Surendranath Bose was on his way back from the market with the fish and the vegetables. He was filled with child-like excitement. He could not wait to see what his son Satyen would be doing. Once he got home, he quickly changed and rushed off to check on his son. He opened the door to the store room a wee bit, and peeped inside.

A little boy of four, lost in a sea of numbers, was sitting amid stacks of pulses, lentils, oil, soap, sugar, salt, old beddings, pillows and old clothes. Dressed in shorts and a vest, the boy was poring over numbers, staring at them in wonderment. Numbers and math symbols had been scrawled in chalk on the red cement floor of the room. Satyen was looking delighted as he stared at the numbers and added more on the shiny red floor.

“Wonderful!” Surendranath exclaimed. “You got everything correct! Was it tough”

Little Satyen giggled. “Mathematics isn’t tough, Baba. Please give me some really difficult sums next time you go out. I finish them so fast.” Then, excited, he added, “Look, Baba! The red floor looks like a pond and the numbers and symbols seem to be swimming in it.”

Satyen, whose pet name was Bodi, named after the deity Baidyanath, had a special love for numbers. Every time Surendranath left home for some work, he assigned mathematics problems for the child to solve. Often, he told little Satyen to solve them on the floor, just to make it more fun and innovative. Doing sums in exercise books would seem like studying, but the same sums done on the floor would make it feel like a game. A proud Surendranath wondered if he should introduce some new concepts to the boy. The child seemed to be picking up maths so fast and got bored when there was nothing new to learn.

Little Satyen, or Satyendranath Bose, had started going to Normal School, close to their house in Calcutta. Born on January 1, 1894, Satyen was the eldest child of Surendranath and Amodini. It wasn’t very long ago that the family had moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata), the capital of the British colonial government in India at that time.

Surendranath worked as an accountant in the East India Railways in the executive engineering department. He had to struggle hard with many responsibilities that came one after the other on his shoulders. He was a well-read man with diverse interests in literature and the sciences. He even set up a small pharmaceutical company with a partner in 1901, called Indian Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works.

Six more children were born to the couple after Satyen all of them girls. The family eventually moved to their Ishwar Mill Lane house. Satyen was later admitted to the New Indian School. With every passing day, Surendranath became aware of his son’s unusual intelligence and talent with numbers. He himself had once wanted to pursue a career in academics, but could not do so due to family responsibilities.

Satyen’s eyesight was weak, but he overcame this disadvantage by memorising anything he had read just once or even just glimpsed. He got bored easily unless fresh challenges of difficult mathematics problems were thrown at him. His parents would wonder often if they would be able to give him the right opportunities.

The “problem” was resolved when Surendranath decided to admit his son to the Hindu School. Here, he would study with the brightest and the best and face competition that would encourage him to do better.

Satyendranath Bose was admitted to Hindu School in 1907. He was lucky to have parents who wanted him to get the best opportunities available.

Excerpted with permission from The Incredible Life of Satyendranath Bose: A Great Scientist of The World, Swati Sengupta, Talking Cub.