On becoming a right-winger

No I’m not talking about people like David Beckham or Theo Walcott here. I’m talking about political stance. There is supposed to be this saying somewhere that goes “if you are 50 and liberal, you don’t have a head. If you are 20 and conservative you don’t have a heart” or some such. I probably first heard it some three years back, and ever since I’ve wondered why I’ve always been a right-winger in terms of my political stance. And I perhaps now have the answer.

The “social” component of rightwingery is not difficult to explain – from the ages of eight to ten, I was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). They used to have shakhas close to my house in Jayanagar, and I would go there primarily to play Kabaddi. And I don’t think it was anything to do with what they taught us there, but maybe because the seniors there campaigned for the BJP in the 1991 elections (and my parents also then supported the BJP) I became a “social right-winger”. I’ve mostly been a supporter of the BJP since then, and if I were to vote (my name mysteriously disappeared off the voter list between 2004 and 2008, and I haven’t got myself re-registered) today I’d still vote for the BJP.

I’m much less of a social conservative now than I was maybe five years ago. I can probably describe myself as centrist – a position that is inadequately represented by any Indian political party. And it is possible that my current support for the BJP is reinforced by their economic policies during their regime earlier this decade. Which brings me to the more interesting question – about why I’ve always been an economic “conservative”.

I didn’t have an answer to this till recently, but I wonder how much it had to do with the fact that 1. I don’t have any siblings,  2. I was a topper in school.

I tend to believe that the lack of siblings helped define clear property rights for me at an early age – it is easier to divide up toys and other stuff among cousins than among siblings. And when you are convinced of property rights, you are much less likely to believe in stuff like “common good” and stuff.

As for being the topper, I’m reminded of how the class would plead with the teacher to make the exams easy, or to postpone assignment deadlines. Me being the topper, however, would have none of it. I would look at situations like those to RG (IITM lingo derived from “relative grading”) the rest of my class, and would always end up campaigning in the opposite direction (this continued till I was in IIM – when I was no longer the topper – I would encourage professors to set tough papers while the then toppers would ask for easy papers – the irony!).

While others were struggling to add two digit numbers, I would be showing off my skills at adding six-digit numbers, and encouraging the teacher to move faster. I considered myself to be “elite” and thought it was beneath myself to do what the “proletariat” did – postponing assignment deadlines or going slow in class. I would not be a part of the “class struggle”. I was a “have” (and I knew about property rights) and I would fight to retain my advantage.

So one objection to this theory could be that a lot of commies are topper-types. But here, we need to make a distinction. What if they were toppers like the ones that we had in IIMs – those that would clamour for easy papers, those that would do things the done way, and do better only because they mugged more? (I never listened to anyone. for example, I considered it beneath myself to add 5 to 4 as “five in the mind and six in the hand” and counting off fingers – while my competitor for topper used to happily do that, in public). My proposition is that those that became “radicals”, and were topper-types, weren’t that radical after all when they were young. If they were, they would’ve never turned left.

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.