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Fear of mathematics

punjab Updated: Sep 23, 2013 09:27 IST
Pallavi Singh

School days were such fun! Friends, games, activities, bags of contraband tuck, midnight feasts in locker rooms and endless whispering after lights out in the dormitories. A gaggle of girls, chattering animatedly about the latest heart throb in the movies while waiting for the dinner gong. It was a magical time!

What spoiled it all for me was mathematics! A looming maths test was all that was required to make me morose, miserable and anxious to be back home. I would blank out at the sight of numbers, logs and complicated problems. I enjoyed all the other subjects and did reasonably well in most of them, but when it came to Mrs Sunderajan's class, I would break into a cold sweat. A statuesque South Indian teacher with a booming voice and a large, twinkling diamond nosepin, she would sweep into the classroom, resplendent in a bright silk sari and launch into the intricacies of angles, triangles and the Pythagoras Theorem. It took all my guile to become invisible in class so that she wouldn't ask me to come up to the blackboard and explain a sum. With my ears buzzing strangely and a feeling of lightheadedness, I would approach the task with the fear akin to a trapeze artist without a safety harness!

I remember vividly the visit of the 'Human Computer', the late, diminutive mathematical wizard, Mrs Shakuntala Devi to our school. She was not that well known or celebrated then, but she took to the stage with aplomb and reeled off cube roots and multiplication of nine-figure numbers within seconds. I recall, sitting there open-mouthed, fascinated and depressed at the same time. I wanted just a fraction of her genius to pass my maths tests, which I so dreaded.

Armed with languages as my favourite subject, I would pretend a disdain for arithmetic and console myself with an entirely self-created theory of "art and language students not having a head for numbers" until I read about Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Better known as Lewis Carroll, he was a renowned mathematician, logician and the author of my favourite books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and a host of poems for children. He was the master and pioneer of what is called nonsense literature today. So that laid to rest my modest efforts at cheering myself up.

Even today, once in a while, I have nightmares of having to solve trigonometry, compound interest and probability sums as a matter of life and death. Then I wake up and with a huge sense of relief, realising that now as a wife and mother, I don't have to deal with 'arithmophobia' any more.