The Man from Madras Musings could scarcely believe his good luck. One of his mentors (and in his life he has reasons to be thankful to several) and a most noble one at that, had just introduced him to Most Brilliant (shall we refer to him as MB?), a mathematician of international repute. Noble mentor (NM), having put MB and MMM, together, had instructed MMM to take care of MB (sounds just like a distributive property does it not?) and gone off on his very many busy duties.
The first thing that struck MMM about MB was his evident simplicity despite all his great achievements. There was a childlike happiness about the person that warmed the cockles of MMM’s heart. Having completed the initial pourparlers as they were, MMM made bold to ask MB as to what his plans were for the evening. To this MB replied rather wistfully that he would love to attend a concert of Singing Sensation (SS), one of the greatest artistes of South Indian classical music. Now that was precisely what MMM was planning to do at the Totally Isolated Sabha (TIS), the only one of repute that functions up north, and so he asked MB if he would like to tag along to which the latter readily assented. There was only one hitch – namely procuring MB a ticket for SS’s performance, never the easiest of tasks, for the singer was known to draw full houses. Strings had to be pulled to get MB a seat, and one in a row fairly close to the dais at that, as befitted his status.
MMM called certain humble functionaries he knew at TIS and having explained to them the greatness of MB, requested for a seat. This was readily given but it was clear that despite MMM’s eloquence, MB’s eminence did not make an impression. A seat in a middle row was what was promised at most. Moreover, for some reason, MMM’s contact at the other end was firmly convinced that MB, going by the sound of his name, was a lady and kept referring to him in the feminine gender. All this had the potential of causing much confusion and embarrassment in the evening and MMM said as much to his good lady, also known as She Who Must Be Obeyed. She on her part advised MMM to inform NM about the confusion and get him to speak to the president of TIS and make the necessary arrangements. This was soon done and an assurance was received that all would be well when MMM, his good lady and MB descended on TIS for the evening to listen to SS warble away. MB, or so MMM was assured, would have a seat when he arrived at TIS.
That evening MMM arrived at MB’s hotel to pick him up only to discover that MB had a visitor – a middle-aged lady, a professor of mathematics. She too wanted to listen to SS sing and MB requested MMM and good lady if something could be done. Not wanting to disappoint the lady prof, MMM asked her to come along and so the quartet set off to TIS, in anticipation of a great evening.
Arriving at the Sabha, MMM found the foyer packed, as was to be expected whenever SS performs. Heads turned at the arrival of MB and MMM was cast several envious looks, all of which MMM lapped up. He then threaded his way through the crowd to meet the official who would give him the tickets that would let MB and the lady prof into the auditorium.
The official was all smiles at MMM’s arrival. He had the tickets ready and when MMM explained that MB had a companion, the officer said this would not be a problem and he would arrange for another seat. There was only one hitch, namely that MB’s guest may have to sit a few rows behind MB. He then came out of his cubicle to greet the guests and made straight for the lady prof. It was then that it dawned on MMM. The officer had assumed that she was the mathematician of international fame. He too had been misled by the name into thinking that MB was a woman. Having greeted the lady prof effusively, he was about to hand over the ticket for a seat in a front row to her when MMM decided to intervene. He took the officer aside and began to explain that the much decorated mathematician was the young man who was even then examining a granite bust in the corridor with interest, and not the lady. This the man refused to believe. He showed me his boss’ note, which clearly stated that Madam MB would be coming to the TIS that evening with MMM and so ought to be admitted. MMM was mistaken, said the officer. The lady had to be the brilliant mathematician. How can that small boy be awarded so many prizes saar, asked the officer. He must be the lady’s son and so could safely be accommodated somewhere in the rear. The note from his boss he said was sacrosanct and he had no authority to overstep his brief. All of MMM’s arguments and attempts at convincing the man as to who was MB were in vain. The officer could well have been Balaam’s ass, or was it the deaf adder?
There being just about five minutes for the concert to begin, MMM had to act fast. He took the tickets on offer and went over to his good lady. Having convinced her to give up her second row ticket to MB, he asked her to sit with the lady prof at the rear. This she gave into with good grace and all was well. MB and MMM sat in the second row while lady prof and MMM’s good lady sat at the rear. The music began and was appreciated with much waving of hands by MB. The rest of the seats in the row remained empty, these being earmarked for sponsors who never come for any concert anyway. The mosquitoes that lay in wait under the seats began to hover around MB and MMM. Now, MMM, whatever maybe his charms, holds very little attraction for these vectors. In fact they pass by him like the idle wind. And so all of them chose to attack MB with vigour and vim. In addition to waving his hands to the music, he also had to keep using them to fend himself off from stinging attacks. Shortly thereafter, MMM’s good lady and the lady professor made bold to get up from their seats and join MMM and MB in the second row. An usher made bold to stop them but was quelled by the glance that MMM’s good lady gave him. He fell back on the railings and let them pass before going off backstage where no doubt he restored himself with a few quick ones. MMM’s good lady often has that effect on people.
The story does not end there. A couple of days later, the newspapers reported on a speech given by MB. His photo was published in the papers. The Man from Madras Musings was called by the TIS functionary. His boss, said the man, was really disappointed that MMM had not introduced him to MB. He would like to invite MMM and MB for tea. MMM hated to begin a new year on a disappointing note but he had to tell the caller that MB was by then somewhere above the oceans, wending his way back to the US of A.