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Thursday 23 May 2024

#65 - Short Story - Playfair

Tanuj and I were unlikely best friends.

It’s only when we enter into our teens that we become aware of certain social constructs, and we start noticing differences rather than the similarities. And as we get closer to adulthood do the games of oneupmanship become more deliberate and nuanced. I also suppose that back in the day, kids held on to their innocence a little bit longer. 

Apart from the fact that we studied together from nursery and took the same bus to school, we had little in common - Tanuj was a class topper and I was average at best. I read novels and dirty books and Tanuj stuck to the course material unless the teacher suggested otherwise. I had taken to shaving as soon as the first signs of a moustache had appeared and Tanuj was, well, saving himself. 

In case I am painting a picture that makes me look like the class jock and Tanuj as a nerd with potential alien DNA, let me tell you that it was anything but. 

The teachers and parents adored him, and if I am being honest so did the girls, but of course Tanuj was too busy to notice that; he was athletic and conventionally handsome in a way that the peach fuzz on his face didn’t affect his attractiveness. 

We remained best friends more due to habit than anything else. Except we didn’t realise it. 

I remember one particular occasion when a bunch of us were discussing dreams and material objects that we would like to own someday, when Tanuj was asked, he thought for a bit and said that when he was rich enough, he would like to own a Mitsubishi Lancer. 

Now we stayed in a small town that had just one Mitsubishi lancer, and this was before the internet had become so ubiquitous, so his answer wasn’t really all that surprising. But I genuinely couldn’t fathom how someone could be so, vanilla. 

“How dumb are you man?” I said to him as the others erupted in laughter, “we are talking about dreams, where everything and anything is possible. And all you can think of is a Mitsubishi? Dreams are meant to be wild, fantastic, unreal. But you middle class people can’t even imagine anything beyond your middle class world. I would have said Ferrari…at least”. 

The others wholeheartedly agreed with me and having won their approval, I gave myself a pat on the back. 

Another time, I think it was in grade 9 - the annual exams were on and both of us were panicking. Him trying to hold on to his first rank and I to pass and move on to grade 10. 
Except it was maths that day and I knew that there was no last minute preparation that could save me. 

But try telling that to Tanuj, on our way to the school, he was trying to memorise an axiom that I somehow retain to this day. 
He clutched the math book close to his chest and with his eyes closed kept repeating the same set of words over and over again:
“Playfair’s axiom states that in a plane, given a line and a point not on it, at most one line parallel to the given line can be drawn through the point. Playfair’s axiom states that in a plane……”. 

Coincidentally the meaning of this axiom was explained to me by my private tutor the evening before, so I felt pretty confident about it, so after what would have been the 100th time he had repeated the phrase, I snapped. 
“Why exactly are you saying this over and over again, what good would memorising this do?”

He looked back at me sheepIshly “sorry brother, this bit I keep forgetting, hence…”

“What do you mean you keep forgetting, what is there to forget, what is there to memorise?”

He blinked, unsure of my question, “I am not able to memorise. That’s it”

This was too good to let go. 

“This is the problem with you guys, you toppers. You think everything needs to be mugged up and when exams come, just vomit it onto the paper and forget it for life. You may get good grades, but - but - you’re learning nothing. Zero. I, I, may not get grades like you, but my conscience is clear, my understanding is clear. Let me tell you something, in the real world all of this memorisation isn’t worth shit. What will you do then huh?”

I took out a sheet of paper and a pen from my bag and drew a point and a line next to it. 

“This paper, it’s a plane, okay? Understood? Now this is a point and this is a line. Let’s call this line A and this point as B. You with me so far? Good! Now what playfair is saying is that if I were to draw lines through this point B, as many lines as I can draw that cross this point, there will be only one line that would be parallel to line A. “

He listened intently and when he understood the concept a smile spread across his face. The wonder kid had learnt something today. 

He thanked me profusely and for the rest of the trip his book remained in his bag. 

He never said anything to that effect, maybe he didn’t realise it himself, but I would like to believe that right there on that school bus, my little speech and the explanation thereafter changed his life. 

He pursued science after the board exams and I, commerce, before long we drifted apart and made new friends. I have always believed in expanding my horizons and learning new things, stagnation is poison for the mind. 

Came across his profile on Facebook today, he is working at NASA. Isn’t doing too badly it seems, is married to an American and has an Indian looking kid. Drives a Volvo wagon it seems, which is such a boring car. But what else do you expect from someone like him?

Me? I am doing pretty alright thanks. Still figuring things out, sort of a spiritual journey to understand myself and what my true purpose is. Have a few things lined up, yeah, so excitIng times.