Until my 8th grade, I had no interest in mathematics or in studies. My intention was to read only how much was necessary to pass the exams and score suitably; which was 35 out of 100. I would prepare myself for this target and nothing more. Of course, I scored more than that, though, I never really intended to. After every exam, I had a habit of discussing answers and estimating a score. I always liked to see a number above 45 that could take care of my over optimism. But that continued only till the 8th grade when my mathematics score changed everything for me. I scored 35 out of 100. My father was clearly unhappy about it. I cannot recollect the exact conversation that we might have then had but there is no doubt that it had been an unpleasant one. However, what I remember very evidently is that this day onwards whenever I was to be admonished by him, I became the boy who scored 35 in mathematics. I was always called so when my rebellion had to be silenced. Nevertheless, it gave rise to some good decisions, one of which was to send me to mathematics tuitions starting from 9th grade even though I had to deal with the guilt of breaking a family tradition of taking tuitions only in the 10th grade. Unlike my two elder sisters, I was not eligible for another year of self-study.
However, what happened back then was only for good. Just a few blocks away from my school, a middle aged couple taught mathematics in their house. I do not recollect their names but we all lovingly referred to them as uncle and aunty. I was mostly taught by aunty and she was an exceptional teacher. She was very kind to me and perhaps thus, I gained interest in this subject. After an early morning class, while I and my friends walked past the school quarters, our thick bearded, scary looking mathematics teacher would stare at us with a look that emanated anger. It was not his disapproval towards our act but a possible retaliation that frightened us more. Thankfully, my father taught in the same school, so I was far from being his main target in the class but, my other tuition going friends were not as lucky. Our mathematics teacher was the most feared person in the entire school; a reputation earned purely by his behavior. Knowingly or unknowingly, he used fear as an approach to educate us. There was always a fear of failing the tests, failing his expectations and failing to remember. So anyways, I don’t remember how much I scored in my 9th grade but I scored a good 81 out of 100 in mathematics in my 10th grade. That to me seemed like a significant improvement. Perhaps that was not enough. But I had more opportunities lined up to display my progress. Academic education yet was far from completion.
School ended and soon I found myself climbing the stairs of a college for my pre-university education. That did not dwindle my newly found fascination for the subject of mathematics. I saw myself sitting in the classroom of S S Bosco, a very popular mathematics teacher in the state of Karnataka. His knowledge of the subject and teaching skills were his ambassadors. It was a coincidence that he too had a thick beard. He would identify students by their roll numbers. I was called number 90. He was extremely detailed in his approach to a mathematical problem. There were times when he would start from the top left corner of the black board and then reach the bottom right corner and return back to erase the beginning, while dealing with a single problem. Though he was not severe, he made sure that the pranksters received their learning. Once he had spotted a mischief-maker, he would approach him and repeatedly scan him from head to foot as though first, being startled by the bravery displayed and then, contemplating an appropriate redemption plan. Twisting of the ears and pronouncement of an atonement plan would follow that stare. I had my share of learning too.
One day, he had caught me drawing a monkey in my notebook. He repeatedly switched his gaze between the sketch and me. I was not sure if I had to be humiliated of being judged for a poor artistic ability or be embarrassed of an underlying metaphor. But he chose to remain secretive about his analysis and demanded a note signed by my dad in which I would have pledged not to repeat such an act. Additionally, his tests were always well timed and planned to prevent cheating and the question papers were filled with tricky questions; both difficult and interesting. That same year, he also published his textbooks.
His First year pre-university College textbook was very small containing a few examples and several questions. It was heavily criticized for being an abridged version. So, he got back the following year, with an extra descriptive textbook of 1000 odd pages containing not only numerous problems but also various ways to approach the same problem. For subject lovers like me that book was a treat as it broke a conventional approach towards teaching one problem with one solution. Every problem had a descriptive approach and a short-cut approach. In short, he made learning interesting. But my most motivating experience with him was yet to happen.
My grandmother’s house was about a kilometer and a half away from my college. During my lunch break, I would walk for about 15 minutes to reach there and relish over the tasty food prepared by my aunt. One day, during that walk, I saw Bosco sir follow me. I tried to fool myself by assuming that he was just heading in the same direction and not necessarily following me. That did not work for long though. In some time, I was certain that my mathematics teacher was following me. I hurried towards the house and got inside quickly. He approached the gate and then returned. I was terrified but glad that he had not followed me all the way into the house. It was only later that I learnt his intentions. My uncle had also been his student. He had great regards for Bosco sir. That following weekend, Bosco sir visited my uncle to have a word with him; during which, my uncle was informed about my performance. Bosco sir had noticed that I was a consistent performer, which was good, but the downside of that was, it meant that I was not exploring my limits. He thought I had great potential and with additional self-motivation I could excel. I was very happy to receive this feedback from him. As a teenager it meant a lot and that feedback changed me. I sure did not top Bosco sir’s tests but I scored 96 in my second year of pre-university exams. When I met him on the day of the result, he looked at me and smiled while saying –“You have hit a jackpot”. More than his appreciation what touched me the most was that he had taken interest in checking my results.
In four years, I had taken an emotional journey from being a boy who scored 35 in mathematics to the one who scored 96 in the same subject. But I am afraid that this journey was noticed and acknowledged only by me. I remain considerate in sharing this victory of a kind, with my great teachers who being within the system tried something different and motivated me to discover my strengths. After 14 years of learning mathematics, I sadly bid farewell to my favorite subject during my second year of Engineering.
On the contrary, I went for painting sessions for only two years. Post my 10th grade, during the holidays; I developed a keen interest in art. My mother noticing this talent in me recommended that I study from my uncle, a very respected artist in my hometown. But apparently, he had stopped taking new students due to his old age. After several requests from my mother, he finally accepted to have me as his student. My uncle taught every student of his for free. He believed that his knowledge was not for sale. My first visit to his house remains imprinted in my memory.
The open doors and windows of his small abode seemed to allow continuous interaction with nature. As soon as I entered, he asked me to paint whatever I wished to. Though initially surprised by that request, slowly, I began painting and with his inputs, I improved my knowledge of art. For the first time, I felt free to explore and learn on my own. There were no restrictions, no expectations or no boundaries. When I went there, I did not feel like I was going to study, but I was there to paint and that process itself became an experience; a learning. Most of all, I felt free. The time I spent there was not limited to art but we discussed literature, history and mythology too without fearing to write an exam about it. As a result, I developed keen interest in these other subjects. My interest and my freedom of consciousness became my biggest motivators.
About 20 years have passed now since these events have occurred and nobody remembers or cares whether I scored 35 or 96 in mathematics. Besides, nothing of it matters now, to others or for me. Currently, in my day-to-day activities, I barely use a math that was taught beyond secondary school. I fail to come to a logical conclusion for those 14 years of studying. On the other hand, even today, as I paint, I easily slip into what I believe is a transcendent state. I feel contented.
However, it is important to note that the satisfaction does not come from the creation but from the process of creating, the process of learning. And for such an experience, a conducive environment is a must. Hence, today, the more I paint, the more liberated I feel and the more I feel liberated, the more I wish to explore!
(Publishing an article I wrote a few years ago)