Friday, January 27, 2006

Memoirs of a Last Bench Romeo-II

I came to 11th, full of anticipation, for I was now free from the shackles of History, Hindi and the like. Except for English, of course, but I didn't mind English. I mean, you can't have everything, now, can you? Nothing stood between us now. Biology was always there, but the teacher gave up after we were thrown out of three consecutive classes for fooling around with T-functions while she was telling us all about how bacteria ate and drank. Yup, while the others read Penthouse and Playboy in Bio class, we flirted with number theory. Of course, not that we didn't read porn, we saved it for the English classes. We paid attention only in one Bio class, and that, obviously, was the class on reproduction. We even asked doubts.

My obsession really peaked around the middle of that year; for like moths to a flame, all the maths freaks in our class were drawn to the last two benches. It was easily one of the best periods of my life, for it was the first time that I was truly consumed by a passion. In the best traditions of Coca-Cola, I ate, drank and slept maths. And best of all, I was surrounded by similar-minded people, guys who truly understood and more importantly, shared my passion. We really went crazy around this time. We used to trawl the Net for interesting questions and email them to one another. The challenge was to solve them as fast as possible and email the solutions before anyone else did. We never cheated on one another, it was unthinkable on our part to do so. And this wasn't during the vacations when we'd rarely meet, but every single day after class.

Although we scarcely knew it then, all was not well, for we were soon corrupted by the power which comes with the knowledge of one's own competence. I think our teacher actually felt intimidated by us, for in our arrogance, we looked down upon her. She couldn't touch us, because our credentials were impeccable. We were the principal's Golden Boys, the ones who stood her school the best chance of getting a decent result. We turned into major show-offs; we would actually time each other when given a problem in class, and announce, instead of the answer, the best time to the whole class. We rarely let her complete a problem in class, because one of us would almost invariably come up with an easier method and then browbeat her with it until she'd admit, almost apologetically, that it was the better method. Homework would be dismissed contemptuously, and we'd finish it before class ended. Ah, but we were young then, and the blood ran hot in our veins.....

And then, in 12th, the last year of school, came calculus. There was an irresistible aura, that of advanced mathematics, about the word itself. Hell, we were talking about whole new operators here. It opened a whole new world for us, an exciting world with limitless (pardon the pun) possibilities where anything could happen. Some of my friends who attended private tuitions had already glimpsed some of her delights, and they spoke, in hushed tones of awed reverence, of hitherto unimaginable feats that could be accomplished with ease in her domain.

I had an amazing time with limits, but was slightly disappointed by differential calculus. But it was with applications of differentiation that I could really get a measure of Newton's genius; it was then that I understood how powerful a tool calculus was. However, it was integral calculus that I truly loved, and always will. Integration is something that really tests the limits of your imagination; you have to reduce the given function to a known form. And you can pretty much do anything to make that happen. And the integral sign: ah, it is the most beautiful symbol in all of mathematics, as I know it, of course. No wonder Newton (supposedly) died a virgin.

Finally, Physics, that lone seductress among the other pure-as-distilled-water goddesses began to make her presence felt. She was quite literally forced on me, as I was in real danger of failing her. And the all-important entrance exams were coming up, weren't they? First it was kinematics, which I had ealier cursorily (and wrongly) dismissed as mere manipulation, and I was fuckin' good at that, now, wasn't I? I had experienced her before, but I had barely scratched the surface then. This time it was different. However, it was with dynamics that the rot really began to set in, and a new madness, less intense but somehow more complete, took hold of me. She toyed with us, tantalizing us with glimpses of the sheer rush that comes with imaginative manipulation, but never letting us, not once, really soar beyond the boundaries that she had so carefully, so lovingly marked out. Soon, I couldn't get enough of her. But this time I was wiser, and I took my time with her, exploring her intimately, before letting myself go completely. And when I did, for the first time in my life, I experienced pure, unadulterated bliss.

I'm sorry, my love. But we were on a break.

And now? Ah, now. Somewhere along the line, over the last three years, the ardor has abated and the passion quietened, no longer the all-consuming flame it once was. I don't know how, or why, but there it is. But I still feel the same way about this queen of sciences, and I suppose I always will, because I don't really see myself doing anything else. It has become part of my existence, like breathing, or fantasizing about Salma Hayek. I may no longer drop everything when given an interesting problem, but I still spend boring theory classes trying to perfect that integral sign. That is why, my dear mother, that T-shirt with the surface integral will always be my favourite, no matter how old, or how faded it becomes. Dammit, I should have bought two.

Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. "Immortality" may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean.

-G.H. Hardy in "A Mathematician's Apology"

45 Comments:

At 4:34 AM, Blogger dee iyer said...

ey ..
whats up da ?

 
At 6:42 AM, Anonymous navneet said...

now thats what a real geek is to whom i bow down in reverence.
though my subject preference was biology and i preferred not to top the class yet beat the teacher with questions i can very well understand how it feels.

 
At 7:06 AM, Blogger Prerona said...

beautiful ... stirr up many old memories or school and back benches (for us plus 2 was in school)

 
At 8:30 AM, Blogger Aradhita said...

coincidence eh?
just today morning I get this idea to write a post on 'My tryst with mathematics' and then I find ur blog(through ur comment).

You can say I have always been passionate abt math..the first quarter of life spent in passionately hating it, and now maths is the only thing I do(academically).. the turning point was when one day I realised that everything around me is governed by some law, and maths is a good tool to visulaise the beauty of my surrounding...

 
At 8:55 AM, Blogger S said...

a trip down memory lane...and the present of course...me eternal back-bencher and eternal math-lover... and the combo simply ROCKS!!

 
At 9:07 AM, Blogger Rockus said...

Oh my! Math people!!! lemme runaway :))
I really screwed up math!
btw cool articles! :-)

 
At 4:22 PM, Blogger Thetis said...

silly question, how do you find time to write soo much?

 
At 11:17 PM, Blogger hope and love said...

hey..! i have tagged u..
:))

 
At 12:59 AM, Blogger >|' ; '| said...

looks like u r a grade A genius! its not always tht one likes what one has to learn. when one likes what one has to do then... you knw what i mean..

 
At 1:32 AM, Blogger the One said...

Nicely done, these memoir pieces.

P.S. Was hoping you'd touch upon imaginary numbers too - the mystique associated with those entities, the fact that they exist purely in the realm of abstract thought.

 
At 2:06 AM, Blogger tenzin said...

dude u remind me of my good old days at school....wonderful stuff to read and an arch rivalry to anshumani..lol.....

 
At 2:09 AM, Blogger Guruprasad Kini (Guru) said...

Your love for Maths is really great, dude. Jiyo! Hey BTW, did you read Andrew Wiles' story about how he proved Fermat's last theorem? Simon Singh's Fermat's last Theorem (or Fermat's Enigma) covers this and makes a good read. Some of it was interesting but towards the end the maths used by Giles was way over the top.

 
At 11:13 AM, Blogger nandini said...

and that last para reminded me of another famous man's quote- Einstein when offered the Presidency of Israel declined and said " politics is for the present, but an equation is something for eternity"

 
At 11:34 PM, Blogger aria said...

Made me nostalgic too .. but with just the opposite feelings. How I hated these subjects ..
Heh! neat stuff to read yet again ..

 
At 12:21 AM, Blogger Siri said...

aaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!!!
fabbulous!!!!i first learnt diffentiation as a part of phys and then as math...and yea....its sooo mch fun to apply calculus in physics....!!!!!
Integration tho doesnt have the charm that say application of derivatives does!!!sigh!!!

Oh yea.....now i completely identify with ur thots abt physics!!!!!

good lord...Kinematics is the single reason i decided to continue studying....and well im known as the mechanics girl arnd cos thats like the ONLY thing i do alll the time!!!!
dynamics definitely is maxxxxxxxxx fun!!!!!
hugs!hail the brotherhood!

 
At 1:11 AM, Blogger Rita said...

O MY GOD!!!!!! What a passionate post!! But I am sorry, I do not share your passion for Maths and was only too glad to drop the Sciences out of my syllabus after 10th grade. In fact, I also sold my Chemistry book and ate panipuri with the money!
But yes, I totally enjoyed being a back bencher. I did 11th and 12th in a college and you can imagine how I grew wings there after passing from a Convent school! ;)

 
At 8:30 AM, Blogger mickey said...

this post is too funny. however, without language, one cannot communicate and explain mathematics to do anything with it. ;)

my half brother who lives in germany is a math geek as well and his uncle, jurgen jost, is the leading mathematician in the world, being the youngest recipient ever to win the liebnitz prize. so i can understand your love. :)

 
At 11:38 PM, Blogger dee iyer said...

meow.

 
At 6:07 AM, Blogger Phoenix Rises said...

You have been tagged! Check out my blog for further details. :D

 
At 7:48 AM, Blogger Dewdrop said...

You have the knack of churning up your nostalgic moments into brilliant literary. Btw today, I just learnt some old forgotten physics and blogged it up:)

 
At 8:06 PM, Blogger vibha said...

Newton died a virgin? news to me.. strange though

 
At 9:16 PM, Blogger A Hairy Snail said...

Ah. one more brilliant love story. :)

newton was a genius...and with euler and chaucy, became my holy trinity.

 
At 7:37 PM, Blogger Invisible said...

fabulous one ... brings images of school days, and those sudden passions that, though kept changing every now and then,drove everything around them while they lasted

 
At 10:18 PM, Blogger the Monk said...

@the one: I somehow had a love-hate relationship with complex numbers...I loved the whole concept of i, but somehow, things just didn't work out... ;)
@guru: no I haven't...but I'll check it out...sounds like an interesting read...
@nandini: Ah, Einstein...what a man...I could do a whole post abt him...
@vibha: well, he didn't marry...nobody's sure actually...
@ the Poultry-man: For me, it's Newton, Euler and Godel...he was amazing, man...

 
At 6:11 AM, Blogger Incognito said...

Was sure a backbencher till 10th. But 11th & 12th, with a class of only 14, it did not matter. About the subjects,
I dont think I am competent enough to comment.

 
At 8:12 AM, Blogger Jayanth Madhav Barki said...

I loved bio....I still do! Dunno why couldn't get my head working in math, but stoichiometry is ( was and will always will be) a true love!

Which school were you in?
Me from Kumarans.

 
At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Nishad said...

I felt the same way about Mathematics and Physics, and absolutely hated biology. But then I was totally unaware of the wonderful world of Evolution and Genetic theory (I'm not considering the filth they try to pass off as Evolution in school). Do take some time out to read "The Blind Watchmaker", and the "Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins, and I am sure you will be a convert too.

 
At 9:06 PM, Blogger cherubic_chipmunk said...

the memoirs were abs fab-i had a similar love story too but i'd confined myself to certain areas of math-i kno it sounds bad,like choosin' the fav parts of a body, but cant help it-subjects lik modern algebra never fascinated me...do com out wid more of such stuff-cheers,take care...

 
At 10:49 PM, Blogger Harashita R. R. Bajaj said...

nice post...u reminded me my school days...yeah man i loved maths too..integration...diffrentiation but above all i was compleately in to 3D i just cunn resist 3D...vectors wow...but that zest...that intrest is lost now.i donn feel that love for maths any more donn kno why..,

 
At 8:36 AM, Blogger Neha said...

more of ur romantic adventures with maths and physics :))
wats up?

 
At 1:55 AM, Blogger Ashmi said...

wow!....simply awesome as usual....so i find you're deeply in love with "maths"...good!...i too had a great fascination for solving difficult problems in maths and in physics...but alas! my love for literature separated me from your old liking that could have developed into love(perhaps)...oh! so i find you were one of those naughty baoys who simply enjoy playing pranks on teachers and embarassing them till their face is all red ;-).....my brother does the same...such a brat he is(though his stories make my sises ache with laughter)...and yes, i liked the quote at the end too....and i find another creature who loves to live in his fav old t-shirts , reason simple" i love it" ;-)...keep posting such delightful posts again...will be waiting .

 
At 7:33 AM, Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

wow....very passionate indeed. But..... "It has become part of my existence, like breathing, or fantasizing about Salma Hayek." An even greater wow!

 
At 3:19 AM, Anonymous dandy said...

Students!
What kind of fucking sermon is that?
Dandy

 
At 8:02 PM, Blogger ~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

Heh heh ... ur account reminds me of my passion for the subjects in 12th ...
English was one of my fav languages ... esp the novel : " Great Expectations " ... while everyone took " Dicovey of India ", my friends and I took "GE" .. and we really struggled thru it ...
Chem : loved Organic
Phy : Was a ggod one , esp if u picturised urself as the charge body or the magnetic field and all
But , Maths was a class apart ... Whew ! Circles and Calculus ..... they changed ur whole outlook to the scientific world
But in college , like you , lost the passion ...
And it has become even worse now ... while working

 
At 8:02 PM, Blogger ~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

i am unable to post comments from home if word verification is enabled ...

hence the delay

 
At 4:49 AM, Blogger Neha said...

great to know that the love affair has taken ya and seated u in a place...which i hope...u enjoy to be at.

 
At 9:06 AM, Blogger Akshaya Aradhya said...

You just proved my theory ->

"Student life is almost the same all over India..."

And amen to the bio and english classes...heh...

 
At 8:26 PM, Blogger ~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

:)

 
At 4:16 AM, Anonymous Hiren Shah said...

Very nice post-both style and substance. Your write up reminded me of one Sarar teacher called Mr Tandon. He made mathematics sound like poetry-with his beautiful handwriting and his passion for maths. It was like breathing to him like you have expressed.

Your writeup reminds me of Thomas Carlyle's immortal words " The person who has found his vocation in life is a blessed human being. Let him ask for no other blessedness". Also Osho on work and meditation.

Since you have been so specific, it would not be out of place to mention that my blog happens to be make your passion your profession

 
At 9:15 AM, Blogger Heena ... said...

'ey there,

I know it is long time no see... but the thin is, I don't indentify with your post... Cause I'm not a math whizkid... not even close...

Thanx for droppin by dude, and it's a good thing that you have passion for something... cause you know what the greeks say right?

[Invisible but Lurking]
- Heena

 
At 3:37 AM, Blogger Mirage said...

You sure had a lot many Juliets to keep you company!

Very 'calculative' lover it seems!

Great post tho! Reminded me of my struggles with Maths... there wasnt a thing that I despised more...

 
At 11:04 PM, Blogger niddlesriddles said...

great to see another math lover :) yup it can really tingle ur senses n the best part i love about it - we all just compltely have to live in this beautiful abstract world! we cna twist n turn around things the way we want n enjoy every single moment even if the final results turn out to be compltely contradictional! :p lolz! keep smiling :D :) Nice Postie!! reminded me of my 11-12th grade! n those college profyz! :p lolz :p

 
At 10:02 PM, Blogger Arunima said...

Amazing!!
I rememeber how we never used to go for breaks and sit and solve the problems though I was never a genius in that subject.

 
At 5:48 AM, Blogger nomadicspirit said...

these 3 lines dat m quoting r the most moving lines 4m ur post...simply cos they're so easy to identify with...we all must hv felt them at 1 or d other time.

"for we were soon corrupted by the power which comes with the knowledge of one's own competence."

happens quite often...got a feeling of deja vu when read those lines...an all too familiar feeling of havin bin there, felt that!

"It has become part of my existence, like breathing, or fantasizing about Salma Hayek."

hmm...dtz wat a ruling passion does to you, it well and truly takes over you; bt life's good n rockin' when u find her/him(or it!!)

"I was surrounded by similar-minded people, guys who truly understood and more importantly, shared my passion."

sheer bliss when u find a kindred soul...hv spent a gud bit of my lifetime lookin' fr the same.know the pain and heartbreak when they don't appear...ahh well allz well that ends well..so no complaints rite now atleast.

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger Cynthia E. Bagley said...

I really enjoyed your love of numbers. My husband was corrupted by electronics so he is not a pure math geek. However, I love the words. To me, there is nothing so magical as a well written sentence, paragraph, idea. Damn, you would have made a fine English professor. ;-)

 

Post a Comment

<< Home