Few people can boast of having candid conversations about conquering the planet with Elon Musk, but for Indian software engineer Pranai Patola, a friendly conversation with the world’s richest man is just a tweet away.

Their unlikely online friendship has blossomed since Pethall was a teenager, with the giant billionaire responding to him with hundreds of tweets and private messages with company news and even life advice.

The two finally came face-to-face this week when Patol traveled to the US — his first trip abroad — to pursue a master’s degree in business analytics.

“He is extremely genuine. As if down to earth. He is modest,” the 23-year-old told AFP beforehand. “The way he’s taking his time to answer me… just shows.”

Musk is a prolific Twitter user, often posting more than 30 times a day to his 103 million followers.

But it remains a mystery why the boss of SpaceX and Tesla, whose capital is 266 billion dollars, maintains regular contact with the young Indian.

“Honestly, I have no idea. I think he must be very intrigued by my questions,” Patole told AFP from his parents’ upper-middle-class home in the western city of Pune.

Patol’s account is one of the few that the billionaire replies to frequently, averaging once every two days, based on Musk’s public Twitter posts since early 2020.

The first time Musk responded to him was in 2018, when Patol, then 19 years old, pointed out a flaw in Tesla’s automatic windshield wipers.

“Fixed in next release,” Musk replied, and Tesla fixed the issue in the next software update.

His mother and father celebrated the occasion by taking him out to dinner that evening.

“Honestly, I was amazed,” says Patol. “I took a few screenshots of it and just didn’t want the day to end.”

Their later private chats — at first daily — covered “debunking the myths” about Musk’s past and discussing why colonizing other planets is “necessary,” Patol says.

“I asked him stupid questions, stupid questions. And he was in no hurry to answer me.”

The time difference between the US and India has hardly hindered the four-year virtual friendship.

“I don’t think he sleeps that often. Because he’s on Twitter most of the time,” says Patol.

“He’s an unpredictable guy”

Patol says that interactions with Musk have become “much more casual” over the years, and he no longer rushes to share them with friends and family.

“Ilon is the same person both in public and in private,” he says.

Musk’s candid, irreverent and often cryptic tweets have sent stock prices and cryptocurrencies wildly swinging, attracting the attention of US regulators.

The billionaire investor is also embroiled in a bitter legal battle with Twitter itself over its efforts to renege on a deal to buy the company, with the trial set to begin in October.

But Patol rejects suggestions that the billionaire is acting with malicious intent.

“I don’t think he’s a troll,” says Patol. – He is an unpredictable guy.

Patole, who was hired by Tata Consultancy Services, India’s largest IT firm, straight out of engineering college, says he was “notorious” for getting into trouble at school – a trait he says serves him better understand Musk.

Traveling to the US last week with goodies for Musk, he hopes not only to get a degree from the University of Texas at Dallas, but also to gain experience at an American company, including any of Musk’s companies.

“I want to get a job at Tesla on my own merits. It’s not that I want any favors. It would be good if he could interview me,” says Patol.

After their meeting, Patol posted a photo of the couple that Musk “liked.”

“Live on Earth, Die on Mars”

Dressed in a black T-shirt in the style of his idol, Patoul can explain the intricacies of reusable rocket boosters with equal ease and make a philosophical case for space exploration.

He often quotes the billionaire entrepreneur’s comments verbatim.

“Live on Earth and die on Mars: that’s the philosophy we all share,” says Patol, adding that he wants to grow old and die with “red Martian dust” on his feet.

Pathole has amassed a six-figure Twitter following, adding more every time Musk mentions him on Twitter.

Even offline, Musk is a frequent topic of conversation around the dinner table with Patol’s family and friends.

“Elon is like our family friend,” jokes father Pranaya Prashant, a media consultant, adding that he and his wife Pallavi, a housewife, were proud of their son’s passion.

“If he follows Elon Musk, if he wants to settle on Mars, we don’t mind.”

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