Back to college – Prof. Jacobi in particular

So, after a vacation of two months, I think I’ll start posting again. My semester has begun and life is beginning to become frustrating again. A friend at college has captured this situation with a perfect WhatsApp status:

“Back to the salt mines!”

We have five courses in this semester: Complex Analysis, Differential Geometry, Statistics, Physics and an elective for which I have chosen Representation Theory. The other contenders were Differential Topology, Computer Science and Economics.

Prof. Jacobi has been assigned to teach us Complex Analysis. He has been teaching this course for a couple of years, and he was our favourite to take this course. He wasn’t in campus the first two weeks. He returned this week only.

On Thursday, he took our first class.Within minutes we were enthralled. We know he’s a very lenient teacher. But that didn’t stop him from frightening us. He told us to pass at one go, in his words, “Pass in the front paper itself.” (His English is not the best) Otherwise,

“If you kill my time (by making me prepare a back paper), then I will kill you! Period.”

Whoa!

He told us how Nevanlinna (and Paatero)’s book Introduction to Complex Analysis is like Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s conquest of Mt. Everest. Rolf Nevanlinna‘s book is one of the foremost text books in Complex Analysis. We shouldn’t use it as a text book. But we should keep it under our pillows. Everyday before going to sleep, we should study one page of the book. Then we’ll be good mathematicians, he said.

At the end of the class, he recommended Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World and the movie Good Morning, Vietnam. Now that’s the first time a professor has acknowledged the existence of a life outside of Mathematics.

Today, he took a night class to cover for the classes he missed at the beginning. And he was at his best.

“Don’t come to me and ask questions. I won’t able to solve them. Ask your seniors. They are all geniuses. If you ask me to solve your problems, I will ask you to solve my problems. So be prepared.”

He was trying to decide which day he would be able to take another extra class. And he asked a classic question.

“Which day is Tuesday?”

At the very end, he made another one. We usually have 10 marks for homeworks, assignments, quizzes, etc. while the rest is divided among the mid semester and the end semester exams. He wanted to know what we wanted to do for those 10 marks. He said

“Here, no one wants to do anything. I don’t want to set questions, the grader doesn’t want to check answers and you don’t want to study! But unfortunately, we have to do something.”

ROFL

Mr Perelman – 1

Before college, I used to study in this big school… really big. My favourite teacher was Mr. Perelman.

At the beginning of every year, we were given our class schedules, and the initials of the teachers who’d take our classes. For some reason, no one told us the full names. No one asked either. We had this school booklet where the names of all the teachers and their departments were printed. I made a habit of taking this with me on the first day of every academic year.

In Class 8, we had two Math teachers one of whom was Mr Poincare. The other teacher had not been decided upon yet. We didn’t have that Math class for the first two weeks and we got used to free periods. In the third week, a really dark guy arrived in the class. He had a black bag with him and he wore really thick glasses. I had seen him before and I had always thought he must be one of the office staff.

He entered the room and introduced himself as Mr Perelman. He would be our new Math teacher. He would be teaching us Algebra, Mensuration and Trigonometry. We were crushed. He looked really strict and mean. I was sure I wouldn’t get 100 In Math again. By the way, somehow I managed to score full marks in Math in every exam in Class VII (and I love boasting about it). He started Mensuration that day. Standard, boring stuff.

He used to teach a few things in class and then give us a few problems. Those who were able to solve them first got the opportunity to have his/her copy checked by him. Sometimes he would give a tick with a blue pen and that meant the world to us although we would have preferred it if he had used a red pen. Some of us became regular “performers” in his class. There was me and there was Dominica (she and I were in the same Math tuition since Class VII), and Severus (you’ll hear a lot about him later), and Alicia, and Robin (she’ll be a central character too some day), and a few others.

One day, after the half-yearly exams, he started his class with a problem. He asked us to do a problem. He wrote on the board:

Factorise (x + y)

What the f*ck! How would I factorise (x + y)? He called up Dominica to solve it on the board. She had no clue what to do. He called me next and I, being the (over-)confident person I was, said, “There’s no solution to this problem.” He smiled and he called up Severus, and then Alicia, and then Robin, and one by one everyone fell. We were all dismayed and a bit annoyed because we had no idea how it could be factorised. And then a hand went up. It was Aemon. He claimed he had a solution. I smiled wisely. There couldn’t be any solution. He went up to the board and did this:

x + y =(x^{1/3} +y^{1/3})(x^{2/3} - x^{1/3}y^{1/3} + y^{2/3})

I was stunned! Mr Perelman smiled wisely and looked at us. For the first time in my life, I learnt to think outside the box. And I have remembered it ever since.