“Zero was one of the greatest inventions in human history,” I remember one of my mathematics teachers telling us at St Albert’s college, Ernakulam. Without zero we would have reached nowhere beyond some letters like X and M and C which were employed gratuitously in the Roman arithmetic. Zero simplified and complexified mathematics at once. It made easy not only counting but also all mathematical operations such as multiplication and division. Just imagine division, for example, in the Roman system. MMXLVI divided by IXCMXXXIII. Wow, that is 1946 divided by 9933, after the invention of zero. And the answer is 0.19591261451. Imagine that figure in the Roman numerals. Your imagination would go bust. There was no decimal system before the arrival of the great zero.
Take any number. Say 20. 20 ÷ 20 = 1. 20 ÷ 10 = 2. 20 ÷ 4 = 5. The smaller the divisor, the greater the quotient. Take a big divisor like, say, 10000. 20 ÷ 10000 = 0.002. Now apply this logic: as the divisor becomes greater, the quotient becomes smaller. As the divisor becomes smaller, the quotient becomes greater. Zero is nothing or shoonya as they call it in Hindi. So, logically, when you divide a number by zero you should get the greatest number. Infinity? Well, mathematicians choose to leave that quotient undefined. When it comes to zero, it’s no joking matter. You have to tread carefully, reverentially. “That’s why we in Kerala call zero by the name poojyam, venerated,” concluded my mathematics teacher.
I remembered that lecture which I listened to decades ago when I saw the latest Indispire theme.
Decades later, today, I have little to do with mathematics. Having gone through all sorts of experiences most of which carry neither rhyme nor reason, I imagine the guru telling his disciples: “Become like the zero, shoonya and poojyam simultaneously. Empty yourself of the ego. Fill yourself with grace...”
PS. Written for Indispire Edition 141 #zero