Some of you out there, having just got up on a Sunday morning and having just glanced at but not really comprehended the main title of this article, are probably thinking that Acalculia is a young Eastern European, short-skirted, disco type that I once used to associate with. Others, well-versed in Classic Greek Literature in [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Acalculia and I

Life can be complicated when you’re not a calculating sort of person says Gyan C. A. Fernando

Some of you out there, having just got up on a Sunday morning and having just glanced at but not really comprehended the main title of this article, are probably thinking that Acalculia is a young Eastern European, short-skirted, disco type that I once used to associate with.

Others, well-versed in Classic Greek Literature in their formative years and who have just had the advantage of an invigorating early morning cup of tea might be thinking,with smug complacency, that Acalculia must be one of those nasty Siren type girls from Greek Mythology. Well you know Medusa et al don’t you?

Can you all now get up and stand in the corner of the class!

You are all wrong! It is neither!
For most people it is quite easy-peasy to work out that the logarithm of whatever is something-or-the-other, just off the tops of their heads. For me, the complex mathematical formula of two plus two is quite easy, but anything else is a challenge.
Just a minute! In my enthusiasm to rush into advanced mathematics, I forgot to explain who or what is Acalculia.
Acalculia is a sort of medical condition.

Let me explain further: All my life I have suffered from Acalculia.

Being a doctor, I consulted myself by looking at myself in the mirror but there is no cure.
Acalculia is the inborn inability to grasp numbers and therefore simple calculations, resulting in one being referred to as a fool by your Arithmetic teacher at school. In my case, my Dad was my Arithmetic teacher at school.
The more that Dad tried to teach me things like the Square Root or the Common Denominator, the more I got confused. When it came to Algebra, my Dad gave up on me entirely.

I did like drawing parabolic graphs though, once I had worked out or copied the formula. Usually it was the latter, and from the clever guy sitting next to me. In fact graphs were the only things that I liked in Mathematics because a completed parabola reminded me of the nose of a Boeing 707 aircraft about to crash-land nose down and at a 90 degree angle.
The time now is VI p.m.

time for the news..
At this point we need to go back to ancient Roman times. I am sure most of you are familiar with Roman Numerals:I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X.
So, this year, which is 2012, reads as MMXII in Roman numerals. Got that? No?
The MM stands for 2000. Not for Marilyn Monroe……
The Roman numeral system is still useful if you want to read ancient clock faces in Budapest, in Bonn, in Stuttgart or on Big Ben, London. Or you might want to read the date of the copyright notice at the end of a Warner Bros, Loony Tunes cartoon….you know the part where the “That’s All Folks!” bit appears?
Roman Numerals are otherwise now totally useless.

Some clever Indian chaps living near a river called Brahmaputra devised a system some shillions of years ago which goes like 12345678910 and which, by sheer coincidence, corresponded to the number of fingers on human hands. As a bonus, if you take off your shoes and socks you can count up to 20!

Some animals, like cats, don’t have the same number of toes as us humans so I presume they can count only up to 18 but cats don’t usually count, and they don’t usually have Bank Accounts. Some of the clever chaps amongst you might have noticed that I just introduced the concept of the Nought or the Zero or the Binduwa. Did you? Good! Well, again some ancient chaps, Arabs probably, one fine day decided that they needed a Zero! Maybe they were a little bit tipsy after consuming date wine.

It is beyond me why anyone, even fermented ancient Arabs, should need “Something which is Nothing” which is what the Zero is or isn’t! But there you are!

This introduction of the ZERO immediately complicated matters. If this was not bad enough, then comes the Decimal Point, a further unnecessary complication!

Getting back to my own problems with figures, any figure that exceeds 5 or even 4 digits has always had me totally snookered. Whilst I lived in Britain, this was not a serious personal problem because my bank balances never exceeded this number of figures, even including the decimal places; but unfortunately, my mortgage did.
One GB Pound equals…..

As soon as I came back to Sri Lanka, and given the prevalent exchange rate in the Old Republic, things immediately started to get complicated for me! The girls at the local bank have fits of giggles when I walk in but they do politely cover their mouths.

It took me ages to work out how to key Rs.10,000 into the local ATMs. I usually keyed in Rs.100 (which has the same number of digits as 10,000) and wondered why the machine laughed at me.The problem is that Sri Lankan ATMs have the dreaded decimal point!Ha! Why do you need the decimal point in Sri Lanka when anything less than a Rupee is worthless? Once I had worked it out, just for fun, I keyed in 100.23 and the machine got rather nasty with me and tried to swallow my card.

I recently put up a property that I owned in Sri Lanka, for sale,at ten times less than the market value because of my good grasp of the decimal point. Hordes of buyers came in chartered buses to my doorstep.The Police had to be called in.
Or take the last time I visited Turkey. There was so much hyper-inflation there that the lowest denomination bank note circulating at that time was the Lira 1,000,000 or was it 10,000,00…er…any way, they called it the Bir Million. I did feel like a multi-millionaire but my brain was like an overheated hard drive.I needed a calculator just to work out how much to pay for a single cup of Turkish coffee!

By now you must have noticed the use of the comma or the“separator” between the numbers. This is another complication.
Go to any Spanish speaking country, for example Bolivia, and things get “confuscototalmente” or totally confusing. The South Americans, for pig-headedand perverse reasons of their own, use the comma instead of the decimal point and vice versa! Repeat: Comma instead of the decimal point and vice versa!

Take this scenario for instance: You are in Bolivia, a nice day, and happily strolling down the Avenida Cinco de Mayo in La Paz and you take a sudden fancy to a Bolivian doll…an ordinary one, not a living doll… and realize that it is priced at Bol 20,50! Note the use of the comma!

Work that out for yourself. Confusion reigns! Two thousand and fifty? Si? No?“Solo veinte y cincuenta, Senor!Compre! Compre!” shouts the middle-aged multilayer-skirted, blousy woman in a bowler hat. (Only twenty Bolivianos and fifty cents sir. Buy! Buy!)
Fortunately for me, my Spanish is better than my Mathematics. I of course buy because at Bo l20.50 and without the comma, it is cheap. Get it?
A Bolivian misadventure
Or, again in La Paz, you get the chance to take out a nice girl for a slap-up “meal for two with a large bottle of Rose’”. You are in the only posh restaurant in La Paz, the Hotel Presidente, and 12 floors up and with a spectacular view of the city and the star-lit skies of the Altiplano.

You are the only two people in there. The poor Bolivians haven’t got that sort of money to dine out in style.
Comes the end of a nice meal in pleasant company and you are presented with a bill for Bol10.000,50 by a waiter who looks like an “El Bandido” from a Clint Eastwood film.

Without taking my eyes off my lovely young companion I pay the guy in cash, patronisingly.There you are!
It then becomes totally embarrassing for me when the waiter promptly throws the money back at me, and with an accompanying snigger.

I have just given him a Bol 10 note plus 50 centavos! A Bol 10, at that time, was worth US Dollars 0.001 or thereabouts, give or take a zero or a decimal point.

In my confusion and in my embarrassment, I offer him a tip of 100 Bolivars thinking that that is elproblema. No? No Senor!
The bill is for 10,000.50 and not for10.000,50!

Just check out the position of the commas and dots carefully and you can see what I mean! Very subtle! No? No, Senor?
In case you are wondering how I got out of this embarrassing situation: I regained my dignity and composure by tossing my credit card at “El Bandido” with a sharp gunfire like “Aquitienes!”….Here you are!

El Bandido grunted briefly,inspected both sides of the card carefully, tapped the side of his head with his index finger but seemed happy with it, scratched his armpits and walked away.

When the grinning Gorilla returned, my young companion Anna checked the credit card slip for me very carefully.Taking the dots, commas and squiggles all into consideration she declared that it was “OK Gyan”.

She then leant across the table, cocked her head to one side and compassionately held my hand. She didn’t laugh at me. She was wearing nice perfume. I noticed that she had lovely teeth.The two of us were like Jon and his girlfriend Liz in the Garfield cartoons. I kissed her soft hands!Ahhhh!Las memorias!

Anyway, my travels have always been plagued because of Zeros, Commas and Decimal Points!However, I am made of sterner stuff and have never let Acalculia get me down!

I do rely on calculators like a cripple does on crutches but I, frequently and unfortunately, hit the wrong keys on them. The only solution for my disabling condition is to link up with a clever, non-blond female, preferably a fellow traveller, like the lovely Anna.

Seriously, there is no real way around this problem for me,except to get back to Roman Numerals and insist on restaurant bills in Roman Numerals.

A bill for MCMXXXVI in a restaurant in Banda Berastagi in Indonesia should leave both the waiter,me and Anna equally confused!

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