Science for the six and sixty

Last Updated 11 November 2018, 18:28 IST

Sharada, the six-year-old asked, “Do you know, thatha, there is always a tomorrow for every tomorrow?” I knew immediately that she was talking about her homework or her failure to do one in good time. “The teacher told me, ‘It is all right if you can show me the work tomorrow, but do not again tell me tomorrow’.”

With that discovery that there is always a tomorrow, her burden of homework seemed to have been lifted and with a light mind and feet she ran off, leaving me brooding about tomorrows.

But she was back after a few minutes to as, “What happens after many tomorrows?” “After many tomorrows you will be a nice young lady,” I said. “Then?” “You will be an old lady.” “What happens to you then, thatha?” Immediately, she knew she had asked the wrong question. She knew the answer to that one but wouldn’t face it just yet, so I knew there was an urgent need to change the topic.

“Fine, what was I several years ago?” I asked. She readily broke in to a laughter. “A little boy!” she said, as though that was the funniest thing to perceive. Obviously, what must have occurred to a child’s mind is a three-feet man with a pot belly, semi-bald head and white side burns. I would have laughed myself.

But why can’t I think of tomorrow? I know complex math and physics have answers for time and space. But does one need human-invented math and physics to explain what is staring at our face everyday? These two aspects, the boundless-ness of space and timeless-ness of time, though obvious to man for ages, do not lend themselves to easy understanding. One of these days, I promised myself, I am going to throw away all popular books by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose as my worldly wisdom tells me that a commonplace phenomenon like space and time can only be understood by Einstein and the like, who tell you to imagine warped space like a curved line.

There is no other aspect of human understanding which still remains the property and comprehension of so few. Every law of nature, however difficult to understand at the time of discovery, becomes a common thing after a few years, slowly coming down to school levels. Is it the limitation of the human imagination within small confines from the very beginning — a small womb, house, town, country etc — which makes one think that there is always something bigger than the other and a time scale next to next?

We understand infinity in paper, but do not feel it. Have the confines of our own limited journey through life made us abandon further deliberations on a topic that is well beyond the reach of our time.

The room gets darker, lights come on and I find Sharada trying to reach me with a calendar in hand, no doubt with some questions in mind. I give her the slip this time and set out on yet another evening walk in search of an answer.

(Published 11 November 2018, 18:24 IST)

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