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Arithmophobia, Bibliophilia and love of outdoors

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Desh Bir
It was all fine with my love for simple numbers at the Primary school and I particularly excelled, like so many other peers, in reciting the multiplication tables in a singsong manner up to twenty as also tables of fractions like one half, one and a quarter, one and a half, two and a half and three and a half. Things seemed so easy and natural.
But then I don’t know how and when I developed a kind of fear of numbers and mathematics in general after the primary classes. By the time, I was made to ramble into the maze of algebra where every question was dependent on suppositions and imagining of values of a confusing X or Y, I always felt lost and lonely in that labyrinth. In all other subjects, I always fared well and was considered to be among the best.
Things came to such a pass that in spite of my largely positive demeanor, I cheated on my teacher when I received my answer-book of Mathematics for the quarterly exams in Sixth class.
I had scored a mere 28 out of 100. I scanned the script and befooled myself by changing a cross with a loop into 2 using a red pencil as the teacher had done. I did it thrice and went to the teacher claiming that there was mistake in computing the awards which should have been 34.
My poor forgery was detected and exposed before the class. This was more than I could expect. Resultantly, I changed my approach to the subject and in my Middle Standard exams, I scored 100 out of hundred. Phobia had given way to Arithmophilia!
One thing good about my Upper Primary phase was the encouragement I received from our Hindi Teacher, Rattan Chand Shastri who was also in-charge of school library that was limited to just two wooden office cupboards. He was so liberal in allowing me access to the books that I got enough time to choose the ones that appeared interesting.
It was courtesy this teacher that in three years I was able to borrow and read Hindi versions of nearly eighty good pieces of literature including Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels, stories of Harish Chandra, Haqeekat Rai, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Subhash, Bhagat Singh, Nehru, Gandhi and abridged versions of Mahabharat and Ramayana. This was the reason that to this day I cannot forget my indebtedness to Rattan Chand Shastri.
I was the slimmest and most short statured student in my class because I had initially jumped classes and was in seventh standard at 11 years of age. Therefore, I could not be part of any group game. However, it always made me feel resentful that I was missing from all sports teams. In the hills of Punjab (Kangoo in Kangra district) the summer vacation then stretched from 1st of July to 31st of August every year as those were months of excessive monsoon rains.
On 30th of June I and my younger sibling would hang around our PTI pestering him to lend us a football, a volley ball, two hockey sticks and 4 balls for the vacation. He would oblige us readily because father was Headmaster of the school. However, father was never directly dragged into any recommendations for this. For two months, by hitting the football, and hockey balls and throwing up the volley ball, I felt compensated for my absence from the regular school teams.
As a recompense for my absence from team games, once I insisted that I should be allowed to go to Nadaun where district level school tournaments were in progress. It was nine miles away and the only bus had left early in the morning. Out of these, six miles were purely a road through the pine forest.
My insistence prevailed and I went alone to the Tournament grounds, part walking, part hopping, part jogging and covered 14 kilometers in just two hours. The forest presented fears but also a thrill, a music of rustling pines as well as a silence that seemed to mystify.
Luckily, in the evening Gurdev Singh Dhillon, the senior-most teacher of our school who was returning home on a bicycles offered me a lift. That was my first journey alone through a lonely but lovely wild vista! Lonely it was, but equally unforgettable, too, because of the sense of adventure!
(The author is a Retired Principal, Government College, Hoshiarpur (Punjab)

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