In the electronically backward Sixties when calculators were yet to make their appearance, I was accustomed to mentally do multiplications like nineteen times eighteen before one could say Srinivasa Ramajunam. Also I could enlighten my profit-fixated boss the quantum of margin at 12.5 per cent on a tendered figure of seven crore and fifty lakh, without looking anxiously for a paper and pencil stub. I could add up columns of scrawly figures in rupees and paise that ran to several folios in a bulky leather bound creditors’ ledger without getting a different total when added for re-check. Only my eyes would race up and down like a connoisseur of feminine beauty hurriedly admiring a hour-glass figure, the lips moving silently as if mumbling a hurried prayer.
My mathematics teachers made sure enough punishment was inflicted on us so that we could master and handle the numerical figures with least effort. Recitation of the tables either solo or as a chorus in the designated tone was a part of the strict regimen, the punishment for any possible mishap en route from the thirteenth table onwards was the elevation on the benches. Plus painful pinches on the skinny thighs that remained invitingly exposed under the half trousers for their indulgence in such sadistic pleasure.
Migrating from figures to words, our English teachers chose to tweak our right ears with their itching fingers whenever we misspelt a word or wrote a grammatically suffering sentence in our compositions. In a well-peopled home brimming with a gang of brothers, sisters and cousins, my grandfather supplemented the efforts of the English teachers by asking us to spell tricky words like rhythm, seize, embarrass, separate, aisle, psychology, humorous and so forth. Many a time the spelling bee sessions he conducted left us sharply stung as if we had tampered with a beehive. Our family boasted a stout dog-eared Webster dictionary, a heirloom, possibly a prototype, kept on the mantel piece that was to be consulted for our daily dalliance with new words.
Way back in the initial phase of my writing, I used to type my first draft on my portable without pausing to check if the words had been spelt right, pinning faith on my skill honed by my English teachers and grandpa. Things, however, have changed now. I type faster, treating speed as the essence of production, unmindful of the correctness of my spelling since the ‘spell-check’ of my computer, running abreast underscores the misspelt word in red. In the realm of figures, my 14-digit calculator flashes in a jiffy figures like the total interest at 8.4 per cent on the sum to be invested in the senior citizen savings scheme giving the stuff in between my ears the much-needed rest that once effortlessly calculated the correct quantum of profit for my boss. Indeed the calculators and spell-checks have atrophied the brain.