As we entered his room on the 3rd floor of the the main building , his cheerful welcoming smile brightened the otherwise dull rainy afternoon of autumn. We exchanged greetings and started with our interview.
Bhamidi Visweswara Rao, or better known prof. B.V.Rao was born on November 12, 1945, in the small village of Nedunuru in Andhra Pradesh. He did his elementary school education from a local school and then joined a middle school at Pulletikurru in the seventh standard. His pre-university (our equivalent of 12th standard) and his BSc in mathematics and physics were done from Amlapuram.
B.V.Rao applied for Msc in mathematics in the Osmania University of Hyderabad. However, because of a lack of seats, the university asked him to try their Statistics course, which at that time was run by a group of mathematicians headed by Prof. R.B. Pakshirajan. B.V. Rao was greatly inspired by this great teacher and wanted to work with him after MSc.
But that was the time when he was suggested by some people to come to a place called Indian Statistical Institute.
He applied and joined ISI as a Ďpre-research scholarí in 1965 who were taken that time to do courses with the M-Stat second year students before joining as a research scholar. Incidentally, the then director of ISI was Prof. C.R.Rao and the Mstat final year batch included A.B.Raha and K.K.Roy.
Excerpts from the interview:
Did you like ISI when you came here?
Oh yes, I liked it very much.
What was the first thing that struck you when you came to ISI?
The freedom and informality here . Everybody can do what he wishes .
Who were the people who inspired you ?
Ashok Maitra was a great inspiration . He could pass on the spirit of the subject to his students.
Who was your reaserch supervisor?
J K Ghosh and Ashok Maitra.
Sir, it is heard that you completed the main part of your doctoral thesis paper in three months. Is it true?
No no absolutely not. I submitted my thesis in 1969.
What was your first paper on?
It was on Studies in Borel Structures, dealt with Set Theory.
Actually Doob was then in ISI . In one of his lectutres he talked about set theory and problems in Probablity related to it. Ashok Maitra also gave a series of lectutres on mathematical logic and Set Theory. Though I was mainly interested in Probability I slowly got absorbed in Set Theory.
But Sir, you have never taught Topology to the best of our knowledge?
I did take one long time ago. That was a disaster . The book that I followed was too difficult .
What did you do after your Phd?
I submitted my thesis in 1969 and then was invited by Richard Blackwell for a Post-Doctoral fellowship in 1970 in Berkeley. There I worked with Blackwell . Since I was interested in Set Theory I was interested in mathematical logic and attended a few courses in that. I wrote one post-doc paper in Set Theory.
When did you come back?
I came back in late 1973 and joined ISI as a visiting professor. I joined ISI permanently in 1974. After that I visited Osaka City University & Keio University and later on visited universities in US.
Sir, can you recall some interesting events during that time?
Well one event I am able to recall, there was a senior named Vishwanath, in the reaserch scholar hostel. He once asked me, " have you read Stoneís theorem?". I said, " what stoneís theorem ?". " The Stone-Weirstrass one". I hadnít read it previously. So, I read it. When I met him next, i told him, "i have read the Stoneís theorem." It was his turn to ask, "what Stoneís theorem ?" "The Stone Weierstrauss Theorem", I replied. "Thatís not the one I was referring to. It is about the other Stoneís Theorem in Boolean Algebra. Read it. It is very interesting." Again after a few days i came to him and said "I have read the Stoneís theorem". "What Stoneís theorem ?" " Why? The Boolean Algebra one you asked me to read." "Oh, no, you are mistaken, i was referring to the one about representation of Unitary Groups."Again I went and this time I found another Stoneís Theorem to study. Thus he induced me into reading several Stoneís Theorems.
Sir, which are the courses that you like most to teach in B-Stat & M-Stat ?
I enjoy teaching all three Probablity courses and the Stochastic Processes course in B-Stat. I think one teacher should teach all these four courses. I also enjoy teaching Calculus courses in B-Stat. I prefer courses in B-Stat rather than in M-Stat.
Sir, what are your hobbies?
I like reading Telugu poetry, mainly classics. I like to listen carnatic classical music and also enjoy Hundustani classical music. Athough I like to listen all instruments , the Veena is my favourite.
Do you play any sport?
Yes, I was quite good at sports. I play Badminton and Table Tennis and I am also a good swimmer . I used to swim in the ponds in ISI.
Sir, do you believe in God?
Yes, I do believe in God to some extent. You can say that I believe in the existence of some supernatural power .
Sir ,do you have any philosophy of life ?
No nothing particular, however I do believe that oneís actions should not hurt anyone else.
Sir, we believe that the mid-semester pattern in comparison with the earlier pattern does not give a student an opportunity to get acquainted with the style of questioning or the style of answering expected. What is your opinion about this?
No, class test system is as good as the new system . In fact the mid semester system existed before the class test system was introduced due to the request by students. I also think that the class test system puts extra load on students because they have to appear for examinations throughout the semester. As such I have no preferences.
Sir , do you think there is a need for the B-Math course?
I was a member of the committee which introduced B-Math. The teaching standards in university colleges are not very high and the idea behind the B-Math course is to create better mathematicians than those from the colleges . The B-Math course also covers topics in Statistics, Physics and Computer Science. The B-Math course is flexible and students have ample scope to shift into other fields.
Sir , what are the criteria for choosing oneís specialization in M-Stat 2nd year ? Is MSP necessary for doing research ?
No, it is a myth that MSP is necessary for doing research. I feel that there is no ranking system like MSP is 1, ASDA is 2, ... Data analysis is an equally important field of research. I think the specialization depends on the interest of the student.
Do you think that there is a decline in the number of students interested in Academics?
Yes, there is a decrese in the number of students interested in academics. I think this is mainly due to a change in the frame of thinking of students. The industry seems to provide them with better opportunities than academics. This is mainly because of apparent boom in the market.
Is it a myth or a fact that "pure" academicians and in particular mathematicians do not get as much as they deserve?
No, I think that it is a myth . This depends on what you mean by not getting as much as they deserve. If you think in terms of money , then I think what they get is sufficient for a decent living and for some future savings. As far as mathematicians are concerned, it is true that positions are not very abundant in good universities.
Sir, Did you ever have to make a choice of whether to go for academics or not?
No, anything other than academics never occured to me. If nothing else I would have got a position in some university for Rs 1000/- which would have been sufficient at that time. When I came to ISI, our monthly stipend was Rs. 150, and it sufficed.
In conclusion ...
I donít know what to say .... perhaps the only thing that I can say is that students should work hard . Now-a-days there seems to be a change in the studentís mentality . Students seem to have lost the knack of problem solving and the thrill resulting from it. The different ways of tackling a problem , failure at first and then finally hitting on the correct method of solution and then solving a problem , and the thrill from this entire process is what makes mathematics and statistics interesting to study. And this is what seems to be missing.
Statistics is an applicative science . It has a major role in real life problems ... The true spirit of the subject is application to such problems. Look at the Hirakud project in Orissa . How many people know of Mahalanobisí role in this project ? The engineers had suggested that the embankment on the river be raised to stop the floods . Mahalanobis analysed the data and concluded that a new dam had to be built in order to prevent flooding. That is the true use of statistics . So many people speak of Mahalonobis and do not mention his idea of statistics. Nowadays, statisticians are more interested in proving theorems, but Mahalonobis wanted them to do something which will directly benefit the people.