## Thursday, October 10, 2013

### Periasamy

“Ramu needs five shirts.  He has got two.  How many more will he need?”
With drooping eyes, the answer comes “Three”
“Very good, how did you do it?”
“I added two and three”
“That’s fine, but that is not the question.  What are you supposed to do?”
“Add two and three”
“Look, three is not mentioned anywhere in the question.  Read the question and tell me what you should do to get the answer”
A long silence.  Then comes the answer with trepidation, “addition”.  His eyelids are almost closed now.
Patience wears down.  “Okay, I will put it in a different way.  Ramu HAS five shirts.  He gives away two.  How many will he have now?”
Pat comes the answer, “three!”.
“How did you do it?”
“Subtract”.
“Subtract what?”
“Two from five”
“Good, now go back the original question.  It is the same question, asked in a different way. Tell me what you should do”.
“How?!”
“only by adding three to two you get five”
“but that is not what is asked – look at the question. How many more will he need.  Where did you get three in the question?”
No answer.  The next 15 minutes go in explaining the question.  “Have you understood it now”
A good, circular shake of the head to tell he has. “Ok, tell me me what you should do”
“Subtract”.
“Why?”
“Just now you told!”
Imagine the frustration my wife gets in getting the boy to understand simple sums like this.  “ok, it’s over for today, come tomorrow”.
The next day.
“The class starts 9.15 a.m. and ends at 12:30 p.m. for lunch break.  What is the duration of the class?  Tell me how you will do this.”
A long pause. Half-closed eyes again.  “Mul..  tip.. lica….” come out the words slowly and hesitantly out of his mouth, his gaze shifting between the book, the sofa and the dog.
“What?” screams my wife. “where does multiplication come here?  Look at the question and answer me Akaash!” she utters in a slightly louder voice.
Immediately he answers “addition”, a little more confidently now.  “What did you add?” asks my wife.  He ponders over the question for some time and says, “no, sub…trac…tion”.  “Come on, Akaash, first you said multiplication, then addition, now subtraction.  Do you understand the question?” He replies in the affirmative and explains what is being asked.  His understanding is perfect.
“Then, what should you do now?”  asks my wife again.  “Subtract”, he answers correctly, somehow sensing that is the right answer.
“Ok, what will you subtract from what, what have I told you?”
“Subtract the small number from the big number”
“Good, do it correctly now.”
Akaash is a nice boy, cheerful, talkative and loving, especially of pets. It was at my wife’s request, to beat the boredom of having nothing to do in the evenings after her return from work, that he was sent in for getting tuition in math.  We learned that he needed tuition more in English first than math, and slowly my wife changed her style to teach the meaning of the question first, and then the approach to the problem.
Another day, it is a different sum now.  “Gopal buys 12 apples at Rs.6 each and six oranges at Rs.3.50 each.  He gave Rs.100 to the shopkeeper.  How much will the shopkeeper return?”
“Akash, tell me what you should do”.  After the usual round of multiplication, addition and subtraction, he finally settles to do it the right way, but in his practice of meddling with his pen and playing with the dog in between attending to the problem, makes mistakes in transferring the totals and gets to face my wife’s anger again.
I chip in to add some help now and then, but I tend give him some distraction too, by straying from the subject.
“Akaash, if you don’t concentrate, I am going to beat you!” yells my wife.
He coolly responds, “you can’t! Periasamy will curse you!”
We all get confused.  “Who is Periasamy?” we ask in a chorus.
He tells it is his other name, after the powerful deity in his native village who would severely punish wrongdoers.  And continues to open up and narrate in a flurry incidents that happened in his village, his eyes suddenly opening and shining bright, all traces of ennui completely gone!  He loves to talk and talk and talk, and he has so much to share – about what happened in his class, what he did in his village, how his grandparents take care of him, everything.
After a month of struggling to get him to understand the math questions, and getting him to sit and study with some concentration for at least an hour a day, the fruit of the labor was slowly visible when he started showing some progress in his understanding.
And then came the quarterly examinations.  After the math examination, he promptly came home and presented the question paper for my wife’s perusal.  My wife was happy to see the apple and oranges question, and asked him if he did it right, hoping it would have straightaway fetched him 8 marks.  To her dismay, “no”, he said, “I did not do this, but opted another question out of choice!”  There was no way of knowing whether he did the other sum right.  She made a guesstimate of 42 out 60 as to how he would fare in the examination.
Boredom returned, as he shot away to his native place the moment his examinations were over.  More than him, my wife was eagerly expecting the reopening of his school, so she could learn how much he had scored in the math exam.   His father was full of smiles the day the answer papers were shared – he had scored 40 out of 60, something they never expected him to score!  And gave us a huge, fresh drumstick that had grown in their garden, as compliment for my wife’s efforts.
Akaash was back at home yesterday evening.  The new syllabus completely does away with what you learned the last quarter, and his text book contained new chapters now.  I was teasing him, “but Periasamy should know everything, even portions of the last syllabus!”  I certainly did not expect his quick-witted response.
“No, this is Periasamy-2!”