'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Pebble Story

At school we had to study as a lesson titled 'The pebble has a story to tell' - an extract from 'Letters to my Daughter' by Jawaharlal Nehru. At the end of the lesson one had to answer questions like: "How did Nehru contribute to Indira's education, even when he was imprisoned by the British?". The answer that ought to be given was like "by writing detailed letters on various interesting and important topics from jail to his daughter".

Even for a primary school-er, our first PM's 'pebble letter' had little to offer by way of solid new info - as far as I can remember, it just talked about how a stone broke from a mountain, rolled downhill and then down a river and how it got polished by all the collisions it went thru over a very very long time and became round, smooth and shiny. The narrative can probably be better viewed as a fine parable on how life experiences can turn a person into a (rounded) personality; maybe that was Nehru's intent as well(*).

Anyways, after all these years, I just got to read the following in Hilbert's "Geometry and the Imagination" (written with S.Cohn-Vossen). After describing an 'Ellipsoid', the Master says: "The ellipsoidal shape can often be recognizsed in stones exposed to ocean waves. A stone of any shape becomes increasingly similar to an ellipsoid as the water wears away at it. The mathematical study of this phenomenon involves problems of the theory of probability(!)" and THAT is one hell of a twist to the story! One also wonders about the TYPES of rock which can give those shining white pebbles (granite probably can't; At least I dont know).
(*)Note: As to Nehru's 'real' intent behind writing those letters, I have read somewhere the following (jealously?) cynical story: the letters were never actually sent to Indira but carefully stashed away by the author himself to be published in neat volumes at the end of each jail term he went through. They were thus - allegedly - part of an elaborate image building activity undertaken by a scholar-polititian who saw himself as the 'philosopher prince' of India.


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