My earliest memories of being taught mathematics was in the third and fourth grades when we had to learn the multiplication tables. I do not think that at that age I exhibited any great flair for math as a subject. Learning the multiplication tables used to be a herculean task and my father used to insist that I learn the tables going forward as well as backwards. The truth is I hated it. Every bit of it. I did not have a naturally great memory and I used to struggle with the tables much to my father’s chagrin as he was one of those people who believed that mathematics was the soul of the universe.
As the years went by my dislike for math deepened into a profound hatred. It was the one subject that used to be an anathema to me. Perhaps it was because I did not have very good math teachers. In the third and fourth grades I was taught word problems and as I reached the fifth grade one more topic – geometry – was added to the syllabus and this only served to increase my despair about math. Bisecting angles, constructing triangles and the numerous theorems and proofs went well above my simple uncomplicated mind.
Moving forward, I was introduced to Algebra and this was the final straw. Simple equations baffled me. Calling something unknown X and pretending to know all about it simply did not make sense to me. All through these years I am describing, I was managing to maintain a passable sixty percent marks in math because of the constant drilling my father subjected me to.
It was only in the ninth grade that things changed. There were two reasons for this change. One was the introduction of the topic trigonometry into the syllabus. Another was my ninth grade math teacher; a staunch Gandhian by name Jaipal Chandra. He was a lovable gentle grey haired man in his late forties who always wore a pajama and kurta even in the cold winters of Delhi.
He was one of those teachers who genuinely made efforts to spark an interest in all his students. The first topic that he taught us was trigonometry. I still remember his first class with us. All my anxieties evaporated as soon as I heard his gentle simplified style of explaining things. Suddenly mathematics after all these years of struggle began to make sense. After my very first lesson I went to the staff room and met him.
He was a very approachable man and we had a chat for nearly half an hour. I poured out my woes about my dislike for mathematics and how I was struggling with the subject and he looked at me and said with a gentle smile “Now now, we should change all that. Shouldn’t we?”. He began to give me some advice.
The first thing he told me was not to depend on the school text books and teachers alone for learning math. He told me “if you want to learn something and broaden your vision on any topic you will have to make an independent foray into it. For example take trigonometry, it is not enough if you listen to me or read the text book prescribed by the school. You will have to read independently. There is a book by S.L Loney. Pick it up and read it.”
I rushed home and purchased a copy of trigonometry by S.L Loney. It was after that, that my love affair with mathematics began. The book was brilliant. With some very simplified explanation the principles of trigonometry were laid bare. I found some of the most challenging problems in heights and distances in the book and solving them was a thrill. Then came calculus and we started off with differentiation. I still remember how Jaipal Chandra taught us differentiation and integration.
It was simply a treat to listen to him. By then I was truly in love with math. Another thing about him was that the problems he gave us for solving in class came from outside the text books. This used to sharpen our minds and intellect. After my ninth grade my performance in math improved drastically. Jaipal Chandra continued to teach us right up to our final year in school. I secured very good marks and this was the turning point in my life that lead to my selecting engineering as a career.
Later I tried to get in touch with him but I could not locate his whereabouts as my old school could not give me his correct address and google is not able to produce valid results for the name Jaipal Chandra. I would like to appeal to my old math teacher that if he is reading these lines anywhere, please do let me know how and where I can get in touch with you, sir. I am grateful and thankful to you for inculcating in me that spark of interest in the one subject that I hated and for being such a wonderful friend, philosopher and guide.