He sat on the chair, his feet barely touching the ground. Sid, my then, 10 year old had asked me to google the value of pi — the mathematical constant. What flashed on the screen left us both shocked. “Is it really that long?” he asked. For a person who has inherited a mathematical lineage, it was embarrassing to know there were many numbers in the world of pi. As he sat swinging his legs, he declared, “I want to learn the whole lot.”
“Do you want to try?” he asked.
I hesitated at first. Then, before I realised, the words had spilled out, “Let us see who learns more,” I challenged him.
“OK,” he jumped and ran off to play with his train set.
I wanted to do this — not to prove anything to my son, but to prove to my own self.
There was a time, when numbers came easily — phone numbers, postcodes, anything. It was not something I was proud of. It was just part of life.
When the mobile revolution began, I didn’t know what was on the offing, till that Friday afternoon.
It had been a busy day, and we had to step out to run a few errands. No amount of coaxing could get Sid out of the house and finally, I gave in. Once outside, I went through the motions and about an hour later, I picked up the phone to check on Sid.
“How could the number possibly not exist?” I panicked. No matter how many times I punched in the phone number, I heard the same message. My brain went on an overdrive and listed all the horrible things that were possible. I decided to rush back home. Then, just like that, something flashed in my head. I realised, I had been keying the phone number of our previous home. Relief dawned. Slowly, with my fingers shaking deliriously, I punched the present number. When I heard Sid on the other side, I slumped on the ground.
The number game
Ever since that day, I am on a mission to remember phone numbers. I learnt my grocer’s number, friend’s number, and now, pi was egging me to take up the challenge and tickle my brains a bit more.
I wrote the first fifty decimals on a sheet of paper and put it up on the wardrobe.
“Let us see if I am cut out for this,” I told myself.
I diligently looked up the paper everyday and memorised only to discover minutes later that I had forgotten. “Was it 5 or 3?” I would wonder and I would go back to the sheet. It was hard. Some days, I would sing it out aloud to myself and the other days, I would resort to learning it the old fashioned way.
Then, one day, I heard lil Sid rattle off the numbers as we sat for dinner.
“Ma, I know fifty of them,” he squealed excitedly.
“My turn,” I said. I slowly reeled out the numbers. Frankly, I loved the adrenalin rush but then, I knew in my heart, I wouldn’t know as many as Sid. I faltered after the first ten decimals. “Not bad,” I told myself.
To this day, six years after, I have tried this many times over and I now know the first twenty-five decimals of pi. “Does he still remember all fifty of them?” I hope so.
But, as Sid slowly embraces the digital world, I am worried for him. Will he become dependent on digital memory? I don’t know. But, I do hope and pray, despite everything, Sid stays the way he is — curious and that he remembers not just the numbers of pi but also phone numbers of those who matter the most.
— Sudha Subramanian is an author and freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman