Sneha came home crying, clasping her math test paper. Her sister Anu took the paper and scanned the circular outline; Sneha had scored a ‘0’ in math. As Sneha waited for Anu to say something, she remembered how she had perspired and her heart had palpitated during the math test. Through her tears, Sneha said, “I did not study the formulas, I feel miserable for scoring ‘nothing’….” Anu interrupted her saying everything in this universe is supposed to be something. Sneha did not agree; zero was invented to represent the absence of a digit. Anu said, “You might have to emphasize the fact that zero represents a value between +1 and -1, not to mention its undeniable position between any two digits that lets you decipher that 101 is one hundred and one and not really eleven”. Sneha processed this.
Anu went on, “Earlier, zero was written using weird symbols, sometimes a blank space between numbers represented the zero, and sometimes stones were used, but the zero we now know as ‘0’ has transformed and evolved from the earlier concept of mere absence. Did you know that zero was first seen in the form of a single dot in the manuscript called Bakhshali in ancient India?”
Sneha murmured, “It’s odd that zero was identified in so many different ways.”
“To add to the oddness, zero is considered to be an even number.”
This really surprised Sneha.
Anu explained, “Any number that can be divided by two to create another whole number is even. When you divide 0 by 2, the answer is 0, which is a whole number, thereby proving that zero is even.”
Anu’s enthusiasm for the zero however did not rub off on Sneha, she said, “…no one desires a zero though.”
“Ever heard of googleplex?” Anu asked.
“I assume that’s where Google got its name from,” said Sneha.
” Yes, but googleplex is also the number 10 raised to the power 10 which is then raised to the power 100, so many zeroes it is almost ridiculous. We can’t write the number even if we used all the available writing material on Earth.”
“All this does sound fantastic but what am I to do with this zero?” Sneha asked showing her test paper.
“You have to stand at the edge of the zero and see not its hollowness but its infiniteness. You put one pebble inside and you get 1, you put another and you get 2, just keep adding and counting,” said Anu.
Anu went on to explain how the negative integers that do not physically exist were discovered with the help of zero. Anu assured Sneha, “You can definitely add to this zero and get the marks you desire.”
Sneha felt assured. “Then probably in the next test that is two months away?”
“Oh! That’s just 10 seconds away!” said Anu.
“That’s probably some other fun math concept there!” Sneha said and Anu chuckled.
Reflecting on her sister, Anu decided that her next Ted talk would be about the anxiety associated with maths and the various teaching methodologies that could make math fun and not feared.
“Zero doesn’t really mean absence, it is a value and you know what’s good about values? They can be altered and so can your marks.”
The author is a budding educator, currently pursuing her Bachelor’s in Education from Somaiya College of Comprehensive Education, Mumbai. She can be reached at email@example.com.