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'Dependence' and Twist – American culture in Africa


Reunited with my driver, Pratap
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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Years and years later I went back to India and I won a prize called the Ramanujan prize, which was after the great mathematician, Indian mathematician, Ramanujan who... And the Indian Mathematical Society awarded me the Ramanujan prize and flew me out back to India, and I got to go back to Calcutta while I was there. And of course by then I'd lost touch with everyone in Calcutta. But... And the city had changed quite a lot.

But I still remembered it very well from having wandered around it so much as a child. So I wandered around and found the spots and went to the area near Gariahat Market where I lived and found my house. And then I remembered that there had... We had had some neighbours who were Parsis who had lived in the neighbourhood. So I wandered over and I found a house that I thought maybe was their house. So I went, you know... Of course the person I really wanted to see was my driver, Pratap. Because I'd always promised that I would come back to see Pratap.

But I had no way of finding him and it's not like there's a telephone director or that he would have had a telephone or... I was in this city of millions of people. But I thought maybe I had found a house that looked familiar and they maybe had been friends of ours. So I knocked on the door of the house and the person who answered could only speak Bengali. But so they went off to get somebody to speak English. And the person appeared who could speak English and he looked at me and he said, 'Danny?' And it was Pratap.

And he recognised me after all those decades, immediately recognised me. And I guess he... It wasn't entirely coincidence, he was working now for the people who'd become friends of ours. And so we had a wonderful reunion. And they were, yes, they knew we'd been friends so they gave him a couple of days off to sort of drive around the city with me and see all the old places. And so I had a wonderful reunion with Pratap. That was a nice moment.

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: Christopher Sykes George Dyson

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, Calcutta, reunion, friendship, driver

Duration: 2 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017