Amartya as Mary, Kolkata as Kakalot

Master regales with 'mistake'

By Samhita Chakraborty
  • Published 11.07.17
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July 10: Is Amartya Sen as neat as Mary?

The 83-year-old scholar may have faced many posers on state, religion and politics during his public appearances today but at La Martiniere for Girls, that was the big question of the day.

While his daughter, Nandana Dev Sen, insisted that her Baba was "much, much neater than Mary", Sen himself admitted otherwise.

"I am not sure about being 'as neat as Mary'," he chuckled before a hall full of eager students and equally eager teachers. "I have to find out who Mary is and in what way she is neat and how I could emulate that."

If your mind is in a jumble over this mysterious Mary, Talky Tumble will come to your rescue.

Nandana launched her new book for children, Talky Tumble of Jumble Farm, at LMG flanked by both her parents - Amartya Sen and Nabaneeta Dev Sen. Published by Puffin India and illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, this book presents its young readers with a series of word jumbles - anagrams and antonyms - as it tells the story in verse of a talkative little girl who lives on a farm near Calcutta.

In the hour-long session, she showed the little kids how to solve anagrams, starting with "As Neat As Mary", which became her father's name - Amartya Sen!

"The reason why Talky Tumble came into my imagination is that when I was very little, I used to get letters from my father in London in which he addressed me as 'Toomble Tumble', because my daak naam (pet name) is Toompa. So, Toomble Tumble was his nickname for me, and Baba introduced my didi (Antara) and me to an amazing world of puzzles - word puzzles, logic puzzles, math puzzles - and we loved solving them. We also loved playing word games with Baba. We played Scrabble all the time, then we played this game called Mastermind... Baba, remember the word guessing game?" Nandana said, and Sen nodded with a smile.

"Just as my father made me love the world of puzzles and finding solutions, my mother made me love the world of imagination and she has helped me to become a writer. So, I feel very lucky that both of them are with me here," Nandana said.

While on wordplay, a phrase may have more than one anagram, she added. Like "Mastery an A" is also an anagram for Amartya Sen.

"And it's quite fitting, my father is indeed a 'master' in his subject. He was also a 'master' of... Trinity College... and he has got quite a few As in his life. In fact he's got a super big A++ kind of an A called the Nobel Prize," she said, making the older students and teachers smile.

Sen revealed a love for anagrams too, and for mistakes!

"I think some anagrams are quite exciting. 'A Talk Ok' suits 'Kolkata' very well. It's like talking with each other and it makes a lot of sense.... 'Kakalot' is another anagram of 'Kolkata'... I wonder if 'Kakalot' is a better name than Kolkata. May be we made a mistake," he said, eyes shining with mischief.

"It is easy for us to make mistakes. And they are sometimes quite fun. You can correct it, you can play games with it," he said and regaled the kiddie audience with what would happen if at night he laid his walking stick on his bed and went and stood in one corner of his bedroom instead of the other way around.

"It is wonderful to see you all and congratulations on studying in this great school. Lots of love to you all," Sen signed off, and it was time for the little ones to read along with Nandana and jump like a dog and climb like a cat and have all kinds of fun.

No wonder her writer-mum complained to the kids, "She and her sister would bring home stray dogs and cats all the time, it was so difficult for us! She has grown up around all kinds of animals... you can tell that from just looking at her, can't you?" Nabaneeta Dev Sen laughed.

Welcoming the day's guests, La Martiniere for Girls principal Rupkatha Sarkar had said she was very happy that "illustrious people who are absolute experts in their own field" have come to "talk to little children. It's important we talk to little children."

During the interactive session, Nandana not only talked to the kids but using examples from one of her previous children's books, Mambi and the Forest Fire, broke down concepts that her father has worked on, for the little ones.

"All of us are equal, whether we swim, whether we fly, whether we jump, whether we live in the forest, or in the city or in the village. Whether we are Hindu or Muslim, we are all equal. Whether we are a girl or a boy, we are all equal. And equality is an idea that my father has done a lot of work on, the idea that all of us, no matter what our backgrounds are, where we are born, what our religion is, what our gender is, need to be treated equally and fairly. This idea of fairness, of justice are ideas that my father has focused on a lot. The other thing is about helping others in need, it's about sharing your own strengths," she said.

" Mambi is also about safety. There are so many ways in which we can feel safe and secure. And my father has done a lot of work about this idea of safety and security. You can feel safe if you have a job, if you have enough to eat, if you have the ability to go see a doctor if you are not feeling well... and all of these ways of feeling safe make us free in the world. He has done a lot of work on how we can help each other feel safe. And how governments can help its people have this security. The reason I wanted to tell you all this is because my father has written lots and lots of books, very big, important books, and I wanted you to know what the books are about. The topics the books are about are topics all of you can understand. Did you understand this?"

YES, chorused the girls.

What question would you like to ask Amartya Sen? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com