I first knew of the term Ishan Scholar because Niladrimama was one. An Ishan scholar is one who tops the University by topping in every paper. This is a title reserved for graduates of Mathematics from Calcutta University. Niladrimama was my Pishemoshai; the reason why I call him mama is because he was a good friend of Sejomama and mashi, and the three of them with the legendary Chuni Goswamis were quite a gang of office colleagues. All of the above were officers in the State Bank of India. A few years later, when Tulupishi was to get married my mother suggested that Niladrimama would best fit the case. So Niladrimama became my pishemoshai.
I have known a few mathematicians in my family who have been passionate about the subject, taught, supervised theses, lectured and written books. But no one seemed to have such a complete mathematical personality like Niladrimama. Niladrimama was mathematics personified. Everything he did was mathematical. He had very strong likes and dislikes; everything was black and white, and there could be no middle ground. He was definitive and abrupt. His decisions were precise, his formulations elegant and rigid just as mathematical formulae would be. He was, like mathematical abstractions, totally free from social prejudices. He had friends from all classes, ethnicities and nationalities. It was not always that one finds among his close friends an Assamese elephant catcher, a Muslim horse better, a Jewish money changer and a rather typical lower middle class clerk, the only child of a widowed mother. Yes, they were of various ages too.
Niladrimama himself was a variegated combination of traits; one would hardly associate a maths wizard with a film buff and keen bet in the horse races. He was a terror in his office, a dead serious person in his everyday engagements; and yet he had completely shocking passions. He would keep a detailed register on the films he watched, the seat he watched it in, the stars in it, the price of his ticket and his companion for the show. Much later when I worked for my doctoral thesis on the popular cinema, I realized how mathematically perfect the film formula was. Niladrimama’s love for cinema emanated out of his love for the formula; he loved the predictability of the Hindi cinema, the neatness of formulations and the certainty of their resolutions. He loved things to be glossy and crisp; chnidebhaaja and crunchy aloo tikia were among his favourites; we knew whenever Tulupishi and Niladrimama would visit us, chnidebhaaja had to be prepared. He loved people to dress smart, look smart and took care that everyone around him was dressed in well cut and state of art clothes.
He used to be a fan of Shammi Kapoor, breezy, jovial, carefree and straight forward human being; he found Rajesh Khanna to be too complex and Amitabh pretentious. Later on in life, he became a fan of Mithun Chakravarty. Niladrimama had very high powered spectacles and a no nonsense attitude, and to those who did not know him well, he appeared rude and snooty. He intimidated quite a number of people and his position in the organization added weight to his stature. With such a demeanour he suddenly took to wearing flouroscent coloured shirts with a shiny texture. He would show off his collection with a new found pride; his tastes then were totally dictated by his adoration of Mithun Chakravarty! We would despair at his loyalties; but he would say with an air of resignation, well Mithun is the top. No one but no one could ever make him believe that Mithun Chakravarty being the top star was not quite the case. If Niladrimama was convinced of something, he was convinced.
He found the races to be a great challenge; he loved the complex probability formulae that went into betting on the right horse and he also loved his companions in the stands. Relationships meant a lot for him; they had to be perfectly symmetrical as well. He gave absolute loyalty and expected the same level of sincerity in return. You could be frank with him, tell him on his face that you have no time to visit him but you should never try to lie to him for that would break his heart and once his heart was broken he could actually cancel you right off his life. His dealings with people were neat and straightforward; he either liked you or did not like you. He is the only person who I heard actually tell a gentleman right on his face that he did not like him.
There was yet another talent of his which I again link to his mathematical mind; he knew how to knit and did a very good job at that. I think that the neatness of the craft appealed to him, the formulaic certainty of the knitted patterns and the precision of the order of the stitches made knitting such an appealing hobby for him. When he was posted in Lebanon, Niladrimama, with his mathematical ability mastered Arabic and read the local newspapers with ease. So he knew that the war was coming; he was the head of the SBI in Lebanon and refused to leave his place of duty till the very last moment and became the last man standing. No, it was not bravery, it was duty; he continued amidst the bombing the duty that an officer was expected to do in the neat and ordered world of peace. Order could not be broken at any cost.
In life, Niladrimama expected things to always fall in place. He was put off by stuffs not turning out as he would expect them to. When I did not marry, he was very disappointed and when his daughters did not marry either, the world for Niladrimama had sunk into a total chaos. For him, my mother was the ideal woman because she had arranged his marriage with Tulupishi and so she was, in his eyes, a person who could get the solve problems and order lives.
I think that in his last days he was a disappointed man; this was because the world had become very chaotic for him. There were far too many disappointments for him, we did not marry, the races were rigged, cricket was match fixed, politicians were taking bribes from the corporates, insurance companies were writing confusing fine prints, Hindi film was diverging from the formula, Bengali serials were going haywire, drivers were cheating on bills, and friends turned out to be manipulative. Many years before now he also suffered a great shock; all along he knew that he was born with Taurus in the ascendant but an astrologer in Hyderabad insisted that his ascendant was Gemini. It was devastating; he felt as if his entire axis had changed; from that day, he never believed in horoscopes ever again, he resented the fact that it tried to change his basic identity.
He took to his bed because of an obstinate vertigo which had made him lose his confidence. But more than his physical health, because he was still not too old to die, I think that the corruption of the world around us, refusing to fall in line with his idealisms that broke his heart. Niladrimama was a person who would never tolerate imperfections, whether in humans, or in the world, or in the outcomes of his life. His rather early death was also a disgust at an imperfect world that did not yield to well-designed formulaic dispensations.