Two States stealing ideas from my life

Don’t ask my why I’m reading a Chetan Bhagat book. Anyway a while back I was reading the first few pages of “Two States” when I started screaming and my eyes nearly popped out. Here in these pages was an incident that was straight out of my life at IIMB (the book is set in IIMA, btw). The first thing I did, after I screamed of course, was to check the date of publication. 2009. 5 years after that incident had taken place in my life. There is a small chance it might have actually been based on me.

So in the book, the microeconomics professor is explaining utility functions and indifference curves. And he calls upon an economics graduate from Delhi University to explain the concept to the class. The student tries to give a qualitative explanation but no one understands. That is where the similarity ends. In the book, the professor ends up writing some greek alphabets on the board while the student (female) bursts into tears at the end of the class, humiliated. And the hero goes on to console her and all such.

So as I mentioned, this event closely mirrors something that happened to me. First term of B-school, check. Microeconomics, check. Indifference curves, check. Economics grad from DU asked to explain, check. Student giving qualitative explanation, check. Class not understanding head or tail of it, check.

In our class, though, something different happened. The hero had no intentions of waiting till the end of the class and consoling the DU Eco-grad (in this case, male). Up pops his arm, and he screams  “saar, saar, saar”. When the saar doesn’t respond he shouts “saar I can explain this in English”. The DU Eco-grad is at the blackboard repeating his line, which he had probably mugged up, which enabled him to top university.

Saar finally gives hero a chance to go to the blackboard. Hero puts on collar mic. Looks at the curves on the blackboard and carefully marks off points, which he decides to professorially name as A, A’ (pronounced A prime) and A” (A double prime). Class starts giving up. Hero adds more points. B and B prime. Class gives up further. Then A and A’ move to B and B’. Something probably makes sense. Soon the proof is obvious to most of the class (mostly engineers). Hero hasn’t completed the proof yet when he hears a loud thumping of desks. Math wins. It is unknown if the DU Eco-grad cried at the end of class.

My apologies if I’ve told this story earlier on this blog, but I’m not one to let go of a bragging opportunity. And I still think it was that incident in my class, Section C of IIMB, on the twenty second of July 2004 that inspired the similar scene in Bhagat’s book. No, that’s not the part I’m bragging about.

Anecdotes from school: Divisibility test for Seven

This is a new series on this blog, called Anecdotes from school. I realize I’ve had so many awesome anecdotes in school that I should tell you people about it. Of course I won’t write about the incidents when I beat up people or got beaten up by people (both were common). Even leaving them out, school was quite an awesome time so I think I should write about it.

One fine morning when I was in 9th standard, I arrived at school to find the rest of my class raving over this little guy called Ramu. He had apparently made some major mathematical breakthrough, and the school had called the Deccan Herrald to interview this prodigy. He is the next Ramanujan, people claimed (no, Ramu wasn’t short for Ramanujan). Efforts were made by all parties to hurt my class topper ego – what is the use of being a topper if you can’t come up with breakthrough discoveries, they said.

A few days back, we had studied divisibiility tests. Powers of two were simple, as were 5, and 3 and 9. 11 was also quite simple, and that left only 7 among the “simple primes” for which there didn’t exist an elegant divisibility test. “This is an unsolved problem”, Matki, our maths teacher, had declared. “Any one who can solve this is sure to win a Nobel Prize” (evidently she didn’t know that no Nobel is given out for Math. Of course, us 13-14yearolds also had no clue about such finer details.

So Ramu had woken up one morning with a divisibility test for seven. As I mentioned earlier, by the time I reached, the entire class had been convinced. I’m not sure if Matki had heard about it yet. It was a weird test, and I must admit I don’t remember it. It was extremely inelegant, with different operations to be done with different digits of the number. If it were elegant, I had reasoned, this problem wouldn’t have been unsolved for so long, I had reasoned. So inelegance would not really take away any greatness from the method.So I asked Ramu to demonstrate it to me.

He wrote down a few numbers on the blackboard – all known multiples of seven. Actually he picked only powers of seven (49,343 and 2401). The reason he did this (picking powers) is unclear. So he takes the numbers, puts his magical algorithm on it, and there it is. Done. Hence proved. QED.

Of course this was too much for my class topper ego to take, and I spent the rest of the day trying to find holes in this argument. In the meantime Matki and the other senior maths teachers in school had learnt about this, and had gotten convinced of the greatness of Ramu and his algorithm. The team from Deccan Herald was supposed to arrive at 4 o’clock, we were informed.

It was sometime in the afternoon. Maybe during the history lesson. My ego had been hurt so much that I obviously didn’t care about the lesson. All I cared for was to poke holes in Ramu’s algorithm. I decided to stress-test it. I picked 8. And ran the “divisibility test for seven”. The algorithm said “divisible”. I picked 9. Again the algorithm said “divisible”. 1. Divisible by 7. 2. Divisible by 7.

I had confronted Ramu during the lunch break regarding my “experiments” with his algorithm. “You obviously know that 8 is not divisible by 7. Why do you even bother running the test on that?” He countered. “Errrr.. Isn’t that the point of the divisibility test?”, I asked. I had already started to become unpopular in class. I then started picking random large numbers whose divisibility by 7 I had no clue about. According to Ramu’s algorithm, all were supposed ot be divisible by 7.

Deccan Herald was hurriedly contacted again, and asked not to come. I don’t know how Matki or any of the other maths teachers had reacted to this. I was “boycotted” by the class for the next one week for destroying the career of a budding mathematician. Ramu, however, wasn’t finished. A week later, he came up with an algorithm for trisecting an angle using only a straight edge and a compass.