25 December 2014

Numbers are beautiful

There was a young boy who loved to stare at the sky.  Well, not all the time.  He didn’t enjoy sky-gazing at midday on cloudless days of course, but at other times he found it to be an interesting pastime. 

One day he saw a sunset unlike any he had seen before.  There was red, orange and pink light playing on the clouds.  It was like some ancient army getting ready for battle, with colorful armor plates and splendid banners.  He was thrilled. He wanted to share the moment.  He looked around and saw a friend.  He called out to the friend and said ‘Look! It’s an amazing sunset!’ 

The friend looked.  He didn’t say anything.  There was no change in the expression on his face.  The boy asked, ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ The friend just said ‘Maybe I see beauty in other things.’

‘Such as?’ the boy asked.

‘Mathematics,’ the friend replied.

It took the boy some time to understand what his friend said.  The boy liked numbers.  He was amazed by patterns.  He enjoyed solving mathematical puzzles.  In fact thrilled as he was in solving the Rubik’s Cube, he was far more amazed by the patterns he could create thereafter.  So he understood what his friend was saying.

This is the truth about beauty.  It’s all around us.  In different forms.  Some of us like sunrises and sunsets, some find nothing more joyous that listening to birdsong.  Some enjoy the beach, some like to listen to the crash of waves on rock and some are happy enough to watch the receding wave leave a line only for it to be erased by the next wave.  There’s beauty in the smile of a child.  There’s beauty in a tear drop.  There's beauty in numbers. There are all kinds of beauty around us. 

Bookshelves can be pretty.  You might not enjoy getting wet in a storm, but you might still find beauty in the way the wind and rain blurs buildings and trees.  There’s also beauty in ‘ugly’ things.  When I say ‘ugly’ I mean things that we don’t usually call ‘beautiful’.  Like a polythene bag.  Ordinarily there’s nothing remarkable in a polythene bag.  In fact, we sometimes see these bags crumpled up and sticking to the corner of a drain.  That’s not pretty.  But then again, we’ve all seen the random polythene bag or sili-malla being swept around and up by the wind.  It is as though they have been given life.  Floating. Up towards the top of buildings, dipping down towards a busy intersection, swept again towards the tree line far away and then over a rooftop and out of sight. 

‘That’s beautiful,’ the little boy might say.  ‘Hmm…..not really,’ his friend might say. 

The friend might say, ‘I discover a lot of amazing things when I calculate the digital root on number plates of cars.’

‘What’s a digital root?’

‘Let’s say you get a number like KE 1864.  Add up the digits: 1+8+6+4.’
‘Ok.  That’s 19.’

‘Add those digits too: 1+9.   What do you get?’


‘Ten means 1+0; so add them up too.’


‘One is the digital root of the number 1864’.

‘So what’s amazing about that?’
‘Can’t you see?  You just drop the nines.  Forget them and add the remaining digits.  For example, the moment you see a “1” and an “8”, you forget those numbers.  The same with 2 and 7.  The same with 3 and 6. The same with 4 and 5.  Each pair and up to 9.  So in our original number we have to consider only 6+4.  We get 10.  And it gets prettier.  The money you see ‘1 & 9’ or ‘2 & 8’ or ‘3 and 7’ or ‘4 and 6’ or ‘5 an 5’, you can just consider it ‘1’.  Then it’s easy to calculate the digital root.’

‘I see,’ the little boy was getting interested in the game.

‘Give me a 4 digit number and I will tell you the digital root immediately,’ the friend said.

‘Take the number of that car: 7621’

‘Seven,’ the friend said immediately.

‘How did you calculate so fast?’

‘Easy, I noticed that 6+2+1 is equal to 9.  So I erased those three digits from my mind.  I am left with 7.’

‘Amazing!’ the little boy said.

‘Check this out.  Three 1’s make 3, three 2’s make 6, three 3’s make 9, three 4’s make 3 (12: 1+ 2: 3), three 5’s make 6, three 6’s make 9, three 7’s make 3, three 8’s make 6 and three 9’s make 9.  They are all multiples of 3.’

The little boy realized suddenly that there are all kinds of number games he could play just by looking at the license plate of a vehicle.  

His friend smiled and said ‘there’s so much beauty all around us; maybe there’s mathematics in cloud formations and color combinations in the sky.’

So they looked at the sky.  The colors were different. The ancient army was nowhere to be seen.  The sun was sinking behind a building far away.

‘A perfect half circle,’ the friend said. 

They smiled.   

This is the thirteenth article in a series I am writing for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The series is for children. Adults consider yourselves warned...you might re-discover a child within you! 

Other articles in this series