The two visitors sat facing each other.

“How is the progress?” asked the coordinator.

“Not good.”

“That is not what we expect from a linguist of your caliber.”

“I know. They are so cryptic. At times they say a complete sentence in just one word.”

“Is that rare?”

“Very.”

“Should I then call them?” asked the coordinator.

“If you give me one more chance, I am sure-”

“This ends here. Thank you.”

“Are you then?”

“Yes. I am calling for the mathematicians,” the coordinator informed the linguist.

“Where are you going?”

“I am taking the cattle for grazing, mother. Give me my mid-day meal.”

“Come over here. Where is your brother?”

“Lost! Why do you even look for him?”

“I have not seen him since morning.”

“I have not seen him since we have returned, mother.”

“You know, all these worldly things do not interest him. There is more to my younger son that we realize.”

“I agree, but what about his duties to his household?”

“It will come to him. It will come to him with his marriage.”

“Are you getting him married?”

“Yes. I have already figured out who you will marry.”

“Devi?”

“No, not her. I have decided to fix your marriage with her elder sister. You know Devi likes your brother.”

“And he likes her. I know, I know. Wish he were here when I took her name. He blushes like a girl.”

“Now you should go. The cattle are calling.”

“I will return when the sun is setting, mother.”

“Do not go too far into the woods. People have been talking about something strange there.”

“I know what is strange there. My dear younger brother, Madhav! He has been going there for past few days now.”

“What? He went into the woods. Why didn’t you tell me that before?”

“Now, leave him alone mother. You only said that no worldly things interest him. Maybe he should return to the *guru kul* to study more. I am able bodied. You can depend on me.”

“As of now you are not showing any dependability by not taking the cattle for grazing. Off you go.”

“Fine. Fine. I will see you later.”

“And mother, maybe Devi goes into the woods too. That is why Madhav likes going there.”

Saying so, he ran away knowing his mother did not like such remarks.

“How is the progress?” asked the coordinator.

“Good.”

“That is what we expect from a mathematician of your caliber.”

“I know. They are so cryptic. At times they say a complete sentence in just one word.”

“I know. That is rare.”

“Very.”

“Do you have the recording of your session?” asked the coordinator.

“Yes.”

“Play it then.”

The mathematician did. They could see the mathematician deep inside the woods talking to Madhav. Of course, they did not know that his name was Madhav.

The mathematician paused the recording and said, “I must mention one peculiarity here. Their reference point for arithmetic counting seems to be None. They start counting from None and then proceed upwards.”

“That is counter-intuitive.”

“Counter-intuitive and also cumbersome. Wonder how they manage to count at all.”

“How do they? Did this habit of theirs lead to any issues?”

“Yes. That did lead to some delay as you will see.”

The mathematician resumed the playing of the recording.

“Absolute,” said the mathematician.

Madhav had an amazed look on his face. He was too excited to pay attention.

“Absolute!” repeated the mathematician.

Then the mathematician brought down one finger.

“One to Absolute.”

He waited for a response from Madhav. There was no change in his expression. He brought down another finger.

“Two to Absolute.”

He again waited for a response from Madhav. There was no change in his expression. He brought down another finger.

“Three to Absolute.”

He waited. There was no change in Madhav’s expression. Madhav had a grin on his face that refused to go away. In his excitement, Madhav did not realize the number of fingers the mathematician had. The mathematician brought down all his so many fingers.

“None.”

He then started from beginning, this time doing it rapidly.

“Absolute-one to Absolute-two to Absolute-None-Absolute-one to Absolute-two to-None-Absolute-one to Absolute-two to Absolute-None-Absolute-one to Absolute-two to Absolute-None! None! None!”

“Ah!” Madhav responded at last to the ‘None’.

“*Shuniya*.”

“Yes, None.”

The mathematician then carefully articulated the word Madhav had uttered, “Shooneya.”

Madhav held out his right hand and opened the palm. He then gently moved his left hand on the open palm to show there was nothing there.

“*Shuniya*.”

The mathematician was happy. This was progress. Mathematics was, after all, a universal language. He then brought up all of his so many fingers in one go.

“Absolute.”

Then he brought them down.

“None. Shooneya-Absolute-Shooneya-Absolute-Shooneya-Absolute,” the mathematician repeated as he alternately brought up and put down all his fingers.

Madhav bent down and plucked a handful of grass and said, “Poorna.”

He threw the grass away, smiled, and waited.

The mathematician understood what Madhav wanted him to say.

“Shooneya.”

Madhav picked up another handful of grass and looked hopefully at the mathematician.

“Poornaa,” said the mathematician. “I understand, None is Shooneya and Absolute is Poornaa.”

The mathematician was happy with his ability to copy the representative sounds for Absolute and None used by Madhav.

“Congratulations are due. This is the first communication between us and them.”

“Yes. Congratulations! I always knew that mathematicians were a better option,” replied the coordinator.

At this, the mathematician smiled and resumed the play.

He brought up all his fingers and said, “That is Absolute.”

Then he held out his next hand and brought up all the fingers.

“This is also Absolute.”

Madhav plucked a handful of grass, held out his hand, and said, “*Poorna mada*.”

He then plucked a handful of grass in the other hand and said, “*Poorna midam*.”

The mathematician repeated his action. He brought up all the fingers of one hand. He looked at them and said, “That is Absolute. Poornaa Maadaa.”

Then he held out his next hand, brought up all the fingers and looking at them said, “This is Absolute. Poornaa Meedam.”

The mathematician was encouraged by Madhav’s perception and decided to go beyond the declarations. He now wanted to declare an operation. The mathematician plucked off all the fingers from one hand. Equal number of regenerated fingers immediately replaced the plucked ones.

“From that Absolute-” said the mathematician.

“*Poornad*,” said Madhav pointing at the newly regenerated fingers. “*Poornam*,” he continued as he pointed at the detached fingers that lay in the other hand of the mathematician. Madhav then made a snatching action and said, “*Mudachyate*.”

“Poornad Poornaa Muudachyatee,” the mathematician repeated.

The mathematician then pointed at the newly regenerated fingers with another hand and said, “From that Absolute,” he then pointed at the first hand. “This Absolute comes.”

The mathematician was pleased with himself. He had conveyed to Madhav the first two steps towards defining a simple equation. They had declared two quantities and a simple operation between them.

Madhav’s expression had also changed in the meantime. Slowly the purpose of the conversation was dawning upon him.

“Poornasaya poornamadaya poornameva vasishyate,” he declared with appropriate hand gestures.

“Take away Absolute from the Absolute and yet the Absolute remains.” repeated the mathematician. It was the simplest mathematical equation known to the mathematicians. All of their mathematics was based on this equation.

Madhav realized he was receiving a gift. In the *guru kul*, his guru’s school, he had learnt that when strangers meet for the first time, they exchange gifts that represent their culture, values, history and their beliefs. He had just received such a valuable gift from these strange visitors. He repeated it in whole to acknowledge that he understood.

“*Poorna mada poorna midam. Poornad poorna mudachyate. Poornasaya poornamadaya Poornameva vasishyate*.”

“We have communicated the most basic of all equation. First, we made the declaration. We declared that we had two Absolutes. We then implemented the operator, the ‘from’ operator. This operator takes away one thing out of another thing. Alternatively, we can say the operator that subtracts. Finally, we stated the complete equation stating the effect of the operator of the two declarations. Absolute minus Absolute is Absolute.”

“Wonderful.”

“Thank you. Did you get a chance to review my recommendations based on this experience?”

“I see that you have made some recommendations with far reaching consequences.”

“Yes. You will appreciate them once you watch what happened next.”

Saying so, the mathematician resumed the play.

“None,” said the mathematician.

Madhav held out his right hand, which was empty too.

“None. Ah, you are making the declarations as we did for Absolute. This is None. That is None.”

Madhav then moved his right hand above his left hand, made a pouring action, and paused.

“The operation. You are declaring an operation. Into this None that None goes.”

Madhav smiled. He held out his empty hand.

“This None added to that None and the results is yet None.”

That was Madhav’s first gift. A gift similar to the gift he received. It was also his way to convey to the mathematicians that he had accepted the visitor’s gift.

“Now you understand the need for my recommendation?” asked the mathematician.

“A new equation?”

“Yes. Add None to None and you will still have None. Recall I had told you …”

“That their reference is None and not Absolute. Peculiar and counter-intuitive.”

“Yes. Everything they do is counter-intuitive. As if by rule, it seems. Notice, as against our basic operation of removing Absolute from Absolute, theirs is adding None to None.”

“Counter-intuitive by rule. We need to adjust to this. We need to create a new mathematics based on this equation to facilitate communication.”

“Are you then?” asked the mathematician.

“Yes. I am calling for more mathematicians. We have a new mathematics to develop. We now have None.”

This was Madhav’s second gift, one he never knew about.

Cover pic by K-State Research and Extension