S. Minakshisundaram: By G.S.R.Sarma
Some Personal Reminiscences
S. Minakshisundaram was for us simply ‘Babai’ meaning in Telugu, father’s younger brother. He was first my mother’s second cousin who later married my mother’s younger sister and thus our maternal relationship was doubly strengthened. He and my father addressed each other in their frequent correspondences ‘My Dear Brother.’ Despite genealogical clan connections dating back generations when their ancestors moved from coastal Andhra to coastal Kerala, Malabar, a thousand kilometers away, there were many similarities of family tradition preserved through all the migrations. For instance, my father’ s name was Somasundaram and his eldest brother was Balasundaram, also epithets for Shiva. It may be mentioned that Babai’s family surname , KOTRA, is rather well known in Andhra linguistic circles through the Telugu lexical works: Andhra Vachaspatyam by Kotra Symalakama Sastry and Lakshminarayaneeyam by Kotra Lakshminarayana Sastry. Kotra means ‘short’ ( according to Sabdartha Chandrika )’ perhaps descriptive of a well known progenitor personage of the family.However, living in the Malayalam/Tamil speaking areas of then Madras Presidency,they adopted the local convention of prefixing the father’s name to their given names. Hence he was officially registered as Subbaramaiah Minakshisundaram. They spoke Telugu at home but otherwise used proficiently the regional lingua franca Malayalam and afterwards Tamil as they moved later towards Madras.
Although quite a few other uncles had the technically equivalent relationship to us, this dear one was just Babai without any qualifying prefixes. He was not outwardly sentimental in general but was very close and affectionate to our entire family. This closeness and understanding were further fostered after he got his first full academic position as lecturer in Mathematical Physics at the Andhra University (AU) in 1943 during its world war sojourn at Guntur about 100km from our place. This town was already a focus of our family affections for decades through our eldest paternal aunt and her family there. That proximity promoted our occasional visits mutual assistance and appreciation over the years.
I still recall inquiring , as a small school kid, of my father about his doctoral title. The word doctor had only a medical connotation for most people. My father told me it is a special degree awarded for a new and important discovery. My father, despite his quite good standing in high school mathematics, was MA Economics. He has great admiration and actually awe for mathematicians but could not have gone any further about Babai’s doctoral discovery. Maybe, my own further education has now finally enabled me to figure it out somewhat. At least , I can recognize many of the technical terms in Babai’s publications and follow his general ideas,especially the classical ones on ‘eigenfunction expansions,’ boundary value problems, and divergent series and summability.