Mathematics has this uncanny ability to polarise its audience — you either love the subject or you hate it. Notwithstanding the gender biases towards Maths, I have seen several of my colleagues going berserk around the time there was a Maths test, and it reached some feverish levels during those Board Exams. I would rate myself as a very average student in Maths, or, for that matter, in any other subject, but learning Maths has taught me a very important life skill. This piece is not so much about me or Maths (which, by the way, I love), but instead, it’s on the side-effect of being a (good) student of the subject.
My relationship with Maths graduated from that of indifference to devotion and later to admiration. Till my eighth standard, I wasn’t particularly keen on Maths (not that I was good in other subjects). The only numbers that mattered were the cricket scores on the field, and the numbers on my football team on the ground (both in real time and offline). I used to be a very outdoors guy. And then something happened while I was approaching the Boards. No, it wasn’t peer pressure, for my peers were mostly like me (so no hard feelings there), but it was about the environment at home. My dad started teaching Maths to a few students from higher grades in his free time, and I just used to hang around. I didn’t realise when the ‘inflection point’ happened – my transformation from being a bystander to an active participant, to an extent that I enjoyed solving their (Maths) problems, well over and above my agenda. The litmus test was, of course, the Boards, and to everyone’s surprise, I scored a cent percent in Maths!
Then the direction was pretty clear — take PCM (Physics, Chemistry and Maths) in 11th and 12th, write IIT-JEE, and carry on with your work, till you meet somebody ‘interesting’ in your college, and then you realise the importance of ‘Biology’!
When I look back at the school days and those at college, I didn’t do a terrible amount of Maths, but I showed some terrific level of Grit. It wasn’t my intelligence (no one cares anymore) but my ability to put my head down and slog for long hours that helped me change my branch in Engineering from a hopeless Chemical to a glamorous Electronics and Communication (I didn’t do much good after that anyways with my Engineering), and then the MBA, and as if it wasn’t sufficient — a PhD, for God’s sake!
The common thread across my BE, MBA, PhD — Maths (read Grit).
I may not be smartest, but nine out of ten times, I can outwork almost anybody, and I know for a fact that that’s what works for Maths. Maths calls for grit and offers grit in return, for there’s always a solution, if you hang around for long enough.
So parents, don’t treat Maths as another subject, treat it as a life skill. Being at it matters more than scores, and if you learn to not give up, the puzzles will.
Dr. Pavan Soni
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