By Hirak Dasgupta
Title: The Inevitable Zero
Author: Kaushik Acharya
First edition: August, 2017 Paperback
Publisher: Hawakal Publishers
An eighty or one-hundred-page book does reflect the aptitude of a writer if he has devoted enough time to it. Hemingway was absolutely right when he said, “There is nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” We as readers savour a book and continue speaking about it in banters and in sleep. But we rarely appreciate the magnitude of research work, which has gone into the procreation of that book. My review of Kaushik Acharya’s latest work, The Inevitable Zero, is focused mainly on a talented writer’s journey through time and scriptures to pull out the very essence of Vedic Mathematics. I have had the pleasure of reading a few English-language books on Vedic Mathematics and The Vedas in general. But, rarely, have I come across a book as this one, which consciously strives to reach out to readers across the spectrum and not just limit itself to the study-rooms of academicians.
Ancient India was the hot bed of many things modern India has long forgotten. Our towns and settlements, and the few metro cities in between, are probably shadows of old glory. An average Indian’s life now is a race to salvage some of that lost glory, bit by bit, one rupee or one brick at a time. But we do know how to honour our past as we honour our elders, and hence we worship our old scriptures. Yes, we are sentimental about our scriptures and much of our everyday lives revolve around hand-written scrolls passed on through generations. But what is a populace that does not reminisce? India has contributed volumes to modern day theology. Her place in the spiritual precinct is unquestionable. Over thousands of years, her richness has enticed hoards of marauders to sweep down the Hindukush and plunder her wealth. But the victor has always been vanquished – not by crushing fists of powerful overlords, but by her magnanimity. At the crux of India’s spiritual universe lies The Vedas and the key to unlocking the Vedic secrets is Sanskrit – the holy mother of most Indian languages.
Kaushik Acharya is a scholar in Sanskrit literature and his deep insight into the ocean of this literature reflects in his writing. He introduces us to his book with a very relatable personal experience about his Baba (father) initiating his Brahmacharya or student-life (Brahmacharya is the first of the four Ashramas or phases of human life, according to Hinduism, the others being Grihastha or family-life, Vanaprastha or retired-life, and Sannyasa or renunciation). He reminisces about his little slate-board and chalk-pencil and how his father, holding his hand, takes him through the Bengali alphabet and numerals one by one. We are subtly introduced to the number system thus, and before you know he has sailed with us on a gripping journey into the heart of Vedic Mathematics.
Where would we be without the numbers? – Acharya makes us wonder. Is Zero merely a closed loop scribbled on paper? – The author challenges us. And then he begins to explain everything gradually, all the while quoting from The Vedas. The flow is never cluttered by the generous use of Sanskrit shlokas. Before we know we begin to understand that mathematics was never invented, it was merely discovered. We begin to bask in the realization that Mathematics is the one constant truth that has existed before us, before our forebears, before mother earth, before everything we know. Mathematics was there at the very beginning of time, hiding in the subatomic shell of singularity and it spread across the universe with the first lights of the Big Bang. Interestingly enough, the Hindus refer to the universe as Brahmanda – the egg of Brahma. According to The Vedas, Acharya reminds us, Brahma is the one true Almighty Creator.
As we read further we are asked to take note of the shape of an egg and then with one brilliant stroke of pure literary genius, Acharya draws an analogy between the shape of Zero and the quintessential egg – the Brahmanda! At this point, we begin to appreciate the profound spiritual insight of the sages and hermits, who compiled The Vedas through hundreds of years of deep meditative study. Indeed, Zero is the absolute truth. Zero in itself is the absence of quantity in the number system, but like the all important dark matter of our universe – matter that neither reflects light, nor can be measured – Zero is the very backbone of number system.
I won’t delve into the hotly debated topic about the point of origin of numbers as a particular place on the globe. The scope of this review does not permit that. But there are ample citations from The Vedas in Acharya’s book to establish that the creators of this magnum opus were pioneering mathematicians, who have left us invaluable material of unparalleled magnitude. It can be safely hypothesized that modern mathematics owes its debt of gratitude to the ancient scriptures.
The knowledge of The Vedas is clearly Acharya’s forte and by the time you have flipped page number 40 of his book you are well aware of his effortless jaunts into the scrolls. What hits you like a gust of cold, stormy wind on a summer afternoon is the sudden realization of the sheer magnitude of Acharya’s research work in comparison with the brevity of his work. He is short with his expressions, he is precise, and he never drags you along the lines trapped in seemingly endless lines of indiscernible philosophy. This is as much a book for the general readers as for the academicians, quite simply because of the taut and gripping nature of the narrative. Vedic mathematics, Vedic philosophies, and the ways of our ancestors begin to unfurl like the petals of a lotus on its blooming day. Before you realize you are deeply affected by the book.
I have always been a seeker of proof – of God’s existence, about the basis of religion, and the moral conflicts stemming from faith. My trysts with faith have been short and fruitless; yet my love affair with mathematics still continues. Years of accumulated scars from my misadventures with religion had left me numb. I have had my share of difficulties in opening up to The Vedas in the past. Despite having been brought up in a staunch Hindu family, I have never found my calling. But this book, The Inevitable Zero, has left me thinking. For many nights after reading this book, I have stared at the stars and pondered over the possibility that mathematics might be a pathway to Brahma and Zero the ferryman to Him. Dear readers, this is what Kaushik Acharya’s book does to you. A believer or staunch atheist, you cannot escape the spell this book casts. Whether you read the book as a scholarly treatise or read it as a young man’s journey through spirituality, you cannot stop yourself from appreciating this young academician’s charming audacity of taking one of the most difficult topics conceivable and presenting it in a literary masterpiece of the finest order.
The Inevitable Zero is available here.
Poet, essayist, and critic, Hirak Dasgupta is based in Durgapur, West Bengal (India).
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