Chance is defined as something that takes place, an occurrence, good or bad, usually bad. It has its roots in the old French ‘cheance’, meaning fortune, luck, the falling of the dice. The word suggests a mathematical probability that something will happen. And Girolamo Cardano, the Italian mathematician, physician, biologist, physicist, astronomer, philosopher and chemist, as we all may or may not know, is referred to as the Father of Probability. For all Cardano’s polymath abilities, I wonder what probability he would have given that the following incident would have worked out the way it did. What would Cardano have made of the future prospects of a young man, struggling through school, born into a family that was struggling beyond belief to keep him in school and somehow try to encourage the intelligence he possessed.

Let’s call the boy Ahmad. Let’s take note of the fact that he could out-read, out-write and out-calculate most of his peers. Let’s also take note of the rare fact that this young man recognised his ability and worked hard to get even better, unlike a lot of those with multiple talents who, somehow, take their skills for granted and let them fall by the wayside.

One might even see the glimmerings of a polymath like Cardano in the youngster. Just a year short of his first graduation test in Grade 10, in a school in India.

Ahmad typifies that brand of young pupil who has everything going for them. Except money, of course.

And money, as we all know too, is an essential part of a good education these days. Without it, learning can become stunted and future prospects derailed. Ahmad, to credit his intelligence, is aware of the situation at home. He knows how tightly the strings on the money purse are pulled, how a lot of other domestic things have been put on hold so that he may have a chance.

What he doesn’t know, however, is how dire the situation has become. How close he is to being pulled out from even getting to that first graduation. Into this picture, paint the face of a total stranger. A man who simply asks the security guards, at the school’s gate, to be allowed in because he’d like to have a word with the principal. A nondescript person in non-flashy clothes who actually has to use a fair bit of persuasion before the guards, suspicious as all guards are trained to be, can allow him through.

Glitzy hand of opulence

Sometimes, these are the robes that a genuine philanthropist will use and it is we, the unsuspecting public, that are often wrongly conditioned into thinking that the dress sense of people of wealth is guided by the glitzy hand of opulence. When he is eventually ushered into the principal’s office and welcomed, rather hesitantly and reluctantly, all he has to say is that he has a certain sum of money — an enormous sum — that he finds surplus to his needs, and is there some way that he could possibly put it to use? Could the school use it to fund some good cause, some developmental project? All he asks in return is that his name not be etched in silver or gold somewhere, but to be kept totally anonymous.

It should be easy from here on for any reader to connect the dots, figure out who the beneficiary was of this stranger’s benevolence.

Would Cardano have picked it, in his laws of probability? I doubt it. This is an instance of randomness that will defy all mathematical probability. It’s the equivalent to winning a lotto, and it’s a story with a good ending, given the surfeit of stories of the other kind we are treated to every day.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.