My friend Harsh V. Pittie, passed away suddenly on Monday, January 16, 2012.
Harsh was born January 3, 1944, educated during long walks with his father, later at George School, Swarthmore, and Princeton, where he received his Ph.D in mathematics. He held a professorship at the University of Georgia, which he later renounced in order to care for his father in Mumbai during the last years of his life. After his father’s death, he moved to New York City. He loved to go to the ballet, to work crossword puzzles, and of course, to do mathematics. Harsh is survived by his sister, Nirja Kamani, and her two daughters, Anandita and Janhavi, all of Mumbai, India.
Harsh’s friends remember him for his humor, quick wit and brilliant intelligence. We regret his passing.
Harsh was a great friend of mine since his Univ of Georgia years. I live in Atlanta, and we had mutual friends. We travelled together a number of times in Europe — London, Italy, and especially France where we had glorious dinners and wine together at some of the grand restaurants. I also saw him from time to time in New York, with my German friend Alex Timmer, whom he liked very much. A delightful gentleman that I’ll miss very much.
Harsha was a classmate of mine at George School. We were in the science sequence together–about 15 of us for 3 very intense years of study. It was a pretty smart group, but there were 3 of my classmates who were simply smarter. Harsha pretty much always knew the answers and none of us, most especially Harsha, were surprised by this. At one point I realized he actually understood the advanced math that I was simply trying to survive.
His death is certainly a blow. I was especially looking forward to seeing him at our 50th reunion this spring.
He will be sorely missed.
I never met Harsh Pittie, but I carried around his book on characteristic classes of foliations for most of my grad school years. There will surely be many mathematicians to come who, like me, will “meet” Harsh only through his work, but still be the better for it.
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I met Harsh in 1980 when I came to the University of Georgia. We shared an interest in geometry, and Harsh suggested that we run a seminar on the new book “Principles of Algebraic Geometry,” by Phil Griffiths and Joe Harris. Harsh’s wonderful idea was to skip all the boring foundations and do the last chapter, “The quadric line complex,” (pages 733 – 803). That was typical Harsh. We had fun!
The next year Harsh and I schemed about hiring two young geometers, Robert Varley and Ted Shifrin. I remember Harsh saying to me, “We’ll have a better chance of voting to make them offers if I shut up and don’t say anything in the faculty meeting.” He was right, and it worked!
Harsh and I had a lot in common – Princeton, Characteristic Classes and one very unusual connection: When Harsh was a visitor at Duke, he lived in the same apartment complex as my daughter, a PT at Duke. On a just in case basis, I asked if I could let my daughter know he was nearby. Of course, he agreed. A gentleman and a scholar. We met very sporadically after that, but it was always a pleasure.
Harsh was the very first person I met when we were graduate students together at Princeton. Since we shared an interest in topology and the same thesis advisor, I had the privilege and opportunity to get to know him well. We were to travel very separate ways but, from the beginning, he was always a warm and generous friend. Harsh had a remarkable ability to identify the essential ideas of a subject and he had the courage to dive right into the heart of the matter. I think I first learned Artin’s dictum from Harsh: “When learning a new subject, identify the first nontrivial example and work out in detail everything about It.” I will miss him.