Sunday, November 16, 2014


The pursuit of Centum

You really couldn’t have called it love at first sight. For the better part of my wonder years, Maths and I didn’t get along. There was a mutual respect for each other I’m sure- difficult for it not to have been, given one hailed from a family where everyone from the earlier generation seemed to have had a nasty hobby of getting 100% in any and every Maths paper they sat for. Where most kids are recounted tales of truant uncles and their misdemeanors, Lefty’s lot peppered his bedtime stories with tales of that Chacha ending his paper an hour before schedule and maxing it or that other Chacha looking at the question paper, blinking and his answer sheet suddenly metamorphing into a Euclid treatise (ok maybe I’m stretching it slightly). The annual ritual of getting a report card, therefore, would usually be followed by solitary question- what was the Maths score? Needless to say, I almost always disappointed. One particular incident stands out- when I aced pretty much every paper, even the formidable Sanskrit, only to get a 70-odd in Maths. It was like the other subjects didn’t even count.

There are defining moments and defining people in everyone’s lives. I find it fittingly symbolic, that mine pretty much coincided with my teenage. Just about a month before I turned 13, a gentleman called GP Sahay walked into my life and the rest as some would say, was history. The folks had given me an ultimatum- improve your Maths scores or private tuitions. Self grappled for all of two days, got yet another 70-odd score and the summer holidays announced the onset of the man who would dictate how my life would eventually turn out. Mr Sahay was not a slave-driver, he was just an exceedingly simple man who expected that what he asked be done. And he asked for some 100 numerical problems to be solved every week. The association lasted just about a year- a year of some 10 notebooks being filled with algebra, geometry, ratios and trigonometry, a year of scores jumping from the mediocre 70s to the scarcely believable high 90s and a year of a teenager discovering the most unromantic first love imaginable. By the time our move to the national capital was announced, a new world had opened in front of my eyes.

It now seemed only a matter of time when I too would go down in my family’s unofficial hall of fame as having attained Centum, that perfect score in an examination of some consequence in the sole subject that mattered. I wish it were that simple. Forget the full 100-mark exams, even the minor unit tests seemed intent on denying me my holy grail. Amity had this system of 4 unit tests for every subject in a year, plus two term examinations. I couldn’t crack a single one in my 4 years of high-school. I remember at least two 29.5/30s and at least one 98.5+ score but never the shat pratishat. Teased, tricked, tortured- I persevered to no end but it was just not meant to be. CBSE and I never got along. I wrote my Xth and XIIth boards believing (and a part of me still does) that I’d finally cracked the code but the published scores always suggested otherwise and the pleas for a re-evaluation would always return the same verdict.

The two years of preparing for the entrances ignited the kind of ardour I would scarcely have thought possible. There were new challenges at every step- complexities to be championed, nuances to be navigated, subtleties to be savoured. A band of brothers was formed to make the quest all the more enjoyable, or perhaps just to help survive it. There were days of mentally grappling with a problem, only for it to gloriously culminate in one eureka moment, often in the middle of the night. The analytical bent of mind cultivated through years of courtship helped make sense of those other adversaries as well- Physics the Plenipotentiary and Chemistry the Cunning. Maxing any exam here was of course a distant dream, yet it seems cruelly ironic that Maths was eventually the one where I just about scraped through.

College came and went with the complete lack of any academic endeavor whatsoever. The less said about performances in Maths-related papers, the better. I thought I’d got a fresh lease of life and one final opportunity when I entered B-school- that last lap of most academic lives. There was Statistics- a reasonably close cousin of my lady love. The mid-sem paper seemed so simple. And it was multiple-choice or binary marking- always my forte. The stage seemed set. This surely had to be it. Self ticked-off the boxes and filled in the blanks with aplomb, checked and double-checked every answer, triangulated most with any other method possible and even managed to hand in the paper a tad before the scheduled time just to finish things off with panache. 20 minutes of glorious hope followed, after which a chance remark by one of the others indicated that one question had been bungled. Yet again. So near and yet so far.

Yes, you couldn’t call it love at first sight. But unrequited love might painfully fit the bill.

Andhra Board - gets even losers like yours truly on the Lord's Honours Board. :D
Families ought to make cults around things other than Maths, though. Like how this kid aced just the one Biology Monday Test ever after ditching school books and reading brochures on their gynaecologist mom's table instead.
Well well, excellently written, as always! The play of words-'complexities to be championed, nuances to be navigated, subtleties to be savoured' is superb.
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