Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inflection Points in life –The dog’s tail that led to IIT

Shakespeare said – or rather, Brutus told his friend Cassius in ‘Julius Caesar’ - There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.
I tend to agree with the first part of the quote. If we look back at our lives, we can identify specific instances that changed our fortunes. I call them inflection points.
In my case, it was the tail of a dog which I grasped firmly which took me thru the flood that set me off on a path that would eventually end up in IIT Chennai!! No, I don’t mean IIT is full of mutts. Though that also might be true, the story is a bit different.
I was in the seventh standard then. In a school famous for its headmaster – a man referred to by the students as ‘Laddoo’. Not for any sweetness of personality but for the fact that he tended to be rather spherical in shape. In fact, he was exactly the opposite of sweet. He used to bestride the corridors of Model School Thrissur like a colossus, with an equally colossal cane liberally waving in his hand. And he equally liberally used to ply the aforementioned cane to the bottom of many a boy unfortunate enough to cross his path while he rolled around.
This attitude of suppression of students was generally shared by most of the teachers and my maths teacher was no exception.
And then, on that fateful day, the maths teacher gave the class an interesting assignment as homework.
It was rather a simple one- a set of coordinates was given which were to be plotted on a graph book. And once these points were joined, some amazing picture was to emerge.
As soon as I reached home, I set about plotting the coordinates. But imagine my utter agony of soul when I realised that the sheet on the graph book was too small to accommodate 3 of the points referred by 3 sets of coordinates. So I had an incomplete picture. I could already feel the cane of the maths teacher swishing its way towards my posterior!! I decided to join together at least the rest of the points and see what emerged. Well, what did emerge was a nice looking dog. But alas, a tailless dog. The three points left out would have completed the dog’s tail. I brooded and I brooded and I brooded. How on earth do I get these 3 points in? But no solution came to mind.
At this juncture, my dad happened to notice me hunched over the graph book, tearing my hair out and asked me what seemed to be the problem. At this point, my impression of my dad was that he was a nice and interesting character that came home for bed and dinner, and would tell us lots of stories during the weekends. But graph paper and coordinates? Man, you got to be kidding. How would he know such complicated stuff!!
Still, in a rather condescending manner, I told him the problem, patting my backside to drive home the extent of the peril.
“Is that all? Simple. You just cut off a small piece from the next page in the graph book, staple it to this page and then you can draw the tail on that piece.” He said.
What??? Cut off a piece? This will only prompt an even more vicious assault on the posterior!
I refused. But my dad insisted. Finally age carried the day against good sense (or so I thought)
But I had to admit that the dog, complete with its tail looked rather cute.
The day of reckoning came. With a quaking heart and trembling hands, I showed my book to the teacher. And wonder of wonders – he grunted. You might well ask, so what if he grunted? Don’t these vicious types usually grunt? Ah, but this grunt was different. It was a grunt, modulated to show deep appreciation. A type of grunt as yet unheard of in his classroom. He also showed the book to the rest of the class and said- Only Ramgopal has got it right.
My father, whom I had considered an also ran till then, suddenly became the hot stuff. My admiration for him grew leaps and bounds.
After this, I would go to him every time I had doubts in maths. And he proved to be equally adept at aspects of maths other than dog’s tail, like square roots , cosines and such similar pippins. In a very short while, my fundamentals were clear. Maths, which was just another subject became my favourite. This love for maths finally paved the way for my outstanding performance in IIT JEE.
So I fondly remember the dog’s tail. And I tell my kids the tale of the tail of the dog. What more interesting inflection point can one think of!!


Shivakumar said...

haha....nice read man.

rach said...

Well written Ramjee!It is the reflective and analytical mind that turns an otherwise everyday situation into something special.If all of us could do this all the time we would appreciate life much more!

Krishnakumar Sreekandath said...

RamG, a brilliant story well narrated ! As this one concerns my only brother who is brilliant no doubt, I must point out someting to you in a very nice way. During my problamatic degree days, back in the mid 1970's he tried to make me study better and utterly failed. No inflection points were visible to me then, lol ! Thirty years on I now can clearly see the reason - it was my adament stand that come what may,I will never study which must have blinded me. If I had tried to understand my brother a bit more then things would have been different. A hug for you for writing this and God Bless your Dad.

Ramgopal Vallath said...

Hi Kochachan,
My dad created many of the inflection points in my life. this being the most humerous one, i decided to pen this first. In truth, it was aseries of inflection points he and amma created that built me as a person.

Roon said...

Hi RamG - interesting anecdote. In retrospect, everything that happens "by chance" always looks to be the handiwork of a master creator, doesn't it ?

Satish Shah said...

Very nice article and very well written :-)

SWAMI said...

Moral of the story: You never know where the inflexion points come, so enjoy every discontinuity and make the most of it. And always keep an eye open for the tail of the dog!!!
Ravi Swaminathan

gopalkrishnan said...

nice and informative Ram G can become an inspiring story for kids who aspire to be in IIT

Anonymous said...

Amiable post and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you as your information.

Anonymous said...

Well I assent to but I dream the brief should prepare more info then it has.

anj said...

And why did I not see this wonderful piece earlier?! A wonderful tale of the tail and superb writing!

Parvathy said...

Quite interesting .Enjoyed reading it.

Vallath Nandakumar said...

Hi RamG,
Nice story. I can imagine the Laddoo and your fear of him. I am sure Appettan will appreciate your testimonial to him :-)