31 January 2015

The games you can and cannot play with rice

This is the eighteenth 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! Scroll down for other articles in this series. 

There are many stories about how the game of chess was invented.  About 40 years ago, a man told his 5 year old son one such tale. 

‘There was a king who loved games.  In his court there was a man who was very good at inventing games.  One day the king ordered the inventor to design a game unlike anything the world had ever known.  The inventor, after thinking about it for a while, came up with the game that is now known as ‘chess’, a game played by two people on a board of 64 squares with different pieces that have different ways of moving.  The king was overjoyed.  He was ready to give anything to the inventor as payment. 

‘“What  do you want?” the king asked.

‘“ Just one grain of rice for the first square, two for the second, four for the third, doubling the amount of the previous square until all 64 squares are accounted for,” the inventor said.

‘“That’s simple, ask for something more!” the king insisted.

‘“No, that’s all.”’

The little boy was confused.  He asked his father why the inventor didn’t ask for something that was more valuable.

‘The king found there wasn’t enough rice in his kingdom to fulfill the inventor’s wish.  So he cut off his head for asking something the king could not deliver,’ the father replied.

The little boy was too young to do the calculation.  His father didn’t do the calculation for him.  Instead he took a bit of rice in his palm, gave it to the boy and told him to count the grains.  The boy found there were 376 grains.  He couldn’t believe it. 

His father said, ‘now if there wasn’t enough rice in the entire kingdom to pay the inventor you can imagine how big the total number of grains would have been, can’t you?’

The boy was astounded.  He couldn’t ‘imagine’ anything.  All he knew was that it had to be a really, really, really big amount. 

As the years went by the boy became more and more fascinated with numbers.  But one day someone said something that made him realize that numbers don’t mean anything if you don’t take into account what they represent. 

It happened at the dinner table.  His little daughter was still too small to eat without spilling.  She was having rice.  The little girl’s mother told a story.

‘My grandfather was a farmer.  When we were small we were not allowed to spill any rice and we have to eat every grain that we served on to the plate.  He told us that every grain of rice is made of 100 beads of his sweat.’ (See This country belongs to Pinchi Appuhamy)

In other words, there’s a lot of labor that goes in to produce enough rice for even just one meal.  Multiply that by two or three meals a day, multiply that by the number of people in the household and multiply that by the number of days, weeks and months and you can imagine the amount of labor that people have had to spend to make sure you don’t go to bed hungry.

Of course you can say ‘the rice was paid for so the labor has been rewarded; what I do with what I purchase is my business’.  Somewhere, somehow, someone would be insulted.  That’s not a good thing. 

Numbers are amazing.  There’s so much in a grain of rice, this too is an amazing thing.   

Other articles in this series


sajic said...

Loved this. When I was small besides eating every grain on the plate we had to pick up every grain on the floor as well-by hand. No broom!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful article .That is why we should always close our eyes for a minute and make 'thanksgiving " to the labour who contributed , for making our plate of food a reality , before start eating .