Thursday, February 10, 2011

Maths and Me

I don't think years have improved my outlook or equipment in regard to mathematics, although as a grown-up I am not supposed to give out my real feelings in the matter. I have to keep up appearances before youngsters. So that the other day when I found my nephew (who has evidently imbibed my tradition in mathematics) literally in tears, sitting at his desk and chasing an elusive sum, In told him patronisingly, "Well, there is no use shedding tears over mathematics. If you read the sum correctly and think it over calmly, I am sure you will get the answer. The thing is you must not be in a hurry. You must be very calm, I tell you. At your age, do you know how we were managing it?" And I told him what I fully knew to be a cock-and-bull story about my prowess and industry in this subject. He asked, "Won't you help me do this sum?" I looked at it critically. It was something about profit and loss. As I gazed at the sum, the answer suddenly flashed on my mind. I casually turned to the last page to see if my answer was correct. It wasn't. I gently put down the book, telling the boy. "Well, of course. I can do this sum but, you know, my 'working' will be different: it won't be much use to you. You must do it in the way it has been taught in your school; moreover, you must learn to depend on your own effort. Otherwise you will not learn." I hastily moved out of the pale of mathematics.

(excerpted from Higher Mathematics, from a collection of essays, A Writer's Nightmare, RK Narayan)

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