Few can boast of benefiting from the attention of Elon Musk, like the young Indian engineer Pranay Pathole who has forged a privileged relationship on Twitter with the richest man in the world, and also dreams of “living and die on Mars”.
This unlikely friendship has blossomed over the years into a real correspondence, rich with several hundred tweets and private messages.
But this week, the young man finally met his idol, in flesh and blood, in the United States where he is preparing to continue his studies.
It all started in 2018 when Pranay Pathole, then only 19 years old, reported to Elon Musk via Twitter a flaw in the functions of the automatic windshield wipers of the Tesla. Against all odds, the billionaire spoke directly to him, he told AFP.
“It will be corrected in the next version,” replied Elon Musk. In fact, Tesla fixed the problem in its next software update.
“I was blown away by it,” recalls Mr. Pathole, a 23-year-old computer engineer, “I took several screenshots, I didn’t want the day to end.”
His mother Pallavi and his father Prashant were so proud of it that they celebrated the event the same evening at the restaurant.
Musk, “very down to earth”
Daily at the beginning, their exchanges touched on the “destruction of myths” concerning the personal history of Mr. Musk and also “the necessity” of the space conquest, says the young man wearing a black T-shirt, like his idol.
His interactions with Mr Musk have become “much more casual” over time, he is no longer quick to share them with friends and family.
“Elon has become a friend of the family,” jokes his father, and “if he follows Elon Musk, if he wants to settle on Mars, that doesn’t bother us.”
Pranay Pathole is one of the few the billionaire constantly interacts with on Twitter, on average once every two days, according to public posts by Elon Musk viewed since late last year.
Their private discussions range from corporate information that makes headlines in the press to more personal matters.
“He’s super authentic. Like, very down to earth. He’s humble,” says the groupie, “it shows in the way he takes his time to respond to me.”
The impetuous billionaire is a prolific user of the American platform where he has 103 million subscribers.
Elon Musk’s candid, irreverent and often cryptic tweets are causing wild swings in the price of tech stocks and cryptocurrencies, prompting US regulators to scrutinize them.
The investor is now embroiled in a legal battle since pulling out of an agreement to acquire Twitter. The trial is scheduled for October.
Mr Pathole does not believe the billionaire acted maliciously, as some suggest. “He’s not a troll”, he says, “he’s an unpredictable man”.
When asked about the motivations of the boss of SpaceX and Tesla, whose fortune is estimated at 266 billion dollars, to maintain their epistolary relationship, the young person admits “to have no idea”.
“He must in fact be downright intrigued by my questions” which, however at first, were “inane”, he replies.
Trampling “the red dust of Mars”
“Elon’s public personality is the same in private, he’s the same man,” he says.
The time difference between the United States and India did not prevent their exchanges from lasting.
“I don’t think he sleeps much. He’s on Twitter most of the time,” the youngster is a little surprised.
Recruited straight out of engineering school by Tata Consultancy Services, India’s largest IT company, Pranay Pathole arrived in the United States last week where he will study at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Then, he hopes to work in an American company, preferably at Musk.
“I want to be recruited by Tesla for my skills. I don’t want any favours,” he specifies, hoping only that the boss, in person, will give him the job interview.
He says he aspires with him to a discussion on the colonization of Mars and the risk of extinction of humanity.
The reusable rocket boosters invented by SpaceX hold no secrets for the young Indian, who is also capable of conducting a philosophical conference in favor of space conquest with ease.
He often quotes verbatim his mentor, omnipresent in his mind. “+ Living on Earth and dying on Mars+: this is a philosophy that we share”, recalls Pranay Pathole, admitting that he is impatient to have “the red dust of Mars” under his soles.