lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, June 16, 2006

Mathematicians do it by numbers

Fun is subjective, dear Reader.

When a crowd (three is the perfect number for a crowd) of mathematicians get together, it is a riot scene. Time flies and yes, I know about fruit flies and all that, so zip your lip.

It is not as though you'd notice, but mathematicians meeting after a long hiatus and catching up on news is hilarious. It is subtle and has its own beat and rhythm. But mathematicians have a great sense of humour and are a lot of fun.

And no, I am not saying it because I married a mathematician (I married an algebraic topologist), but because I was a hostess to a few today. Feast of reason et al, but lots of irreverence, too.

They are the only group of people who will discuss things passionately for some minutes and one of them says, that's trivial. Why were they arguing so heatedly, then?

(They tried to explain it and exponents too and I don't think they meant artists plying their craft but huge or tiny numbers, but it is Greek to me all the same.)

They start off by exchanging news of students and proteges. Honest. That's what they do. And then they do the 'who wrote what paper in collaboration with whom' round of formalities.

Oh, I forgot to mention, but mathematicians are very spiritual. All this conversation is greased into smooth segue by various spirits.

This particular reunion was driven by whiskey and beer. There are rum-bhaktas and vodka volunteers and the 'Lali, just make me your lemonade' brigade. But this was the meeting of whiskey souls with a beer heretic to enliven the mixture.

They always try to be nice to the hostess, : D they do. And mathematicians seem to be the only breed who get the joke or understand why crosswords are important. They laugh at my latest collection of the really good ones. They try to cap it and graciously yield that I have better crossword stories.

To a man, they are dears. So there was a tale of triumph I told, they listened and told tales of likewise things. And then they began in earnest.

All Indian mathematicians have favourite stories about CSS- Mrs. Malaprop and Spooner combined and tinged with a brush of Laurel and Hardy.

"Oh. I thought I saw you in the Interval, but it was somebody else." (CSS to a friend at the end of a concert.)

"Let me introduce you to one of my wives." (CSS introducing his guest, wife of a friend of his, to an artist.)

Those were just CSS gems.

And then there are stories about others, which if you believe tales about absent-minded professors, seem not only likely but entirely possible. All of these stories are of course true and can be verified by calling somebody and asking. Yeah, and pigs fly. But this lot of swine seem to be aviationally very adept.

Three mathematicians in a room and shaggy dog stories, hmm. It gets curiouser and curiouser.

There were ISI big guffaws, there were TIFR belly laughs, there were IISC jokes and there was naming names and calling names and talking turkey. Gobbledygook.

They had fun. So did I.

But when they started laughing themselves sick about a review or an introduction a respected mathematician (P R Halmos) wrote, I demanded it in writing. And they gave it; mind you, they gave it in writing.

Mathematicians think this is a fair and reasonable assessment, folks. Sit tight before you read it.

This is a paper devoted to valueless functions defined on pointless spaces.

Boggling aside, the mind also cringes.



Blogger Generally_Speaking said...

Are you into Maths too? Arithmetic was one of the subjects I used to stay away from in school

8:37 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

gen- You couldn't get farther away from maths and still be in this world than I am.

My husband and I share the task of household accounts: I record numbers and he adds them up and makes sense of them. :-)

But mathematicians are nice people basically, if you make allowances. :D

9:12 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

This is a paper devoted to valueless functions defined on pointless spaces.

And mathematicians can make sense out of it? Shall we fantasize about the day mathematicians take over the world and impose rule by numbers?

Your lot were being nice and polite because you were there, the reunion would have got more boisterous if it was stag.

No offense meant, certainly not about feminism

9:46 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ash- No offense taken, either. But, um... What was that crack about feminism? You had better be smiling when you said that, buddy. *grim schoolmarm look*

10:18 pm  
Blogger Speech is Golden said...

I have been looking and looking. Where is that 'nice juicy post' that you wanted us to comment about????

10:27 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- That's being written. :D

10:51 am  
Blogger Speech is Golden said...

Being written and already on strike for not commenting. Hmmmm. That is very reasonable.

10:00 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- yup, isn't it nice of me to forewarn you all? :D

10:12 am  

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