“How many twos are there in an eight?” Sandhya literally shouted at Divya this time. Poor Divya was trying her best to figure out the answer without using the calculator, as her mother, Sandhya, had ordered. After spending several minutes playing with her hair and eating the back of the pencil, thinking how on Earth will knowing the number of twos in an eight help her in her life, she gave up. She looked at her mother innocently and shrugged in disappointment. Sandhya’s anger levels shot up and she raised her hand to hit Divya. Before it could reach Divya’s cheeks, tears dwelled up in Divya’s eyes and she started to sob.
“Not again Divya! Divide eight by two and tell me the correct answer quickly”, Sandhya said. Although she was losing her composure seeing her daughter cry, she also wanted her daughter to solve the basic mathematical questions without the help of a calculator.
Divya was never good at mathematics, and it irked Sandhya who had topped the University when she did her Post Graduation in Mathematics. Divya always wondered how can someone study such a difficult subject in college and the biggest question was that how can someone score in a subject that is an unsolved problem in itself. Sandhya could never accept the fact that her daughter was not good in the subject, so she kept trying hard all the time. Divya was nine years old and other children of her age were solving much difficult mathematical problems easily.
“Divya! What nonsense are you doing?” She shouted again and Divya’s sobs turned to a full scale crying session and tears dropped on the notebook.
“Look at that, now you are dirtying your notebook!” Divya tried to wipe the tears off from the paper but Sandhya caught her hand, “No! It will ruin what you have written you fool. Use the tissue paper.”
Divya left the room, still sobbing. Sandhya was irritated with an exhausted expression on her face. She drank some water to calm herself down. Divya came back and handed over the tissue paper to her mother. Sandhya smiled at her, a mother’s smile. A smile that said to Divya that “no matter how good or how bad you are at something, you will always remain a piece of my heart.”
But Divya was just half a piece of Sandhya, the other half belonged to Divya’s father. Sandhya didn’t want to think about it at this moment. She shook her head and said, “Baby, you can take all the time you want to solve it okay? We are not in school, no one here is going to punish you for the wrong answer. See, you just have to count on the two fingers till you reach eight, all right? Try it now, count on just two fingers.”
Divya counted till eight and scarily uttered, “Fffff..four twos mummy.”
“Yes! Correct! See, how easy it is! You just have to count on your fingers, right?”
“Shall I go to the kitchen now? Will you take care of the rest of your homework?”
“Yes”, Divya was calm now. She had finally given the correct answer. It was difficult for her to understand why her mother expected so much from her. Why couldn’t she study only the subjects she was good at?
Her struggle with mathematics irritated her. She hated the very word, mathematics, like it was a tall ghost with the numeral zero as his face, numeral three as his lips, two sevens as his legs, two ones as his arms and a huge eight as his stomach, in which the ghost was continuously creating more equations and giving it to her school teachers and her mother. She wanted her school to finish as soon as possible. She remembered her mother saying that she will get to choose the subjects of her own liking once she reaches college.
Divya had tried many tricks to get rid of the problems. For instance, once she memorized the mathematical answers which proved to be a big mistake as she scored a zero in her assignment tests that week. The questions were different in the tests. She felt cheated. The questions that were asked in the test were different from the ones she had memorized. Hopelessly, she brought the assignment to her mother for her signatures and received a four finger imprint on her left cheek.
Sandhya hired countless private mathematics tutors for Divya but she wouldn’t improve. At last, she decided she will do it herself. She relied on oldest techniques which were simple enough to understand the basics of the subject and started telling them to Divya on regular basis. With time, Divya improved, but not much. She would score just enough to be promoted to the next class but it would never satisfy Sandhya. She wanted her daughter to top all the examinations, like she used to.
Finally, the day arrived, Divya passed her intermediate schooling and the ghost of mathematics disappeared from her life once and for all. Sandhya was ecstatic, that from now on she wouldn’t have to feel bad by looking at Divya’s scorecard. Divya chose a literature program and started studying ancient literature, modern literature, classics and found herself lost in the world of words. Words began to mesmerize her. She carried a book in her bag all the time. Sandhya had accepted the fate. Her daughter had her own destiny to fulfill.
It was a lovely summer morning, the sun was shining bright and hot. Divya had taken the day off from college and was lazing around the house. Sandhya was getting ready for her work. There was an awkward peace in spite of two women living under the same roof. Sandhya gulped her glass of juice and called out, “Divya! I’m leaving!”
“All right ma”, Divya replied in a lazy voice, not sure if her mother had heard it, but she didn’t want to say it again. The day just went by and before Divya could realize, the sun had travelled all across the sky and was about to leave her home in darkness. She tidied the home a little bit and cooked herself a meal. She was eating when Sandhya walked in.
“Hey ma! How come you’re early today?” Divya asked surprisingly.
“No work at office!” Sandhya beamed a full bright smile at Divya.
After a while, Sandhya called Divya to her room to show her something. It were her notebooks from the school. Divya laughed while flipping through the pages.
“Oh god, it looks like the greek inscriptions. I had such a bad handwriting!” She gave a shocking expression to Sandhya.
“You had such a bad brain!” Sandhya poked Divya’s forehead. Divya knew what her mother was talking about. She rolled her eyes at her.
“I still hate mathematics mom”, Divya said.
“I know, you always will, I tried my best to ignite your interest in the subject but I guess you are more like your father when it comes to understanding simple mathematical equations”, Sandhya said coldly.
“Mom, don’t start it again. Whatever he was, he was my father and you can’t hide the fact that you loved a person who was completely opposite to what you were at that time”, Divya made clear that she was not going to have any discussion on this subject.
“But he loved me”, Sandhya said, feeling the texture of the paper with her hand.
“My existence proves that fact”, Divya replied.
“What is it?” Divya asked.
“I asked him once if he would choose you or me if he had to choose.”
“What? How bad mom!” Divya laughed.
“Yes, I was very selfish once. After you were born, he would spend all his time playing with you, I was mere sixteen, I felt jealous of your existence. He used to say you are the best gift I have ever given him. I didn’t understand his words back then. Only after his death I understood that the same was true for me as well, you are the best gift he could ever give me.”
Divya gave a very calm and composed expression.
“That explains your urge to make me better, you wanted to take care of his gift”, Divya said after a long pause.
“Mom, you have taken good care of me, because you eventually accepted me the way I am”, Divya tried to assure her.
“I shouldn’t have asked him stupid questions like these. He felt bad when I talked like this. Sometimes I feel he cancelled himself out of the equation so that you and me will stay balanced.”
“We two are balanced mom, aren’t we?”
Divya hugged her mother who started sobbing. She rubbed her back, put her chin on her head, thinking about her father, a man he had never known because he died in a road accident when she was four. She had always wondered how life would have been if her father was alive, she would have known a father’s love, the way her friends know. She would have taken him for granted, ask him anything, tease him, make fun of him, make him angry at times but love him most. Tears dwelled up in her eyes, rolled down her cheeks and fell on the notebook her mother had opened in her lap.
Sandhya was about to wipe the page clean when Divya said, “Let it be mom.”
Sandhya stopped herself and said, “You remember you used to wipe your tears off the notebooks when I would hit you.”
Divya replied “I remember mom, I always thought it doesn’t matter how many twos are there in an eight but I couldn’t say it because I was afraid you will hit me again.”
Sandhya wiped her tears and laughed, “You were so poor in mathematics! I couldn’t accept it!”
Divya smiled and said, “There was something else I have always wanted to say to you.”
“What was it?”
“The four twos in an eight were never as important as we two in this one house.”
Sandhya smiled at her, Divya smiled back, and in that moment, the equation was perfectly in balance.