Saturday, January 14, 2006

Memoirs of a Last Bench Romeo-I

For the nerd who lurks within me, biding his time. For the nerd who lurks within all of us, awaiting passion.

I fell in love on, fittingly, Valentine's Day, 1999. I remember the date only because it was Valentine's. It wasn't really love at first sight, or anything as cliched as that. But if I had to pick one day of my life, as some sort of turning point, I suppose it would have to be this day.

It was a perfectly normal Valentine's day; the girls all giggly and the guys trying their best to act indifferent. Nobody really paid any attention to any of the classes, even the interesting ones. It was in a free period (granted by the exasperated teacher, after a few minutes of wasted effort), an hour or so after lunch, that it happened. Looking back now, I guess it was something like love at first sight, because even though we had known each other pretty much all our life, it was the first time I felt that way, a tantalizing whiff of what lay in store for me over the next three years.

Our class 'brain' (I'll call him B), oblivious to all else, was working on a geometrical proof he'd dug up from some obscure question bank. Surprisingly for him, he was unable to solve the problem. He started passing it around. The problem reached me through her, that is, she passed it to me. I looked up at her, smiled my thanks and looked at the figure on the piece of paper.

Parallelograms. A complicated figure looking something like the Great Pyramids, but with a trapezoid for a base. And areas. I had to prove that the areas of two triangles included in this figure were equal. I looked enquiringly at B; he said something about having to draw a perpendicular from the apex to the base. I shook my head, unable to understand, and got back to my piece of paper.

I concentrated. Unbidden, the thought came- parallelograms on the same base and between the same parallels are equal in area. I looked at the figure again. Two parallelograms-on the same base and between the same parallels. I smiled to myself, elated. I knew I'd got it, the rest of the proof was just manipulation. That was the moment; I'd never felt anything like that before. It was a kind of breathless exhilaration that made me so excited I actually had to get up and walk around a bit. The ego rush lasted for days; I was the only one in class who solved that problem. It intensified after the final exams, for that same question was asked. After the exam, B, all teary-eyed, came upto me and thanked me. He said that if it wasn't for me, he could have never achieved his lifelong dream of a hat-trick of Maths hundreds in all three term exams. By then, I was head over heels, what with heights and distances (in trigonometry) having caught my fancy, once I was done with geometry.

There was no looking back after that. I plunged headlong into her world; if it was geometry in 9th, it was quadratic equations and circles in 10th. I spent many a happy hour in the last bench with my friend Siva inventing theorems and finding, to our great disappointment, that they reduced to the original ones when manipulated a little more. Still, it was great fun and besides, we did come up with some new proofs which we showed proudly to our Maths teacher. But 10th was marked by one major mathematical event: the Horse Question. It was this question in areas that came in the boards (CBSE) that apparently very few people solved. It needed one very simple insight, and once you got that it was six marks for the taking. And it was the all-important boards, wasn't it? Six marks could mean everything. We (me and Siva) didn't have any trouble with it, considering the amount of practice we had (we'd solved two whole question banks apart from our textbooks, that's how obsessed we were). It became a matter of prestige for us, even after we joined college. I remember, in the first semester, when we were meeting new people almost every day, one of the first questions we asked each other (after establishing that we were from CBSE schools, of course), was almost invariably about this.
It would go something like this:
#1 (feigning casualness): Hey, remember that question in the 10th Maths exam?
#2 (knowing fully well which one): What do you mean, 'that question'? Which one?
#1 (knowing fully well that #2 knew which one he meant; but the farce had to be played out to its completion, didn't it?): Oh, you know, the one with the three horses grazing in the triangular plot.
#2: Oh, that one. (shaking his head) Man, I had a tough time with that one at first. I got it in the end, though.
#1 (nodding energetically): God , I know. I still remember how fuckin' good I felt when I got it.

And so forth. Everybody had a tough time with it at first, but always managed to solve it in the end. An instant bond would be formed; this conversation marked the beginning of many friendships. It didn't matter how many marks we'd scored, 'coz dammit, we'd solved the Horse Question. We would get all misty eyed over that paper, and nod knowingly to one another after long nights spent in fond remembrance, "Ah, but that was a good paper; it really was, that one".

Author's Note: I wrote this, and the rest of it (including the corny dedication at the beginning) around six months ago, in something of a melancholy mood. Blame unbidden, the thought came- on that. I mean, how crappy is that? I couldn't post the whole of it all at once because, scintillating though my writing is, I can't really expect you guys to take the time out to read the whole thing at one go. This is part parody, part fiction and quite a bit of fact. I'm not quite sure what it has ended up as. Hell, even this note thing feels like a parody.