You may not know who the Nobel prize will be awarded to next year. I have no clue either. But, uncle thought he was going to be an awardee. He was to turn 80 next year and had been claiming to be a potential winner for several years. He was the older brother of my childhood friend. Uncle was not particular about the subject for which he would receive the award. Instead, he said that the committee would find a subject or create one to honour him.
Uncle was a modest man of multiple talents, with very little formal education. His room was always a workshop. To entertain the children in our neighbourhood, he would make and demonstrate small gadgets. He once made a little radio receiver with a crystal. Then there was the old machine with which he made dozens of gadgets; beyond the imagination of Fischertech, the manufacturers of the set. In the absence of calculators and computers, uncle also made a board with math sums; a small bulb would light when you touched the right answer!
In the beginning, the talk of the Nobel prize was a joke to all of us, including him. He would perform a scientific experiment to an audience and say, “now, does this not deserve a Nobel? I will surely get it next year.” And all of us would burst into peals of laughter.
As he got older, his frequency of mentioning the Nobel prize increased. Next year was always meant to be his year. After Alzheimer’s disease set in, he kept repeating this statement until it became words without meaning or conviction. It fast became a fixation, and soon the humour fled from his words.
Recently, my friend called and asked if I would want to visit them. I was shocked to see the emaciated form of the uncle who had deteriorated under an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s. However, that did not prevent him from announcing his claim to the award to me. Maybe he believed that I was another contender and hence could thwart his chances to win!
Before I could think of a proper reply, his mind seemed to drift to another place and he soon gave me a blank look that held no signs of recognition. He also complained that no one gave him breakfast, which was untrue and typical of his condition.
I left my friend’s home reminiscing sadly about the way he used to entertain hundreds of children with his homemade gadgets. I hoped he would live another year and someone would tell him about that year’s Nobel winners, and he would repeat with a sparkle in his eyes, that the next year would be his. Alas, he didn’t.