I was reluctant to go to school
Director of the ISI, Jawaharlal Nehru Professor, and National Professor, University Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and Eberly Professor of...
Director of the ISI, Jawaharlal Nehru Professor, and National Professor, University Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and Eberly Professor of Statistics and Director of the Center for Multivariate Analysis at Pennsylvania State A University in USA, Dr C R Rao is a highly creative theoretician, statistician and renowned scholar; and shares his nostalgia I was born in a small town Huvvina Hadagalli, now in Karnataka, which was in the erstwhile Integrated Madras Province on September 10, 1920. I was the eighth child of ten and my parents named me as Radhakrishna, who was also eighth child to his parents. My father C Doraiswamy Naidu was an Inspector of Police and my mother Lakhsmikanthamma, a strict disciplinarian nurtured all of us in a good way. Initially, I was reluctant to go to school. But fearing my mother, I started going to school at Gudur in Nellore District, where my father was transferred. I was admitted to class 2 (second grade) at an age of five. An orderly (a constable) used to follow me to school sometimes. I was a bright boy all through my school and college days. When I entered into class 3, I could by-heart the multiplication tables up to 20 by 20. Quite impressed with my performance, my Mathematics teacher, whose name I could not recollect now, has lined up all my fellow students and asked me to stand in front of them and recite the multiplications line by line so that they could repeat. I could even outclass Brahmin boys in the school who were considered more brilliant than anyone. My Telugu teacher was very pedantic in all aspects and once he frowned upon me that I could not answer his question on grammar. I was not taught grammer in my previous class and I could not answer it. But he was not convinced and he scolded me before all. I bought a book on Telugu grammar the same evening and by-hearted it by sitting through the night. Next day, I went to school and asked my teacher to put any question on grammar. He was astonished to find that not only do I know the entire grammar but know even elaborately i.e with perfect examples. I have also read Veturi Prabhakara Sastry's 'Chatu Padya Manimanjari' which I admire even to this day. As per my mother's pre-fixed schedule, all the children should go out and play from 4 pm to 6 pm every day. My favorite game was gilli danda (Karra-billa) as it provides both strength and measurement. I could estimate how far the smaller stick went and this had helped me a lot to brush up my estimation skills. My father's frequent transfers moved us from place to place and I completed my Grade 2 and 3 at Gudur; Grade 4 and 5 at Nuzvid; Grade 6 and 7 (i.e. first and second forms) at Nandigama. As my father retired and settled at Visakhapatnam, I could complete my schooling in the port city-which provided me the much needed educational opportunities and environment. I owe a lot to my mother who used to wake me up at four in the early morning, lit the oil lamp for me to study in the quiet hours of the morning when the mind is fresh. Perhaps her personal interest has influenced me greatly in my formative years and made me scale dizzy heights in the later part of my life. I joined Mrs AVN College for Class 8 and continued my studies for the next six years there. I took Optional Mathematics as my specialization along with Physics, chemistry and in class 9 and I developed great interest in Maths. I stood at top in all classes from 9 to 13 and I also won two prestigious Chandrasekhara Iyer scholarships for two consecutive years in my 12 and 13 classes (Post PUC) and I cherished the scholarship very special as it was instituted by well-known Nobel laureate Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (CV Raman), who was an alumnus of AVN College. I wanted to do engineering after the scholarship but mathematics being my first love, I joined BA (Hons) at Andhra University. I had had the good fortune of Dr Vommi Ramaswamy, a Cambridge-trained mathematician as my teacher. His style was unique in which he inculcated a spirit of enquiry. It was he who had laid the foundation thirst in research and continue it for fifty years in the later part of my life. Even during those days, I used to solve some tough problems, which were published in a magazine "Mathematics Student" and my name was also published. After doing my BA in first class that too in first rank, I thought I could easily get a scholarship for research in Mathematics at Andhra University but I failed to apply for it on time. When I approached Dr Vissa Appa Rao, Principal of Arts college, he simply turned down my request saying I was late by two days and I shall have to wait for one more year. I appealed to the then Vice Chancellor Dr CR Reddy but in vain. I was 19 years old then. Greatly disappointed, I wanted to join in Indian Military Service which advertised for a mathematician for the Army Survey Unit. I applied for it (Geological Survey of India) and they called for an interview at Kolkata. I went there but as ill-luck would have it, I was rejected on the ground that I was under-aged. I stayed in a south Indian hotel in Kolkata and I was thinking of my future. There, accidentally, I met a student, named Subramaniam, who came from Bombay to train some students in statistics at the Indian Statistical Institute which was located in the physics department of Presidency College. Subramaniam has asked me whether I too interested in giving training at ISI, a newly-formed institute. When I said OK, he took me to Dr PC Mahalanobis, a professor in Physics who was instrumental in setting up of the institute. I settled there as a trainer and continued to serve it for the next forty years i.e. till my retirement at the age of 60. I went on to become its head and it was ISI which made me what I m today. (As told to BH Ramakrishna)