During the long idling period after the university days, one of my friends used to say….' I want to get a job in the government office...thereafter I will take a casual leave and enjoy the holiday…' Though it was a matter to be laughed off, it had a meaning in it. A holiday has its importance only if it comes after long and strenuous working days….!
Similarly, the lockdown was welcomed initially. But within a week it has become boring. To kill the boredom of the lockdown, as many others would have done, I too started unlocking certain old boxes, cupboards in the house, etc to open up nostalgia.
One of such things that I discovered was the thin shabby book named 'Clark's tables' which was my constant companion during my pre-degree and degree classes. It was certainly a master reference book and treasure trove of useful information during those days. I could not but recollect the process through which the readings in the Physics and Chemistry practicals were tinkered using the tables. The final result of for example, specific gravity of a material was referred to the tables, and by reversing the formulae the readings were 'cooked' . But once I was caught 'red handed' for resorting to this process as the result was shown exactly as stated in the 'tables' which was impossible in our laboratory conditions. The readings were too precise to be true….!
Another table which turned up, really took me at yet another ten / fifteen years back…was ' Visthruta manappadam' ( book of tables) printed and published by Victory Press , Kunnamkulam, Trichur. It was the book with the vernacular alphabets, consonants, words and above all the addition and multiplication tables.
Reading and repeating these tables was a daily routine during my days in the elementary classes. As the metric system was introduced during my days in the pre primary classes, my teacher had taught us the multiplication tables up to 10. But my father insisted that I should learn it up to 16. He had learnt them by heart. The importance of number sixteen I found out later. It was because sixteen annas made a rupee! During the half an hour or one hour power cut in the nights of peak summer months, my father conducted extempore quiz on Arithmetic with the use of multiplication tables. My elder brothers were always the winners…
My wife was very particular to see that my daughter should be a master in calculations. She had started making her learn the multiplication tables up to 20…..which was a really herculean task for both, the mother and the daughter. It also resulted in reasonably hot altercations between the two, which I had to intervene and bring to order. Ultimately, a compromise was reached and she learnt it up to 12. That was similar to my wife aiming at her admission to IIT and her ultimately landing in Anna University.
Decades later when much water has flowed through the river Koovam in Chennai or Periyar in Kochi or for that matter, in river Charles in Boston, it is lockdown time everywhere. When my daughter came on Skype from the USA, I suggested that she could try teaching her sons the multiplication tables during the lockdown period. She had an immediate answer for it. ' In America, the teaching methods are different. The elder one has started learning addition and subtraction. The learning of multiplication and division would be taught as repeated addition and subtraction respectively later on. Tables are not taught here….'
It slowly sank in. The methodology is different. The small kids get contact classes through the laptop top during the lockdown days. It is the age of Apps and devices.
During my evening stroll within the apartment complex, I talked to my neighbour whose daughters study in the city's prestigious school. He also confirmed that the children are not asked to mug up the tables these days as per present day curriculum.
I can only imagine my grandson coming to India on a vacation. And as we go on a drive to the interior village and stop for relishing some tender coconuts on the wayside, all of us enjoy the tender coconut water and eat the pulp with the makeshift spoon made out of the outer rind. And I ask my grandson for the total amount to be paid. As he takes out the cell phone and calculates the amount, the eighty year old vendor says the correct amount within milliseconds. My grandson looks at her with astonishment similar to how the Western reporters looked at Shakuntala Devi…..at the Guinness stage...
Times have changed ….tables have turned………... or at least tilted….