- Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss
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[End Page 112]
In the moments after the accident, Professor Chandra saw not his life flash before him but his ideology. First came his years at Hyderabad, his BA in [End Page 113] Economics when he was a Marxist like everyone else; his PhD at Cambridge, when he realised India would have to liberalise if terminal underachievement were to be avoided; his first job at the LSE, where he became fond of saying that communism was simply the most arduous route to capitalism; his decade at Chicago, where Milton Friedman helped him change his tyre in the snow, and his return to Cambridge a full professor and a fully fledged neoliberal. And then the crash of 2008, the instant vilification of his tribe, the doubts, the pies in the face, the quite unintended intellectual reboot which meant that now, as he lay on his stomach staring at the tarmac, all he knew was that he was an economist, which was surely an ideology in itself.
"Professor?" exclaimed a narrowly postpubescent voice. "Have you been in an accident?"
"Of course I've been in a bloody accident!" he wanted to say—only an undergraduate could ask so perfectly stupid a question—but his mouth was too full of blood.
When the medics arrived, it seemed that half of the college had gathered to watch him being stretchered away, convinced they were witnessing the final indignity of Professor Chandrasekhar's distinguished life. Some were crying, though he suspected others were struggling to conceal smirks of triumph.
Professor Chandra, or "Shaker," as he was alternately known, tended to divide opinion: there were those who saw him as a cuddly uncle or grandfather and those he terrified to such an extent they would never make fun of him even behind his back. He, however, was convinced the entire student body of Cambridge had nothing better to do with their waking hours than to mock him for his failure to join the ranks of those Nobel Laureates whose names he had committed to memory and would recite like a mantra in moments of extreme frustration.
This year the bookies had assured him he would win; there had been two pieces, one in the FT and one in the New York Times, which were all but premature celebrations. He barely slept the night before the prize was announced, but when the news finally came he was snoring in his dressing gown on top of the covers and had to be roused by his youngest, Jasmine.
"Dad, wake up," she said, shaking his foot. "Dad, you didn't get it."
Chandra jerked his body erect, shoving two pillows behind his back, his reading glasses onto his nose.
"And who, may I ask, is the lucky recipient this time?"
"Some French guy," said Jasmine. [End Page 114]
"Not Mr. Capitalist in his twenty-first mansion?"
"It began with 'M'."
"Can't remember. Monbijou, something like that."
Chandra groaned. "Mondrian."
"Yeah, I think that was it."
"And I suppose they'll make Edith Piaf president?"
"I don't know, Dad. Maybe."
"Well, that's that, then," he said, pulling the covers over his body.
Ten minutes later Jasmine returned to tell him that a group of journalists were standing in the street outside the house. Chandra had gone out onto the balcony, still in his dressing gown, and politely announced the result of the committee's deliberations. It was his daughter's idea to invite them in for coffee, which meant he ended up at the kitchen table with four local journalists, one from the Grantchester Gazette, one from the Anglia Post, and two from the Cambs Times.
"We're so sorry, Sir," said a young woman, who appeared to be close to tears.
"It was yours," said the man beside her, who smelled of gin. "We were hoping for a fine party tonight."
"Well, now, now," he replied, touched by their kindness. "C'est la vie."
"It should have been you, Sir," said the woman. "It simply should have been you."