Shakespeare said – or rather, Brutus told his friend Cassius in ‘Julius Caesar’ - There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.
I tend to agree with the first part of the quote. If we look back at our lives, we can identify specific instances that changed our fortunes. I call them inflection points.
In my case, it was the tail of a dog which I grasped firmly which took me thru the flood that set me off on a path that would eventually end up in IIT Chennai!! No, I don’t mean IIT is full of mutts. Though that also might be true, the story is a bit different.
I was in the seventh standard then. In a school famous for its headmaster – a man referred to by the students as ‘Laddoo’. Not for any sweetness of personality but for the fact that he tended to be rather spherical in shape. In fact, he was exactly the opposite of sweet. He used to bestride the corridors of Model School Thrissur like a colossus, with an equally colossal cane liberally waving in his hand. And he equally liberally used to ply the aforementioned cane to the bottom of many a boy unfortunate enough to cross his path while he rolled around.
This attitude of suppression of students was generally shared by most of the teachers and my maths teacher was no exception.
And then, on that fateful day, the maths teacher gave the class an interesting assignment as homework.
It was rather a simple one- a set of coordinates was given which were to be plotted on a graph book. And once these points were joined, some amazing picture was to emerge.
As soon as I reached home, I set about plotting the coordinates. But imagine my utter agony of soul when I realised that the sheet on the graph book was too small to accommodate 3 of the points referred by 3 sets of coordinates. So I had an incomplete picture. I could already feel the cane of the maths teacher swishing its way towards my posterior!! I decided to join together at least the rest of the points and see what emerged. Well, what did emerge was a nice looking dog. But alas, a tailless dog. The three points left out would have completed the dog’s tail. I brooded and I brooded and I brooded. How on earth do I get these 3 points in? But no solution came to mind.
At this juncture, my dad happened to notice me hunched over the graph book, tearing my hair out and asked me what seemed to be the problem. At this point, my impression of my dad was that he was a nice and interesting character that came home for bed and dinner, and would tell us lots of stories during the weekends. But graph paper and coordinates? Man, you got to be kidding. How would he know such complicated stuff!!
Still, in a rather condescending manner, I told him the problem, patting my backside to drive home the extent of the peril.
“Is that all? Simple. You just cut off a small piece from the next page in the graph book, staple it to this page and then you can draw the tail on that piece.” He said.
What??? Cut off a piece? This will only prompt an even more vicious assault on the posterior!
I refused. But my dad insisted. Finally age carried the day against good sense (or so I thought)
But I had to admit that the dog, complete with its tail looked rather cute.
The day of reckoning came. With a quaking heart and trembling hands, I showed my book to the teacher. And wonder of wonders – he grunted. You might well ask, so what if he grunted? Don’t these vicious types usually grunt? Ah, but this grunt was different. It was a grunt, modulated to show deep appreciation. A type of grunt as yet unheard of in his classroom. He also showed the book to the rest of the class and said- Only Ramgopal has got it right.
My father, whom I had considered an also ran till then, suddenly became the hot stuff. My admiration for him grew leaps and bounds.
After this, I would go to him every time I had doubts in maths. And he proved to be equally adept at aspects of maths other than dog’s tail, like square roots , cosines and such similar pippins. In a very short while, my fundamentals were clear. Maths, which was just another subject became my favourite. This love for maths finally paved the way for my outstanding performance in IIT JEE.
So I fondly remember the dog’s tail. And I tell my kids the tale of the tail of the dog. What more interesting inflection point can one think of!!