Have you ever had a breakup?
Back in the year 2000, I had one too.
But I was excited about it.
I was inside a classroom. There were students all around me.
The tension was in the air.
And a strange piece of paper on our desks.
It read “CBSE 10th Board Math Examination.”
I was just three hours away from breaking up with Maths, once and for all. And then, I looked at the first question:
1) What is (A+B)2?
And I kept thinking.
And as I was thinking, all those memories came rushing in:
- The times that my Math teacher embarrassed me in front of my classmates!
- The times that my parents dragged me to the temple!
- And the last time I cleared my Math exam.
My life has been a painful coefficient of a stupid subject called Maths!
And the biggest bane of my existence was my Math teacher. Mr Ponnappa Ilayaraja Parmeshawaran Iyer lovingly called Pi-Square! He made me sit through not one, not two, not three, but 11 retests after the pre-boards. Heck, I took a full-fledged exam even the day before the Math board exam! And I failed that one too!
It was depressing! Not the scores, but how my parents reacted to my incompetency and treated me!
For years, they:
- Fed me milk with Almonds, thrice a day
- Ladyfingers with meals, thrice a day (Indians say that eating ladyfingers is good for the brain)
- Memory pills, the size of a walnut, at least a dozen times a day!
While my classmates were frequenting night-stays and dates, I was frequenting trips to the washroom. Due to indigestion!
And despite all that, the best score I could manage was an eight out of 100 in one of the term exams!
Frustrated, my parents yelled! “What’s wrong with you?”
I remember thinking, “Maybe, it’s time to turn to the supernatural powers!”
So, my folks consulted an astrologer who declared that “Lord Shani” (Saturn) had cast a spell on me after studying my horoscope!
And for the next couple of years:
- Rain or sunshine
- Weekdays or weekends
They dragged me to the temple every-SINGLE-day! And, of course, at the start of every term exam.
They would arrange a special Pooja where the priest would hand me a coconut smeared with oil and rose water.
I was to smash it into two pieces.
But every time I tried to throw, the damn thing either used to slip out of my hand or would shatter into a dozen pieces.
Both were terrible omens!
My dad’s reaction was almost always the same.
After a few tries, I couldn’t bear to see him suffer, so I said, “Dad, let’s get our own coconut!”
Of course, that didn’t help either!
Those moments made me question God if he’d deliberately made “Math” difficult. Maybe to “entertain himself.”
At least Pi Square was having fun!
I would struggle for hours with the same problem over and over again, only to write down the wrong answer!
Knowing Pi Square, I believed that Maths was an acronym for Mentally Affected Teachers Harassing Students! Because he never answered my questions. Questions that deeply disturbed me:
- Like the number system — why do we have so many types of numbers? Even numbers, Odd Numbers, Negative Numbers, Positive Numbers, Natural Numbers, Imaginary numbers, Irrational numbers, Rational Numbers and WHOLE numbers! Can’t numbers just be NUMBERS? Why do they need to have a personality?
- Why were things so fishy: like the X always being UNKNOWN? Or the LHS always wanting to be equal to the RHS? Nobody knows what’s going on.
- In Trigonometry? “Why’s there always a MAN standing under a tree or a building?” Women were an option too! They could’ve used animals: cats, dogs or cows! But the man had to be sacrificed.
Boy, it was frustrating! Each time I would ask Pi Square these questions, he would throw me out of the class!
And that was like 79.83% of the time.
Alright, I just made that up because Stats was the only class that I ever attended!
From outside the classroom to the examination hall, it was one heck of a journey.
And here I was again.
For that one last round.
The clock was ticking, and my thoughts were racing.
And I was so close to this breakup!
Freedom was just outside the door.
I had my best! And I did. Three hours later, I emerged victoriously!
I attempted 100% of the questions.
50% was what I vaguely remembered from the 11 retests.
For the rest, I wrote down the questions because I didn’t know the answers.
Everyone thought I would fail, but I proved them wrong! Not only did I clear the exam, but I cleared it with flying colours — a clear 233% improvement over my average Math scores.
33 out of 100!
My parents couldn’t believe it!
Pi Square couldn’t believe it!
I couldn’t believe it! Because I’d written answers worth just 28 marks!
I don’t know what happened, except that I answered the first answer correctly.
What is (a+b)2
My response: a2+2ab+b2
Just don’t ask me how I got to it.
P.S. This is an excerpt from a talk that I delivered in 2014 to a bunch of engineering students