Life lessons, one bounce at a time

Last Updated 03 February 2019, 18:55 IST

For a six year old, Sharada can be very firm. She wanted to wear the green gown with a white collar for the evening’s performance. Any amount of reasoning that the dress had seen better days did not count. That old gown was what she wanted. I asked her why. That would get her the first prize, won’t it? Last time she wore that for the recitation competition three months back, she won the prize.

She wore her old dress and performed very well, but another child won the prize, fortunately — fortunate because Sharada was about to learn a major lesson in ‘cause and effect’ . We allowed her to sleep off the tears that night and the next day promised to be one of play and hope. Or so she thought, at least.

I touched upon the subject gingerly, “What about that green gown with the white collar?” She had a shy downcast look for a jiffy but fought back with confidence and said that was still her best dress, prize or no prize. I thought it best to approach the subject in another way. “Sharada, dear, can you get me that yellow rubber ball?” Realising that the sensitive subject of dresses was over, she got ready for a possible hour or two of fun.

I dropped the ball and asked her to catch it when it bounced back. She got the knack after a few attempts. I asked her, “Why is the ball bouncing back?” “You dropped it,” she answered.

“Now get the crazy ball.” I told her. I dropped it on the floor and asked her to catch it. She could not do it even after several attempts. I could not have done it myself. “Why?” I asked. She was very unhappy that the ball was all wrong. It was fun alright, but all wrong. I told her “No, Sharada, the ball is right, but we do not understand it well. We do not even know what is inside. When we do not understand the happenings, we cannot predict the results.”

I was not sure whether she understood the compression of air in the yellow ball to make a reasonable prediction of bounce, and too many variables in the crazy ball. But most importantly, I wanted her to understand that many complex things are at play which make it essential to repeat several observations before conclusions are drawn.

“How do I know how a ball bounces?” she asked. “When it bounces as you expect all the time for you, and for every one else and also to little cousin Shyam in England,” I said. A vast number of observations make a law, but a theorem is born when you can prove it cannot be otherwise, like Pythagoras.

My wife breezed in at that moment and asked me if I could go to bank, now that rahu kalam was over. As I was contemplating the right answer for the occasion, I saw Sharada gingerly dropping the balls several times and watching the effect. I did not know what conclusions Sharada drew, but she did not wear the green gown with white collar afterwards.

(Published 03 February 2019, 18:54 IST)

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