Manu Remakant, after a brief break, is back with some lighter and ‘weaker’ moments concerning a certain weakness that runs in the family.
“453,” my daughter replied. I checked the answer on my calculator.
“No, it is 32.”
“Yes it is 32. You are right,” she replied.
“What is 56 divided by 2?”
“54, I think.”
I crunched the calculator again.
“No, it is 28. You are wrong.”
“Yes I was wrong. It could be 28,” she replied looking away.
“Ammu, tomorrow you have Maths exam. If this is the way you study the subject you won’t get through,” I scolded my daughter all the time cursing myself for accepting my wife’s proposal of tutoring her while she was away. I thought I could teach elementary Maths.
“Acha,” she cleared her throat, “You are asking me insignificant questions. The thing is you don’t know anything about Maths. Do you know anything about Trigonometry and the problems related to it?”
“No,” I looked blank.
“Do you know anything about the latest trends in Algebra?”
I thought about sin, cos, theta and mumbled with fear, “no.”
Ammu climbed up on the bed to put her hands on my shoulders, “Acha, go and watch TV, I will manage. I will tell Amma, that it was you who taught me, Ok?” I nodded and went back to my study room, with a bruised ego.
She kept her word.
Next day when I came from college, my wife was waiting at the veranda. “You took a lot of pain, teaching her Maths, alle Manu chetta?” I nodded with a smile. She handed me the answer sheet. 10 out of 50.
Little devil had talked me out from teaching her the previous day.
I don’t blame my daughter. This arithmetic-phobia runs in and around my family. In fact I have seen more three-legged men in my life than Maths lovers and wizards. One of my students, Vinod, survives in Maldives, thanks to Maths. Last month when he called me, I had a doubt: “Eda how do you talk to your students? I know your English.”
There was a long silence, followed by a longer sigh.
“Mashe, I talk in Maths.” I understood what he meant. As a Maths teacher, he limits his vocabulary to plus, minus, divided by, multiply and an unlimited supply of numbers. He has made a language out of the subject.
I told you about my family. My grandparents kept no accounts in anything. They had 9 children, and had to slam on the breaks in panic as the number teetered dangerously close to two-digits, which could invite all kinds of arithmetic problems in future.
My grandmother taught her children Maths, all by herself. The proof came in the pudding as well as in the marks her children got in exams. Every month during the jackfruit season mark lists came home along with the Maths teachers.
You want to meet one from my generation? Take my cousin, Unni. His Maths teacher had no idea what would come as answer for a question: “Unni what is 7 x 3?”
“540989.67”, Unni said.
Our enemies still say the teacher was discharged from the hospital only after a week.
When I got married this was a standing joke in our family circle. So in one such gathering, my uncles once again bandied about this anecdote to the newcomers in the family. They laughed their heads off much to the chagrin of Unni. Then my wife dropped a clanger.
“Well, how much is 7 x 3?”
“What?” my uncle asked as he was still laughing. He didn’t quite catch the question.
“Uncle, what is its answer?” my wife repeated, rephrasing the question.
All smiles stopped together. Deafening silence. My uncle stood astonished like a deer caught in front of an ambassador car. He slowly turned his head towards my direction. I looked away.
No one was even breathing. I saw my eldest uncle’s face reddening. Another uncle started prowling to and fro. My aunts looked nervously at their husbands, and my poor Amma’s eyes welled up as it was her daughter-in-law who spoiled the mood. Even Unni, who was at the receiving end of this joke, was not happy at this insult hurled by my wife. He also looked compassionately at my uncles.
“Did I ask anything wrong?” my wife asked me in low voice. “Nobody asked them this question,” I mumbled back. The gathering soon dispersed. Nobody ever said that joke again in our family circle.
My wife soon understood the weakness in our blood. And of late I have serious doubts that she is exploiting the family weakness. Twelve years back I asked her to pawn three sovereigns worth of gold to help me buy a computer. Boy, ever since I have been paying. She would blind me with Maths (EMI, Premium, compound interest, simple interest, LCM, HCF etc) if I dare to ask her questions.
I want to know some facts. Friends, please clear my doubts. The only place her eyes do not fall is my writings and column.
These are the things she tells me when I ask her how long I should continue to pay to get her gold back.
1) I borrowed only ten thousand bucks. I have been paying her 1000 bucks every month for the last 12 years. How long should I pay the interest to get her gold back? 2) Last month she said that the onion price is going to affect the premium, and I should pay the interest for yet another decade. Now with the tomato price shooting up should I pay more interest? 3) Does petrol price affect the premium?
Either she is making a living out of my innocence, or the bank is making a living out of her innocence or the government is making it out of a bank’s innocence. I am waiting for your reply.
“Manu chettah, how is my new saree?” here she comes with a broad smile. “Good, it looks expensive. But where did you get the money? I ask. “Well EMI…er…sorry…My Achan came yesterday.”