The answer is maths

Yesterday, Anupam asked an interesting question on Twitter:

What subject in school did you completely and totally HATE and today total completely and totally LOVE?

There were a few subjects that I didn’t like through school.

  1. Civics – Boring, and very idealistic. Even at that age I could see that what they were teaching us was nowhere close to how the country actually worked/behaved.
  2. Biology – too unstructured, or shallow. We were taught the various body ‘systems’, but without the understanding of why they worked how they worked, or how they interacted with each other. More troubling for me was the focus on rote – this is how it is, just mug it up.
  3. Hindi – impractical and boring. I didn’t like the literature. The vocabulary was vastly different from the day-to-day Hindi that we used, and again the focus was largely on rote.
  4. Sanskrit – “Don’t ask, just mug it up”
  5. Inorganic Chemistry – “mug. it. up”

None of them is the answer to his question, because I still don’t LOVE any of them. I understand, even study sometimes, topics that may come under civics. I’m interested in bits of Biology – specially bits of anatomy that may be related to functioning better in my sports. I have no interest in Hindi or Sanskrit.

The one subject that I hated through most of school, but really love now, is maths.

To be fair, my hatred of the subject may have stemmed not from the subject itself, but the way it was taught. I had a succession of terrible maths teachers from middle school to all the way till first year of undergrad.

Even at B-school, one of the best institutes in India, I had a terrible stats prof – his preferred mode of lectures was to dictate a problem, and then walk around the class dictating his solution. Everyone took notes. I doodled. He treated students like young kids who needed to be spoon-fed the solutions. Most students loved him – they were young kids who wanted to be spoon-fed the solutions.

I just doodled through his lectures.

How do I know I didn’t really hate maths then? Because I loved Physics – specially the numerical bits. When I studied by myself, or later, I also loved statistics and calculus. I still do.

I had good physics teachers. I had good stats and economics teachers.

I was happy working on calculus in Physics, but hated Maths.
I was happy working on statistics anywhere, but in Maths.

There may be another reason apart from lack of good teachers – practical applicability. When I studied calculus in maths, it was just calculus, with no (initially) direct relation to life-as-we-see-it. In physics, it was the rate of change of forces (differential), or total energy dissipated based on observed variable (integral).

Statistics, specially when we graduated from discrete to continuous, was even more applicable/understandable in life-as-we-see-it.

Whatever the reasons, I’m just glad that I didn’t let the hatred of the subject (title?) turn into a hatred of the subject matter. Little did I know then that behind the surface, the basis of all the subjects that I liked, was maths.


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