Let me set the stage first.
The first thing you need to know – unless you are conversant in Bengali – that the word “Apatoto” (pronounced with a long “a” and soft “t”s ) means “As of now” or “For the time being”.
Second thing you need to know is that there is a national exam in India – NTSE – National Talent Scholar Exam – or something like that. Students finishing up tenth grade can appear in it and after a written test and an interview (at least that was the way it was when I sat for it), if you managed to qualify, then you would get certain amount of financial aid as long as you continued studying. This, somehow, I had managed to ace – fulfilling one of the three dreams my dad had for me (this, to pass the Indian Administrative Services test and to get a Nobel Prize). One for three ain’t too bad is the story I am sticking with.
The third thing you need to know is the baby featured in my lap is my nephew Nirban (brother’s elder son) who is the same age as my younger daughter and is in his tenth grade now. You can see from the second picture how he looks now.
This morning during my usual call to my brother, Nirban picked up the phone. And we talked for some time…
“Dad’s gone to the market to buy fish. He left his phone at home.”
“No problem! You have time to talk?”, I asked thinking “Of course, what else would a Bengali buy?”
“Not watching IPL? Did you see KKR play yesterday?”
“No. I have no time to watch cricket. Lots of studies”.
“What are you studying now?”
He rattled off more subject names than I could shake a stick at.
Math is our common love – actually – true for quite a few members in my family – including my brother and sister-in-law.
“So, what are they teaching in math now?”
Like I said, I had touched upon his favorite topic. For the next five minutes he spoke non stop – punctuations be darned – about polynomial equations and how he is solving them now and what are the tricks he has learnt and also the kind of silly mistakes he is prone to making.
“That is okay. We all make mistakes. Important thing is that you understand the concepts and know how to apply them. When you grow up, you will use calculators and those silly calculation mistakes won’t matter”.
“But when I sit for NTSE, they won’t let me use calculators”.
“You are sitting for NTSE? I did not know that. When is the exam?”
“First round will be towards the end of this year.”
“Oh! Did you know…”
“I know. You qualified”
“Well, I was going to actually mention about…”
“And my mom qualified too”. It was like he was not paying any attention to what I was trying to say.
“You know, that is true. I forgot that your mom was also a NTSE scholar. I am sure that makes our family unique. We have not one but two NTSE scholars.”
After a couple of seconds of uncharacteristic quietness on his side, I heard his voice again.
“Hmmmm. Apatoto”, he said, lowering his voice.
“You go, tiger”, is what I was thinking in my head… while trying to suppress my laughter.
Later, I got a call from my brother.
“Call korechhilis?”, he asked if I had called him.
“Yeah – my daily check in….” and then proceeded to tell him about the exchange I had with his elder son.
Well, I did not get to finish my story. When I came to the bit of Nirban mentioning his mom having qualified for NTSE, my brother rudely interrupted me –
“Chaitali NTSE peyechhilo?” Apparently, my brother was not aware that his wife is a NTSE scholar too.
“Go hang yourself”, I told him and kept the phone down. Not entirely sure what to laugh at more now!!