Bangalore in the 1980s… a splendid place, which lived up to its ‘Garden City’ epithet in every nook and corner. Empty green plots, trees flanking every street, mini forests and parks amidst quiet residential areas… I lived in a peaceful neighbourhood and my kindergarten school was just a few streets away from home. In fact, it was nothing more than a house with a little garden that had the most colourful lovebirds I had ever seen. I so adored the lovebirds that I think I went to school mainly to see them! Most often after school I would snoop around the place looking for fallen feathers. It was my favourite kind of treasure hunt as a child.
I was fascinated by nature, particularly flowers, butterflies and the colourful insects that crawled in the school garden. I enjoyed collecting flowers, leaves, feathers and dead insects, all of which I pressed between the pages of some ‘good’ encyclopaedias my parents bought for me to read! Honestly, reading those encyclopaedias was more like a punishment, so I’m glad I could put them to good use as my treasure chest.
My love for nature notwithstanding, I grew up and went on to set up a maths learning centre called NumberNagar. Last April was an interesting time for me at the centre. I had to come up with themes for our summer programme. Throughout the year, my team works to make maths learning fun through various activities, so the summer programme had to be something a lot more special. I was browsing through some books in my study for inspiration when I came across a box containing old photo albums, letters from friends and a few long-forgotten treasures. Might as well indulge in some memory jogging, I thought. Hopefully I would end up refreshed to do the work at hand.
I opened the box gingerly and was delighted to see my priceless pressed flowers, leaves and feathers in it. Why, it turned out to be my Eureka moment! Two words rang loud and clear in my head – ‘treasure hunt’ and ‘nature’. That was it… I was sure that our summer programme would revolve around these two words. I immediately began my research to connect these two words with my subject of interest, maths, and a whole new world opened up.
Have you ever wondered if maths has any connection to the beautiful things around us? Well, you’ll be surprised to know that it isn’t just you who cannot get away from maths. There is nothing in this world that is spared from the subject! It is literally embedded in everything that exists around us – in a happy sort of way, of course.
I didn’t know that there is maths in the way ferns grow, or in the way trees branch out, or for that matter, in all the sea shells that I had collected during my trips to the seaside. The patterns on the sea shell, the way it mysteriously spirals down to a single pointed tip… all this and more I discovered is connected to the fascinating Fibonacci sequence – a pattern of numbers that can be linked to the patterns in nature! I remember writing programs in ‘C’ language to generate this series of Fibonacci numbers during my engineering days, without even so much as a hint that this enchanting number pattern was the secret behind the number of petals flowers have, patterns on seashells, egg shells, snail shells and even some galaxies.
I was so excited by my discovery that I started looking for more information on the internet. And that’s when I stumbled upon The Fascinating Fibonaccis by Shonali Chinniah on Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver platform. It is a simple book for children on the Fibonacci sequence and how this particular set of numbers is repeated amazingly in nature. I also found some delightful and beautifully illustrated stories based on other mathematical concepts, like Dum Dum-a-Dum Biryani! by Gayathri Tirthapura and How Old is Muttajji? by Roopa Pai. I just wish I had stories like these when I was in school.
That said, I am so glad that I have now discovered maths in all those things I loved and treasured in my childhood. Maths, which seemed so abstract, dull and boring during my school days, has come alive thanks to my recent learning. I realise that concepts like symmetry, number patterns, fractals, proportions and more can be taught in a garden rather than sitting inside a classroom.
I have now begun a second innings at learning maths with a fresh perspective and joy that I missed out when I was in school. I am a changed person. I don’t just see beautiful colours and patterns in nature anymore… I now know there’s maths to it than meets the eye!