Friday, June 22, 2007

Counting Coins

An odometer for small change is a cool idea. Not sure how it is useful in a practical sense but I'd love to know how much I have in my bag full of loose change. Counting money was a part of everyday life in the 80s and 90s in India and an important skill to have. Yet, I don't recall being allowed to count real money either at home or school - money had changed too many hands and was considered the most filthy thing for a child to touch. The smaller currency notes were so grimy and tattered that you feared they would disintegrate at the next transaction.

Instead of the tactile experience involving real exchange with real money, they had us work on mental math drills to simulate the experience of paying for goods and services. At the grocery store, it was necessary to check the shopkeeper's calculation. Knowledge of the unitary method and being able to add long columns of numbers was essential. It never suprised my that a semi-illiterate shopkeeper selling rice, lentils oil and the like was faster at adding numbers than I was with my school education. The adults would explain it was his survival skill.

Maybe we owe our proficiency in arithmetic to our straitened circumstances but it is now part of the desi DNA. I push J as hard as my parents did to learn her multiplication tables and do arithmetic drills mentally.My Indian friends with young kids are no different either. I won't be surprised if J does the same with her children in a time technology would have rendered physical money complete irrelevant.

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