Is 450 a prime number? The Math controversy in Maharashtra!

I am so good at Mathematics that I am 100% sure that the number after 449 is 450! But is 450 a prime number? Is 450 divisible by 3 or 5 or 7? What is the square root of 450? What is the nth root of 450? My first statement is 100% accurate, but after all these arguments, I am now uncertain how good I am at Maths. What is the meaning of being good at Maths? Is your aim in life to become Dr Mrs Naralikar or Dr Naralikar? If it is not so, then you do not need to know the answers to all these questions. Why do we need to learn any subject? Why are we introduced to so many subjects while we are students? I assume that the main idea is to make us a rounded personality. See, the aim is to round off; we do not need to know the figures in fractions or fourth decimal in real life. 450 is good enough in real life instead of 449.9999999… etc. Is 450 a Prime number is a rhetoric question!

Recently there has been a big discussion going on in the state of Maharashtra about the way numbers are spoken and pronounced in Marathi. Mathematics expert Dr Mangala Naralikar declared that by changing the way the numbers are currently pronounced, Mathematics as a subject would become easy to learn. Majority of people find Mathematics very tough and challenging to learn and understand. This difficulty can create problems in these people’s day to day lives as their skill sets may not be good enough to perform basic transactions in day to day life. QED!

Q.E.D. or QED (sometimes italicised) is an initialism of the Latin phrase “quod erat demonstrandum”, literally meaning “what was to be shown”. Traditionally, the abbreviation is placed at the end of a mathematical proof or philosophical argument to indicate that the evidence or argument is complete, therefore used with the meaning “thus it has been demonstrated”.

See the Mathematicians want to say “I am done with a problem”, but they make it complicated by using the term QED!

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People taking part in Maths Olympiad, people talking of Fourier transform, discussing algorithms among themselves is fine, but when they start talking about their expertise in a WhatsApp group of ordinary human beings, things become tricky. Is Math Olympiad winner a genius or Sachin Tendulkar? Who has achieved more? Is achievement in Cricket lesser than achievement in Maths? In the academic world, a lot of importance is given to people who are good at Maths. They are considered geniuses, super intelligent, and so on. Is being good at Maths so important in life? In our day to day world, too much emphasis is given to Maths. One writes excellent poems, or she is a fantastic singer. Is it not good enough? Are you dumb if you are not good at Maths?

Ok here is a disclaimer! I have done Master’s Degree in Engineering and have learnt a bit of complex Maths. Come on! How many engineers use Maths in their day to day work! In my school days, there was an emphasis on knowing number tables by heart. Smart ones were expected to know tables up to 30 and also the tables for 1/4, 1/2, 1 1/2. I remember an incident which happened ages back. We were in Dallas in an amusement park. We bought something to eat, and I had the US $7.38 ready to pay. When the girl completed her calculation, I paid the money. She was surprised and asked me if I were a genius. I just smiled. I felt as if I had conquered the Mount Everest! (Not exactly, some minor peak!)

Why is Maths challenging to learn? I can find so many reasons. Proper methods of teaching and good teachers are the most important ways of making Maths attractive. My daughter Priya had a teacher who mixed up between one million and one hundred thousand. Then students are afraid about answers; in Maths, these are either right or wrong. Because of this black and white clarity, the human gets a little worried because he is proven dead wrong.

Many researchers think that teaching to find out approximate value is one of the best ways of teaching maths. Using approximation teaches your brain to collate your eye observation and brain calculation. If there are 25 oranges in a tray, ask children to tell the number of oranges without counting. By observation, we start to understand how to visualise and then count.

Many things can go wrong while learning Maths. You may know the method, but you may not see the reason behind it. So any variation in the problem will create issues of understanding. You will start feeling that you are not good at maths. It can so happen that you have solved the problem correctly almost till the last step, but you make reading or writing error, and write minus instead of a plus sign! Examiner will give you zero marks! QED! You are not good at Maths! But it is not so, you only have made a small error in reading or writing!

Learning Maths is like putting the building blocks on top of each other. If the foundation is not right, then you will find it difficult at a later stage. What you learn in school, you should know even at a later stage in education. Some of us are required to use mathematical knowledge in the day to day work too! Knowing fundamentals is essential for such people.

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The slide above shows where Maths is used in different streams. While I was doing my Master’s degree in engineering, we had Prof Wartikar who taught us Maths. For three months, he explained to us why Maths is essential to understand engineering subjects properly. Till then, we just used to study and appear for Maths exams without understanding why we were doing it.

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You don’t need things shown above in day to day living. To me, the fear of maths will go away if you have the right teacher to teach you. There is one crucial aspect, dyslexia.  People with Dyslexia find it very hard to learn maths for obvious reasons. One more critical point is that some people have the brain needed for Maths, and some don’t have the brains for Maths. These two extremes are not more than ten % of the population. But it is the rest 90 % of the people in between who face problems in Maths. What do we know in real life? Plus and Minus, a bit of multiplication and division. In real life, it does not matter if you take a minute more to count your notes.

What is the big noise about anyway? It is not that people do not count even with today’s method of pronouncing the numbers. With digital payments and computerised billings, you don’t count these days. The world has enough people who are quite comfortable with Maths, and they will perform the necessary tasks where complex maths is needed. Others are only users. It is ok if they find Maths difficult.

In all this episode, I saw a giant size ego coming into the picture. After some other experts created a big noise against the new method, the authorities declared that they would rethink about the original approach. Dr Mrs Naralikar proclaimed that if this happens, she will resign the post! Why? Can it be only my way or the highway?

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Musings Circa 60’s! Eateries in my life!

My friend Suresh wrote something about canteens in COEP, on our WA group;  that took me back to my childhood and college days. My first visit to an eatery that I remember was when I was a child; I had gone with my mother and other family members to a place on Tilak Road, in Pune, called Jeevan! I was on the 7th cloud and I ate a Ghavan! Now I am not really sure if it was a dosa or the ghavan, both very thin roti type of bread, made of completely different batters. Later, I asked my mother a few times if we could go to Jeevan again. But she did not even bother to reply. Eating out in those days was something very rarely done. Then, of course, there was Diwadkar’s batata Wada (Patty) eaten during travel between Bombay and Pune. I used to eagerly wait for Karjat station to arrive. I think they used to give garlic chutney also along with hot wadas! This was the beginning of my journey about eateries, in 50’s.

My schooling was done in Bombay and I used to live in Dhobi Talao behind Metro Cinema. I used to go to school by us. Monsoon was the season I would eagerly await. I would cook a story that due to heavy rains buses were delayed and I had to walk home, a distance of about 25 minutes! Those four annas were used to eat Masala Dosa at a place called Kelkar or Batata Bhaji, yes only bhaji, no puris! This bhaji was the speciality of a place called Kulkarni’s, bang opposite our school at Prarthana Samaj in Girgaum. Both these places have gone away with time.

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One iconic place near our home in Dhobi Talao was Kyani’s. (The photo above) Bun Maska, chai, pastries and Omelette was their speciality. But how much money could one pinch from home? Once I managed to pinch money for an Omelette and a few times for bun Maska/chai, a couple of times for pastries. Ten years back I went there and had a full feed of everything, finally. Kyani is still around. My Mumbai story will not be completed without writing about Milk Bar behind Elphinstone College; custards, puddings and jellies and what have you! The last one in my list was Napoli Bistro opposite Brabourne Stadium. We used to go there during my Telang Memorial hostel stay on C road at Churchgate. We used to get expresso for a princely sum of Rs.1/, which we used to have once in a while. There was a jukebox in the restaurant which made us hang around for some time. One naughty guy called Nitin Khot took a bet with someone and somehow managed to pinch a chair from the restaurant. It was returned the next day!

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That brings me back to Pune of my engineering college days. Good Luck is like Kyani’s of Mumbai and served the similar foodstuff. There used to be a little more money in pockets during this phase which allowed us to eat chicken masala and roti! Wow! Mouth still waters! Bowing to the father time, now they serve Idli Sambhar also. Another joint for us night owls, was Olympia opposite Pune Corporation. We used to be awake with our other studious guys but most of the time was spent on serious discussions of the world at large, with special reference to girls! When we had some time free from these discussions, we would be busy in Rummy or Teen Patti (Flush). These serious activities would make us hungry past midnight and the only option was Olympia, famous for its Baida Masala! Boiled eggs cooked in a lovely curry! A couple months back I ate this dish at Fountain hotel near Vasai but I could not remember where I had eaten this beauty before! Of course, it was Olympia!

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Modern Café was our main Adda! Modern Café kept our gastric juices in control by providing us with piping hot Shira (something similar to porridge) and coffee at 5.30 am after all-night sessions of Teen Patti! In the afternoon the cafe would provide us with Idli, Dosa etc. At night around 10 pm we would go there for a cup of tea, theoretically to keep us awake for studies; oh yea! I also managed a Master’s Degree in Engineering too! Our main sessions in Modern Café were during our annual day functions. Preparations were done for a couple of months! I used to take part in these activities to hang around as Jaya used to play major roles in dramas. I was kept busy doing the backstage activity. Modern café had created a new facility at their backside called Bamboo House! This was a real cosy place where they had a charming manager called Shekhar. He was very talkative, we used to regularly have parties where someone from the group of 15 /20 of us would pay. Shekhar used to keep track of who had not paid for a long time and remind us that person’s name. The advantage of these parties was we could skip food in our common hostel mess! The money saved was money gained, which was fruitfully used on going to movies.

Out COEP hostel mess was very famous for the quality of food. Students and their relatives, friends from different colleges would come here for the Sunday feast. There were messes based on veg/non-veg food. Two of them, A & F were famous for non-vegetarian stuff. C was Maharashtrian, D was Gujarati type, E was Maharashtrian Kolhapur style hot food. Then later was born O club which had a mix of everything. A & F usually had the cosmopolitan crowd and the so-called Bombay crowd. I was in A club for two years. We had a guy called Aziz who used treat us to some lovely Biryanis and chicken Masala. Coke with Ice cream was the famous dessert of those times. I was friendly with all cooks and head waiters from all clubs. So, we could always “borrow” something from other clubs. My 3rd and 4th year were in C club. I was not admitted to this club in the first year because I was wearing a bold striped shirt for the interview. Medhekar and I used to be the first guys every day for breakfast for our morning quota of eggs. Another interesting thing used to be carrom games in the mess hall. There were some guys who used to be experts. But Bhave and I used to be Killers and we would beat the so-called champs. Just at the entrance of the hostel was a canteen run by Seva Sadan! It was really inexpensive and would sell home-made laddoos and Shankar pale! Next to that was table tennis room where would spend a lot of time. Even after marriage, we had opted for packed hostel food during exam time! We got married while we were doing our Masters!

Our major past time used to be watching movies! This would take us to different parts of Pune. Bedekar Misal, Sweet Home Khichadi and burun and tea at George’s in the camp were some of the famous places we would visit in those days before or after a movie! Pastries at NCR, opposite Jangali Maharaj Temple, were a treat. Near mandai we used to go Asara for very hot chicken! For us COEP gang Vaishali was just coming up on the horizon and was the place to see the Fergusson College girls!

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I could go on and on! But I must mention two places in camp! First one was Dorabajis where one of our gang, Nayan, Sharad, Ashok and others used to go for breakfast to celebrate birthdays! It was a real ritual. We used to sit in the area on the mezzanine floor. Then there was Latif’s. This has a special significance. Jaya and I used to go there as we were almost sure that no known persons will find us there. For Jaya from Sadashiv Peth to Latif’s was a big cultural jump! Until I told my friends, during my first year of post-graduation, about our marriage,  nobody had any inkling of our courtship. Latif’s was a great place “away from everything” in those days!

Let me find out if Latif’s still exists; its high time Jaya and I went there!