A strange correlation between maths and a vegetable

Mere source of roughage or stimulant for the brain? The debate that seems to be dying down

October 29, 2017 12:25 am | Updated 12:25 am IST

“Have some more of this,” I urge with a loving smile as I scoop out a bit more of the vendakkai (lady’s finger aka bhindi or okra ) curry from the casserole and serve my daughter. She sulks, pouts and gives me a basilisk-like stare but I remain unmoved. This wasn’t the first time we were at cross-purposes over matters relating to food.

“Do you know that this vegetable is good for mathematics?” That was the opening gambit when I introduced the dish to my daughter. It was a colossal error on my part, because my daughter had a strong conviction that she wasn’t good at mathematics. Tutors of all shapes and sizes had appeared in our lives with regularity, yet none succeeded in inculcating a love for the subject.

“Give me one month and I will have her cracking even the most complex of problems,” one teacher who was in her seventies announced as she walked into our home. When she left after a couple of weeks, all that remained was the cracking of my knuckles in despair.

The lady’s finger theory proved to be a conundrum. “Give me proof that there is some connection between this vegetable and maths?” My daughter the sceptic was determined to prove her point. “If you’re looking at lady’s finger as a source for roughage, then I do understand. Yet I can come up with better alternatives for roughage!” she reasoned.

“It has got all the nutrients such as Omega-3, Phosphorus, Vitamin A…” My voice trailed off as I was unable to back my claims regarding the connect with Mathematics.

When I was growing up in Chennai, there was this widely held belief that eating vendakkai was a sure way of getting centum in every test. My mom did try this technique unfailingly with me, but it somehow fell short of achieving the desired result. As they say, there was always that exception to every rule. However, I did develop a liking for the vegetable.

I decided to approach this problem from another angle with my daughter. If there was one trait that she possessed it was her love for family and assorted relatives. I cited uncles, cousins and anyone I could think of who were like rock stars in her eyes. “Do you know one of my cousins went on to do his doctorate in Mathematics?”

She gave me a sanguine look and muttered the said cousin’s name under her breath. “Amma, I do love my uncles and aunts. Some of them are so brilliant in Mathematics that I wonder how you didn’t veer towards the subject.”

Was there a glint in her eyes that seemed to challenge me? I was tongue-tied for a few moments. Do I dare reveal my secrets? I had hidden my own travails with the darn subject to my children as I knew it would backfire someday. Having a mother who was a Mathematics graduate and a sibling and assortment of cousins who loved solving problems at every opportunity meant I had to be inclined towards it or at the very least be influenced by all those numbers and theorems floating around me.

My mother, the eternal optimist that she was, would always ask one of her visiting nephews to help me with my homework. Some were really gallant and would give me a benign smile when they sat down with me. “How come you don’t understand, let’s try again.” I became a challenge to them.

Then there were others who had a baffled look on their faces if I just couldn’t connect the dots in my first attempt. However, I was diligent in consuming the bowl of vendakkai curry (a permanent fixture at the dining table), especially when the cousins visited. Looking at my daughter’s face, I realise that her uncles had to be spared the ignominy of such hardships.

Mathematics no longer became a topic of conversation at the dining table and the vendakkai battle was soon laid to rest, much to my daughter’s joy.


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