Friday, March 16, 2007

My Sweet Romance with Numbers
(Chapter I: ICSE)

Before I begin with this one, lemme tell you a little something I realized way back in school, God does really weird things. I don’t know why. I don’t know why he puts people through a cornucopia of painfully eccentric situations before finally dumping them again into a totally different state of affairs so they end up totally confused in life and know chickenfeed of what’s happening! Dudes either got no sense of humor or a real twisted one. I do not know why I was made to spend YEARS shredding my soul, getting my self dignity pummeled and sending my self confidence for a long vacation to Barbados in the pursuit of trying to make the tiniest sense of that mad subject of wild numerical calculations called Mathematics, if I finally had to end up with Law! Why Lord? Why me?

“YOU FLUNKED AGAIN?!!!” screamed my infuriated father waving what seemed like another one of those damned report cards standing at the doorstep, as I entered the house dead beat and in no mood for confrontation. Lugging a goliath of a bag, hair unkempt from hours of head-scratching, hungry, partially hypnotized, insulted, nervous and utterly frustrated from yet another Math tuition; standing in a corner I presented the image of a somewhat wild, subhuman creature loathed and unloved by the world. Gauging my precarious state of mind, dad somehow hid that vibrating knob of a fist behind him, “Vani! Give him some food!” he said and sighed. Oh that sigh! Worse than a thousand beatings, a million curses and a gazillion insults was that sighing. Laced with utmost haplessness and frustration, that sigh was something that cut me from inside, it was a voice from deep inside dad, something that told me how he felt and it broke me into a thousand pieces to realize that I had failed him, again and again and again and yet again!
Mom didn’t talk much; I ate my food quietly and stumbled away into my bedroom, but there was no peace there either, my little sister sat on her side pretending to study and the moment I appeared she said something under her breath that I couldn’t make out, frankly I didn’t want to either! Thus concluded another achingly usual day of my school life.

I lay down and my head suddenly swayed dangerously and spun like a misbalanced top about to collapse and all of sudden a collage of images appeared in my head in rapid succession, numerous somber pictures from happenings of the recent and distant past and others, I feared would come true some day!! I saw one of my Math tutors demanding exactly double the amount of what he charged others as fee from dad, to include me in his class, I saw my Math teacher at school hold up my copy before the entire class clutching it with only two fingers like as if she was holding a dissected reptile from the Biology lab, I saw my class teacher look up at me with an expression so pure with abhorrence as she pointed at the ‘Math’ section in my report card which was almost perpetually marked in red, I saw myself sitting for the same Math paper for the nth time and one day…..alongside my little sister!!, I saw mom unearth that hidden stash of weekly test report-sheets carefully buried away under my tablecloth, then I saw my class X Board exam report card screaming, ‘YOU’RE DOOMED!!!’ with a familiar red underline under my Math marks and I screamed……… It was 6.30 pm in the morning, time for studies, time for Math practice!

One could get a lion to chomp grass and maybe even smoke it if one tried hard enough, bringing Democracy to Cuba would seem way easier, even Gandhi could be brought back from the past to do a solo tap-dance gig and I bet even resurrecting the dead would be child’s play for some, but making a certain Mr. Ronojoy Basu pass in his math tests posed a challenge, a real thorny challenge, a grisly battle that decimated a million teachers and other ‘concerned’ individuals, draining them of their zest and zeal for life and robbing them naked of motivation to live or teach! Tutors came and tutors went, all of their formulas, ideas and so called ‘teaching techniques’ sent flying straight out of the window by my ‘number-numbness’, I still couldn’t do multiplications in my head and failed to see that those formulas and graphs actually had a ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ and were not playful sketches and scribbles of a mindless toddler!! I didn’t complain much about Statistics though particularly, dumb work, make dots and join them….job done!! No matter how bizarre the squiggle looked….that’s your answer….5 marks in!!
That’s how difficult my situation, rather influence was!! After limping my way up till class X my parents realized I needed superhuman help to clear the Boards and after looking around for a month and a half they did find one……a superhuman entity!

The man was over 75 years of age, seemingly feeble and bent with burdensome age but I kid you not, he was not our regular lonely old man! He was sturdy, maybe too strong for his age, extremely alert, highly self reliant and equally fowl mouthed, but my respect for him rooted from his absolute simplicity, a trait so strangely endearing, I seemed to like him in spite of all the thrashing and hollering he hauled at me. Mr Kalipada Das’s mental faculties at the right side of 75 were still intact and gleaming, and it wasn’t only his brain that retained the sharpness of the past, so did his tongue and he happily employed it to rebuke me time and again! And his physical agility…..was something to reckon with, perhaps for the one year he taught me, pounding me black and blue was the principal workout which he disciplined himself into doing regularly! Mr. Das was an ace in Chemistry and Math and Physics was child’s play to him, the very subjects he was entrusted to teach me. His homework for two days would be a quarter of the entire Math syllabus, although he’d made it very clear from the beginning that his major ‘tool’ would be practice, I hardly realized he’d go overboard with it! As I had expected and my parents feared, after the first two months our reverend old tiger threw up his hands in the air and said,
GONE CASE”! , “YOU boy are a LEGEND….please GET OUT!! Then followed another series of visits by dad and mom to convince him to keep teaching me and not lose hope and that I was working hard and also that I might after all manage to pull it through!

I did actually work hard practicing Math, fearfully hard, so much so that the other subjects suffered. Within months my room started filling up with stacks and piles of ‘long exercise books’ and Class X Math practice books, there was not a single book left in the market un-purchased, not a single long exercise book left to be bought from the nearby stationary, and with the long, late night shifts reserved for dedicated Math practice the situation gradually started to look real nutty….I began solving quadratic equations in my sleep, I started inadvertently assigning various characters in English literature, ‘X’s and ‘Y’s!!, I always found myself picking my teeth with divider needles and actually enjoyed it!, one morning dad discovered little algebra formulas scrawled on the bathroom walls and the oddest of them all, I'd begun jabbering with myself...complete with expressions and gesticulations.... !! So none at all, other than young Mr. Basu could correctly, rather in a tad exaggerated manner, represent what normally became of Bengali teenagers a few months before the grand, much feared ICSE exams began!! Brrrrr!
One morning I was dragged out of bed by mom, she asked me to dress quickly for we were going to meet someone very special, someone old and august, someone who could foresee the future…..a great old soothsayer! Even before I could ask what had gotten into them I found myself seated in a rather dark room smelling of incense and burnt oil, the walls were faded and had pictures of Goddess Kali hanging from them with small, slithery reptiles peeping in and out from behind the frames. An old frail man sat before me staring hard into my pupils….his eyes were piercing and watery, something told me he was the man! He was the one with the answers to my misery, my curse! He was gonna save my life…..after a few minutes of intense staring and glaring and concentrated dexterous analysis of my future, beads of sweat began appearing on his majestic forehead, the great man started rubbing his eyes vigorously, “There’s something wrong….I can’t see anything in there…please excuse me it’s time for my dinner!”, he stood up and left. I thought I saw him run!!
As the months rolled by and the fearful ICSE drew closer the fervency intensified and people began showing signs of lunacy and it was quite evident too, more than the students it was the mothers who were going bonkers! My mom was quite normal I am sure, I don’t see anything zany with the huge, ugly pearl ring I was forced to wear because it was supposed to make me “do well” in Math and I definitely never ever complained about the insane quantities of Ladiesfinger or Okra (Bhendi) and Bhrammi sag I was forced to consume every single day for lunch!! But it was all for good… least I hoped.
At the tuition front the homework load remained the same, Mr Das made sure my entire syllabus was done with way before crunch-time, therefore by that time I had done every single problem in my Math book, down to the tiniest illustration not once, but many, many times over. I even knew the page numbers by heart. Even after this much inhumanly practice there still lingered a funny sense of bewilderment every time I saw a sum, I somehow knew I would goof up! It just wasn’t my thing! It just didn’t feel right. And the more I practiced, the more mistakes I made, terribly dumb ones and paid for it heavily too, by surrendering myself to Mr. Royal Bengal Tiger’s ‘experimental punishments!!’, in more clearer terms, pinching my midriff till I squealed like a piglet, tugging at my sideburns till there were no sideburns left, rubbing his knuckles on my scalp till I wailed out loud and of course finally, the classical skull pulverizing slaps!! Nevertheless, the man made sure I kept practicing on and on and on…….an bawling and yelping too!!!!!!

Finally, the day came…….…and went! I waddled in and out of the exam hall like a sozzled drunkard, dragging my belongings behind me, dazed and hellishly tired. After having left a good number of problems half done and the rest to dear God’s mercy I was well convinced that what I’d committed back there on my examination paper was exemplary case of mathematical
A month and a half passed thereafter and then came that one fateful morning I shall never forget all my life, I snored away to glory very early that morning when mom literally yanked me out of bed and slapped me back to senses, “Rono, Rono!! You marks are out on the internet, come and check……..quick!”, the words still hadn’t quite registered adequately when I semi-consciously scrambled to dad’s room dragging half the bedclothes still entangled around my legs after me……carrying my heart in my hands I entered dad’s room!!!!
He sat in front of the computer glaring at the screen, I didn’t make the slightest sound, tiptoeing my way I walked up to him and THEN in what would almost seem like a scene straight out of a Bollywood masala tear-jerker, dad looked at me and smiled!! “A 62 in Mathematics, you’re in son!!”,
It hadn’t quite settled in that I’d apparently pulled off something spectacular, I sat still for a while, it definitely wasn’t a dream and dad didn’t quite look like he was joking, I tore at the computer and scanned the webpage up and down, over and over again sticking my eyeballs to the screen…. and then what followed was the Rocky IV exultation, if you know what I am talking about!!
The other high points of the day were an 87% in English and a cracking 96% in Technical Drawing, my additional subject, the second highest in my school, another daunting up-hill climb I’ll tell you folks about later.
A few months later we were informed that old Mr. Das, my Royal Bengal Tiger, my superhuman entity, my tutor was no more. Mr. Das, the real hero of this story had accomplished the un-accomplishable but died! To me and my parents he shall always be the man who saw me through a very difficult phase in my life….and helped me emerge successfully.
Well, I had no idea of what was in store for me the subsequent two years; the first major battle was fought and won with the final one still impending. But yet, what kept up the ecstasy were the expressions I’d brought out in people’s faces……..zapped!!! Dude sitting up there
DOES have a point after all!