Second semester is just two weeks old, and I’ve already decided that I like it:
7.013 (Intro to Bio) has been kind enough to assign psets every other week (no pset this week, YAY!). 5.12 (Orgo) hasn’t yet caused me any significant pain. 8.02 (Physics) is essentially a review of high school E&M, which truly makes me appreciate my AP Physics teacher. 9.00 (Psych) is filled with cool videos, neat facts, and references to one of the best books ever: Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
But my favorite class right now is definitely 21W.755 (Reading and Writing Short Stories): hard proof that MIT has humanities classes. And that they’re awesome.
For 21W.755, I get to write a short story every week. There’s generally a prompt, but the professor encourages us to go outside its boundaries, challenge it if we so wish. There are no dumb stories; there are no limitations. We write about what we want to write about, and then we read it aloud to receive feedback from both the professor and our peers.
I was scared to read my story aloud. Incredibly so.
The prompt for this week was to think back on our lives, pick out a memory that seems insignificant yet somehow memorable, and then write a story that starts with, “I don’t know why I remember…”
I wrote the following – a slightly embellished story that is nonetheless true in its essentials. Before I share, let me put out the following disclaimer: I am not a professional author, and the following was written in about one hour and never consequently edited. Please don’t judge me too harshly! :'(
Now, without further ado, The Short Story I Read Aloud:
I don’t know why I remember reciting multiplication tables to my mother.
I was maybe six years old – carefree, fearless, intoxicated by the New Zealand beauty that surrounded me. Our home was quaint – a one-story house, white with turquoise shutters, kept exceedingly comfortable by central heating. There were three bedrooms, two living rooms, a small study, and a kitchen. I spent most of my time in the larger of the two living rooms, in which resided four squishy, mustard-yellow couches, perfect for me to jump on when I got tired of my trampoline or bed.
My parents sought to channel my elastic energy into something more productive than bruised knees and bloody cuts; as such, there came a day when my mom led me outside, onto the back porch, and handed me the two times table to learn.
Undaunted, I ran about the landing with the paper in my hands, climbing onto ledges and catapulting myself off of them. Before every launch, I glanced at one line of the table, committing it to memory. After twelve such instances of perfect projectile motion, I was done.
I turned my attention to my mother, who had been plucking plums all the while, with minimal success. At 5’ 2”, she was a good four feet shorter than the tallest branch on the plum tree, even with the added height of the porch. While the branches closest to her had been neatly stripped of their fruit, the ones farthest away drooped pitifully with the weight they bore.
The plums that filled my mother’s basket were beautiful. Standing on one of the wooden ledges, I had a clear view of their deep magenta coats and still-attached stems. I crept closer and poked at a few of them, just to see what would happen. My un-cut nails easily pierced the skin of one plum, shattering its seamless surface and allowing its captive juice to ooze out. Momentarily surprised, I looked up at my mom, who was still reaching for some higher-up fruit, her face creased with effort. I glanced back at the fruit I’d punctured, touched the juice with my pinky, and slurped it up with a natural indelicacy.
My multiplication tables forgotten, I gathered the two bottom ends of my t-shirt to create a makeshift basket. After checking to make sure my mother was still otherwise occupied, I began shoveling plums into my cloth cradle, hoarding as much as my Youth Small shirt could hold. I crept away with my loot, curled up in the tiny space separating my bed from my wall, and feasted. Fifteen minutes, ten plums, and a stomachache later, I presented myself to my mother in shame, fully expecting to be lectured on the immorality of thievery. She studied me for a little while, noting my new purple mustache, as well as my sticky, still-dripping fingers. And then she laughed.
It was such a clear, high, joyous laugh. I stared at her in open confusion, which only served to intensify her mirth. Unable to speak coherently, she gave me a pat on the head, and still chuckling, gestured for me to follow her into the kitchen and swallow some strawberry-flavored medicine to ease my stomach pain. I loved that syrupy medicine so much that I would have consumed the whole thing, had it not been kept on the highest shelf in the fridge. As I licked my spoon clean, I continued to watch my mother, wary of further surprises.
Her giggling finally under control, she opened her mouth. I braced myself.
In Tamil, she said, “Hamsika, will you recite the two times table?”
I froze. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what came past two times one is two.
“Um…” I faltered. My mother’s eyes were still dancing from the plum incident. I noticed the amusement and had an idea.
“Amma, can I tell you the two times table outside, on the porch?”
She agreed, her eyes now filled with curiosity rather than hilarity. The minute we were outside, I climbed up onto a ledge and jumped as high off it as I could. Within seconds, the two times table came rushing back into my memory.
“Two times one is two! Two times two is four!” I chanted with a rhythm fit to rival a metronome. “Two times three is six!”
I continued in this manner until finally, with one last gallivanting leap – “Two times twelve is twenty-four!”
I landed triumphantly on the ground, right in front of my mother, breathing heavily. She smiled at me, and I grinned in return. Thirty seconds later, I got clocked on the head by a plum, as if it too were offering me some kind of congratulations. I fell down, dazed. My mom helped me up, then handed me another sheet of paper. Two times table down. Three to go.
Thus ends the tale of what was most likely my first ever math lesson. Moral of the story: Take this class!!
One last thing: I want to thank Varun, a prospective student, for sharing the following video with me:
Writing isn’t the only way to remember the past :)