire to visit them, since he hasn't qualifications to go to America. He only recently took a train for the first time. He is a Buddhist who feels happy that it is the birthday of Jesus. He said several times how happy he was to be talking to me.

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.


Final goodbyes said, waiting for the train to depart.

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.


And dinner brought to your seat: soup, fish and chips, bread and butter, a cold drink, and another coffee, for slightly more than British Rail would have charged for the two coffees.

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.

26/12/88, 0728

So things draw on to the close. I'm up, washed, dressed, and packed, with plenty of space in my hand baggage, in case I actually get to the shops and get carried away. I have somewhere between 1300 and 2000 rupees that must be spent, the slack allowing for reconverting 400 and buying a bottle of whisky or something.

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.


To begin at the beginning:

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.

2145 (Muscat time)

How will I survive this flight without a book to read? I finished the in-flight magazine, sat quiet for a while, transferred money around between my jacket pockets, and now I'm bored. The Hindi movie has English and Arabic subtitles, but they're not very legible. I listened to Arabic music for a while, that being the best of what's on offer.

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).

1849 (London time)

I'm sitting on the same seat where I was so unhappy two weeks and a day ago. This time I'm OK, apart from the general malaise of air travel. Is it because I'm going home? Rather, I think, because I got here within five minutes or touching down. I went straight to the transfer desk, and didn't get put off by the fact that there was nobody there. Very soon a man came, took my ticket, addressed me by my name, and took me straight out to a transfer bus which whisked me (with quite a few other passengers who were already organised) down to the departure lounge. I think the main difference is that he inspired trust. He wrote the correct flight number on the pink form, for example.

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.


As if to prove that things can still go amiss, the security people made me open my bags. I guess the marble chess set wasn't transparent to their X-rays. They didn't delay me too long, thank heavens. That's one hassle I didn't need.


Now on the way: more than half an hour of the flight to Dhahran gone. Snack done and out of the way. Magazines all read. Now nothing but boredom until London.

27/12/88, 0643

And now arrived, an hour early, in Gatwick, with an hour and a half to wait for the bus.

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.


One last moment of panic to end the adventure. I couldn't find any bus stop marked where the Oxford buses pick up. I asked various people and got conflicting answers, but finally settled on the stop for Victoria. Then, when no Victoria coach came in all the time I waited, I wondered whether perhaps as it was a holiday the service wouldn't run. But it did come, less than a minute after 8.20, even by my watch which is probably now a bit fast. So now nothing further can go wrong.

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.