I’m writing this post from a hotel room in Hyderabad at 3.20pm, trying to stay up for exactly the right length of time to deal with any jet lag I might have: stay up too little and I’ll wake up tomorrow morning at 4am and be unable to get back to sleep and will then still have the problem to deal with tomorrow; stay up too much and instead I’ll be woken tomorrow by my alarm and will desperately not want to get up, which would be bad as then I would miss the bus that will take me to the International Convention Centre for the opening ceremony of ICM2010. By the intermediate value theorem, there must be an optimal time to collapse into bed (given data such as the time change and the small bits of sleep I snatched between London and Dubai and between Dubai and Hyderabad). Unfortunately, I don’t know how to work it out.
So I’m guessing about 6.30pm, which would allow me to sleep for twelve hours and still comfortably make the bus. And to keep myself awake for the next three hours I plan to write this post and complete another more mathematical one that I started a few days ago. And over the next few days, if I can find the time, I thought I might write a traditional-style ICM blog. After all, for every one of the many mathematicians who are here there are dozens who are not. Perhaps some of those would have liked to come but couldn’t quite face organizing a trip all the way to Hyderabad. And perhaps some of those wouldn’t mind being kept in the loop, so to speak.
It’s my first time in India, and one of the first things I saw when there was finally a gap in the clouds, which was not until we were beginning our descent into Hyderabad, was that the cars drive on the left here. I think I must have known at some point that that was the case, but I had forgotten, so I had a small and pleasurable shock when I saw it. Other initial impressions were rather more standard and apply to many countries: the sudden heat as you step out of the plane (not that it’s all that intensely hot here), the longish immigration queue, a man at immigration who insisted that I write down my mobile number even though I told him I didn’t have my mobile with me (which later turned out to be false, as I discovered when its alarm clock went off inside my suitcase at 2pm, because I had set it for 8.30am the day before — bizarrely, Hyderabad time is not an integer multiple of one hour different from all the other time zones I have ever experienced), and who kept typing things into his computer and looking in a puzzled and sceptical way at my passport until I was convinced he was about to tell me that my visa was invalid. When I was finally through the baggage reclaim, I was welcomed by another long queue, this time for an ICM desk to sort out transport to hotels.
I decided it would be better to go straight to the conference centre to register — a decision that turned out to be correct as the distance between there and the hotel is much larger than it looks on the map, so I’ve saved myself a substantial journey between the two. A large part of the drive (in a taxi with the company of Oliver Riordan, Oxford combinatorialist and invited speaker at this congress) was down a new 8-lane highway that was almost deserted. My first taste of the contrast between the old rural way of life and the hew hi-tech India that we hear so much about was when we passed about half a dozen black cows calmly walking along the other four lanes (in the right direction). More remarkable than the cows themselves was the fact that nobody seemed in the slightest bit perturbed by them. And when we then came upon some more cows, this time on our side, pale brown, some of them calves, and sitting down in the middle two lanes or so, the driver just swerved round them and continued. I tried to get a photo but couldn’t time the click well enough.
Once we reached Hyderabad proper the most obvious features were large numbers of incomplete concrete buildings, often with clusters of metal wires/rods (I’m not sure of the right word — sort of half way between a wire and a rod) sticking up out of the tops of them, and even larger numbers of small yellow vehicles that were open at the sides and had benches for seating. I wondered whether they were motorized rickshaws, and having looked that up on Google images I think they probably were. Other amusing aspects of the journey were veering from lane to lane, tailgating, a great deal of hooting, right turns that could be achieved only by doing a U-turn and then turning left, etc.
When we finally got to HICC (the Hyderabad International Convention Centre), the taxi was security checked, and then I had to put my bags and self through aiport-like security before I could get into the building. Once inside, I went to the registration desk where there was no queue and a very quick process, a welcome contrast to some previous ICMs and ECMs I have known. I was given a little book of vouchers, most of them for food, coffee, snacks etc., but one for the “kit bag”, an immensely heavy bag (not the bag but its contents) that contained a programme for the conference (except that after the driving-on-the-left remark I feel obliged to point out that it actually says “Conference Program,” and US spelling seems to be the norm here), two postcards, one actually with stamps, a small hardback in a plastic wrap called “International Congress of Matheamticians, Hyderabad 2010” that I have not yet opened, some leaflets, a special issue of a journal called Mathematics Newsletter with some quite nice general interest mathematical articles, mostly by Indian mathematicians, the Hyderabad Intelligencer, also wrapped in plastic and as yet unopened by me (but I expect it to be reasonably entertaining), a book of abstracts of the plenary lectures, the invited lectures and the panel discussions, and finally, and most bulkily by far, a book of abstracts of short communications and posters. So the heaviest item in the bag is, fortunately, one that I can manage without. Actually, I’ll have to manage without any of them tomorrow because we are allowed to bring almost nothing with us, so that we can’t use our Hyderabad Intelligencers and Mathematics Newsletters to threaten the life of the Very Important Person who will be formally opening the congress. More about that tomorrow. Oh, and there was also an umbrella in the bag, which removed my feeling of satisfaction at having been efficient enough to look up the weather forecast, see that heavy rain was predicted for more or less the whole week, and bring one myself.
What am I doing here? I have two reasons for coming to ICM2010 (together with the slightly silly reason that I have been to every ICM since 1994 and am reluctant to break the sequence). The first is that I am chairing a panel discussion called “Relation between the discipline and school mathematics.” (I too wondered what on earth that meant when I was first invited.) This entitles me to a green name tag with “INVITED SPEAKER” at the bottom, despite the fact that I am not one. (I will get ten minutes to say a few words as part of my contribution to the discussion — more about that on Friday after it has taken place.) The other reason, which doesn’t oblige me to come here but makes it make sense somehow, is … well, I’ll talk about that tomorrow, even though the information I’m reluctant to reveal is in the conference program and therefore basically in the public domain already.
Tomorrow I’ll listen to the opening ceremony and the laudationes for the new Fields medallists. I’ll then report back on what the ceremony was like and see if I can give some kind of summary of (what I understood of) what was said in the laudationes.