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Friendship with my driver, Pratap

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The servants came with the house
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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It was also just wonderful wandering around. The Indians were so friendly, there would be weddings and people would invite us into their wedding and an Indian wedding is quite an extraordinary affair. I remember just being dragged in off the street to join a wedding. And people were incredibly poor but also just incredibly friendly and kind.

And I loved shopping in the markets, I loved bargaining with... You would bargain for everything. And it was very rude not to bargain, even though we had much more money, it would have been insulting not to bargain. So I got to know the city very well. We lived on Bright Street right near Tagore's old house. And I became a fan of the poetry of Tagore and I learnt how to write Sanskrit characters and I can still sound out Sanskrit and I read and write it. I don't remember the words but I remember the letters.

And we had... I had great friendship with my driver. Again we had lots of servants. That always made my parents very uncomfortable, they didn't like having servants. But it was kind of expected that if... The servants kind of came with the house. And if you didn't have servants then you would cause a whole bunch of people to lose their jobs and become unemployed. So our house came with a durwan who's like the guard, a dhobi who's the washer, a sweeper, a butler, a cook. An ayah is the one that sort of takes care of the children.

So the whole setup, dozens of people that were on staff, and it always kind of drove my mother crazy, she never was comfortable with the idea of servants, but that was just the way... So we had sort of the minimal set that we could get away with. But of course I became friends with them.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: India, Rabindranath Tagore

Duration: 2 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017