Friday, November 17, 2006

Notes from Bangalore Book Festival 2006

There were heads, heads, and heads everywhere. I had to navigate my way slowly. No complaints for that. It was nice to see books, books, and books all around. In addition, if the book seller gives you many details with a smile you will know that two minds have reached each other - an invisible rope that finds two nubs on its ends.

Now for the notes -

When I entered the stall of Karnataka Sahitya Bandara I had only the name of a book in my mind. I did not know the author. Moreover, I wanted to buy the English translation of that book. I went to an old man sitting and asked,

"Sir, I am looking for a book named Shantala. I don't know either the author or the publisher."

"Shantala by K. V. Iyer? We have."

"Do you have the English version?"

"No, Sir. We have the original Kannada book. I think two versions of English translation are available. But I am not sure if they are unabridged. There is an abridged version published by Sahitya Academy."

He started telling me about G.V. Iyer's serial on Shantala with vividness that was matched only by his sharp eyes - an invisible rope was braided between two nubs.

Nadam Geetam is a book-seller from Chennai. They sell books of all major Tamil publishers. I could not enter their stall. The gap given was small. Excuse-me would lose its meaning in such places where you had entire queue moving at snail's pace. No one could have done better. They had to see books. They had to thump through it too. I moved myself close to a friendly-looking person and asked,

"Do you have Laa. Sa. Raa's ithazhkal?"

"Sir, We don't have Laa. Sa. Raa at all."

"But I remember seeing few books by him."

"No, Sir. We do not have stocks."

But I had seen Laa. Sa. Raa's paarkadal and janani few minutes back. I did not pay much attention to those books as I have them already.

Note: There is an article (in Tamil) written by my friend on Laa. Sa. Raa. It is available here.

Thanks Abi, for telling me how to incorporate this box in a post.

I was now hearing there were no books by Laa. Sa. Raa. I thought I would again stand in the queue and push myself near the place wherever I saw those two books. I saw three Laa. Sa. Raa books this time. The third book was Soundarya. I have that book too. I called the friendly-looking person and showed him those three books by Laa. Sa. Raa. He felt bad.

"What can I do, Sir? See the crowd around here. I keep forgetting. Sorry, Sir. You would like to have these?"

"No, Thanks. I have them all. I am looking for ithazhkal."

"Sorry Sir. We really do not have. Vanathi publishers have not printed that book for a long time."

"Oh, Okay. Thanks."


Why his tone had become importunate? I looked at his face. His face seemed to have only request.

"Please do not tell this to the owner."

He pointed his hand towards a bald-headed man sitting at one end.

"I won't tell. I just thought I would show those books to you so that if someone else asks for Laa. Sa. Raa’s books you would not say no. That's all. I won't tell your owner about this."

His face had again become very friendly, and there was a smile. I too smiled. An invisible rope relaxed itself to release the strength from its plaits.


There were two persons at Krishnamurti Foundation Books stall. One was a middle-aged man moving around the stall, and the other was a middle-aged lady sitting with Cash bill receipts. Both were amiable but the lady seemed to gauge everyone if they were potential buyers or not. If she had felt they were, she would then ask the man to show this-book, that-book, and the book-over-there. On the other hand, if she had felt they were here just to browse, she would become invisible. No magic here. What I meant is she would just become invisible. If you asked something you would get some answer after few hours. And I was just looking. My eyes went to a book that was covered by a transparent wrapper. Enough care was taken to wrap it so tightly that no one should see anything other than the front and back covers. You had to take it to see the back cover. I was just seeing the front cover by lifting my head as it was kept in the top of a rack. I was looking and looking. Only at the front cover. The front cover read One Thousand Moons: Krishnamurti at Eighty-Five. The man came closer to me and asked me if I wanted to see the book.

"I want to see the book but it is wrapped."

"I will show you the book. We have one book unwrapped."

He turned around to see the lady. The lady was busy writing the cash bill for a customer. Then he said,

"We can unwrap it and show. The book costs about Rs.800/- and you can buy the book if it interests you."


He could not find the unwrapped book. He asked a boy to find out in a carton to see if it was there. The boy was searching for the book. The man lost hope of finding the unwrapped book, almost asked the boy to give him a wrapped book. By then, the lady had finished her billing and asked the man what it was. He explained. The lady looked at me. I could sense that a judging algorithm was initiated within her to see if I was a potential buyer. The algorithm said no. She said in a stronger tone that they did not have an unwrapped book. I told her,

"It's okay."

I saw the man. His countenance showed a sort of helplessness. I smiled at him, and told him, "It's okay." An invisible rope was vibrating; braiding and unbraiding. Then the lady threw a deal at me. The deal that made me laugh.

"If you buy the book, we can then show it here."

What a deal!

"If I buy that book, I would like to read it at home. Not here."

She did not say anything for few seconds, and then nodded her head in approval.

But did I see a smile in the man's face?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Paul R. Halmos (1916-2006)

Prof. Paul R. Halmos died on October 2, 2006. George Pólya Award, for articles of expository excellence published in the College Mathematics Journal, was given to him in 1983 for his article The Thrills of Abstraction.

From The Thrills of Abstraction:

My wife and I were invited to a party recently, a party attended by four other couples, making a total of ten people. Some of those ten knew some of the others, and some did not, and some were polite, and some were not. As a result a certain amount of handshaking took place in an unpredictable way, subject only to two obvious conditions: no one shook his or her own hand and no husband shook his wife's hand. When it was all over, I became curious and I went around the party asking each person: " How many hands did you shake? ... And you? ... And you?" What answers could I have received? Conceivably some people could have said "None", and others could have given me any number between 1 and 8 inclusive. That's right, isn't it? Since self-handshakes and spouse-handshakes were ruled out, 8 is the maximum number of hands that any one of the party of 10 could have shaken.

I asked nine people (everybody, including my own wife), and each answer could have been any one of the nine numbers 0 to 8 inclusive. I was interested to note, and I hereby report, that the nine different people gave me nine different answers; someone said 0, someone said 1, and so on, and, finally, someone said 8. When it was all over, my curiosity was satisfied: I knew all the answers. Next morning, I told the story to my colleagues at the office, exactly as I told it now, and I challenged them, on the basis of the information just given, to tell me how many hands my wife shook.

If you try to find the answer for that question, you will find a kind of similarity, in approach, with the following problem.

C thinks of two consecutive numbers between 1 and 10. C tells one number to A, and the another to B. Now for the conversation between A and B:

A: I do not know your number
B: I do not know your number
A: I do not know your number
B: I know your number
A: I too know your number

What are those numbers?


1. An obituary at the website of the Mathematical Association of America
2. A brief biography:
3. Wikipedia
4. Paul R. Halmos, The Thrills of Abstraction, Two-Year Coll. Math. J. 13 (1982), 243-251.
5. Number puzzle

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bangalore Book Festival 2006

Bangalore Book Festival opens on November 10, 2006. It will be held till 19th November.
Venue: Palace Grounds (Mekhri Circle entrance)
Time: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Entry fee: Rs. 20/- (It was ten rupees last year!!)
The Hindu says that there will be a search engine manned by trained personnel to help you locate the book you want. But we often cherish serendipitous moments during such book festivals when we suddenly spot a book of our interest, or more accurately when a book finds a worthy reader in us.
Time: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Cho's articles

You can now read the english version of few articles and the famed question-answer section from Thuglak, a weekly magazine edited by Cho S. Ramaswamy in this website -
Though the english translation by T. S. V. Hari lacks punch and subtle satire of Cho's original tamil pieces, the effort is commendable since it reaches out to a larger audience. The website of Thuglak allows you to see only the cover-cartoon unless you subscribe to their web-edition.