I saw a very enjoyable update on Facebook, that says, “Dear Math (Maths, for us!)..I’m sick and tired of finding your ‘X’….just accept the fact that she’s gone. Move on, dude!”

This reminded me of three letters of the alphabet that made a misery of my young life. These were from either the vanguard or the rearguard of the English alphabet…but more often than X,Y and Z, they would be A, B, and C.

A and B were the heroes of every “problem” (read, mathematical sum) that studded my arithmetic book. They would build walls, fill up vessels, work in the fields…hard-working and industrious, they were obviously a golden example to follow.

But I never liked them. They seemed to have a fetish for doing all this work in very odd stretches of time, or even odder measurements of area. And if one was mentioned, the other was asked for. Why could A and B not take a day off, and go goofing off on a picnic? No, they never would..and perhaps, even if they did…they would take a certain number of hours to reach the picnic place and I’d have to calculate the distance it was from their (painted and water-filled) homes….

But much as I hated A and B, my feelings were tepid compared to my hatred for the evil, villainous C. C seemed to exist to create problems…not only maths problems for the text-book, but problems for poor A and B, too.

C was always a rogue. Let A and B build a wall, C would knock some of it down..and not all of it, which would have spared ME the problem of solving how much was left. C was a wastrel, opening the tap in the cistern that A and B so laboriously filled, and wasting a lot (but not all) of the water. Even if C was working with A and B, laziness and selfishness meant that C would not do the work on all the days that A and B did.

The hatred of A, B and C were much aggravated by the fact that though India was adopting the logical, sensible metric system, the old Imperial system was being phased out…but those eternal sadists, the mathematics text-book writers, would not let the old system die. I had to calculate the amount of whitewash (that A and B applied, and perhaps C blackened) in gallons. I had to reckon the area of fields (that A and B tilled while C slept) in yards and chains and furlongs. I had to measure the walls of the houses that A and B built (and C demolished) in inches and feet. I had to calculate the money that A and B made (while C stole or spent it) in rupees, annas and pies. I had to figure out the weight of their crops (C was probably burning it all) in ounces and pounds and hundredweights (a measure which, contrary to its name, was NOT decimal.) I cannot remember, now, how many chains made a furlong…but 22 furlongs made a mile, I think….sixteen ounces to the pound…twelve shillings to the monetary pound….oh, life was a merry hell when I came face to face with A, B, and C…..

I only realized later, that A, B, and C , and their mystery counterparts from the other end of the alphabet, would take on even more deadly avatars as the angles of various figures, and shapes, and haunt me through algebra and geometry and trigonometry….WHY is the formula for a hyperbola “x squared plus y squared is equal to zero”? I have never found out, and don’t ever want to. Who WANTS a hyperbola? I don’t even want an ordinary bola.

Life may consist, now, of entities even more mysterious than X, Y and Z….for example, my multiple (and elusive) boyfriends, the electrician, the carpenter, the plumber, the newspaper guy….but life is far less complicated when I have to calculate their charges only in decimal numbers, and though these boyfriends usually do far less damage to my psyche and self-esteem than the dreadful trio of A, B, and C did, in my school years….!