mathematics, stories, bharatiyata, school teachers – a presentation + notes

September 14, 2021

Though I generally avoid working with Teachers or even other Adults (…erm, Adolts, if you will) these days and hence restrict myself, if at all, to working with young ladies & gents – once in a while, I get to chat with School teachers in small groups; and a few of them happened recently.

And, one was for a batch of approximately 35-40 Math teachers (secondary school level) from all over Bharat, over Zoom (what bleddy else!) & mostly in English, for a little less than 2 hours, discussing how we can ‘weave-in stories’ to work on math and children.

Normally (for a given value of ‘normal’), I do not use much visual props/cues, or supportive videos in my chats. However, this time around I did, because folks wanted the presentation to be handed over to the participants, and so it went.

Hence am reproducing the slides, with a few annotations (not all – and not everything here was propagated in the sessions – or whatever discussed are transcribed here), please do choose to suffer them.

Of course, each slide had some 3-5 mins of hectoring by me followed by a Q&A session.



There was not even a single Tamil-knowing ‘trainee teacher’ in the batches – so, I must say, my Tamil was wasted. :-(

If at all anyone who is unfortunate enough to read this post, wants to be more unfortunate & desolate – he/she is welcome to write to me to get the slideset pdf and/or engage in any useful discussion about math / education etc in general. My contact email id is othisaivuDOTramasami@gmailDOTcom – replace DOT with . in all instancesDOT

I respect anonymity & promise privacy. Of course there should be no ad hominem.

There are many, many things that we ‘teachers’ can do to improve a bunch of things about what passes for education in our Schools, leave alone ‘institutes of higher education’ – but I restricted myself to discussing ‘attempting excellence via story telling.’

I am convinced about the ‘performance’ part of teaching. Because, there are so many frame-messages in there. However, I am not for making a mockery of ‘performance’ or any content-free, but stylistic* communication.

*an example of this would be the specialty of the eminent ma’am Arundhati Roy.

Am so fond of this story and its interesting possibilities – so I weave it into any education related ‘presentation’ that I grandiosely give. :-)

This nice short-story is somewhat about a rural, little child ‘owning’ his city-bred teacher telling the latter that ‘1+1 = 1’ is sometimes possible; as in, two small rivulets flowing down the slopes of the mountains merging and becoming a bigger rivulet etc.(‘thug-life’) Also, I know that b in balyoronnu could be v.

It is all about symbolic representation, processing of ideas and symbol-overloading, if you will.

(Incidentally – a malayali young lady who was present in one of the sessions, had not even heard of the Malayalam litterateur Vaikom Muhammad Basheer at all! It did not puzzle me, though the common narrative is that ‘Malayalis/Keralites are very proud of their culture, very literate and learned in general’ – I know this to be a fine myth because I have dealt with quite a few examples (apparently educated and ‘knowing’ Kerala) to the contrary.

In fact, Kerala has much more than its fair share of ‘educated(!) dumbos’ compared to all other States; after all, don’t they periodically choose Jihadis/Communists to lead them? :-)

Anyway, my young lady actually thought VMB may have been a ‘freedom fighter’ or even a Moplah ‘leader’- but I was happy that she did not call him a Jihadi, small mercies!

However, I do recollect that VMB also conveniently operated like MF Hussain who indulged in cheaply painting ‘Hindu Goddesses in the Nude’ while NOT doing any such for Kathidja or an Ayesha or a Fathima. (of course, Islam does NOT have any scope for Goddesses, anyway!)

In the 1960s if my memory proves correct, VMB wrote/published a collection of short stories titled “A Bhagavad Gita and Some Breasts” (Oru Bhagavad Gitayum Kure Mulakalum). That, it was mostly a mediocre bunch of short stories drivel, is besides the point. But, the point is that – VMB did NOT and would NOT dare to write something similar with Quran, period. Au contraire, could he have gone anywhere near something like ‘A Quran and Some Circumcised Penises?’

Of course I am always for FoE – Freedom of Expression. Except in cases wherein it is actually, a selective ‘Fear of Expression.’

Afterall, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer was also a fair-weather ‘liberal’ guy when dealing liberally with other people’s ideas/traditions and not with ‘certain other traditions’ etc; and so, his creative juices and artistic freedoms would flow only in some directions, yeah? End of story.

Of course I did NOT talk about this interestingly mediocre side of VMB, during the chats – but, would anyday admit that his 1+1=1 story was/is good to go; he is also a fine litterateur, but still…)

One major issue with my fellow-teachers is that, we are only interested in ‘going thru the motions,’ and generally get-by with the minimum expenditure of energy. We are not at all ‘educated’ – mostly in that sense.

We forget that we (all of us, I mean) have something called ‘Agency.’

Another BIG issue is that, since we NEVER teach our young as to what were TRULY great with our Civilization, we never talk about our own desi role-models (because of our ignorance) — our children & youth, then automatically assume that, we have done nothing with respect to Math or Sciences or Technologies in the past. And that, we have to forever look up to the firangees for ANY knowledge realm.

Whereas, the facts or otherwise.

I am not AT ALL for an empty or feckless glorification of the past. But unless we become genuinely knowledgeable about our pasts, and have a meaningful pride – can we even begin to take stock and then forge ahead.

We can of course, and should correctly blame the gory & bloodthirsty colonizations by Islam, Christianity and European powers for our current status – but we should focus MORE on our Agency. Yes. We can’t decolonize ourselves by (very correctly but merely) blaming those facts of the Indic pasts. We should move our butts too!

And of course, we can and should learn from the greats of other civilizations. This is also obvious.

But again, we should stop MISUSING that RgVedic dictum (1.89.1): आ नो भद्रा: क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वत: – ‘Aano bhadrah krtavo yantu vishwatah’ which approximately means: “Let noble thoughts come to me/us from all directions” etc.

Of course, it is good to welcome ideas from other places – but we should weigh them to accept them or not – and MOST IMPORTANTLY, we MUST understand that WE ALSO have got immense potential and ‘noble’ ideas to give other civilizations, yes!

For example: Knowledge/Idea transmissions vis-a-vis Bharat that is India, are not to be done via a one-way-street. We do NOT have to accept those meaningless & useless facets of post-modernism and the critical-theory, so called.

The responsibility is upon US to understand ourselves and our beautiful/solid ideas and then propagate them too, to whoever that can benefit by it, instead of lying supine…

I think, the Internet with its fantastic application, the ‘Worldwide Web’ is a great leveler and provider of ideas. We should make use of our ‘agency’ to gainfully utilize the available such resources and create our own networks of possibilities.

Reality: Sadly only some teachers had vaguely heard of Aryabhata, and I thanked my lucky stars that, at least they did not say he was associated with Bata footwear brand.

…when I was talking to an individual (a Scientist with an Atomic Energy Dept lab) about the aforesaid tables a few years ago, he refused to believe the fact/evidence-based-take – because, of course, he was not able to read/understand them and nobody had told him about the real achievements of our earlier Scientists/Mathemagicians. (that he also did not do his homework is another sad thing – even sadder were his ‘opinions’ which did not have any evidence at all!)

But, when I showed him this book which had/has the SAME tables, in which ‘some whites have recorded and written glowingly about the astronomical tables in sanskrit’ he was willing to understand them.

Oh the power of the external firangee/white skin to validate us.

(however, I have nothing but respect for Kim Plofker et al – my peeve is about our lousy desi macaulayputras and macaulayputris – as my good friend Madhupurnima Kishwar calls them)

Above refer to certain movements of Mars.

…some more tabular stuff with some explanation of those relevant movements were discussed. The book of course is very good and I used it comment on 1) our math/astronomical traditions for story telling, along with Lilavati types 2) our continuing/elite attitude of the ‘colonized’ among the educated… which actually percolate down.

About the trigonometric term ‘Sine’ – a while back I had blogged about it: origin & evolution of the trigonometric term ‘sine’ also etymologically traceable to aryabhata 04/01/2020

Am very fond of this brilliant cartoon by my beloved Randall Munroe of XKCD fame. Of course am happy to be associated with Engineering and Technology – with both of them working closely and sitting on Math, Physics, Chem and Bio – the good, real sciences.

Of course, I would also like to trash nonsense ‘sciences’ like ‘social sciences’ – but did not rant about it; the point was to cheer-up the crowd of math teachers and to increase their sense of belonging to math, if any.

These are some of the books that I recommended to the teachers; some 2-3 mins were spent on each book to give them an idea of what they contain…

These are some of the books to get a grounding on non-western math & astronomy – and specifically about Bharatiya mathematical/astronomical traditions++.

All these books are really scholarly, useful and beautiful – not only for telling engaging stories, but also for us to understand the histories of our civilizations – and are eminently accessible to Secondary School teachers even – provided there is some agency in them/us.

…um, there were a few follow-up questions; and there are currently some 4 threads of discussions on email with some of the interested teachers, though I really wish there were more such folks.




13 Responses to “mathematics, stories, bharatiyata, school teachers – a presentation + notes”

  1. Muthukumar Says:

    There is no Applied Mathematics, without
    Mathematics to Apply.

  2. Sridhar Says:

    I like 1 + 1 = 1 story. When rivers are used for explaining an idea, it is very Indian.

    And here’s a small history of how Aryabhatta’s Jya became Sine.

    • Sir thanks the vid link, though I was aware of the transmission, I had not seen this nice vid.

      There are so many promising youth elsewhere, but our youth mostly make political stuff, memes etc or what?

      • RC Says:

        மேலே குறிப்பிட்டது போல ஆங்கிலத்தில் பல சேனல்கள் உள்ளன.
        தமிழ் இளைஞ காணொளிகள் பெருவாரியாக சமையல், உணவு சுற்றுலா,சினிமா, திகில் கதைகள் சுற்றியே சுழல்கின்றன :-(
        என் மகளுக்கு மூன்றாம் வகுப்பில் ‘finger binary method’ சொல்லிக்கொடுத்தேன் என்று நினைவு.இப்போது கேட்டாலும் முக மலர்ச்சியோடு அபிநயம் பிடிப்பாள். அந்த method கொடுத்த வியப்பு அவள் நினைவில் நிற்பதற்கான காரணி போல..
        முன்னர் நீங்கள் கிரகணம் தொடர்பாக முற்றத்தில் மரங்கள் ஊடே ஒளி விழும் படங்கள் பகிர்ந்த போதும் இதே வியப்பு தான்:-)

      • ஐயா, இந்த ‘எண்ணித் துணிக கைவிரல்களை’ குறித்து, முடிந்தால் ஒரு சிறு (தமிழ்வழி) விடியொவைத் தாங்கள் யூட்யூப் எழவில் தரவேற்றலாமே?

  3. seethayv Says:

    So many thoughts are rushing.Wonderful post.

    BTW i can extrapolate the cartoon Randall monroe( never knew) to ‘Medicine is pure applied mathematics,physics, sociology and all,of it.

    As someone who has been associated with adult learning my sessions are interactive. Medical education is more problem based learning.I tend to do diagrams or stick figures in my sessions. Even with patients I do that. When I was in Australia an aboriginal guy was very unwell , drew a very colourful art work ,which on the face of it was appealing but no sense for us.But He explained a beautiful story ,ofcourse it had to be white fella coming to attack and he is grand protector of his tribe.Then couple of weeks later he drew some pictures very organised and boring no beautiful story.When I showed him his first art work he was like’ yuk , did I do that?I use these sessions for Pgs to understand communication ,patient engagement course and progression of illness and so on.

    I tried learning Malayalam because I love their movies and wanted to read Basheer’s Pathumayudey aadu. My uncle Narsimha Bhat who translated Mankuthimmana kagga used to work in Kasargod and done somework in malayalam I think gave me a primer.1+1 = 1 is great to understand .Thank you.

    I wish I had attended your session just to see a teaching session .

    My mother did some classes on Vedic maths. I agree with your peeve about wanting white man’s approval .My famous annoyance is the Oscar and grammy circus our people aspire.How can you compare apple and palapazham?

  4. பொன்.முத்துக்குமார் Says:

    Very nice. Thanks Ram.

  5. seethayv Says:

    Hey have not been too off my remark. Here you go…Just got this article yesterday through a podcast .

    Click to access LedleyLu59.pdf

  6. seethayv Says:

    All the mathematical stuff went over my head


    Dear sir

    Your post on Math teaching in such a way to retain students’ attention is interesting . It shows your concern for and anxiety about the wasted classes and generations.

    I Was fortunate to have a Math Master in high school Govt. School in Coimbatore.. He authored TN Govt text books for 8th std etc

    Before introducing a subject he gave a small piece of hiSTORY in the book he wrote. . Like CF Gauss finding the formula for number series .it goes like this. As the class teacher was not available , boys were shouting. To controle them the adjacent class teacher asked them to find the sum of numbers from one to 100. Gauss declared the result in a minute. Astonished, teacher asked for sum of 1 to 1000. Same speed. Then Gauss the student explained the n(n+1)/2 formula

    After giving this story my master used to tell abt the similar pattern appearing in bus tickets. Ascending and descending series will be appearing on both sides of the bus ticket..

    He used to explain geometry in daily events. Eg. Cordioid shape in milk vessel . Quadrilaterals in paper folding . Calendar arithmetic using Base 7. Multiplication with broom sticks. Pythagoras theorem using simple graph (He said BEHOLD. that’s it. No proof. Proof is there to see in the shape That’s the power of our mathematicians ).

    He used to talk about young Ramanujan , asking his teacher the result for 0/0and confusing them saying “I have many answers. See 0 x 1= 0. So 0/0 is 1. 0 x 2 is 0. So 0/0 is 2 and so on)

    He used to tell abt Sulbha sutras in yaga salai for right angled triangle. Proportion of sides.

    Abt how Euler used to say theorems even after losing his eyesight . Playing with his grandchildren .that too one particular child was his pet. He was partial. This he told while teaching Partial fractions Euler said I DIE and he died

    He was Sri Dharmarajan. He did all this in the late eighties in a remote school with all attendant difficulties.

    Having been with a teacher like him made my otherwise useless life purposeful

    Such teachers we need. In thousands. But it may be not be impossible . Scholars like you plesse keep on throwing the seedballs. Making things simple should be the core If there are 100 students there should be 101 ways of teaching one idea

    I feel the inadequacy of not being able to understand the philosophy behind Number series and Calculus. hope to hit upon a material that suits my wood head (maramandai)

    My teacher is no more . I am finding him wherever I find pattern and beauty in numbers .Respectfully


    On Tue, Sep 14, 2021, 3:45 PM ஒத்திசைவு… प्रत्याह्वय… resonance… wrote:

    > வெ. ராமசாமி posted: ” Though I generally avoid working with Teachers or > even other Adults (…erm, Adolts, if you will) these days and hence restrict > myself, if at all, to working with young ladies & gents – once in a while, > I get to chat with School teachers in small group” >

மேற்கண்ட பதிவு (அல்லது பின்னூட்டங்கள்) குறித்து (விருப்பமிருந்தால்) உரையாடலாமே...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s