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

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How I Became A Communist

Suresh's memoirs, especially this post , have inspired yet another trip down memory lane....

Note: Kerala, my home province, is a highly political place. Even the schools conduct elections - and they are conducted on party-lines. The major contenders are the Kerala Students Union (KSU), the student arm of the Congress Party and their powerful rivals, SFI (Students Federation of India), a Communist outfit. A watershed event in the history of the student politics in Kerala was the controversial 'liberation movement' run by KSU against the communist ministry led by EMS Nambuthiripad in the late 1950's.


Many years ago. I am in 10th Standard.Teachers at my school urge me very strongly to try for a State Level Rank in the SSLC public examination at the year end: "In its entire history, this school has not even come close. You are our best hope...". The hype - and the flattery - went to my head and I worked much harder than usual. Even Pop, prompted by my teachers, arranged some special coaching for me in some 'shaky' subjects.

The year passed in a hurry and the exams got over and then we had the holidays and eventually the results were out. I had no state rank and was not among the top 10 in the state (perhaps not in the top 100 either). I went to the school to collect the official score report. The teachers looked pretty glum. They looked at my score in each subject and those of my batchmates and remarked: "See, Ajit has got more than you in Hindi", "Look, Harish has scored one more mark in Math", "Hey, Martin has beaten you in English" the comparisons went on.. I was beginning to feel mighty upset at what I thought was a weird turnaround in their behavior, when the Headmaster delivered the coup-de-grace: "Look, you just about managed to top the school. Indeed we focussed too much on you. Actualy, Babu got only about 2 percent less than you overall. If we had promoted him the way we went out of the way to help you, he could well have beaten you and even got us the Rank!"

At home, a few days later, I have some visitors. I recognize two of my juniors from the school. With them is a slightly older young man who was obviously leading the group. He said: "Hi, I am Sekar, an old student from your school. The school has reopened and your juniors and former students are organizing a meeting to honor you, at the school. Will it be convenient for you to come to the school tomorrow at 9.30 am? It will be a half hour gathering and will be over by 10 when the classes begin".

I felt pleasantly surprised. "That is very nice. I shall come. Indeed I am honored!"

That evening, I told Pop: "The teachers might have behaved odd; but my juniors are showing some appreciation for my efforts!"

Next morning. I reached the school by 9.15 am. At the gate, Sekar and the friends I had seen the previous day were waiting. With them were a few middle-aged men in 'khadi'. There were very few students about - and none of the teachers. Sekar introduced me to these men "Mr. David, Mr. Ramesh,...". Intros over, I asked Sekar: "Where is the meeting being held?" Sekar says: "It will be right here. We just need to lay out some chairs and set up a 'mike'." Within minutes the arrangments are over. I muse "So, the meeting will be in front of the school gate, not AT the school, eh?".

It is about 9.40. Students begin to arrive for the day and several of them gather in front of the 'dais'. The khadar-wearers and Sekar fill the chairs. I stand beside with the juniors.

The oldest 'khadar-dhari' stands up and addresses the students: "Dear students, today we have gathered to felicitate Mr.... (he looks at me, then continues) .. your senior here who has topped the SSLC examination with 'first mark'.This meeting is organized by KSU (Kerala Students Union) who have always been tirelessly working for the student community in Kerala. This organization has a rich history. In the 1950's when the Communist Government led by 'EMS' was oppressing the common people of this enlightened State, KSU under the leadership of energetic student leaders like ...... relentlessly organized agitations till that tyrannical regime was ousted. "We shall make EMS pee in his pants" was the passionate (sic) slogan that was raised in those heady days... And THIS school has always in the forefront of KSU activities; it has contributed young activists like Sekar...."

After going on in this vein for some more time, he turns and gestures asking me to step forward. I am handed a brightly giftwrapped package and a thin stainless steel medal is pinned on my shirtsleeve. Then the leader hands over the mike to Sekar who launches into a similar speech, talking about KSU's achievements in the immediate context. He concludes by exhorting the students to vote for KSU in the forthcoming School Elections. After Sekar has spoken for about 5 minutes, the mike passes on to yet another delegate. He repeats what has already been said, more stridently..

By now around fifty students are watching the proceedings. But then, the school bell started ringing and the audience started melting away rapidly. Sekar stands up and raises some slogans - manifestly, to conclude the meeting on an emotional high: "Victory to KSU!" "Victory to David!" "Victory to Ramesh!" and then another guy adds: "Victory to Sekar!".

Suddenly, a different set of slogans rose -louder- from a group of students about 50 meters away: "KSU go back!", "Down with Sekar and his henchmen!", "SFI is our party!" and so on. Fearing trouble, I start moving away from near the chairs when I feel a pat on the shoulder. It was Paul, a junior well known to me and ardent SFI activist. "Hey man! How did YOU join this KSU scum?!" I stammer a vague apology and hurry to catch a bus back home - without looking back at what Sekar and co are up to. Safely on the bus, I opened the package and found a slim English-to-Malayalam dictionary; the preface said something to the effect that it was a 'boon' for school students. It didn't make it home with me.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Story Of A Rescue Operation

Let me narrate, from memory, one of the adventures of Naduvileppad Bhattathiri (sorry, the hero's name is a tongue twister - for non-Mallus!).

Koppat Aatti (another twister?!) was a woman of great beauty and an influential socialite - she was credited with 27 (!) husbands and many other 'friends', admirers, well-wishers....

Once she accidentally fell into the well in her backyard. The news spread rapidly, a large crowd collected and men began jumping into the well to save her. Naduvileppad Bhattathiri was passing by and asked what the commotion was about. An agitated man told him: "Aatti has fallen into the well!". Bhattathiri approached and looked into the well and it was full and choking with people...

When the rescuers had managed to pull Aatti out safe and sound, they heard a loud cry for help from the adjacent compound. A few ran there and saw Bhattathiri trapped in the well there and calling for help. They found a rope and managed to haul him out as well in one piece. One man asked: "Hey, I saw you among the crowd at Aatti's house. How come you happened to fall into THIS well?" Bhattathiri answered: "Yes. When I heard Aatti was in the well and saw people jumping in, I too was eager to join. But the crowd was too much; no room for me in the well. I found this well was empty so jumped in here instead!"

Note 1: Last weekend, I happened to read a few grisly political allegories by O.V.Vijayan - 'The Wart', 'The Phoetus'... This post is a tribute to the master, against the backdrop of some very recent political 'developments'.

Note 2: Naduvileppad Bhattathiri was an (in)famous practical joker and wit of 18th century Kerala (my dating based on circumstantial evidence), immortalized in Kottarathil Sankunni's magnum opus 'Aitihyamala'.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More On Cutting Polygons And Stuff

Am keying in some more thoughts on the general issue of cutting polygons into pieces.

Here and here , I speculated on dividing a convex polygon into equal area pieces using least 'knife action'. I now wonder what would happen if the job is to divide a convex polygon (and in general any polygon) in a general ratio a:b. Will the result provided by Koutsoupias et al in "On the Optimal Bisection of a Polygon" (available for download at ) go thru essentially unchanged here as well? Will the cuts remain arcs? For instance, even dividing a circular disc in the ratio, say, 1:2 could be interesting. I am not sure if the cut line will be an arc which meets the boundary of the disc to be cut at right angles at both ends - if such is indeed the case for any partitioning ratio, it would be nice!

Aside: The above paper also proves a lemma (in a way I have not been able to fathom yet) which implies: *any* convex polygon can be *optimally* equally divided by a single cut resulting in exactly two pieces. Must say this *feels* nicely intuitive. Wonder if there is any simpler proof for this.

Now, moving on to three dimensions ( I am literally out of my depth here, as of now), one could ask: If a polyhedron or polytope has to be divided into equal volume pieces (or pieces in any general ratio), what will the cutting surface(s) look like?

Monday, March 13, 2006

A 'Conversation'

Let me try to reconstruct an 'exchange' that I witnessed the other day in the 'browsing area' of a bookshop. I am not guilty of eavesdropping - the conversation took place in a public area and my own presence was as visible to the concerned parties as their talk was audible to self.

A certain chap [let me call him A] is seated, at the same table as I am, reading what looks like some pulp novel. A somewhat older person [let us say B] approaches A.

B [to A]: Hi, hello!

(A looks startled on seeing B)

B contines: well, ... (with a smile) How are you?... er.. *where* are you? [at this point, I start listening with more than the usual interest] Are you angry with us... still? ... Btw, what exactly is your name? I used to know someone who looks like you and used to work for our company ... actually there were two people who looked similar to each other, one of them being you, who used to work for us ... I am afraid, I forget; well, I remember a name, but it could very well belong to the other person, who resembles you, you know,.. what was your name?

(a tense pause; A finally articulates a name)

B: Ah yes, now I remember you! You were so dissatisfied... you know things have changed since those days? Are you still unhappy?

(B looks around and plants himself on a chair facing A. A seems uneasy but stays silent. B continues)

B: I understand, you know, the circumstances have changed.... even one month back, we were talking about you, and I remember mentioning to the director how good you are... (a woman drifts into the area) Ah, btw, this is my wife. We just came in here to see this shop, just to see how the place is, you know, and I saw you. (to the lady) you know .... [name] used to be with our company. He is very unhappy with us. I was just explaining to him you know; we used to rate him very high but unfortunately, he was angry with us and ...
(a pause; the lady drifts away, seemingly uninterested, after giving A a labored smile and a nod)..

B (continues): It has been a long time since I last saw you; seems it has been many years! How is your ... son.. or is it daughter... actually, how many children do you have.. do you have children.. yes, you are married, right? You were, when you were with us? Or did you get married then? Yes, I remember.....

(A gets up silently and walks away. B looks around, gets up and shuffles briskly towards his wife)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Two Parables

Happened to hear two parables recently; am recording them - minus the moral lessons:

1. A large flock of sheep were grazing in a rather arid and uninteresting valley. Someone brought news that atop a nearby hill was a lush garden and vineyard - with plenty of grapes. They all started running up when someone cautioned: "Hey, the climb is treacherous and there is no water on the way. It is dangerous". Hearing this, most sheep developed cold feet and got back into the familiar but dull safety of the valley. A few tough ones persisted but the warning kept preying on their minds. They kept asking one other: "Are we being foolhardy? Is it not better to be safe than dead?". The climb was indeed arduous and along the way, they all chickened out and returned - save one little lamb which bravely kept climbing and eventually reached the top. When the little lamb had had his fill of the goodies up there and got back to his flock, many were curious to know how he could manage the climb, alone. They clustered around him and peppered him with questions on his unique achievement; and the response was nothing but a puzzled - and puzzling - silence. Then a she-sheep forced her way thru the crowd to the lamb and told the others: "Please lay off my little son. He can't answer; he can't even hear what you ask. He is deaf!"

2. A certain wealthy man had a guest. He offered the visitor kheer (aka 'paal paayasam') and invited him for a leisurely stroll in his garden. Bowls of kheer in hand, the two entered the host's garden. Suddenly a little pig came running and started licking the guest's feet and trying to climb up on to his knees (almost ignoring the host, his master)- rather like a pet-dog. The guest was impressed and remarked "This piglet is remarkable. You have trained it to hehave like a nice little pup!". The response was: "Make no mistake! He is not showing any special affection for YOU. The bowl in your hand is the one in which he gets his feed; he is simply after the bowl and the kheer in it!"