He took out a few note books, all of them with brown covers and a label on them, and then, he took out a medium sized book with a white cover, that I could recognise anywhere.
“R. D. Sharma?”
He nodded, and smiled.
I knew there was more to the smile than met the eye.
For years, I had single-minded hatred for R.D.Sharma.
Whenever anyone asked me what my favourite subject was, I always said ‘Maths’. I didn’t really like it. I loathed it. But then the smartest guys in class always said Maths was their favourite song, and I followed suit.
I have this theory that in any given school, the cruelest, most evil teachers are the Maths teachers. They are the ones who beat the children, crack the evil jokes, and bully the guys who don’t study too well. Maths teachers are also the least favourite among the students, and some of the hatred against them rubs off on the subject too.
I have always had problems with Mathematics. I remember, I had answered Two Nines Are Nineteen in Class 2, and the Maths teacher stuffed a Natraj pencil in between my fingers and twisted it. I started using Apsara Flora pencils (that had round edges) after that, not that it did much for my Maths.
Maths is like a control freak, commitment seeking girlfriend. You cannot flirt with Maths for a few years and then cheat on it with Social Studies. With Maths, if you’re good at it, you are good at it for life. Similarly, if you are bad at it, you’ll remain bad at it. All your life.
I used to dread Maths classes, and made sure I sat somewhere at the back of the class. I kept my hand down and resisted the urge to crack wisecracks, as I knew that the teacher could cut me to size by asking me 13 table.
If there is anything I detested more than the sums, it was the way they were made to sound like something fun. Like, for example:
“Hi. My name is Rishab. Last night, my wife gave birth to a son. My age is ten more than than twenty times his age. In ten years, my age will be four times his age. What is my age?”
How exciting! I always wondered who these people were who made these sums. Couldn’t they think of anything else?
And then, there were the upstream-downstream problems. I am going downstream at 20 km/hr. If the speed of the stream is 10 km/hr, how long will it take for me to reach a place that is twenty kilometres away, if I’m travelling upstream?
Who gives a damn, moron? Why don’t you try taking a cab or something?
Or those geometry classes where we were asked to draw a 60 degree angle with a compass. If I have a shiny little protractor smiling up to me from the geometry box, why would I want to do it with a compass?
Or those trigonometry problems with the cos theta and san theta. Even jokes like “Alpha Q cos ur Sec C” couldn’t get me interested in them.
I do not have a single memory of childhood where I enjoyed a Maths class, and considerable credit for that goes to my Maths teachers. Ranging from pure evil to the totally nuts, they came in all sizes and shapes, and you never knew when they got into the moods.
The best Maths teacher I ever had was Venkataramana sir. Not that he made the subject totally interesting and understandable for us mathematically challenged ones. But he could crack the worst jokes in the universe.
So, at the beginning of his classes, we would request him to tell a joke. The entire class would go, “Please sir, one joke sir. What, sir? One joke, sir.” He would smile, and then say something like,
“You want joke? Drink Coke.”
Immediately, guys would begin to roll of their chairs, and fall on the floor, laughing. People would hold their stomachs, and scream at the top of their lungs. Like a seasoned stand up comedian, he never laughed at his own jokes, and smiled contentedly at the joy he was spreading in the world.
The rest of the Maths teachers, were evil. From poking a burning agarbathi into the cheek to whacking the daylights out of students, I have seen the John, Johnny, Janardhan of Maths teachers. And all of them went a long way in increasing my hatred for the subject.
Now in school, for every subject, we had a text book that was prescribed by the NCERT. There was the usual NCERT text book with its brown pages that adhered to the highest quality of toilet paper available back then. There were questions at the end of every chapter, and every year, the questions in the board exam would come from there. We could have happily studied those questions and passed the exams. But no.
Mr. R.D. Sharma created a wonderful little book for mathematics aficionados, so they could surf through exciting problems of various types. While it was possible for anyone to mug up the problems at the back of every chapter in the NCERT book, the R.D. Sharma book was a little treasure clove of smart little sums that made life miserable for people like me.
I was in the Maths Special Class. There were about ten of us. Each as clueless as the other person as to what was going on. Honestly, the teacher could have said ‘dhinka chika dhinka chika’ instead of ‘tan theta cos theta’, and it still wouldn’t make a rat’s ass of a difference to us. We were a stoned lot, nodding through explanations, and hoping we were not the one who will be asked a question. And the reason for my torture, would be that one Mr. Kishore, who was 7x times his son’s age, and yet the moron wanted thirteen year olds to calculate what his age was.
Throughout my high school days, I used to wonder who this R.D. Sharma was. What he was like, as a person? I imagined him as a man in Delhi who had retired as a school teacher and took tuitions for children at his home. There, I imagined him to be the sum total of all the evil Maths teachers I had ever had. A ten-faced, multiplication table spouting monster who branded children with iron rods if they didn’t know the answer.
My misery with Maths went on for a few years, and then it was the Grand Finale. The Board Exams.
I don’t really understand the fuss made behind board exams in India. For heavens sake, its just a bunch of fourteen year olds going to give an exam so that they can move on to the next class. Parents and teachers in India make it seem like we have to go to war.
The tenth standard guys in our school were given special timings, milk in the night, inspirational talks by teachers, and lectures of the ‘future’. There was a sense of going to battle, like a song from a J.P. Dutta movie. Students would touch the feet of the teacher before entering the exam hall.
I never really understood that. Quite clearly, the question paper has been set, and you only know as much as you learnt. Will some gyan get transferred from the teacher’s feet if you touch them before entering the hall?
Because of all the ballyhoo about the exam, I was wary of it from my ninth standard itself. Finally the day came when the dates were out. I read the list and my heart sank. We had ten days gap for the Maths Board Exam.
I knew I should have been happy that there were so many days. But I had a fair understanding of my abilities, and knew that no matter what I did, there was a certain upper limit to what I was going to score.
Quite expectedly, each gap day seemed worse than the previous one, as the dreaded day neared closer. The day before the exam was Shiv Ratri and as per the norm, we stayed all night in the mandir, studying mathematics amidst thousands of devotees singing bhajans of Shiva.
I remember making a long list of prayers to Lord Shiva the previous night. That I will never complain against anything ever in my life. I will never think bad things about anyone, and do bad things to myself thinking about those bad things. I will never waste food, and I will study well and make my parents proud.
The days after the board exams are hardly as peaceful as you would expect them to be. Parents, relatives, neighbours, friends, and anyone else who lives around you wants to know how you did, and when the results will be out, and what you will do next.
It hardly mattered what you told them, because they knew what they wanted to tell you anyway. Finally, our results were declared. Without looking at the name of the subjects, I looked at the numbers. Scrolling down, I saw it. Standing out against the others, sitting comfortably, was a fat 53. I looked at the subject and it was Maths. That was all I wanted to know.
I remember thinking how I would get rid of my R.D. Sharma book after the exam. Strangely, I didn’t do anything to it. I gave it off to someone, and it is probably still there. In tatters maybe, but still screwing the happiness of a fourteen year old somewhere in India.
A few days back, I was surfing the net and happened to remember R.D. Sharma and was browsing to see if anyone remembers him. Within minutes, I found it.
Someone had taken the pains to ask on Yahoo Answers if it was true that R.D. Sharma’s son had failed in Maths in the board exam.
It made me smile. I was not alone.