Rajeeva L Karandikar belongs to a family of academicians. His father, late Laxman V Karandikar, taught mathematics/statistics at University of Indore and his mother Indumati was a chemistry professor. “My father taught me maths right from my childhood by bringing up numbers in casual conversations, posing mathematics puzzles and problems, which were within my reach, and ensured that I developed a keen interest in the subject,” says Karandikar. He tried the same experiment with his son Prateek, who graduated in BSc maths from Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Bangalore, and is now reading for PhD in theoretical computer science at Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI).
In 2010, Karandikar was appointed as director of CMI. He was succeeding a luminary, Prof CS Seshadri, and the challenge was to continue his legacy as well as promote applied mathematics. “Maths is a small circle, so people know me. It has been very smooth and I’ve got support from everybody,” says Karandikar, who completed his PhD from ISI, Kolkata, in 1981.
Karandikar is an ISI product — he graduated in MStat from ISI, Kolkata, in 1978 and has held various positions at ISI, Kolkata, and Delhi. He headed the Delhi centre of ISI in 2000 and from 2004-2006. Karandikar served Cranes Software International as executive vice-president — he was heading the product development group — from 2006 before shifting to CMI. He also worked in USA and Netherlands in the 1980s and ’90s.
Karandikar in his five-year term would like to play up CMI’s strength, which is pure maths, and also get people to focus on applied maths. “I would like to create a consultancy centre that will encourage fellow mathematicians to do research in applied maths and interact with the industry,” says the 56-year-old.
CMI is a young institute — it was set up in 1989 by Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation — and also small in size. The 30-odd faculty teaches Bsc/MSc/PhD courses to around 130 students. Karandikar is aware of the fact that while CMI is doing laudable work, “to really make an impact, we need to grow, which means have more faculty members and the required infrastructure,” he says.
Karandikar, who specialises in probability theory, still teaches. “I taught MSc students the previous semester and the year before it was first-year BSc students,” says the 1999 Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar awardee.
The director has done a bit of consultancy work too. Between 1998 and 2007, Karandikar conducted opinion polls for Indian Parliamentary elections and state assembly polls for Doordarshan, TV Today, Network 18, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, etc. He was consulted by CBI in a case involving cheating in a multiple choice examination in 2005. Karandikar also developed a secret block cipher for the defence department in 2000-03. He has conducted training programmes on Stochastic Calculus for ICICI and other financial organisations.
Karandikar’s idea of a break would be meeting friends. “I don’t play any sport. I listen to music and regularly meet friends. I have a global network of friends with whom I exchange ideas. I’m a member of a Yahoo group of my ISI friends. There are 30 members and on an average we have about 2,000 messages monthly,” he says.