We hated math. And were taught a lesson rowing up in Bangalore, my friend Leela Bhasker and I were from different regions of India but we had the same genetic impulses and preferences. We were both poetry crunchers and had memorised Little Women and Jo’s Boys, not to mention the misadventures of Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and a tattered copy of Gone With the Wind—the reading portions held together with rubber bands as the book gradually disintegrated.
A common weakness strengthened our bond. Like the Samurai of Japan who loved literature and scornedmathematics, we suffered the latter. Anything that even smelled vaguely of commerce was shunned by that proud warrior class but the same attitude did not help us much. However, six months before the Board exam we bought a little book: the final examination question papers compiled from the Board examinations of ten previous years. We found deserted classrooms where we diligently worked out solutions tucked to trick questions: problems of trains rushing in opposite directions, boats sailing upstream or downstream, and workers building walls or shopkeepers selling and buying goods just to make life difficult for us.
We came unstuck in real life when we volunteered rather grandly to arrange cakes, orangeade, and chips at the farewell tea, standard X students decided to give themselves. Each was supposed to hand in `3.50 to the managers of the party. As we collected money feeling like the finance controllers of a company and rode off on our bikes to the bakery, we forgot a crucial step in Operation Cakes and Ale. We omitted to list the names of those who had planned to eat and not pay. When everyone had enjoyed a good time and it fell to us to return the empty drinks bottles, we looked at the bill and our treasury with deep dismay. They did not match. The deficit of `32 was not a small amount in 1966. Beyond a few plaintive enquiries, we didn’t have the nerve to challenge our classmates so we presented our case in the parents’ court simultaneously. My father suppressed his mirth as my irritated mother paid up. “Why didn’t the two of you keep accounts?” Our worst moment was when the proprietor of the bakery laughed. In that instant, the heat of the world reached us. It was a real-life lesson in profit and loss.