WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2021–47

About: the world this week, 14 November to 20 November 2021, bombs smoke, cities smoke, people meet to change the smoke, snails slither, a singer gets freedom, and the mathematics of life.

Everywhere

Terrorist acts such stabbings or firing an explosion seem to be happening with a certain ‘staccato steadiness’, in the United Kingdom (UK). And the Police too are fired-up, and right behind them.

This Sunday a homemade bomb exploded shortly after a taxi pulled up outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital, UK. The passenger, who appears to have brought the device with him died at the scene. The taxi driver, quick on his wits, just about managed a heroic escape from the car, seconds before it was engulfed in flames. Police were able to find leads and have arrested four men, all in their 20s; they have identified a suspect and named him too. A key finding was that the bomb was made with homemade explosive, which had ball bearings attached and could have caused significant injury or death if it had detonated in different circumstances.

What exactly do these guys want? The Police are searching for clues.

This week, India’s capital, New Delhi touched dizzying heights becoming the worst polluted city in the World with an Air Quality Index (AQI) score of 292. The second worst, Lahore, Pakistan, was hid by less dense fog at AQI of 212. India’s Mumbai and Kolkata dusted themselves to the top ten with scores of 163 and 157 respectively.

What do these AQI numbers mean? Let’s check out the scale of unhealthiness of the air we breathe.

On the AQI scale, 0–50 is Good — breathe easy; 51 to 100 is Moderate — don’t start worrying, not yet; 101 to 150 is Unhealthy for sensitive groups — careful; 151 to 200 is Unhealthy for all — time to start worrying; 201 to 300 is Very Unhealthy — time to find a solution, use temporary measures, start covering up; and 301 to 500 is Hazardous — act on a solution, or scoot from the place!

Further, Politicians added noise to the pollution, bickering over the causes: stubble-burning, farm fires, in farms surrounding Delhi was touted as one reason in addition to the ‘must blame’ automobile pollution caused by the city’s dense vehicular traffic, industries, and dust. Even India’s Supreme Court added voice, trying to see through the smoke: hope they do not make a blurred judgement.

Now that we have become experts in handing-out, ‘enjoying’ lockdowns, and wearing all kinds of layered masks in all kinds of places, there is a talk of locking down New Delhi to control the pollution. This, after previous odd and even attempts could not clear the air. With smoke in your eyes, you find new directions every season!

Last week, down South, the city of Chennai was battered by incessant red-alert rains and people tried to find or even make their own shells to hide. This week the shells started moving about only that there weren’t people in them but slimy mollusk fellas, called The Great African Snails- an invasive species. The city became infested by scores of snails seen on walls, gardens, rooftops, and waterlogged roads. The story goes that the Great African Snail, native to East Africa, made its way to Chennai on the Trade Ships during the time India was colonised by the British and other Europeans. The snails then did their own colonising and conquering on touching Indian soil, eating all kinds of plants and crops, and even construction material such as paint.

These snails are hermaphrodites and hence have 100% reproduction skills — both ways. They mate with one another or with themselves laying eggs during the rainy season, which are covered inside mud and hatch during the next spell of rains. The Great African Snail has a life of about seven years and gets into the act quickly, starting to lay eggs by their first birthday. Wow, that’s a quick-gun snail!

There is another rainy angle too: researchers say the shells of these snails offer brilliant information — to those willing to study them — on the rainfall rate of a particular region. The shells grow faster during the rainy season and the bands on their shells hold a lot of data, telling their own stories — living as they are from one rain to another. Amazing what we can learn by just looking deeply as the ‘snail’s space’.

This week, the 26th Meeting of the Conference Of Parties, COP26, ended in Glasgow and in the 11th hour of negotiations, India (and China) had their way on fossil fuels — read as dirty coal. Now, Governments have agreed to ‘phase down’ not ‘phase out’ coal — the largest contributor of greenhouse gas -mostly Carbon-dioxide (CO2)-emissions. Call that tinkering with words-word pollution? This is the first time, at a COP conference, that an overt plan to reduce use of coal, which is responsible for 40% of annual CO2 emissions, has been made. World leaders also agreed to phase-out subsidies that artificially lower the price of coal, oil, or natural gas.

The outcome document, known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on 197 countries to pyramid their progress towards more climate ambition points next year, at COP27, set to take place in Egypt. It was agreed that when countries meet again they will pledge further cuts to CO2 emissions. I reckon, next year you may get a better perspective looking from the top of a great pyramid, climbing up and standing on the dead and buried.

In previous World Inthavaarams, I had talked about Pop Star Britney Spear’s life-shackling conservatorship of 13 years where her father Jamie Spears controlled much of her personal life on issues related to her career, health (making babies too), and wealth, on the grounds that she was incapable of taking care of herself. Then Britney fought for freedom and pleaded with the Courts that her father be removed from the conservatorship. A ‘Free-Britney’ movement was also started by fans in her support. And finally last Friday, a court in Los Angeles, United States, ended the draconian conservatorship. And said, Britney doesn’t need to undergo a mental health evaluation. She is now free to spear-ahead her life, and, baby, we can listen to her sing one more time! Oops, surprising that freedom can sometimes be freely snatched away just like that!

Please Yourself

Reading is the never-ending fuel for writing and to keep-up with my reading goals I ordered by next set of books for the season, on Amazon. They arrived in double-quick time, before the rains could start pouring. And what better way to spend a rainy day, curled-up on your cosiest sofa, book in one hand and a steaming cup of coffee in another?

Without making a calculation, I started reading Hardy’s, ‘A Mathematician’s Apology’ and found it to be one of the best possible accounts on what it is to be a creative person. It revealed many equations and theorems on living your life. And also multiplied thoughts from another of my all time favourite books, Ayn Rand’s, The Fountainhead.

G.H. Hardy is one of the twentieth centuries’ finest, ‘pure and real’ mathematicians and is famously known as the one who discovered (described as the most romantic incident in his life) the genius lurking inside India’s brilliant mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan. And gave him the means to exhibit his super-powers by drawing him to England: to tutor, guide, and collaborate with him.

Some of Hardy’s thoughts goes like this, I quote, ‘I do what I do because it is the one and only thing that I can do at all well. It is a tiny minority who can do anything really well, and the number of men who can do two things well is negligible. If a man has any genuine talent, he should be ready to make almost any sacrifice in order to cultivate it to the full.

If a man is in any sense a real mathematician, then it is a hundred to one that his mathematics will be far better than anything else he can do, and that he would be silly if he surrendered any decent opportunity of exercising his one talent in order to do undistinguished work in other fields. Such a sacrifice could be justified only by economic necessity or age. It is quite true that most people can do nothing well. If so, it matters very little what career they choose, and there is nothing more to say about it’.

Think it over: the reference here is Mathematics but I would apply it to any field.

Hardy apologises for not having done anything useful at all except, ‘having created something worth creating — with a question only about its value’, and that he has ‘added something to knowledge, and helped others add more; and these somethings have a value which differs in degree only, and not in kind, from that of’ other creators and inventors…who have left some kind of a memorial behind them.

The candidness and humility of his brilliant mind was oozing through every word of his writing and I was spellbound. He listed the most decisive moment of his life as having collaborated with two other great mathematicians, Britain’s John Edensor Littlewood and India’s Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Hardy says that a serious theorem is one which contains significant ideas with two essentials, a certain Generality — to be widely applied, and a certain Depth — go deep, leading into other domains. Wow, I was awestruck!

On Ramanujan, most of us must have come across the famous incident of the taxi-cab number. Ramanujan lay dying in Hospital and Hardy had gone to visit him, arriving by a taxi-cab. On entering Ramanujan’s room, Hardy remarked, ‘I thought the number of my taxi-cab was 1729. It seemed to be rather a dull number’. To which Ramanujan replied: ‘No, Hardy! No, Hardy! It is a very interesting number. It is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways’. That was the exact exchange as recorded by Hardy.

Check this out:1729 is the sum of the cubes of 10 and 9 (1000 + 729) and also the sum of cubes of 1 and 12 (1 + 1728).

Ramanujan died of tuberculosis at the young age of 33 in the year 1920. Hardy says that all great mathematicians died young, and adds, ’I do not know of an instance of a major mathematical advance initiated by a man past fifty’.

On the sidelines: Hardy was an atheist. He loved cricket-could talk endlessly about it- and often he would carry his mathematics to the stadiums, watching the play and working on the sums. He shunned the limelight and disliked getting awards — hated going on stage and receiving it in front of others. He never married and so did his sister who spent much of her life looking after the great man. Hardy died in December 1947 at the age of 70.

More freedom and mathematics stories coming up in the weeks ahead at more than a snail’s pace. Slide and slug it out with World Inthavaaram.

Once an Engineer, now a Make-in-India Entrepreneur; Wordsmith; Blogger; maybe a Farmer!

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Kumar Govindan

Kumar Govindan

Once an Engineer, now a Make-in-India Entrepreneur; Wordsmith; Blogger; maybe a Farmer!

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