“Please do not snap your fingers”

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INFORMS, 1995. Washington DC. Evening. Dark clouds approaching, likely thundershowers later.

My first PhD student Jay Swaminathan had just won the Nicholson Prize. At the end of the day, I was getting ready to go have dinner with my fiancée (now wife) Gunjan, and my other PhD student (now INFORMS President), Pinar Keskinocak. 

Impatient for a cab, I did what many Indian men (still likely) do:

I raised my hand and snapped my fingers, to hail a cab.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Egon Balas, who had earlier that day won the von Neumann Theory Prize, go pale as a ghost, and shout:

Sridhar! Please do not snap your fingers.

Of course, I asked, why not?

It reminds me of being tortured.

By the Nazis?

No. The Nazis were amateurs. It was the communists.

You were tortured by the Nazis and the Communists?

It is a long story.

Perhaps you can join us for dinner, and tell us.

It was the most astonishing dinner I have ever had.

Why don’t you write a book? I will make a movie out of it.

I am thinking about it. I will send you the draft. 

What is the title?

Against All Odds.

As many of you know, the published version (in 2000) was retitled Will to Freedom.

I still cherish the draft Egon gave me, sometime  in 1995/6, and reread it with amazement. 

And all the fun dinners after the Washington DC one, both at his (and Edith’s) house and ours.

He was a great story teller, in part, because he had great stories to tell!

And playing tennis with Egon, Gerard Cornuejols, Steve Spear (and sometimes, Ravi Kannan).

I miss him.

PS: I used his draft to write a treatment for my Screenwriting class (in 1996). I opened it with the Washington DC scene, and cut to page 210 (of the draft) as flashback…. Got an A+.😊

1 comment

  1. Was the movie made yet? If not, when shall we make it? “Good Will Hunting” is sometimes said to be about George Dantzig (among others).

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