C.S. Seshadri, 1932–2020

C.S. Seshadri, one of the leaders of Indian mathematics in the post-Independence era, passed away late on July 17 in Chennai. He was 88.

A leader in the field of algebraic geometry, he made breakthroughs that lie at the heart of this profound discipline.

Seshadri began his career at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) as one of the first batch of graduate students. His career was marked by high mathematical ambition and subtle discoveries. He achieved early success with the proof (in the first nontrivial case) of a well-known conjecture of J.-P.Serre. Inspired by the work of D. Mumford, he began a life-long involvement with the geometric invariant theory and the theory of moduli. (Both Serre and Mumford are winners of the Fields Medal.) Together with M.S. Narasimhan, he discovered a theorem, now a cornerstone of geometry that bears their joined names. Looking to extend this theorem he discovered the surprisingly multifaceted notion of parabolic bundles and proved (jointly with V.B. Mehta) a basic result regarding these objects. With the intense collaboration of students Musili and Lakshmibai, he developed a deep theory that combined algebraic, combinatorial and geometric insights into the modern theory of standard monomials. Along the way, he discovered basic results in algebraic geometry that are codified in his ampleness criterion and the definition of the Seshadri constant.

He helped establish the School of Mathematics in TIFR as one of the leading centres for mathematics research in the world. Among his students were Pavaman Murthy, Madhav Nori, C. Musili, and Lakshmibai; many others in India and around the world benefited from his advice and mentoring. Mumford and Narasimhan became Seshadri's life-long friends, as did many other academics around the world, charmed by his personality and intelligence.

He moved to Chennai in 1984, to the Institute of Mathematical Sciences. In 1989, he got an opportunity to start the School of Mathematics as part of the SPIC Science Foundation, which has evolved into the Chennai Mathematical Institute (CMI).

CMI is a unique institution in India that attempts to integrate undergraduate education with research. It grew out of Seshadri's vision that higher learning can only occur in an atmosphere of active research amidst the presence of masters in the subject. It was a brave venture in the face of initial scepticism even from his close friends and well-wishers.

It was his dream to build a centre of learning that can compare itself with the great research universities of the world. It opens up opportunities for gifted students in India to learn in a unique academic atmosphere and also gives possibilities for active researchers to participate in this experiment, which will leave an everlasting influence on the development of mathematics in India. CMI is now rated as one of the best schools in the world for undergraduate studies in mathematics and theoretical computer science.

Seshadri's accomplishments in mathematics were recognised through numerous honours. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, U.K., in 1988 and a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., in 2010. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2009.

Seshadri continued to be deeply involved in Mathematics till very recently, pursuing a joint project with younger colleague V. Balaji.

Seshadri was also deeply interested in music and an accomplished singer of Carnatic music. His beloved wife Sundari was very involved in theatre, a talented singer, and a person of great joie-de-vivre. Her passing in October 2019 was a heavy blow.

Over the past decade, Seshadri grappled with serious health problems — including, recently, Parkinson's — with characteristic grit and good humour. The end, when it came, was caused by cardiac arrest. He is survived by his sons Narasimhan and Giridhar.