# Zeroing on zero

Sir, what is the value of zero? my high school classmate asked the teacher during question time.
The flummoxed teacher sought time to answer but we got zero answer from him. Has zero any value? “We are all zeros and it is only the Madam who could add some value to us” chota chota netas used to admit during Indira Gandhi days.
Is zero a number? If it’s a number it must have a value and so what is the value? Kids are taught 1 to 10, it's only later they learn zero, but not its significance. Ever since the mathematicians conceptualised zero in 650 AD lesser mortals like me are trying to fathom its value or its exact place in the numerical world.

“Zero on its own may not qualify as a number but as a place keeping function it has profound value” says a mathematician. Take for example 123, if you place a zero in between the value keeps changing - 1023, 1203, 1230, etc. Sure, but whose value? - that of the number or zero or both? It's intriguing. “Zero, in its place-keeping function, is a kind of punctuation mark to help us interpret numbers correctly” says another number wizard.
When we hear about the stock markets being wiped out by a few lakh crore rupees the place of zero assumes significance because what does a lakh crore mean? And how many zeros make a trillion, I mean how many zeros are there in a trillion?

Talk of billions, the British and the Americans differ. In fact it is not only English that separates the two countries, as Bernard Shaw said, but billion also. While the UK billion has 12 zeros in its belly, the US has only nine zeros. Take trillion - in the UK people write 1 followed by 18 zeros while the US of A is content with just 12 zeros in each of its trillions. I am not sure how many zeros are needed to indicate one Akshouhini.
Not many of us know how many zeros make a crore; in fact I fumble with the lakh itself. So how do we write a lakh crore in figures? Did I start? No I have given up already.