Sunday, February 11, 2007

My Mathophobia

I was diagnosed with mathophobia when I was in the eighth grade.
Math has been like a nagging stepmother to me. I never got good grades in math.
In school, I used to write plays and recite poetry but people who wanted to show me where I belonged always asked me my math results.
Before every math exam, I used to show symptoms of complete insanity with my best friends calling me up to console me even before I took the test. On the day of examination, the eerie exam hall would witness a subdued sniffling during the last few minutes when the invigilator asked us to check our papers that later turned into a hysterical sobbing driving all my friends wild. I never failed in math, but I never scored well either. It was I against me where I refused to accept that I was an alarmingly mediocre student but my grades always proved it to me. :)
Somehow I managed to put up a fight with math during the last two years of high school getting respectable grades in my final year but I slipped back to being a daft math student during my higher secondary exams.
My Higher Secondary Certificate results were so appalling that my parents asked me to shift to taking arts after they saw the mark sheet. I was always good at languages. While math contributed to bringing my average grades down languages always helped me out to stay even with my other friends.
Everyone who came to know of my results came and asked me to shift to arts. They gave examples of people who have hit it big in the advertisement industry. They told me about copywriters who made truckloads of money. Somehow even though the thought of having that wicked subject off my back for ever seemed really enticing, I did not quite appreciate the idea of being a loser who shifted to arts and then hit it big. :)
So I very innocently took up Chemical Engineering since that was the only available discipline for the kind of grades I had.
I was completely disillusioned in about three months of beginning my first semester. I spent all of it sleepless and nervous to the point of exhaustion. I realized that the University had been cunning enough to fool naive people into taking up Engineering by naming the subjects deceptively. Whatever you wished to study, it was all mathematics. Even Drawing, which I thought of in a rather poetic manner earlier, was wickedly laced with mathematics. A deadly bug called math thus infested my whole life.
I was so possessed by the fear of math that I passed out flat while I was studying with my best friend a day before the math paper. On the day of exam I resembled the melancholy goat that knows that in a matter of hours it is going to be presented on a bright white china plate along with red wine.
I am being unnecessarily explicit by writing that I flunked the test. Of course, I was “allowed to keep terms” so could take five devastatingly fresh subjects to go along with my earlier math failure. I managed to clear everything by the end of the third semester.
By the end of fourth semester, I realized that Chemical Engineering was essentially Mathematics disguised in various forms. We used to have one Math subject each semester even as we reached the pre-final semester. Anything else was essentially math along with some chemical mumbo-jumbo. Every paper that we appeared for was a math paper with problems that would take up all of our supplements and yet have no definite answer.
When we came out of the hall, there would be around three groups of people with three different (but same within the group) answers and the typical class toppers would want to go to the professor to find out what the right answer was. I used to hate all of them with all my heart. When they set out like victorious warriors to go and see the professor I felt like pushing them off the stairs. I used to quietly leave the place while they thumped their fists on table for every right answer and calculated their results even before the papers were out of the campus. At first it was very distressing, but later I developed this saintly attitude. I never bothered about the result (until I got it in black and white on a shiny sheet of paper at the end of each semester) I just studied and appeared for exams.
Sometimes the professors who set the paper made mistakes in forming the questions in which case the students got full marks for the attempt. So every time I left for a math paper, I used to pray to God that it be filled with wrong, unchecked lousy problems with many misprints and typographical errors. I can state without any doubt that all the math papers where in I have managed to get decent grades are a result of the paper-setters’ negligence.
While my computer science friends moved on to the more mysterious world of virtual languages, I was still offered gross mathematics needed to solve earthly problems like blowing up of reactors or process reactions going out of control. As they converged into a world that never needed any raw material except a lot of gray matter, I learned statistics, process control and economics. There was never a dull moment. I was almost always frightened and perpetually worried about getting my GPA dangerously low. When I realized that the math offered to us in a particular semester was beyond my control, I used to slog painfully hard to try and make up with whatever ray of light I had in the management and economics section where I always scored the highest in class.
I had predicted my fate. I had concluded that by the end of four years, I would be a vegetable with no confidence left. In my mind, I often yelled at myself for being such an outrageously ambitious Idiot and taking up something I would have to deal with for four long years. Those four long years, incidentally seemed very short.
I graduated with an above average GPA, and the only fear of another miserable failure was quelled.
As a part of my job I need to use everything that I learned as a Chemical Engineering student. I need statistics, I need my skills of good observation, of looking at a heap of numbers and trying to get them to make sense, of predicting the behavior of toxic compounds, of finding out why a particular method of extraction fails for a particular matrix, of trying to eliminate the unwanted billionth part of a healthy fruit. :)
All of this needs math. In fact all of everything needs math.
I am still lousy when it comes to mathematics. I don’t go to the point of asking Math out, but I never go to the lengths of standing it out either. Those four years have not made me a better Math student or even a Problem-savvy-alpha-woman. If I am given a random process problem, I may not get it right in the first attempt (or even the tenth for that matter) but I know that I will not give up till I get it right. :)
My petrified pursuit of math has taught me to fight. Somehow that spirit is now my personality. I fight equally hard in all areas of my life. Including making meticulous work schedules and following them to the hilt and getting up at Godly hours to hit the gym.
I think I did a wise thing and stayed with math after the catastrophic HSC result. The God of Numbers doesn’t hate me as much anymore. We have reached a truce. :)

6 comments:

jay said...

hii saee!! :) its getting better and better. just love to read your blog.

and herez something for you from my mailbox. i hope nothing of that sort happened to you...just kidding :)

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A ten year old boy was failing math. His parents tried everything from tutors to hypnosis, but to no avail. Finally, at the insistence of a family friend, they decided to enrol their son in a private Catholic school. After the first day, the boy's parents were surprised when he walked in after school with a stern, focused and very determined expression on his face, and went right past them straight to his room, where he quietly closed the door. For nearly two hours he toiled away in his room - with math books strewn about his desk and the surrounding floor. He emerged long enough to eat, and after quickly cleaning his plate, went straight back to his room, closed the door, and worked feverishly at his studies until bedtime. This pattern continued ceaselessly until it was time for the first quarter report card. The boy walked in with his report card -- unopened -- laid it on the dinner table and went straight to his room. Cautiously, his mother open edit, and to her amazement, she saw a bright red "A" under the subject of MATH. Overjoyed, she and her husband rushed into their son's room, thrilled at his remarkable progress. "Was it the nuns that did it?", the father asked. The boy only shook his head and said, "No." "Was it the one-on-one tutoring? The peer-mentoring?" "No." "The textbooks? The teachers? The curriculum?" "Nope," said the son. "On that first day, when I walked in the front door and saw that guy they nailed to the 'plus sign,' I just knew they meant business!"

Sash said...

great blog!

neha said...

you got all my memories back dear . our 12th std result my god how can we forget that ?? . u remember after that for any possible bad thing that happened we used to call it ' baravvi zhali ' . we can laugh over it right now but seriously we learnt soo much from that .
i remember your 1st n 2nd year engineering days....and that urge of yours of not giving up and fighting for it still makes me feel very proud of you :)
this blog made me remember soo many incidences .....a 'FLASH BACK '

shirish said...

Sai,
Mathophobia brought back my Mathophobia days in school. I think you inherited this phobia from me.So relax! At least you were not responsible for your mathophobia.

After my HSC exams I was really tense as I had a gut feeling that I was going to fail in maths. Our results used to be posted to us and during those days I never went out during the afternoons so that the result should come in my hands.

The day I received the letter my heart was nor only beating but probably jumping. Fortunately I managed to pass in Maths but lost my first division.

Your blog brought all my memories with the feelings. Thanks

Shirih

RagingMars said...

Aah... I dont just like this... but I completely identify with it too!! I hate math.
Wat about the 'Namya adventures' Sai?!I still remember goin to his class in freezing cold winters at 6 in the morning.. Our fingers used to be numb for 15 minutes even after trying to warm them..I remember him giving IIT level questions(which I could never solve) But ultimately I thank him for strenghthening my resolve to run away from math... otherwise the world would've lost a great doctor :P hahaha!!

Shreeshankar said...

write more such "encouraging" blogs: it fosters my superiority complex. >:)

good to know that the queen of sciences is in love with only a blessed few, and all other poor mortals continue to face her wrath.