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The hero of zero

books Updated: Jan 22, 2011 12:04 IST

Mayank Austen Soofi, Hindustan Times
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Pitted against the likes of Pamuk and Gulzar, this number-cruncher stood up and was counted. He had to be the unluckiest man at the first day of the festival. At 10 am, Alex Bellos, the author of

Alex’s Adventures in Numberland

, was having his session at the same time Orhan Pamuk  and Gulzar were having their sessions. “Who’s he?” Bellos asked a reporter in the almost empty venue of the Durbar Hall in Diggi Palace, Jaipur. “If I get more than ten people, I'm lucky,” he said.

Ironically, Bellos’ talk was on numbers, which was in such a short supply  that moderator Jerry Pinto was stationed outside, shouting: “You can always found Gulzar and Pamuk on YouTube!”

Initially, Bellos was nervous. He hemmed and hawed, but finally — thanks to a PowerPoint slide that included clips of chimpanzees and Japanese children playing with numbers — he got his audience hooked. After that, Bellos didn’t stop. He stood up, asked questions, scrolled numbers on a white board, talked about ‘Maths, philosophy and life’, and every few minutes looked at Pinto to say, “We’re coming to the end… after this.”

An hour later, he said, “To conclude, the message is that the abacus is the most ancient form of calculation and yet it remains the most mysterious.” Later, a few number-munching students followed their new hero. As Bellos opened an autograph book, Orhan Pamuk came and sat at the table next to him. The attention shifted and the poor man was left with zero.