Prosaic Ode to a Wizard of Mathematical Patterns by Mallik Bulusu SignUp

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Prosaic Ode to a Wizard of Mathematical Patterns
by Mallik Bulusu Bookmark and Share

In the Vedic lore, one would come across the term called Sahasrakshah. It essentially refers to the universal godhead. It has many interpretations, viz. the thousand eyed, the infinite eyed, the all observant, the omniscient etc. I am always puzzled by this universal phenomenon. How does the godhead observe the universal processes and control them so flawlessly? What would the godhead's observation deck be like? Would it be similar to the top of space needle in the downtown of Seattle or that open glass window on a transcontinental flight or the occasional viewpoint on the coastal rim of the pacific highway overlooking the Sagara or the expansive ocean. What would the telescope of extrospection be like? Or that microscope of introspection be like?

In all of my searches, I could only conclude one thing. If the godhead were to intently observe the colossal process within the interval of the blink of an eye, then Mathematics must be his or her or its eyepiece for it to be a non-lossy transaction. Therefore, a Mathematician must be the Optician.

The festival solstice of 1978, few days shy off my 9th birthday, was a special day to me. It is that day that I met a respectable man, in his early 40s, bespectacled, aluminum cane, and quite simply a walking miracle. I still carry vivid memories of that white duffel bag and that light purple tri-fold travel case. It was my father, Sri Somayajulu Bulusu, who was visiting us back in India on what should have been a three-week jaunt, after a 7 year long hiatus. That caressing tap on my shoulder as he drew me near to him was a magical moment that got permanently etched on both of my inner eyelids. His plans changed abruptly as he would never return to Toledo, OH. As I would discover during the course of my life, he was one of the finest mathematicians that I'd come across.

In late 60s, when the Board of Intermediate Education of Andhra Pradesh introduced Telugu as a medium of instruction, my father was one of the founding authors who penned a string of Intermediate level books on BijagaNitam or Algebra, TrikONamiti or trigonometry, KalanagaNitam or Calculus, SamBavyata or Probability etc. In fact, he told me how he coined words like Matrikalu to indicate Matrices etc. He also authored books for Punjab University before he left for the US in early 70s.

Circa 1974. A letter to me from my father is still the best treasure I possess till date. Perhaps, nothing else will surpass it. Priceless.

My father's mind was like a playing field as he always juggled with numbers. He instilled curiosity in me to take a crack at magic squares or those tricky riddles. That is how he introduced me to patterns. I still remember the mid-summer afternoon in the early 80s when he taught me geometrical proofs for many a theorems in a single sitting. I was 13 when he introduced me to symbolic logic and Boolean algebra…T. F. T. F. Double T. Double F. Four Ts. Four Fs and so on. I never realized what he was teaching me at that time. His voice from that day brimming with excitement is still fresh in my ears.

In South India, it is a common practice that people get off the beds to the chants of Suprabhatam. Throughout the 80s, I used to wake up to the chants of SET OF ALL X SUCH THAT X BELONGS TO A AND.. or LIMIT DELTA X TENDS TO ZERO...or ONE + SECANT SQUARED X... or X IN A AND X IN B AND X IN C etc. How fortunate was I to have learned to love the field of Mathematics under my father's tutelage! His day started at 3:30 AM and ended at 11:30 PM. All through the day he used to be immersed in Mathematics. And Mathematics used to be immersed in him.

I remember my father telling me about how his talk on Probability was received by a spellbound audience at S.V. University during the summer of 1982. Around the same time the Board of High School Education in Andhra Pradesh revised the school syllabus by introducing advanced concepts in Mathematics and other Sciences into middle school curricula. This, to my father, did not seem right. He lamented this as a hasty move as the teachers may not be equipped to teach the concepts without themselves having the command or acquaintance. He would travel to every nook and corner of the East Godavari District, particularly into the rural and village areas to prepare the teachers. Alas, those lectures were never recorded and have evaporated into the cosmic air.

Talking about equations, he gave me what it appeared like a poetical treatise on the Euler's equation.

He said the beauty of the equation lies in its compactness and completeness. He said this equation is special for it stitches together the fundamental concepts like 1 and 0, it includes all of the fundamental operations such as addition, multiplication and the notion of exponential without any omission, and includes special irrational numbers like e and pi and throws in imaginary unit 'i' as well. The beauty also lies in that it does not carry any baggage of other factors or constants whatsoever. How true? He also alluded to the "i" when we say, "I have done this" or "I have done that" as more complex and dreadful than the complex number 'i'.

Summer of 1988. I was on my way back from Ernakulam. I visited a handicraft emporium at Mt. Road in Chennai. My eye caught a lightweight cane. Somewhere in between Burgundy and Brown in shade. I bought this as gift for my dad with his own money. He was so elated, and he used this for several years.

My father served as Head of Mathematics Department at the P.G. Center, Government Arts College, Rajahmundry. There was a time when all the faculty members of the Mathematics department went on a strike for an extended duration. My father was summoned by the Principal to ensure that continuity of classes was maintained. For few weeks, he taught the entire curriculum with topics ranging from Topology to Lattice Theory to Number Theory to Modern Algebra to Probability to Real Analysis to Differential Equations to Complex Analysis to Discrete Mathematics and so on, single handedly. The post graduate students were awestruck at his command, authority, depth of knowledge and love for Mathematics. He went on to author a book on Astronomy and a Dictionary of Mathematics for AP College Board, both of which went unpublished.

I still remember the train trip from Khammam to Secunderabad where I was fortunate enough to engage with him in a serious conversation on the need for Symposia to promote publishing advanced mathematical research in India. He went on whirlwind tour journeying from Matrix Algebra to Trigonometry to Calculus dwelling on computational peripheries with such ease, magically jumping between topics, in an inspiring talk that he delivered extempore. It was something like a “Viswaroopa Samganitha Yogam” in the Gita of Mathematics.

1996. I was in Bombay, when a student of his (who in fact happened to be a Physician and wanted to learn Mathematics out of passion) visited me in February. He mentioned that my father's health was failing. Nothing to worry Mallik, but your father's mobility was adversely impacted. He knew more than what he was willing to share with me at that instant. So, I bought a wheelchair as I visited Kakinada in the month of March. That gave my father a fresh lease of life for the next few months. I spent two weeks with him to serve him before I moved to Chennai. It was first week of July. I got selected for a job in the US. I wanted to give him a pleasant surprise about my career move as I was to get the paperwork for the visa in October of 1996. Instead, he gave me a bigger surprise as he had left us on an eternal abode.

I migrated to the US the following year. I may not have grasped it all, but my father taught me the importance of mathematics as that vital tool that one would need in all walks of life. He always urged me to search for the patterns and to be never complacent until I upgrade them to seek better understanding. Today, when I read shlokas in my spare time or read a bit on non-dualism through works of Adi Sankaracharya or understand the hidden patterns in the Chhandas or when it finally occurs to me what my father meant when he taught some particular concept in the bygone millennium, I feel like talking to him. There are many a words that are trapped in my heart that I could not tell him.

Most recently I was using the Philips Norelco hair-clipper. Of course, I remembered my dad. When teaching Set Theory, he once teased me to try and capture the town where the barber shaved all those individuals who could not shave their heads for themselves into a Set notation. I was utterly clueless. That was how he introduced me to the concept of  and that of Russell's paradox at the same time. One thing is certain, my search for the patterns that my father was alluding to shall continue for the rest of my life. There can be no stopping to that sacred pursuit.

This weekend, for some reason, I was thinking about him and wanted to offer a bouquet of flowers through this attempt of Pushpa gucchabandha or bouquet pattern. There are four flowers in this bouquet. The letters So, Ma, Ya, Ji are the beejas or pistils. Those letters are taken from father's name in that order. Each flower has four petals. End letter of the stanza is the connecting stem. I am not proficient in Sanskrit. By no means I am knowledgeable in Sanskrit prosody either. This poem is merely a humble attempt. It reads -

susOmya sOma sOdarAm samassumantramanvitAm |
dayAmayAm bhayApahAm sujihvajigyujishNutAm ||
sadArchitam namAmyaham |
viSAradAm BajAmyaham ||

I once knew a man.
Simple. Humble.
Pure. Kind.
Teacher. Patternist.
Friend. Genius.
Gem. Role Model.
Conditioned Soul.
Idol. My Father.
Sri. Somayajulu Bulusu.

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