Wednesday, 30 January 2013

-|   X   |-

I came upon my old Mathematics notebook and two things struck me –  one, I used to write in ink-pen and two, the book was filled with variables like x, y and z. Although the most recurring alphabet was X – the elusive X

All of us remember x — that curious creature with such an amazingly bad sense of direction and memory that it either kept getting lost or kept forgetting who it was. In geometry it would crop up frequently, either moodily throwing stones while perched atop the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle or trapped inside a circle trying to get the right angle on things despite being uncomfortably wedged between two sharp lines. 

In algebra it was practically everywhere, philosophically wondering about its purpose in life while being jostled by an army of numbers and mathematical symbols who seemed impatient to straighten it out. Occasionally it would fall in with a questionable bunch of characters — namely, w, y and z — which were equally directionless and were suspected of blowing their pocket money on junk food and fizzy drinks. 

Looking back at my school years I realize that, back then, I never had any sympathy for x. I lost count of the number of times I was asked to extricate it from difficult situations. No sooner would I help it surmount one crisis than it would dash off to embrace another one. I would often lose my temper and threaten to abandon it. I think I was cruel in my scorn for unresolved issues. At that age every question has an answer which can be found at the back of the textbook (or in the class topper`s completed homework). I had an unspoken, complacent confidence that things will work out for the best.

Life, itself, appeared to be a rather unwieldy equation, littered with variables, but one with a solution nevertheless. Where, in this naively structured view of an astonishingly chaotic universe, was there a place for the temperamental, unsure x? 

It is only now, with the benefit of hindsight, that I realize what it was going through. Growing up and facing the real world is messy business. Things don`t always work out in your favour, not everyone you meet is likely to agree with everything you say, you can`t choose your colleagues or your bosses, and you don`t always get 100% in whatever you do. The truth is that we just try to muddle through life as best as we can with the help of our family, friends and partners. But here`s the thing — life eventually does work out sooner or later, even if not in the way we expected. 

But there are inescapable periods in each of our lives when we struggle to make sense of the world around us and wonder about our purpose. We question ourselves on the kind of people we are slowly becoming and ask ourselves whether this is what we wanted. My guess is that x was going through the same phase. 

So x, buddy, wherever you are I want to tell you I have finally understood why you felt so lost and confused. But take heart because the schoolgirl faith isn`t misplaced either — life is a beautiful, complex equation which solves itself in mysterious ways. But yes, I confess that I wish we both could travel back to the time when I had the answer to your every problem at the back of a book.


PS: In algebra, the letter 'x' is often used to represent an unknown quantity or variable. Similarly, in English, x represents the unknown, as in X-rays, which baffled their discoverer, and Malcolm X, who chose the symbol to represent the forgotten name of his African ancestors.

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