Memoir: Mathematics and Me

Even though reading came as early as mathematics in my life, I took to writing much later. And now, writing is a permanent part of my life. But did learning—or failing at learning—mathematics make me a better writer? I wish to delve.

I choose to, decide to, make myself sit and write about something that I have hated all my life. Yet, it is comforting and consoling to discover that I truly am good at certain aspects of it. In comparison to mathematics, though, I have found that deriving a unique solution isn’t as mandatory in real life. Even when, in either case, all we do is define and chase variables.

Back when I was young, the teachers would seem to me as those hungry beasts that could smell the fear in my blood and flesh. Only, in this case, the feeling thrived on mathematical complexities. It was truly the survival of the fittest and, naturally, I’d fall prey to variables x and y.

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Now when I think about it, I find that the contention of mathematics teachers was a result of agony. That’s because I was not able to see what to them was but easily derivable. My equations were never equated, never solved. The truth is, I hadn’t even defined the variables worth equating. Life and mathematics: they are that easy; they are that difficult.

Since then, the writer within me has continued to mature. Now, defining problems in (or through) writing has been more of a revelation—I am not useless anymore. I am now entitled to receive respect—and bread—from the society. It has been one equation worth solving. They don’t look down upon me just because I cannot find x.

Even though mathematics and I have agreed on this ceasefire, I still hate problems that have two trains moving in the opposite direction. But now I’m more interested in describing the beautiful view from those trains. I’ve also come to enjoy the nothingness in my mind as much as my aggrieved math teachers loved populating my notebooks with remarks.

Today, as I stand in the middle of this tightrope, somehow balancing between “from where I have come” and “to where I lead,” I realize how carefully crafted is this design of nature. I see stream of knowledge converging into this ocean of wisdom: art, religion, science, and mathematics, I swim in all of that. Occasionally, I dive deeper into this ocean. And, whenever I do, I bring to the shore the rarities from its depths. I conclude, art and religion be made an everyday affair as much as accounting and mathematics. The discovery of this convergence, it seems, has had its effect on me.

At least in my culture, not a day passes without us giving obeisances to the parameshwara. But much like frills are to frocks, art is to the mainstream subjects; and religion, to living. There is much more to living than spending time defining the social behavior. That tells me why the Sanatana Dharma is more a way of life than just a religion. But, I am diverting.

The point is, there should be much more to learning than merely learning from the limiting perspective of the mainstream subjects. What are even the non-mainstream subjects? Those that teach us how to be open towards accepting the world as it is? As long as I remember, it is because of one such subject—that is writing—that I earn the well-deserved respect. Why can’t we teach writing at schools?

Probably that is why, in Sanatana Dharma, there weren’t any mainstream subjects. Learning came through exploration as much as observation; through listening as much as doing; and, through all streams of knowledge that flew into this mind from all directions, giving it the influx of the much-needed wisdom. All of our spiritual leaders and Maharshis wore all of those hats: arts, mathematics, religion, science. The most important takeaway is that they were all probers. They all passed through the same stages of truth: seeking, discovering, questioning, and experiencing.

This may not be the prescribed approach to solving mathematical equations. But, it does the job of helping me understand most problems, mathematics or otherwise. Turns out, one size (read approach) doesn’t fit all. I don’t hate the subject. I hate the approach I was given, the perspective I was lent, and the resources I had. The subject is rather interesting and thought-provoking. I, perhaps, was lame to not able to connect the dots, which I now have. I think I have finally found a thread that holds back the two seemingly opposing subjects that, for a long time, had occupied the farthest ends of interests.

LHS is now equal to RHS. 🙂