Aemon & Alliser

Aemon was my best friend in junior school, in fact he was my first “best friend”. We used to sit together at school. We managed to jab each other in the eye with a pencil multiple times. We managed to get slapped hard for playing during class.

I got to know Alliser because he was the son of one of the mothers in my mother’s group of friends who waited outside school for us (when we were young). He was a creative genius from his childhood. He sang, he painted, he even sewed. He was very sophisticated. We used to have picnics every year, the mothers and the sons/daughters. I would wear whatever my mother told me to, such as a red sweater, with the collars of my yellow shirt peeking out from underneath. He would wear a blazer, with a tie.

In the ninth class, the three of us became close friends and remained so for two years. We shared five coaching classes – two Maths classes, Physical Science, English and our native tongue. Yes, we needed coaching for that too. Aemon was usually the one who sat in the middle, while Alliser and I fought for the edge seats. Whoever won got to sit on the outer edge and have a chance to flirt with the girl on the edge seat of the other bench in the row. The other one would get the window seat. There was another reason for Aemon to sit in the middle. He was the one who studied. We who chose to rely on our wits needed him during tests.

Aemon and I played calculator, a game played with fingers and addition modulo five. He and I were the best and it would always end in a draw. Alliser and I were wing men. I needed his style. He needed my attitude (and all the free comedy).

Alliser was supposed to go abroad. He wanted a dual major in music and engineering. He could have got it. But he only applied at Princeton. He is now in a local college. But he’s still interested in both.

Aemon would have made a good engineer at a good college. And the three of us would have made a good team. Our reunions would have been good. Alas, he never got the opportunity to go to college. He passed away four years ago three days before our school farewell. This is for him.

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Mr Perelman – 1

Before college, I used to study in this big school… really big. My favourite teacher was Mr. Perelman.

At the beginning of every year, we were given our class schedules, and the initials of the teachers who’d take our classes. For some reason, no one told us the full names. No one asked either. We had this school booklet where the names of all the teachers and their departments were printed. I made a habit of taking this with me on the first day of every academic year.

In Class 8, we had two Math teachers one of whom was Mr Poincare. The other teacher had not been decided upon yet. We didn’t have that Math class for the first two weeks and we got used to free periods. In the third week, a really dark guy arrived in the class. He had a black bag with him and he wore really thick glasses. I had seen him before and I had always thought he must be one of the office staff.

He entered the room and introduced himself as Mr Perelman. He would be our new Math teacher. He would be teaching us Algebra, Mensuration and Trigonometry. We were crushed. He looked really strict and mean. I was sure I wouldn’t get 100 In Math again. By the way, somehow I managed to score full marks in Math in every exam in Class VII (and I love boasting about it). He started Mensuration that day. Standard, boring stuff.

He used to teach a few things in class and then give us a few problems. Those who were able to solve them first got the opportunity to have his/her copy checked by him. Sometimes he would give a tick with a blue pen and that meant the world to us although we would have preferred it if he had used a red pen. Some of us became regular “performers” in his class. There was me and there was Dominica (she and I were in the same Math tuition since Class VII), and Severus (you’ll hear a lot about him later), and Alicia, and Robin (she’ll be a central character too some day), and a few others.

One day, after the half-yearly exams, he started his class with a problem. He asked us to do a problem. He wrote on the board:

Factorise (x + y)

What the f*ck! How would I factorise (x + y)? He called up Dominica to solve it on the board. She had no clue what to do. He called me next and I, being the (over-)confident person I was, said, “There’s no solution to this problem.” He smiled and he called up Severus, and then Alicia, and then Robin, and one by one everyone fell. We were all dismayed and a bit annoyed because we had no idea how it could be factorised. And then a hand went up. It was Aemon. He claimed he had a solution. I smiled wisely. There couldn’t be any solution. He went up to the board and did this:

x + y =(x^{1/3} +y^{1/3})(x^{2/3} - x^{1/3}y^{1/3} + y^{2/3})

I was stunned! Mr Perelman smiled wisely and looked at us. For the first time in my life, I learnt to think outside the box. And I have remembered it ever since.