(Continued from Closed Curves)
Debabrata Halder was a middle aged man of average dimensions. His pencil moustache would not have seemed to be out of place had he been in 70’s Bengal. In 2023, it only went as far as earning him the title of Retro Da among his colleagues in the university campus. But neither was this from the purpose of mocking him, nor was he geek enough to retain the moustache after realising that it did not suit him. In fact, it matched inch perfect with his well groomed and neatly shaped face. His wife always said that even Uttam Kumar would have been put to shame had they been contemporaries. He always chose not to reply and rather used to suppress his embarrassment of being compared with an yesteryear actor and not with some legendary physicist, under a timid forced smile which he had to practice so often that he was sure of beating Uttam Kumar with this instead of beating him with the moustache look. But he was geek enough not to realise that if Ayesha could have been fooled by just a smile into thinking that her comments are not affecting him, then she would have devised something else to irritate him in the first place. She always gave the same analogy. And he always reacted the same way, which she loved to look at.
But having been nominated for the inaugural Bohr Glory Medal by the Institute of Quantum Computing at Waterloo only last week, it was evident that he was more preoccupied with Quantum Loops than with Tumi Bolo loops. This was the result of his seminal work on Quantum Information in the past one year, which had indeed turned his office into Everett’s many worlds.
He had more friends among his colleagues than enemies and even those who did not like him were only jealous of his success and ingenuity. Nobody could possibly have a valid reason to hate him. And this was evident from the fact that he was one of those few professors in the university who was addressed by their proper name by the students even behind their back. Prof. Bannerjee sometimes got really frustrated because of Halder, as all of Bannerjee’s lectures for the senior year were delayed by ten minutes on an average because of Halder’s habit of talking through the bell. But like the students and like everybody else, he too was very fond of Halder. Even more so because Halder used to be Bannerjee’s student not very long back and seeing his growth as a physicist, only made the old man happier.
Halder had reached his office now. He was done for the day. He entered and did not bother to close the door as it would anyway close on its own. He went to his table, which happened to be very neatly organized for a change. So much so that there might have been a Republic Day procession going on there in his absence. In the evenings before his recent paper was published, the state of organization could have been compared to that of a battlefield which the soldiers had abandoned for the day. All this of course, would have taken place in a scale beyond which our senses can comprehend, given the field in which he did his research. He went to his table, crouched a bit and took out the third book from a stack kept on the right corner of the table and put it into his bag without even looking at it. The black leather binding gave it the appearance of a diary. But all the books in the stack were identical in that sense. He stood upright. As he did so, something beside the stack happened to attract his attention. His expression had changed on seeing that. Or rather vanished. His eyes were blank now, nothing like the angled-eyebrows look he had a minute before, while taking out the book. It was as if he was contemplating a lost dream. He was looking at a photo frame which had a picture of his late parents. Maa Baba, as he used to call them. He sighed. In that absolute silence of the room, he recited to himself, or rather to the ones in the photograph:
All that I am, that I have, that I hope and all my love have ever flowed towards thee in depth of secrecy.
Thee were his parents and not death, as in the verses by Tagore. He had not cried for very long. Not since he had held his child for the first time in his arms. And that was 12 years ago. He wanted to cry in that silence. But now was not the time, he reckoned. He saved it for some other time like he had done with many other of his likings in the recent past. Like stroking Ayesha’s cheeks and seeing her blush. Like watching episodes of Cosmos’s new season with Khokon or helping him with his science projects. “I will sort out everything after I receive the medal”, he thought to himself. And with a sudden surge of renewed spirit, which comes from resisting your tears from escaping, he rushed to open the door.
Just as he was about to hold the doorknob, there was a knock on the door. He ceased mid way in his stance of opening the door for a second or so and then opened it anyways. It was Ratan. Forget defining new physical parameters, he was taken aback on the door being opened on such short notice. He had to recede a step or two before coming back to his senses. This brought a smile on Halder’s face. The boy was, evidently enough, expecting a “come in”.
“Don’t worry! I was about to leave. What brings you here though?” asked Halder in a very hurried tone.
“Sir! The assignment.” replied Ratan while handing over a booklet to Halder. While the look of amazement was slowly fading away from Ratan’s face, Halder began to look confused.
“But as far as I remember, you had already submitted this. I think I didn’t write any remark on yours. Your solutions were quite elegant.”
Ratan smiled. He looked quite content. This was the part of the conversation he had probably scripted in his mind and was thus waiting for.
“Sir! Eita aajger ta.” (Sir! This one is today’s.)
Halder looked at the booklet and was going to keep the bag on the floor.
“Sir! Give it to me. I will hold that for you.” Ratan exclaimed.
Halder took his hand away and kept the bag a bit farther than he would have. He said, “No need! Look here. 6th one.”
Ratan obliged and did as instructed.
“Is the answer wrong, sir?” he asked skeptically.
“That is difficult to tell at a glance. I have not solved the question myself and have made it up. Your method is the standard approach for such a problem, so I see no issues with that. But considering your solution is correct, why do you reckon this order of magnitude is a bit odd?”
“I don’t understand, sir! You say that I have to assume the answer to be correct and then explain the oddity in that? Does that mean my answer is wrong?”
“Ratan! My boy! Don’t stress on the correctness of the answer. Ask whether this answer makes sense physically or not. That is more important. According to this method, this is probably the correct answer. But how can you be sure that this is exactly what is happening inside an atom? You cannot see inside to verify that.”
“No! I can’t.” Ratan mumbled. This part of the conversation was nowhere in the script in his mind, as was evident from the confused look on his face. He had probably imagined Halder handing over his medals to him for completing the assignment on the same day. There was a hint of disappointment on Ratan’s face which was being compensated by the more obvious shade of confusion.
Halder laughed heartily and gave the booklet back to Ratan. He picked up his bag from the floor. He loved to confuse his students. And this, he did not leave for future.
“If you do not mind, we can talk while walking. I am running late.”
“Sure Sir!” said Ratan. Still confused.
He locked his office. And put a hand around Ratan’s shoulders while holding his bag with the other. Together, they began the walk to the parking.
“Ratan! These answers are not very difficult to get, given that you just need to plug the values in the formula. Do you know what is more important?”
“Pondering upon the answers you get. Questioning it’s validity, and thus the validity of the formula at hand. That takes you two steps ahead of others, and not submitting your assignment on the same day. Look! I am not taking anything away from your dedication. But I realise what you aspire to achieve and I am just directing you towards an approach which I think, one requires for research. It’s more important to ask questions than to answer them. So if you are eager enough, I want you to sit down with your solutions today and stare at them like a mother stares at her baby. Think if your solutions make sense and if not, what you may do to render the answer more physical importance. Just fool around and flirt with the steps. Otherwise, I can correct your assignment anytime. This is the very reason that I do not put any deadline for the assignments.”
They had reached Halder’s car. He took out the key from his right pocket and pressed the button to unlock the car. The car sound broke the silence of the darkness that was gradually settling in.
“May I give you a lift?” Halder offered.
“No sir! It’s fine. I have my own two-wheeler.”
“Okay! That’s it then, I guess. Be there for the next lecture. Positively. I don’t think you are very fond of bunking classes.”
“No sir! I will be there for sure. Good evening sir!”
He sat in the car and drove it out of the campus at a decent speed. He was running late. He saw Ratan going towards the two-wheeler parking in his rear view mirror.
He had left behind a boy whose eyes were sparkling right now as he was going towards his scooter, due to the encouragement that Halder’s words had provided him. Tips from Prof. Halder on how to do basic sciences. From the man himself, who soon might be the recipient of the Bohr Glory Medal. Ratan was indeed feeling enlightened. He would probable stare at his solutions not like a mother anymore, but more like a cat staring at a fish vendor.
Meanwhile, about five kilometres away from the university campus, Halder was quite relaxed in the driver’s seat while making his way through the evening Kolkata traffic. He drove on as he hummed absent mindedly, “Ei Poth Jodi Na Shesh Hoye …” (If this path would never end). The Kolkata traffic got on his nerves and he could not have possibly agreed with the lyrics had he been paying attention to them. He was very content with himself today. Apart from all the inspiration, which he was obviously intending to shower, he was more happy to know that he had created a prop for his next lecture; wherein he would be discussing the limitations of the mentioned method which is meant to be used in the sixth problem of the assignment. He really did deserve a medal for this.